Using Your Internet-Based Home Business to Develop New Markets Halfway Around the World
By Mark O’Neill
Picture the scene for a moment. The teacher is sitting tutoring the student. The copywriter is discussing the next multi-million dollar advertising campaign with their client. A model is showing her portfolio to a studio. A museum is closely studying ancient artifacts to decide whether they should bother bidding on them for their collection. A call center operator takes another call from a customer.
Now you’re probably shrugging your shoulders right now. “So what?” you’re probably thinking. Well, here’s what. All of those scenes I have just painted for you just now didn’t take place in the same room — in fact some of them probably didn’t even take place in the same time-zone. They probably took place online, on the Internet. Welcome to modern day business in the 21st century.
I have had a fascinating opportunity to witness this remarkable revolution in business up-front and personal. After becoming medically disabled, I instantly became unemployable to many employers and so the only employer willing to not pass judgment on me and take me on without references was the World Wide Web. Immediately my eyes were opened to the limitless possibilities that were out there and the possibilities that were still being developed and were still yet to come. That is the beauty of the Internet — the untapped possibilities that are still lying waiting to be discovered, invented, and developed.
To be sure, 2003 was the year when the Internet was still pretty much in its infancy, compared to today. Back then you had places like eBay going totally wild with people striking it rich by putting toast with images of the Virgin Mary under the virtual hammer. But as the years have gone on, online business has evolved to the point where anyone, anywhere in the world, can find business clients outside their borders, no matter what business they are in. You don’t have to be Donald Trump or Martha Stewart to make a living online. Ordinary people like you and me are making good incomes online too with minimum or absolutely no investments up-front (otherwise known as “kitchen-table businesses).
Finding New International Customers
It’s worth remembering that the term “outside their borders” doesn’t have to mean another country. It can mean just another region, another state, another county. So you don’t have to be daunted by the thought of foreign languages and foreign currencies. A new customer outside your border could just be a few miles away. But when I wrote an eBay column on the Internet a few years back, I always told people to think internationally because by ignoring the international market, you were basically throwing good money away. Why ignore foreign markets? You might feel comfortable dealing with your own language, your own currency, and your own “people,” but by doing so, you’re completely ignoring 99.9% of the Internet’s potential which is to instantly reach the furthest reaches of the globe. It’s like buying a boat but never leaving the harbor with it. So let’s take a look at some of the ways the Internet can help you find that new international customer — and I promise not to get too technical.
Starting a Blog
First of all, it goes without saying that a web site is an absolute must. Over the years, despite the many changes that the Internet has gone through, that one basic essential hasn’t changed. However saying that, the emphasis has shifted slightly from a web site to a blog (which is short for “web-log”). A blog is more of a constantly updating online diary whereas a web site is just a static page. Customers like blogs better, because they feel they are having a conversation with you and you are having one back with them. A blog also allows your customers to leave comments.
To start a blog, you need to use a blogging platform software. Popular ones include Blogger or WordPress. You can also have paid options such as Movable Type. But to be honest, why pay for blogging software these days? Most of the top bloggers go with the free WordPress, and it is widely acknowledged to be the best out there. However, the one downside to WordPress is that whenever a frequent update is rolled out, upgrading your blog can be a daunting task and upgrading is essential. Hackers go after WordPress blogs like they go after Internet Explorer. So when upgrading to the next WordPress version, you either need to be tech-savvy or you need to know someone who is. Also back everything up first — otherwise one false slip may make you lose the lot.
Now you need your clients to be able to pay you. Without the ability to pay you, what good is an international business client, right? The acknowledged market leader in this area is Paypal, and many people say Paypal is the ONLY company in this area, having squeezed out many wannabe pretenders who have tried to muscle in the past such as Yahoo, Moneybookers, and E-Gold. Owned by eBay, many horror stories about Paypal abound on the Internet including spontaneous freezing of accounts, but in the five years, I have used Paypal, I have only ever had one problem, and that was when I inadvertently tripped a terrorism alert by having a large amount deposited into my account. Even then, Paypal, to their credit, moved fast to help me clear the misunderstanding up.
Paypal are basically the middle men. They allow people from anywhere in the world to deposit money with them into your online account and then you can move the money from them (minus a fee obviously) into your own regular bank account. It’s fast and it’s easy. You can process credit card payments through them, and more and more online businesses are starting to accept Paypal as a payment method. If you want to start getting more international business, getting a Paypal account is a very savvy move.
