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How a College Student Transformed a $4,000 Bill Into $40,000 Profit a Month

For the month of February, we’re talking all about college student entrepreneurs. Our 4-part series looks at four very different businesses started by studentpreneurs and the key takeaways that can help you in your business. Questions? Suggestions? Want us to feature your business? Drop us a line! anna [at] atxwebdesigns [dot] com.

Who: Zaid Al-Quraishy

What: Online Courses

Where: University College Dublin

The Problem: He wanted to grow his online business.

The Solution: He started selling his online courses on Udemy.

Zaid Al-Quraishy was a college student and entrepreneur when, one day, his car broke down. Repairing it would cost $4,000. Though his online business had generated enough money for him to buy the car, it wasn’t enough to allow him to repair it. He was stuck.

Al-Quraishy is an “ethical hacker”. He isn’t out to take down websites, steal money, or otherwise harm people through the web. Mostly his courses teach how to test security of certain technologies and protect against malicious attacks.

Through his own website, he offered ethical hacking courses for Arabic speakers. He had an archive of videos and materials that had been supporting his student expenses. When his car broke down, a friend suggested he try offering his courses on Udemy. The only catch was: they would have to be in English.

So, he translated his courses and the supplementary materials into English. Then, made more even courses to put on Udemy. What could have been an enormous hassle turned out to be a lucrative opportunity.

He currently offers 8 courses that range in price from $10 to almost $200.

The best part is: he doesn’t have to run any of it. Udemy allows him to not only offer his courses to a (much) wider audience but in showing reviews, ratings, and numbers of students, also does a good chunk of the marketing for him.

He’s had over 130,000 students (and at a minimum of $10 per class, we’d say he’s done all right). Side Hustle School reports he brings in $40,000 per month (all right, indeed).

Top 3 Lessons and Takeaways:

1. Do Your Best, Outsource the Rest. Al-Quraishy grew his business by focusing on his strengths, creating great courses, and outsourcing the rest. Now instead of spending time and energy on the technical aspects of delivering the courses, on marketing and customer service, he can focus on building and improving his courses.

2. Capitalize on What you Know. Al-Quraishy knew all about hacking and was able to package his knowledge in a way that was accessible to others. You don’t have to take a class or learn a new skill to start a business. What are you already good at? What do you already know a lot about? Start there. Then, go back and read #1.

3. Make Passive Income. It’s what every entrepreneur aims for, but not everyone can make money in their sleep. Al-Quraishy’s business was already generating passive income, and he scaled up in a major way by migrating to Udemy (and outsourced a lot of the hassle). If you’re already making passive income, how can you increase efficiency (like adopting a new system or platform) to maximize your profit?

newlywed

How a Newlywed With a Performing Arts Degree Beat Out Bank of America and Transformed the Blogosphere

For the month of February, we’re talking all about college student entrepreneurs. Our 4-part series looks at four very different businesses started by studentpreneurs and the key takeaways that can help you in your business. Questions? Suggestions? Want us to feature your business? Drop us a line! anna [at] atxwebdesigns [dot] com.

Who: Naomi Davis

What: Lovetaza.com (originally called The Rockstar Diaries)

Where: The Juilliard School

The Problem: Wanted to connect with her friends and family thousands of miles away.

The Solution: Started a blog and regularly posted life updates.

Naomi Davis was a lifestyle blogger before lifestyle blogging was even a category, back when blog titles (including hers) still had “blogspot” in the url. In 2007, she was in her final year at Juilliard in New York City and newly married to her husband Josh. She started her blog to keep in touch with friends and family back in Utah, but it quickly reached a much larger audience.

The blogosphere then looked much different than it does today. Instead of beautifully designed websites featuring styled photos by professional photographers (and an assembly of advertisements down the sidebar), blogs were little more than internet journals. They were personal, reflecting one’s personal tastes and preferences because blogs hadn’t yet become synonymous with brands and marketing. Davis’ reflected her talent for design, and early on showcased an appealing aesthetic. Take a look at this archived page from January 2010. Everyone on it is beautiful and happy, and everything featured is beautiful and stylish.

So of course it became a smash hit. Mr. Davis, a Columbia graduate, had a successful career in banking. He was Vice President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch before leaving to work full-time managing the blog (which by 2014 had become a thriving business) and related projects, including creative video, fashion and product collaboration with top brands. In 2017, Forbes named her on their list of Top 10 Parenting Influencers.

No official word on how much the blog brings in each year, but if living in a 3-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is any indication, the business is pretty successful.

