Vision and reality: Can we get ahead of ourselves (and is that good)?

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wayback ottawa construction news
A look back (from the wayback machine) to our website designs about 2017 -- after the failed effort to build a multi-city site network (with an even uglier design).

Way back when, in 2005, I envisaged a network of regional construction news sites and eletters serving defined markets.  I believed we could develop tools to provide worthy content to these state, provincial and local markets and generate advertising revenue through online advertising through Google AdSense.

I contracted with offshore developers to build the site framework (to keep costs as low as possible), and they — after some false starts, sleepless nights with online chats at 3 a.m. edit, and revisions — finally produced a “functional” site system.

Alas, the idea bombed. The operating interface was far too complex and awkward to use, the sites looked ugly, and (most significantly), I couldn’t figure out a way to generate content inexpensively enough to maintain relevance and interest over several regional platforms.

I left the system to wither, focusing on our print publications, only to receive a jolt two years later when Google AdSense sent me an “account disabled” email — because the sloppy and ill-maintained sites (which I had ignored), certainly now lacked the content and framework (and management controls) to justify participation in the program.

Ugh, because when your AdSense account is disabled, it is for the rest of your life.  Fortunately, there was another AdSense account, associated with my personal blog (and thus in my own name, not the company’s.) I shut down the ugly regional site network, redesigned the existing sites to be simple to maintain, and placed my personal code on these cleaned-up sites.

The Google cheques started arriving — leading me to puzzlement about how I seemed to have defied the rules that if your AdSense account is disabled, you are gone for good. And it led me to the relationships at the Google help forums, which turned into another adventure, which continues today, as I became (and remain) a Top Contributor there, with annual summits and meet-ups at Google’s HQ. (The key is that you indeed can have separate business and personal accounts and the loss of one doesn’t mean the loss of the other.)

But what about that original idea — for the network of regional construction news/information sites?

Slowly, but steadily, we’ve been making it come true, with the help of effective and inexpensive email list management software, new and easy-to-build/maintain WordPress.org designs and themes, and enhanced online advertising management tools, partly from AdSense with the help of the free DoubleClick for Publishers resource (also from Alphabet/Google.)

Florida Construction News
Today’s Floridaconstructionnews.com, a successful implementation of the original 2015 idea.

A major key to solving the puzzle, however, has been our ability to earn direct sales revenue on these sites, which in some cases have really great search engine rankings and reasonable traffic. We’ve been able to co-ordinate these sites with profitable advertising/editorial packages, and (if revenue is sufficient) publication of online magazines that can be turned into real print-on-demand publications.

There are still some gaps to fill to achieve the original 2005 vision.

First, I need to figure out how to enhance the editorial quality without increasing the budget.  At present I do most of the research/writing for what are now seven weekly site builds/eletters.  The work requires about 20 to 25 hours a week and would be utterly uneconomic if I paid myself proper executive wages for the task. This work isn’t easy to delegate to someone who doesn’t have solid journalistic and research skills (combined with a reasonably healthy industry knowledge.) I can assess content relevance, merge stories, determine the rightful use of images (either because they are copyright-free or would fall under the vague ‘fair use’ exceptions) and weigh the relevance and value of the increasing volume of news releases we receive. (The news releases simplify my work, of course, but they still need to be reviewed and edited to knock out the blatant self-promotion, puff, and often research needs to be done to fill in important details the release writers elect to omit.)

Like many business decisions, the key will be to figure out the right point where the cost curve properly intersects with revenue and capital investment and the additional publications/websites are justified.

The important point here is that I conceived the original business idea about 12 years ago and now we are just starting to see it become a functioning and valid concept.

This leads me to the next level; about how/when to go out on a limb and invest in technological resources and achieve the next big thing.

We can look at this story from two perspectives. If I hadn’t gotten ahead of myself more than a decade ago, I would have saved plenty of money and effort, and probably could catch up to where we are now with little harm caused by waiting.

On the other hand, the initial failure led to some wonderfully positive results in relationships and business development opportunities. As well, the patient reconnecitng with the original vision will position our business to survive and thrive in the transition from the printed to digital publishing world.

I know of at least one other circumstance where a business owner has gotten ahead of himself technologically, but won’t cite his name to protect commercial confidences (and because I do my best to avoid negative comments about individual businesses and organizations in this blog.) Like me, he’s spent signficant funds on the project, perhaps out of fear from his competition. The idea isn’t flying now. Is it a waste? Probably not, because he’ll be far more prepared for the future when the market is ready.

Right now, I think it will take about three more years to properly implement the original 2005 idea — meaning we’ll be close to 15 years from vision to achievement. But it is a relief to know that I had the foresight to look ahead and see the future. You can, too.

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