My journey to entrepreneurship, and generating more than $25 million in revenue to date is certainly an interesting and varied one.
After leaving school at age 15, I started my first job as a bank employee in a small country town. Throughout the next 12 years, my roles in the bank included: front office, supervision, legal, and lending. I learned many skills while at the bank, including management, systems, and procedures, as well as how to handle unhappy customers!
Along the way, I trained as an ambulance and state emergency services officer. I even received an Australia Day award for services to the local community.
In 1989, I started getting very interested in the emerging computer revolution and founded a part-time computer and accounting software business. I soon realized the huge opportunity emerging, so I resigned from the bank and started working full-time. In a few years, it quickly grew to more than $1.5 million per year in recurring revenues.
In 2000, Australia introduced a new sales tax “GST” system and my business went from boom to bust — the new tax drove businesses to computerize en masse for the reporting they needed to do, and it sucked all new revenue from future years.
I faced my first major business failure and was forced to close the business, but was fortunate enough to get a new job working as the CEO for my accounting software supplier in Sydney.
After six months of being an employee, I made a successful bid to take over their Australian operations as their sole distributor and become a self-employed entrepreneur again. Within a few years, with annual revenues in excess of $2.5 million (nearly 80% recurring) we became #2 in the world for a major accounting software brand.
I learned a lot about developing recurring revenue, software development, negotiation, marketing, sales, and people management throughout those years.
In 2013, I sold the distribution company to focus on my new venture, Evolve Systems, providing digital marketing services for clients. Along the way, I became a hybrid book publisher and was involved in publishing more than 2,000 books.
My next venture will draw on all of my previous experience and then some!
The internet certainly has changed the world and made it easier to start a new business, but not everything has changed. In reality, the true art of business hasn’t changed significantly. The way people decide what to buy is much the same as it always has been.
What has changed is the volume of information a prospect can uncover and how quickly they can research their options.
With the rise of social media platforms, it has become so easy to generate interest for your product or service by creating a social media page, running some ads, and writing posts to accumulate likes. You even can create a special interest group to attract conversations with your best buyers. Many businesses today are only present on social platforms but do not have a website.
These platforms deliberately make it easy for you to outsource your customers to them, while simultaneously restricting the information you need to contact them later.
With the recent push for individual privacy protections and better government regulation for Big Tech, these social media platforms are now pulling the ladder up behind them and keeping the majority of the meaningful data for themselves.
These social media platforms might be free and easy to use, but they come with a cost — and it’s something that many online businesses don’t see until it’s too late. Accumulating likes and followers on social media is a bit like renting a nice apartment. It’s clean and fancy, but it’s not really yours.
If you break any of their rules — both the reasonable and the draconian — you risk losing access to your followers by being banned or blocked. In fact, they often penalize posts that contain off-site web links, because they don’t want their users leaving their site. Past a certain point, this stops being a symbiotic relationship and starts costing you more than you’re earning. You hit a ceiling, and you need to break past it if you want to grow your business.
On top of this, the cost of advertising on these platforms is only going up, because the majority of their customers are now big corporations.
What does this all mean to you?
As a time-poor, typically underfunded online entrepreneur who receives so much conflicting advice about the best ways to grow your business, how can you compete with the big end of town without any of the resources they have at their disposal?
Let’s imagine that you send some traffic to your social profiles.
You should then focus on building a closer relationship with your prospects by moving them from that site to your own community platform.
Notice I didn’t say website.
Let me explain what a community platform means for an online entrepreneur.
The major challenge that most online business owners face is providing a world-class website experience since it can be complicated and expensive. It often means cobbling several solutions together using plugins and third-party tools to get a functioning website capable of engaging and convincing visitors to buy from you.
As the number of businesses relying on the internet for day-to-day operations has grown, a new type of software system has arisen. It’s called SaaS ― Software as a Service.
I remember when I first started selling accounting software ― you often had to buy multiple unconnected products to manage your cashbook, invoicing, payroll, and asset management. Over time, these functions merged into powerful, interconnected single-system solutions at a fraction of the cost of all the individual components.
Individually, these systems often are costly and labor-intensive to maintain. When I started working for clients in digital marketing, if I ran into a problem, I knew there was "an app for that". Whilst this is great, it also opens your business up to problems if one app fails or someone misses an update or forgets to sync all of these unconnected applications.