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Top 3 Lessons and Takeaways:

1. Do you. Love Taza (Davis’ blog and brand) has flourished because of Davis’ distinctive tastes. In her blog’s early years, she also ran an Etsy shop which sold headbands. Now her blog regularly features fashion, home decorating, makeup, kids style, art, design, photography and videography. Most striking, perhaps, is her penchant for mixing bright colors–like on their walls, as well as in both their former living room (with the bright yellow piano) and their current living room. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. It’s what will set you apart from everyone else.

2. Sometimes It’s Nice to Have a Break. Years ago, Salon ran a piece featuring Davis’ blogs and the many like hers in which the writer called blogs like Love Taza “weirdly uplifting.” There’s no stress or drama on these blogs. Everything is beautiful and everyone is happy. Many businesses set out to change the world, and leaders to become the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. But sometimes, it’s just nice to see people being happy.

3. Just Start.  Don’t worry so much about the details that you never get off the ground. Do the things you’re good at. Do them consistently. Share them with the world. Who knows–maybe 10 years from now it’ll be you on the Upper West Side.

glasses

How David Gilboa Lost His Eyeglasses, Made $1 Billion, and Changed the World (With the Help of Some Friends)

For the month of February, we’re talking all about college student entrepreneurs. Our 4-part series looks at four very different businesses started by studentpreneurs and the key takeaways that can help you in your business. Questions? Suggestions? Want us to feature your business? Drop us a line! anna [at] atxwebdesigns [dot] com.

Who: David Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal

What: Warby Parker

Where: The Wharton School

The Problem: Eyeglasses are incredibly expensive, especially to people with limited income.

The Solution: Sell glasses online directly to the consumer, and donate a pair for each pair sold.

When David Gilboa lost his eyeglasses, he had a problem.

They were his only pair, and they cost $700. As a full-time student, he couldn’t afford to replace them so he spent an entire semester squinting in lecture halls and, as he put it, complaining to anyone who would listen about the exorbitant cost of glasses. Why were they so expensive?

He asked this of everyone, but it was Neil Blumenthal, with some experience in optometry, who took it seriously. Blumenthal and Gilboa got with two other friends and spent 18 months brainstorming and refining the idea for the company that would become Warby Parker.

From the beginning, they wanted the company to make a positive impact. In addition to drastically reducing the price of eyeglasses and making it easy for customers to try on various styles, they also implemented a social mission into their business model. Like Tom’s, for every pair purchased, they donate a pair.

It sounds like another do-good company started by Millennials, but in fact, Warby Parker is a unicorn.

Prior to its founding, customers had few choices about eyewear. One single company owns and produces all the eyewear you have to choose from. And what they don’t own, they have exclusive licensing agreements with (glasses with fashion labels, for instance). They set the price, and the consumer has no other option but to pay.

It was a crazy idea, that a couple of college students could disrupt an enormous, powerful, deeply-established monopoly like Luxottica, and many people told them so. People with far more experience told them there was no way their idea could work.

The company was founded in 2010. By 2015 they were valued at over $1 billion.

Top 3 Lessons and Takeaways:

1. Choose Mentors Wisely. Everyone told them why it Warby Parker could never work. The mentors they trusted asked tough questions, but were also encouraging and positive. That’s what a great mentor is for: to help you clear the challenges and remind you of your own potential.

2. Think Long-Term, Then Bottom-Line. Building a company with a legacy requires thinking about the big picture. There will always be the bottom line to consider, but what about the purpose of your company? What impact are you making 5, 10, 50 years down the road?

3. Focus. The four founders didn’t rush to start their business. They carefully considered it, talked, sought advice, tested and planned for a year and half before their launch. As their company has grown, they’ve continued to focus on what they do best. Should they ever go public, go international, or roll out other products, it will be when it’s best for the company–and its customers. In Gilboa’s words, I can’t think of many businesses that have failed because they were too focused.

dumb business decision

When The Dumb Business Decision Is Actually the Smart Business Decision

Back in the day (10 years ago) YouTube was this website where random people from all over the world could upload random videos—and random they were. Remember when Charlie Bit My Finger was a sensation? There were virtually no production values. People had digital cameras and it was a big deal if its quality was more than a few megapixels (who even talks like that anymore?). There was no HD—pretty much everything was 240p quality. And if you did create a smash hit like Charlie Bit My Finger (or Charlie the Unicorn? Shoutout!), you had no way of getting money from it.

Man, things have changed so much.

Now kids grow up wanting to be YouTubers—like it’s a legitimate career. Just kidding—thanks to advertisers and sites like Patreon, it is a legitimate career. Congratulations, Kids!

Patreon is a platform that puts the money making in the hands of creators. Instead of relying on ad revenue (especially after a change in YouTube’s algorithm left it drastically reduced)**, creators can produce content directly for their audience who can, in turn, directly support the creators’ efforts. Support can be given for as little as $1 a month.

