According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are now more than 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States, generating approximately $222 billion in revenue for the economy. Despite the numbers and the fact that this segment is growing exponentially, few resources and information are readily available today to help Latino entrepreneurs start, run and grow their businesses.

Because more and more Hispanic SMBs are now online with some Internet presence, there is a need to provide best practices and sound advice on monetizing and building successful online businesses. This document address those needs in five easy steps. It provides insights into:

Monetizing your online presence

Leveraging Blogs and Wikipedia for marketing purposes

Free content sources for your site and

Cost-effective, proven website traffic-building tactics.

Rather than a “deep dive” into each of these topics (each of which could be the subject of its own White Paper), this document is intended to provide a uniquely Hispanic angle to the opportunities that the Internet offers today to the Latino entrepreneur.

I. Turning your content into Dinero with Search & Affiliate Marketing

One of the hardest things for U.S. companies of all sizes is producing content relevant to Hispanic online audiences. I cannot tell you how many times in the last few years I ran into Marketing executives of Fortune 500 companies that asked me things like: “Do you know anybody that can produce good copy in English for the Hispanic market?” Or “Do you know if Spanglish is appropriate for X segment of the Latino demographic?”

Meanwhile, more and more Hispanic entrepreneurs are publishing sites that, unbeknownst to them, could generate new revenue flows for their businesses. You see, it turns out that there are thousands of advertisers out there that are willing to pay money to reach your site’s visitors, and the way this is done today is through Paid Search and Affiliate Marketing. Let’s look at each of these so that we can begin to understand how you could turn your content into Dinero:

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The model is actually quite simple. Search engines such as Google generate a good part of their revenues by charging advertisers for clicks from their search results to the advertisers’ site. This is what is commonly known as “paid search.” Yahoo! and Microsoft’s MSN are also players in this space.

Search engines evolved this concept to embed these keywords on third-party sites and share some of the revenues with the site’s owner. So how does this work exactly? Let’s say that an airline is interested in reaching consumers that are interested in flying to Mexico. Meanwhile, you run a site with content about Mexico.

You can open a Google AdSense account, and by simply adding a line of code to your website, Google will add a text link to the airline’s site. Whenever a visitor to your site clicks on the text link, both Google and you make money. How much? On a single click, probably not much more than a few cents. The game, however, gets interesting as you build traffic to your site. A couple of things you should know:

o With Google, in particular, you have to accumulate at least $100 in AdSense commissions before they pay you. If your site has meager traffic, this could take months.

o If you click on the words yourself, Google will close your account pronto! They know when you do it and so resist the temptation for the favor.

o, Not every click-through pays the same. I have seen Google pay $1.00 plus on a single click. It’s all function of how much their advertisers are willing to pay for those clicks. It is demand and supply, and you, as a publisher, do not always know how they come up with your commission. Don’t worry about it; be happy that you get paid.

o Lastly, Google is not the only player in the space (just the biggest one). Yahoo! is also an option for you.

Affiliate Marketing

Online Affiliate Marketing, like paid keywords, is also a pay-per-performance revenue model. Basically, advertisers pay large affiliate networks (such as Commission Junction and LinkShare) for conversions generated by sites that belong to the network. Que? It works like this: the affiliate network provides your site with banners and text links to merchants’ sites that offer products of interest to your visitors. Whenever one of your visitors clicks on the banner or text and actually ends up ‘converting’ (i.e., buying a product, registering, et cetera), the affiliate network pays you a commission.

For example, you have a site for home-based entrepreneurs. You set up an account with an affiliate network, and they provide you with banners for a PC manufacturer. Clearly, a PC is a product that could interest the owner of a home-based business. And so, if one of your visitors clicks on the banner and ends up buying a PC from the advertiser, the affiliate network will pay you a commission.

This model is great for the advertiser because they are only paying out if a conversion occurs. If there are no sales, they are still getting millions of free impressions from the publishers in the network. So the question is: why is this so great for me? One reason is that if you have unused real estate on your site and decent traffic, you may earn some revenue that was not there before.

