All posts by Steve

Set Up Your Website (2)

Choose How to Set Up Your WebsiteChoose How to Set Up Your Website

As outlined in the previous article about Website basics, your choices to set up a website often come down to using professional web development software or a content management system (CMS).

The main alternatives include:

1. Use Professional Web Development Software

Over the years I’ve met brilliant designers who use Web development software called Adobe Dreamweaver. Determined to follow their example, I spent a lot of money to license Adobe products, only to conclude that the software is appallingly difficult to use and the documentation is just about worthless. So I bought a 1,064 page instruction book by independent experts and spent many nights studying the text and trying the examples.

After great time and expense I did manage to build our first successful online store using Dreamweaver. But despite those sacrifices I feel certain that our Dreamweaver site it too difficult to maintain and doesn’t look as nice as websites that use free WordPress software (described below).

2. Use a Website Builder from Your Web Hosting Company

Your web hosting company probably offers a web builder application that’s really a simple, hosted CMS designed to help novice users create a website. These packages typically add around $15 per month to your hosting fees.

The few web builder applications I’ve tried weren’t as stable or user-friendly as WordPress (described below) and forced me into a lot of troubleshooting to get pages to display correctly. One web builder seemed to have intentional limitations that made it difficult to add a shopping cart – perhaps as a way to get you to pay for the web host’s more expensive eCommerce service.

3. Use an eCommerce Service

If you Google eCommerce Software as a Service you’ll see ads from many companies that offer paid monthly software as a service (SAAS) to set up an online store. An eCommerce service is really a combination of an in-house CMS that the company provides, plus a shopping cart and possibly other features.

Early-on I signed on with one of these services – called Yahoo! Stores – and created a working Web store as a test. At the time I thought the software was very painful to use, and because the service levies its own transaction fees in addition to its monthly service fees, plus the charges you’ll pay the payment gateway, I thought that particular company was a poor choice.

4. Use a Free Content Management System (CMS)

A CMS gives you intuitive tools to design and maintain your website. A CMS makes it easier to create and organize your content and even instantly change the look of every page of the site. Around 20% of the world’s websites, including this site, use WordPress as their CMS.

This website also uses a WordPress theme to give it the features and appearance of an online magazine. It’s easy to install and try different free and paid themes that can give your website the look, say, of a web store.

To run WordPress you’ll need to upgrade to an inexpensive Linux shared hosting package with the web hosting company where you registered your domain and then download and install WordPress in your web space.

Ignore the Noise

You can choose from a number of alternatives when setting up your website. My advice is to always set up and thoroughly test any option you’re considering before you make a commitment, since the decision might be difficult to change once your business begins to grow.

It’s important to test the options for yourself, and to treat review sites that offer comparisons of different solutions with great suspicion.

I’ve found that many review sites seem to publish inaccurate information, and it would take a great deal of work to configure and objectively compare even a handful of competing solutions. I seriously doubt that many of these comparison sites – including the best known – actually go to the trouble.

What’s Next?

Once you’re ready to set up a website that communicates the right information, you’ll need to choose a shopping cart and payment gateway, as we’ll explain in upcoming articles.

First let’s cover some Website legal basics to help keep business trouble-free.

Next: Website Legal Stuff

Website Legal Stuff

Website Legal StuffOnce you’ve decided how to set up your website, it’s a good idea to follow a few basic legal rules to help keep your business trouble-free.

Most of these rules are based on common sense and good ethics – and there can be big financial reasons to follow these guidelines, too. The list below is by no means complete, but it’s an important start.

Use Original Text

As much as possible your website should publish only original text, written by you, to describe your products. Copying and pasting others’ works without permission is definitely unethical, and there’s a more than just a legal risk in copying from other websites.

That’s because search engines like Google can recognize content that looks like it’s copied from existing sites, and could penalize your website with lower search rankings if it appears that you’re using others’ material.