In December, Patreon announced that they’d be changing their fee structure. I’m not a Patreon creator so I don’t entirely understand the ramifications of the decision, but they must have been huge because Twitter blew up. Many creators were upset with the changes claiming It would significantly hurt their revenue. Subscribers were upset about the change in fees and a good chunk of them left the platform. It was pretty ugly.

So what do you think Patreon did?

Better yet, what would you have done if it were your company receiving the backlash?

Defend it using the same logic that was used to make the decision in the first place? Explain to your base why these changes are good for them? Talk about your vision moving forward?

That’s what most companies do. They make the decision that’s best for the company (ie profit and growth) and either think little of their target audience or simply underestimate the impact it would have on them.

So it’s remarkable that, just days later, Patreon issued an apology and officially rescinded their decision.

We still have to fix the problems that those changes addressed, but we’re going to fix them in a different way, and we’re going to work with you to come up with the specifics, as we should have done the first time around. Many of you lost patrons, and you lost income. No apology will make up for that, but nevertheless, I’m sorry. It is our core belief that you should own the relationships with your fans. These are your businesses, and they are your fans.

Wow.

Evidence that sometimes the smart business decision is the dumb business decision.

Maintaining integrity and authenticity with your customers–especially your core customers, your target audience–is how to build a business that lasts. It’s how you recover from dumb decisions, and it’s how you leave behind a legacy. Establishing trust is the real smart business decision.

seo or marketing

SEO, social media marketing, or both? The different between the two, and which you should invest in the most

What is SEO?
Boring, Factual Answer: SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The purpose of optimizing your site for search engines is to drive traffic to your site organically. That’s it.

More Interesting Answer: What was the last thing you searched for? Did it take to you a website you’d never visited before?

Chances are you used Google, which performed over 5 billion searches today alone. (In contrast, Bing didn’t even crack 1 billion.) And while I don’t know the chances of finding a website you’ve never visited before, I know that Google’s my #1 referral to new websites. It’s rare that a friend or business card, or even a social media link, directs me to a new website. And when it does happen, it’s still outnumbered by the Google referral machine.

When you implement the technical and strategic components of SEO into your marketing efforts, it will take time for your work to pay off. When it does, though, you have potentially 5 billion daily Google searches (and hundreds of millions from other engines) in which to be seen.

Drive traffic. Generate leads. Make sales. Much of it without any additional effort from you. That’s the value of a great SEO strategy.
What is Social Media Marketing?
Boring Factual Answer: Social media marketing is driving traffic via social media websites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

More Interesting Answer: Social media marketing is your opportunity to connect with your audience, foster great relationships, and build brand visibility and loyalty. Social media demands both creativity and authenticity, which takes great strategic planning and execution. It’s fun! And one of the best investments you’ll make in your business.

But. Before you get too excited about social media, make sure your SEO work is top-notch.

In this day and age, if you don’t have a website, do you even exist? You may as well not because no one is going to be able to find you.

For this reason, you must have a solid SEO strategy in place before you do anything else. You want people to be able to find you (it’s necessary to your business’ growth) and it’s the most low-effort way to go about getting traffic (and leads and sales). Invest in a good strategy. It will pay off.

Then invest in good social media marketing.

(By the way, you don’t have to wait to invest in either of these. So much can be done before spending your first penny! Social media takes a considerable investment of time (the platforms reward frequent engagement) but you don’t have to do paid marketing up front. You can invest good money in SEO and also implement a good social media strategy for free. But when it comes to money prioritization, start with SEO.)

Don’t take my word for it! Kissmetrics and Digital Current both have good pieces to help you make this decision.

content marketing trends

Top Five Content Marketing Trends in 2018

The new year is here (hooray!) and these are the five trends we’re most excited about:

1. High Quality Content

There is a lot of noise on the internet and way too much mediocre content. But as platforms up their games (with things like stories, filters, and user-generated content campaigns, just to name a few), content improves, too. Boring ads and gimmicks just can’t compete.

We’re excited to see more great writing, videos and campaigns that add value to the user experience instead of just selling to followers.

2. Video

Video is a part of content, but it gets its own section here because we expect video to be a big player this year.

We’ve already seen video come to dominate Facebook newsfeeds, and it’s growing on other platforms like Twitter and Instagram, too. Videos are going to have to be better than ever to outperform the competition.

The downside is that we’ll also see more video ads. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve seen YouTube ads that are so good that I didn’t even skip them to get to the video. But, 2017 brought with it those awful Facebook video ads that cut in at weird times and are designed to be unskippable. I am sorry to say that I think this year will only bring more.

3. Chatbots

I find chatbots a little annoying because they don’t go away and I don’t find them helpful.

