Open Your Mind – A Story of Working Less and Making More
One of my company’s biggest successes online is a small business web site called MoreBusiness.com. It started out as a collection of articles I had written for various newsletters to help small business owners and consultants find customers. At the time, my brother and I were starting our web consulting company and figured that we would use this content to showcase our web development capabilities (i.e., building web pages, something you needed a consultant to do back in the mid-1990s).
We built a web site that was basically a brochure showcasing our services. This “Business Resource Center” would be a great example of the kind of site we could build. The plan was simple. People would see the site and call us to build web sites for them. We had no idea of what was to come. Good thing we were awake – and had an open mind.
Luck From Left Field
The site wasn’t up for more than a month when we got a call from Ogilvy & Mather, one of the largest ad agencies in the world. Their New York office was exploring advertising on business web sites for IBM’s Lotus division and they wanted to know how much an ad would cost on MoreBusiness.
“Uh… $250,” I said rapidly without really thinking about it. They said “Okay, send us an insertion order.” I robotically replied, “Sure thing, what’s your contact info?”
After getting off the phone, I had to do two things:
- Find out what an insertion order was – I didn’t want to look stupid on the phone.
- Kick myself because they said yes way too easily, which meant I could have gotten a higher price.
Just in case you were wondering, an insertion order is simply an advertising contract that lays out the terms of the ad purchase. Most agencies these days have their own insertion orders with extensive legal language.
This was pretty cool. There was no extra work for us to do. Just post their ad on a site that we had already built.
A few weeks later, the agency for Fidelity Investments called. Same question. This time, I figured I would double my price. “$500,” I said. “Sure, send an insertion order.” Darn! They said yes way too easily, too.
Then another big agency called and so on. I finally knew I got the pricing right when I started getting some resistance. If they said yes right away, as if it were a no brainer, that meant our pricing was too low. If they stopped to think and wanted to negotiate, then we were probably pretty close to what they were really willing to pay. When this happened consistently across several advertisers, we had identified what market would bear.
Open Your Mind
So, there we were, trying to get consulting work. Yet several of the calls we got were about advertising on this “example site” we had slapped together. The writing was on the wall. Why were we trying to sell consulting services? That’s a lot of work. Plus, you can make only as much as you can bill out. In consulting, our “product” was our time. To really get big, we would have to sell other people’s time. That means more staff, more office space, more personnel issues to deal with. There was nothing wrong with building a company this way. Many of my friends did it and some of the most successful companies provide consulting services. For me, I felt more comfortable building a publication, like MoreBusiness.com, or a product. I knew that doing this would make me happier in the long run – it was more fun.
I realized that we should be focusing on making MoreBusiness.com bigger and attracting a roster of advertisers, maybe even selling other company’s products online at a hefty margin. This would mean fewer employees, smaller office space requirements, and lower overhead. And best of all, we would be getting paid without having to bill out hours.
Embarking on this grand vision would mean taking time away from consulting work. Since that was what put bread on the table, it wasn’t something we could give up too easily. Plus, we didn’t know much about the publishing industry. We just knew how to build web sites, which was a very novel expertise at the time.
Breaking away from what you are trained to do, what you spent so much of your time learning and preparing for, what your mind has framed as your vocation, can be very hard to do. It certainly was not an easy decision for us to slow down and eventually stop our technical consulting work in favor of something much more risky.
Break the Mold and Let Luck Happen
After analyzing the situation, it became obvious that the bigger opportunity for us was not in software consulting, something we knew how to do fairly well. Pursing this new territory would require learning new skills and focusing on a new business model. It was scary at first. We couldn’t have created our luck if we walked the safe route. Soon, we built MoreBusiness.com, a vibrant site that now attracts hundreds of thousands of small business owners every month.
Think about the opportunities you have in front of you. The key is to assess your options carefully while avoiding the temptation to chase every shiny new object. A lack of focus can drive you nowhere and the next thing you know, you are out a lot of money (which you can earn back) and time (which is lost forever). The right clarity, however, can uncover a gem.
Mark Twain once said that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. Don’t get fixated trying to earn money only doing something you were trained to do. Open up your eyes. They will open your mind.