Naturally, it is a lot easier to make money from a program like Google’s AdSense than from affiliate marketing, and that explains why the former is so much more popular than the latter. One consideration, in either case, is the possible impact on the aesthetics of your site if you add keywords or banners to it. This is not for you if your company has a fancy Flash site.

II. Blogging Yourself to Fama

So what’s all the ruido about Blogs? It is simple: Blogs have made it possible for everyday people like you and me to become publishers and content providers. This, coupled with the ease with which you can set one up, is why they have become so popular. So why are they important for a Hispanic business owner? Well, it just so happens that you may know more about a specific subject than just about anyone else, and someone out there is interested in that knowledge and your opinion.

Blogs then are a great tool for you to become a recognized, visible subject matter expert. Even if your blog does not establish a huge following, it can give the credibility that is so important in getting new customers. Now, I will be honest; if your business is a landscaping business, the chances are that running a blog will not help you much in getting new customers. You may still want to maintain a Blog for your own benefit, but it will not be a lead generator for you.

On the other hand, if you are in one of many services professions – especially one that is marketing to large corporations or other audiences that you know are online – then a Blog is a great tool for establishing yourself as an authority in your field. As an added benefit, a Blog can help you drive traffic to your site since you would normally point a link to your site from your blog. This is particularly effective if, over time, your Blog begins developing a following. Over time, you will find that other bloggers will begin linking to your Blog, which means increased awareness and traffic for your business. By the way, you can also monetize your Blog like you would any other site by adding Google AdWords to your Blog,

Ready to start your Blog? Set one up quickly and easily with free services like Blogger.com.

III. Content? It’s Gratis!

You’ve heard it before: “Content is King.” And it is true: nothing keeps customers glued to your site like good, relevant, up-to-date content. Your site may be good for a visit or two, but if you really want customers to build a relationship with your company and your brand, you need that fresh content.

The problem is that most of us are not exactly content production machines. Many of us seem to us struggle with producing even the copy for the company’s brochure. If we were in the business of producing great content every day, we would be running Univision or Telemundo. Here’s the good news: online content syndication has changed all that, and today, your site can benefit from frequently updated, relevant news and content pushed to your site without you moving a finger.

So how does that work? Simple: you can add news and content to your site by simply adding some HTML code from news “syndicators” like Yahoo! and Google. The news on the home page is updated several times a day, but the content is “pushed” by Yahoo! News without any work on my part. The best thing is that you pick the subject – any subject – and whenever the wires and PR distribution services release a news item related to your preferred subject, your page is updated “automagically”!.

Let’s say your site is all about tortillas, and you want the greatest and latest news about tortillas on your site. Visit news.yahoo.com, search “tortillas,” and look for the XML icon on the results page. Copy and paste the code behind this icon onto your site and list!! Google News also offers this feature.

Want more? Now major news and media giants like Reuters are getting into the game and have started to offer free video feeds for 3rd party sites. Of course, nowadays, everybody is getting into the content game (as we discussed above), and so you are not limited to big news sources to enrich your site with great content. You can also add Blog feeds to your site and use great content from others on your site. Por Que No?

IV. Wikipedia: More than Colaboración

Many people think of Wikipedia simply as an online encyclopedia, a place for the kids to do their homework. It turns out it is much more than that: it could be one of your best online marketing tools. Why? Because Wikipedia is not “owned” by anyone individual editor, which means that provided you have somewhat of a brand or story behind your company or its owners, there is an opportunity to let this great tool tell the world about it.

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Let’s take, for example, the now-famous Homies figurines. Now, I love the Homies, but I would say that they are hardly in the same category as Cesar Chavez or Einstein (both extensively written up in Wikipedia). But sure enough, there is a complete entry in Wikipedia about the Homies, complete with a hyperlink to the product’s official website.

Now, I am not sure who actually added the entry. All I can say is that searches for Jarritos, Goya Foods, and Fernando Espuelas all returned comprehensive write-ups. Now, a word of caution, “vanity” Wikipedia entries are not allowed, and so this tactic may not be appropriate for every company and entrepreneur out there. But provided that your company has an up-and-coming brand or you are an up-and-coming entrepreneur, then this may be the right thing for you. To get started, create a Wikipedia account (it is free) and start familiarizing yourself with this fascinating collaboration tool and all it has to offer.

