Business in Canada
Of course being an Internet business I had plans to take BetterEdit with me. I would arrive in Canada just as the first semester was coming to a close so I gave myself most of December to holiday and from January onwards would go to work promoting BetterEdit in the best way I knew how – placing posters at university campuses. Second semester commences in January in Canada and I was well placed in the largest Canadian city, Toronto, to test this new market. I already knew there was potential since we had a couple of Toronto clients from our brief original poster run completed when it first started over 4 years ago. I scoped out the local campuses and went to work.
I knew if I was to get a long term response from Toronto that I would have to find a solution to keep advertising in the city after I left. BetterEdit functions because it builds up a client base over time, with each semester adding new clients to the converts from the previous semesters. To faciliate an ongoing campaign in Canada I had hoped to, at worst, train and hire someone to do it for me, or at best find that there were already poster experts covering the campuses in Canada.
On my way to Toronto I stopped in Vancouver to visit family. One day I headed to the University of British Columbia with my mother and father. I was happy to come across many poster boards and one poster in particular caught my eye – “YOUR AD HERE”. Yes there were poster advertising services, at least in Vancouver. During the first month in Toronto I conducted further research and found at least two Canadian and one American company that advertised postering services. The American business was massive and had been around for over 30 years which I found quite impressive.
Unfortunately my research was fruitless. One Canadian company wouldn’t take on my campaign because the owner also provided an essay writing/editing service and they were not going to advertise competing services. The other Canadian service was managed by a fellow that just didn’t seem to want my business, so I stopped trying to give him my money, and the American service was too expensive.
I decided to hold off seeking a poster service and went to work postering myself. I headed to all the major university campuses during January and February and started to make inroads with the first few Toronto jobs coming through. During February I received a call from a guy that I initially thought was a potential client but it turned out he wanted to know if I was interested in having him poster for me. I arranged to meet him. It turned out he manages a postering service full time in Toronto for his income and was cheaper and serious about providing a professional service. The clincher for me was his eagerness to get my business which none of the other poster businesses were. I arranged for him to take over some of the postering for me as a trial for the remainder of semester and I kept doing a few campuses myself so I could establish a feel for the market.
A New Business Idea – Poster Advertising Services in Australia
When I first began marketing BetterEdit I hunted around for a university campus poster advertising service so I could get my posters into all the major universities in Australia. Unforunately there wasn’t one available so I was limited to postering in areas I could reach in my hometown of Brisbane and the occasional trip to other cities. During my visit to Canada being exposed to the huge poster advertising industry in Toronto (and not just campuses, the entire downtown area is covered in posters – it’s a literally poster war out there!) I further cemented my idea that a poster advertising service might work in Australia. It was by March 2005 that I decided that I wanted to launch a postering business, starting in my hometown of Brisbane.
At the least I hoped that offering a poster service would generate enough paying clients that I could have BetterEdit and other projects of mine advertised for free. I wouldn’t have to do the postering – I could hire staff to do it and pay them with the revenue generated from other clients. I could start off small and poster myself initially to build up a couple of regular clients and then once the income is their pass of the work to student hires. I figured the market in Australia was dying for a professional poster service and I certainly posessed the expertise and experience to provide the service. I knew the Brisbane campuses like the back of my hand and also had experience with the Melbourne and Sydney campuses from previous poster trips down south. I had made my decision, I would at least trial a poster advertising business and see if it could work.
I had registered the domain Student-Marketing.com.au in 2004 when I first had the idea for this business and had even spent a little time creating a website for it although I did not pursue it because I was running the English school at the time. I started to talk about Student-Marketing on my blog and in March I already had some interest from a few people that had stumbled by my blog and visited the Student-Marketing website. It was this initial encouragement that made me extra eager to leave Canada and get to work back in Brisbane. However I wanted to give Toronto a full semester of postering before leaving. I booked my ticket to leave early April, just when exams would be starting in Canada.
