Matt and Brandon are at it again… starting new businesses of their own. This episode is an inside look at how Matt and Brandon do it. No business theory here…just straight up “practical information” of what they do each and every time they start a company. Watch how they take you through the steps of choosing a name, create a logo, website, email, testing the business model, creating a prototype, forming the corporation/LLC, set the direction, and nail the market head on. Rick (our amazing audio editor), says “this is the most practical podcast yet”. We think you will agree.
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Welcome to Automate My Small Business where we show you how to set up and run your own automated business on the cheap. So get ready to take back your life and add a little spice. It’s time to build something automated.
MATT: Hello and welcome to episode #24 of Automate My Small Business. This is Matt.
BRANDON: And this is Brandon.
MATT: And today we are going to talk to you a little bit about boot strapping and getting started up in your small business or your start up because that’s what both of us had been doing lately. Before we get into that, what’s up Brandon?
BRANDON: Well, I’ve been busy with a few of new businesses and trying to take a little time to enjoy the summer, getting Hayden swimming in the pool and doing the summer kind of stuff. I guess young families do but other than that just staying strong with the businesses and you know going hard. So how are you? What have you been up to?
MATT: A lot of just starting the Qanda but trying to get to the beach every once in a while and starting to plan out a vacation, looking for something good international, something adventurous. So if anyone has any recommendations, I would love to hear it, the best places you guys had been.
BRANDON: My vacations all start with “Does it have a Starwood hotel?” because I racked up so many Starwood points on my business card that it’s almost silly. There’s so many points that it would be a waste of good points if I didn’t use all of it.
MATT: Well, mine is starting with “Does United fly there?” because I have 180,000 miles I have to get rid off at the end of the month.
BRANDON: Oh really? Oh, it’s due to expire?
MATT: They’re expiring from a while ago.
BRANDON: I hate that. That’s one thing I love about the Starwood, they never expire.
MATT: Well, that’s good.
BRANDON: I used to have so many points on airlines and they all expired because I never use them and that drove me nuts. But yeah, you used to love that plum card until you realized you couldn’t deduct your …
MATT: You should back up on your balance sheet, right, all the money that comes back.
MATT: It’s not under the table benefit that the hotel points and things are.
BRANDON: Yeah. I definitely suggest it to all my friends. I think I’ve convinced all my friends to get Starwood credit cards now for all their stuff. Anyways, back on track here. Yeah, so you know, we’re doing all these businesses. We had an email actually I think it was just today somebody saying, “I have all these great business ideas. I can’t find the time to do them all. How do you pick which ones are you know the ones to stick with or do you do them all at the same time?”
And basic response was there’s comes a time where you need to just kind of decide which is your priority and you know pick one and stick with it until you get it automated. And that might take a few weeks. It might take a whole year. It might take longer sometimes but you know get it automated. From day one you need to know to automate those businesses so that you can go and do these other businesses or go spend your summers overseas somewhere or doing a vacation if you’d like.
MATT: I think focus was definitely one thing I lack when I first started doing this. Like I had all these great ideas and I tried to do them and it’s hard to do any one of them. Great when you’re trying to do five or six, seven things at once.
BRANDON: Yeah. I mean you may end up with five or six businesses at one time but your focus ends up really going from one to the other to other over a wide period of time, right? So you know you do have to manage your time. We may make it sound like it’s easy to you know start these businesses but it does take a lot of hard work at the beginning of each of these. You do put your time in.
MATT: Yeah. I mean especially because that’s the creative part and that’s the part that you know you have this vision that you’re trying to implement and you’re getting all these help through outsourcing and using some of these tools but getting it started is a lot of work.
BRANDON: And fun though. I mean that phase, the creative phase at the very beginning is my favorite part of the business cycle.
MATT: I agree.
BRANDON: It just gets a lot of fun. That’s where the energy is high. You have high hopes and visions and you see kind of all coming together in your mind. And yeah, it gets real fun. But yeah, you start off with one and that first one is a kind of a critical one because you can leap frog a lot of parts woven consecutive businesses using similar resources. Maybe you don’t need to start up the corporation because you already have one.
You can do a DBA and we will talk about that later. But you already have some experience of maybe using certain people on Odesk that you can just simply contact again and say, “Hey, I need you to do a new logo for me,” instead of going through the hiring process that you may have gone before, things like that.
MATT: The first one is definitely hardest because everything is new.
BRANDON: Everything is new. Yeah.
MATT: Before we go too far into this, you want to talk a little bit about Drenched and what you’re starting and…
BRANDON: Yeah. So I think I mentioned it last time we were on episode, my wife with a background in fitness and degree in exercise physiology decided to start her own fitness studio and I’m excited about it. This is her first business that she’s starting and she came from the corporate world. In fact, she was a sales rep for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals for over 15 years and so you know getting out of that corporate mentality is very difficult for somebody like her.
And so with my hope, I think she’s feeling comfortable that the two of us together, me with the business background and kind of a little bit of having an entrepreneurial mindset and her with her fitness background, I think we can do this together. So I’ve been helping her quite a bit, almost making it a full time job on my part to put this fitness studio together.
And I have to admit it’s not the typical business that I like to do if I were to do on my own, mainly because it’s not internet-based and I like to leverage all the benefits of internet businesses. However this is a local business and we’ve talked about local businesses and how you can automate them just as much as you could or at least to a degree that you could of an online business.
And so I’m putting together the parts or the pieces of the puzzles to automate this business with her for her once it gets going. And I have to admit it is more difficult though than internet business.
MATT: I think it’s going to be an awesome way to try out some of these techniques and really get the hands on experience that some of our listeners have at local businesses.
MATT: And you know both of us have been focused on internet for most of the things that we’ve done and I think it’s going to give you a really competitive advantage because I think all the internet businesses are expected to be automated. You’re expected to do all these stuff but all the people you’re competing against in the local business, this is really foreign to them. And they probably have been around for a while and I think you have the opportunity to have a huge competitive advantage against them.
