This Post May Save Your Business

I’ve got an amazing, totally guaranteed, new idea for an online business.

People come to me every day and tell me they “have a great idea for an online business. Nobody has ever thought of it and it would make a really great website”.

I say “That is so exciting! What is your revenue model?” (Then I get £1 every time the answer goes like this…)

“Well… erm… we’re not really sure about that, just yet, but we’ve got all the design done and we hired an accountant…”


More seriously though; I understand that the web is an extremely exciting, democratising medium, and so it should be. Business and entrepreneurialism has often been curbed or concentrated within social groups that have independent funds for investment, or the contacts to drum up private investment. An internet business can be born from little investment and in many ways this levels the playing field.

All this is for the better; however on the downside there is a lot of un-tempered enthusiasm regarding web business, combined with a lot of ego, legend and deliberate misinformation.  True, the web has been a goldmine for many, and many barriers to participation are broken down by this medium; but that does not mean that an online business plan should be any less thorough or intangible than a traditional business plan.

Please, don’t throw any more money away until you are aware of the following…

There could be a really good reason that nobody has ever done it before!

Something about the romanticism of the web; the way it connects people from across the globe and from all walks of life in realtime – makes some people lose all common sense. Just because the web can make something technically possible does not mean that it is useful.

I like to do a little old-skool sanity check when thinking about online business proposals. Imagine if you saw a card in a newsagent window, with this particular product, would you buy it then? Would anyone? Enough sales to make a business? Just because the web makes it easy to connect the people that make single plastic limbs, to the people that have amputee mannequins doesn’t mean you should.

TIP: Just over 30 million people in the UK are online. 90% of them search on Google. Use Google Keyword Tool, to find out how many searches a month there are for your product or idea, as an approximate and free barometer of public interest.

Build it. They will come.

This statement is a quote from one of the three or four-hundred Kevin Costner baseball films. In Field of Dreams, Costner is encouraged to build a baseball field (pitch? whatever?) so that dead baseball players will turn up to play there. (So if you’re still with me, the formula is… believe + build = dead baseball players.) A lot of people say this about the web. “Build it. They will come.” In my experience they are the same people.

Even if they are right – a handful of dead baseball players doth not an audience strategy make.

3. Have a Commercial Model from the Get-Go!

You wouldn’t put all your life savings into one investment account unless you had a fairly good indication of how it may return, right? So why would you invest often thousands of pounds into creating a website without any idea of how and when it might be profitable?

[Aside – Of course there are times when audience comes before business model, and that’s great if you’re VC funded or otherwise keeping food on the table. If your objective and desire is to create an online business, then your audience strategy and business strategy are inextricably linked.]

An exploration of the multitude of web business models is an enormous topic, and one I’m going to follow up with.  In the meantime, the most fundamental advice I can give is to establish and research your expected revenue per capita. Here’s a couple of ways to contribute to this.

  • Use a specialist commercial web consultancy to assist you with your strategy
  • Phone your competitors business development team and pretend you are interested in a partnership of some sort – see what you can glean
  • Find any publicly listed web business with a similar business model and read their financial reports. It’s all there
  • Transpose real-world learning’s to your online idea, subtracting the different costs of sale encountered here (site build, site hosting and maintenance, site development plans, traffic acquisition costs)

Before embarking on your online business venture I hope that you will consider and consult as much as possible before starting to invest. Our industry is still in its’ infancy and there are new developments, ideas and business launched every day, that revolutionise the way we shop, the way we find and listen to music or how we donate to charity. Its’ an exciting and evolving time, so do jump in with both feet. I mean both feet; a level head and a truck load of research.

About the author


Nichola Stott

Nichola is Founder and Director of theMediaFlow; with over 10 years experience in online marketing, over six of which in search. Nichola learned all about search at Yahoo! as head of UK search partners.


  1. Jill Kocher says:

    My favorite online myth of all time, encapsulated in pseudo math, love it: “believe + build = dead baseball players”

    Excellent post — hope the people who truly need it truly read it.

  2. Nichola says:

    Thanks Jill. I hope so too!

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