A Sleepless Night
About a month before I was to leave Canada I was reading the book The Perfect Store – Inside eBay by Adam Cohen which is the background story of the creation of eBay. It was an amazing book that really fired my entrepreneurship juices. There was one night when I couldn’t get to sleep because I was thinking about business so much. I jumped out my bed with an idea and started scribbling notes and a flow chart on to a large piece of paper. The eBay book highlighted the importance of a web community behind the success of the business. My first web success came from MTGParadise.com, a site that flourished because of a community.
I decided that night that a new community site focused on students would be the perfect addition to my portfolio of projects. It would link BetterEdit, a site that markets to students and Student-Marketing, a service that allows other buinses to market to students, to create a solid three-way cross promotional machine. I brainstormed ideas for a domain name/brand and this time I was looking for something with the potential for memory retention and recognition, something like a Yahoo or a Google, not a “studentcommunity.com”. I eventually settled on the name “Yaz!” which was a nicname I was sometimes called by friends and a nice a short, easily remembered and fun word. Perfect for a student community. Unfortunately yaz.com was long gone as is the case with most .coms, but since the site was for Australia I was hapy to secure yaz.com.au. Over a few days I drummed together a site using one of my standard design template, installed a forum and was ready to start promoting as soon as I returned to Australia.
The Canadian Sales Windfall
I left Canada to return to Australia on the last days of March and arrived early April 1st. My promotional efforts advertising BetterEdit had gone well and results were coming through but sales had not recouped the amount of money I spent on postering in Toronto so I wasn’t sure if it was worthwhile to continue advertising overseas. During the day or so I spent in the air travelling to Australia and for the proceeding two weeks after landing, business from Canada started to flow in. As per usual the last week or two of semester and exams brought in the most work as the large university papers were due at that time. By the end of April BetterEdit had experienced the best month in sales ever and secured enough new Canadian clients that I felt justified for spending the money I did. Because of this I also planned to continue advertising again in September 2005 when the new after-summer semester started up in North America.
These results once again proved that poster advertising over time is a very effective marketing method for my services. It also proved that poster advertising could be replicated overseas wherever a large university population exists to bring in profitable results. All I would need is a global poster advertising network and world domination was in my grasp, but of course that is easier said than done. I would always need to carefully balance how much I spent on advertising because it can easily errode the margins made on the resulting sales.
Back to Business in Brisbane
Australian students were back studying as first semester was a few weeks underway by April. I returned home ready to continue postering in Brisbane, establish Student-Marketing and build an audience for Yaz!. I decided to keep Yaz! a hobby site because I was worried about dividing my time between too many projects which was a mistake I had made with the English school. I basically left Yaz! to grow by itself and only spent time promoting it by doing a poster campaign in Brisbane. I did this at the same time as I advertised BetterEdit so the impact on my time was minimal. Of course as usual posters proved an effective advertising tool and Yaz! quickly reached it first milestone – 100 new users.
When I returned to Brisbane I queried with my employer at the university IT helpdesk if I could have my job back again as I had it before I left for Canada, for nights and weekends only. They were happy to have me back on board and I started doing a shift or two per week. The job pays for my grocery bills and rent so I do not need to draw a salary from my business and can instead reinvest income into growth. It also provides somewhat of a social outlet for me as I have many friends at the university and also allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of the student university marketplace. Because I only work a few night or weekend shifts it leaves plenty of time for business and in fact because I sit in front of a computer at the helpdesk I can respond to client emails and work on websites when I have the time.
Entrepreneur’s Journey – The Internet Business Blog
Although I had installed a blog on BetterEdit.com as early as November 2004 I had rarely made new posts. I started the blog because a friend, Ed Chalmers, had talked extensively about how they were good for search engine optimisation and that Google was “eating them up”. Ed works for Marketing-Results.com.au where they had used a blog to good effect with the GoogleBot thoroughly spidering their site after a few months of posting articles about marketing.
I started researching into blogging but never really got into it because I started out writing a blog targeted at BetterEdit clients. This meant I had to write about writing essays and academic education, not a topic I am an expert in nor did I have the motivation to go out and find appropriate articles. In early 2005 I decided to change the focus of the blog to Internet business so I could talk about a subject I loved. This proved the perfect catalyst for my motivation and over the next few months I became addicted and the blog prospered to what you see today.
