SBM 007 : Running a Large Web Agency and a The Importance of Niching Down with Jason Long

Today’s Guest

Welcome to the 7th episode of Smart Brand Marketing with Tom Libelt.

My guest this week is Jason Long. He has over a decade of experience running a large web design agency. We touch on topics such as “who to hire first”, “the importance of niching down”, “whether one should freelance instead”, “having a partner” and more..

The Realities of Running a Large Business Online

There’s no denying that deciding to put up your own business can be a rather liberating and rewarding experience. Not only will you be your own boss but the amount that you can earn from your business is way bigger than your usual paycheck.

The same goes for having an online business and it may afford a greater degree of freedom and potential for profit than your standard brick-and-mortar business. However, what many do not know that running a business online, especially if it grows large, is not as simple nor easy as they might think. There are some realities about running a large online business that you should consider before you start putting one up yourself.

Truth # 1. It’s Unpredictable

You might already have this vision of what your company is going to look like, how you are going to run it, and even the types of challenges you will encounter managing it. Now, take that vision of yours, chuck it right out of the window, and completely forget about it.

First of all, there is a level of unpredictability when it comes to starting a business. Sure, every business can be a roller coaster ride but there’s no telling if your ride’s going to be one of those boring county fair types or one that was designed by Jigsaw and Michael Bay.

In other words, you starting your own business can either be a rather slow burn or things move at a really hectic pace that you won’t have time to breathe. There are times when things look very dull, there are times when things will go your way, and, most importantly, there will be times when you will curse at yourself and wonder why you are in this business in the first place.

Truth #2. Being Your Own Boss is Not Exactly as Cool as You Think

The independence promised with running a business is perhaps the sole reason why people decide to quit their jobs and put up their own ventures in the market. After all, there are not a lot of things out there that can compare to the notion of doing whatever you want, earning whatever you want, and going wherever you want.

But here’s the problem: that “be you own boss” concept is not exactly true. Instead of having one boss i.e. you, your business will actually have to deal with hundreds of people that act like they’re your boss which are your customers. Of course, if you don’t do what your bosses want, you’re not earning money.

Also, don’t for a second think that you are just running your business on a 9 to 5 basis. In most cases, you will work for more than 14 hours a day and 7 days a week for your business. Regardless of how much money you will eventually earn, the amount of work you will have to do just to make ends meet will remain the same year to year.

Truth #3. Just Because it’s Cool Doesn’t Mean it’s Successful

Being cool and hip is all the rage nowadays with people setting their own business startups with all these quirky workplaces and innovative business models. Here’s the thing, however, just because something sounds great does not mean that it is going to be successful, let alone sustainable.

For an example, look no further than any big social media company right now like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and compare them to long-running, huge industrial companies like Microsoft, Toyota, and Lockheed Martin. The first three can have that colorful, spunky, and Millennial-attracting charm while the other three are these big, monochromatic, boring businesses.
However, the first three will never earn more than the latter three and might not be as sustainable as them. After all, we need cars, computers, and turbine engines more than we need social media, memes, and cat videos.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a profitable business that is also cool and hip for the young people. Running a large online business will require you to strike a balance between what is appealing to a large and very influential demographic and what is sustainable for your part.

Truth #4. It’s All About the Revenues

This might come off as a no-brainer but never, EVER, set up your own business if you don’t care about making money in it. Sure, there are some success stories on the Internet like YouTube and Amazon that started out with relatively nothing and became these massive internet companies within a decade but they are more of an exception rather than the rule. As a matter of fact, these two companies became more demanding to run the bigger they became.

When you plan to start your own online business, you have to always ask if that business model has even the smallest potential of earning money for you. Simply put, can you monetize whatever you are offering to the market with your business? If you are not sure how to answer that question, then it’s best to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better business plan.

Truth # 5. Consumer Behavior Has Changed, Greatly

Here’s a question for you. What strategies do you think are the most effective ones when it comes to ensuring brand recognition and loyalty right now? The answer is none because those two don’t matter anymore right now.

When transitioning from the real world to online, many business owners get the shock of their lives by finding out that their usual marketing strategies are no longer working and that’s because, well, people’s behavior when it comes to businesses have changed.

