Building a successful business online is about being able to engage with your audience, and offering something different from the rest.
Q: I’d love your thoughts on how to leverage an online audience. If you have a popular blog or website that draws regular readers, what is the best way to transform it into a business? How would you get a sense of which products or services might resonate with that audience? – Amanda CookTHIS is a really interesting question, Amanda. First, if you have a popular blog or website, congratulations!
Drawing a loyal group of followers is not easy, and requires a lot of time, effort and commitment. Also, with more than 200 million blogs available online, you should be proud of what you have already achieved – what a crowded market!
We have all heard about the many bloggers out there who are making money (huge amounts, in some cases), and this can make monetisation appealing.
After all, as a blogger you have a unique advantage over other entrepreneurs who are trying to start a business: You know who your customers are, and your customers already know and trust you.
The first step is to look at whether the products and services you’re considering fit with the brand that you have built up. For example, if the image that you’re conveying through your site is one of sophistication and luxury, the items you sell should reflect that as well.
Think about why your readers come to you, and not another blogger.
Take a careful look at what differentiates you from your competition. Often people are drawn to blogs because of a feeling of intimacy or community; it may be that they’d be interested in purchasing items that you find interesting, as a way of further taking part in that experience.
If that’s the case, you need to make sure that what you’re offering is truly unique. Your readers and followers should see those goods or services as different from everyone else’s.
Our team at Virgin faced a similar branding challenge last year when we launched Virgin Hotels. This was our first venture into the American hospitality industry and – as is the case when we enter any new industry – we wanted to make sure that we were offering our customers a unique experience that was in line with the Virgin brand.
To do that, we set about creating a hotel in Chicago that was full of delightful surprises for guests, which is something Virgin is known for.
We also thought about the things at other hotels which annoy us and our customers, and we made sure that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes.
For example, we eliminated the freezing air conditioning and impossible temperature controls from rooms, and we made sure that the beds were comfortable and that there would be no surprise charges when guests checked out.
In the end, we built a hotel experience that fit well with our tradition of doing things differently and also offered solutions to many common complaints. Also, guests who know and trust our brand can buy anything they like from our hotel rooms on our online store – from the patented bed to the luxurious robes – through our online store.
As a blogger, you have an advantage over other businesses, in that you have a unique opportunity to communicate with your audiences in ways that they don’t.
On the other hand, the relationship between a successful blogger and her readers tends to be a two-way street, and you need to avoid alienating them when you monetise your blog.
So why not ask them whether they would be interested in buying the products and services you’re thinking about? Perhaps you have mentioned some items already, and that intrigued your readers – would it prompt them to click a “buy” button?
Those questions will get you started, but you may be able to engage in a conversation with your readers and ask for specifics, such as whether they only want to see products that you use yourself.
As a blogger, you have a direct line to your customers, and you should use this connection to help make the best decisions for the community you have created. Make your readers your first priority as you pursue this idea, and you’ll turn your brand into a business. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, e-mail address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.
Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is founder of the Virgin Group. He became an entrepreneur at 16 and made his first million at the age of 25.