Use Only Images that You Own or License

Never publish others’ images on your website without the copyright owner’s permission. Today reverse image search engines like Tineye make it easy for copyright owners to find content that’s published online without permission, and to take legal action.

If you think your website will use stock photos, check out low-cost stock image sites*. Today many of these sites offer very flexible licenses to use stock images, for as long as you like, for as little as a dollar per image.

Publish a Privacy Page

Your online store should have a privacy page that says how you will use and protect the private information that you collect when visitors buy your products, submit a form, or send you email. It’s a good idea for every page of your website to link to the privacy page from a menu or footer.

Your choice of payment gateway, shopping cart, and online advertising will largely determine what you should say on your privacy page. You can find help from these providers, and it’s also a good idea to survey other websites that use the same services to find common, well-written policies that you can use as examples and follow every day.

Protect Others’ Information

Your privacy statement will require that you do not disclose others’ private information like names, phone numbers, email addresses, and purchase histories. This means that you’ll need to follow safeguards to make sure that you and your suppliers don’t reveal this information to others.

Your payment gateway can securely collect customers’ payment card numbers without ever disclosing them to you. Even so, your shopping cart (and possibly other software) will collect plenty of other information that’s of value to criminals.

For this reason it’s important to follow the security recommendations of your shopping cart provider, and to protect your computers that download and store customer information with antivirus, a firewall, and other up-to-date security. It’s also important that you never disclose customer information to an outside party (such as a fulfillment company) unless they agree in writing to abide by your privacy page.

Show Your Trademark and Copyright

Every page of your website should have one copyright statement (like ©2014 Moonlight CEO), usually in small print on the footer. The first occurrence on each page of your unique product or store name should show your trademark symbol “™”.

Use of these symbols can help keep honest companies from using your material without permission, and can sometimes help persuade other website owners to remove material they’ve copied from your site.

You may eventually need to register your trademark with the USPTO to keep unscrupulous advertisers from using your product name in their ads. That’s because Google and others won’t take action unless you can prove that you have registered your trademark and show the “®” registered symbol.

Once you set up your website and plan for these basic legal requirements, it’s time to choose a shopping cart.

Next: Get the Right Shopping Cart


* This is not a paid endorsement.

Get the Right Shopping Cart

Get the Right Shopping CartYour shopping cart is software that allows visitors to select the items they want to purchase, calculates shipping and tax, and communicates the costs to your payment gateway so that customers are charged the correct fees.

The shopping cart also provides reports to help you manage your inventory, keep your financial books, and perform other important tasks.

A shopping cart typically takes one of the following forms.

  1. Probably the easiest way to accept payments on your website is to sign up for a service like PayPal Standard* that combines a basic, hosted cart with a payment gateway. You can quickly turn almost any website into an online store by pasting a few lines of HTML code onto a page, following instructions on the PayPal website.
  2. The PayPal Standard cart doesn’t give you accurate shipping calculated by the carriers, the ability to accept coupons, cart pages that look like part of your website, or a consistent checkout flow so you can track the effectiveness of your online advertising. For these types of features you can combine PayPal (or another payment gateway) with a hosted shopping cart. A hosted cart I’ve tested is Ecwid*, which I think provides good features and a nice customer experience, at reasonable cost.
  3. If your store needs more advanced features you can buy shopping cart software to install and maintain on your website. Our web store uses shopping cart software called Ecommerce Templates* that we installed on the shared Linux host that runs our site. This software gives us the features of other carts, plus unlimited logins with different permissions for our staff, support for drop shippers and affiliates, the option to collect and publish product reviews, more control over the cart appearance, extensive reporting, and so on. The software takes a bit more effort to maintain than a hosted cart, but we like its flexibility.

Note that if you use a hosted eCommerce solution for your website, you’ll also be using the provider’s own shopping cart. More about this approach is discussed in part two of our article about how to set up your website.

Test for Yourself

Just as with any other paid services, you should always set up and thoroughly test your shopping cart options before making a commitment.

