5-Point Checklist for a Failing Online Business

May 3, 2014 , 14 Comments

Whatever your business is, there comes a point in time when the proverbial rubber hits the road: you open up for business and wait with bated breath for your first orders to come through (and if you follow the Impact System and other advice I’ve given on this topic, this should happen sooner rather than later).

What if your greatest fears come true and… nothing happens? No sales, no customers, no reaction…

Meet Nick

nick-skillicornNick Skillicorn found himself in just this dreaded situation and contacted me, to ask if I could help. I don’t offer coaching or consulting, but I did take a look at his website and his products and offered what advice I could.

Nick’s situation was as follows: he started his business a year ago and had put a lot of work into building up his website, a blog with free content and multiple products. He managed to get some traffic, but his conversion rate was stuck at zero. For some reason, people did come to his website, but no one ended up buying anything from him.

I had a look at his website and in particular at the sales page of one of his products (note: the page has since been changed) and gave him some feedback. My email to him ended up being quite extensive and he gave me permission to publish it, since we both agreed that there are many people who could benefit from this same 5-point checklist that I provided.


1) Is Your Offer Specific Enough?

Looking at your sales page and your video, my guess would be that most of your visitors bounce away from this page very quickly and don’t take the time to watch the video or read the content.

Ask yourself this: how long does it take for someone to get a clear idea of exactly what they will be getting when they make a purchase?

Looking at the above the fold content and the first 1-2 minutes of the video doesn’t yield the answer your prospects are looking for. This is a problem when the attention span of people on the web is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds. The most striking headline on the page instructs me that I should “buy it now for $92”, but I don’t know what “it” is.

This will not fix your entire business, but you definitely need a strong and clear headline above the video. And don’t ask for money before the offer has been clearly communicated.

This might be one of your biggest issues:


Screenshot taken from the original sales page.

You are trying to appeal to too many people and end up appealing to no one.

The question is: who is your perfect customer? Whom can you bring maximum value to?

Describe this perfect customer. Then describe him or her in more detail. Then in even more detail. How much detail? I want to know what they do, where they do it, how many employees they have (do the have employees?), what the company structure is like, what kind of a person they are, whether they are married or not, whether they have kids or not, whether they have cats, dogs or other pets, what kind of food they like, what they do in their free time, what their professional and personal goals are,…

I’m not saying this to exaggerate a point. The problem most entrepreneurs have is that they are not specific enough. Even when I tell them multiple times to be more specific, they still aren’t specific enough. I want you to be too specific. Way too specific. And then branch out from there.

2) Are You Addressing an Urgent Need?

The purpose of getting super specific is that you can find one prospect. For now, forget about making more products, driving traffic and all that. Find one person you can work with. The goal of working with that one person isn’t even to make money, it’s to test the market. You need to confront your business with the market, even if that happens with just one person.

When you work with that one person, find out what gets them going. What about your offer resonates with them? And what parts make their eyes glaze over in disinterest?

You need to connect your offer to some urgent need or pain point that your prospects have. Personally, I fit several of your “who is this for” bullet points, but your offer doesn’t resonate with me at all. I’ve never had an innovation problem. This can mean one of two things.

  • Maybe I’m just not in your target market. In this case, it’s a problem that you define me as being in your target market (I’m an entrepreneur, business owner etc.), even though I’m not. Solution: more specificity.
  • Maybe you’re not explaining your offer in a way that makes sense to me. Maybe I actually should hire you and it would be the best decision I’ve ever made. But if that’s the case, then the problem is that you aren’t explaining to me why I should hire you and why it would be a good decision. I’m not finding a connection between your sales copy and something I want or need.

3) Sub-Optimal Implementation of Terminology

Which of the following two statements has a stronger effect on you:

“I’m seeing cases sub-optimal implementation of terminology in certain segments your copy.”


“Your choice of words sucks.”

In your copy, there are too many sentences like the first one and not enough like the second one. Do I need to improve my capability to generate innovative ideas? Do I need to improve my innovation capabilities? Do I need short term and long term company growth through innovation capabilities? I’m not sure. Those statements are just too fuzzy. What exactly are innovation capabilities, anyway?

I know that all of these statements make logical sense and are things people want. Of course I want business growth. But it’s also really abstract. I can’t touch it. I can’t even draw a picture of it.

You’re a smart guy and you have spent a lot of time thinking very deeply about all this innovation stuff. Everyone else looking at this page hasn’t. You have to find a way to be smart while using small words to explain what you are going to do for your customers.

4) Misuse of Bullet Points

One section on your sales page is about “what I’m going to get when I purchase this course”:


Unfortunately, the bullet points don’t advertise things that I suspect your prospects actually want.

It’s the same as the previous point: you describe things that are desirable, but abstract and vague. I need something I can point at. Something I can remember and tell my friends about in a conversation.

