Internet Marketing and VAT, do you need to Register? Lessons Shared from a Compliance Check

HMRC_logo

This is a very UK specific post (though if you’re reading from elsewhere I’d suggest seeking some professional taxation advice). Also I’m not a qualified (or unqualified) accountant so bear that in mind too (however as you’ll read later don’t believe everything an accountant tells you).

When I receive a letter from HMRC I generally open it with a hint of dread (I’ve had one tax rebate in my life and enough fines and bills to cover that 1000 fold). With this letter the feeling of dread was very appropriate, it was from THE VAT MAN.

Dear Sir

VAT Registration Enquiry

Following a review of information held on Departmental records l understand that from SA returns quoting your Unique Taxpayer Reference for indicates that you exceeded the VAT registration limit during the 2007-2008 financial year and have continued to trade above the registration limit since then ‘ However, we are unable to trace a VAT registration.This could be for various reasons such as you are registered at a different address to the registered address or your services may be exempt from or beyond the scope of VAT.

If the company is VAT registered please inform me of the vrn or if they are not required to be registered please let me know the reason(s) why.

If the business should be registered please forward a monthly breakdown of your sales and cost of sales from April 2006 to 31st January 2013.

A belated notification penalty may apply so Forms CC/FS1a and CC/FSQ are attached for your information.

Please reply within 28 days of the date of this letter. However you choose to contact us about this check, you need to quote the case reference CFS-XXXXXX and any other references shown above.

Much love
Your friendly VAT man
xxx

Continue Reading

Trialling A New Automated Revenue Stream – Skimlinks

skimlinks
I’ve written before about using a custom plugin to automatically convert links to affiliate links when an appropriate scheme is available and it has certainly boosted my revenue over the years. So I was very interested to hear from Skimlinks who offer a product that does the job for you. 

Skimlinks uses Javascript to automatically redirect appropriate links (redirection can be done via your own subdomain which makes it much more integrated to your site). You don’t need to be a member of any specific affiliate scheme, Skimlinks receives the commission, takes their slice and pays you directly. In theory they should be able earn a higher percentage from merchants thus absorbing their percentage however from my tests I’ve not seen this.

Reports show have many clicks and sales you are generating each day and also to which merchants. I find the merchant report really useful as it shows you affiliate programs You may previously of missed and should consider joining. It honours any affiliate links you already so won’t reduce existing affiliate revenue.

Pros
– Another revenue stream with minimal time investment
– Cloaks affiliate links 
– Reporting
– New merchants are continually being added (8,000+ so far)

Cons
– pages load another external JS file
– Lose a percentage of commission

I already do a fair amount of affiliate sales on CG so wasn’t expecting to find many programs that I’m not yet a member. However after 10 days of testing reports showed nearly 2,000 clicks from 138 different merchants, wow. Revenue was somewhat disappointing at £61, though for the amount of effort involved and just redoing existing links you can’t really grumble.

I’d certainly recommend giving Skimlinks a try, for both the revenue and reports which could highlight an attractive scheme that you’ve missed. If you implement it please let us know how you get on.

Creating and Promoting a Facebook Page

fbvisitors
There are currently over 400 million active users on Facebook, which is somewhat insane. Last month Facebook became my 4th largest traffic source (admittedly it is ‘currently’ quite away behind the top 3). Before reading on I suggest becoming a fan here so you can see what I’m writing about.

I’ve always been a huge fan of building lists and subscribers to my various sites, it removes some of the reliance on search engines and gives you a bit more stability. Using my site coolest gadgets as an example we currently have around ~69K RSS and 10K email subscribers. When speaking to people outside of the industry, only a small percentage know what RSS actually is never mind using it, however even my technophobic father has heard of Facebook, so around 9 months ago I started looking at building a list on Facebook.

Creating a FaceBook Page
Make sure you’re logged into Facebook, go here, click “Create Page” and follow then follow the simple wizard. You’ll need to create a logo, add links in to your site and write a simple description but nothing too challenging. Next up we need to populate your page, you can either make daily posts yourself, pay somebody to do it or if your site has an RSS feed you can automate.

