Oh, So You Want to Build an Internet Business?
Read this first … CrystalHealingTechniques.com
“How to” author, Vivien Schapera shares how she and her partner built an online certification training, and what they learned along the way.
Under pressure from the pandemic, we were forced to build a new business on the internet. We established an online training program, with multiple courses and multiple levels, called CrystalHealingTechniques.com. Our specialty that I can guarantee you haven’t heard of until now, is a new sub-modality of crystal healing called Crystal Surgery. When something is new, there is a big, big, big advantage – you’re the only one. And of course, that is the big, big, big disadvantage – no one has heard of you; no one is looking for you.
“The internet is an Entertainment Arcade, Reference Library, Market Place and Commercial Catalogue. These four dynamics overlap and interact with each other in a compelling presentation that informs, entertains and transacts. Internet users enjoy and respond most to presentations that offer all three experiences, and feel cheated if one of the experiences is omitted.”
My husband, Neil, and I are both teachers. We began our careers by becoming teachers of the Alexander Technique, a method for retraining postural dynamics and behavior patterns. We are immigrants from South Africa, and when we arrived in the US, we set up a course for training Alexander teachers (1993), one of only a few such facilities in the world. One day, a voice in my head said: “You should use these school facilities all seven days of the week. You must start another school.” In 2000, FourWinds Academy for the Healing Arts & Sciences was incorporated (as a 501c3) and we launched a new school, with a new mission – a school for training Healers.
Here’s a video that gives you the grand tour:
By the time the pandemic closed the door on our private practices and schools, we had been in the business of teaching for 37 years. At first, we adopted a wait-and-see approach. That lasted all of about three days, and then people started asking us: “Do you work remote?” Up until then, we had done the occasional remote session, but didn’t have an evolved, streamlined version of remote services. Nevertheless, the answer was “yes” and so, while others were home, de-cluttering their closets, we swung into action.
Actually, to be honest, we had another dynamic that we were navigating and that is the printing of my magnum opus, entitled The Complete Guide to Crystal Surgery (2020). The backstory is integral to this narrative: In 2016 a young woman approached me and said: “Vivien, I want to take your training programs online. Let’s build a website.” Well, that was the beginning of finding out just how hard it is to build a business online. I will cut a long story short and simply say that although she was the self-proclaimed expert, she ran away. That became a theme! Every internet expert who requested to join the project ended up running away. In the end, it was our Baby Boomer software genius friends who built a custom website for us and it was gorgeous. No sooner was the website up and live, in January 2017, than the dreaded question began rolling in: “But, where’s the book?”
That’s exactly what I was trying to avoid – writing another book. Among other things, I’m a “How to” author. Ironically, I couldn’t figure out “how to” write the book about Crystal Surgery because there were too many challenging issues, like the content being better suited to video demos. A website was an ideal solution … except people weren’t “ready” for a website instead of a book. Fast forward to March 2020, and the book had been written (a saga) and was now awaiting the locked-down printers.
Printing or “not printing” the book was only one of the strategic breakdowns we were facing. We had planned a one-week instructor training for our students, scheduled for August 2020. At the mere mention of the plan, this instructor training was already full. The good thing about this training was that it would replenish the coffers and we would have our small army of instructors who would go out and multiply. That, in a nutshell, was our book marketing strategy and the basis upon which I was willing to write another book. Anyone who has had anything to do with the book trade will immediately understand. Each book is a business unto itself requiring huge amounts of marketing, advertising and sales, and otherwise don’t bother! So much for our well-laid plans …
We adapted. We did have a choice – we could retire – and that was a very tempting choice. It was hard to be at retirement age and have to choose whether to build a whole new career track or go home. But the promise of potential was too strong to resist. Of course, a website launched in 2017 was seriously out of date, so in 2021 we did a complete overhaul. Having navigated the jungle of templates and plug-ins, we have constructed a 400-page website and our own mini-web on the internet. We offer courses from introductory to instructor level, certifications at the Bachelors and Masters levels, and very importantly, free courses, free demos, blogs, vlogs, radio shows, podcasts, a YouTube channel and coming soon – the Health and Healing TV channel! This will be on a new TV streaming network called the Everyday Womens Network, to be launched in the second half of 2022.
