Adam Franklin is the co-author of “Web Marketing That Works“and the host of the top rating iTunes podcast of the same name.
Plus he’s an international social media speaker and marketing manager of Bluewire Media – the web marketing firm he co-founded in 2005. Adam’ Bluewire Media blog has been named as one of Australia’s Best Business Blogs for 4 years. He is a regular blogger for Startup Smart and occasionally writes for Smart Company and the Sydney Morning Herald, and he has been a guest on radio show 2UE, as well as many popular podcasts.
Adam co-created the free Web Strategy Planning Template which has been seen by hundreds of thousands of marketers worldwide, and his weekly ‘Bluewire News’ email goes out to over 10,000 readers.
Adam has featured on Smart Company’s Hot 30 Under 30 and the Dynamic Business 2010 Young Guns lists of young entrepreneurs.
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Or you can read the entire transcript of Adam’s interview here:
INGRID: Hello Adam and welcome. You’ve got an established business now, this isn’t actually your first business is it Adam?
ADAM: Technically it is my first business, I started it in 2005 and have continued with the same thing for over 10 years now. I’ve had a couple of side distractions here and there, nothing major, but this was my first proper business.
INGRID: OK. So you said that was in 2005. And did it become a business straight away or was it something you kind of eased into?
ADAM: Well No, we just went headfirst into it. I just got back from overseas, and my business partner Toby also got back from overseas. He was at the Athens Olympic Games and we have been mates since Grade 1. I went to see him at the Olympics and we both got back to Australia and we thought what do we want to do? We didn’t want to get a job and we always wanted to run a business. So we were just looking at about 5 or 6 business options and given that we’d both been travelling and had no money, we basically decided to start a website design business. Not because we were technical, because we weren’t, mostly be because we thought the internet was here to stay and everyone needs a website, and more importantly, there were zero barriers to entry. Meaning that with barely any money we could get started and run a business. So that is how we got started.
INGRID: So in fact you knew that your customers wanted what you were offering. The fact that you didn’t know how to make what the customers wanted didn’t stop you?
ADAM: No (laughs) it didn’t stop us. In fact we didn’t even know they wanted it, we just assumed they wanted websites because they needed them, they should want them. But the reality was that Tobes and I pounded the pavement literally walking around the hot spots of Ashgrove and other suburbs of Brisbane knocking on doors and saying this is Adam and Toby and do you need a website? And they would say, ‘no we are all right thanks.’ No joke we did that for 2 or 3 weeks with no nibbles whatsoever. So we didn’t know there was a demand, we just hoped there was. And we gradually refined and improved our sales and marketing technique over time, but it was certainly a long slog at the start with no real nibbles.
INGRID: Adam, just on that, what kept you going over those few weeks, when you had in the back of your head that this was a good idea, and you weren’t getting any nibbles?
ADAM: Laughs. Good question. We have always been persistent, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, we knew what we were signing ourselves up for, and we knew if we can just get that first sale the 2nd sale would be easier, and the 3rd sale would be easier. I think it was about 4 or 5 weeks, maybe 6 weeks, and we got our first sale. And it was 2 months pre-paid and a 12 month payment plan, so it was $180 or something, our very first cheque. And we thought, phew, its taken us 6 weeks to get this, surely its not going to be as hard to get the next sale and we will build some momentum from there. And of course when you are starting you all enthusiastic and you are loving it and this is great, we’ve got our business.
But to be fair, in the first week, we went down to Smart Licence in Spring Hill in Brisbane which is where you go to register businesses, and we thought we were in a proper business, which is what we wanted for ages, and we thought we have our own business we can do whatever we want. So we went on a 10 day road trip down the coast to surf to celebrate being business owners, and of course no clients no revenue or anything like that, but we were a business and we celebrated that milestone with a road trip. And then we came back of course, and thought, what are we going to do now?
INGRID: That is such a gorgeous story (laughs.). A 10 day road trip for your first 10 days in business. That’s really lovely. So getting your first client and building the expansion, how did you fund those early days?
ADAM: Well we funded the business, the first payment was $180 for domain name and to get hosting for our domain name, and we didn’t even have a website ourselves, so we were pounding the pavement knocking on doors selling websites and we didn’t even have one ourselves. So the most important thing from those early days or so our mentors told us, was that we needed sales and customers get some money into the business, then when you have money you can get a website later down the track. But most importantly a business needs sales and revenue or it’s just a hobby. We were focussed on what we needed to do, and we knew what we needed to do. It would have been a lot more fun to play around with business cards and a website, but of course we had no money so we needed to go out and bring in the business.