I’m currently using RSS Graffitti (thank you Zath, Clarke and Keith for the recommendation). This will automatically post a thumbnail and excerpt on your pages wall whenever a new post is published on your site. This will then link to the relevent page on your site, like so
graffitti example
You now have a fully automated page and source of traffic on one of the most popular sites on the web, cool.

Promoting Your Fan Page
The first thing you need to do is get 25 fans so that you can claim your vanity URL, I’d suggest manually mailing friends to become a fan, explaining why and personalise your messages a bit. Once you have 25 fans head here and claim a more human friendly URL for your fan page.

I’ve tried a few different methods promoting Coolest Gadgets fan page, the following graph shows how it’s grown since inception
allfans

fbwidget
1 – Did a blog post saying we are now on Facebook
2 – LG kindly donated a LCD TV as a competition prize, to enter the contest readers had to become a fan or tweet about it (hence promoting the competition more).
3 – Did another blog post about the contest, this time keeping it really simple: Fan on Facebook? Then Stand A Chance to Win 42″ LG LCD TV
4 – We announced the winner
5 – The site was redesigned with much more prominence on becoming a facebook fan, including a banner advertising the page and a widget showing current fans (see right).

If you have the funds you can also promote the page using Facebook ads, as you can target based on peoples interests this can be highly effective.

My aim is to build the fan base up to 6,000+ by Christmas and promote various offers and discounts when available. If you’re not a fan (or friend) yet feel free to add me.

If you don’t have a fan page yet I’d suggest investing an hour of your time and creating yourself a new traffic source, let us know if you do and we’ll link them from here.

Geo’s Update

Finally coming out of hibernation I expect things for the geo sites to start picking up this and next month.

Last summer I secured a whole bunch of domains that were geo located around each other, some of which are listed on http://www.westofscotland.co.uk/about.html and include the likes of Ayr, Arran and Largs

So with a fairly decent set of towns the plan was and still is to create a physical local guide to Ayr which is the largest of the towns, time has dictated that it will be next year before I launch it however I have the cover designed and database worked on with 600 local businesses and around 100 accommodation entries, a licensed map, local places of interest info and calendar. So the physical guide will get worked on and completed late this year when everything else is quieter, it’s more work to put together than I thought it would be, the guide will be available from the local train station and bus station who agreed to display them as long as they are free, the plan is to sell the advertising space on it to fund it all and work closely with the website, I’ve seen it done to great effect elsewhere.Continue Reading

Moving from country code domain to .com

Many moons ago my tattoo site used to get 30,000+ visitors per day, like many of us building sites in 2002 a hyphen was recommended to separate the words in the domain name so Google could see the keywords, I opted for www.tattoos-by-design.co.uk which looks spammy but ranked well and was a good site, around Sept 2008 Google started pushing the geo location thing and ever since then having the site on the .co.uk domain has been an issue, before the site ranked nicely in Google.com but in the last few years the site didn’t feature in Google.com but would dominate Google.co.uk. All makes sense now and if I’d have originally built it on the .com the issue would never have come up but hindsight is a great thing.Continue Reading

Advertisers coming to me

So far so good with my geo exploits, quick summary; to date for me it’s about building foundations. Initially I chose a target location (West of Scotland) and then went to work trying to acquire local towns, I have worked with a fairly realistic budget spending around £1000 on good sized towns around 10,000 to 20,000 population which I believe to be sounds investments and of good value. I wouldn’t pay that for locations that didn’t have the tourism angle though.

Occasionally I managed to pick up something I felt under priced and occasionally I have had to pay more than I would have liked. When targeting towns & villages my preference so far has been to go for the .co.uk first, usually with no existing site in the case of Ayr & Arran. If that was a no go I have looked at the .org.uk which happened for Kilmarnock. If that was a no go then I google the town and looked at the top 10 to see if there was something suitable & established to buy which was the case for Kilwinning (.org) And in some cases so far I have not been able to get anything.Continue Reading

AWIN Shop Window update

Some time ago I did a post about putting the shop window software on a domain for affiliate sales, I pretty much have forgotten about the site but was asked for an update on the script and how it was doing.

site: Lumens.co.uk

Category: Lighting

Current traffic: 100-250 visitors per day

Improvements made, after installing the software I had someone make the url’s more seo friendly and created my own categories using the search function along with some unique text/description at the top for some of the categories.