BRANDON: Yeah. Even simple marketing ideas like adding your company to the Google maps directory. You’d be surprised how many local businesses are still not listed on the Google maps directory. And I plan to do that right as soon as well before we open but you know just using tools like that, like talked about in the past, some online marketing ideas. We talked about targeting local geographic areas on Pay Per Click ads like Google Adwords and so on and so forth.
But you know you start the business, you still need a logo. We can find that online. You still need a website design. We can find that out online. A lot of it is kind of what’s going to be the name? What’s the concept and all that so that’s all your job as an entrepreneur to figure out. But it’s been fun so far. You know we are automating the backend of taking credit cards and having these classes to be signed up online. Our customers are going to be very much involved through the website. So that’s going to be a part that’s probably not typical of a local business.
MATT: Yeah. I think it’s starting become a lot more internet/real businesses are trying to bridge the real world and you know the internet experience you know, things like MeetUp and FourSquare and those things are trying to bridge you know an experience in real life with something online. And so I think that would be an interesting concept for what you’re doing. I think it has a lot of potential.
BRANDON: So you’ve been working pretty hard on Qanda. Tell us how you came up with it. I know you’ve mentioned it before but we’ll do a brief overview one more time.
MATT: Basically, we’ve had a Q and A site on the Automate My Small Business Community. And you know I’ve really liked the concept or the piece of software that we had before but it just wasn’t cutting it. And so I just went out looking for other alternatives and there really wasn’t anything that I could find that I envisioned our community being in. You know I talked to a bunch of other people that are running communities and there was just this gap in the market of how do you build these community sites and how do you get people to interact and fill this knowledge base.
I just really felt like there needed to be a product for this and so I decided to start building Qanda to fill that need. It’s really the 37 Signals’ model of scratch your own itch. It’s just something we needed and you know I talked to some other people and it’s like, yeah, we need this. It needs to be out there. You know and since I started building it, all kinds of new competitors are coming out which have kind of validated that I’m on the right track.
Big money is being thrown at this. There’s a start up that’s got something like $70-$80 million worth of funding. You know Facebook is getting into it. Google is getting into it. So I there seems to be a market for this Q and A sites so I’m happy to have big competitors and be able to go head to head with them as just me and a bunch of outsourcing.
MATT: I’m excited. I mean it validates that there’s money in the market to have these big guys getting into it.
BRANDON: Yeah. When I started Porch Putty, there was a handful of competitors and even over the two years that Porch Putty has started there’s been even more. But the fact remains that if you see competitors in the market place, don’t get too worried about that. I like to see competitors in the market place because the market has now been made aware of the industry. So you end up not having to teach the market place what your product or service is from scratch. At least they kind of know already by having seen a competitor.
There’s always a good opportunity for you to start a business even with competitors in the landscape. If you do it better or cheaper or a better look or feel, I mean you could take any commodity type business model. Let’s take frozen yogurt, right. You’d think by now there would be enough frozen yogurt places in the world that you’re sick of frozen yogurts. There’s one on every corner for the last 20 years. They’ve been put too many of them out there, right?
And then along comes this one called Pink Berry and they totally flip it up on its end. Now it’s so franchised out that there’s too many of them but when they first got started, it was very hip and trendy place to go. There was this idea of absolutely fresh fruit instead of just the grape or the strawberry jam over your frozen yogurt. They actually had fresh, fresh fruit like the best fresh fruit you could buy.
It had one or two flavors of frozen yogurt. Maybe it doesn’t get over to the east coast so our listeners are kind of wondering what this is. But on the west coast, it was a big boom this place called Pink Berry and I couldn’t believe it. They took this boring business model and they knocked it out of the park.
MATT: Yeah. I mean we talked about them on the last episode where you just change one or two ingredients in the business model and suddenly you have this whole new idea and whole new concept.
MATT: With the people I’m competing against with Qanda it’s like Yahoo Answers and Facebook and Quora and all those guys. They’re all trying to build this uber question and answer site and what I’m trying to do is deliver that same power to small businesses and to communities that want their own site and that’s my twist and so maybe it will give me enough of an itch to compete with them.
BRANDON: So how did you come up with this name Qanda?
MATT: I like building things that have keywords in them and just enough of a quirk to kind of be slightly different so Qanda is really just Q and A all smooch together and they’re kind of as successor to forums so I wanted to have a product that people identified with. People identify with forums and they know what forums are. And you know Q and A sites are a little new so I wanted to have some of that would bridge that gap and say that you know if you were using a forum before, you know, you want to move to a Q and A site and that’s kind of a bridge and A.
So that’s why I came up with the name. But before we even get to the name, you kind of want to think about what is your brand and so what feelings and things do you want people to associate with your company and your name when they think about it. So what was some of the things you guys thought about for Drenched?
BRANDON: Yeah. So we decided on the name Drenched Fitness. Surprisingly, it was not taken as a .com so that was a big deal. We had Firm60 and there’s a few basically a lot of verb names, Firm or Drenched and Sweat or things like that whereas like we wanted to instill motion in the name being that it was a fitness studio. And I think Drenched came up because people were saying, “Gosh, when I finish that work out I was drenched,” and so it just stuck and we figured, we grabbed it.
So we ended up targeting kind of high end clientele. So the logo and the look needed to be kind of in a script or in a font that would be typical maybe a high end clothing brand or something like that where usually thinner letters. Sometimes in capitals or sometimes not but usually a distinct elegant letter font which turned out great and then we ended up putting on a red background which gave it that edgy, sport look. So we kind of combined all together in a logo and we did it over 99Designs. So I ended up posting a reward for $150 on 99Designs and I ended up getting about 110 logos in 10 days. Is it a 10 day period they put it up there?
MATT: I think it’s seven days.
