THE BLOG

Expert Insights -- Willie Crawford

02/25/2015 04:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

Internet marketing expert Willie Crawford is a veteran in every sense of the word. Willie was raised on a tobacco farm in North Carolina and he was so poor that he often had to wear his grandmother's shoes to school. Knowing that he was destined for greatness, he obtained a scholarship for college and decided to join the Air Force. What was meant to be a brief stint, turned into a 20 year career, which saw Willie stationed all over the world.

In 1996, Willie decided to start an online business, which enabled him to retire from the Air Force in 2003. By the time he had retired, Willie had built a million dollar business part-time. He is largely considered to be one of the fathers of Internet marketing and his business portfolio includes cookbooks, over 1,000 websites, a hosting company and much more. He is still actively involved in Internet Marketing.

Willie is also a proud father, husband and grandfather and he is one of the most down to earth, humblest business people you could ever meet.

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Copyright: Willie Crawford

You have an incredible story and literally rose from poverty through 20 years in the military, to Internet millionaire. How did you find the strength and motivation to keep going through the transitions in your life?

I think that coming from poverty and then having a fear that I might somehow slip back into it was a tremendous motivator. My military career, which saw me doing airdrops in many war zones, and surviving without a scratch, caused me to believe that I had some higher purpose, which wasn't yet fulfilled.

What made you decide to go into Internet marketing?

In 1996, the U.S. government was cutting military budgets and reducing the number of people in the various military services. That caused me to ask if that was a good time to go ahead and start the business that I had always dreamed of someday owning. As I looked around, I noticed advertisements for businesses that you could run over the internet. That struck me as perfect for someone whose job was to fly a lot, and routinely travel from country to country. So, I went into internet marketing primarily because it was so portable.

Internet marketing has a bit of a bad rep in some circles. Why are some of the products seen as being "scammy"?

There are some people in business online who will sell "business opportunities" and not really care whether they work or not. This is no different than it is in the offline world. Many people who purchase products designed to teach them how to make money won't stick with a program or methodology long enough for it to be profitable. They suffer from what we call "shiny object syndrome" and many of them do end up wasting a lot of money with nothing to show for it.

What are the three top things that you need in order to be successful in Internet Marketing?

- Focus, because there are so many distractions. As soon as you choose a niche that you plan on building a business in, you will read about something that looks faster, easier, better!

- A strong, emotional reason why you want to succeed so badly. This strong reason will keep you going when success takes longer than you have been led to believe that it would.

- Good time and people management skills. There are so many tasks that are required to build a successful Internet marketing business that one person cannot possibly do them all. So you have to learn to focus on doing the most important ones first. You also need to learn to delegate or outsource tasks that you should not personally be doing. Many people starting online businesses struggle with this one because they were employees before starting their own business and have no practical experience in being the one in charge.

You also have a range of cookbooks. What made you decide to write cookbooks?

My early mentors told me that I should build a business around something that I was passionate about because that would keep me going when things grew difficult. My grandmother started teaching me to cook when I was around seven years old, and I became a great cook, and I enjoyed sharing my recipes with others. So that seemed like the perfect niche to build an audience in, and then offer them products and services that they wanted. I started a recipe-sharing newsletter and my subscribers quickly let me know that they wanted me to write a cookbook.

Cookbooks also will always sell since people are constantly searching for new recipes that will cause family and friends to rave about their culinary skills.

How do you practically manage your businesses on a day to day basis?

I put practically all tasks and meetings on my Google Calendar, which sends me email and SMS text reminders directly to my mobile phone. I look at my calendar for a bird's eye view of where I'm headed the next week, and the next month, and the next year. This keeps me focused on doing the things that keep me moving in the proper direction.

I use a lot of software tools to automate most routine tasks, and I outsource other routine or boring tasks. I track everything using project management software. I track my interactions with individuals using online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, so as long as I have access to a computer, I have necessary information to hand.

You managed to build wealth online first before you quit the military. When would you advise people to leave their day job and concentrate on their business?

That would depend upon factors such as how many others are depending upon them for support, how much savings they have built up, and how risk averse they are. I advise most people to make a gradual transition as I did.

In order to be successful as an Internet marketer, just as in any other job, you do need training. So, I recommend going through the training and actually becoming an expert before making the jump. As a soldier, I was trained to minimize and mitigate risk. I believe in doing that as an Internet marketer, although being an entrepreneur also means that you are more willing to take calculated risks than the average person.

What are the top three pieces of advice that you would give to business owners on how to build a successful business?

As you plan your product line, focus on the back end -- things that you are going to offer to the customer after they have made the first purchase. Once you've made that first sale, you have no customer acquisition costs associated with subsequent sales. Subsequent sales are also much easier to make because you have already gained the customer's trust. So, ask yourself what else the customer needs after making and using that first purchase, and offer those products and services to him.

Regardless of what business you are in, start building a database from the very start. A database of customers that you can readily contact via email, SMS text messaging or phone is a very valuable asset that allows you to market to people who know, like and trust you, over and over again.

Don't compete on the basis of price. Trying to gain customers by having the lowest price is almost always a losing proposition. You'll have smaller margins, and therefore can't spend as much as your competitors on essentials such as advertising and new technologies. Instead of lowering your prices, increase your quality and then perhaps increase your prices.

Having higher prices often implies to your potential customers that you have a superior quality product.