I also bought a template from templatemonster I think for a basic design to make the front of the site look better and less like an aff site.

Over the last month the site made the following sales;

All-up-and-on: 407 clicks, generating 7 sales, £644.65 in sales
Haysom lighting:  265 clicks, 2 sales,  £228.94 in sales
DIY Tools: 60 clicks, 2 sales, £276.47 in sales
Screwfix: 59 clicks, 3 sales, £225.51 in sales
Pricerighthome.com: 47 clicks, 3 sales, £34.57 in sales
Rapid electronics: 31 clicks, 1 sale, £6.28 in sales
Expert Verdict: 21 clicks, 1 sale, £1.50 in sales

So around 890 clicks through to a merchant from the site generating 19 sales of just over £1400. Not exactly massive or overly impressive but again it’s a zero maintenance site, I don’t think it’s worth pumping out sites like this though, not real value so could disappear overnight unless you really worked on it to build new content & information in the way of reviews or ran alongside a blog.

My jaunt into Geo’s

Morning folks! Over the last 4 weeks I have pretty much being having fun developing a little geo area in the West of Scotland so wanted to share my observations.

Initially I bought Arran, Ayr and Largs – I then remembered I own westofscotland.co.uk so decided to use that as the umbrella domain to link to them all from. I also picked up a few others all beside each other and all small but touristy kind of places on the coastline to make a little set of 7.

Minisites: I have seen a lot written and said about minisites which strikes me as sweeping statements, if you look at www.largs.co.uk that’s a minisite. Minisites are evolving, Largs cost me under £200 and for that I get a theme on WordPress, research is done and around 7 to 10 articles are created without my input. It’s then all put together with work on descriptions, tags and keywords, after which I added some feeds for extra pages, but it pretty much ticks all the minisite boxes.

To say minisites are not worthwhile, useless or will not give you a return on your investment is like saying “websites” are not worthwhile. Websites like minisites come in a variety of flavours and if done well can be very worthwhile, but they can be crap and a waste of virtual space if done poorly.

I am negotiation for an established but tiny tourist location in Scotland with a population of 1500! the owner has had the domain/site for 12 years, it makes £3000 per year. He hasn’t updated it in years but wants it to go to a good home, I offered £2700 and was rejected no surprise, he wants £5500 which is a fair price, after showing him Ayr.co.uk & Arran.co.uk he has agreed to sell the site to me below his £5500 valuation as he wants it to go to a good home and likes what I am doing. So these new minisites have value that other’s can see.

Feeds: I know pulling in feeds doesn’t add traffic/real content but from a user experience it makes the site more appealing and complete, adding twitter, pictures, video, jobs, weather, property, events and games gives a better user experience from the off. I have tested this on people who work offline and have had good feedback. I am however looking down the line a bit to find a local estate agent to offer their feed exclusively for a fee.

Links: One thing I have noticed is asking for links for the generic place name .co.uk seems very easy with positive replies. I even emailed the local council and asked for a link on their .gov.uk which was up and live within 30 minutes. Emailing others sites who do info on the places often gets a quick “Hi Scott, that’s been done now” which is very different from dealing with product related sites, the exact match generic domain maybe helps or maybe geo sites are much nicer to work in when it comes to sharing links.

Some local hotels & resorts have link & info pages, I decided to make sure when asking for a link from them I email the PR & Marketing person, not the webmaster. Not only did I get a link from them I also got a typical reponse from the marketing person asking about the site, “is it new and how much for a homepage advert?”, much better than me asking them to advertise.

Twitter: I created a twitter account and followed quite a few people who mentioned the areas, in some cases people mention they are about to or have just been to the town. This seems a good opportunity to ask for user submitted content and I have a couple of people who have agreed to write reviews based on me contacting and posting on Twitter.