“I heard of this one guy who teaches company owners, entrepreneurs and CEOs to improve their innovation capabilities.” <- example of a phrase that will never be uttered by anyone, ever.

“I heard of this one guy who forced a team of 50 programmers to do Pilates in a public park every morning. They all hated it, but it was supposed to help them crate a better product. And if f#@$ing worked! Doubled their revenue in, like, under a year!” <- more likely.

If you read books about startups, entrepreneurship etc. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the best-selling ones always tie in their lessons with stories. Each chapter starts with a story about someone specific doing something specific and getting a specific result. E.g. the Pilates programmers. Only in a second step is the story broken down and the lesson extracted.

In other words: we are first given something tangible and something we can easily imagine and relate to. Ideally, something that’s also easy to remember (like 50 unhappy, sweating programmers in a public park). And once we have that, we can dive into the more abstract and theoretical parts of the lesson.

This is how I recommend you sell the bullet points: “Learn how X did Y and why it helped them achieve Z.”

5) In too Deep?

You are clearly already deeply invested in your area of expertise. Don’t make the mistake of letting that get in the way. Don’t become so entrenched in your current direction that you are unwilling to change course.

If you do manage to confront your product or some part of your offer with the market, you might find that there are opportunities to almost completely change your angle and what you and your products are about. Don’t be afraid to take that step as long as you can first prove there’s a viable market that you can reach before you start investing more time and money into it.


Your story is different from Nick’s and your business and website are different from his as well. But I bet that if you’ve ever released a product, at least one or two of the above points apply to you as well.

Do you have any questions? Any other pointers you want to add for Nick to take into consideration? Get involved by leaving your comment below! And if you appreciate this kind of free content, please don’t forget to share it.

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About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Another interesting post Shane.

    Aside from all the vague benefit statements, as a potential customer I would have issues with the poor grammar. If he can’t construct a sentence, I would have little faith that he is the guy that I should hire to help me with my business.

    “Your most innovation teams suck…”
    “Manage a high-performance innovation teams…”

    Splitting hairs? Maybe… If I don’t know him or his business, that initial credibility is everything.


    • That’s a good point, Robert. Grammar mistakes won’t bother everyone, but there are people to whom they stick out like a sore thumb and we don’t want to lose them as potential customers.


  • Hi Shane:

    Your analysis is very useful.

    To me Nick’s website image/copy conveys B to C not B to B.

    Since Nick wants to attract entrepreneurs and companies
    that want to nurture 3M like creativity he would be better
    served to have 3 videos on the home page that explicitly
    show off a success story or drive entrepreneur traffic to
    one page and company traffic to another.

    I hope you will do more of this.

    Best regards,



  • Hi Shane:

    Just to add, I watched the video. The part about helping people become more creative comes last.

    As a solo entrepreneur working from home I would be interested in something to help me create ideas quickly to beat the competition or open a blue ocean opportunity followed up by an implementation coaching phase.

    I believe Nick is actually more comfortable working with established companies were team thinking can come into play and ideas like synectics can be brought to bear.




    • Thanks for the additions, Harold! I agree with both your points.


  • Sigh…

    Yeah. I’ve been working with a client for a year now and we’re about ready to launch.

    On one hand, he’s not a marketer and doesn’t get that everything is a test.

    On the other, he has VERY high expectations.

    So Shane, dude, what happened with Nick?


    • Nothing happened with Nick, yet. This is very recent and I published the post only days after he first contacted me.

      If I was trying to sell something alongside this case study, it would be better to wait for some tangible results and then publish it. But since I’m not selling anything, I didn’t want to delay. :)


  • Thanks for sharing Shane, but more importantly, I want to congratulate Nick on being happy to share his “warts-and-all” struggles that so many of us have, but would never have the guts to make visible like this.

    Kudos to you, Nick – can you share with us the all-new sales page?? :)



    • Thanks, Tim!

      I’ll send Nick the link to all these comments and hopefully he’ll have an update for us sometime soon.


  • Hi, I think this demonstrates how important testing is.

    Hope for the best marketing doesn’t cut it in the real world.

    I agree with Tim in congratulating Nick for being prepared to show his site with it’s all it’s problems.

    The only way is up, now you’ve broken it down with your expert analysis.

    I wish Nick good luck for the future.



  • Thank you for sharing an insightful breakdown, Shane. Just for easy reference, the 5 points are:

    1) Is Your Offer Specific Enough?
    2) Are You Addressing an Urgent Need?
    3) Sub-Optimal Implementation of Terminology
    4) Misuse of Bullet Points
    5) In too Deep?

    Daniel Dou


  • Hi Shane

    I’m reading this a couple of months later and sadly there’s no update as to Nick’s progress?




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