BRANDON: Or seven days, okay. So in seven days I got 111 logo designs. Probably was, oh, I don’t know, 30 or 40 designers. So for $150 bucks, I mean, what a deal. You get so many perspectives and angles on the design for so many wide breadths of designers. It was great. I’m really happy with how it ended up. If you guys want to see the logo, you can go to 99Designs.com and go check it out. And let me know what you think about it because I am looking for feedback.
MATT: Yeah. We’ll put links to both the 99Designs contest that we did in the show notes.
BRANDON: And you ended up with one from Qanda, right?
MATT: Yeah. I ended up doing the website which we’ll get into in a second but you know I want to dive back into choosing a name a little bit because I know you had a couple of different other ideas and I think one of the ones you guys are set on the beginning was The Firm, right?
BRANDON: Oh, yeah. The Firm. We’re going to use The Firm.
MATT: So you guys really like that but you decided against it because of …
BRANDON: Well, actually, it was your input that helped us in that. We were tossing these names around and I think we mentioned it to you and you were thinking about it a little bit more. We realized that The Firm has, yes, it’s keyword rich but it’s keywords for a different industry and the words were too generic and would not be found if you type in The Firm. It will be unlikely that our company would show up in the first page of Google search results so probably more likely would be a law firm or many other types of firms.
MATT: Or the movie.
BRANDON: Or the movie. It’s hard to compete against the movie title because that has such strong Google juice that it’s hard to move above it.
MATT: Yeah. I remember like we’re talking about this, you know we’re going back forth when we’re deciding dessert. Does the local business really need that? You know, and then we were trying to order dinner or something for delivery, right. I can’t remember what the name of that place was but it was such a generic name, some Italian place we’re trying to get food from and you know we couldn’t find it on Google.
BRANDON: Wood Fire.
MATT: There you go.
BRANDON: Wood Fire Grill, I think it was. Yeah. And we couldn’t find the place because the words were too common.
MATT: And so I think that made the point.
BRANDON: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
MATT: So even if you’re local and especially like if you’re trying to spread your business through word of mouth, you know someone’s going to tell someone else about it and when they go home and search for it, they got to be able to find it.
BRANDON: Right. As you’re going through your company names, check first to see if you can get the .com. Second, check to see, just type them in Google and find out what kind of results you get. Are they very strong results? Meaning like if you get a movie or if you get something where there’s already a company with a strong you know large following already, maybe you should look for something else.
But when I typed in Drenched Fitness, I got very few results except for those that are maybe comments made by somebody saying that I went, got a work out and was drenched. But a lot of it was just commentary. It wasn’t corporate names or corporate brands of any sort that I was having to compete against. So that was a good sign. So we grabbed that immediately when we realized that was good logo or brand to have.
MATT: Yeah. When I’m searching for .coms I use a tool called Domize, d-o-m-i-z-e, to kind of put different combinations together, their advents or just really cool word you know searching for 30 different variations of a name at once. I think we mentioned it before but whenever I’m trying to name something, finding a .com is hopeless, such a pain…
MATT: … that a tool like that will really make the search quick and makes it a lot less painful and you know a lot easier to find something that you like and it is available.
BRANDON: That is a great tool to have. I mean it just does, well, it searches millions of names in a split second. It’s fantastic. But yeah I think a lot of people don’t give enough credit to the online use of their company name. They first try to make it catchy and you know something…
MATT: Which you definitely want but…
BRANDON: But you want but there’s a lot—you should place a lot of weight on the fact of it being searchable and being able to be found easily online. Because I mean let’s be honest, everything is going online even if it’s a local store like we’re doing here.
MATT: Cool. So once you have a brand and a name and a logo and you kind of have that beginning of what your business is going to be, you kind of need to get some of that professional show up like your website and email. Start protecting that brand you have through social accounts and maybe do some advertising to start building some awareness of this brand. So starting with email, I think we both advocate using Google apps, Gmail, getting email up for the domain that you bought that’s part of your branding. We got the process down to maybe 30 minutes or so. Is that about how long it takes us to get that up now?
BRANDON: I think I did it under 20 the last time I did it. And we have these great videos, how to videos we’re going to put up…
MATT: We’re going to do something with.
BRANDON: … put up on our member site and allow everybody to watch how we do it but Gmail is great because of the flexibility, right? You can do everything with it. You can forward it on. You can capture it. You can save it. You can get it with POP or iMap or all the mobile tools. They’ve really restricted nothing about it which is great and it works very seamlessly with a lot of the hosting companies out there.
Matt and I both used DreamHost but you know HostGator and even GoDaddy, they all have hooks into the Google apps and Gmail that will make it easy to set up. So yeah, that’s step one, get some email addresses started so that you can start presenting yourself as a professional entity and then you want to get your website started. And I have to say we’re going to talk a little bit about websites here but I’ve learned a little bit as I go here. Every time I do these websites I get better and better at it. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the muse.
MATT: Yeah. The muse website is really just a shell. A really, really simple website that is set up to kind of prove your concept and write just a little bit of information and start capturing information about your customers, emails that you want and their level of interest and any feedback that you can get. So you usually I just go by some template off of theme forest or you know someone like that and I’ll set up a one or two page WordPress site and just try to explain everything about the business there, have some sort of buy now or sign up or something to try to forward people on to giving me their emails so that when I’m ready with the product, I’ll have a built up list of people that are already interested in this. Even before I build my real website, I’ll build this kind of muse that’s a place holder for where I’m going to be just so I can start capturing all these information from day one.
MATT: Yeah. I’m still trying to move over to MailChimp. It’s a different interface but I like some of the features that they have. You know soon we’re going to do one of these autoresponder episodes where we’ll just compare everything between all the different ones but especially if you’re trying things out and in the muse phase and where you might be you know, you might go to the muse phase a couple of different times as you try to figure out things that are viable or not. MailChimp is free whereas Aweber you have to pay even if you have one person on that list.