I have to say I am enjoying these sites, some are in development or live but under month old, they are starting to bring in around 50 visitors per day each. All in all a good excercise and a good set of info minisites that I feel have good potential to generate income. If someone can make £3k a year from a population of 1500 then the towns with 10k or 40k I also have should offer opportunity once established to earn their keep.

A bit of a slog

It’s been a while since I posted, it feels like I’ve achieved nothing in the last few weeks, I really expected to have a few sites bought by now.

Been searching through hundreds of sites sending emails to site owners but getting very little response, I have agreed one site purchase but the owner seems wary and I get the feeling he feels I am scamming him trying to get his bank details to send him money to buy his site (he is in the US), been working on that deal for 2 weeks now and if it comes off it will take a few more weeks I reckon with really slow comms. I suck at waiting, if this one comes off I will post about it as I am buying it blind so will be interesting to see the stats/traffic and possible income so hopefully one I can revisit, I have a fair idea of what it should/could do from guesswork.

I raised some cash from my house equity (I bought my house 7 years ago before prices went way up and down again) so I have funds for buying sites but finding any quality one’s is giving me rsi, I am going to persevere though – I plan to physically look at around 50,000 sites over the next couple of months and target sites that look promising/neglected, really looking to try and find sites in the $5-$15k region. It seems harder than looking for good domain names, if a website owner has had a site for 10 years they can be even more attached to it even if it’s been neglected for years and ultimately many seem like they would only sell for funny money. Still I’m no quitter and I don’t mind putting in long hours to turn up gems, I’ve done it with domains so I really hope I can put in the hours and do it with a few good sites.

Talking of which had no offers or enquiries for quite a few months on anything I own from what I can remember and then all of a sudden a fist full on budget day with domain enquiries and leasing enquiries, as things stand I have 2 .net domains I bought for £2500 in Escrow to a buyer for £4000. I also agreed to sell a couple of uk domains. Each one just into 5 figures GBP with a contract agreed and signed, that will net a profit of around £15,000 which will also bolster the buying fund and has been quite exciting really, strangely for me it will mean money in the bank with nothing to spend it on. That’s just not my style :) .. back to work on Monday then looking for sites to buy.

Shop Window Client Software

Had a good stab yesterday & this morning working on netbooks.co.uk – while the amazon store has been making sales, it’s not exactly integrated or pretty. So I decided to have a look at the Shop Window Client Software from Affiliate Window.

Affiliate Window let’s you sign up with a lot of the major retailers like Dixons, Curry’s etc and then you can use their shop window software to display products in a store like fashion. Before I go any further remember that I am not a coder (or programmer) and have no design or coding skills, that’s probably more than obvious :)  but worth mentioning as it proves anyone can do it.

The thing I like about this script is that it doesn’t involve me downloading feeds or storing the data in a database which would mean I would have to update periodically to keep it fresh and current, instead I install their script which creates the pages on the fly using their data which means they update new products and my site gets updated automatically.

Installation is a breeze, just download, unzip and ftp the files to a directory, they even provide a couple of templates. You can edit the config file so it doesn’t show every product, so for me I could narrow that down to laptops which is the closest, you could just as easily create a shop on electronics, dvd’s etc.

What took me a few hours would take someone that knew what they were doing a few minutes but I really enjoyed it, I created 4 example netbooks on the homepage of the store to show the main features that would appeal, cheap, lightweight, battery life & screen resolution.

I also created my own navigation showing the main models, manufacturers and price mainly using the search function to create links.

The biggest problem was that it didn’t create any title/description tags so for the actual product pages after a bit of trial and error I managed to use the product name & description and get it into the head so that all the pages don’t appear too similar for the mighty G. Also added in the title when you search for example a Samsung NC10, apart from that I am pretty happy with it, not exactly groundbreaking or unique but I think it gives a half decent user experience.

Still work to be done on the layout & design and more unique content needs to be added but as far as a quick way of putting up a shop to take advantage of visitors your getting in a product based site I think it’s a great weapon to have in your armoury.

The Amazon store has sold 4 netbooks in the first week of this month so it will be interesting to see how the Affiliate Window Shop Window does in the coming weeks, I’ll report back later.