It’s also a good idea to treat websites that offer reviews and comparisons of different shopping carts with great suspicion, since I’ve found that they often provide unreliable information.

NoteI’ve tested several shopping carts that claim to make it easy to download every transaction into QuickBooks accounting software. I thought that the QuickBooks-integrated carts I tested were overpriced, difficult to use, and inferior to the alternatives in just about every other way. And, as noted in my article about QuickBooks Hell, you’ll probably want to avoid importing every sales transaction into QuickBooks anyway.

Next: Choose How to Get Paid

* This is not a paid endorsement.

Choose How to Get Paid

Choose How to Get Paid

After you’ve decided on a shopping cart, you’ll need to choose a payment gateway (sometimes called a payment provider) that securely authorizes and charges customers’ payment cards, temporarily holds the funds in a merchant account that’s part of the service, and sends you the payments less transaction fees.

Examples of payment gateways include PayPal,, Chase Paymentech, and Sage Pay.

Choosing a Payment Gateway

Your choice of payment gateway is critical to your business because:

  • Different services charge very different transaction fees (bases on percentages of funds collected and sometimes the payment cards used), plus possibly recurring fees that could be charged each month, regardless of how much you sell. These differences can amount to a great deal of money once your business starts to grow.
  • It’s important to choose a payment gateway service that resolves your issues promptly, consistently, and fairly. We call our payment provider about customer issues and technical support at most around once per month, but since many of those calls are urgent as far as customers are concerned, we depend on prompt and reliable phone support.
  • Your payment gateway must communicate securely with your shopping cart to protect both customer data and your money. Just as importantly, the service should have processes to resolve (hopefully rare) cases of customer fraud as painlessly as possible, along with controls to prevent criminals from accessing your account online. We’ll discuss the controls used by our payment provider in the next article.

Choose Your Payment Gateway with Care

As with the other key parts of your online store, you should compare and choose your payment gateway carefully since the choice will have a big impact on your business and could be difficult to change as you grow.

Beware of the add-on fees charged by some services that advertise low transaction costs. These fees can include surcharges on some types of payment cards, monthly reporting surcharges, and even termination fees.

As always, treat online review sites with suspicion, as many of the comparisons I’ve read on these sites don’t seem to give an accurate picture.

I’ve personally tested only the PayPal Standard* service that our store used for the first few years, the PayPal Payments Pro gateway that we use now, and the (now defunct) Google Checkout service. Therefore I can’t give first-hand advice about other services.

Our experiences with PayPal have been very positive, but we’ve learned some secrets in dealing with PayPal that were important for our business.

Next: PayPal Secrets


* This is not a paid endorsement.

PayPal Secrets

PayPal SecretsIf you search online for the phrase “PayPal sucks” you’ll find discussion board comments and even entire websites with bad things to say about PayPal.

Many of the complaints seem to suggest that PayPal freezes funds and even shuts down the accounts of honest merchants for completely unfair and arbitrary reasons.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that a lot of these complaints come from individuals whose business practices have problems that PayPal’s aggressive customer service controls have exposed.

To put it another way, I believe that if you deliver an honest product with good customer service you’ll find that PayPal doesn’t suck*. From our perspective, PayPal is one of the most reliable online services that we use.

PayPal Standard Buy Now Button
PayPal Standard
“Buy Now” Button

Why PayPal?

When starting our first online store, I chose PayPal Standard, a combined shopping cart and payment gateway, because of its simplicity. This service allows you to start collecting payments by pasting a few lines of HTML code on your web pages, following instructions on the PayPal website. You’ve probably seen PayPal Standard “Buy Now” buttons like the sample shown here.

Since that time our website has changed a great deal, but PayPal is still collects our payments. Although we’ve moved to a more flexible service called PayPal Payments Pro, many of the core advantages are unchanged, including:

  • Competitive transaction fees, that get smaller as your sales volume grows, and the ability to accept many different customer payment cards
  • A lack of hidden costs such as extra fees on rewards cards, statement fees, and so on
  • Aggressive security controls to prevent hackers and an occasional dishonest customer from taking your money
  • Integrated UPS and USPS shipping that automates your shipping labels and provides proof of fulfillment in case of any disputes
  • A history of good telephone support, by staff that seems to be US-based

But despite these positive points, we had to discover some critical, mostly unwritten rules to keep things running smoothly.

