4 Critical Things to Know Before Starting an Online Service Business

By: Blink Session

1. Know The Difference Between Online Advertising and Online Services

Today, an Online presence is vital for any business, but don't mistake advertising Online for delivering services Online. An example to illustrate:

If I search Google for, "Mental Health Counselors", the first thing that appears is a map with a listing of businesses near me that offer that service. Even Google assumes I'm looking for a counselor to physically go to for help. They are right to assume that is what most people are looking for. A search for, "Online Mental Health Counselors", results in an entire page of businesses that offer counseling Online.

Why is this important? If you offer a service that is historically received in-person, you will have an extremely hard time seeing results if you advertise to people looking for in-person businesses. Your first goal should be to target potential customers that are looking to receive your services Online.

2. Know Your Target Market

Your target market is the group of people who will buy or formally refer others to buy your product or service. For some services, all your customers will be generated from your advertising or word-of-mouth. For others, especially medical, you might receive a significant amount of new business from formal referrals for your services. This is important because you will want to target the referral sources as much as the end customer.

Know Your Target Market Limits. A local tutoring business has a geographically limited market because people have to drive there. If you are tutoring Online your market might be limited to families that have broadband Internet, a good computer, speak your Language and are willing to pay what you ask. If you are selling Online speech therapy to a school and require that school to have a student-helper for therapy, schools unwilling to provide this would be out of your market limit. Whatever limits you have, you will save a lot of time and money if you know them beforehand and avoid marketing to people that fall outside.

3. Know Who to Start With

You might be thinking: "Couldn't I market in a way to convince someone looking for in-person services to do it Online?" Back when the iPhone came out, no one was specifically asking for it. Apple had to create demand for it through advertising, but it took tens of millions of dollars of it. The lesson to learn from Apple is that it took millions of dollars to convince people. Unless you have a huge marketing budget and long-term plan, you will do much better starting with people already looking of your services.

There might be 50,000 families needing your services, in the state you are licensed to serve, but need does not equal looking. Of those 50,000 there might be 25,000 who are looking but only 1,000 searching to receive services Online. 1,000 isn't 50,000 but its a good start.

4. Know How to Target

Targeted marketing is taking your target market and determine the best way to reach them. Remember though, you are first trying to reach people that are looking for your services. This is important because you want to meet them where they are looking, not simply where they are.

A good way to illustrate this is Google Search vs. FaceBook adds. Facebook adds are what marketing people call, "Interruption Marketing". You open the FB app to see what's going on with your friends and all the sudden you are, "Interrupted" by an add. Google search adds display when people have typed keywords that match your product or service. Facebook has a plethora of demographic data that you can use to make sure you adds display to certain people, but people don't go to Facebook to search for services. Thus, on Google you would be meeting your target audience where they are looking.

Before you jump on Google Adwords and build an add, consider if the best source of new customers might not be Online at all. Remember, a big part of your target market could be other professionals that will refer. These people are not usually "looking" for your service, but they need to be ready with your information when someone they need to refer comes along. If you believe there is a shortage of math tutors in a geographic area, you might do better getting in your car and stopping by schools in that area than paying for Google adds.

And a Bonus: Know Your Niche, or Get a Niche

My wife is one of only two speech pathologist in our city that offer one specific type of therapy. That is a niche. It is a lot easier to generate business for a service only a hand-full of companies provide, and even more so Online.

If you provide counseling to anyone that can drive to your office, you are only competing with other therapists in driving distance. When you switch to teletherapy, you are competing with any therapist Online that has the legal right to provide services to your target market (and some illegal). For mental health professionals, providing Online "counseling" won't be enough to stand out. If you are one of only 100 people in the U.S. with training in a specific area, that would go a long way in helping attract new business.

The reality is, it would take years to appear on the first page of a general Google search for something like, "Online Speech Therapy". If you are a small business, that should not even be a goal. Instead, you might aim to be top of the results for, "Online speech therapy for apraxia". Even better, strive to be known as one of the best at a specific treatment among the Online social network of the people that need it.