Build Your Business, Not Your Product

I’ve had a copy of The E-Myth Revisited floating around my house for years, picked up at Half Priced Books a while back and forgotten as I read through The 4-Hour Workweek, Crush It, The Dream and, most recently, Rework.  A friend reminded me of the book again last week so I sat down in the sun yesterday and cracked it open.  I skimmed through the first few chapters, reminding myself of the writing style and key concepts that being a business owner is not the same as being a working in your business.  The technician in you wants to work on your product, the manager wants to work on the people and process, but the entrepreneur needs to work on the business.

Photo courtesy of ihtatho via Flickr

The subtext of the book is that it reveals the secret as to why two thirds of small businesses fail in America.  I haven’t finished it yet, but midway through the book, I was struck by the concept of franchising and how its a valuable model to follow for any business, even if you don’t intend to actually turn your business into a franchise.

The argument for following the franchise model is that it forces you to focus on your business.  Your product is a commodity, your business is where the value is. It is likely that anyone can create your widget if given the focus and tools, but to replicate your business structure, processes, character and consistency is where the magic happens, and the book stresses that consistency is the key to business success. 

Build a business that doesn’t rely on hiring exceptional employees.  Requiring exceptional employees leads to scalability problems as you expand and find that the caliber of employee you rely on isn’t an option in many parts of the country or world.  The key to being able to hire ordinary employees and still achieve extraordinary results lies in the process.  Build a process that is fool proof.  Anyone can execute a well defined list of instructions and achieve similar or exact results.  If you can mechanize or automate it with software, you’ve removed that variable entirely. 

The aspect I was troubled by, which the book later addressed head-on, was employee satisfaction.  If your tasks only require low-skilled workers, how do your great employees feel motivated to grow and improve? The answer that I pulled from the book was to shift their focus as well.  Instead of your employee feeling like their job is to create widgets, make them feel as though their job is to improve the process of making widgets.  If your employees focus on improving the process and protocol that they use to do their job each day, they can see that improvements to the process increase their own efficiency.  Increases in efficiency driven by employees will motivate the employee and lead to higher margins and better quality for the product and company.

Business owners: Are you encouraging your employees to focus on your product or focus on your process?  If they did focus on your process, do you feel that it’d improve long term profitability and efficiencies for your company?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The book is E-Myth Revisited and you can purchase from Amazon here. Enters Groupon’s Territory with

Photo Courtesy of DigitalSextant on Flickr is coming to Seattle on July 14th.  The Seattle Times did a story on the new launch from on Thursday, announcing the launch date and the intent of the product as “the integration of bricks-and-mortar retail with e-commerce” with a focus on local merchants.

The space is definitely crowded, with the heavy hitters in Seattle being,, and The DealPop Seattle launch is part of a larger plan for DealPop to expand to five additional cities in the US by the end of the year.

For the small business, I think this is great news.  I’ve worked with several small businesses to help them get a presence online and I think having large, established online companies in the space helping those small businesses boost sales (even if just for a day) is a great boon for these companies.

Key to a lot of these group/social buying sites is the social media aspect, the ability to easily share the daily deal or your purchase on a variety of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and email for those with their contact lists established outside of the social networking sites.  Having your small business represented, even for a day, on these sites with such large amounts of traffic ( with just over 22 million/month, Groupon with just under 2 million/month) can bring in hundreds or thousands of new customers.  Groupon’s recent deals page for Seattle shows several of their top deals generating thousands of sales for a given merchant in a 24 hour period, something you just can’t reliably get with traditional advertising without taking a big bet and spending thousands on PPC, print or radio/TV advertising.

Its an exciting time for small businesses.  With heavy hitters like LivingSocial, DealPop and Groupon on your side to help you get online quickly and sell your goods, you can reap the rewards of viral marketing and huge internet reach without having to build a full ecommerce solution yourself.

“There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction”

The title of this post is a quote by Winston Churchill.

Image by ColdSpire

This blog is close to four years old and, since starting it, my interests have shifted.  In college, I was maniacal about the stock market.  Classmates were making money day trading, one even owned a late model Corvette.  I never got too involved in day trading,  instead preferring place by bets on stocks I expected to shift over 6-12 months.  I went through periods where I traded heavily, suretrade and scottrade enjoyed these periods of my life. I remember filling out my tax return at the end of the year and regretting my prolific, yet unprofitable activities over the course of the year on more than one occasion.

I eventually drifted into real estate, buying my first home at 25 and eventually another from family at 28.  Real estate is interesting to me, but to be profitable over the long haul it eventually means landlording in one form or another. Not something I’m very interested in.

Image by LemonadeDay

Over the last two years, my interest has shifted in the direction of entrepreneurship.  Both of my parents were great role models for me growing up and I always had an entrepreneurial bent as a kid.  My dad being self employed, at times with a hand full of employees, in the construction industry.  My mom often worked for others but generally did it with a direction of getting joy out of her job rather than focusing solely on the paycheck. 

Over the last few years, I’ve worked at a great internet startup in Seattle where several of my coworkers either have left to pursue their own opportunities or worked for themselves for a time then came back to the corporate setting for security, family or opportunity to work on unique technologies that may not be possible at a small business.