Secrets to Trouble-Free PayPal Service

Many of the most important secrets for working with PayPal didn’t seem very obvious at first. We had to learn some of these through experience.

  • Make the email address for your PayPal account your primary customer service address, since buyers will see the address when PayPal confirms payments and issues refunds. Choose an email address that’s simple and will make sense to customers, like
  • Document all customer requests that impact fulfillment (for example shipping address changes) and use integrated PayPal shipping to help prove you shipped every order.
  • Avoid accessing your account from a new location without notifying PayPal beforehand, as this could trigger a security lockout.
  • Once you add employees, configure additional PayPal logins to prevent others from viewing balances, transferring funds, and so on.
  • As soon as your account balance is big enough that loss of funds would be a disaster, enable the PayPal Security Key that uses a cell phone or smart card to authenticate any login that’s allowed to withdraw money. Use of your mobile phone as a security key is free to US customers.
  • Most importantly, treat customer satisfaction as your top priority. Answer questions and complaints quickly, and do everything in your power to focus on customer service so that no one ever ever needs to contact PayPal or their payment card issuer to dispute your charges.

PayPal Shortcomings

All online services suffer occasional outages, and PayPal is no exception. In our experience PayPal disruptions have occurred less than once per year, and are usually resolved within a few minutes of calling their support line.

Our biggest frustration with PayPal used to be its transaction reporting. We find these reports difficult to use since so many of the entries are temporary, behind-the-scenes transactions like authorizations, holds and reversals. These related, temporary transactions often span consecutive months so they’re difficult to reconcile, and they’re so numerous that they bogged down our accounting software. We found no reliable way to import the transactions into QuickBooks, and the add-on tools we tried only made things worse.

After years of frustration we finally found a great accountant who taught us how to solve the problem. For details about the simple way that we now get the financial results from PayPal into our accounting software, see our story about QuickBooks Hell.

What’s Next?

Once you’ve configured your website and chosen your shopping cart and payment gateway, if you sell physical goods you’ll need to determine the shipping options you’ll provide customers. We’ll discuss that next.

Next: Shipping Your Products


* This is not a paid endorsement.

Shipping Your Products

Shipping Your ProductsIf you sell physical products online (as opposed to electronic downloads), the choice of shipping options presented to your customers and the way that shipping fees are calculated will both be determined by your shopping cart.

Very basic shopping carts (like PayPal Standard) usually calculate shipping fees based on weights that you configure and order quantities, in combination with shipping regions that you define.

Because this basic method only estimates the fees, you’ll find that some customers pay too little, while a few visitors might feel they’re being overcharged and will abandon your shopping cart without a purchase.

More advanced shopping carts can give customers a broader choice of shippers, and generally link with carriers’ online systems to calculate accurate shipping fees based on weights, box sizes, delivery addresses, published rates and any discounts you might have. In the case of our own store, we try to charge every customer exactly the fee calculated by the carrier, including any carrier discount, to minimize shopping cart abandonment and complaints.

Note that once you receive an order, unless you use PayPal you’ll generally need to copy-and-paste the customer information into a system provided by each carrier to print the required shipping label. An advantage with PayPal is that its services all provide an online system to print UPS and USPS labels directly, without the need to copy-and-paste.

Shipping Carriers Compared

Probably 80% of our customers choose UPS when buying from our online store. And as far as we’re concerned, UPS has a number advantages:

  • UPS has top-notch online tracking that provides timely and reliable information about the status of each package.
  • UPS has fair and reliable processes for dealing with lost shipments, damaged goods, and occasional customer fraud, and a willingness to track down root causes and resolve claims quickly.
  • You can change delivery and even recall a package after you’ve sent it, albeit at a significant cost.
  • UPS offers a convenient online system for emailing customers prepaid labels to return products if needed.
  • Insurance of up to $100 is included in the cost of every UPS shipment.

