It’s a common story: An entrepreneur has an idea and excitedly starts a business. He or she gathers developers, customer service staff and more, while marketing is a low priority.
Then, that entrepreneur asks: I have this team that can perform this great service or produce this great product, why am I not getting sales? Why isn’t the website getting hits to generate sales leads?
Enter Phil Laboon, a serial entrepreneur and investor, who owns Eyeflow Internet Marketing and seven limited liability corporations. He’s also the president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Young Entrepreneur Council.
“Entrepreneurism has been my thing,” he says. “I went to a two-year school, and I graduated in one year and right away started my business. So, I was 19 years old when I first started my company.”
Eyeflow may be Laboon’s bread and butter, but he spends a lot of time investing sweat equity and funds for profit share in other companies.
He gets an offer every few weeks to join a company because of his expertise in marketing. Often, marketing wasn’t factored in and sales don’t materialize as expected.
“They start scrambling, but there’s no money left, typically,” Laboon, the company’s CEO says. “When they built the business plan, marketing was seriously underestimated. So, what they do is approach us or myself, and they offer us equity, in turn for us to do the work.
“I understand why people do it. You want to make sure the company runs, as far as you can handle the work and build a better mousetrap, but if you don’t have marketing, you’re just dead in the water,” he says.
Rise above the fold
Entrepreneurs are passionate about their ideas. They love how the new trumps the old way, but a few obstacles stand in their way, Laboon says. How do you share your message with the public, and how do you market and brand it so that it will become accepted?
It’s hard to be heard above the noise, especially in the digital realm where so many startups operate.
“That’s a huge problem that companies have. There’s more and more people going online, so how do you even compete?” Laboon says.
Business owners will post on Facebook and nothing happens, so they say Facebook is useless.
The key is to funnel your social engagement equity and build online authority with search engines and social media to rise above the fold, he says. Also, monitor that equity and authority to ensure your competitors aren’t indexing you out of Google or taking your Web traffic.
Utilize your digital assets
Laboon preaches the online route because it’s cheaper, more organic and a growing, untapped marketing medium.
As fewer people engage with newspapers, TV commercials and radio, those marketing engines get more expensive. The owners charge more for fewer ears.
Entrepreneurs must understand what makes their product different and better, and then use digital assets to get exposure. Laboon says you don’t need to follow a cookie-cutter plan. Use infographics, downloadable e-books, imagery, etc., to catch people’s attention.
For example, while practicing what it preaches, during the last presidential campaign Eyeflow tracked search engine optimization to determine which candidate was doing better from a search engine perspective. The resulting infographic went viral and was picked up by the Associated Press.
But Laboon recognizes online marketing is still new. In fact, everyone in his company has a degree in something other than online marketing.
“We all kind of fall into this industry,” he says.
After he graduated from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute with a degree in video game design, Laboon couldn’t find a job and became the personal assistant of a CEO. He made a deal where if he built the company a website, he’d get a percentage of sales.
“I ended up killing it and making more than any of the sales people at the company who had been around for 40 years,” Laboon says. “That got me hooked, and that’s how a lot of people in our industry (get started).”
Signs of success
When you get multiple investment inquires, it’s important to pick the right companies, which starts with an attention-grabbing idea.
“The idea has to get me a little bit — I think that’s the first thing that pulls me. And then I get to know the company,” he says.
Laboon needs to feel confident in the management because that’s where so many companies fail.
During the months of negotiations, he learns about the business and gauges the decision-making team. He knows he’ll be involved, so he’ll have more of a pulse than an angel investor.
His latest project is WowHire!, a job search app where companies watch a one-minute video of the job candidate. It was developed at Carnegie Mellon University.
“When I was first approached with WowHire!, it just made sense. That’s something I would use, and then I did research and saw no one else did anything like it,” Laboon says. “And then I met with the partner, who came up with the idea and the concept. He seemed very solid and had a good business plan built — so we moved forward.”