Hey this is Richard, thanks for checking out my about page.
Back at the end of 2009 I left my job to start my first online business.
I started selling services from graphic design through to wordpress websites but really I became a student of online entrepreneurship.
It’s now 2019 and I build and sell content sites for a living, as well as partner up with investors looking to build their portfolios or flip.
Read on for my complete backstory…
“Sorry, I’ve got nothing”
In 2009 I was working as a biz dev manager for a charity that recently got taken over by a housing association in my home town of Norwich, UK.
It was soon apparent there was no intention to grow the work we were doing as one by one grants and contracts I’d helped bring in were left to fail and people were being pushed out.
As such I was totally demotivated and questioning not only what I was doing there but also what the hell I was doing with my life…
I was about to turn 30 as well which added to the sense of crisis.
My boss had picked up on this and so decided to ask me to create and deliver a proposal to her and her boss about what would motivate me in my role.
The day of the presentation came and I couldn’t come up with a single thing to motivate me or reason to stay. I asked to go out for coffee with my boss instead and handed in my notice.
Employment was no longer tenable. I’d had enough and I would be leaving at the end of 2009.
I’d been making an alternative income for a few months as a business adviser (which was ironic seeing as I didn’t have one) paid for by government grants. I’d also been making a little from online poker but realized that playing full-time wasn’t a good lifestyle choice for me…
January 2010 came and I embraced my new found freedom.
I was doing ok financially giving business advice however just a few months later the grants stopped with a change of government.
I suddenly had the cold, hard realization that I possessed few skills that people would actually pay for!
For the next 2 years I taught myself and sold graphic design and wordpress websites to my previous local connections.
However it wasn’t until I started learning about SEO which I needed for a print ecommerce business I started late 2012 that I realized that being able to generate traffic and leads for others was a valuable skill set.
I went back through my local connections and started pitching SEO retainers and sold my first one for $1000/m at the start of 2013.
I saw the power in predictable, monthly recurring revenue and realized that I could sell this service multiple times.
Within 3 months I’d got to $5k/m.
I decided to capture everything I learned to get the confidence and skill to pick up clients and work remotely in my book Coffee Shop Entrepreneurs.
I talked about it on local UK TV:
I thought I had made it
After 3 years of learning this thing called entrepreneurship, whilst my income nosedived and then flatlined, I’d finally got my earnings higher than when I left my full-time job at the end of 2009.
I’d learned how to pick up clients face to face in my home town of Norwich, UK, I learned how to charge what I was worth (free pricing course) and I was pulling in $5k/m on retainers.
All good then? Not quite.
After publishing my book I decided to sell my clients to another agency in order to fully transition to selling products.
However, I didn’t have a promotion strategy (other than a couple of podcasts such as the Freedom Lovin Podcast with Kevin Koskella) and didn’t use the book to funnel people into a ‘value ladder’ of my other products or services.
Everything I was doing was isolated and disjointed and I had no understanding at the time of who my audience was, let alone an ideal customer.
Back in 2013 I also realized that after using up all my physical connections, picking up new clients who had no previous information or context on me was not easy.
I had no strategy for generating leads and no process for converting into clients.
Local (Norfolk, UK) had been my niche; I needed a new niche.
I had previously done a Four Hour Work Week style review of all the different communities I belonged to on a whiteboard and saw that the ski industry was one.
I previously did a ski season and have skied and boarded all my life and saw that there was a ski show coming up in London. I bought the magazine detailing all the companies who were exhibiting and started doing SEO research on all of them ahead of time to find the best leads on the day.
Around this time, the Tropical MBA podcast put out an episode about productized services and I started to understand that by having a standardized offering you can do away with proposal documents and simply push people to a sales page with pricing table where they can purchase your offering.
Within a week I had bought snowbistro.com and thrown up a pricing table with a buy now button linking to paypal. It was pretty crude but it worked and adding a buy now button really flipped the script from clients to pre-paying customers.
For the first time in the land of services, I actually had an offering, something to sell.
I signed up 3 customers from that event and was back in the game, however, I needed to broaden my offering to become more valuable and be able to command higher (productized) prices.
