Entrepreneurs: Don’t Forget Your Own Backyard!

Backyard

Start here.

“I’m painting a blue square in my backyard so that Google Earth thinks I have a pool.”
–Unknown

“Don’t be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.”
–GEN Colin Powell

My last company was a software development company. I, naïvely, figured that all we had to do was put up a website, let the world know how great we were, and we’d have more demand than we could possibly handle.

There might be web startups that manage to pull that trick off. We were not one of them. For a year and a half, we sputtered along barely making enough revenues to call ourselves a business.

I finally got sick of the stasis (or was it I started to reek of desperation?), and convinced the other two co-founders that we should go to an expo hall at a local business convention and walk around, telling everyone how great we were.

At one of the booths, a business coach said that if we were as good as we said that we were, then there was no reason that we shouldn’t be doing a half a million in revenues in 12 months, and all of the demand was going to come from within a 25 mile radius of where we were.

In other words, all of the Kool-Aid I’d guzzled from reading The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman didn’t apply to us.

So, I started networking locally. Even though we lived in a town of 50,000, there was a large Army command center right outside of town that was a heavy technology user. We met someone who worked there and who told someone else about us, and suddenly, we had a contract.

We missed the consultant’s suggested revenue number by about $14,000 that first year, but became a multi-million dollar company soon thereafter.

It wasn’t really until about the fifth year of our existence that we started to tilt the balance of revenues away from local clients as we specialized and gained a reputation in that niche as one of the best companies in the country (if not internationally).

One and a half years of spinning our wheels. Three and a half years (give or take) of growing and getting sustainability from local clients. Then, we took off.

I would have never guessed that there was enough latent and unmet demand for what we did in such a small radius to grow our company.


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When I started up my financial planning business, I didn’t focus on local clients, even though I already had a significant network. I knew that we were moving, so I chose to try to build up an online audience. Then, when we moved, we moved to a small town, and I didn’t think that there were enough potential clients in my little town to make it worth much effort in local marketing.

Dumb.

When I spoke at a conference last year, I had lunch with another advisor who told me (and I paraphrase):

Based on the traffic you get, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be #1 in Google when people search for Fort Worth financial planners. You should own local!

Durrrr.

FACEPALM (Caïn ayant tué Abel, Jardin des Tuileries)

All of those lessons I’d learned in my last company about getting work from my own backyard were tossed out the window because I was sure of the one fallacious truism you hear in entrepreneurship and investing:

This time is different!

I had figured that people would look for financial planners or various topics, find me, and sign up to be clients.

Yes, it happens, but, most of the terms that bring people here have nothing to do with buying intentions.

It took a conversation like that to bring me to the a-ha moment.

When most people want a financial planner, they will go to Google and enter in the term:

Financial planner [NAME OF LOCALITY].

In my case, they look for phrases like

  • financial planner fort worth
  • financial advisor fort worth
  • finance fort worth
  • retirement fort worth
  • registered investment advisor fort worth
  • retirement planner fort worth
  • fort worth financial planner
  • fort worth financial advisor
  • fort worth finance
  • fort worth retirement
  • fort worth registered investment advisor
  • fort worth retirement planner
  • financial planners in fort worth, tx

At no point in building this practice had I sat down and thought through the buying funnel that a potential client would go through and build out my website to a) attract those people who were in the awareness phase of the funnel and b) help lead them to a buying decision. The analogue to me is getting a plumber. If you want a plumber, you’ll Google for local ones, or perhaps check Yelp to find reviews. Since testimonials are forbidden by the SEC, the supposed proxy for quality is ranking on the Google results page: a place I neglected for a year and a half.

Perhaps I just consign myself to 18 month learning curves when I start businesses. Maybe it’s part of my business DNA.

Instead of focusing on my backyard, I just started writing about things that interested me, like Monkey Brain. Part of it was borne of the fact that we’d reached financial independence, so I didn’t have the drive of needing to put food on the table right away; thus, I didn’t systematically start my online presence with the end state in mind.

But, admittedly, part of it was hubris in thinking that if I wrote enough, got enough traffic, and convinced people that I knew what the heck I was doing, I wouldn’t need to focus on attracting local clientele.

Take it from me. If you’re starting a business, you’re probably not the snowflake that is so different from everyone else that you’ll have a national/international/interstellar following and client base from day 1. It’s much easier to find local clients, build your base from there, and then, as you grow, look to expand beyond your backyard.

You may not even need to expand beyond your backyard. But, don’t assume from day 1 that you will have a national reach. Your own local market can be a great proving ground and can give you revenues necessary to sustain yourself to be able to grow into a larger marketplace.

Local or national? Where do you focus? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

About Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, is the Chief Technology officer of myFinancialAnswers, an online comprehensive financial planning service.

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