Adam Grunwerg runs a digital media agency that manages websites in the finance, education and gaming industry. Searchable.co.uk is a sister site where he provides Internet marketing related services to start-ups as well as his own SEO blog.
Adam started his business during his final year of University in 2009/10. Since graduating, he’s spent almost 3 years working on his business full-time, developing more than twenty websites and owning more than 75 domains.
MO: What inspired you to launch your business during your last year of University? Did you keep from becoming overwhelmed by running a business and having a demanding school schedule?
Adam: My business was born out of coincidence really. During summer 2009, I’d made money writing for a couple of sports and gaming websites (I still enjoy writing on topics related to internet marketing to this day). My employer encouraged me to start my own website and it all began from there. I was a complete novice at the time, I didn’t know how to buy a domain or set up my own hosting. Luckily, my employer helped me out with all of this stuff. The few occasions where I did try fixing things myself, I ended up crashing the entire website.
Anyway, after six months of hard work, my first website was a complete and utter failure. It had great content, but lacked traffic and an audience. Once I managed to drive good traffic, it still didn’t make any money. I just picked the wrong niche at the wrong time.
It wasn’t until I started my second website six months later that I started making enough money to pay for beers and nights out at University. Reading other affiliate marketing blogs at the time also inspired me. I was following blogs from people only a year old than me who were earning more than $10,000 per month. I honestly don’t think I would have continued without following blogs such as these. It’s also why I still write run my own blog AffiliateFYI.com to this day, which has some loyal readers and followers.
I didn’t find it overwhelming running a website business alongside my work-studies. It filled up my spare time, a bit like like a hobby. I was spending a maximum of 1-2 hours per day developing the site in addition to some weekends. To be honest I never realized how big a learning curve it is starting your first website.
At the end of University in June 2010, I decided to take a gap year and use everything I’d learned to start my own successful website business. I figured the worst that could happen is that I’d give up after 12 months, having picked up a number of crucial skills in the SEO and internet marketing industry. The upside is I knew I could make a lot of money. My original aim was to build one mini-site per month that earned at least $100 per month. I figured $1200/month passive income after year would be a great goal that I could be proud of.
At the end of my 12 month “gap year”, I was already making more than a typical graduate job (around $3,000 per month), so I decided to keep going for another year and things just took off from there. In addition to website income, I genuinely enjoy learning about different marketing tactics (especially the creative ones) as well as helping startups and being a guest writer at various business and marketing magazine sites.
MO: What did you learn about running your own business that you didn’t or couldn’t have learned in school?
Adam: It’s funny you mention that because I was looking into getting a digital diploma in marketing from the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) last week. I asked a few marketing directors about it but they basically said it’s not worth it – the experience is more important then the degree.
Anyway, coming back to the original question, school can only teach you what someone has written down in a book. Add to this the fact that the Internet is changing every week so that if you pick up a book on digital marketing, it’ll be out of date within a year.
In terms of running a business, there are certain things you can only learn by having the experience and guidance from others. For example, what industry do you decide to work in? What’s going to be the next biggest trend? How do you value a premium domain names and intangible assets such as email lists, content and social accounts? How do you build relationships with important bloggers, reporters and journalists in your industry? How do you manage freelance writers, coders and assistants? How much trust should be given in spoken negotiations? When’s the right time to scale your business into different markets? These are all the kinds of things you simply can’t learn from a textbook. Many of them can’t be learned from reading marketing blogs either.
The other big thing I’ve learned about business over the last few years is that success is just subjective. It’s not an end goal. There’s never an end point where you feel like “I’ve made it”. Business keeps going round like a merry-go-round and you constantly have to innovate, attack new markets and learn new skills. Also, you can’t make money without taking risks and the margin between success and failure is extremely small – much smaller then I realized.
MO: What are some trends in internet marketing that you’re excited about or think that our audience should be paying attention to?