Moving up the value chain
I previously found that after picking up my 5th client, the income from taking on further clients was not worth the downside of additional stress from managing expectations and increased workflow. I considered taking on a staff member but chose to outsource the work and client management to an agency that had processes in place.
Now I advocate productizing your services and creating your own standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be able to scale your own team and dramatically increase your income.
With productized services you set out exactly what work you will be doing for the money which enables expectations to be firmly set. Plus you get the huge bonus of turning your clients into pre-paid customers. By standardizing the work, you can hire a team of specialists to carry out the SOPs needed to get the work done. I started hiring writers for SEO content and got myself my first virtual assistant.
In having something to sell, productized services also enable you to automate your marketing and sales process.
Late 2013 I started learning about marketing funnels (after becoming a Leadpages customer) and the real importance of building a list of prospects and an audience of fans.
I wanted to attract more and better customers.
Seeing as SEO and paid advertising is all about landing pages I also knew I had to go deep on this in order to offer a more valuable and higher priced service.
I increased my snowbistro.com product range to include marketing funnel setup, created optin pages to build a list of prospects and started educating through email about the need for ski companies to convert more traffic (something they are typically very poor at). I also started sending hundreds of outbound sales emails scraped from google by my VA using automated software.
However the understanding and demand just wasn’t there in the ski niche. The industry is lifestyle oriented and overall is not concerned about scaling. Indeed with limited ski chalet inventory, 10x more leads is actually deemed a problem not a solution.
I had to look for a better market and really think about what my ideal customers looked like.
I needed to reposition my existing services to a market who is prepared and able to pay 2x-5x what ski companies are because what I had to offer was more valuable to them.
Delinking price (or cost of service) from value is an important mindset shift.
Be your customer
I thought it would a great lifestyle to work and talk with ski company owners all day but the reality was 99% are lifestyle businesses that have no major desire to scale.
I soon realized I was having limited impact versus what I could achieve with traffic and conversions in high growth focussed businesses. I was also severely value cutting myself (a poker concept) as had to keep my prices low as the companies had low margins as most skiers are in turn always looking for the cheapest deal.
I also realized that monthly recurring revenue was based purely on results that I could not properly control and I wrote a post on how I needed to have a business model that was process oriented rather than results oriented (another poker concept!).
Ultimately, I realized I actually wanted to be surrounded by other online entrepreneurs building high growth companies who understand what a 5% increase in conversion rate could do for their business.
I wanted my customers to be like me; I wanted to be my customer.
By the fall of 2014 funnelengine.com was born offering marketing funnels for online business owners. I posted to my linkedin network and got my first customer, who was in the US, pretty quickly. I set up a landing page in leadpages, created a lead magnet and wrote a 5 part autoresponder sequence designed to convert traffic into subscribers and then to customers.
I did every part myself to understand exactly the process and the skills and time required and then started creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) and onboarding templates for bringing on new customers in a more automated way.
However it wasn’t until I heard about a new company called clickfunnels from my entrepreneurial community the Dynamite Circle that my interest in overall sales funnels (both the optin and the cart) went into overdrive.
In Clickfunnels you could now easily build out entire funnel sequences in a fully customized way using a drag and drop interface. Not only that you could connect with Stripe and add products and even upload digital assets to be delivered upon purchase. It even has a membership area so that you could easily get people into a recurring monthly continuity program.
For the first time I was able to start thinking about how to line up all the previously disparate products and services I had and look at ways to bring these together into one overall funnel and one audience.
After transitioning Funnel Engine from productized service to a software review site, and winning the top 1% conversion marketer award by the guys at Proof (cheesy photo below), I sold the business in 2017 to someone investing in websites.
In 2018 I built out the brand Flipping Websites as a service for investors to acquire and operate content sites, as well as a podcast which I got to over 20k downloads and a facebook group I got to over 3000 members.
In September 2019, I sold the business to Alpha Investors and now in 2020 I’m focussed on building out my own portfolio of content sites alongside offering a paid newsletter and an Upside Audit for active website investors.