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3 Ways to Strengthen Your Online Business Trying to improve your bottom line? Put these proven strategies to work for your e-commerce operation.

By Corey Rudl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Do you have a business plan? A list of goals that sets out just what you want to do with your business and how you're going to do it? Because if you expect to attain any measure of business success, I can't stress enough the importance of having a well-constructed business plan.

And it can't just be a static plan. It should be one that you review regularly, along with a close examination of your website's traffic stats and sales figures. This approach will allow you to spot new profitable opportunities, identify and help solve problems, and incorporate new goals and strategies into your business--like the three we're going to cover below.

A thorough review of your business is really the best way to ensure you accomplish your main business objectives for the year--whether that's to generate a certain amount of profits or to launch a new product.

At this point, I should say that if you don't have a business plan, you should create one now! (Check out my previous article on business plans for details on how to plan for your success.)

You should always be planning different ways to improve your success and get more profits in your pocket. That's why it's so important to develop a business plan and set achievable goals--it's your road map to success and a beefier bank balance! With that said, let's jump right into the three strategies that are hands-down the best plan for making this your most profitable year yet.

Key Strategy #1: Improve your sales process and convert more traffic into sales. Do you get regular traffic on your site? Once your visitors get to your site, how long do they stay? How many of them buy?

The best way to improve your sales process is to start by looking at your website's stats. These are a goldmine of priceless nuggets of information, like how much traffic your site is getting, how people travel through your site, which pages are the most popular, and where your visitors are coming from.

By analyzing these stats--and looking at them alongside your sales figures and online promotions--you can work out such things as what proportion of your traffic is being converted into sales, and which promotions or online campaigns are working better than others.

You'll then find yourself with a much clearer picture of your business overall--and a good idea of what you need to change, improve, or build on.

If your site stats show good traffic levels but low sales figures, then you need to tighten up your sales process. Review both your sales letter and your order form--even just a few tweaks can make a huge difference. Try these tips:

Your sales letter. If people are leaving your website from the sales page without clicking through to the order form, then the sales letter is simply not doing its job to convince visitors to buy your products or service.

In this case, it's time for a sales letter tune-up. First stop: your headline. Make sure it's compelling, will resonate with your target market, and contains the main benefit of your products or service.

Then ensure that your body copy builds your credibility, focuses on the benefits--not the features--of your products or service, and includes testimonials and a strong guarantee.

Another quick fix is to make sure your P.S. reinforces the main sales messages. (Remember, many people only read the headline and the P.S.)

Finally, make sure you include a strong call to action. It should state exactly what you want the prospect to do next, how they can do it, and that you want them to do it now! It's the bridge between your sales letter and your order form. Which leads me to. . .

Your order form. If your website's stats show that people are abandoning your site at the order form stage without placing an order, there may be something wrong with your form. Is it too complicated? Does it have a different "look" from the rest of your site? Are there links on the order page to other websites or other pages on your site?

First, you must make sure your order process and the form itself are easy to understand. To help people follow the process, provide a step-by-step guide that leads customers through the ordering process, spelling out such things as how to fill the form out, how the product will be shipped, when their credit card will be charged, and so on.

This information could be on the order form itself, thus allowing a buyer to read it as they complete the relevant steps. The form itself should have a simple layout with all the information fields arranged in a logical, easy-to-follow sequence. Use the "KISS" principle: "Keep It Simple, Stupid!"

As much as possible, the order form page should have the same look as the rest of your site. Keep it clear and uncluttered--there should never be other distractions on the page like images, irrelevant copy, advertising or links to other sites that take customers away from your site. You want them to focus on filling out the relevant information.

It's also a good idea to reassure people that they're making a safe, secure purchase when they access your order form, by saying something like, "Welcome to our secure online order form."

Key Strategy #2: Offer a "backend" product that's an easy sell to your existing customers. Statistics show that 30 percent of your existing customers will buy from you again. It makes sense: You've already done a lot of the hard work--establishing your credibility and proving that you run a reputable business that gives your customers what they want. So offering another complementary product to existing customers can be a great way to boost your profits without eating into your marketing budget.

A backend product can be any one of a number of things. For example, if your site sells cameras, other products you might consider selling could include:

  • An add-on to your existing product, such as a different lens for a camera
  • A relevant informational product, like an e-book containing photography tips
  • A complementary product, such as a camera bag

Sit down and brainstorm a list of products related to your existing product line that you think your market might be interested in. And remember, the key to discovering new products that your customers would be interested in is to identify problems that your customers have and then come up with a product or service that solves these problems for them. Always read and keep any feedback or comments you receive from your customers--positive and negative. You can also solicit feedback through a customer survey or questionnaire to help you figure out what they need.

In addition, you should constantly be assessing the needs of your target market by reading the publications they read, and visiting the websites, online forums and blogs they visit. And don't forget to check out your competitors' sites! They can be a goldmine of information.

When you've found a suitable product, introducing it to your existing customers is easy. You already have their contact information, so you can simply e-mail them a promotion highlighting the problem they have and explaining how your new product or service will solve it.

You can even use customer feedback as a selling point, by saying something like, "I've listened to the feedback and comments I get from my customers, and can now offer you a product I just know you're going to love."

Key Strategy #3: Set up an affiliate program to drive more traffic to your site and boost your sales. How would you like to have a network of other people to do your selling for you? In a nutshell, that's what an affiliate program is. An affiliate is someone who promotes your product on their website in return for a commission on every sale they send your way.

There are a number of reasons why you should consider implementing this strategy for your business:

  • It can drive much more traffic to your site.
  • There are zero advertising costs--affiliates do all of their own marketing.
  • There's no risk to you, since you only pay your affiliates after they've made the sale.
  • You gain exposure to new target markets through the e-mail lists and websites of your affiliates.

The fact is, affiliate programs are one of the most powerful ways to market your business, and almost every product or service will be much more successful if you offer an affiliate program for it. I know, because at The Internet Marketing Center, we've made millions since we first started our affiliate program--we generated $2 million last year alone!

You can locate affiliates by putting a page on your site that invites people to apply and by approaching sites you think have a similar target audience.

Starting and managing an affiliate program can be done one of two ways--you can go through a provider or do it yourself. Using a provider can be very expensive, so it's well worth looking into managing the program yourself.

If you do it yourself, affiliate software like AssocTRAC is available to manage the whole process, from tracking affiliate sales right through to paying commissions. An affiliate program is a highly effective strategy for generating swarms of new traffic and multiplying your sales with minimal effort and cost on your part.

Final Thoughts

It doesn't matter whether you're making $100,000 or $1,000 a year from your Internet business, or whether you sell kettles or sports cars--all three of these strategies will work for your business. I know, because I've used them all and continue to use them, and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that they work.

But any strategy is guaranteed to be more effective if you spend some time every so often reviewing your business plan, setting new business goals, and taking a close look at your web stats and other areas of your business where you could make improvements.

Carrying out a regular business review is just like giving your car a regular check-up-you just need to stick your head under the hood of your business now and then to make sure everything's running smoothly.

And whether it's adding new parts or just making a few tweaks here and there, you can always find ways to make it run better.

Corey Rudl, author of Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet and founder of www.marketingtips.com , is widely recognized as an Internet marketing expert because what he teaches are not theoretical approaches to online marketing but real examples of what works.

Corey Rudl, president and founder of the Internet Marketing Center is the author of the best-selling course Insider Secrets to Marketing Your Business on the Internet. An internationally sought-after Internet business consultant and speaker, Corey focuses his energy on the research and development of practical, cost-effective Internet marketing strategies and software for the small and homebased business owner.

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