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How to Be the Master of Your Own Fate Online

When I first got started doing business online, I was a little overwhelmed by all of the options.

You might know that “Ikea” feeling — when you’re staring at a big box full of pieces, and you’re not too confident you have the energy or the patience to put them all together.

Which makes it easy to fall prey to what look like simple solutions.

Some will tell you you don’t need a website for your business … you just need a Tumblr page, or some other “ready in 5 minutes” solution. “It’s free! It’s quick!” they say.

But it’s also dangerous. And here’s why.

Don’t build your business on rented land

You can read here about the sad story of a bookstore that was doing everything right, but still had to close … because the rent on their beautiful four-story space tripled overnight.

Bookstores, restaurants, and other brick-and-mortar businesses face this every day. Leases expire, rents go up, and businesses can’t survive the additional financial pressure. The only way around it is to own the land your store is on … but the cost of that can be prohibitive.

This is where it’s nice to be an online-based business. Because the equivalent of owning your building is to center your business around an asset you own and can control — your own self-hosted website.

Work for yourself … not Facebook

If the only place you can connect with customers is on your Facebook page, you essentially work for Facebook.

And they can (and do) change their terms of service whenever they want, without asking you, in a way that can create massive tumult for you. They can also delete your page just because they feel like it. They owe you nothing. And they’re too big to care about your problems.

If the only place you get traffic is Google (either through organic search or pay-per-click), you work for Google.

If 80% of your new customers find you on Pinterest or LinkedIn, you work for Pinterest or LinkedIn.

You have a much better option. You can rely on yourself, and use Facebook and Google and Pinterest as outposts to support your business.

Escaping digital serfdom

Building your business on someone else’s platform is called digital sharecropping (I didn’t come up with that term, Nicholas Carr did), but it could as easily be called digital serfdom.

You’re the unrecognized peasant who does all the work and takes all the risk. The landlord reaps nearly all of the wealth and benefit. You can do better.

The other problem with sharecropping is that the landlord may or may not be here next year.

Sharecroppers have put millions of hours into sites like Digg or MySpace. And those sites still exist — but they’re no longer bringing the traffic they once did.

Sharecropped land, in other words, has a tendency to become less and less fertile over time. It can also be taken away from you at any time, whether or not you do anything wrong.

Here’s what to do instead

There are three assets you should be building today, and should continue to focus on for the lifetime of your business:

  1. A well-designed website with your own hosting account.
  2. An opt-in email list, ideally with a high-quality autoresponder
  3. A reputation for providing impeccable value

These things are the equivalent of buying your building instead of renting it.

Now any of these can fall prey to outside influences. The bookstore’s building can burn down. And your site can be hacked, your email account closed down, your reputation smeared.

But repairing your assets is in your control. You can fix the hacked code, export your email list to another provider, and respond effectively to manage your reputation.

More important, you can proactively protect those assets by taking website security seriously, avoiding spammy practices with your email, and cultivating a loyal audience who will vouch for you as being one of the good guys.

The easy way to get a self-hosted site

Our recommendation for your website is self-hosted WordPress. It has become incredibly simple to set up. And if you don’t want to spend an hour or so getting up to speed, it’s easy to find someone who will set it up for you — quickly and cheaply.

Here are a few resources that can get you rolling:

  • Start with Pamela Wilson’s nifty overview article on How to Set Up WordPress.
  • For professional-looking design right out of the box, as well as state-of-the-art code and security, take a look at our StudioPress premium themes for WordPress.
  • If you need a robust web host that can handle significant traffic spikes and that offers the best security available, you may want to look into Synthesis web hosting. It’s optimized specifically for content-based online businesses running WordPress.
  • To make sure your site is secure (and that it stays that way), we like Sucuri site monitoring a lot. It’s a great service offered at a very reasonable price for the value they offer.

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your business — don’t risk it by building your business on someone else’s land. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever before to create a site that you truly own and control.

Sonia Simone
Sonia Simone, CMO and co-founder of Copyblogger Media

Earlier posts in the series

  1. The Fastest Way to Get More Traffic (headline essentials)
  2. The 3 Essential Elements of High-Quality Content