This article is written by Neil Aitken, co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of WhatPhone.com.au, an Australian telecom pricing comparison website. In this article, Neil shares his insights for those aspiring to enter the online space as an entrepreneur. Benefit from his experience of building a successful online business.
Running my own digital business, whatphone.com.au built on a blog, has been the most fulfilling activity I’ve ever undertaken. When things go wrong, it can be hard to live with. When they go well, as they are now, I feel on top of the world.
There are a number of lessons I’ve learned along the way:
Start with Your Whole Life & Work Back: Your job, company and position of one within the other is only part of your life. Build a business / blog which will give you the life you need. The website I own, originally a blog ( and built on WordPress, of course, ) allows me to travel and also to spend time on other important things, like time with my wife. I can still improve here. Dragging myself away from the laptop on a weekend to have breakfast with her is something my wife would appreciate me doing a great deal more of. However, I do feel like the job I have and the company I am building supports other important things. For example, it allows me to go for a run most days.
Invest in Business Relationships – For the Right Reasons: By far the most important lesson has been that as a blog writer, I want to contribute to the community of small businesses and other bloggers of which I am a part. Some call it ‘networking.’ That’s not the term I’d use to describe what I do.
Networking gives the impression of a politician smooth talking those he meets. I prefer to form genuine relationships with the people I partner and do business with. In some, in fact most circumstances, I find that the people I end up working with are extremely decent. Where there is a problem, they are invariably extremely honest and attempt to rectify it already. If there is a value in ‘networking’, I think it’s a preparedness to help others in the community. I have felt genuine kindness from partners I’ve engaged with and a sincere desire on their part to help me grow my business. I try to ‘pay that forward’ and do everything I can to help others, particularly those starting out.
Your Business has to be Something You Care Passionately About: There are a number of reasons you see this tidbit of advice popping up again and again. It’s a cliché for a reason.
First, the online blog you run needs to be based on unique intellectual property that you have. That means you’re building a business based on something you know – and know better than most. People tend only to find out this level of detail about things they care deeply for.
Secondly, there will be, as I have alluded to, dark times along the way. When you’re working until midnight on a Sunday – again – and you’re not paying yourself this month – again, there has to be an internal drive to get things done which goes beyond the financial incentives. Passion, at this point, really matters. Third, you’re going to be writing content – a lot of it. You’re going to be writing books worth of content on your chosen specialist subject. Your third hundred thousand words of content is going to require an internal fire to write.
Finally, if the work you do is going to be at all fulfilling, it needs to be rooted in something you find satisfying and which gives you a sense of contribution to the world. Others don’t have to agree that what you’re doing is worthwhile – but you need to feel it yourself. All these things will excite and also use up your passion.
Aim for the Right Spot: We focused our blog on a niche area which is growing. In my view, this is the biggest strategic bet to get your business right. Take some time to think about it. Ideally, in my view, you want to focus on two or more things which are both overlapping and are both growing. In our case, we’ve focused on Australia’s best prepaid plans and an intelligent solution to the ‘eSIM problem’. The eSIM is a new piece of technology which is likely to impact telco significantly.
Save Money within the Company: Accounting and the admin side of the business is not something most of us get excited about. We have learned to deal with it anyway. There have been times, many times, when we have been paid late by suppliers and had to cover payments to our downstream partners – the people who we owe money to – with cash from the business. Just like in your personal life, having a financial buffer makes the peaks and troughs of reality much easier to navigate.
Be Competitor Aware: We learned this the hard way. We were too focused on our own activities to pay enough attention to a new and well resourced entrant in to our industry. Their quiet arrival and diligence over the subsequent two years caught us off guard in an unexpected way. We realized that they would start to challenge some of our key search terms. What we hadn’t accounted for was the exponential drop off in traffic we would experience as they pushed us down the SERPs. In the future, we will keep one eye outside the business, even at busy times.
I absolutely would not change a thing about the decision I made on business partner, strategy, industry or our plans for the future. This year, we are going for funding of one of our own ideas. The slides are out with investors now although competition for investment, especially from FinTech seems heightened at the moment. We’re investing the modest but sustained profits the business is making back in to new traffic acquisition channels like TV and partnering for growth.
The best time to start a blog is 4 years ago. So get going. And let me know if I can help.