6 golden rules that took my post-uni website from nothing to £5m in four years
Andrew Slack, founder of health and beauty affiliate network MoreNiche, reveals his start-up business secrets
When I started MoreNiche in 2008 I had a very clear vision of how I wanted the business to work and a strong desire to make it happen. What I didn't have was a great deal of capital to get it off the ground.
I started without venture capital funding and no bank loans, just a few thousand pounds that I'd made from building websites when I left university. Fast forward to 2013 and we now have 187,000 people recommending our clients' brands and have paid out more than £20m in commission fees to-date.
MoreNiche is an affiliate marketing company that specialises in the health and beauty market. Affiliate marketing is very simple. An affiliate (or reseller) earns a commission for recommending products or services, in our case primarily health and beauty products. Clients only pay this commission once a sale has been generated. In 2014 MoreNiche is set to double in size. We are recruiting new people across our sales and support divisions and pushing into new markets.
So, having gone through many stages and made many changes along the way, my advice for anyone looking to start a business is to consider the following.
1. With every door that closes, another opens
When running your own business you will be constantly challenged. Usually it's a question of where to apply your resources. If it's a question of budgets, for example, do you hire another staff member or do you spend your capital on trade shows? If it's staff time, do you work on a certain internal product or do you focus on client work?
I believe that successful businesses are ones which adapt quickly, the business plan you start with may not be how the business looks further down the road. The trick is to evolve. You can learn from both success and failure, the key is that when one door closes, you understand why, adapt your methods and try again.
2. Customer support is key
We invest a large amount of time and effort finding new customers (in our case affiliates). In any business however, when you have a new customer you must do everything you can to ensure they are happy with the service you are providing.
As a business you can only retain long term success by finding new customers and keeping your existing customers happy. We ensure our affiliates have everything they could possibility need from us, including interactive forums, an e-learning training course, yearly networking events and a loyalty reward portal. These free resources are in addition to the basic support via phone, email, Skype and our open door policy which means we are always available for one-to-one meetings. Providing affiliates with all the resources needed to do their job ensures they don't need to look for competitors to get their answers and we build strong relationships. The thing is that these principles apply to any business. Keep your customers happy.
3. There is a big wide world out there so explore it
So many businesses focus purely on their home market. There's nothing wrong with that, but if your business is internet based you can attract customers from anywhere in the world.
We allow clients and affiliates to join our platform from any location and we ensure our clients sell their products and services worldwide.
It's relatively easy to sell to other English speaking countries and there are some massive markets to explore. In the last few years we've seen tremendous growth in the European markets. France, Italy and Greece have worked particularly well for us. While our competition are focusing on their home markets, we have been expanding into new territories with little barriers to entry.
4. If you are not going forwards, you're going backwards
When working in fast paced industries like internet marketing you need to be constantly improving, challenging yourself and working hard.
When I first started MoreNiche, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube did not exist for business. The way to build an online business was via link building and powerful content, methods which still apply today. However, when these social platforms opened up for commerce we were one of the first to explore them.
The point is, you should take what you already know and try new things each day to ensure you are innovating and moving forwards. I believe the moment you take your foot off the gas is the moment you will start losing market share.
5. Don't be afraid to make mistakes and don't punish staff for them
As part of evolving my business I would constantly try things that did not work, often losing large sums of money. One example is with trade shows. We exhibited MoreNiche at three different trade shows in 2009, an affiliate specific event, the largest internet marketing conference and a small business show. All of them failed to deliver any successful leads. We concluded that our offering was simply too niche to deliver a return at these shows. However if we hadn't tried we would still be asking the question today “should we try trade shows?”.
It is, however, vitally important to monitor the success or failure of these ideas, so you can be confident in either repeating them or trying something new. I believe it is very important that staff feel empowered to try things. If ideas don't work or mistakes are made, you or your staff will feel deflated. Offering support and reassurance will encourage a positive mindset. After all, you never know where your next million pound idea will come from.
6. Focus on one thing and be the best at it
The famous saying ‘jack of all trades master of none' is so true in business, especially when first starting out. I have always had a clear goal that I wanted MoreNiche to be the biggest and best health and beauty affiliate network online.
Along your journey opportunities will present themselves, it is very easy work on them and veer off track, but having a clear vision and small milestones should hopefully result in your goals being achieved sooner.
Andrew Slack started digital marketing agency MoreNiche in 2009. The £5m turnover company now employs more than 20 people. www.moreniche.com