However UPS is not perfect, and some of its practices can really hurt.

  • As far as we can tell, UPS has no transparency when it comes to the big discounts they give different online retailers. We’ve had to plead our case every year with the local UPS rep, and hope they’ll help us out.
  • Any time you fail to catch the smallest customer typo on a shipping address, UPS may charge you an address correction fee of $11.
  • By default, UPS uses a customs clearance service that could charge international customers hidden fees that total more than the cost of shipping; when customers refuse to pay, you might have to refund their purchases and pay insanely high fees to get your package back.

As you might guess, we now use only the US Postal Service (USPS) for shipments outside the USA. The USPS has a number of advantages:

  • Unlike other carriers, the USPS offers consistent and transparent pricing for all its services.
  • You won’t get stuck paying surprise fees for address corrections, returned packages, international customs clearance, and so on.
  • The USPS offers Saturday delivery at no extra charge, and unlike UPS can deliver to PO boxes.
  • Customers pay very low rates for shipping to distant US locations like Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and US military bases.

Sadly, some USPS practices seem to be stuck in the pre-Internet age:

  • Especially when it comes to overseas shipments, the USPS online tracking system often gives unreliable, outdated information.
  • USPS support can be almost impossible to reach, and it could take several hours and multiple phone calls to resolve a single issue.
  • The USPS requires a two week wait before they’ll trace a lost package, and often won’t even report their findings until 21 days after that.

Choose Your Carriers with Care

No matter what carriers you choose, much of your customer service effort will be spent resolving delivery issues. We’ve gotten plenty of complaints about both carriers, and have gotten negative online reviews from customers who seemed angry that we don’t offer a particular service they like.

Note that our online store has no track record with other shippers like FedEx, partially because of lack of integration with PayPal, and partially because of my personal bias arising from bad experiences as a consumer.

Configuring shipping options in our shopping cart was the last big step to start selling online. Next it was time to make our store visible to search engines so that people could find us.

Next: Make Your Website Visible

Make Your Website Visible

Make Your Website VisibleNow that you’re ready to start selling online, it’s time to make your website visible to search engines like Google, Bing and the others.

You can make your website visible through a combination of basic setup steps that announce your presence to the search engines, and search engine optimization (SEO) practices to follow each time you create content on your website, so that prospective customers can find you.

Basic Setup Steps

Your first step to getting found online is to sign up for Google Webmaster Toolsand also submit your site to Bing. Both free services provide basic tools to help make your website visible, including information about how to set up sitemaps to help the search engines find and display your relevant content to people searching for products like yours.

At the time this was written more than two-thirds of internet searches used Google, so prioritize your work accordingly.

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

The purpose of search engine optimization (SEO) is to improve the visibility of your web pages to people who are searching online. If you search Google for SEO you’ll find a great many articles and ads related to the topic.

There’s a lot of information available online about SEO. Some of the advice is valuable, but a lot of it is definitely not, as you’ll learn with experience.  One website I’ve liked that provides free information (along with paid tools) is*, which currently offers a free beginner’s guide to SEO that could be helpful if you’re just starting out.

Avoid Beginner Mistakes

A common SEO beginner mistake is to place too much emphasis on your product or company name in web page titles, headline text, and so on. If few people know your brand, you should focus on figuring out the terms that they’re likely to search to find your solution, and emphasize those key phrases far above your store or product name.

Beware of companies that advertise SEO services, and especially those that claim to boost your search engine rankings through sale of bogus links, fake content, and other artificial tactics. Search engines will almost certainly spot these illegitimate methods and will penalize your website. And as discussed in the article about Steve’s Marketing Rule, you can be almost certain that these advertised services are a waste of money.

