The decision to start my own business was years in the making. I’d done some writing in the past but had no idea how to go about doing it for a living. After some research, I settled on writing content for digital marketing, and then mapped out my plan. I would spend six months studying digital marketing and content writing to learn the theory, and then six months getting practical experience offering my services at a reduced rate to friends who owned a local flight school.
I worked my plan, learning all that I could from reading and studying until I knew I had a good command of the basics, and then got the real-world experience I needed working for my friends. But in the months that followed, I just couldn’t seem to get my business out of second gear. I was confident in my skills as a writer and digital marketer, and I understood basic business principles, but I still lacked the practical knowledge I needed to overcome obstacles and make my business grow.
It was at that time that a friend from church told me about SCORE. I’d heard of SCORE before but had assumed they only provided “basic” business advice. Even so, I had a million questions and no good answers, so the following day I made the best business decision I’ve made to date. I contacted SCORE through their website and requested to meet with a mentor.
My SCORE Mentor
In our first few meetings, my SCORE mentor quickly evaluated my business, my plan, my obstacles and challenges, and then helped me identify the actions I needed to take to begin growing my business. He helped me formulate goals and a timeline, and most importantly, he held me accountable to meet the milestones we laid out together.
As my mentor saw me working to meet those goals, he brought in others in my field who could challenge my thinking and help me improve my business model. For me, that first “aha!” moment came when he introduced me to another SCORE mentor who specialized in digital marketing. This specialist reviewed the website I had built for Cirrus Aviation with the intent of giving me feedback on my website-building and search engine optimization (SEO) skills.
Importance of a Unique Selling Proposition
Though he did give me great feedback on my work, he spent the majority of our meeting helping me to think more deeply about my business plan. I had unknowingly drifted from my original plan of producing digital content and had become focused solely on building websites. He explained that my business would be better positioned for both profitability and growth if, after building my client’s website, I focused on regularly producing new digital content as the means of increasing traffic to those websites. What’s more, he taught me more in one hour about the “how and why” of content marketing than I’d learned in my initial six months of reading.
As I read the materials the SCORE digital marketing specialist suggested and further educated myself on content marketing, my mentor began connecting me with other SCORE mentees who I could work with to begin putting this new plan into action.
Path to Business Success
The first was Ryan Schapp, a fellow SCORE mentee and owner of Big Ocean Marine, a local yacht restoration and repair business. Ryan’s work is second to none, but he needed a website that could properly showcase his work and a plan to build traffic and establish an online following.
Using the knowledge I’d gained through my mentor and others in SCORE, I was able to not only rebuild his website and create a keyword-based SEO plan that quickly got him ranked on both Google and Bing, I was also able to work with Ryan to begin creating a strategy for building traffic and increasing his search rankings.
Of course, no strategy is perfect in its first formulation. In the beginning, most of what you gain from implementation of your strategy is knowledge. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and so you go through successive iterations, refining and testing until you arrive at a strategy that is maximizing results. Initially, our focus was on reaching out to other marine businesses in order to exchange website links, and to use keyword-based SEO to draw visitors to his yacht restoration blog.
Marine Business Network
However, the real results began to happen as we applied what we learned from implementing our strategy. Some of the businesses we contacted were more than willing to follow Big Ocean Marine on social media, but few were eager to exchange website links. So on the next round, we tweaked our strategy to add a personal touch to our outreach, and we created a value proposition to give other marine businesses an incentive to work with Ryan.
I followed up the email invitation with a personal phone call so that I could better explain the mutual benefit of exchanging links, and I also approached another established marine business about creating a “marine business network”, where each business in the network would agree to exchange links with the other network members, and also follow and interact with them on social media.
Persistance Pays Off
The value for the members in this businesses network is that the number of other websites linking back to each member would grow as the network grows, and this would also give each member an expanding circle of exposure on social media. This value in turn would provide a tangible motivation for other marine businesses to join the network.
We’ve still only just begun, but we’re already seeing results from these efforts. Just a few weeks ago, the CEO of a major yacht brokerage offered to send Ryan leads for work. In addition, my initial contacts for our “marine business network” are already seeing the potential value in our plan and are beginning to reach out to other businesses, and just recently, Ryan reached out to tell me that he’d gotten his first major account through someone finding him through online search.
What’s so Great about SCORE?
My father taught me that “you get what you pay for”. So, if something is free, that’s usually because it isn’t valuable. That’s true most of the time, but not so with SCORE. When I think of the value I’ve received from this free service, it amazes me. You get real-world expertise, accountability, coaching, and access to a network of people who want you to succeed. You also get access to live and podcast seminars, and many other helpful resources that address challenges typical to most small businesses. Of course, it isn’t easy. Your SCORE mentor will expect you to work hard. But if you’re not willing (even eager) to work and learn, you probably shouldn’t be in business anyway.
Over the past year, I’ve recommended SCORE to many current and aspiring business owners, and I tell them all the same thing. SCORE is staffed by mentors who could easily charge hundreds of dollars per hour for their coaching services. Most are retired or semi-retired successful people who love entrepreneurship, and who want to help others achieve success. If you want to be smart and successful, you need to talk to smart and successful people. You’ll find them at the Manatee Chapter of SCORE.
Owner, Jordan and Cross Digital Marketing