Adam: The biggest change ever to hit the Internet is just around the corner – new gTLDS (Generic Top-Level Domains). ICANN is releasing thousands of new gTLDs that will compete with the monopoly of .com, .net and .org. The new gTLDs will include descriptive, intuitive gTLDs such as .money, .sports and .health; geo gTLDS such as .london, .paris and .nyc; as well as closed brand gTLDs applications such as .boots and .google.
New gTLDs will have a huge effect on digital marketing and brands once they’re launched in 2013/14. They’ll provide new opportunities for small businesses while creating huge headaches and trademark issues for larger brands. We’ll also see some interesting movements in the secondary domain name marketplace, especially among the more popular new gTLDs such as .app, .shop and .online.
It will also be interesting to see how Google Glass (digital reality glasses) will influence our marketing habits, plus I think mobile payments and NFC (Near Field Communication) could be huge for retail stores – it could lead to increased consumer brand loyalty and location based marketing.
MO: What’s influenced your decision to move away from SEO marketing and really take your marketing business to the next level by providing a full range of PR services and contacts?
Adam: One word: Google. When you have a company that owns more than a 90% share of the search market in the UK, you just can’t afford to rely on it for a large source of your website traffic.
SEO marketers can say things like “don’t break their guidelines” and you won’t be penalized, but you don’t need to do anything wrong to get on Google’s bad side. They’re such a huge company that they simply don’t care about mum and pop businesses. You won’t find live chat support for any of Google’s services any time soon.
For example, last year I had an Adsense account, which was suspended with no reason given, and no recourse. I couldn’t even appeal. This has happened to hundreds and thousands of other webmasters.
The fact is you just can’t build a business that’s dependable on Google anymore – the negative SEO industry, where competitors can y cause irreparable damage to your website’s rankings for just a fiver, has also compounded the issue. And Google’s successful expansion into social networking, gaming and mobile is quite frankly scary for online businesses.
On a positive note, there are plenty of other ways for building additional traffic and promoting your start-up, and that’s why I’ve invested in PR and inbound marketing, as well as offering those services to clients. I’m actually in the middle or a PR campaign including unique statistics and infographics for my site Graduates.co.uk, whilst writing this interview.
MO: Do you think that Facebook is losing its edge or still a viable choice when it comes to incorporating into a social media strategy?
Adam: Facebook is unquestionably still the number one network for social media marketing. Everyone’s on Facebook and it has the greatest consumer reach for most industries. It’s also the fastest way for videos or content to go viral.
MO: What’s the biggest risk that you’ve ever taken and how did it turn out?
Adam: I think having a business that has relied so heavily on SEO traffic for so many years is a big risk, however the biggest individual risk was probably when I purchased the domain Investing.co.uk for five figures in 2012. My business was short on cash at the time but I just threw myself into that project and figured it was a good long-term investment. I think I realized it was a good decision once someone emailed me a news article a few months later, which said Investing.com had just been sold for $2.5 million (making it the 30th most expensive domain in history).
Whether or not the new gTLDs, which I mentioned earlier, will ever rival .com and ccTLDs valuations I’m not so sure. Some domainers argue that new gTLDs will create enough confusion to actually inflate the value of pure play generic .coms, while others think that they’ll weaken the secondary domain name market and monopoly of .com in general. Personally, I agree with the sentiments of leading industry domainers such as Rick Schwartz, who say that new gTLDs will increase the value of premium .com and ccTLD domain names. For example, I’m pretty sure a business that develops a site on Graduates.London will only serve to increase the value of my Graduates.co.uk domain. I like to think of it this way – premium property in central London will only increase in value as more housing is built on the outskirts of the city. Previous gTLDs which were released, such as .mobi, .biz and .co have also increased the value of .com. So there’s clearly a precedent for it.
I still think new gTLDs will have internal success for the registries and ICANN, however I don’t see them having visible success in the consumers eyes any time soon. According to a consultant who worked closely with .mobi when they launched back in 2006, even if the new gTLDs are marketed perfectly, with excellent communication and direct channel to market, new gTLDs will still only make 16% of total gTLD market share by 2016. And that’s a best-case scenario.
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