Importance of Online Advertising

Paying for search engine marketing through Google AdWords* (and to a lesser extent its competitors) can have important benefits.

  • Creating effective paid search ad campaigns will require you to research and prioritize keywords that people use to find products like yours online, and could help keep you focused on using these terms as you create new web content.
  • I doubt Google would admit it, but I believe there’s a strong correlation between paying Google for their search engine advertising and the free (also called organic) search results people see when they search for your product category.

Next, we’ll cover a few more of the basics of online adverting.

Next: Advertise Online


* This is not a paid endorsement.

Advertise Online

Advertise OnlineAs discussed in the article about making your website visible, there are important reasons to buy online advertising from Google* and others.

The benefits of online advertising can include jump-starting traffic to your website, and keeping you focused on the key terms you’ll need to emphasize on your web pages and in your ads so that you attract relevant visitors.

Different types of online ads that you can buy include:

  • search ads that shows text-based ads to people who are searching for related terms online
  • product listing ads that show very prominent product images and descriptions to people who are searching for items like yours
  • content network ads that show text and graphical ads to people who visit other websites that might be relevant to your product, or to people who fit demographic or behavioral characteristics that you choose
Ads in Google Search Results
Paid Ads Can Be the Most Visible Part of Search Results (Click to Enlarge)

Online ads use a bidding system that costs more when visitors click ads that appear for highly sought-after keywords. Your cost for a single click can range from a few pennies to many dollars.

This image shows examples of the ads that Google displayed when I searched for particular keywords. As you can see, the ads can really stand out compared to the unpaid (also called organic) results that Google also shows.

Focus on Advertising

The success of your online advertising will likely be critical to your business, and in the beginning you can expect to spend lots of time studying different techniques to improve the effectiveness of your ads.

Especially at first, you should keep a watchful eye on advertising effectiveness and spending, as small changes can have a big impact. We’ve heard stories of Google charging unwary advertisers huge sums of money in a matter of hours when improperly configured campaigns caused big expenses without the desired results.

It’s important to set realistic goals for the cost per conversion you’re willing to pay for each sale, and to constantly monitor your campaigns to meet your goals. In the case of our business, increasing online ad budgets to the point where we maximized profits – and avoiding the emotional decision of how much seemed “fair” to pay Google – had a positive impact on our bottom line.

Measure Everything

Before you begin advertising online, you should paste small pieces of tracking code provided by Google and the others on each page of your website to help report how different types of visitors are using your website.

Start by visiting the Google Analytics page (and the analytics pages of other advertisers you will use) to sign up for a free account, and to find the instructions for adding the provided code to your web pages. You will also want to paste different code for conversion tracking on the page that customers will see after they complete a purchase; this helps you to measure the effectiveness of your advertising expenditures.

If your website uses a content management system (CMS), there will likely be a free module to do nearly all the work for you. In the case of WordPress you can choose one of several free plugins that handle the job.

Advertising Considerations

Every product is different, and the nature of your business and competition will determine how easy it can be to create effective online ads. Special considerations can include:

  • Selling a new type of solution whose category is known to few people can make it tough to create effective search ads. In the case of our products, it’s been necessary to aggressively bid for keywords that generally describe our solution, and to run print ads in magazines that prospective customers are likely to read.
  • Products or services that target a limited geographic area can sometimes be easier to advertise online. I’ve found that it can be simpler to compete against other online businesses if your product is focused on a particular territory, since you can design ad campaigns and website pages that appeal to local customers.
  • Competition from large, national companies can make it a real challenge to create cost-effective ads. Your careful planning of targeted online ads – and the quality of information and ease of navigation that people experience on your website – must be better than the competition for you to survive.

Recommended Reading

Online advertising drives a large percentage of our sales, and I feel we owe some of our success to a $49 eBook The Definitive Guide to Google AdWords (Basic Edition)* by Perry Marshall. While I personally have not liked any of the add-on modules or other products I’ve tried from this author and his affiliates, I think this basic $49 eBook is worth many times its cost.