BRANDON: That’s true. So you know you get a template built for your website and here’s where my aha moment came. So I’ve done this a number of ways. I’ve tried to create it on my own which I’m not that great of a designer. Although I do feel like I can tell you if I like it or not which I think everybody has that skill. But I’ve also gone in the path of trying to create a website but just hiring a website design firm. That’s been the traditional way of doing it and it does work but it just seems so as grunt work. I mean just to get it to go through in a smooth phase without pulling out your hair going, “Why can’t these guys understand what I’m looking—what I wanted to do?”
Here’s where I really feel like I’ve learned a lot as I’ve gone. The better way to go here is start with a logo. Fill it up on 99Designs and get as many designs as you can get. Choose the one you like. Now you have kind of an identity color scheme started. Then you put together a wireframe and we like to go to a website called GoMockingBird.com and you put a wireframe of a website together. Basically showing the functions of what your website is going to do…
MATT: You can kind of think of it as sketch or a back of a napkin kind of you know, very boxy, no color, just this is where the information is going to be. This is where my header is going to be. This is what’s going to be on my side bar. Really just feeling out how the site is set up and how you navigate between different things.
BRANDON: Exactly. It doesn’t have any colors or content. It’s simply just here’s a button. Here’s a picture. Here’s maybe some content here but you’re basically just laying it out.
MATT: It’s a stick figure.
BRANDON: It’s a stick figure. Yeah. Exactly. So what that does though is it gives enough direction to a designer, and not an HTML designer, an actual graphic designer to put together a design for you. And another good place to do that is 99Designs where they will do website design for you. You can get templates as well. I just have the guy that finished my logo do a design for me and it came out fantastic.
MATT: See, I kind of disagree with that. Like I think logo design and website design is two completely different skill set. You know I like having the process of the website go through 99Designs because I think there’s so many little things that make your site incrementally better that happened when you have 10, 20 designers working on different ideas and trying to come up with best thing and like beat the other guy.
MATT: I don’t want to use just one guy especially for the website. I guess…
BRANDON: No, I agree with that. I think you definitely gain a lot of benefit from getting multiple designs. I was just saying that I shortcutted it in this instance. But in either case, getting just a Photoshop image of your design before going into HTML I think is a major step that a lot of people skip over. Because you can get such much more rich in look and feel from an image done by a graphic designer than you could with a HTML you know web designer because you just don’t have the kind of tools right out of the gate using HTML that you could or be more as creative as you could which is doing some graphic design.
MATT: And I think a lot of times it’s faster to do it in Photoshop because you know there’s so many little details in HTML that it’s faster just to mock it up in Photoshop for these guys and once you have something you like, then you go find someone that has the skills to take a Photoshop file and get it right into HTML file or a WordPress theme for you and there’s all kinds of services that will do that for you like psd2html.com or XH shop or even people on Odesk or Elance will do that for you.
BRANDON: So those services are basically people who do this on a daily basis. They’ll take an image of a website and chop it up and create HTML or XML websites from that image. So in case you didn’t realize that existed, I didn’t even know it existed until a couple of months ago or about a year ago. But it’s been an interesting process for me to learn how to correctly create websites on the cheap. And by the way this is much cheaper than going to a website design firm. You know you get your logo for, in my case, I got it for 150 bucks then I did the wire frame in 10 minutes on GoMockingBird.com for free. The PSD file web design image again if you went through 99Desings—what is their going rate for web design?
MATT: I think just above the minimum which is about $300 for the main page. There’s people that go all the way up to a thousand but I got I think someone like 70 designs variations of design based on that. So I thought it was pretty good. I got a lot of options and I got a lot of people involved.
BRANDON: And then the HTML chop or the XML, …
MATT: Those guys range from anywhere like 50 bucks up to like 150 for a page. It just depends on all the different options that you add on. You know a lot of them like sound like they’re really cheap but as you add different things, as you go through the little options add up.
BRANDON: So you get all your graphic design work coming from 20 to 50 designers and get a website made for all under, what would that be, about $600-$700? At that level of a design, thousands of dollars. Easy.
MATT: Yeah. There’s so many who will go out and spend $5,000 – $10,000 just to get a website up and I think you’ll get a much better product going through something like 99Designs especially once you figure out how to run these contest. I think there’s a lot of technique in running the contest. Like we said, having the wire frames, the designers know what they’re trying to build around first. It’s going to save you so much of the designer’s time because the first thing that happens is the designers go 50 different directions and it becomes hard to rein them in and bring them back to what your vision of what this site needs to be is and the information in these campaigns so the more you can put that up before hand, the better the designers are going to be able to track on what you want.
BRANDON: Yeah. And you always, or at least I did, I have this mental you know struggle of whether I should be guiding them or if I did would I be giving them too much guidance and therefore they wouldn’t be as creative? You kind of go back and forth with should I tell them what I want or should I let them tell me what they came up with and then I tell them if I like it or not? And I think…
MATT: I try to balance that. Like I try to let the first designs that they come up with, I give them what I think of as a minimum structure of what I want with a wireframes and I leave some areas that are just really blocky and just say, “Hey, put the navigation here.” And I don’t really explain too much about the navigation. But after that, maybe second day where I get the first cut of everyone’s stuff, I’ll go back and I’ll update the wireframe based on some of the best ideas that I saw out of all those designers.
And so after the wireframe, I’ll provide public comments. That’s one I thing I think is you know if you wanted to get incremental improvement to have everyone build off of each other, putting your comments about the designs directly in the public area of the forum as opposed to giving them just individually to the designers, lets other designers see what you like about someone else’s design. And I found like my final design has ideas from almost every designer that participated. I made sure that it was okay to steal things that were good about other designs and incorporated them. I think it just made the design so functional and so right on to what I want.
BRANDON: Now it’s probably worth saying at this moment that when you’re building an HTML site and going through this process, it’s typically not an e-commerce platform that is so integrated in its own platform that you really can’t build an HTML site in this fashion. You’d have to go through their template process which is you start with that template…
MATT: I don’t know if that’s true.
MATT: I think people do it all the time, right?
