The view from my office on Day 1 of working for myself 9 years ago.
Exactly nine years ago I acted on my decision to never work for anyone again. I started Brand5 out of the dining room in my apartment with exactly zero clients and a very small bank account balance.
Nine years later I’m proud to say that Brand5 is still very much alive (and thriving). The company’s success has afforded me the opportunity to take some additional entrepreneurial leaps. I’ve been fortunate enough to start and sell two other companies in addition to Brand5 – Beelya and FileLater – and I’m working on my next one already. As a result, I’ve become passionate about starting, and helping other people start, their own online technology companies (my term for websites). For me, nothing is better than taking something from the back of a napkin or a white board, turning it into something real, getting customers, generating revenue, and wrestling with all of the things that can happen trying to make it grow into a real product or service.
Along the way I’ve learned a crazy amount of lessons. I do my best to take those lessons with me when I work with clients or on my own ventures. Here are nine (9 years, 9 lessons get it?) that I hope will help others out there trying to find their way building their own online business. As always, forgive the plethora of sports analogies. I’m a big fan of business and sports and the two often get mixed together.
Read the 9 Lessons >>
Spike! Sample demand chart for tax industry
Cyber Monday’s recent passing got me thinking about the pressure involved with trying to complete a ton of sales in a short period of time. Cyber Monday is super important to online retailers for lots of reasons. The main reasons are revenue generation (i.e. profitability) and inventory control. So that means that those sites can’t afford to mess up. They have to get traffic and convert it at a high level in a very small window of time. Failure affects the bottom line for the entire year.
When I helped run FileLater, we had very similar pressure. Over 80% of our revenue was generated the last 72 hours before the tax deadline. And 40% came within the last 12 hours before the deadline! (see the Google Trends chart to the right)
The reality was simple – if we didn’t produce, we were cooked until the next tax season because tax extensions can only be filed from January to April of each year. That’s extreme pressure.
We described the business as being hyper-seasonal because it’s basically a seasonal business on steroids. And let me say that we learned a lot. We failed enough to help us succeed and grow to the point where the company was acquired in late 2010.
Here are the biggest takeaways I always share with businesses in similar high-pressure industries.
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I wanted to share a case study about a new home page design that helped a client in the estimated tax business improve conversions. The results have been great so far – up 83%.
First, let’s get the background info on the client (Easy Estimated Taxes) out of the way. Easy Estimated taxes is a site that allows taxpayers to manage their quarterly estimated tax payments. Taxpayers can pay their estimated tax payments out of their bank account, keep record of their payments, and they get reminders of when their next payment is due.
Probably the most important thing to know about the business is that it’s seasonal. There are four payment periods per year and their traffic peaks during those four periods. That means those four periods are super important to them – it’s how the business sustains itself for the entire year. By now you’re putting 2 and 2 together and realizing that their site needs to perform during its peak period. If not, then they have to wait 3 months for another peak to come around.
The client had the following goal: get more of the existing traffic into their sales funnel. Put another way, get more of the people that visit the site clicking on the right call-to-action.
Read the full case study >>
The new IRS.com layout - optimized for revenue generation
Last month we completed a project for IRS.com. I just finished writing an SEO case study (it may be better classified as a white paper) highlighting the process we went though with our client and ensuing results.
The entire case study is fairly lengthy, so I’m including just the summary in this post.
Just five months of working with Tax Center produced extremely positive results. The website is now better positioned in the search engines than it was before and it is receiving more traffic because of that positioning.
This project was different from most for a couple of reasons. First, it was shorter. Most content strategies are at least 12 months in length. Second, we began working with Tax Center at the beginning of their most important months of the year (as opposed to implementing our plan in the offseason for taxes).
This means that we needed to implement a strategy that did all of the following:
A) Got results without adversely affecting current search engine positioning,
B) Resulted in accelerated returns (meaning immediately), and
C) Laid the groundwork for long term performance beyond the scope of the project (future tax seasons).
We began the project by performing an in-depth audit of the site. The audit pointed to several key areas of improvement – basic SEO fundamentals, a more trusted user experience, and more high-value content. We based our strategy on those key areas.
Read more of this case study>>