One of the most promising top Internet businesses today is the field of letter writing. At some point, almost everyone has the need for a resignation letter, a business letter, or some other critical correspondence. A professionally written letter can make all the difference.
Letter Writing Emerges One of the Top Internet Businesses
In this exclusive LoveToKnow interview, Robert Noyes of Letterrep.com, based in Herndon, Virginia, outlines what inspired him to create an Internet-based letter writing business, and what it's like running an online business.
How Letterrep.com Started
LTK: What originally gave you the idea to create a site like Letterrep.com?
RN: Back around 2000, a lot people were making money online selling everything from pet supplies to kid's clothing. Just watching it, I got interested and thought I could make money on the net. I began reading and studying and then, just before I jumped in, the bubble burst. It opened my eyes a little. Looking back now, it seems that Internet users had matured. They'd begun to realize that most companies were simply using the Internet as a new medium for a catalog; once they found the product they wanted and entered their credit cards, whatever they bought still took several days to get to them, the same as if they'd ordered 10 or 15 years earlier from a paper catalog.
I went back to the drawing board and I found that the smaller companies that survived the meltdown, not the big ones like Amazon or Ebay, were those that were offering information products: Ameritrade, WebMD, and some smaller ones. I knew then that I needed to offer information in a clever way. Months went by and then one day a young guy walked into my office and asked me for a letter of recommendation. I agreed to write it thinking I'd just go out on the net, search for 'Letters of Recommendation' and find a site that sold them. Instead, I found 6million sites that each had a letter of recommendation but not one site that, sort of, served as a hub.
That gave me the idea.
How An Online Business Changes
LTK: When you first started, did the site appear as it does now, or have there been a lot of modifications to the look and feel of the site?
RN: Oh no! I, who had no programming experience at all, bought a book on HTML and programmed the first couple of generations. WaybackMachine shows pages for us from as far back as 2002. No laughing!
LTK: What would you say is the primary scripting language used on your website, to process things like logins, payments, or processing and storing author letters?
RN: We have used PHP and MySQL for years...great open-source language and databasing. I highly recommend them.
Running An Internet Business
LTK: Do you find that running an online business like this takes up a lot of your time and babysitting, or does it virtually run itself?
RN: At the moment it's not really typical. We just made some major updates to the site so I spend a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening online, maybe 5 or 6 hours a day. When things get back to normal, I'll check emails in the morning, take my kids to school, get a coffee, read and in the evening at some point I'll review letters and make payments to the writers. On one of those normal days...2 to 3 hours.
LTK: Do you find that the letter writing industry has improved in terms of sales since you first started the site?
RN: Yes! It took a while for people to realize this kind of site could exist. Eventually, I think, they reasoned out that this sort of service had to be out there and began searching. Now we get several hundred thousand visits per month.
Marketing & Advertising Tips and Advice
LTK: Do you advertise your site anywhere - what sort of marketing, if any, do you do to promote the site and the business to additional clients?
RN: No advertising and no marketing! The day will come when we do, but unless you have an infallible revenue model, bringing more traffic to your site won't make you money. Once the revenue model is churning money, then it's time to advertise.
We think we can get better so we're putting our dollars toward improving at the moment.
LTK: Can you offer any words of advice to any one who's thinking about starting an online business - any lessons learned that you wish you'd known when you first started?
RN: Yes! Don't buy any information on 'how to make money online.' Everything you need to know is out there online for free. Take my word for it. I spent a lot of money learning a lot of really obvious things. Spend your money on some quality e-books on 'how to optimize your site for search engines.'
Here's a tip: The future of making money online is in crowdsourcing. The next big Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, is going to be a site that helps lots of other people make money.
If you're a webmaster who's interested in creating one of the top Internet businesses like this one, it's important to heed the advice of those who've learned the hard lessons through trial and error. Rob's online business continues to grow, and yours can too if you follow the guidelines outlined in this interview, and remember that in many ways an online business is not much unlike a brick-and-mortar business - so all of the standard rules of good business practices apply.