|SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)||This
Week's Clue: Clues For Lagging Industries
Some businesses took to the Web quickly, while other industries still haven't. Unless you have an incredible algorithm (and tons of capital for marketing) this might not be the time to launch a new search engine. General interest bookstores will need a lot of capital, now that the brick-and-mortar hordes have been tapped .
But, as I recently found in a story for the November "Web Wars" column in Datamation, the commercial real estate industry still lags the curve. You'll have to wait until publication to hear more on that industry, but the work did get me thinking about other industries that remain behind the Internet curve, and how you can find opportunity in them.
It's easy to come up with a short list. Temporary storage firms don't even take reservations via e-mail. Home Depot can't interface you with the store yet. Law and medicine certainly seem covered, as horizontal markets, but that's not true for specific disciplines, or in local markets. Academic disciplines are well organized on the Internet, but what about their commercial counterparts?
The point is there is plenty of opportunity out there to be seized, and for very little money. I'd keep my eye on two requirements above all - transactions and passion. You need to find financial transactions your target markets want to achieve, get inside them, and become a marketplace for them in some way to drive your own revenues. You need passion for the topic, real passion, in order to go forward in any case. If you don't have it, find someone who does, give them the money they need, and make sure you have a passion for business instead.
Beyond these basics, there's another mistake I've seen made many times by people trying to serve under-served markets. That is a lack of respect for the market, an assumption that since they don't have anything now, they'll do with something second-rate and slapdash. That sounds like a logical way to go, but it never works. Whichever niche you choose to serve, research it thoroughly and do it right. Find where the bodies are buried and ask those bodies what they need. Ask what transactions are hardest for them to complete. Always remember that it's in enabling transactions that the Internet proves its value. It's not content, it's not advertising - this ain't TV or a magazine. Bring buyers and sellers together, earn your portion of the transaction however defined (transaction fee, finder's fee, commission or rebate) and you'll do well.
This key Clue, that it's transactions that count, can't be stressed enough. This key Clue is still ignored, time and again, by people who should know better. The newsletter business, for instance, wants to go online, but since it wants to retain its content-based business model it has a hard time, as the Washington Times wrote recently. And while Citysearch thinks it's found one transaction model for success, in its exclusive with Ticketmaster, , it's really just found the tip of the iceberg, explaining why the local directory business, too, lags the market.
Since we're at a time when Republicans are trying to shame a shameless President into resigning without an immunity deal, a Watergate analogy might sum this point up best. It came from that great Woodward source, "Deep Throat" (and didn't that name come back to bite Democrats.) You remember the movie, don't you? So here's the Clue. Follow the money.
SSP (Shameless Self-Promotion)
I call it the Fall Tour. I'll be at New York's Internet World, in about a week, searching the aisles for Clues and the press room for new work. Hope to see you there. I'll also be debuting a new talk called "Clues to Commerce" at John Audette's Cascade Conference, which runs from October 14-16 in Bend, Oregon. If the talk goes over well, we'll do it again sometime.
You can now order "Web Commerce: Building a Digital Business," , by Kate Maddox with yours truly (but with on the cover) through Barnes & Noble. It's on sale at $20.95, (down from a cover price of $29.95, and down from Amazon's price of $27.95) part of the Wiley/Upside series. Let me know what you think of it.
A-Clue.Com has also been picked up by Andover News as its Monday e-commerce column. Thanks to you, A-Clue.Com now goes to over 900 Clued-in subscribers each week. Thanks to Multimedia Marketing Group a UnityMail customer, it's also an in-line HTML file (no more messy Web codes). Besides producing A-Clue.Com, I contribute regularly to such publications as Net Marketing , Boardwatch, Datamation and Atlanta Computer Currents . Your magazine can join the list - send me an e-mail and let's start the ball rolling.
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And now back to our show...