“Once you have chosen your name, you have to make a very big investment in getting the name recognized by search engines to climb in rank …There is no going back – you have to get this right without the benefit of hindsight”
As I said earlier, I am a “How to” author and so the moment we seriously engaged with the internet, my brain began cataloguing the experience in its own way. Here’s what we learned.
The internet isn’t a “thing” called “the internet.” It is a web (its other name) of many different “things” that function in diverse ways and in multiple layers. The four main concepts that apply to the internet are: Entertainment Arcade, Reference Library, Market Place and Commercial Catalogue. These four dynamics overlap and interact with each other in a compelling presentation that informs, entertains and transacts. Internet users enjoy and respond most to presentations that offer all three experiences, and feel cheated if one of the experiences is omitted. For example, if you inform and entertain with crystals, then you better be able to provide some kind of transaction as well, because that’s what consumers want to complete their experience. In other words, the internet is a never-ending world fair that we can access daily via our devices.
It is very important to look at what already exists on the internet, aka “the competition.” We could have chosen to offer courses on Udemy, a learning platform, for example, but the impetus to build the website came from outside us. We made a lot of naïve assumptions about the motivator’s skill and knowledge, and never even bothered to do our own research into online courses and what’s already generally available. We only looked at what websites there were that specifically offered instruction in crystal healing. This was an error, and we were definitely “fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.” Now we’re pleased enough, but there have been several periods of wondering “what have we done?”
When you build an internet business, you need to think of the physical world and follow the same business principles. A physical structure must be located in the right neighborhood, with an excellent street address, easy to find, enjoy curb appeal and be comfortable to your target market. Every single one of these dynamics still apply, and the answers can be much harder to identify. The most important part of your address is the name of your website. Getting that right is key. In fact, so key, that “keyword” is a major internet driver. Once you have chosen your name, you have to make a very big investment in getting the name recognized by search engines to climb in rank. Anything less than page one on Google is worthless. Your name and address become your identity, and you need to thrive via that identity for a long time. There is no going back – you have to get this right without the benefit of hindsight – unless you ask, ask, ask others so you can get the benefit of their hindsight.
The biggest problem is figuring out who to ask. The internet is even more specialized than medicine. At least if you have something wrong with a bone or joint, you know to go to an orthopedist. In this regard, the internet is opaque, with a lot of conflicting information. One of the reasons is that today’s innovation is becoming obsolete while you are updating. Nobody can keep up, because it’s an impossible task, resulting in a rapid burnout rate, especially in social media. You have to be your own general contractor, pulling together a team of appropriately skilled artisans who can help you. For example: Just remember, the designer who can make your website look pretty (give you curb appeal) probably knows little else about your internet success. One branding and marketing expert, designed us a stunning-looking home page … without a single word on it. Not one. If you don’t know why that’s an egregious error, then you’re like everyone else in the brain trust. I had to deduce the error six months after launch when I was the only one noticing that our home page was still failing to appear in a Google search. Hint: SEO relies on keywords.
The other opaque aspect of the internet is how the different internet entities and dynamics relate to each other and how best to harness them. What am I talking about? Well, for example, there’s SEO, SERP, the media, social media and YouTube. How do all those fit together? Well you may ask! The best insight to work with is that none of those is “only one thing.” They each have multiple hooks, at multiple layers, that mesh into the web, and each has chosen its own ways to do this. For example: YouTube is social media …isn’t it? Or is it a reference library? Or is it entertainment? Or is it a search engine? Or what? What in fact is YouTube??? The truth is, it is all of the above. Not only that, it’s ever-changing. That’s one of the difficulties. If you consult a book or article on the topic that was published two years ago, the information could be severely out of date. Look how much Facebook and Instagram have changed in the last two years. Furthermore, some social media platforms hook into the grand scale of the internet, and some deliberately don’t. For example: If you google a topic you may access information shared on Reddit, Quora or Pinterest (all social media platforms) but you won’t access information shared on Facebook and Instagram.
Even with the whole world accessible to you, you must still refine your target market. Although you can feasibly reach “everyone,” you cannot satisfy everyone. We “lost” one of our best instructors because she flatly refused to “go on the internet.” We didn’t want to leave any community member behind, but in the end, we had to honor the future. That instructor became an icon of all the “would-be” students who didn’t want to learn how to cope with new technology, and we’ve just had to accept that truth. By refining your target market, you can begin to strategize with regard to your name and brand, and which platforms your business is best suited to. For example, for us, it was obvious that YouTube would be our most strategic choice for introducing the world to Crystal Surgery.