INGRID: Hmm, so there’s a lot of people who do angel funding and venture capital they say to people if your customers aren’t prepared to fund your business, then why would we? So if you actually can’t get customers buying your products then how do we know there is a product to buy? This is quite a good example of that. If the customers aren’t buying it, there is no business.
ADAM: Hmmm, and we have always been bootstrapped and never had any outside funding and we’ve always been funded from customers. There was something else, it made sense when Seth Godin said it but if you are taking money from investors or other people you’ve got to pay them back or give them equity in the business, but if you take money from customers you get to keep it and you don’t have to pay it back. They get their product or service and you get to kept the money and not pay it back.
INGRID: And you can do what you like in your business and you don’t have a percentage of influence from other people who could then start to dictate the direction.
ADAM: Yes, well that’s right. When we went to get into business and this question might be coming up, but in order to live the life and create the life we’ve always wanted, not to have a boss and it was a deliberate decision not to go down that path. Because if you get an investor in you are essentially getting a boss and that wasn’t the business model we were after personal.
INGRID: Is there anything kind of looking back now on 2005 2006 is there anything you wish you’d done differently from the beginning?
ADAM: No, No. We went into it knowing we knew nothing about business, because we’d never done it before. And we knew nothing about the web, even though we knew the internet, or hoped the internet would be here to stay. But we didn’t know, it was an assumption. So we knew we had everything to learn and came from a point of knowing nothing. So we’ve always gone from a point of a thirst for learning, and for finding mentors, and for really taking action and seeing what actually works in reality. So I don’t think there is any ‘I wish I knew back then’ because it was all part of the fun and part of the adventure, and we knew what we were signing up for. That it wouldn’t be easy, 9 out of 10 businesses fail, all those stats. And going into business with a good mate the chances were we wouldn’t be good mates after a period of time, but what we decided not to take any of that to heart or on board, we went about it our way, and do it as 2 mates in business and learn. And that was going to be part of the adventure.
INGRID: Hmm, one of my questions was going to be, who has been, apart from yourself, and apart from Toby and you, you said you had mentors and always had a learning attitude, has there been any one or two people who have had actually had a great impact on you? Either tell me who they are, or not, but just in terms of the sense of what they actually did, and how they actually gave you assistance.
ADAM: Sure, I’d have to say our mentors, and there are a handful of them at various points of time over our business journey they’ve helped in numerous ways. But to be more specific then that, I think in the early days a lot of our mentors prefer to keep a low profile.
ADAM: But Mike O’Hagan, he doesn’t mind the limelight (laughs), and he’s definitely been one of our most valuable mentors. He’s been really good cause we didn’t know him before we started. A lot of our mentors we’ve known from our growing up network or whatever, through sport, or something else we knew before. But Mike was someone we met after we’d started our business journey and it was really good to have him as a mentor because in the early days of a business, particularly when you’ve never run one before, you get a lot of well intentioned advice from family and friends, even though they’ve never actually run a business themselves.
ADAM: They would say things like you can’t start a web design business if you don’t know how to design a website. Or you can’t ….all these reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t. And it’s well intentioned they are looking out for you, but they aren’t people in a position where we’d like to be in a business sense. So when we heard Mike speak at this event, he really spoke our language and his philosophy and he runs a company called MiniMovers a short distance furniture removalist. He’s never moved or lifted a piece of furniture in his life. He’s passionate about being an entrepreneur business owner and he said if you don’t know the technical skills of what you are doing you can’t get trapped into being a technician. So all of a sudden, we were going, yeah awesome because everyone is telling us the business is doomed because we can’t program. Whereas Mike is saying your business is good because you can’t program. You can now focus on learning how to become a business owner, and learning how to market and grow the business as opposed to writing code. And so that was a real revelation for us because it sort of validated that we were on the right path. And it also validated to always appreciate advice you are given, but a lot of its free advice, from people who you haven’t actually asked for it from, so you need to be selective as to whose advice you take on board. And if its someone who is doing what you aspire to do, then that is a very good person to listen to. And Mike O’Hagan has been a very valuable mentor for that reason alone.
INGRID: And that is a very good point Adam cause what you are saying there, is quite the opposite to what we often hear when people are going into business say, which is ‘pick something you are passionate about’ so then what do you say to that question? You’re not passionate about coding, or understanding that side of the business and mikes not passionate about lifting tables in the right way, so what is the passion there that drives you and kept you going in those early weeks, and a business where you don’t understand the technical side? Do you understand the question?
ADAM: Yeah totally, totally. I’m passionate about running a business.
