On October 24 2004, I read an article in Wired Magazine that changed my life. Approaching 40, sole breadwinner for my family, I finally pressed Send.
I had just resigned from IBM to start my own business. No business plan. No venture capital. No job offer. A very strong conviction that The Long Tail meant big change was coming, and it was time to get out amongst it all.
One of my soon-to-be-ex-colleagues at IBM slapped me on the back and joked ‘man, I love it, you just strap on the parachute, rip open the door and jump!’
I nervously considered the bit about the parachute. IBM was full of smart, perceptive and competitive people. My colleague’s excitement might just have less to do with admiration than the fact there was such a very long way to fall …
Hi, I’m Glenn Nicholas, and welcome to my online marketing blog. I’m a few years into my new career as a business owner. These days I make my living from my startups, together with my business partner (and wife) Julia. That picture is of us leaping into the unknown to start a new business together (can you see the parachutes?) Now we are both involved in online marketing in more ways than we ever could have imagined. She is a better blogger than me (but I reckon I know more about online marketing).
If you are running a business, or responsible for marketing a business, then investing time to learn more about the stategies and tactics of online marketing is a VERY GOOD idea. Startups and online marketing are both topics that I love talking and writing about it. Reading this blog will not only give you a lot of information about the subject, but examples of what to do (and what not to). So this blog isn’t a bad place for you to be. I can afford to invest the time in writing this blog because its good for business.
But it didn’t always used to be like this … Since you clicked on the About link, I’ll use this page to tell you a bit about myself. The businesses I have started. The companies I used to work for. How I got to where I am. And who I am continuing to learn from.
I love connecting up with people and comparing notes, and really appreciate it when people take the time to reach out. Feel free to email me, post about me, comment on my blog, or contact me in LinkedIn or Facebook. Your call.
OM4 is my latest venture, and is all about online marketing for startups and small business. OM4 isn’t fully launched yet (and I’m sure will never be), but you can participate in the launch process through this blog. OM4 will help businesses devise their online strategy, and provide an online marketing platform to execute it. In particular I’ll be focussing on content marketing and using blog-enabled websites as a marketing tool for small business – this is something we learnt how to do with PublicityShip (my first startup). Not to say I’ll neglect search marketing or email marketing or affiliate marketing, just that content marketing is such an amazingly versatile tool. I am the Managing Director of OM4, and run the business with Master Blogger (and my wife) Julia Sutton. We are assisted by Jane Hammond Foster (see below), and a team of freelance designers, web developers, webmasters, and copywriters.
PublicityShip provides publicity and public relations services in Australia. It helps small businesses benefit from the magic of having their story told in print, broadcast and online news media. Julia (who has a PR degree and worked in the field in Sydney) and I founded PublicityShip as a national PR agency. (It also provided online marketing services until we decided it was time to launch OM4 on its own). The PR business is run by our Managing Editor Jane Hammond Foster and a team of freelance journalists. Its a great business and is going to continue to grow. Its clear to me how valuable it is to have online marketing campaigns that can be closely integrated with traditional print, broadcast and internet news media campaigns.
Histology Online is an online application for students of Histology. Launched in 2007 in conjunction with the IP commercialisation arm of the University of Western Australia, Histology Online has been adopted by two Universities in Australia, and has a rapidly growing subscriber base from countries around the world. I was engaged by the wonderful folk at Venture Positioning Services to prepare the online launch of the company. Subsequently I became an executive director of Histology Online Pty Ltd, and now have the role of Director of Marketing. Love these startups.
Prior to founding my own business, I was an Associate Partner for IBM Business Consulting Services for five years, where I led sales and delivery for the commercial sector in Western Australia. Before joining IBM, I was a Consulting Principal for DMR Consulting Services (now Fujitsu Consulting) for five years, where I was involved in project delivery before moving into sales and marketing. Before DMR, I worked for a business applications company where I learnt a lot about specifying, designing, building and implementing very large business systems. And I used to travel way too much, commuting around the major cities in Australia, and doing a stint as an expat in the UK – nowadays I travel very little for business.
What the $!%$%!!@! has this got to do with The Long Tail?
Between 1989 and October 2004, I got to learn about the world of technology – not just how systems were put together, but about the marketing and selling of business systems built on cutting edge technology. After learning how to design, build and manage the implementation of large systems, I found a natural home in marketing and sales.
This was an area where you needed a good grasp of how business worked, and how systems could be used to improve them. If you could help clients understand how new systems could help them, and they trusted that you understood how to make them happen, then you could often lead a team in to do the job. IBM really understood the model – he (or she) who sells the deal is responsible for delivering. And in this game it really helped when you could do good demo.
