This week I'm sharing with you Steffi Lewis's story of how she developed a little project designed to help her existing clients into a whole new business ...
Whilst she certainly needed her own skills in software development, she attributes the success to the involvement of key people in her network. I'll leave it to Steffi to tell you the story in her own words.
At the back end of the pandemic, I was looking for a coding project to get me back into the groove for the new year. I've been developing my digital marketing platform (blogging, social & mailers) for over 10 years and creating a contact manager had been something I've tried before, but was never happy with releasing to my clients.
"I thought I'd give it another go!"
I spend a few weeks coding and was happy with my initial results. I was deep in thought at my computer one afternoon when my best friend Kirsty Parris of Andromeda Business Consulting dropped by for a coffee.
She knew I was working on something as I'd mentioned it previously, but never explained in depth what it was. She asked to see my new 'contact manager module' and I was at a point where I was happy to show her the core of what I was working on.
Now, Kirsty is a very shrewd business coach and immediately saw the benefits of what I was doing. "I want that!" she announced. "Huh? What do you mean?" I replied. "Well, I want to use it. I need a place to organise all of my contacts and keep track of my conversations with them. Your system will do all that for me … so I want it!" I had to explain to her that it was built into my digital marketing platform so only clients who blogged with me could use it.
"No, you don't understand Steffi", she continued, "Make it work for me and I'll pay you for it!". Well, there was a little ping sound in my brain that changed everything. I hadn't considered that anyone apart from my blogging clients would want to use it.
"That started me thinking that maybe other small business owners would want to use it too?"
So, with Kirsty being a business coach, we had a conversation about how I could do it. It would need to stand alone from my digital marketing platform. Subscribers would need a login page and a ton of security just to get into their data, then their contacts would need to be organised into different sections, there'd need to be a quick search tool, the ability to take extensive notes and different ways to connect and reach out to everyone a subscriber knew. Oh, and how would I handle actual subscriptions? What would I charge?
And that started a 2-year journey to creating a full-blown SaaS business. SaaS stands for 'Software as a Service' and if you think of Microsoft offering email and Office on a monthly subscription or online bookkeeping software like Sage, Quickbooks or Xero you'll be in the right place. It needed a snappy name, a website where you could sign-up, a free trial and a few killer tools to make it really appealing as something more than just a simple database.
I was a member of BNI at the time and booked a workshop about visitor inviting. The speaker was someone who was very good at inviting visitors, but he told us that he spent 10 hours a week searching Google, visiting websites, adding contact details to a spreadsheet then sending the people he found emails. 10 hours a week! And this was a professional earning £200 per hour. Surely there was a better way?
"And I figured out that better way!"
I integrated Google My Business into my platform and now my subscribers can grab the details of hundreds of potential new business clients from across the UK in just a few minutes rather than in 10 hours. It was great getting that to work, although I had a few arguments with the aforementioned search engine about accessing their data. I found a solution to that too.
The final part of the killer features came after around a year. I'd built something called 'custom emails' which meant you could quickly create a personalise email template and use it for multiple contacts with just a few clients. Of course, as each email went via a subscriber's own mail client such as Gmail or Outlook there was no tracking, and if you wanted to send 10 messages, you had to create 10 emails and then send them individually. OK, it was only a few clicks per email, but imagine scaling that process up to 1,000 contacts.
I took everything I learned sending mailers for my blogging clients and created a new HTML mailing list module for my little personal contact manager with all the extra features I'd been meaning to add, but never got around to. Any mailer my contact manager creates should score 10 out of 10 against Spam Assassin, so that's cool and you can track sends, opens, clicks and unsubscribes too.
Recently, I rebranded the contact manager. It's called YourPCM now, which is short for 'Your Personal Contact Manager'. Even though it is a CRM, I wanted to keep that differentiation. Also, it's designed exclusively for UK small business owners so I can offer them a great deal of support and training when needed.
With the mainstream CRMs you have knowledgebases to search through, and chatbots to navigate and if you do submit a support request, you can wait days and for a response that may not actually be that helpful. In the meantime, you're stuck with a broken CRM.
The key to YourPCM is that we're a small business, our subscribers are small businesses, and we all succeed by building relationships. If my subscribers need help, they just pick up the phone or send me an email. If it's more than just a quick question, I can jump on Zoom and show them a solution, directly in their own copy of YourPCM.
The future is bright with YourPCM now. I'm focusing on building my subscriber base in 2023. When I hit enough subscribers (I'm not saying how many that is) I'm working with my accountant Roger Eddowes of Essendon Accounts & Tax to spin out YourPCM into a separate limited company and look for seed funding to start growing the business to the next stage.
It's always great to have support from experts and I've learned so much from Jacky over the years I've been blogging for her. I could easily see her on my board, sharing more of her wisdom with me.
The importance of networking has been instilled in me from the day I started blogging for her, and building a strong team around me will see me succeed. 2023 is going to be a challenging year for us all, but I know I'll hit my subscriber targets this year with help from experts like Jacky, Roger and Kirsty.
Has my little post-pandemic coding project turned into a million-dollar idea? I'm certainly going to put all my effort into finding out!
As one of Steffi's subscribers I've been using YourPCM for a while. What I really like about it is that I can adapt the features to work in the highly personalised way I like to work.
I've also enjoyed being able to see her very quickly make adaptations from the direct feedback from those of us using it. It has been very much a two-way exercise and a lovely example of the extra value investing in your business network can give.
My advice to you is if you've got a germ of an idea or an improvement you'd like to see in your business, share it with your trusted network of advisors and it might turn out to be a bigger opportunity than you thought.
Until next time ...