Early on I was persuaded to pay $500 for a credible-sounding consulting company to study our Google AdWords campaigns and suggest some improvements. It quickly became clear that because I knew my customers and had studied that $49 eBook, my own planning and analysis was much better than what the consultants could provide.

Test Your Alternatives

In addition to online ads, there are lots of other advertising options that you can try. These include advertising in print publications, sponsoring publishers’ email newsletters, and even direct mail.

My advice is to try everything you reasonably can, and to always test your results. In the case of more traditional advertising like print ads, we found it necessary to publish different coupon codes that offer readers a discount so that we can track the effectiveness of those ads.

We did discover one iron-clad rule to save money on marketing. More about that next.

Next: Steve’s Marketing Rule

* This is not a paid endorsement.

Steve’s Marketing Rule

Steve's Law of MarketingAs our business grew, we made a real effort to measure each marketing program to find out how much of a return it provided. We carefully monitored our online campaigns, and used incentives like coupons to test the effectiveness of print ads.

Because we measured the return on every dollar spent on marketing, we learned a simple rule that’s proven true virtually 100% of the time.

Steve’s Marketing Rule:

Never trust anyone who tries to sell you anything marketing related.

In other words, never trust someone who is making the slightest effort to sell you online ads; print advertising in magazines, newspaper or flyers; search engine optimization (SEO) services; TV or radio ads; customer email lists; or any other marketing-related service you can imagine. This also holds true as your company grows and providers that you have used successfully in the past approach you to sell add-on offerings.

Here’s Why

The truth is that the better the marketing-related service, the less it needs telephone salespeople, email Spam, and other kinds of outbound promotion.

Any advertising or marketing-related service that can show a positive return is quickly adopted by companies who are hungry for better sales, and a little positive word-of-mouth spreads rapidly among prospective clients. So if a marketing service or advertising media is any good they’ll almost never make any real effort to approach a small company like yours first.

Choose Your Marketing Programs Carefully

Our QuickBooks reports show that advertising and promotion are always a very big part of our expenses, and choosing the right marketing programs was critical to our success. I’ve found that the most reliable way to create productive new marketing campaigns is to:

  1. Figure out what media your prospective customers are most likely see; this could include online searches, targeted magazines or newspapers, YouTube videos, and so on.
  2. In each case, look for how other companies who appeal to your same target audience are using the media, and consider starting out by matching their style of ad.
  3. Measure the effectiveness of every campaign, and keep working to improve your results over time.

It can also be a big help to share your advertising experiences – good and bad – with people at non-competing online stores.

Steve’s Marketing Rule is really just a corollary of Steve’s First Rule of Money, discussed in the next article.

Next: Steve’s First Rule of Money

Steve’s First Rule of Money

Steve's First Rule of Money

Steve’s Marketing Rule, discussed in the previous story, is really just a corollary to a general rule that I’ve always found to be true.

While this general rule doesn’t have much to do with selling online, I think it’s worth sharing.

Steve’s First Rule of Money:

Never trust anyone who tries to sell you anything with a measurable monetary return.

Specifically, this rule says that you should be very skeptical of anyone who is making the slightest effort to sell you financial investments, insurance, marketing services, or anything else with a monetary return that someone could possibly measure or predict.


There are plenty of professionals who can analyze the expected return of just about any investment. And, smart marketers know how to measure the return of almost any ad campaign or marketing service.

You can be sure that if experts believe that an investment is likely to deliver even a slight advantage  (or, in the case of insurance, slightly lower costs than the competition) word will get out, people will rush to buy the offering, and there’s hardly a need to promote it.

Friends in Need

Of course, this also holds true of anyone who asks to borrow money. Individuals who pose an acceptable risk can find ways to secure a loan, whether from a bank or a pawn shop. If you value your relationship with that person, give them money instead of loaning it.

Next, we’ll talk about a costly marketing trap that I discovered the hard way.

Next: Amazon Is No Friend