BRANDON: Oh, they do it. From what I’ve read, it’s just like hitting your head against a brick wall for a long time.
MATT: I think that was pretty easy to do with Shopify actually.
BRANDON: It’s possible.
MATT: I think it depends. I don’t know it’s possible. I thought it was just as easy as WordPress.
BRANDON: Because of the code that’s built into the template, it’s much easier to start with the template and scratch all the XML and create your own that way.
MATT: At the design part, you’re still in the PSD and design part. I mean when they go and they chop it down, yeah, it’s good to have a base. I mean even if you’re going to HTML, there are things like grid systems, like blueprint CSS, and 960 grid that these things are kind of foundational structural things even for an HTML site and then especially you’ll be gowing into WordPress, you have to work around the templating system of WordPress. So if you’re going to Shopify or Volusion, you need to work around the templating system.
MATT: That’s something the guy that’s chopping up your PSD has to deal with.
MATT: Obviously you need to know what the functional parts of your shopping cart or whatever or WordPress system are. Within WordPress, you have you know your side bar, and your header and your footer and things like that and within your shopping cart, you know, you may have the different category pages and the things like that you need design.
MATT: But I don’t think it stops you from using the design process like this.
BRANDON: No, I think you’re absolutely right. The process is the same. It’s that last step of converting it to HTML. From what I’ve read on forums in Volusion, you’re better off picking the template and deleting all of the design aspects of it and then implementing your design into that template even if it just meant keeping some of the check out buttons and the category pages in the template. So you know you could do it both ways. I’m just thinking starting with the template and scraping all of the design out of it would be your best bet.
MATT: Yeah. There are some base framework for anything that you’re trying to target, HTML, WordPress, whatever that you want to build on top of.
MATT: Yeah. I think we’re on the same page.
MATT: Around about way to get there but yeah. I think we agree to fight. So you know once you have your site up, have someone chop it up, you have it up on WordPress now. If you don’t know WordPress or you know you don’t know that much about your shopping cart, you need to go and kind of learn how to use all these things, how to add more content to it. So you’re going to start adding more content. You found—a way to question about how to learn WordPress, right, and so I think you found a site that looked pretty good.
BRANDON: We get this question a lot because we recommend WordPress so often because it’s such an easy platform to modify content on the fly. We do recommend it quite often and people are saying, “Well how do I learn WordPress?” It’s you know not easy to know how to use from day one. It might take a few days to get there. So our answer to that typically was you know there’s a few online sites that I like to use for any online tutorials, Lynda.com, spelled with a y, l-y-n-d-a. I have a subscription which I think is $25 a month that I can just go and learn about any software, any software and there’s literally thousands of them and WordPress happens to be one of them.
So I took some of their tutorials back when I was learning WordPress for the first time. And I also learned a lot from just going to YouTube and typing WordPress tutorial or WordPress training. But if you go to Google and type in WordPress training, one of the first websites that comes up is WordPressTraining.com. After going through it, there is quite a bit to learn from that and it’s free and they have quite a few categories and specific things you can learn for different things you’re wanting to learn, maybe at that particular time. So check out WordPressTraining.com.
And I think there’s another one called WordPress-Training.com, with a hyphen in between WordPress and Training but that’s a personal walk through that you can actually pay somebody anywhere for $45 to $75 an hour for them to hand walk you through your first website, if that’s something you want to do and you really wants somebody there along the way. You can do it that way too.
MATT: Yeah. So once you kind of understand and you’re trying to put your content in there, you want to start building some links back to your site. It’s the beginning of your SEO strategy and some easy ways to do that to get started are put out a free press release. There’s tons of free press release sites out there from PR Log to FreePressRelease.org.
There’s a good question on the Q&A site that ask AutomateMySmallBusiness.com. Go find that and there’s a bunch of links in there of the best ones to go choose. And what that will do for you is you know you can put a link back to your site in all these press release. I think you can put up to three in most of them. And these things get distributed over hundreds or thousands of sites. And so you automatically you know get all these links back and then maybe if you’re lucky, a real journalist picks it up and puts it somewhere like in some trade magazine or newspaper somewhere.
If you make it interesting and not just saying, “Hey, I started a business but you know, “Hey there’s this new approach to this new market and isn’t this company who’s doing this really inventing and this is the way of things to come and that’s why everyone needs to know about it.”
BRANDON: You know I find myself doing a lot of marketing and just in general when I’m doing businesses, I feel like you as the business owner know how to maybe pitch your business better than most that you could hire. Mainly because it’s your idea, your energy behind it, your passion that gets portrayed through the words that you use when you’re either writing about it or if you’re talking about it. Although it’d be nice to outsource that at the beginning you might want to write a few stories and almost become the expert in that area and there’s a lot of ways to do that.
MATT: Especially in this early stage, finding that value proposition of what the business is and what resonates with customers to get them to buy is a very iterative process, right? You’re going to come up with something and you’ll say, oh that’s not exactly how I want to express what the company is all about. They’re not what my product is all about. So really figuring that out what that value proposition is that you’re offering to your customers is really core. And then as you get later on, it’s easy to once you have that core to let people to create variants of that and build off of it and tweak it a little bit.
MATT: I think it’s important with you and the vision of what’s supposed to be needs to come up with that to begin with.
BRANDON: Right. And when you’re writing a press release, you go through that phase where, is this important enough or interesting enough or entertaining enough for people to continue reading past the first line or even past that headline? So it forces you to create a story, a story that not a made up story but a story that I’m saying is the culture behind your business.
MATT: It’s a narrative of what your business is about.
BRANDON: Right. And so you’re saying, okay, so what is so important about this? Why is this important to the people that might be my customers? And you start to force yourself to answer these questions when you’re creating these press releases even articles that might be off shoots of your industry. I mean for example, we’re starting this fitness studio, you might find it hard to come up with an interesting or entertaining press release about or article about us starting up this business. I mean who cares, right, except if you look at it in a different way, and you say well, this is the newest trend in fitness that’s creating you know results for some of the you know celebrities on the red carpet and here’s what they’ve decided is the best way to work out to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and by the way, here’s a business that happens to be doing exactly that.