Right now, being introduced to your business is not enough. A person has to be assured that you have something to offer to them which is almost always related to a specific problem they are currently facing.

This shift towards a problem-solving mentality means that you should focus more on compelling people not that your business is the best in the market right now but whatever you offer will be worth their attention and, of course, money.

Truth #6. There is No Such Thing as a One-Hit Wonder

A lot of people have this notion that you only need to introduce that perfect offer in order to become successful in the online world. Of course, that’s not to say that becoming successful online by becoming viral is not a sustainable strategy, because it is, but that is a luxury that most other online businesses are not even provided with.

Most successful online businesses out there are merely the most current iteration of their owner’s original business plan. This meant that their brand has underwent multiple attempts, failures, and revisions to become what they are currently now.

This means that whatever business plan you have right now should be realized as soon as you can. Putting out your business in its rawest, untested phase is something that is acceptable online because investments here are relatively smaller.

However, this will allow you to gauge how your business is faring through how the market is treating it. The feedback you will get will help you modify things here and there to make your business even more competitive.

Truth #7. Effort Still Matters

A cardinal sin in running an online businesses is treating it more like a side project and less as a legitimate investment. You just can’t buy a domain, put up some ads and half-assed content, and call it a day. If you want your business to earn a lot, you have to give your maximum effort to run it.

The goal right now for online businesses is to build trust with their customers. You have to actually create content that is not only unique but also compelling enough that people will trust your brand so much that they won’t hesitate consuming whatever you offer. Without that, your business won’t earn money and without money, well’ the business wouldn’t last long.

Aside from building trust, you also have to play by the rules of search engines which tend to change from one algorithm update to another. With just one update, your website’s ranking could go up or down (mostly down, but you get the point) and, most of the time, it’s not your fault. All you have to do is to constantly update your knowledge with what works with your audiences right now as well as what search engine bots are looking for in your content. At best, this should help your websites maintain a high ranking in the search engine results page.

Hiring Millennials the Right Way

Given that you are running an online business, it goes without saying that most of your workforce would belong to the Gen X and Y groups aka Millennials. These people have their own preferences, philosophies, and culture which can make them an asset or a liability depending on how you approach them.

So what should you do to hire millennials and keep them as valuable to the business as possible? Here are a few tips:

  • 1. Mind Your WorkplaceWorkers nowadays care more about maintaining a balance between work and life just earning more money. As such, you can expect jobseekers to be a bit more knowledge when it comes to the effects of work-related stress and will be looking for a company that values their sanity as much as their abilities.

    First, take a look at your workplace. Is it conducive for work but is comfortable enough for people to actually want to be there? Does your perks and rewards system accommodate for vacations, benefits, and other incentives? Any of these strategies will make your company even more appealing for this new breed of jobseekers.

  • 2. Brush Up on Your Digital Communication SkillsMeeting people in person has always been a tried and tested method of interviewing and hiring them for the job. That might still work these days but this direct form of communication is not the way of the millennial. Instead, they prefer remote communications by way of e-mails, texts, and video calls.

    As such, it’s not enough that you just understand their language but also the way they communicate it. Try to use any of the available digital communication platforms to contact your prospects. Also, it pays that you give off a friendly and casual air while still remaining as professional as you can.

  • 3. Loosen Up Your Workplace CultureThis might sound counterproductive but you must consider giving a bit of leeway for millennial jobseekers in your workplace. In most cases, the policies you have set up for your workplace restrict more than they guide while also focusing more on providing measures against insignificant measures and less on a person’s growth.

    There is a massive cultural shift right now in the workplace that allow for a more relaxed atmosphere for workers. Of course, you need to find a balance between making your staff productive and providing them a place where they don’t resent going to on a day to day basis.

    The less your job prospects have to toe the line in your work, the more productive they can be.

In Conclusion

True, running an online business is not easy, straightforward, or even cheap. However, that does not mean that you can’t be successful with it. What must be done for you is to make your expectations a bit more grounded on reality, find a balance between what you need and what your staff and customers need, and exert the proper amount of effort in order to keep things as competitive as they are in the market. If done right, your business online might just become a sustainable and rewarding venture for you.

Have you had any other problem running your business online? What other strategies do you know of to deal with challenges in running online businesses? Let us know in the comments below.





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