Communicating with Clients
Now you’ll want to be able to communicate with your clients. This is where the following methods come in:
Skype is an encrypted VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) telephone software program which basically means you can phone people online for a fraction of the cost that you would be charged if you were to do it on your landline phone. For example, if I were to call the United States from my home here in Germany, it would cost less than 1 cent per minute, and the call quality is perfect. Just hook up a headset with microphone and start talking away. If the other caller has Skype too, the calls are absolutely free.
But free / cheap calls are only the beginning of what Skype offers. If you have a webcam, you can have video conference calls. You can also have conference calls with up to 24 people at a time. You can transfer files between callers. You can have your own private phone number and set up voicemail. You can have your calls forwarded to another phone number, including a cell phone number. This is particularly handy if I feel the urge to go out for coffee, but I am waiting for an urgent client call. I can just have the call forwarded to Starbucks and chat to them while I am standing in line for my Espresso Roast.
But it is the webcam that is the deal closer for Skype as far as I am concerned. Remember back to the first paragraph of this article? The teacher is sitting tutoring the student. The copywriter is discussing the next multi-million dollar advertising campaign with their client. A model is showing her portfolio to a studio. A museum is closely studying ancient artifacts to decide whether they should bother bidding on them for their collection. Well, as I said at the beginning, they don’t all have to be sitting in the same room to be doing all that. That’s what webcams and video conferencing is for!
Another method of communicating with your clients, which I am currently experimenting with, is Eyejot. Eyejot is a fairly new service but one in which I have been using right from the start and which I have been very taken with. It allows you to send video emails to people using just a webcam and microphone. $30 a year allows you to send 5 minute video messages to people, and you can also put a widget on your web site that allows anyone to send you registered or anonymous video emails. This would be fantastic from a customer service / marketing point of view. Think of the direct approach and personalization! No longer would you be communicating via bland anonymous text emails but now with video emails with voice and picture! Just be sure not to pull any bad faces and stick your tongue out at the recipient. Of course the potential is there for abuse and nasty messages, and the abusive messages sting all the more when you see the person up close and personal. So it may not be to everyone’s taste. But if you have a small business with fairly pleasant clients, you may like the personal touch that video email brings – and $30 a year is not a bad amount to pay. The only grumble I have is that 5 minutes is not a lot of time to say what you want to say.
The last tool you need in your online arsenal to gain new online international clients is the one-and-only Twitter. Now, it took a very long time for Twitter to grow on me and to this day, many people still hate Twitter with a passion. Then again, there are a lot of people who love it with a passion. So it’s definitely one of those “you either love it or you hate it” deals. There’s no in between. I now personally think it’s a brilliant marketing tool. Twitter is basically the online equivalent of a crowded bar where you can overhear lots of conversations about various topics. You can then jump in at any time and contribute to the discussion or start a discussion of your own. There are lots of uses for Twitter. Bloggers use it to promote web pages, businesspeople use it to promote special deals, but most people just use it to network, make new friends, and generally use it as the online interactive equivalent of a business card.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the technology of today can be harnessed by any businessperson of any industry to gain new customers or new contacts in any corner of the world. All it takes is a little bit of time and patience to download and install the new applications and then a lot of time to understand how it all works and use it. Things like Paypal and Skype are fairly straight-forward to use and can be mastered within a few days, but others, such as a blog or Twitter are rather more advanced and require months or even up to a year to get off the ground. This discourages a lot of people — they want fast results and fast profits — but if you take the long term view that the effort is worth it, you’ll quickly begin to realize, as I did, that you have tapped into a whole new world. HBM
Example of Using Skype, Webcams, and PayPal to Communicate with a Client
A few years ago, I tutored a Swiss student from my German home. He was in
Basel, and I taught him English. We both used Skype and webcams. We could both see and hear one another, and it was as if we were sitting next to one another in the same room. But in actual fact we were almost 400km apart.
He paid me by Paypal, and as soon as his payment confirmation hit my email inbox, I called him via Skype, the webcam kicked in, and we started.
Using Skype’s file transfer facility, I passed over worksheets that he had to do. If there were visual aids involved, I simply held them up to the webcam so he could see them. If there was role-play involved, he simply did it in front of his webcam so I could see it.