Today I officially launched AuthorityJet.com. It is a press release writing and distribution service.
A little background – when we moved to Albuquerque in September, I told everyone that I was planning to start a business here. This, of course, wasn't the first time I've made such an announcement. I've been hoping and trying to do that since about 1997. Even in the relatively short time that I've been married to Susan, I've been through at least half a dozen attempts. In every case, I've started down the path, but at some point have gotten discouraged and then, after a brief period of indecision, have moved on to another project. In the process, I've spent thousands of dollar with virtually nothing to show for it except for experience.
I'm going to take this opportunity to pick up where I left off in this post. That post covered my entrepreneurial ventures through Oct. 2012.
November 2012 was a low time for me. We were desperate for money and my efforts had yielded nothing so I reluctantly began looking for work. I found an ad on Craigslist for an insurance inspector, which, in this case, was similar to home inspection, although far simpler since it was exterior only and no appointment was needed. I was very happy when I was accepted as an independent contractor. The paid was only $11-12 per house which seemed pathetic, but they would give me 200 to 300 order a month, which was enough to live off of, although the pay was probably on a par with what I had been making at Rubbermaid – maybe even lower considering that there were no benefits, I had to pay my own auto expenses, and I found myself working 6 days a week, instead of the 3 1/2 that I averaged at Rubbermaid. I also had to work outside regardless of the weather. At least I didn't have to get up at 5 AM. Despite the down-sides, I did enjoy the home inspections more than factory work, however, probably mostly because of the flexibility and the ability to work on my own. I also was far less embarrassed when asked what I did for a living.
In January, as I recall, I once again embarked on plans for an Internet. This was for something I had tried in the past in various forms,dating back to 1991 and Voice-Ads. The idea was to build a site that was sort of a cross between Craiglist and Groupon. I'd have classified ads and coupons from local businesses. As time went on, I decided on what I thought was a wonderful strategey, namely to use the geo-targeting capabilities of Drupal which would allow the site to work anywhere in the country. When a site visitor would search for ads or deals, they would be given results for items that were within 5 or 10 miles of their location, no matter where they were. The first domain I chose was Bullbord.com (sort of like bulletin board). I went through several domains, finally settling on Yalzi.com, which Susan found. I started developing it in Drupal and got pretty far, but eventually decided I needed help so found Ayesh (in Sri Lanka) on Odesk.com. He was a wonderful developer – extremely fast, really knew what he was doing, and with excellent English skills. He made a lot of progress through about the end of the Summer, but unfortunately, due to some personal issues which I never understood, he would disappear for extended periods of time. He had a couple of relatively short absences, but then seemed to disappear completely. I waited for months for him to return, finally giving up completely. This was around the end of 2013.
Once again, I lost focus and was lured into a program by Bill McIntosh. He was a well-known and successful marketer and he convinced me that we could make money by curating content and posting it on our own blogs. I talked Susan into this as well and she started a blog called BusyBeeDIY with the idea of showcasing various DIY projects. I was less sure about a niche, but was drawn to the life hack/survival niche. For a time, I worked on a site called DrWiseGuy.com where I simply wrote short posts about any subject that I thought was interesting. It might have worked eventually, but we were spending a fair amount on Facebook ads trying to get traffic to the sites. Plus is was a fair amount of work that just didn't seem to be going anywhere, despite some people in the program claiming they were making 1000's of dollars a day.
Then the cycle started over again and I went back to the Yalzi project. Since Ayesh was still not available, and I felt little confidence in completing the original site, I decided to take another approach, this time using WordPress as the content management system and focusing on only one city, namely Kent, Ohio. Once again, however, I found that I needed help with custom coding that was required so hired a woman in India named Minakshi. She was not as skilled as Ayesh and the language was a problem, making her much harder to work with. I thought we could get the site off the ground in early Summer, but things dragged on into the Fall. We got the site working pretty well, but I decided that in order for my marketing strategy to work, the site really needed to work nationwide and Minakshi simply didn't have the skills nor did I have the funds to take it to that level.