As is typical for me as soon as I find something I enjoy I pour a lot of energy and time into it and eventually the blog became an entirely separate project altogether. I registered a domain for it, www.entrepreneurs-journey.com, and started learning more about blog software and the industry in general. I later learnt about podcasts, which are recorded audio shows you distribute through a blog. In May 2005 I recorded my first podcast and found something else I enjoyed and added regular business podcast shows to the blog.
Working From Home and Internet Socialisation
After having an office for most of 2004 I returned from Canada to working from home with much trepidation. I had worked at home before when I lived at my mother’s house and did not find it a very good experience. I was worried that again the isolation might drive me crazy but I decided early I would take steps to minimise the impact of working alone.
I was very excited about a voice over Internet software called Skype which I used to call family and clients in Australia while I was in Canada. This new software also allowed me to chat to anyone in the world for free and with the popularity of my blog expanding entrepreneurs and business people from all over the world started to contact me. I have since made quite a few new friends. Even a few Brisbane based business people made contact and I have since been able to meet some of them in person now on a regular basis. This has been a great side-benefit of running the blog as I have been able to meet like minded people which is always difficult when you are running a business from home.
With my relatively new laptop I’ve been leaving the house and heading to cafes and restaurants in Brisbane and working remotely. While it’s still quite difficult to get Internet access on the run I use these “remote offices” to write and work in a different environment away from home and around people. This constantly changing environment helps to keep the home business blues away.
All these things have led to a varied lifestyle filled with different people. I’m still trapped to my computer a lot of the time but that’s okay for now, afterall I do manage Internet businesses. While I would hope that in the near future I can start to take steps away from the computer by hiring an administration person to manage my businesses, that is still a while away because I do not have the cashflow to justify it at the moment. I am acutely aware that with most Internet business it takes time and patience to build an audience for your product or services and I enjoy devoting time to this growth. Like most people though I have my worries and wonder if in five years time I will enjoy the fruits of all this labour. Only time will tell and I will remain positive.
July 2005 – Onwards
I’m working on a few different projects. BetterEdit remains my main breadwinner business and I will continue to devote time to its growth. This blog has become a major project and I expect that as long as my motivation remains strong I will continue to devote a good chunk of my time to it. I have another project under development with two friends but since it is very early days I do not wish to disclose any information about it. All in all I do enjoy my working lifestyle at the moment but I would like to be able to spend less time sitting in front of a computer. To enable this I would like to grow BetterEdit to double it’s current size so that I could hire an admin officer to take over daily tasks and also start to generate some passive income from other web businesses. This blog is an integral part of that strategy so if you too would like to learn how to make money online, follow along with me as I work day to day to increase my web business income.
Update: 19 November 2005
Things have changed since back in July so it’s time to update this timeline with a few months more worth of events.
My side projects, Yaz.com.au and Student-Marketing.com.au have been dropped. The main reason for ceasing work on both projects is this blog. I have a lot more fun and find it more rewarding to work on tasks that improve this blog or are spin-offs from it.
Student-Marketing faced some resistance from universities and I never did like the feeling I got from putting up posters – it feels illegal, like you are breaking the rules – so I wanted to do less postering, not more. Despite how much I’d love to have an Australia-wide national postering network and how much that would help BetterEdit grow, it’s not the right path for me. At the same time I started Student-Marketing I hit a bit of negative resistance to the business and conversely, the positive reinforcement I received about this blog was so more powerful that it was an obvious choice regarding which way to go in the future. I like to follow what feels right to me and in this case the choice was a no-brainer.
While the Yaz! website is still online I am not working on it anymore. It was to be turned into a Facebook for Australia, which I still believe is a fantastic opportunity for any web entrepreneur. For those who do not know the Facebook concept, it is student social software service much like LinkedIn, Friendster and Ryze that allow people to make social connections online and leverage contact networking. Facebook targets the university and school demographics and has experienced explosive growth in the USA. I expect whether Facebook itself or a copycat service launches in Australia it will do equally well.
