She’s Virtually Virtual: The Perils of Building an Online Business

With books like The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss (which was on the New York Times best seller list for 75 weeks), thousands of people everywhere have been trying to make money online by capitalizing on new, virtual business models. The appeal of reaching a global audience while generating passive income is irresistible… I read the book, I drank the kool-aid, and I love the philosophy. But outsourcing your company is risky business.

My BFF is an infopreneur in the mind/body fitness industry. Tired of trading her time for money, she decided to “virtualize” her business last year and take her personal training practice online - complete with a virtual gym, DVDs and iphone apps :-) But now it’s a grueling 1 year later, and she’s found out that creating a business in the cloud is a bigger deal than she thought. In fact, she barely weathered the storm. Here is one girl’s account about outsourcing in cyberspace

Hot on the trail after reading Ferris’ book, she hired some developers in India to build her an open source site using Joomla, which was to be a virtual gym and e-commerce store with the ability to deliver digital products as downloads. They promised her a fully functional site with all the training she would need to run her online business. She had fun working with them on Skype for months on end, getting the “look and feel” down and the content exactly where she wanted it. She said it was interesting to work with people on the other side of the planet, their accents were cute, blah, blah, blah, but the long (and sad) story short is that when her site was delivered, it looked great, but she had no idea how to run the CMS (the back end) nor how to arm the back end with the necessary marketing tools needed, like autoresponders, list management panels, newsletter generators, etc…. all the things that are crucial in creating a successful online business! Duh.

Furthermore, she realized her IT guys in India weren’t necessarily direct marketers, they hadn’t gone to the conferences she went to, they didn’t know a sales funnel from an affiliate tracker from an opt-in page to a landing page to article marketing and beyond. And that’s cool she said (I told her it was not) but she was still understanding and said “you can’t be an expert at everything.” “One area you do need to manage,” she said, “is your site, you need to understand it from the back end forward. It doesn’t matter how cool your site looks on the Web, if you can’t update it behind the screens and run it yourself, it’s not going to work.”

“And don’t think that what you save in money by outsourcing (sometimes $3.00/hr) you don’t spend in time. That old adage, ‘Time is money’, still holds true, right? The Internet hasn’t changed that! But add in the sometimes 12-14 hour time difference, communication issues regarding the subtle nuances of our native tongues, and the need to discuss complex technical matters, and you have a recipe for a time/money suck!” Oh boy, I could tell things were not proceeding as planned. And BTW, she’s smarter than the average bear especially when it comes to geek stuff.

She was near tears by now and going on and on, “Face it, this “ain’t your daddy’s business world” anymore. Employers are lucky to have an employee stick around for a year, let alone 50! The Internet has revolutionized the way we work, the way we communicate, and the way we are creating --and replacing-- jobs, and not just in this country but in the world.” There was no consoling her at this point so I let her go on…

“This supposed technology that was invented to help us “save time” and “make life easier” has not gone exactly as planned. If anything it’s complicated and it’s a major time suck. People today work, date, play, and essentially LIVE online. Okay it can be fun sometimes but look at the millions of people actually living virtual lives on 2nd Life! What is that all about?!” I started to explain but she was already on to the next rant-and-rave

“From big corporations who outsource their customer service calls to companies in the Philippines, to infopreneurs who outsource their website to developers in India, we are officially a global community. It truly is a global work force. But you know what? That may be a beautiful thing in theory, but I’m seeing first hand now how it has its share of draw backs.” So what’s your takeaway I ask? Our lesson? Your next step?

“Make sure your outsourcers understand the look you want and the functionality you need out of your site. Because, 9 months later even though my site looked great, full of rich content and pretty pictures there was one big problem. The outsourcers had hard coded it instead of using the plugin Joomla modules that anyone can use. They said they would teach me how to do this...or I could pay them a maintenance retainer. REALLY? I want to run my business not become a Joomla goddess!” I completely agreed.

Frustrated and tired of being lost in translation on late night Skype calls, my friend decided it was time to hire a U.S. based, Joomla guru to get her virtual business up and running. Of course, this would cost double the money, but half the time. So, running out of resources, what did my little entrepreneur do? She shelved her old site and built a new site on iWeb in about 4 hours. She signed up for (which has built in autoresponders) to manage the entire back end from one console panel. She’s like “Sheesh, 1 year later, and it’s the little site that could!” And I’m like, okay fingers crossed, I just want it to work for her. She’s virtually virtual, and when she transcends once and for all, that will only be a good thing.
Stay tuned,