And it becomes all about Drenched Fitness but what you’ve done is you’ve created a story as kind of a sideline that then ties into your business and that’s if you can keep that, that structure, you can do that again and again all over the internet and they end up being stories or articles that people find interesting and they pass those along to their friends or they find them on hub pages or Squidoo.com or like Matt said the press release network and reporters pick them up and that’s the stuff that gets spread around. So that’s the kind of juice that you’re looking for, that viral method.
MATT: I can’t remember if we’ve already done that, you know, SEO and link building episode but if we haven’t, we will. But all these techniques and things like that are great ways just to build traffic back into your site which is what you’re trying to do at the very beginning. You’re really trying to hook up the jumper cables to your site and get it going. So building the narrative of what you’re going to say elsewhere and mirroring that on your site is key to building your system and as you cross those.
So once you have your website, we want to start building outside of your website. You want to start building protecting your brand and building your brand on you know all the social sites like Twitter or Facebook and all those things. Kind of acting the first step of that is just before you even start building the sites is just preserving your name and make sure your brand is protected. All these different sites and Knowem.com is a great way to make it easy for your VA to go and just sign up for 300 different social sites just in case one of them becomes the next Twitter. Not to mention almost all of those will provide you link back to your site and it’s another way to start building links that have your keywords and your brand name. So when people are searching, they’ll find you.
BRANDON: How long does it really take to fill out the Knowem.com?
MATT: If you do all of them, I think, my VAs usually take 2 or 3 days to fill them all out and I’m not kidding with those 300 sites. I mean Knowem is cool because you can just put in the name you want and they’ll go search all those sites and say it’s available in all these different places and then the link that says it’s available on you and you just click on it and that’s the registration page. And so you’re VA fills it out. They sign up with an email address. They have to validate the email. They go back in and fill out the rest of the profile, has the links back to your site. So it’s a pretty involve process.
BRANDON: So every link in Knowem is just linking you to the registration page of that website.
BRANDON: It’s not automatically filling in the information for you.
MATT: They offer their service for the fill it all out for you and do that stuff.
BRANDON: That’s right.
MATT: But I found that my VAs are cheaper and …
BRANDON: Of course they are. Well, you know, there has been a lot of ways to advertise that I’ve learned. I recently put Porch Putty on ebay which isn’t an advertisement but it can be by putting the product on ebay, you can then get advertisement space on ebay to promote your product that’s on ebay. So that’s a new twist that I haven’t tried before and I’d let you know how it goes.
MATT: One thing that I found that was interesting lately is one of my friends turned me into Stumbeupon which I’ve seen before. I tried it out briefly but I never really put a lot of effort into setting it up and configuring it so that it was set interested. And I started using Stumbleupon and I’ve been finding all kinds of interesting websites that I really, really like. As I was doing this, I started looking more and configuring more Stumbleupon and I noticed they have an ad network. And I haven’t tried this yet but after you know after I’ve been on Stumbleupon for a couple of weeks now and it really has an idea of what I like, I found that advertisers can place their page right into the stream of things that I’m stumbling through. And I think this is going to be a really interesting way to do advertising. So I’m going to try this out and see how Stumbleupon works as an ad platform. But I thought that was really interesting.
BRANDON: You think that by clicking through your Stumbleupon sites as you’re going through them that they’re not paid for but in one respect it’s kind of a bummer that I’m now learning that they are paid for. But on another level that’s kind of a great way to advertise. I give them credit for that idea.
MATT: And I thought it was cool like their model I think from what I understand that the model takes into account how many people give a thumbs up and how many people give a thumbs down. So that’s kind of like their quality score, you know, their version of the quality score that the Adwords uses.
BRANDON: That makes a lot of sense.
MATT: Yeah. So not just that, you get a lot of feedback. I mean if you send people your page and they give you a bunch of thumbs down, “hey you have this feedback, hey your page sucks, or maybe the product that you’re trying to sell isn’t resonating with the target audience you’re trying to sell it to.”
BRANDON: Well, you know so you got your website. You’re kind of starting to build some link back. If you felt confident enough, you start to spend some advertising dollar on maybe Adwords if you wanted to a little bit more traffic just to get feedback. You did that, didn’t you Matt on your Qanda site. You just threw a couple of bucks at Google Adwords?
MATT: Yeah. Just to kind of start collecting email addresses and getting some feedback and trying to measure if what I was going to build made sense and I think this is really the distinction between the way traditionally people go businesses and the way that we propose building businesses which is we build those websites and had all these stuff up before we had a product, right? We didn’t have anything to sell.
Basically, when you went to Qanda on the site and you said I had a pricing table and all the features that I want to offer and all those sort of stuff and if you click buy it says, “hey we’re in private beta, you know, we’re not ready to bring people on yet but give us your email address and when we’re ready we’ll add you to the list. We’ll create your site for you and we’ll sell these to you.” But I mean that’s completely opposite of the way most people think of it.
Most people think and go, I got to build a product. I got to get it out there, you know, and then once I spent months or a year building this product, then I’ll go create a website. And you’re just wasting all that time that you have for collecting all these email addresses and finding your customers and learning about your customers that you could have done while you’re building your product and that would make your product that much better.
BRANDON: Of course prototyping your product as you’re doing this, developing your product or service whatever that might be and the keyword here is prototype, you know. We’ve mentioned this a number of times in the past but prototype, prototype, prototype. There’s just nothing that can replace that learning curve.
MATT: Prototype and iterate.
BRANDON: And iterate. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. There’s such a fantastic learning curve you engage in when you’re prototyping and getting feedback from customers. You might feel like, oh, I know what I want. Almost a hundred percent of the time you end up with something you didn’t anticipate.
