This morning I am on a panel at the Crain's Small Business Forum in Chicago talking about how small businesses can use digital marketing generally and social media specifically to build their businesses. I thought it made sense to use this blog to help think through what I was going to say, write it down and be able to refer people to it in the future.
First, if you are like me and you always want to know more about the person providing the advice and what real experience they have, feel free to check out my Linked In profile. I have spent the last 15 years of my professional career building businesses that leveraged the power of the Internet. Three years ago we took CoolSavings private and I founded Viewpoints Network so I am speaking both as a provider of social technologies but more importantly as a business owner who uses all range of digital technologies.
So without further ado….
Five digital marketing tips for small businesses
As someone obsessed with social media I got to thinking about crowd dynamics at the Cubs game a few days ago. Next time you are at a big sporting event, watch how crowd action is first started and then how it spreads. This might seem strange but I think those of us who think long and hard about how to create vibrant online communities have something to learn from how the wave gets started .
In my 16 year career (uggg, I must be getting old!), I spent 4 years at Microsoft in business development and then joined a start up (CoolSavings) as the VP of Sales and worked there for ten years, the last five as the CEO. I ran CoolSavings as a public company with 150+ employees and while revenue exploded from $21 million to $80 million. Then we took it private and I left to pursue my dream of starting from scratch, as the say – tablua rasa or with a blank slate. Now almost exactly two years later from absolutely nothing two years ago, Viewpoints Network has 12 full time employees, 750,000+ monthly users and as they say, the world is our oyster. Allll right, I hear you, get to the point. What are five lessons learned about starting an early stage start up?
So for the last two years I have run a social media company, which hopefully you know is Viewpoints Network. You would think that blogging should come second nature to me. But it doesn’t and I need to fix that. Starting today I am resolving to post something at least four times a week. I know of no other way to get my juices flowing. I will confess though, it seem odd to start blogging without an audience or a real clear sense of who your audience is. I admire people like Fred Wilson, Mark Andreseen and Jason Calcanis who seem to be able to churn out some very thoughtful posts one after the other.
Here are some of the topics I hope to cover on this blog:
1. Interactive advertising and marketing
2. Social Media
4. Politics (occasionally)
A very smart friend of mine made an interesting observation to me earlier this week. He said that many people who lack experience dealing with a certain type of circumstance will apply a cookie cutter approach when thinking about the solution. The point he was making was that complex problems are usually not the same and have many different variables. If you apply a cookie cutter approach to the problem you are likely not thinking deeply enough about all of the variables that could effect the outcome.
You have heard people say, “I have seen this movie before”. Well, when it comes to strategic business decisions there is a strong chance that this movie might appear to be similar, but is really different. Maintaining the self awareness and humility to know that you have may been taught something, told something or even experienced something your self, you should always ask your self the question, “what is different this time than last?”
My friend called this advanced pattern matching. You are not just looking for 70% of the variables to be similar because, more often than not, a few, or even one, of the variables will have an out sized impact on the outcome.
Six months ago I left my position as CEO of Q Interactive an Interactive Marketing Services company that I helped start ten years ago. I ran it as a public company for the last five years and we took it private in December 2005. We had 160 employees and last year reported revenue growth of 78% to $68 million. Within two weeks of leaving in late July, I started a new company called Viewpoints Network and four weeks later had secured the first round of funding for $4.8 million. This post is some of the nuts and bolts lessons I have learned about how to take advantage of the numerous new companies who offer their services as a “Software as A Service”.
First a little bit of background. After having raised $100 million to launch and grow my previous company, I wanted to take a more measured approach this time. I have come to appreciate and value very lean and efficient businesses that “stick to their knitting” and focus on improving their unique value add. Therefore, I intended to keep the company very small (less than 15 people) for as long as I could.