ADAM: And owning a business. That is what Toby and I have been passionate about and wanted to do. So the passion for me is building this business and creating this lifestyle and learning how to market run and hire people and manage teams and all those things, its not the nitty gritty of the coding and the website company. And actually over the last 10 years we’ve evolved quite a bit from a website company to a marketing and education company.
INGRID: Now you said, I’m going to follow another line of questioning, you said an approach you had was that you always wanted to learn and always wanting to take on new information, if that’s a characteristic that’s important to you, do you think that’s something important for people who are starting a business?
ADAM: Yes, but only if you then take action with it. See learning is a very easy way to procrastinate and delay having to make uncomfortable decision, like leave your job or start a business. You are never going to have all your ducks in a row and you are never going to have as much information as you feel you need, you just got to take a leap of faith and take a plunge without knowing every single possible scenario. I think the analogy is like if you can drive from Brisbane to Sydney, you know where you want to go, but you can only see as far as the headlights show you. You just have to have fait that you will be able to work it out once you go, but you are never going to know the exact path. So learning is very important but then you have to put into action. So you have to read a book and then implement it and see what works.
INGRID: And see what works. What other characteristics, you talked about tenacity and your drive, and your ability to take 10 days off at the beginning, but what are some of the other characteristics that make you successful in business?
ADAM: Well I think definitely persistence. Its such a rollercoaster ride, any business, cash flow wise, managing people, like you are getting knocked down and kicked in the guts and you have to get up and do it again, and to do it year on year off over a decade, a lot of it is persistence. Always at the same time, celebrating the milestones and enjoying the journey. Just like going on a road trip at the beginning in the first week. That was a milestone for us, and not forgetting to stop and celebrate as you go. And looking back and reflecting on what you’ve done and how it matches up with what you set out to do. But I think the real key with Blue Wire and our business journey so far has been having Toby as a business partner because I don’t know how you could do it on your own. It could be quite a lonely and isolated place being a sole business owner, but doing it with your best mate has just been awesome fun. The highs are better and the lows are manageable because you have someone there to talk it through.
INGRID: And a lot of people think they have to do it alone don’t they? Are you two partners in the same business?
INGRID: Because a lot of people aren’t sure how to go about doing that sort of thing.
ADAM: Yeah well we didn’t either, we just took a best guess and thought we trust each other, we are mates, and lets just give this a shot. We just went 50-50 and it went from there and it hasn’t been much more complicated. Other then the fact that we have this document we’ve nicknamed ‘the divorce agreement’, which covers the 4 D’s – death, disability, departure and disagreement. So if anything happens between Toby and myself we have this document. Its not extensive or comprehensive, its just a couple of pages that says what happens in situations so we know we have a violent disagreement about an aspect of the business we take it to an agreed upon mentor and we then trust in their decision and their verdict and we are happy to wear that. Knowing what happens in a worst case scenario and defining that has made it very, well avoided us even having to go down that path, but its handy to know its there.
INGRID: Was that drawn up by somebody legally, or did you sit down and drawer it up with one of your mentors.
ADAM: First time, it was drawn up on our own. Legal fees weren’t something we particularly could afford but now it’s all a lot more properly legally documented.
INGRID: Its got more rigour around it.
ADAM: Yeah yeah.
INGRID: Just to….you are 10 years in business Adam, you said its 10 years since you started, what’s an average day like for you now?
ADAM: Well a days….(laughs).
INGRID: We know you live near the beach so you are allowed to include bits of that.
ADAM: (Laughs). Well I got into business for the lifestyle you see so …everybody’s got a different objective.
INGRID: Yes yes.
ADAM: Some people want to go out and make a billion dollar start up and change the world in that respect. I certainly wanted a big impact with what I do, but I also got into this from day dot to have a lifestyle that I enjoy and that I can create. So take today for example, I got up and went to boxing training at 5.15am in the rain but then came back and went to bed and slept till 930 or 10am and today I’ve been on a number of podcasts and that’s been a really enjoyable day. Other things I particularly like about having my own business, is that one of the two rituals I really like is Monday morning sleep in and then taking Fridays off. And so, typically people in a corporate job often whinge, “man its Monday morning I wish I didn’t have to go to work”. So I have that option and I keep Monday mornings free in my calendar – I often get up and go for a surf anyway but it’s just that luxury of saying I’ve built this business, I’ve built this lifestyle, so I can take that luxury. And with taking Friday’s off that was something that Tobes and I put into practice probably in 2009 2010 and that’s….. taking the day off technically I don’t do client meetings or anything like that, but very often it’s a great day to read and think and go surfing together. We often talk a lot about business and we move forward, but its also time to think and reflect. Its not difficult to take Fridays off, its pretty easy, but there was some feeling of guilt at the start, surely should I be shuffling through emails or cold calling people harder to get better results. But I’ve often found taking a step back and reflecting often leads to bigger breakthroughs, rather then feeling this compulsion that we work harder and spin the wheels faster.
