My "do over" story began in 2005 when I started an internet marketing company, National Web Leads, as a favor for some friends. But it quickly turned into something much bigger. College friends encouraged me to start the company and license the cutting edge software they were creating to generate sales leads for financial services firms.
National Web Leads created hundreds of websites that would invite users to submit applications for home mortgages, auto loans and cash advances, selling that information to financial services providers. The company also sold advertising on those websites.
Unfortunately, after 8 years and growing revenue to more than $1.5 million, National Web Leads came to an abrubt end.
In short it failed. Since then I've had to start over and reinvent myself within the marketing industry. Thanks to an interview a few years ago with The Business Observer, I had the opportunity to reflect on the failure and share some lessons I learned.
Lesson 1: Build a good sales team.
Revenues doubled annually at National Web Leads while our team was building the business, eventually hitting $1.5 million annually. But efforts to branch out beyond the consumer finance sector proved to be difficult. Those challenges became painful when one customer representing 25% of the company’s revenues stopped paying. If we had solved the puzzle of sales, we would’ve been fine. It was our Achilles’ heel. My business partners discussed hiring top sales people to diversify our client base away from consumer finance, but fears of spending a six-figure salary on the wrong person held us back. The sentiment was we could do it ourselves. But it’s necessary to hire the best sales people. It needs to be a true investment. Spend the money. Find a proven rainmaker, ideally in your industry.
Lesson 2: Build a rainy day fund.
My conservative approach helped us through some tough times. That’s because National Web Leads extended terms with its clients, letting them pay after delivering the goods. One of the risks is that you’re always the bank. As a former banker, I learned from experience to set up a loss-reserve account. That allowed us to extend out. I subsidized the company through our savings. But the rainy day fund also prolonged making tough decisions about maintaining a full staff. We would go periods when we would pay ourselves less. You can’t be afraid to cut staff.
Lesson 3: Check on your partners.
We teamed up with new business partners in June 2012, but a deal to merge the companies never concluded because of clashing cultures. I should’ve asked more questions. At the time, a merger appeared ideal because of the new partner’s sales prowess and history of successful exits. Despite spending $20,000 on legal fees, the business combination didn’t work out and National Web Leads ceased to exist. In retrospect, I should have sought more advice from his industry peers. Maybe some of them would have warned me. If I had made 10 calls to people I knew, I would’ve gotten red flags.
The Do Over
Since 2013 I have been working hard with new business partners to build a marketing company that offers a more diverse range of services to a wider audience of business customers. In 2017 iPartnerMedia will celebrate its 5th anniversary.
We are a creative team of 15 people who deliver well executed website and marketing solutions to clients all across the United States and Canada. We are meticulous about tracking how we spend our time so that we have reliable data to accurately measure our performance, our project plans and our budgets.
To enhance our service offering, I spent the bulk of 2015 investing in my personal development and earned accreditation in public relations. This will further diversify our portfolio of clients.
I have also leveraged my business development experience from National Web Leads and grown into a professional networking addict. People tell me that I'm everywhere. Obviously I'm not. But the perception tells me that we're doing the right things to promote our brand and leave a last impression on people.
My "do over" is a work in progress. We've had much to celebrate. But as one of my mentors coached me, we must keep our victory parades short and stay focused on stringing together series of wins in order to be considered champions and all-stars.