MATT: And the sooner you can get it out there, I mean for example with Qanda, I had a deadline that after the first month, the first print that I did, I was going to put Qanda live on the Automate My Small Business community site and I did that and I got a lot of good feedback from people both through feedback that people gave and feedback that I got through Google analytics and errors that I found in the error log, all kinds of things that I had to fix on the next version. I set the goal for myself that I would have a working product just the bare minimum features that would make it acceptable for everyone to use and I would put that out in the first month which is I thought was awesome.
BRANDON: Yeah. That was really hard for you to like push off those features that you really wanted to do but you knew they could wait. You were just killing yourself trying to do that, I saw. You’re like, “God, I really want to do that but I know I just need to finish the basic version first.”
MATT: And it has worked really well. I mean I took away some stuff and you know some people noticed but a lot of people didn’t notice and maybe I don’t need to add some of those things back yet. Maybe they weren’t critical features to the product. And I wouldn’t have known that unless I’ve released without them to begin with.
MATT: A real CAD.
BRANDON: It’s not a real CAD but it does a damn good job of putting a 3D model together for any particular product or space. You know if you’re looking to build out your store or if you have a store front you want to do or a product you want to create, it took me about, oh, I don’t know, three or four hours of watching some YouTube videos and playing with it to get it to where I was pretty much, I wouldn’t say pro but pretty much…
MATT: You’re comfortable enough to build …
BRANDON: Comfortable enough to build it, yeah. And..
MATT: I thought that was really cool when we went to lunch and you pulled out a 3D model of what the studio that you’re building and all the fitness equipment and how you’re going to set it up and the shop and everything was laid out. I mean you could go and you could show that to potential customers and say, “Hey, this is what we’re building,” and then also you guys are working on a video of what the fitness program is all about.
MATT: With those things you can go to people and say, “Hey, this is what we’re building. Can we get your information? Are you interested?” You know and you can start building your list.
BRANDON: You know since you mentioned the videos, I plan on using a company called PixelFish.com to do some of the videography and the editing for me but there’s lot of those types of companies around that can do that for you. So since video is becoming such a huge way of marketing and you know getting your site out there or getting noticed, there’s a lot of resources out there that can do this stuff for you fairly inexpensively now. It used to take you know thousands of dollars even more to get a crew together to do real professional video but now with the editing software that’s available now and everyone has a camera or at least a decent camera, you know, the people out there that know how to use this software and this equipment is becoming more and more so is driving the price down. So I mean I guess you could look on Odesk but typically it’s somebody on your local area. Maybe do a Google search for short video or short commercials but that’s how I end up finding PixelFish.com. At least you could look at them and see if there’s somebody near you that’s like that.
MATT: That’s cool. That’s interesting recommendation. I know there are a couple of questions about getting videos made on the Qandaforum. I think PixelFish and things like that will be a great recommendation. The other thing I said was if you’re in LA or New York or anything like that, look on Craigslist because there’s tons cheap films students that if you’re trying to get a little budget, you might be able to find some people to do it for free or just for the credit.
BRANDON: Right. So you know that’s where we are in these new businesses we’re starting. And the one thing that we both had to decide on was do we form a new LLC or a new corporation or do we you know just create a new DBA and slide that underneath the corporations we already or the corporation if we have only one that we already owned or the LLC that we already owned. I think we’ve talked a little about this about legal entities but just to be clear what a DBA is Doing Business As. It’s not actually an entity. Although a lot of people misspeak that or think that way. They say, oh I want to form a DBA. In their mind they’re thinking they’re forming a company. That’s actually the incorrect way of using that term. The correct is way is that it’s a DBA and it’s really just another name that you can use legally for corporation you already own. So it’s a division underneath that company. So on all my letterhead and stuff it says you know Drench Fitness, A division of BlueCube Technologies. If you see that, that’s kind of what that means. If you see a subisidiary, that’s literally a company inside of a company. So a subsidiary is a company that’s owned by a larger company or an umbrella company. Sometimes you see that with insurance companies or something where they all buy each other out and they end up owning each other. But for whatever reason they decide not to merge because they like the brand or whatever the brand has enough value that they keep them as separate companies and there’s one large company that owns them all. I think Citibank does that a lot too.
MATT: Yeah. I think we’re talking about the liability and how that affects having a new company within your old company and you know if separating them out with providing more isolation. We haven’t decided on that. We haven’t got all the guidance we wanted on that yet so…
BRANDON: Well, the good this is that you know if you do have some credit like business credit started, the original company I started was back in 2001, so I have 9 years of the company experience. It adds to its credibility and to its credit score. In fact, I spent a couple of about an hour on the phone with Dun and Bradstreet representative today just getting on my company credit score all polished up and nice and new and neat looking because I know that in the next couple of months I’ll be talking to some leasing companies for equipment leases, not to mention the lease for the space that we’re doing. And both of those cases, it’s really nice to have a business that is showing profit or has income that you can kind of piggy bank on since you’re not necessarily forming a whole new company. And so if you form a brand new start up, it’s basically a blank slate and it has a new credit to speak of. Although I started a company with no credit and it’s possible to do so don’t feel like this is absolutely critical for you to have business credit from the beginning. It’s just really nice to have especially if you’re signing up on some leases and stuff like that.
MATT: Yeah. So I think kind of the way that we kind of done something in the past, if this is the first thing you’ve ever started then get your LLC, set up all the accounts that you need, all these sort of stuff, right. But once you have that first LLC, first LLC kind of accessing incubator for all these ideas and concepts you have. You know especially at the stage that we’re at now, we’re very you know in the nation stage of these both businesses, I mean with the physical business you guys have to make a lot of commitment up front, getting the lease and all sort of stuff but with an online business, you know, you can try a whole bunch of things and you try something and maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But you can kind of figure that out before you start to create a whole another LLC and spin it off as another thing.
