They Laughed When I Started My OwnWeb Site

I remember the day clearly. I was driving in my car on my torturous 1.3-mile commute to work, and I had the big idea: Why not start a Web site dedicated to creativity? I’m a writer; Web sites are easy; and I’ll be rich, famous, and emotionally fulfilled in, oh, let’s say a week or two.

It wasn’t quite that easy. Stickyideas.com launched in May 2000, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Hopefully they can help you so you can avoid making the same mistakes I did.

  • Shakespeare wasn’t 100 percent correct. Let’s not kill ALL the lawyers… yet. Make sure you meet with an intellectual property lawyer to have him or her write a privacy policy for your site and go over any ownership issues BEFORE your site goes live. I’ve got the best lawyer in the world who opened my eyes to some potential problems. His No. 1 piece of advice? Clearly spell out who owns the site and in what proportion. Even if you’re just throwing together something with your buddies from work, get it in writing. You do it for a marriage, so do it for a Web site.

  • What is your goal? You’re living with your idea 24 hours a day. You have only a few seconds to capture visitors’ attention when they come to your site. Will these visitors instantly know what the goal of the site is?
  • “A rose by any other name…” Cool names help. It’s a fact of life. As I overanalyzed possible names for my site, my wife looked at me and said, “You want the site to be sticky, and you’ll give people ideas about how to come up with creative ideas, right? How about ‘Stickyideas.com’?” Brilliant! Then make sure that the domain name is available. Having a Web address that is 33 letters long with back slashes and a lot of numbers doesn’t convey the same importance as a “.com” address. Do your homework on this one right upfront.
  • Where the hell am I? Make sure people can get around your site easily. Take a look at sites like Amazon.com, Yahoo, FedEx.com, and other big sites. There is a reason that these sites are set up the way they are. People have come to expect a certain format. That’s not to say you can’t be creative, but if you decide to really screw with your navigation, you WILL hear about it.
  • Content is king. Words are good. Where is your content coming from? Unless you can devote several hours a day to keeping the content fresh, make sure you have a good stable of writers. For Stickyideas.com, I began soliciting the readers who were interested in creativity, advertising, and marketing. I openly solicit writers to contribute (like right now).
  • Give people a reason to come back. Even if you don’t change content every few minutes, give people a reason to check back with you regularly. One way to do it is to provide live news headlines for your audience. One fast and free way is to go to Moreover.com. It provides updated news feeds for thousands of topics. You can then add these headlines to your site.
  • I’m talking to YOU! Make sure people can find you. The Web is great for creating dialogue. Give people ample ways to contact you. Then, respond to them. Seems simple, but there are plenty of sites that don’t make it easy to get a human response.
  • Build that list. If you run a site that talks about purple orchids that bloom only on the third Thursday of October, you’ll get a fairly narrow list of devotees. That’s great. Just make sure you capture their names with an email opt-in list. People like to belong to groups with similar interests. Since last May, my mailing list has topped 2,200 people… a few at a time. I email them every two weeks to let them know what’s coming up on the site and ask for feedback. I’ve made friends with people around the world that I’ve never met and never talked to on the phone.
  • Make sure they can opt out. Make it easy for people to get off your list. People’s moods change, and their interest in your site can change, too. Make it easy for people to get out, and maybe they’ll return. Make it hard, and they’ll just be mad.
  • Try something different! The ability to allow anyone to become a publisher has been around only for a while. Try something if you think it will work. I’ve tried some pretty lame ideas on my Web site. All it costs is some time. With my direct marketing background, the mantra has always been “Test, test, test.” I’m not arrogant enough to think that I always know what I’m doing, so it keeps me free to throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks.
  • Interactive is great. Lots of people in our industry are looking for jobs. With the recent layoffs at dot-coms, the number is only increasing. I created a Market Page where people can post their qualifications and link to their résumé or Web site. Just a little idea, but it’s now the second most visited page on the site.
  • Are you ready for the big, big leagues? Because the Internet is constantly changing, I began researching what it takes to add shopping-cart technology and all the goodies that go along with it. I’m only a few million dollars short of being able to do it right. But, if you’re ready to work with big companies to help you implement these systems, there is a great resource at eCompany magazine’s Web site. It highlights 23 steps to building an e-business.

Have fun with your Web site, but as the economy has shown lately, don’t quit your day job until you have the cash in hand. I run my Web site because I truly love it. Anything other than that would be a bonus.

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