One morning, I clicked onto one of my five dozen or so product-specific micro-sites... only to find it gone!
I quickly clicked on my other micro-sites. All gone.
Next, a panicked call to my Web hosting service - with even worse results: a recorded message telling me the number had been disconnected.
In essence, my entire Internet marketing business... a passive income stream generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales a year... had been shut down, in a single morning, without warning.
And I had no idea how to fix it - or whether it could be fixed.
I dashed off an e-mail to my website designer telling him what had happened... And that I might need to have him reload back-up copies of the HTML code for all my micro-sites into the domain names.
"What back-up copies?" he e-mailed back a few minutes later. "We don't keep back-up copies."
"But you can transfer the HTML code from the actual live site to a new server," he continued, "as long as you have the access codes to each site."
Access codes? What the heck was that?
Of course, I had never heard of this before. And the only one with those access codes was my Web hosting guy... who had mysteriously vanished from the face of the Earth.
Through sheer luck, everything worked out. And within 48 hours, my small Internet marketing business was back online.
The sites came back up. I found a new hosting service and moved all of my sites to their server.
So how can you prevent a similar disaster in your online business... and what steps must you take to protect your site operations?
First, deal only with a Web hosting service where you can reach a real, live person during business hours. In fact, the same advice goes for any service that's "mission-critical" to your business: If a real person at the company won't talk to you, don't use them.
Second, insist that your website designer archive back-up copies for every website or page he creates for you.
Third, have the Web designer give you a copy of the HTML code for all of your sites and pages... and keep duplicate copies on your own hard drive.
Fourth, make sure you - or someone in your office - keeps a record of all user names, codes, and passwords needed to get into your existing websites. Don't just say, "My webmaster has them" or "I can just call the Web hosting company." That won't do any good if you can't reach them.
Fifth, identify back-up vendors for all mission-critical services you use. For me, these include Web hosting... website design... maintenance of my e-list... e-zine distribution... credit card processing... metrics tracking and measurement... shopping cart... autoresponder.
Reason: You don't want to be at the mercy of a single supplier... no matter how much you like them... should something go wrong.
Why are reliability and cost both so critical for the small Internet marketing entrepreneur?
Reliability is key because a failure in a critical service like Web hosting or your shopping cart effectively shuts down your entire operation. If your online sales are $7,000 a week, every day your sites are down costs you $1,000 in sales you can never get back.
Cost is important because of a principle taught by Internet marketing guru Fred Gleeck: Return on Marketing Dollars (ROMD) - the ratio of sales and profits to marketing costs.
To maximize ROMD, it's not enough just to generate a high volume of sales - you have to do it at a reasonable cost. The lower your expenditures, the greater your ROMD for a given volume of sales.
Take Web hosting.
There are plenty of large, reliable Web hosting services that can host your site for fees ranging from $19 to $49 a month per site. While that's fine for the typical SOHO (small office/home office) with just one website, it won't work for Internet marketers with product-specific micro-sites.
Some Internet marketers with multiple products have as many as 100 different websites, one for each product. If you paid $49 per site for hosting, your annual hosting bill would be nearly 60 grand a year... eating up a huge share of your profits