INGRID: And do you take holidays as well? Do you take a week off or a month off at a time.
ADAM: Yeah, I took a couple of months off last year, maybe 4 overseas holidays and two of them were a month long. And of course I’m not unplugged, I’m not completely switched off, I’m still running the business. Which is the beauty of technology these days, and being able to work remotely. I’m still maintaining the marketing schedule and sending the Blue Wire newsletters and everything, or I’m living in Bali or travelling around NZ were the two examples from last year. So I’m not unplugged, but I love it because I can still take holidays and still keep the business ticking over, and have a great time in the process.
INGRID: And that is what a lot of people dream off isn’t it? As you say that’s why a lot of people start their own business. Just one last question Adam, if someone came to you who had a business idea, what would you say to them? Would you encourage them? What would you say to someone who is thinking of starting a business?
ADAM: It’s a difficult one because it’s bloody hard work, and there’s been some real, you know, not sleepless nights, but some heart stopping financial situations. You’ve really got to be all in – and not everybody comes out unscathed. There’s been a lot of friends and peers in my industry over the last 10 years who have been just as committed and put just as much time and money in it, and they have not made it through. So in those situations I would not blindly encourage everyone to go down this path, I think definitely there are tonnes of rewards, but also be aware of what you are signing up for and know there will be lots of difficult times financially more then likely. And know in advance where you will draw the line. I went into this single, and no family and no house, or anything like that. It would be a different situation – and I was happy to put everything I had into it. Whereas it would be a different story if I had a couple of houses and a family and people dependent on me it would be a different situation and I’ve have to draw a different line in the sand.
But at the start we were happy to put everything we had in it at the time, which wasn’t that much to be honest, but we were happy to put it all on the line for it. But when times get tough you don’t necessarily think rationally, so when you have bills, for example the tax department, and you are looking at what’s in the bank and you think you can’t afford it, but if you don’t pay it by Friday you will be insolvent or out of business, that’s pretty scary stuff. And you aren’t thinking so rationally then, so having that line in the sand I’m happy to have every last penny I’ve got, or this is where I draw the line, I wont mortgage the house or sell all my shares or whatever, there’s got to be some predetermined point where….
INGRID: And it sounds like what you are saying is that the pressure points come from cash flow? I haven’t heard you say you couldn’t find a designer to build a website or a technician to do the job to be done, but your pressure point is cash.
INGRID: And from my experience working with many people for years in business that is the number one crunch, and its interesting you say about being young and single, Steve Alexander, who runs an incubator in Brisbane Riverlands he says the same thing, he encourages young people….. and before people get lots of commitments, its much much easier to commit to a business. And he’s talking particularly about tech start-ups. It’s an interesting phase in life to take that on, whereas later there is so much more responsibility attached to it.
ADAM: Yeah I can only speak of my own experience and it depends on how you look at it too. When you are older you have more money and more experience and probably more confidence going in, but I can’t talk to that because I haven’t been in that situation myself. I certainly found I had nothing to lose going into it at that age, but it is difficult and cash is the thing and the oxygen of your business. If you are out of cash you are out of business. It’s like finding designers, its difficult and important and everything, but without cash you’re out of business.
INGRID: And faced with an ATO bill next weeks wages and the electricity and all of that has to be paid, and there’s no money in the bank, managing that cash is tricky.
ADAM: It is, it is. And that also helps you work out what is the most important thing you are managing that day and if that means calling up and closing deals or chasing cash from people who owe you money, or getting another invoice out there, it really helps you focus on what you need to do. But cash is definitely something that is super important to manage.
INGRID: Adam thank you, and the next 10 years are you staying in this business or do you see it morphing into something else?
ADAM: I love it so I intend to be doing this for the next 10 years at least. I think other businesses tend to be distractions. I am loving what I do and the momentum its getting and the opportunities it presents, id love to be taking this marketing framework that we’ve worked on and refined and getting it out into entrepreneurs hands, start up hands, and getting that marketing IP out there in the market place and try to be of value to as many marketing people as I can.
INGRID: And I think one of the things that I find about your business is you are enormously generous with what you provide and I’ll certainly be putting the links at the of this podcast making sure people can access all the amazing value that you give, completely for free. And you’ve got your amazing service, the marketing, the IP and the value that you provide to your clients and your customers is amazing. I thank you for your time today and we’ll sign off there.
ADAM: Thank you so much Ingrid and for having me on the call, I really appreciate it.
INGRID: Thanks Adam. Thanks.