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Building an online business is more than getting and giving out free stuff.
I recently wrote an article about the vast and amazing variety of free graphics, images, icons, mockup templates, backgrounds, etc that are available. That article included 110+ free design resources that make finding what you need pretty darn fast. It makes a huge difference for non-photographers, non-designers and small business entrepreneurs to have free stock images and graphics for their website and social media posts; however, there are reasons why free stock images are not enough.
Running a business online is more than a few free images or graphics on a homepage with some interesting articles. Running a business online takes research, time, motivation and patience. Running a business has more moving parts then just images and articles.
Without learning what potential clients are searching for why put in the effort to build a business? Researching client and subscribers’ needs is essential to success, but research also includes finding productivity tools and software needed to run the actual business. Being online requires advertising, marketing, accounting, and other administrative functions.
Build it and they will come….Maybe?
I’m a techie at heart; when I first started it was kind of like that movie “Field of Dreams“. I thought “build it and they will come”. Then I realized that wasn’t exactly how online businesses work. I needed all the support and administrative stuff to make it a real business. What a wake-up call that was. Perhaps I was naive, but I imagine I’m not alone in that realization.
The time spent building a website, creating articles, products, freebies, and-or online courses is not trivial. During that initial period, you don’t get paid. Oh, there are a few lucky individuals that hit a home run in the first months of being online, but the reality is the rest of us work at it. While bloggers and online businesses offer freebies, the effort in creating a freebie ranges from a couple of days to weeks depending on the offering. Growing an online business requires motivation and patience to pursue your dream over the long haul. Because there are days when you wonder if you’re doing the right thing.
Perfectionism is ok until it slows you down.
Still, if you’re like me and decide an online business is right for you and you love what you are doing, it’s worth a few sleepless nights and the elbow grease required. I wouldn’t trade my experiences over the last couple of years but, looking back, I would do a few things differently. Being a perfectionist doesn’t help; I spent too much time designing my first couple of WordPress sites. I also rebuilt Designed Bliss multiple times because I didn’t like how it looked. During those early days, I used free stock images but I didn’t edit them much to create a “brand”. Heck, I wasn’t even thinking about a brand; I was trying to learn and juggle so many things like web design and social media marketing that brand wasn’t in the picture. It is like being your own contractor while building a house. It’s got to be built first before adding furniture, landscaping, or even moving in.
I won’t lie. It took several homepage redesigns to come up with what I felt represented what I was offering to potential subscribers and clients. Frankly, there is some truth to the advice to just get online with something first and then refine along the way. Perfectionism is still an issue for me but I try to focus on the content.
Time is money so don’t waste time.
Another initial mistake was not using a robust page builder. Hey, I’m technical; I’ve worked in corporate IT for over 20+ years. Call it ego, call it limited budget. I didn’t think I needed a page builder but coding takes time; even if it is just a little CSS or Html modification. A great page builder saves time by creating stunning webpages quickly. I spent way too much time coding when I needed to focus on content. At one point, I was convinced by a colleague to try Squarespace on one of my websites instead of WordPress. Don’t get me wrong; Squarespace makes lovely websites but it didn’t have the flexibility I needed. Squarespace did teach me to look at my webpage layouts; I saw the value of a good page builder that would create responsive pages and handle image sizes, especially for mobile devices. Since mobile traffic is growing by leaps and bounds, a good page builder was a time-saving worthwhile investment.
Once I realized I’d be happiest with WordPress and found a couple of kickass page builders; the time needed to create new pages and sites was dramatically reduced. I realized I should have gone that route much sooner. As a small business owner, I never have enough time so once I decided to use a page builder, I paid for support. If I was going to use it than having the ability to get a fast reply was worth the investment.
You don’t need the most expensive support, but don’t use cheap.
My third mistake was not managing my images and galleries. I understood the concept of image compression, image file size, caching and content delivery networks (CDN). I knew I needed them but again, budget was always in the back of my mind. When I finally gave up on the “free” and “lite” versions of WordPress plugins that compressed, cached and connected to CDN without support, those endless hours of trying to making something work for free suddenly went away. I ended up with more time to focus on real value for my clients.
My last mistake was not planning out how to handle my social media content creation. Anyone on multiple social media platforms quickly realizes there is no common standard for posting content between Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to name a few. For example, what works on Pinterest isn’t so good on Facebook. Pinterest loves unique images with big catchy printed titles all over the image; Facebook penalizes that very design, looking for minimal text. So I needed to recreate my content in the proper dimensions and text within the requirements of each platform I was interested in using, and I needed a repeatable easy process that posted my content correctly to each social media platform. It took time to find the right social media schedulers and a process that worked for me but again investing in the time to research and determine the best way to streamline the process is worth it in the long run.
Free, Good and Fast- two out of three ain’t bad.
At this point, you should notice a theme that is all too familiar for most bloggers and small businesses that are new online. You look for free first: free stock images, free services, free support. Free is good; we all love free, but free isn’t fast, and free doesn’t always get the job done. Sometimes free slows you down.
I now realize how important it is to have the proper services, and software to manage my images, website, social media and administration. I once had a friend who drew this triangle for me when I was working in the corporate world. He said, “You can have free and good but not fast, good and fast but not free, or fast and free but not good. Once in a blue moon, you can get all three simultaneously but don’t expect that. Take the time to get what you need that you can use over the long haul. You can’t afford the most expensive, but going the cheapest might just cost more than you plan.”
My point is this: you can get a lot of amazing free stuff online including free stock images that you can use for your brand, website, products, and services, but free stock images are not enough to have a viable online business.
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