Although we made some terrible rookie errors, our uniqueness, and originality was immediately appreciated by the internet. Our home page didn’t attract attention, but fortunately, other pages were instantly picked up by Google’s bots, our YouTube videos generated new hashtags unique to us within months, and the rest of our website had such strong content that we quickly got on the necessary lists – lists we didn’t know anything about, but turned out to be crucial to internet success. Specifically, our blogs and vlogs got onto “Top 100” internet lists, and from there we got onto more lists. Those lists are the lynchpin to getting business on the internet – because those lists are the “bones” of the web, the structure that the webbing attaches itself to, delivering a continuous flow of inquiries, offers, requests and opportunities.
In accordance with “energy cannot be created or destroyed,” the energy demands (time and expense) of building and maintaining a business cannot be changed. Yes, the internet can deliver a course or eBook very rapidly to the end-user, with no shipping costs. But, be assured that if you are building an internet business, you are the one who will be dealing with all the time demands, expenses and logistics that otherwise would be shared by multiple end-users. For example: Putting a course on the internet saves people major expense on air travel and hotel costs – but you are the one picking up those costs. It is not free to build such content and presentation, and the time and expense to the person delivering the service is gigantically increased. An 18-hour weekend training requires one teacher to work 28 hours to deliver the content. The equivalent 18 hours of instruction on the internet requires 108 hours to deliver the content – literally 6 times more hours, and also requiring at least three different professions– teacher, video producer and webmaster. Of course, the end product is different. Once a course is posted on the website, it can be used again, but any idea that “it’s done” is extremely faulty. One of the biggest challenges with the internet is the need for continuous maintenance and updates.
You cannot do everything. This is a caveat to be selective. For example: We train people in crystal healing, so naturally, we also sell crystals. It seems like a no-brainer that we would have an online store as part of our website. Right? No … wrong! We figured out how, and then, once we realized exactly what was entailed, we released the project. Why? Selling crystals online is extremely labor intensive, because, in contrast to selling one gizmo, with one photo, one description, one weight, and one price multiple times, every crystal is unique, with its own weight and its own price, and as soon as it is sold the item should be deleted off the site. Of course, we began building an online shop. But, once we ran the numbers it was blatant that for us, selling a $5 crystal on the internet costs us the same as selling a $500 crystal. It made no sense for us to invest $200 of labor to sell a $5 crystal on the internet, because we can invest that time and labor much more lucratively elsewhere. Our crystal supplies are for our students and they know how to purchase from us. The clincher? We have something very specific to teach that only we can teach. There are many, many crystal stores on the internet, plus hundreds of Facebook and Instagram live sales, and that is their sole livelihood. We can be colleagues instead of competitors and rather benefit from engaging such a big web of crystal dealers as allies in reaching our target market. Crystal dealers ask me to speak to their customers, teach them how to use the crystals and introduce them to Crystal Surgery.
A website is never “done” and it will never be a source of passive income. Building a commercial website takes longer than building a house! Maintaining a commercial website is extremely time-consuming and requires versatility, as well as a team. Administration is also demanding. Yes, we can attract many students from all over the world – but every student needs time and attention from the teacher – and they will find a way to get it! Even in a virtual world, people are still people, needing to connect, needing to interact, needing community. Any idea that people will quietly come to the website, make an automated purchase and go away happy without asking for more, is a faulty idea.
Yes, it’s been a lot of work, but we are living our dream. Not only does our website have registered users from many, many countries; we also have a new internet radio show with 62 international syndications, and we will soon be launching a streaming TV channel with a huge international audience. The pandemic pushed us into fast forward mode; encouraging us to embrace the extensive opportunity of the internet; transforming our impossible dream to see Crystal Surgery in every city of the world into a feasible reality. The world will never look back, this utterly amazing resource called “the internet” is here to stay … as long as we have electricity and crystals!
About the Author: Vivien Schapera is a teacher, healer and award-winning author living in Cincinnati, OH. Vivien has written several “How to” books and many articles and blogs. Her most recent accomplishments include becoming radio show host of The Schapera Show on HealthyLife.net and the producer of The Health and Healing Channel on a new streaming TV service, called Everyday Womens Network. You can contact Vivien via the form on her website.