So, once again the project was stalled, and, once again, I lost focus and started looking at other opportunities. This time I was lured into an e-commerce program (T-Rex was the name) selling T-shirts and jewelry. They convinced me we could make some quick money, especially during the holiday season. After spending a couple of months and well over $1000 on the program and advertising, I abandoned that as well.
In early 2015, I once again was back trying to get Yalzi.com off the ground. This time, I hired Mohammed, who was also in India. Unfortunately, his English was also poor, which really is a problem in trying to explain and discuss technical issues. He convinced me that it was best to essentially trash everything that Minakshi had done and start over. He spent several months working on the project, finally getting it working pretty well, although it was missing a couple of features that I wanted.
Then I discovered that the data source I had been counting on all along was a lot more expensive than I had anticipated. I needed it to populate my site with the names and address information of business throughout the country. This was a devastating blow and once again the project was on hold, and once again, I got distracted by other tempting opportunities.
This time, I was lured into another ecommerce program where they offered to build a Shopify store for me and populate it with products from China. And of course, they convinced me this would be a great success. This was during the later Winter or early Spring of 2016. I decided that I preferred a WordPress/Woocommerce site over Shopify because it was cheaper and allowed me more control over the store features. I found a cool domain name – CoolPrepper.com, replacing SurvivalCenter.us, from a couple years earlier. This time, I felt I had finally learned what kind of marketing was required to make the business a success.
I then spent several months, gathering information about potential products and sources of products. Eventually my store had over 1000 products in it. I also toyed with various business models, including affiliate marketing, specifically selling Amazon products, and combined it with a poll and contest that I thought might make the site more interesting. Blogging was also part of the business model, similar to what Bill McIntosh had taught us. I also purchased sample products from China. I came with what I thought was a brilliant idea of running a sweepstakes with a winner chosen daily and all other contestants receiving an email containing a coupon code for the item won. This process required automation which meant a custom plugin needed to be developed, so once again I was working with a programmer in India – Naveen. His English was superb so no problem with communication, but he seemed to have very little time to devote so it dragged on for months.
This was about the time we started thinking of moving to Albuquerque so that forced a hold on things, but it also gave me time to really consider what I was getting into. I realized that the most successful survival sites were little more than marketing systems – very light on substance and heavy on gimmicky products, doing little to really help people become prepared for possible disaster. I found myself being drawn into a marketing mindset and away from what I felt should be the true purpose of the business. The prizes for the sweepstakes needed to be inexpensive so I found myself focusing on survival products that were novel, but not very practical. Plus I didn't like the idea of having to keep items in stock and the work of order fulfillment, which I thought at first I could avoid, but gradually it became clear that I would have to deal with, or at least find someone who I could trust to do it for me.
By the time we arrived in Albuquerque, I had pretty much lost interest in Coolprepper.com, although I though I would revisit it at some point. This meant that, once again, i was searching, and since I had quit my insurance inspection job, it was becoming vital that I finally get something off the ground. This time i came across an ad on Facebook for a program called "Job Killing". They promoted the idea of creating lead generation sites and the leads could then be sold to small businesses. I had considered the model before, and dismissed it, but this time Brad Campbell and Dan Klein, and their partner who talked to me over the phone, convinced me to shell out an embarrassing amount of money to get involved in the program.
Within a week, I concluded, however, that this was a big mistake – probably only second to the prescription card business. I could see it wasn't any easy thing to succeed in, and not something I felt passionate enough about. So I was quickly back to searching for another opportunity, and for the 4th time, I made the decision to try to get Yalzi finally off the ground.