I would love to be involved in a project like Facebook, a true start-up Internet company, but I just don’t have the tech skills to build the site nor the time to devote to a project of that size. It really deserves the focus of a full time team and since my partners and I were not going to get it launched anytime soon the project was shut down. We all had conflicting interests and personal situations pulling our energies elsewhere. As with anything in entrepreneurship you need the right combination of variables to occur at the same time and for Yaz! this is not the case, for the moment. I have slapped some AdSense ads on the Yaz! site so it should make a few dollars a month from search traffic to justify keeping the domain in case of future opportunities.
Where to now?
I have decided that I want to find an alternative method of marketing for BetterEdit to move away from the current dependency on postering. Placing posters has been by far the most cost effective and successful marketing channel I have used but besides doing it myself, which is quite labour intensive, it’s just too hard to coordinate. The ROI of paying professionals to poster for me is not ideal, it’s not bad, but I’d like to experiment with some other marketing methods. I’ve begun testing to find a reliable online or less labour intensive offline marketing method for BetterEdit, starting with Google AdWords site targeting and other online advertising methods. Hopefully I will stumble upon a method to reach international students that is equally effective as posters but not as difficult to maintain.
Right now my focus is on two things –
1) Double the revenue of BetterEdit.com.
I’d like to either sell the business or hire someone to manage it for me within two years and to do that I need to double the current income level. If I double it I can afford to hire someone or hopefully sell the site and earn enough to not worry about income for a few years and invest the money in other projects. As I recently wrote about in this blog, I just finished a redesign and refocus of the BetterEdit sales process, which provides some additional tools such as a free report lead generator to make use of to test different marketing techniques. The result of the redesign has also seen BetterEdit vault further up the global search engine results, which always helps.
2) Writing and podcasting, and loving it!
At the moment I am loving nothing more than writing and podcasting for this blog and other websites. I have a hundred gazillion different topics I want to create content for and many different ways to package this content up, but for the moment the best tool I have is this blog, so I’m using it. I’m braindumping as much as I can so that eventually I’ll have enough content to do all kinds of things, and as a great benefit I grow a nice readership along the way. I must admit if it wasn’t for the fantastic feedback, comments and participation I get from my readers and the blogging community in general I wouldn’t find this work nearly as enjoyable as I do, so thank you all! I can honestly say regardless of how much money I make everytime I get a piece of feedback that makes me smile I realise more and more that money, or the desire for more, is such a waste of energy. The feedback is so much more fulfilling and I expect in the long term the finances will handle themselves. I’m taking my own advice and keeping my focus on this blog as a creative expression of me, rather than worry about how I can make more money.
That’s not to say I’ve totally stopped attempting to make an income from what I do online, I’m still chasing the dollar, I’m just not creating all that horrible frustration energy (or at least keeping it minimized) by wanting more more more, right now now now. That being said I’ve seen some promising signs regarding affiliate income growth and I’m going to start experimenting with some advertising on this blog to find a balance I’m comfortable with (content vs ads) that eventually leads to a full time income as a side effect of indulging in my writing and podcasting. If I can help some other entrepreneur’s gain exposure for their enterprises by promoting what they are doing on my blog, and they are willing to support me with income in return, then it’s win-win.
I’m also about to launch a web development service in partnership with two friend’s companies. I’ve realised that a lot of my readers and listeners would probably appreciate it if someone like me handled their SEO, website and online marketing so I should at least make these services available. One friend runs a quality web design and web development business and the other an online marketing service. Having access to my friend’s resources means I can offer services that I have good faith in to my audience, so if you don’t feel like putting into action what I teach yourself, you can pay someone do to it for you, and someone with the Yaro seal of approval to boot!
Those two goals above look nice and clean don’t they? To be honest it’ been very hard to stay on track. I currently have at least two other blogs that I’m just itching to flick the ON button on, but alas, I must keep the focus simple to avoid repeating past mistakes by taking on too many projects at once. I was so close to buying a website at auction recently that I just knew would be right for me and would probably be a long term earner, but I decided to hold off like a good entrepreneur and keep the focus tight. Those things will happen in the future, when I’m in a place I can devote time and energy to them. Man patience is a bitch though!
Update July 2009
I stopped maintaining this timeline from 2006 onwards as my blog posts better reflect my ongoing journey.
You can read my 30th birthday post that catches up on my story and what I did from this point up to July 2009 –