I believe the next-level SaaS "social platform" or "all-in-one business system" will be a significant opportunity in the marketplace for entrepreneurs.
If you want to create a real growth-based sustainable business, my advice is to focus on building your own complete system; become independent from "Big Tech" so you can't be banned or throttled. Use them to send traffic to your own assets like a website, recurring membership, online e-commerce shop, or e-learning platform, and build your own audience.
As a marketing consultant, after thousands of hours of consulting and deploying marketing systems, the following is a blueprint for what I believe a typical online entrepreneur needs to be successful in today's highly-competitive marketplace:
- Your major focus should be the overall customer experience. You will also want to try to be as frictionless as possible throughout. At the same time, employ as much automation as possible.
- You should start with a mobile-ready website that tightly integrates your content-based assets, such as your podcast channel, on-demand videos, courses, memberships and blogs.
- Seamlessly build up your subscriber database and automatically email subscribers when new content is available. Your marketing module should trigger emails or actions based on your prospect's behavior, as well as help them progress through your courses and products.
- You will need to design some pages to promote free checklists, blueprints, and/or ebooks to build your subscriber database. You will want your visitors to be able to buy your products & services and handle the delivery of your digital download or physical product on the same site. At the same time, you may wish to upsell products at checkout. By segmenting your prospects, you can build powerful followup emails.
- You should have multiple payment gateways. This reduces the risk of one portal withholding funds if you grow too fast. You could also sell products in different currencies to lower buyer resistance.
- You may want the ability to create a recurring membership system where you can charge users at regular intervals and allow them to easily update their records with you.
- You may want different front-end websites, but they should all lead back to your eCommerce and backend member area so you can manage them easily. This allows you to promote different angles of your business without splitting up your audience or resources.
- To grow your business, you should create an affiliate program and encourage referrers or affiliates to share your products and services for rewards.
- At the end of the process, the prospect or customer should finish their initial journey in your back-end membership area, which includes all of their invoices, downloads, and bonus content. You don't want your customers fumbling around with separate websites looking for all of this information!
- It's vital to have a ticketing system or similar service system to support your customers.
- The next step is to create a highly-engaged community for your clients and prospects that provides extra value behind a secure login and keeps them coming back for your content.
- To further engage users, you need to gamify your community through status badges and rewards systems.
- Think about creating courses where your members can learn online at their own pace. Your course system should allow them to progress step-by-step as they do each lesson, not necessarily on a weekly release schedule where they could quickly get behind and give up. You should also encourage students to engage with other students.
- What if they didn't need to download a worksheet PDF they never actually complete? You need a system to allow them to leave their responses as they work through the lessons. This will give you the ability to see all their answers, which means you also know where they are in the course. This means no one is left behind!
- A useful feature is to be able to assign a task to your students as they progress through the course. You could also create a coaching program based on their task list.
- You also need a powerful analytics reporting system that tells you exactly where your traffic is coming from and what they're clicking on to help make decisions for your marketing campaigns.
- You will also want a single dashboard to view statistics, create content, and manage your business.
- Ideally, you should build a procedure system (Knowledge Base) so your staff and outsourcers can run your processes the same way every time. Make it easy to create step-by-step instructions rather than having to continually re-train staff.
- What if you wanted to create a mastermind group? It would be best if you could group people together and allow users to be able to access Q&A calls, group tasks, and results in a logical and centralized way.
- It would also help to have a project management system to help you and your team manage your projects as well as client ones.
- Most importantly, your platform needs to have fast loading times, or you risk driving customers away!
How long do you think it would take to implement all of this?
Maybe a year or longer!
I've spent thousands of dollars and many fruitless hours in search of the best all-in-one platform that had most of the features I wanted. But as far as I could tell, that system doesn’t exist. In frustration, I set out on a journey to develop my own unique platform, completely based around the needs of entrepreneurs, coaches, consultants, authors, podcasters, publishers, and mastermind groups.
I called it evolvepreneur.app. My mission is to start a revolution to help entrepreneurs establish their own complete business system that can compete with mainstream social media platforms.
Don't become a cog in the machine; create your own machine.
I challenge you to focus on building your own complete business community platform.
Take control of your destiny and sleep better a night!