It wasnt that long ago when Ed Skimin saw only a few stray hands raised in the air after asking a room full of business leaders how many had ever used the World Wide Web. But there was never any shortage of hands when it came to asking questions about the technology, with issues ranging from security worries to the benefits available on the Internet.
I did a lot of presentations, a lot of speeches, to anyone who would let me talk about it, says Skimin, co-founder and president of Elyria-based Emerge. There were a lot of businesses asking me what were the opportunities, what were the threats.
When Skimin founded Emerge in 1997 with his brother, Mike, they ran the company out of two spare bedrooms in Skimins house. They had one client, one computer and no solid business plan not exactly the ingredients for success. But since then, the company has developed more than 100 Web sites for Lorain County business owners, moved its offices to downtown Elyria and launched a community Web site that attracts thousands of hits each week.
But getting off the ground wasnt easy. Besides the usual cash flow issues that all start-ups face, the duo faced a more challenging obstacle: convincing skeptical local business owners that the new technology would help, rather than hurt, them. Because of this, Skimin says he and Mike decided on Day One that they would need to follow four rules to better their chances of success.
- Grow intellectual capital rather than depend on financial capital.
Since they launched Emerge on a shoestring budget, the Skimins were forced to start small. They were cautious not to take on too many clients, and instead, strategically sought out companies that wanted the type of Web sites that would also help them learn the industry.
At first, we worked more hours than we would ever charge for or admit to, says Skimin. Money isnt everything in our business. Intellectual capital was more important. Our reasoning was, the more we know, the more business well eventually be able to go after.
- Be ready to change.
When clients started asking how to increase hits on their Web sites, the Skimins devised a profitable solution. They launched www.loraincounty.com, which provides links to every business Web site in the county. The site is packed with local news, weather forecasts, discussion groups and a restaurant guide, all of which is designed to increase traffic. While it diverted some of the Skimins time away from Web site design, the increased advertising revenue and site sponsorships have made the temporary business detour beneficial.
At first, I think we were worried the Internet wouldnt catch on fast enough, especially in Lorain County, says Skimin. The local market Web sites are only really beginning to develop. Weve seen our Web site just skyrocket during the past four or five months.
- Treat customers like partners
Each month, the Skimins provide clients with reports that detail how many people are visiting their sites. Skimin says that helps them decide whether theyre getting the results from their Web site that they want.
Id rather they know about it than keep paying me money and get frustrated down the road, he says. At the same time, if their Web site is starting to work and more people are going there, lets capitalize on that and make the next step with their site.
Maintain a focus
Skimin hires outside companies to host the Web sites they design in an attempt to focus on designing better and more advanced sites. The company even designed a software program that allows clients to change the content of their sites. And although it may be giving away an additional source of revenue, Skimin says he does not want the business to get bogged down with routine maintenance.
It was probably pretty selfish on our part, because we didnt want to be overloaded with maintenance work, says Skimin. When there were just three of us, we didnt want to be doing that. Even though we could have earned a good amount of money working on it, we didnt want to be so busy that we didnt keep up with the changes of the Internet.
How to reach: Emerge, (440) 284-4949 or www.emergeinc.com
Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Cleveland.