It’s been a year since I launched my side hustle, the Research Toolkit, coaching small businesses on how to do their own research.
September 10 is a pretty significant date. It’s the day 9 years ago we found out my mum had months to live.
Little did we know it was only weeks.
I launched on this date as a nod to mum. A freelance journalist by trade, she’d have loved the opportunity technology now brings to share her gift and passion for writing.
So it’s been a year. Now’s as good a time as any to stop and reflect on what’s worked, and what hasn’t. If you’ve ever contemplated running a small business or launching a biz that sits alongside a traditional day job, this one’s for you. Here’s eight things I’ve learnt along the way.
1.Find tribes that guide
I first discovered Facebook groups when I had my son, and being able to connect with others going through the same experiences made a huge difference to my sanity. So once I realised I was going to actually do this thing, you know, build a website (WTAF) and create a service, I hit Facebook with a vengeance. There’s stacks of amazing supportive groups – regardless of what stage you’re at.
Some of my favorite bigger groups include Like Minded Bitches Drink Wine (LMBDW), Business Business Business, Remarkable Business Mums and Flying Solo. Got a question? Because of their size, chances are you don’t even need to ask – someone probably already has – a quick search and you’ll have the answers you need.
Then there’s the smaller, niche groups. My hands down favorite is I LOVE SEO with Kate Toon because it was in that group that I first realised my schmick new website had a lot of work to do. My site had been live for about 4 weeks. I put my hand up to have it reviewed by Kate herself – what was I thinking?! And the review was, well, let’s say honest. It really opened my eyes to the work I needed to do to get this thing off the ground properly.
Here’s how my site looked.
Seriously, all I had on the front page was a video. And while there were other pages with content, somehow blasting people with a video was not going to be the best way to get people to stay!
Today my home page is just a wee bit different.
Yes, it’s a work in progress, but if I hadn’t joined Kate’s group, I’d probably have the same awful, empty, non-visited site from the start.
Other favorites include Australian Business Collaborative with Angela Henderson, Small biz marketing collective and My tribe : Professional women building extraordinary businesses. It’s in some of these smaller groups that I’ve been able to get feedback on ideas, contribute to discussions and hopefully, somewhere along the way, help others. When it comes to groups, understanding when you can post what is critical. I love this guide by Digital Mums as a starting point.
2.Getting traffic to your website is hard work that takes patience and consistency
Building a kick ass website with no thought to getting traffic is like investing in an expensive billboard that sits in the desert.
I’ve never advertised the Research Toolkit, with the exception of a small Facebook likes campaign I did with a budget of $50 (more about that later!).
Visits to the site are a mixture of organic traffic and a direct reflection of engagement on social media – predominantly Facebook, Pintrest and a little bit of LinkedIn. In the last 12 months, I’ve had several thousand visitors to my website, and many have downloaded my free ebook. Which means people are reading something! My numbers are teeny tiny compared to most, but to think that so many have taken the time to visit and read, well, it gives me a dose of the warm fuzzies.
Taking the time to understand SEO has been my biggest challenge (and greatest opportunity), and some of these courses have been a godsend.
I can’t believe just how naive I was, thinking my site would automatically “rank” on the first page!
3.Don’t forget to ask for reviews
Getting reviews is something I’m a big advocate of. It’s a proof point for those who don’t know you, and can tip the scales your way when decisions are made. Of course, like many I disregarded my own advice and continually forgot to ask for reviews. But once I did, it was well worth it.
4.Getting published in established forums raises your profile and generates interest in what you’re doing
There’s been a few articles which have been a labor of love. One of them, 18 ways to watch and learn from your customers, caught the attention of the community editor at Flying Solo so I was stoked to get this message.
Having the opportunity to get my name out there in the Flying Solo community (one of the biggest and most established) was an honor.
Then came a call came for presenters to join the Business Business Business Small Business Skills Summit, I put my hand up even though I hate creating videos. Exposure like this sees jumps in traffic, and some sales too, and has proven to be effective in raising awareness. Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with other small business owners who I can learn a lot from.
5.Seek confirmation the “problem” to address continues to exist
In the month of June 2018, 36 women in LMBDW shared surveys and asked for participation. 36! And these surveys were being used to make some big decisions – pricing, products, marketing, propositions. And while some were great, others were woeful. And that’s the challenge with research. It’s garbage in, garbage out. If you ask crap questions, you get crap data. Making decisions using crap, well, leads to a whole lotta pain. Ask the right questions, of the right audience, and then you’re in a better position to make decisions. Continually circling back and reaffirming the problem I’m trying to solve has been helpful in designing new content and products.
6.Choose your website platform carefully.
I admit it, I got sucked into the ease of a platform that is WIX. Now WIX is a great, and makes it super easy to build a site. But it’s not so good for SEO. Around half of my website traffic now comes through carefully optimising blog posts for SEO, and that only started happening after I rebuilt my website on WordPress, and used plug-ins like WordPress SEO by Yoast to really optimise my content. And look, I’m not saying “don’t not use WIX”. But don’t be intimidated by WordPress (like I was!). Here’s a great course by Kate Toon on building a website in WordPress.
7.If you can afford it, outsource the stuff you’re crap at
So obviously I’m a very DIY kind of person. And honestly, it shows. I did my own Facebook likes campaign. Abysmal fail. Thank god I only spent $50! If I had my time again, I’d invest in a graphic designer for my branding and socials. I’d get more help in tweaking the finer elements of my website. That’s not to say I won’t do so in the future … but I spent a lot of time on these elements, when, well they look “ok” but on reflection I might’ve been better off getting someone else who knows what they’re doing to do it for me.
8.Everything takes longer than you think
When I started, I had this grand plan that I’d create the website, build some digital products to sell (you can check out Survey in a Box here), bang out a couple of blog posts and then that was it – voila – people would magically find my site and buy. What I didn’t count on was the time required to generate content, build a following, drive traffic and keep content fresh.
Couple this with realisation were some significant changes in my personal life. I manage this website alongside a full time job. Alas, my Survey in a Box sales aren’t gonna pay the mortgage! And this year I changed jobs which saw a huge learning curve. Plus there’s the juggle of a young family and shift working husband. So the time I’ve left over for the Research Toolkit has been limited. And it shows – there’s longer gaps between blog posts, and fewer Facebook posts.
But you know what, it doesn’t matter. Because the fundamental purpose is not about income, it’s about helping small businesses do their own research when I know they could never afford an agency to help them. And while in the market research industry there’s lots of talk, discussion and debate about the pros and cons of “DIY” research, the reality is that it’s here. People are doing it. And while some are doing it well, others are not. Which is where I can help.
So thank you
Thanks to my supporters (both online and offline!), my friends, my family, my ever-supportive husband who’s watched all kinds of ideas pop into my head (just wait till you see my next blog post on my experiment in building a drop shipping business – a brilliant example of why doing your research up front can save a lot of pain!) … and thank you mum for motivating me to keep writing, keep teaching, keep helping.
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