This time, the focus was only on special offers. I dropped classified ads and also came up with a plan for a weekly sweepstakes, initially giving away national restaurant gift cards, but with the intention of gradually adding prizes donated by small businesses. The gift cards could be given to a winner selected from anywhere in the country, whereas the other prizes would be awarded to a contestant who lived close to the business offering the prize. So the plan was to get thousand of people to sign up for the weekly sweepstakes. I had a dual purpose in running the sweepstakes to build a list of subscribers and a list of business owners and managers. I presumed that a percentage of my contestants would be small business owners. Immediately after anyone signed up for the contest, I would make an appeal, by way of video sales letter, to contestants that owned or managed a small business. I would offer them a free "Local Blast" – an email sent to my contestants/subscribers in the business's area, promoting their products/services. I also gave potential clients an opportunity to book a time to talk to me by phone. I learned this strategy from Jason Drohn, who had advised me when I was trying to get CoolPrepper off the ground. The technique was also used by "Job Killing" with great success.
My plan was to select sweepstakes winners every Friday, and only send out emails when I had winners to announce, which presumably keep my open rated high since people would naturally want to know if they won anything. I would make money by including offers from my clients in the winner announcement emails. I also planned to upsell them to other services, like SEO.
Once again, I scrapped previous work and started building a new WordPress site. I spent all of October and half of November working on this, spending a large amount of time simply writing and recording video sales letters that I felt were necessary for this project to succeed. Fortunately, I was able to do almost all the work myself, although did hire Naveen to develop a plugin that would automatically turn every subscriber into an affiliate with the possibility of earning a commission if they referred business owners to me.
I started running a Facebook ad for the sweepstakes in mid November, but was disappointed in the response, although I did get several contestants and even one business owner who went through the entire process and even booked a time to speak with me. However he didn't answer his phone at the appointed time, and I was not able to reach him later either. I had good luck a year or more ago collecting email addresses when i ran a combination restaurant poll and sweepstakes in Kent so I decided to try that approach again, but I had trouble finding polling software that would do everything I needed including validation of email addresses. Another problem was that the prize was for a gift card for a national restaurant despite the fact that the poll was for local restaurants. I did this because I wanted people to refer their friends who might live anywhere in the country, and I didn't want to exclude anyone. Ideally, the poll would work nationwide so that people voting would only see restaurants near them in the poll. This could be accomplished by geo-targeting and I went so far as to locate a developer on Upwork.com that could deliver this, but shortly after hiring him, I got cold feet.
Although I am convinced that my theory was correct about being able to build my subscriber list and my business owner list at the same time, I was disappointed at the rate I was signing them up. It appeared that I might build a list of potential clients faster than subscribers, which was a problem because I wouldn't have enough subscribers to send their offer to. It was a delicate balancing act with a lot of potential for failure. Plus I lacked the software necessary to select local prizes winners. So, once again, I pulled the plug.
At almost exactly the same time i decided to pull the plug on Yalzi, I learned how well press releases are working for some people to get them ranked in Google searches, and I also found sources that could distribute press releases cheaply. I fancy myself a writer so felt this might be a good thing to get into.
So, without a much thought, I jumped into this new project. After working on it for about a month (minus the week we spent traveling to Utah and Idaho), I have found it more and more interesting, and I've been able to build the necessary website without any outside assistance, although it's a bit more complex than i prefer, nor would it be necessary if I had the skills to do proper coding. For example, I'm using a 3rd party shopping cart software and trying to keep track of the purchase of credits that can be used to order a press release. It's required me to create several custom page templates and pages that don't do much more than add and subtract credits. Eventually I'll have it rewritten.
I'm excited about a contest I want to start running soon. I'll call it the "Tell Your Story" contest. I'll write a press release announcing it. Contestants will answer a few questions about a challenge in their life that they've overcome. Contestants will review and rate each other's stories and we'll announce a winner every week. Then I'll write up a short article about the winner and send out a press release announcing it. I think people will find these stories interesting and they'll all be saved on a website (possibly whoswhodirectory.org). Of course, all contestants will also be potential clients for me.