V. Build Traffic the Cheapo Way

Ah, the million-dollar question: so, how do I build great, sustainable traffic to my site without spending tons of money? Well, by now, you probably know that it is not easy unless you happen to be sitting on the next mega-viral social networking site. The good news is that it is possible. However, much like building your business, it will take some work and some time. Also, keep in mind that the most effective tactics will do no good unless your product and content are any good. But assuming that there’s a market/audience for your goods, here are some tactics that could bring you incremental traffic and business to your site:

o, Search. We all want to be on that top search results spot in Google and Yahoo!. But the truth is that it is not that easy, and in fact, an entire industry has blossomed around helping companies get a top search engine ranking. However, there are a couple of things you can do to help your search position. First, be sure to resubmit your site at least 2-3 times a year. Search engines are constantly changing the algorithms that assign a site it’s ranking, so it is good to re-submit your site now and then.

Another good practice is to reach out to those few that have the top rankings on the search results page and request a link from their site to yours. Here’s a great example: as of November 2006, a Google search for “Hispanic small businesses” yielded the smallbusinessnotes.com site as the top result. This is the position I have always wanted for my site, but instead of getting this spot, we managed to get a hyperlink from that site to yours, thus getting some nice “flow-through” traffic.

Curious about paid search? Assuming that you have a budget, I will say that it works and that its performance-based model is better than conventional banner advertising. If you want to try it out, both Yahoo! and Google offer trial promotions that will reward you up to $75 in clicks in exchange for a one-time $5 set up fee. This is a super bargain and a great way to “test drive” paid search. I sometimes post the addresses to these offers in the HispanicSMB.com Blog.

o Foros. Consumers love forums. They love posting, replying, and generating controversy. Forums are where a good part of the Word of Mouth takes place on the Internet. They are also a great, free way to drive highly targeted traffic to your site. Sign up for one of the major portals, select the most appropriate forum dealing with your product or service and post a short friendly comment about your offering with a hyperlink to your site. Please keep in mind two things: a) some forums have restrictions on the inclusion of hyperlinks to 3rd party sites, and b) if you post on a high traffic site, your posting will rapidly disappear under newer topics, and so you must do this periodically and consistently for the clicks to sustain.

o Links Exchange. This is a highly effective yet time-consuming tactic for increasing traffic to your site. In addition to delivering incremental traffic to your site, incoming links are important because they improve your search engine ranking. Search Engine Marketing experts will tell you that one of the key variables in search engines’ algorithms is “popularity,” as measured by the number and importance of the sites that link to your site. And so getting others (sites and Blogs alike) to link to your site is well worth it.

Please remember that whenever requesting a link to your site, the other party will invariably ask that you do in kind, and so if you do not have one already, be sure to set up a ‘links’ page on your site (provided it does not ruin its aesthetics). Lastly, please stay away from link exchange networks: they rarely ever deliver quality traffic.

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o PR. It used to be that to get your name out there in front of the world; you had hired a top-notch PR agency. And while this is still true if you want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or La Opinión, some tactics work very well for the business owner on a budget. First, pick a subject for your press release. It could be a new product, geographic expansion, or maybe even a new star hire. Next, write the press release. Here you may need some help, but if you go online and read a few of them, you may be able to hack it yourself.

Next is the key part: distribution. One of the best options is PRweb.com which, for well under $100, will distribute your press release around the country, regionally or locally (your choice) through Google News and Yahoo! News, amongst others. Because so many sites syndicate Google and Yahoo! news, you will find that coverage can be quite good. PRWeb.com will naturally also include your press release on their site, and so you can use the unique address (URL) of your press release and forward it to local or regional media who may pick up the story.

Juan Silvera is considered one of the foremost authorities in Hispanic online marketing and eCommerce emerging trends. Since 1995 he has worked closely with countless Global 1,000 companies to help them conceive effective online strategies. He was a founding executive of Fusion (later sold to SAIC), responsible for the firm’s Latin American practice. Subsequently, he was Managing Partner of Connotation GmbH, an Austrian interactive agency servicing clients in central Europe.