A Change In Plans

Stephen Yagielowicz
With market forces and business realities changing almost daily for operators in the online adult industry, having a flexible business plan that you revisit from time to time is vital to your success.

While I'm not going to get into the mechanics of writing a formal (or even informal) business plan, as there are articles to that effect in our archives, it's safe to say that having a roadmap for your business is essential, as is keeping it current.

In my case, "keeping it current" required "writing a new one." My old 1995-era business model revolved around AVS networks, hubs, and feeders – and while there are still useful elements in the old plan, today's surfers are far different than the ones we had a decade ago, and so a plan accommodating the realities of 2005 needs to be formulated.

One of these realities is the Thumbnail Gallery Post. While barely more than a margin note in my plan a decade ago, having a stable traffic source is the key to further operations, and in today's market, the TGP is an essential building block for developing this ongoing traffic source in-house, especially if you can handle the traffic effectively.

But there's more to the story than that. The reason I'm moving away from my old plan isn't because it's no longer workable, it's because concerns over 2257 compliance issues forced me to close my AVS sites. Sure, I could have simply replaced the content in most of these sites with compliant images, but since the old content was provided by now defunct sponsors, advertising, and other elements would also need to be changed, raising the specter of "totally rebuilding" 100 merely marginal sites. The time and energy required to do this could be much better spent developing a new system that was not only compliant with current regulations, but flexible enough to accommodate future ones as well.

Backing Up A Bit
About a month ago, I wrote an article entitled "TGPs - Worth The Effort?" in which I outlined some of my thinking on the subject of building a successful Thumbnail Gallery Post. I also hinted that I would come out with a new TGP this year, and in fact have done a few simple projects as learning steps and building blocks, which were also described in several articles here at XBiz.

These test sites were very "entry level" free-script installations, such as my "10 Minute TGP" project, designed to give myself and other webmasters new to the world of gallery post operation some quick, hands-on experience with the fundamentals. They were not designed to be "power house" sites, but disposable learning tools that would provide a context and knowledge base for a more serious effort. An effort that begins today – but not as I'd expected.

Over the past month, I've enjoyed many conversations with a wide variety of folks, many of whom work TGPs "full time," while others represent nearly every other area of the online adult industry. Some of these discussions have been most enlightening – and others, intimidating. Enlightening, because I've received fresh input on new directions and "current" thinking, intimidating because there are (as one example) technical aspects to gallery "flow" and traffic management at the upper levels of TGP operation that present a formidable learning curve.

Although I am literally about as "old school" a webmaster as you can find, with a very independent "let me figure it out for myself" attitude, the complexity of "doing it right" in today's market demands a more professional approach than simply relying on trial and error; and to that end, I've enlisted the aid of Tony, aka "Sixzeros" from Comus Thumbs. Widely acknowledged as the premiere TGP application, I decided to use Comus Thumbs over other TGP scripts I've evaluated in part based on Tony's helpfulness and technical expertise, as well as the positive recommendations of other TGP owners and service firms. You'll receive the benefit of Tony's insights here in the weeks and months to come.

While having the right tool for the job is essential, having the right job for the tool is also necessary, and determining "the right job" was something else that required an adjustment in my plan. You see, I originally wanted to keep things simple. I was going to build an "amateur niche" TGP and use it to feed my wife's amateur site. Clean and easy – or so I thought, until I started talking to other folks.

Today, one of the biggest ways in which a TGP can grow is through the use of automated traffic trades with other sites. This typically requires the use of what is known as a "gallery skim" – or in other words, a certain percentage of clicks to any given gallery is redirected to another site, which in turn (at least theoretically) returns an equal or greater number of visitors back to you. The problem with trades as a building tool for my niche TGP were two-fold. First, as a niche rather than 'general hardcore' site, the opportunities for trades, and therefore the amount of traffic you will have, is limited.

Secondly, and more importantly, the 'real' amateur market customer in particular is "sensitive" to how he's treated. If he clicks a gallery he wants to see it, and takes greater offense to being jerked around than does the typical TGP surfer who is more used to being abused. These customers remain members for many months (and even years!) – retention rates that most pay sites can't even dream about. It makes no sense to me to alienate them when I'm trying to befriend and sell to them.

A better plan is to make the amateur TGP a hybrid site that will gently guide surfers to where I want them, using it as a traffic filter fed from the general TGP. This allows me to be more flexible in my implementation, while opening up more possibilities. This is a business model which you'll learn more about in the future.

I've touched on a number of topics today, and laid the groundwork for what's to come: a more "permanent" project using tools, techniques, and thought, well beyond the "newbie" level. I hope I've whetted your appetite, and that you'll follow my "TGP Tuesday" updates on my progress, and indeed, join in and share your own knowledge. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned! ~ Stephen