I’ve decided to shift the focus of this blog onto my new focus of small business and entrepreneurship.  With my technical background and interest in business, I’m looking to put my knowledge and skills to good use either in my own venture or in helping small business owners grow their businesses and be successful in this new, technology-driven marketplace.  Even local businesses need to blend ecommerce, social networking, targeted online marketing campaigns and the new wave of location based services into their businesses to give themselves maximum potential in their market. I think there is a huge opportunity to help small business owners bridge that gap and take their businesses to the next level.

I hope you’ll stick around as a reader, I’ll do my best to keep it interesting!

Small Business Owners – 3 Steps To Building An Online Presence

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last few months to trying to establish a system to help small businesses build up a presence online.  Now, as the economy tightens up, its more important than ever for small businesses to leverage every means available to attract new customers.  Over the last 8 months, I’ve been helping a law firm build out their web site to pull in customers through both PPC ads and natural search ads.  In addition, I’ve had a few of my own projects kicking around that I’ve been experimenting with on and off.  The outcome of these projects leaves me with the strong belief that any small business can benefit greatly from having a presence online, especially those with a local service or unique product to offer.

Now I’m looking for a new project.  My thought is, since I already have a full time job, I’ll offer to work solely on commission.  I’m confident, through my experiments so far, that I can make a measurable difference to a small business that is looking to start out online.  The approach I’ve found works best is to focus on building out a simple site with the main concept of what you are looking for, turn on pay per click ads to measure user interest, then work to develop a long term strategy for attracting visitors be it paid search, natural search or community posting.  Here is a basic outline of my three part approach for building an initial online presence for small businesses.

Start out simple

Building out a website can be incredibly time consuming, with the intial phases seeming the most daunting.  Coming up with unique content, a solid layout and proper messaging can take a very long time, especially if the developer is working part time and the business owner has strong feelings about the messaging and image they want to portray on the site.  My recommendation is to build something simple to get it up and running quickly.  If both the developer and business owner understand the primary focus is on simplicity and time-to-market, they will be much more open to flexibility with an understanding that the details will be worked out and finalized in future iterations of the site.

Pay Per Click Is Your Friend

Start pay per click campaigns through Yahoo or Google as soon as the initial site is up and running.  Once you build the simple site, you will soon find that you have little to no traffic coming to the site.  Google alone may take several weeks to index your site and, even then, its unlikely you’ll rank well for any common terms if you are in a competitive market.  There are likely to be many other larger, more well established competitors already in the market.  Use pay per click campaigns to test out the competition and learn about the market as quickly as possible.  An investment of a few hundred dollars will allow you to learn some great details about your market in as little as a few days.  The key questions that will be answered by a small investment in pay per click ads are:

  1. What is the cost per click to advertise in the space?
  2. What percentage of visitors to the site are potential customers (inquire about the product, fill out a lead form, etc)?
  3. What types of search terms are people using to find your site?
  4. What sort of demand is there for your key products and search terms?

Once you have some basic data from the paid campaigns, you’ll be able to develop a picture of what the competitive landscape is and what your strategy should be moving forward. 

For the law firm I’ve been working with, by experimenting with pay per click ads we found it would take about $25 to get a lead through pay per click ads for the type of law they specialized in.  By honing the PPC campaigns over time, we were able to get that down to about $22/lead, but the point is that we were in the right ballpark after a few weeks, knowing roughly what it would cost to attain clients through the PPC approach.

Developing A Long Term Strategy

Once you have a basic website up and have gone through the pay per click research phase, you are at a decision point.  Based on the data you have so far, you should have a rough idea of whether or not further investment in your online presence is worth it.  If you find that it takes $10 in pay per click ads to sell a $5 widget, you’ll understand that you either need to significantly change your cost structure or find a new way to market your product.  My hope is, after the basic build out of the site and the initial experiments with pay per click, you’ll see there is a benefit to your new online presence.  If you see potential, then there are a number of next steps to take in building your presence.

My specialty is in building out natural search rankings for clients.  Depending on your product, I try to find a logical way to build out hundreds or thousands of pages about your product or service.  If you sell 10 different widgets, I’ll build a system to create a seperate page for each widget, a seperate page for each color of widget, and a seperate page for each size of each color of each widget.  The point of these pages isn’t to delight customers in being able to narrow down to exactly what they are looking for, they can do that on their own, the point is to signal to search engines that you are a premier widget shop.  You have lots of widget models, lots of widget colors and lots of widget sizes.  As a small business owner, you may never rank for a basic search like ‘cheap widgets’ (and you may not want to), but if painted, wooden widgets are your specialty, you should show up in the search engine results for terms like ‘yellow cedar widgets’ and my page bulk approach will get you there. 

I hope you enjoyed reading my recommended approach to building an online presence for your small business.  If you have any questions or need a hand with your efforts, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  If you would like to try taking your small business online but would rather focus on running your business instead of dealing with the technology aspect, drop me a line and lets see if we can work something out.  I’m looking forward to exciting new projects and am confident you can benefit from this simple, straight forward approach to building your small business presence online.