Being ethical, is there any other way to do business?

Management consulting

I remember speaking at a seminar in Chelmsford, which must be a good nine or ten years ago. I was talking about the internet, and how most of the great ideas hadn’t yet been invented, and that some of these great ideas would be worth £billions. I was trying to inspire the audience, and hoped I was in the room with the next internet success story.

I had a good friend and business associate in the audience, who was sitting next to another business owner. The person he was sitting next to was less than complimentary about my predictions and commented, ‘he is talking rubbish’. He didn’t realise he was sitting next to my colleague of course, who repeated the comment to me after the seminar.

I am not here to boast, as anyone with an ounce of insight would have known at that time we were yet to see more of the astounding internet success stories which have now become apparent, and we all know we will see more of these in the future as technology evolves. Maybe the chap was resisting progress which was going to be inevitable from a proportion of the audience, though I am really not sure of his particular reasons.

The truth can hurt, but it’s ethical

The one very important thing I have learnt in business over nearly 20 years (and a good 35 years in marketing) is never to dismiss an argument that differs from your own. Always be real in your comments, being sure to express them with humility, and being confident in your predictions while putting strong ethics and reasoning at the very pinnacle in how you conduct yourself and give advice. As a marketing consultant, this week has highlighted the latter in its full glory, and I had to tell someone with an internet business idea that it wasn’t going to work. “I am not going to produce that website for you, or take a penny of your money” is what I said. Telling someone that their idea not going to work is not a very pleasant thing to have to do, especially as the person in this case had already invested a great deal of time, and I am sure a certain amount of money, into it. I am sure I didn’t make this person’s weekend any better, but I know in the long run I gave the right advice, of that I am 100% confident.

I was approached by this person through a recommendation to look at a current website (no names), and this website was the beginnings of a new online business that was going to attract huge amounts of monthly subscribers. A fabulous residual income based business model of growing monthly additions to the subscription list, with a future high year-on-year retention and growing number of people coming on board from the industries it was proposing to list paying a handsome annual subscription fee – notwithstanding new customers taking up the specific trades and arriving every year to pay out their listing fee. Sounds great, doesn’t it? How many of us currently pay subscriptions to websites, or indeed online magazines or newspapers we want to read? The answer is a very large proportion of the adult population of this country, and many of us buy multiple subscriptions for all sorts of information and services whether it is in our business activities or for personal recreation. The online subscription market is growing daily with opportunities for software, memberships with benefits and great reading material which will only continue to grow.

However, the success behind any online resource of this nature is having a reason WHY people should want to subscribe or indeed visit the resource in the first place. What is the hook?

The angle you need is sometimes staring you in the face

I’ll take you back just a few weeks further before explaining why I had been brutally honest. I had a very similar enquiry come through to me for another (non competing) listing website. My first reaction was, I cannot see this working. When I explored the idea, did some research and placed myself in a darkened room to think properly, I realised he had a fantastic idea, but he had the model slightly twisted. He did think he would get a lot of people to list, but again he didn’t give a reason for them to do so. He hadn’t thought of the fact when selling that hook and giving the business a reason to list, he would need to be saying, we have 30,000 visitors every month and growing fast (to prove that fact), all wanting what you have to sell. He may not of thought of that requirement, but he had the method of gaining that level of visitors very quickly. The business model worked, but it needed to phase its launch to gather the traffic first, and then launch out to the businesses who would want to subscribe. Between us, we created a fabulous business model, and the chap in question is now out seeking interested investors. He is an accountant, so the figures are real, transparent and make perfect sense, and the audience he needs to attract to sell to subscribers is absolutely huge, with an ongoing level of thousands of new people that will become interested in what information the site provides coming on board every day. In fact, this could even generate another fee based opportunity for the general public to subscribe to, never mind the 40,000 plus potential businesses who want to pay a monthly subscription fee. An exciting business, with huge potential!

Even Zuckerberg hadn’t realised what he had got at his fingertips.

Not so long ago, that very famous social media platform was launched. Its founder wanted to create a platform for his university friends to communicate and share information. This entity was absolutely unique in how it functioned, and of course before long it turned into a world-wide sensation. The largest and most accurate marketing database in existence, and then came real monetisation, creating a platform for us marketers to advertise on, knowing we could more accurately find our target audience than we have ever been able to before. It is further developing, with new software that will ascertain our moods, cheer us up if we are feeling a bit down by delivering our favourite things to us. That nice Mr. Zuckerberg! While cheering us up, we may want to buy a few things to do so of course!

Internet business models need a reason why people want to visit. If you can gather a huge amount of people in one internet location because they want to spend time there, you then have an opportunity to either ask them to purchase a monetary based subscription, or the audience you have gathered is perfect for another audience who wants to sell to them, and they want to buy from. Pretty straight forward really! How you deliver that platform, and how attractive it becomes dictates the level of revenue and ultimate success.

There is always one, but they tend not to come back

The chap I had to give the bad news to hadn’t thought about the reasons why. Yes, some unsuspecting person may see it as a good place to list and pay the nominal fee every month, but if the platform didn’t evolve or indeed attract an audience, who is going to buy from the subscriber? It wouldn’t work. Would he continue to subscribe? For a while maybe, but before long he may also ask the question… how many visitors are seeing my listing? Once he realised it hadn’t attracted an interested audience, he wouldn’t come back again. The business model was also going to have to compete with a huge amount of other resources. Some were hugely well-established, free-to-list, household brands whilst others gave serious reasons to be listed that provided great benefits to the listing business, and gave them excellent credentials in front of potential customers. The reality is the market is entirely saturated, and to compete for subscribers’ pound coins was going to be incredibly difficult. Even with a hook, to cash flow such a business that traded in an already saturated market was entirely unrealistic, and I am sure there would never have been a return on investment for the business idea.

As a consultant, I have to deal with the tangibles, and if a business has something to sell, and a market that wants to buy what it has to sell, there is always a straight forward, or sometimes unique, marketing angle to promote that business and create the success it desires. It takes hard work, and a lot of planning and testing to perfect the marketing model, but the rewards of a tangible business model, whether internet based or in the real world, are ultimately there to be gained. If the business owner chooses to invest properly into marketing and understand it has to be budgeted, permanent, consistent, creative and aggressive in its approach, then the business will take full advantage of those rewards.

I am really not that brutal with my comments, but I am certainly ethical! If you want to explore how you can grow your business through marketing, and indeed sales, please do get in contact with me, and I would be extremely happy to advise!