June 10, 2020
By: Jenna Phillips
We all have regrets. Some big, some small but regrets nonetheless. Disappointments feel even worse, though, when money is lost, and you're in a race against time trying to make your business work.
When I look back at the things I could've changed when starting my online business, I shake my head. I could've saved myself a lot of headaches, driven more traffic to my site in a shorter amount of time, increased profitability, and overall had greater confidence that I was moving in the right direction. So, that's in today's post; I'm sharing the top five things I would've done differently if I started over today. I hope that you can use these insights to your advantage and turn my regrets into your successes.
About My Online Business
My name is Jenna Phillips, and I'm the owner and founder of VegasPrimer.com. My business is booking bottle service reservations at the pool parties and nightclubs in Las Vegas. As an avid club-goer and VIP host, I created my site to help visitors to Vegas better understand how the clubs work. I spend most of my day helping clients pick the right clubs and table options for their group size, budget, and music preference. My current business model is 100% commission based.
Regret #1: Choosing A Geographical Name
It turns out my first regret was also the first business decision I ever made. In deciding on the company's name, I wanted something that I liked, but I also wanted to make sure it was memorable. Unfortunately, what I didn't think about was the type of business name I was creating.
For instance, will the type of name you choose be descriptive (i.e., E*Trade), made-up (like Xerox), or geographical (i.e., Arizona Tile)? There are other types too, but these are some of the most popular. For my brand, I wanted to let visitors know what they'd find on my site: a guidebook to Las Vegas. So the name I chose ended up being a combination of geographical (Vegas) and descriptive (Primer). So, why does the type of name matter? The business name you choose may impact your rights under the law, and even your ability to register your trademark. At least in the US, anyway.
I admit registering my mark wasn't initially on my radar, but I quickly realized that it would be a good idea. For example, let's say a competitor starts using your business name on their website to essentially "steal" traffic from your business searches. Not only is this infringing on your mark, but it's also competing unfairly. If you don't register your trademark, you may still have some recourse, but a registered mark typically provides more legal protection as well as other advantages.
Here's what I didn't see coming with the trademark application, though. Using geographic or descriptive terms in your business name may make for a weaker mark and is often more challenging to register. It's still possible to get approval, but the process may take longer and cost you more money. And just because you submit a trademark application, it doesn't mean it will get approved.
For the best chance of trademark approval, you may want to select an arbitrary (the name has meaning, but when applied to the business, it's completely unrelated, like Apple for personal computers) or a made-up business name. From my understanding, these types of marks provide the highest level of protection. Full disclaimer, though, I'm not a lawyer, so it's best to speak with a trademark attorney if you're interested in registering a mark for your business.
Regret #2: Entering A Cyclical Industry
Unfortunately, we all know too well now that when a pandemic strikes, some industries' revenues come to a screeching halt. As my business is in the travel sector, I haven't had income for months. And it's not looking like that will change anytime soon as the clubs aren't currently slated to reopen until the last phase.
But it's not just a virus that can cause problems for a business. It's also economic recessions. For example, while Vegas is going strong when the economy is good, it also takes a beating during a downturn. So when you're deciding on the industry for your online business, you might want to consider how cyclical it is. If you don't want to stomach the ups and downs, it's better to select a sector that can weather the storm.
Examples of industries that have fared well during a disaster are banking, education, streaming services, and leisure activities like camping and fishing. Some of these sectors may be worth considering for starting an online business as they'll provide revenue protection during catastrophic times. If I had to do it all over again, I would think long and hard before jumping into a cyclical industry. One good thing about Vegas, though, is that it tends to recover quite quickly. Fingers crossed for a quick recovery this time too!
Regret #3: Launching With Limited SEO Experience
If I could go back in time, the first thing I'd do before I started making my website would be to take a course on Search Engine Optimization. Now I did have some beginner knowledge from my first online business, but some things have changed dramatically since then. (It was 2009, after all!)
With my current site, I got a hard reminder that it's essential to set up your website correctly, as it can impact your rankings in the search results and thus your traffic. And even though it can feel like there's a lot to learn about SEO, it's so much easier to do it right the first time than to go back and fix it. You'll save yourself a lot of time in the future, too, if you prioritize it now. There are plenty of books and classes you can take to learn SEO. If you're just getting started, Google offers a fantastic guide called the SEO Starter Guide. That said, if you don't want to spend your time learning, you may want to consider hiring an SEO consultant instead. Either way, you'll ensure that your site is following best practices.
Regret #4: Not Focusing Enough On Content
Looking back, I wish I would've prioritized content creation over sales. By that, I mean, I wouldn't have offered a way to book reservations through my site for at least the first year. By doing this, I could've just focused on delivering value through my posts and gotten to the content and traffic levels that I wanted sooner. I could've even written articles in advance for publication over the next year as well. This strategy would've helped me to grow the site faster, which would've ultimately led to increased revenue over what I have now. Additionally, it would've allowed me to help more people coming to Vegas, which is my primary goal for the site.
Instead, I got bogged down in booking reservations and hardly had any time left over to write. In the beginning, I felt that focusing on bookings was most important as it helped me to determine if the business was even viable. However, I quickly realized that the more traffic I got, the more feasible the company became. And thus why I wish now that I would've focused on content first. Of course, one way around this bottleneck is to hire writers. But with that comes additional monetary investment and perhaps some unknowns in the writing quality as well. Unfortunately, when I was starting, this wasn't an option for me.
Regret #5: Trying To Be Perfect
Okay, so I fully acknowledge that I still struggle with perfectionism. I'm sure it stems from my school years when anything less than an A was "not living up to my full potential." Unfortunately, this need to be perfect has followed me into adulthood and impacts everything I do, including writing blog posts. There's just something in me that makes me want to edit posts a bajillion times before hitting publish. I suppose it's just important to me that my writing is clear, and visitors don't leave my site with any unanswered questions. Being this thorough, though, means I spend a lot of time working on an article. For instance, there have been times when it's taken me an entire month to finish one piece. Although some of those posts were close to 5,000 words, so they're quite detailed.
Of course, there's a catch to all this perfectionism. In the amount of time that I spend writing one post, I could've written many. And even more importantly, I could've helped more visitors coming to Las Vegas. So at a certain point, all of this editing and trying to write as clear as possible starts reaching a point of diminishing returns. Lately, I've found it helpful to remind myself that writing a good post is good enough and to move on to another task. So try not to worry about being perfect when you're first starting. You can always go back and edit at a later date anyway. And as long as you're providing value to your customers with each post, that's what matters most.