The owner of one of Britain’s biggest price comparison websites, Broadband.co.uk, has revealed to Siteopia and their online business advice blog how ‘an element of luck’ helped him launch the business.
Edd Dawson left his job as a software engineer at Derby University in 2004 to join a digital web agency.
A couple of years earlier, the firm’s owners had plucked the name Broadband.co.uk out of thin air and registered it as a limited company, unaware the term was soon to become synonymous with home-based Internet access.
By the time the web design part of the company was sold to a London advertising agency in 2005, ‘broadband’ was beginning to become a buzz-word in the world of communications.
It was around that time that Edd and wife Fiona noticed the company was being flooded with calls from members of the public inquiring about broadband services.
Punters were calling up, having searched the fledgling web and found the company’s name, believing they were the suppliers of broadband.
Realising the potential, Edd and Fiona bought the name from their previous employers and set about trying to come up with a viable business idea.
After settling on a broadband price comparison site, Edd and Fiona took out a small firm loan guarantee to use for advertising costs and had the site built.
Now it attracts around one million customers a year and is considered the people’s champion on broadband deals- Edd and Fiona have used the booming site, which they both now work on, as a springboard to to set up a string of other websites and businesses.
Edd of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, said:
“It was actually a complete accident, a happy accident if you like.
”That and a bit of great thinking from my wife. She spotted the potential in the number of people contacting the company.
“She sometimes reminds me it was her idea, but we make a great team. I always remind her she might have struggled to set it all up without me, but it’s all light-hearted.
”One of the first challenges was how to generate an income from it as we hadn’t heard of affiliate marketing at the time, but we soon figured that one out.
”The second was assuming that the broadband providers would be happy to log into our site and keep their details up to date for us, we built a CMS and secure back end for them to use and then none of them ever did.
”With hindsight it’s quite obvious that this would happen, we were just a bit naive at the time.
”We realised that we couldn’t just be a one trick pony and rely on our initial success with broadband.co.uk to keep us forever, so we now have a holding company that we use to invest in other ventures, some which we own outright, others that are joint ventures with others.
”We now have interests in areas covering affiliate marketing, e-commerce, drop shipping, SEO and consultancy.
”Thinking back, I don’t have any regrets about anything we did and I certainly don’t dwell on anything.
”I like to think we have learned from every decision we have made.
”The worst thing is often to do nothing when we have come up with an idea or an opportunity has arisen- then find out someone else has beaten you to it.”
Edd graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in computer science and software engineering in 1997 and started off his career as a software engineer.
He worked in the higher education sector for a few years before moving into the commercial world working agency side, ending up as Technical Director for a large London agency.
A few years back he moved onto working for himself and has since built up a number of successful businesses- Edd’s first internet venture was the development of broadband.co.uk.
During his time as a successful businessman he has noticed a number of changes in online marketing, including the barriers to entry becoming higher and higher.
”A decade ago there were few major players in many sectors which meant that starting from scratch you had far fewer competitors, PPC was cheaper, competition in the SERPs was much less and there were far fewer brands, it was easy to grow quickly and cheaply.
”That’s changed now, as the early online companies are now mature brands and all the established offline brands have now also moved online – the space is much more crowded.
”There are a number of challenges we face now. The need to diversify traffic sources away from being Google reliant. Google are now taking more and more real estate for themselves and adverts as well as the much more frequent algorithm changes makes it much more of a challenge to gain traffic from them.
”Aside from the obvious problem of having all your eggs in one basket if you rely on Google for 90% or more of your visitors, diversification allows you to build a more stable income stream for your business.
”With our e-commerce sites the greatest challenge is differentiating yourself from your competitors- everyone is a discounter now so you can’t just attack on price- you need to wow people with fantastic customer service.
”We’ve been concentrating on a couple of aspects over the past couple of years that are really starting to bear fruit now.
”The first is conversion rate optimisation (CRO), making sure we test our sites and our assumptions to ensure that we squeeze the most value out of every visitor.
”It’s the simplest way of growing revenue and profitability without the need to grow traffic.
”Secondly, with our e-commerce sites, we have invested a lot in building relationships with our customers to turn as many as possible into not only repeat business but also advocates for our brands online.
”It’s important to look beyond the initial cost of acquisition and more at the lifetime value of a customer.”
Discussing his favourite online acquisition method, Edd said:
”I am still a big fan of SEO at heart as once you’ve got yourself ranking in the search engines then the cost of acquisition falls dramatically; however it’s a slow burn to get there.
”We now utilise PPC to accelerate a customer base when starting a new site, with SEO being the longer term acquisition plan.”
Edd believes the possible break-up of Google’s ‘monopoly’ is the next big thing for the web.
”The break-up of Google by the FTC. Google’s position is becoming so dominant now and the secondary economic effects that their actions can have are huge, and these effects are only going to grow as more and more trade moves online.
”Add into the mix the fact that Google are continuing to use more real estate to push their own sites (such as YouTube) at the expense of third parties and I just don’t see how the regulators can ignore it for much longer.”
Edd concluded by passing on some business tips for people considering starting an online business.
”I would say don’t be afraid to change your plans midstream. Starting with a business plan is great, but in many cases once you get going you discover that the assumptions that you based the plan on were incorrect.
”It’s important to recognise when this happens and change the business to meet the actual conditions you face when underway.
”A great example would be one venture we are involved with that started out as a self-storage aggregator.
”We soon discovered that people weren’t as keen on buying storage space online as we had hoped, but we did discover that they were happy to buy cardboard boxes online, so we pivoted the business to concentrate on cardboard box sales.”
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