BRANDON: Right. The only real reason you’d need to spin off a new LLC is if you have maybe a new partnership structure where you have your new partners involved and of course that requires a whole new platform of distributing profits and that absolutely needs a new company. You can’t do that under your own company. The only way you can keep it under your own company is if the structure doesn’t change where you’re the sole owner and then the new company starting is the sole owner, you’re the sole owner also. So you got to keep everything kind of similar in that fashion. Then there’s the liability aspect is, “Are you exposing the assets of one business from the assets of another business because now you’re kind of under one company?”
MATT: Yes. I mean the example we gave with Drenched was someone gets hurt whether working out and decides to sue Drenched, you know are you putting the other businesses that you have at risk of losing that, right?
MATT: So that’s another real example of what you need to consider when you have something that’s very profitable asset somewhere. You know what are you getting by keeping in the same business versus separating? There’s all kinds of things to consider.
BRANDON: Yeah. And it’s not that big of a deal to start up a new business except for the fact that you know at least in California and most states, you do have a minimum tax liability. In California, it’s $800 a year so even if you made nothing you still owe the state $800. That’s kind of a bummer to have to pay every year if you’re not making anything on the business.
MATT: Just be optimistic and you’re going to make enough to cover that.
MATT: I mean enough to make it so that that would be what you pay anyway.
BRANDON: Right. And you do have to file another tax return which is kind of a pain in the butt every year you know. But if you didn’t form the new LLC, it could just be all rolled up into one tax return. So there’s that a couple of hundred bucks for tax filer to do that for you so you know not that it’s big deal. It’s definitely worth the risk litigation, that’s for sure. But those are the things that you’re thinking about when you’re deciding to split off and do a new company, if you’re doing multiple businesses or not.
MATT: So have you decided what you’re going to do with Drenched yet?
BRANDON: In terms of doing it separate or under BlueCube?
BRANDON: Well, what I’m going to do is probably do the switcheroo. I’ll keep it under BlueCube Technologies for the first, probably 3 or 4 months while I get on my equipment leases put together and then I’ll spin it off to its own LLC. But you know that doesn’t null and void any of the leases I have. I still have to have that under BlueCube but just the reliability then becomes just for the smaller LLC. So that’s my plan. That’s what I’m going to do.
MATT: For me, I’m a DBA for now and if things change I’ll do something different later. I don’t think I have a lot of liability issues or anything that so far that I can see that would make me want to spin it off. Maybe if I start to think about selling out or something like that later on, maybe that will be a reason to put in some little thing.
BRANDON: That’s a good point. We didn’t mention that. You know if this was a business that you planned on selling soon, you’d want to have it as a sole entity so that you can go back in the books and show that this is exactly how much this business made in 2009, 2010, 2011 and therefore the person buying your business will have a complete separation between that business and any other business you had before.
MATT: Or try to go to investors or something like that, right?
BRANDON: Oh, that’s obvious. Yeah. You don’t want…
MATT: But I don’t want to do that.
BRANDON: You don’t want to sell equity in a business that you have also tied up with another business of yours. Yeah.
BRANDON: Actually I had a friend of mine tell me that that happened by mistake to a friend of his. So that’s a big mistake.
BRANDON: Oh, is that right? I didn’t hear that story.
MATT: Yeah. I guess he made some deal for a thousand bucks eight years ago or something where it all might be tied up. We’ll see how that turns out in the news. Sounds like it might be a pass the statue of limitations but who knows. Maybe some guy that paid what’s his face a thousand bucks might own 85 percent of Facebook.
BRANDON: Well, you know there’s people who buy what they call shell companies. I don’t even know if I should recommend those because it’s kind of shady but you can buy companies that have you know 10, 15 years of background, of experience and they’re called shell companies and you can buy them because according to the people selling them to you they have done nothing with them for 15 years. They just have been started 15 years ago and therefore you’ll have better credit if you use them.
MATT: I’ve seen people do that to get around like an IPO and going public. Things that like companies that are basically you know were public companies but are basically gone bankrupt or whatever. They buy the entity off of them so they don’t have to go through the whole process of going public.
BRANDON: Oh, okay. Yeah. I can see that. So anyways, there’s these kind of creative ways you can do some of these stuff but …
MATT: We’re getting off track.
BRANDON: We’re way off track. This is not something you’d want to start off with but it’s option. You might as well know it.
MATT: So I mean that’s where we are now. We really want to keep you guys up to date and show you real world how we use the techniques that we talk about in all our episodes. And I think as we go through it and build this to businesses, it’ll be a good example a good story of what we’re trying to do and we want to hear from you guys. If you guys have ideas that we should be doing something different or all your experience, we want to hear that and you know we hope that what we’re doing is resonating and helping you start your own things and build your own businesses.
BRANDON: Yeah. I’m glad we’re doing this because in the past we’ve had a lot of listeners say, “Hey, we want to know more about you guys personally and what you do with your own businesses.” And in the past we’ve done very much like kind of more theoretical stuff which we used but we just don’t give it the examples as it relates to the businesses we’re working on at the moment. So I’m happy to say we’re bringing it to you live.
MATT: Yeah. I hope this experiment works out good.
BRANDON: Alright. Well, check us out on our website. Drop us a note or send us some questions on the forum for anybody to answer and give their feedbacks, start the community and keep it going.
BRANDON: And I’m innov84fun. It’s i-n-n-o-v-8-4-f-u-n.
MATT: Keep listening and don’t forget to rate the podcast in iTunes. That really helps everyone else. Find the podcast and learn what you’ve learned and all that sort of stuff. Thanks for listening. We really appreciate it.
BRANDON: Thanks guys.
You’ve been listening to Automate My Small Business. We hope you enjoyed this episode. To get a list of the links we’ve just talked about or download more episodes and How To videos, go to AutomateMySmallBusiness.com. Thanks for being with us and catch us next time on Automate My Small Business Podcast.
Podcast music features, “Nothing’s Got Me” by Big Bad Sun, distributed by Magnatune and licensed under Creative Commons. The Automate My Small Business podcast is engineered by Vincent Furlong and transcribed by Flo Umali. A