Two "hot" new trends, the elimination of links in most news stories and a continuing discussion among Web site owners about "reciprocal" links, have me re-evaluating that hoary old Web tradition, the "useful links" page.
Businesspeople of all sorts see links mainly as a way to drive traffic in or out of a site. This is incredibly Clueless. Links are references, or footnotes, they're short cuts. Let me cite just one example of how fools lose their way by mistaking the nature of links. When Mike Hogan of PC World wrote about a program called Mind-it from NetMind Technologies recently, , he didn't provide a basic link to NetMind (probably at the insistence of his editors, maybe working on the advice of their lawyers). It took me 50 seconds to reach NetMind through Yahoo, even though Yahoo hadn't yet indexed the company. (It was #7 on an Inktomi list under the keyword phrase "NetMind Technologies.") But, if I explain the program thoroughly, wouldn't this link work a bit better?
The "useful links" page was first designed as a specialized research tool, but many people lost their way by trying to get two-way or "reciprocal" links, turning it into a link exchange (no offense). Obviously a mere list of home pages is a waste of a user's time at this point, but I get incredible value from Newslinx , a service that lists the day's Internet news stories and saves me hours per week in research time. Certainly I don't begrudge them the ad avails in return, and neither should the news sites, since I'm getting more value from their work as a result, too. If the links aren't "framed" it's a win-win-win.
So I came up with this Clue. Links are easy, but useful links are hard. If you're going to link to information on a commercial site, you're going to have to check them for accuracy regularly. You should also take the time to offer deep links, not to the front door of the site, but to the specific page where information of interest to your audience is located. (That's another good reason to check back - those pages change regularly.) If you take the time to do this, and let your readers know you're doing this, you're providing a valuable service. (You're also staying on top of your market, which is a great ancillary benefit.) If you do this for an industry, providing deep links to news, the changing players, and valuable trends, you become a player, too, once the industry finds your links page. Once you get in the game this way, and provide value, you'll begin a dialogue that can lead to profit.
Scammers and spammers learn so fast, you wonder why they don't just go and make an honest living.
The scam du jour of the summer was to claim the spammer was following a new law allowing the abuse (and citing chapter and verse). This was quickly replaced by the claim (no longer quoting law) that the spam was an "e-mail newsletter" you'd ordered, one you could stop getting with a single e-mail. (Anyone sending e-mail to the address merely confirmed they had a real e-mail box, and the spammer would sell that address like mad through the spammer underground.) This week I got what claimed to be an "investment" letter, but it came from a non-existent domain and the return e-mail address was on usa.net. I sent it to the FTC's firstname.lastname@example.org box, since sending investment scammers and consumer defrauders to jail is what they do.
Word came to me last week that Ziff-Davis and its parent company Softbank have launched a round of belt-tightening, including hiring freezes, some lay-offs, and the closing of some units. The official blame is being laid on the Japanese economy, where computer magazine revenues are falling - they're fairly stable in the U.S.
I predicted something like this over a year ago, and its delay was the product of the Internet mania. Softbank made huge profits on its stakes in Yahoo and other companies, but the recent stock market shudders take some of those gains off the balance sheet. Ziff went public earlier this year but the stock's down from the offering price. Computer publishing is flat, as more users go to the Web, and Ziff has failed to see that its business there is enabling transactions. It's got some nice services and nifty content, but its business model is still built on advertising, and other companies have built their transaction offerings, making it harder to catch up. Plus, broadcasting costs big bucks, so ZDTV is another drain.
What Clues do we get from all this? Don't over-expand, don't expect stock profits to hide a cracked balance sheet, and don't rely on advertising to cover your online expenses. It's still transactions, stupid.
Clued-in is Mind-It , a simple program that can tell you when, say, a new copy of A-Clue.Com is posted, so you can read it before it goes out on e-mail.
Clueless are analysts who avidly follow financial deals involving "free e-mail services" without a Clue as to the risks these services are running as enablers of spam and fraud.