A lot of people call me “The Hotdogman.” I got my nickname from working in the food business, just like Shoemoney. Last week, all the buzz at Affiliate Summit West was about Shoemoney’s book, Nothing’s Changed But My Change, The Shoemoney Story. I picked one up at the Summit and read it on my flight home, it was a pretty good read and a great American Dream kind of tale. I met up with Jeremy on the exhibit hall floor and we had a chat. As it invariably does, the conversation swung around to hot dogs. Since I am The Hotdogman, I guess that’s a good thing; I have branded myself well in the internet marketing world.
As we were talking, Jeremy remarked that being a hot dog vendor and an internet marketer have a lot of similarities. We tossed that idea around for a minute or two, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right. I was a hot dog truck owner and operator for 6 years and I started fiddling around with blogs, the internet, and affiliate marketing back in 2007 when a particularly harsh winter kept the truck closed for a few months.
That’s when I started The Hot Dog Truck, a blog about “the life and times of a Hotdogman.” I started monetizing my site with Adsense (thanks in part to a certain blogger’s famous photo), did a lot of paid posting, and began experimenting with affiliate marketing. My wife thought I was wasting my time, but she changed her tune when I used my first few months blog earnings to take the family to Las Vegas to visit her folks! She’s been on board with my “online thing” since. Six years later, the hot dog truck is gone, but the website remains. I also have a stable of 20 or so niche sites and I do freelance writing.
Hot Dogs and Marketing
My transition from hot dog man to The Hotdogman online was fairly easy, I have always been a decent writer and I was in sales since I was ten years old. Marketing online was understandable and doable for me. I decided to give the internet marketing thing a serious whirl when a series of bad luck left me essentially disabled for nearly a year; I got Lyme Disease, bad blood clots, and I broke my knee! The immobility this caused lent itself to spending my days at the computer. I sold my hot dog truck and dove right in to creating websites and marketing various products online.
My first ventures were geared toward what I know, most notably hot dogs. I sold hot dog related courses and products across a series of websites with success. When I was doing this, I’d think back to what made me successful in the hot dog business and applied what I could. The most notable similarity between online marketing and selling hot dogs is the autonomy for the entrepreneur. Both businesses can be one man (or one woman) ventures. As many people who read this know, there is nothing quite like working for yourself. You don’t have to answer to a boss, you do things your own way, and you reap all the financial rewards from your ventures.
Going into the hot dog business is a low investment proposition. Even a shiny new hot dog cart can be bought for less than three grand; if you buy used, that number goes lower. Compared to opening a brick and mortar restaurant, starting up a hot dog cart is short money. The same is true for starting out in internet marketing. I got started with eight bucks and a free host. As time went on, I invested in premium WordPress themes, an email program, more domains, private servers, and other tools, but other than that first eight bucks, I never paid for any of that stuff “out-of-pocket.” Investments into my growing online “empire” always came from profits. I don’t know any other legitimate business you can start for eight bucks!
The Hot Dog Cart Principle in Online Marketing
Starting in the hot dog business is a bit more complicated than buying a cart, setting up shop, and hanging out a sign. There are some regulations involved and you need the appropriate permits. You also need to sell. If nobody knows you’re there, you won’t sell any hot dogs; you need to market your business. That involves getting out to the businesses nearby and giving them an incentive to stop by and try your chow. Theoretically, once someone takes a bite of your delicious hot dogs, they’ll tell their friends and co-workers and you’ll be off and running.
The same goes for online marketing. Like any business, there are rules and regulations to follow, so you need to know them before you get started. You could have the best offer or product in the world, but nobody will buy it unless they know about it. Just setting up a website and hoping won’t get you any sales. You need to use proven methods for generating traffic, the online equivalent of letting people know about your offer. Just like offering a free hot dog to get people to try you out, you can offer incentives to take a look at your offer. Think about it, how many free e-books have you downloaded? (I like mine with mustard and relish).
Whether you’re selling hot dogs or an online product, you still need to provide value to your customer. A good hot dog man will have premium hot dogs, fresh rolls and condiments, and he’ll serve them up HOT for a fair price. A good online marketer will have a quality offer or product that gives the customer what they’re looking for, whether it’s a product to solve a problem, an entertaining book, or a deal on the latest gadget, there has to be value for the customer at the right price or else you’re spinning your wheels.
Both businesses are scalable, too. I know many successful hot dog vendors who have moved on to managing multiple carts and trucks and even opened full-on restaurants. The concept is fairly simple and easily duplicated, you just need to find the right people. Online marketing is the same. Once you have a system and a set of processes in place, you can expand and duplicate your business. Hiring the right people is key here too. Make sure you hire and work with people who have complimentary skill sets. I started with one website, now I have more than 20 and I have people I call on for certain tasks that I just am not good at.
Notice in that previous paragraph “the right people” came up a number of times. Whether you’re selling hot dogs or pitching the latest hot info product, having good people to work for/with you is key. A crappy employee can bring down any small business pretty quick if left unchecked. Whether that employee is serving food that’s under cooked or servicing online customers with an inconsistent attitude, the bad apple can be a killer. Conversely, good people can boost your business. An enthusiastic, friendly vendor brings people back to your cart. A savvy employee who “gets out there” and helps boost business, whether it’s with good follow through or promotion through their social media networks, can be a great asset to any business.
Not ready to leave the security of a paycheck to start a business? Start part-time! Hot Dog vending can be started as a part time venture. Just work weekend events or find opportunities to set up shop within your existing schedule. The same goes for an online business. You can start on your living room couch! Spend a few hours a day building your business; you’ll know when you can transition to full-time in either venture.
Fun is Good too
Online marketing and hot dog vending are fun businesses. I was always cutting it up with my customers at my hot dog truck and I made many new friends in the six years I was in the business. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t run into an old customer. I’ve even made some good business connections from my old hot dog contacts! Online marketing is fun too. While many relationships are forged online, the same principles apply. Treat people well, be nice, offer good products and service and you’ll make new friends. The one thing online marketing has going for it in the fun department over the hot dog business is industry events. Parties at online marketing conferences ROCK! Hot dog events I’ve attended have been small; while they were fun and informative, there were never open bars in fancy nightclubs with go-go girls!
It all boils down to one thing: good old American entrepreneurship. Despite the woes afflicting our nation right now, entrepreneurship is alive and well in the US of A. Many of the hot dog vendors I encounter on a regular basis are in the business due to corporate downsizing. They chose the hot dog biz for many of the same reasons I listed here. The same goes for online marketing. Many people are content to moan about the economy and wring their hands in despair. The folks who decide to do something about it, whether they start slinging hot dogs or selling stuff online REFUSE to let macro circumstances dictate their future. No matter what the economy looks like, people still need a good, cheap lunch and they’ll continue to by all sorts of products online. Entrepreneurs who decide to capitalize on opportunities will always find success if they go about it the right way.
The most important thing any entrepreneur can do is get started NOW! No business gets started by thinking about it. If you want to sell hot dogs, start scouting locations, research carts, and learn about your business. If you want to get going in the online marketing game, start learning the basics (I hear Shoemoney has a course or two about that). You can have a website up in an hour or two. I know many online entrepreneurs who built a website in one night and were doing business the very next day. Don’t fall into the “paralysis by analysis” trap, if you want to start a business, START NOW!