Building an Internet Octopus – by Cliff Ennico (07 Nov 08)

Book coverPosted by permission of Cliff Ennico – author of The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book – Get your copy at



            “Last week’s column on ‘The Changing World of eBay’ got me thinking a lot about building an e-commerce presence for my small business.  Do you have any thoughts on the right way to do that in a rapidly changing online environment?”

            Consider the octopus.

            The octopus basically has two parts:  a combination head and digestive system, and a bunch of tentacles that spread out from the head into the surrounding water, enabling the octopus to swim and catch prey (okay, okay, I’ve been watching too many nature documentaries on cable TV, but you get the general idea . . . ).

            The tentacles of the octopus contain numerous “suckers”, which catch prey in the open water and then “feed” the prey to the mouth of the octopus, which then digests the prey.

            That system of operation is exactly what you should strive to build when you create an e-commerce empire on the Internet.

            The “head” of your online octopus is . . . your business Website.

Five years ago, I would have conceded that there are at least some very small, local businesses that don’t need a Website to be successful.  Not anymore.  These days, every small business, whether it does business primarily online or offline, needs to have its own Website.

            Why?  For two reasons.

            First, people these days expect that you have one if you are in business.  When someone hands me a business card at a speaking engagement or networking event, the first thing I look for is a Web address so that I can find out more about the person (assuming of course that I want to).

            If I don’t see a Web address, or if it’s written by hand on the back of the business card (never do this, by the way – it sends the signal that you’re too cheap to send the right marketing message to your customers), the person instantly loses credibility in my eyes.

            Second, and more importantly, there is one place . . . and only one . . . on the entire Internet where you can sell merchandise and keep 100% of the proceeds of each sale.

            That place is your Website.

            Whenever you list merchandise for sale on a platform other than your own Website (such as eBay, Yahoo! or Amazon), you have to pay fees for the privilege – either a listing fee, a “success” fee (a percentage of the sale amount or winning bid), or some combination of the two.

            When you sell stuff from your Website, you don’t have to pay nothing to nobody.  So, here’s a “pop quiz” question:  when selling merchandise online, where do you want the bulk of your sales to come from?  Why, your Website, of course!

            The “head” of the octopus is your Website, but you need “tentacles” as well.  Your merchandise listings on eBay, Yahoo!, Amazon, or Craigslist, your online “blogs” and your profile pages on the major Web 2.0 networking sites (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo and Squidoo) are all examples of the “tentacles” you will put out in the e-commerce ocean once you’ve established your own Website.

            What exactly do tentacles do?  Well, at least according to the nature documentaries I see on TV (my experience with real “octopi” doesn’t go much further than fried calamari), the tentacles on an octopus serve two basic functions:

·                    they use their sticky “suction cups” (or whatever they’re called) to  trap and ensnare prey that may be swimming by; and

·                    once having caught prey, the tentacles use their “suckers” to pass the prey backwards towards the mouth of the octopus, located in the head, where the prey is consumed and digested.

Your e-commerce “tentacles” serve much the same goal.  Your presence on eBay, Yahoo!, Amazon and other high-traffic e-commerce sites serves to attract customers surfing the Web who would otherwise not find you in a million years.  People are searching for things on the Web every day, but only rarely will people be searching specifically for your Website, at least until you are so well established that your business is a “household word” (and I hope that happens someday).

Once customers buy a few things from one of your “tentacles” and become “hooked” on your merchandise or services (or “sucked in,” since we’re talking octopus), they will want more.  That’s when your “tentacles” should be feeding them to the “mouth” of your e-commerce empire:  Your Website.  Where you can sell lots of stuff to these customers and keep 100% of what you make.

            Now, sometimes it won’t be easy for you to build an Internet octopus for your business.  Some online platforms, particularly eBay, have rules restricting your ability to post your Website URL on your listings or otherwise drive traffic off of their site.  But with a little creativity, some online research and professional advice, you can find effective ways to assemble your Internet octopus so that the maximum Web traffic occurs in the places where it really impacts your bottom line the most. 

Cliff Ennico ( is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’.  This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.  To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at  COPYRIGHT 2008 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.  DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



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