Then in October 2004 I read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail in Wired Magazine. It was a pivotal moment for me – what was crystal clear from the article was the enormous opportunity for niche businesses. So much latent demand. My career had been built around making use of technology (including the Internet) within large businesses – it was what I knew. But nevertheless, within 6 months of reading that article I resigned from IBM to start working ‘on my own account’. I really liked IBM and leaving was difficult. Even with my resignation email all ready to go, it took me 30 minutes to press the send button (for 5 years I always reported to someone in another city, a very common occurrence, as many IBMers will attest).
IBM and DMR taught me a lot about relationship-based sales and marketing. Large services contracts depend on trust – anyone spending hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars on projects that take months or years needs to trust you first. So my experience of sales and marketing has been heavily influenced towards:
- establishing a strong business relationship based on trust
- translating complex concepts and systems into plain language to help communicate benefits
As I have a wife and two children, I did some project consulting work to pay the bills and set aside some startup capital. An understanding of how to implement change in large organisations was very useful during this time. After just over a year I was able to start scaling my consulting back to part time, and after 18 months I was essentially full time in my startups.
Despite having a lot of education, training and experience in sales and marketing, it was shortly after launching my first online business (PublicityShip) that the true gap in my knowledge became apparent. Having decided to launch an online services company, I figured I could market it online as well. And (as they say) that was where it started …
What I learnt was that when it comes to business online, the core principles remain the same, but the tools are changing radically. I’ve seen technology sweep through many industries, leaving enormous chunks of the ‘value chain’ dazed and wondering exactly what hit them. Manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and logistics, finance, HR … you name it, and technology and BPR upended it. But sales and marketing hardly seemed to be affected – email, spreadsheets, teleconferences and CRM influenced the work, but hardly transformed it (just ask any customer facing salesperson whether Siebel transforms sales).
Well, guess what, lets welcome sales and marketing to the party. The disruptive influence of technology is only just starting its work on the comfortable corner offices of sales and marketing executives. Getting to grips with the new tools is hard work, because the concepts are very different. And like everything in sales and marketing, its not enough to know the theory. Its even harder to do.
This is where it got really fun. I decided to go and look at what worked best in online marketing. You see, I figured I understood online business pretty well. After all, I had been using the Internet since 1991, had developed business systems for the web since 1997, consulted to technology startups through the nineties and noughties, and led multiple business strategy engagements (for large companies) dealing with online business opportunities. How much could there be to learn?
Boy did I get a lesson. Well versed in technology, educated and experienced in sales and marketing, and just as I launch my own online business what do I find? Online marketing (or internet marketing, or web marketing) has all of these threads poking out. Mostly they seem like they are just more of the same – multi-letter acronyms being spawned to differentiate vendors fighting over the last major wave of technology change. But then you tug a little on them a bit, and find you are still pulling the threads out months later. What appears to be just another MLA turns out to be a ‘non trivial’ concept.
And this happens again and again. Keyword research – easy (until you look into it). SEO? (hey, I remember when AltaVista was hot, search is real easy to comprehend). SEM? (yup, I’ve seen ads in Google, can’t be that hard). CPC/CTR? (just more MLAs). Email marketing? (Heck, we all use email, how hard can that be? .. so why is everyone so interested in autoresponders?) Affiliate marketing? (That must just be for the crazy frontier-folk, couldn’t affect us … what was that about a front-end again?)
As the threads continued to pull, my healthy confidence in my understanding of online business was turned on its head. I read books. I read online, and my RSS reader started to overflow. I started researching those who were the most successful online (all flavours, including some pretty scary operators who made a lot of money and didn’t care how they did it). I ordered books from Amazon, subscribed to autoresponders, did courses, signed up with the best online business coaches I could find.
And through all this time, I experimented with marketing my own businesses online, and helping our blogging customers. We started out with business blogs as a key marketing tool, and refined. Implemented search marketing, improved search rankings, increased traffic, did landing pages and sales letters (and isn’t getting them to convert just such a journey!), used autoresponder series, tried out endless numbers of widgets and social media …
Ok, enough for the About page. I’ve still got lots and lots to learn. I’m going to launch my online marketing blog to help some people learn, but to help myself learn even more. This blog is my vehicle for sharing what I’ve learned, doing active research to learn more, and opening up a conversation around all of this.
If you are involved in marketing a business online, I look forward to learning with you.