Working in (and on) the business . . .(and) discovering PPC advertising

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ocn daily library
The first issues of Ontario Construction News. It is challenging to produce a daily newspaper on a shoestring budget

There’s a common line in business consulting that owners/entrepreneurs should work on, not in, our businesses. In other words, if we are so bogged down in the day-to-day work of our trade/profession that we don’t have the time (and/or resources) to hire or contract with others to tackle the operations/work, then we are failing and cannot hope to grow.

If adhered to this concept, the graders would give me an “F” score. The last week has required a massive amount of effort and editorial energy. The work could be compared to my experience as a 24-25 year-old reporter at the Medicine Hat News in Alberta, where I cranked out three and often four bylined stories a day, before graduating to become the newspaper’s copy editor where, alone each morning, I needed to fill a 36 to 48 page newspaper with wire stories, write headlines, and amalgamate local and wire stories to create the entire package.

But I’m 65 years old now. I receive Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan payments each month. I’m supposed to be at, er . . . retirement age.

Nevertheless, I don’t regret my decision to start a daily newspaper and manage it on a shoestring, virtually zero dollar budget. This is an electronic newspaper, of course — there’s no way we would print and mail copies on newsprint in 2019. But while the Ontario Construction Act’s definition of “construction trade newspaper” allows the publication to be electronic, it still has to have the look, feel and content of a newspaper — that is with journalistically written editorial content, data, tender ads and the like. If we check all the boxes, we can sell legally mandatory “Certificate of Substantial Performance” notice ads and be quite profitable with a 10 per cent market share (the existing competing newspaper has had, until we arrived on the scene, an effective legal monopoly — and priced its ads accordingly.)

Fair game, but how can we do this on a shoestring? I arranged with our graphic designer and key salesperson to have an equity interest in the business in exchange for deferred compensation, and contracted with a freelance writer for half-time contributions. As well, since we’ve been publishing monthly publications serving the market for many years, I have a backlog of already published material that with a bit of rejigging I can recycle.

I could I suppose have hired a full-time editor, granted a significant freelance budget, and relaxed — but the stress of spending real money for a “maybe business” is just too great.

So how have things gone after three days of publication, and a week’s worth of virtually non-stop effort?

We’ve sold the grand sum of three certificate ads, for a revenue of $750.00. And as best I can tell, two of our sales are from paid Google keyword search ads, at what seem to me to be rather high Pay Per Click rates. (We have engaged in a number of other marketing initiatives including association tie-ins, advertising on our network of websites and a strategic alliance with a data service provider, so far without much in the way of direct business.)

I’m getting a crash course in PPC advertising costs and optimization and am learning it is really easy to spend lots of money and not get much in return here but obviously since two of the sales have indeed come from PPC, I need to pursue the process — and learn how to better improve the results and lower the cost per click/conversion. I think I’ll have learned much in the next week and will report on my findings then.

As for the sales, the results are neither as great as I would like to see at this stage of the business, nor are they hopelessly disappointing. The business plan originally projected zero revenue for the first month, so achieving about 1/3 of break-even in sales in the first week is okay. (These specialized legal ads cannot be pre-sold and are only purchased when the advertiser absolutely needs to buy them. They also tend to be lowest in volume in the early spring and highest at year-end.)

But the workload next week and especially the week following will really prove or challenge the business concept. I’m hoping it won’t take more than two months to get things to the stage when indeed I can follow the rules: “Work on, not in your business.” In the meantime, I’m hanging on and pushing forward.

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