But, then I remember that it was only a few years ago that voice recognition software became useful. Remember when voice recognition on phones made you want to chuck your phone through a window? I don’t remember the last time the computer couldn’t get me where I wanted to go.

I think we’re seeing the evolution of chatbots and if they save me from customer service emails and wait times on the phone, I’m all for it. (PS Here’s a cool if only tangentially-relevant story about bots and humans.)

4. Augmented reality

I am loving the direction of AR. Sephora Virtual Artist and Ikea Place are two of my favorites from this list but we’re still in the very early stages of the technology. I loved this Forbes list of 11 creative uses for AR in marketing. Admittedly I get a little freaked out knowing my face is stored in some marketing department’s database, but just so long as no one steals my eyes, right?

5. Podcasts

There is no form of media I love more than a well-produced podcast, so I was excited to see this list of branded podcasts, only one of which I’d ever heard. eBay’s podcast Open for Business was a 13-episode run produced by Gimlet and it was so good!

According to Journalism.org, fewer than half of Americans have ever listened to a podcast, and fewer still listen to them regularly. But, listenership is on the rise.

I hope 2018 brings more great branded podcasts. Even if you already have a strong audience base, branching into podcasts is going to reach an entirely different audience. If you’re thinking of getting into the podcast game, now’s the time. Really all you need is some dedication and a good microphone.

net neutrality

Net Neutrality: What Now?

In December, just before the FCC’s vote, I explained why net neutrality is important to small business owners. On December 14, the vote to scrap net neutrality regulations passed, and with 2018 upon us, it’s a good time to ask how this decision will affect business owners and what you can do about it.

The short answer is: nothing is going to happen immediately. The rules were just passed and and change is going to take time. Plus, the cable companies are under close scrutiny right now. They’re unlikely to take any action until the heat is off a little bit.

Lawsuits will be filed this year, though, and states are making decisions about how to protect neutrality. No doubt that will all lead to suits and countersuits, and no one can say how it will all shake out.

Your work is to stay on your representatives. Keep calling them, keep telling your friends and networks to call them because for most, their incentive is your vote.

3 Things You Can Do

  1. Call Your Representative. You can find out here who your representatives are, whether they support or oppose neutrality (or are undecided), and how to contact them. You can also always send mail, but I advocate making at least one phone call. Here’s why.
  2. Email the FCC leadership. The names and emails of the five, two of whom are net neutrality supporters, are in this Lifehacker piece, which includes other suggestions of things to do as well.
  3. Donate to the legal battle. This is America, where disputes get resolved through lengthy and expensive legal battles. Support the legal defenders with a donation.
  4. These are three things you can do in the next 10 or 15 minutes to defend net neutrality, but this is an ongoing issue with much remaining to be seen.

If you want to learn more, I recommend these balanced informative pieces published by TechCrunch and Forbes on the regulations and what’s next.

social media platform

The Right Social Media Platform for Your Business

How the hell do you choose the right social media platform?

Facebook has 2 billion users and offers the best ROI. LinkedIn just crossed half a billion users. YouTube viewers watch a billion hours of clips per day (!). Twitter has only (“only”) 330 million users (there are 330 million people in the United States) but half a billion tweets per day (which comes out to over 7,000 every second!). How do you possibly get your message to your audience?

Dang. That is actually a really good question! It wasn’t until I started writing this out that I realized how ludicrously incomprehensible this all is. Let’s get some perspective:

Right now, our planet has about 7.6 billion people living on it. Roughly half use the internet (official count in 2015 was 3.2 billion). And about one-tenth of those live in the United States. Which isn’t to say that all 320 million Americans use the internet–actually only about 284 million Americans do. There are 7 continents, approximately 193 countries, and most of the world’s population is on the Asian continent.

And, if you’re like me, none of this means a thing because I have no grasp of the abstract. So, thank you, Tim Urban, for creating this incredible visual so that people like me can begin to think about grasping the concept of one billion.

Wow.

I was going to get on here and tell you some good strategy tips, but if you’re reading this from Austin, TX, your corner of the internet is like sand on the beach, man. One grain of sand on a very large, sandy beach filled with sand dunes.

Which turns out to be great news, after all!

The entire world of 7+ billion people is connected by, like, 10 websites.

And you’re going to be just fine.

Here’s your job:

  1. Know your market.
  2. Work with its influencers.
  3. Be better than your competition.

That’s it! That’s your job.

Take your tiny miniscule corner of the internet and communicate with your audience. I suggest doing it directly through the influencers because they’re really good at their jobs and working with them frees you up to run your business, but whatever. The point is for you to learn your customer’s well enough that you know who their influencers are and where they hang out. If you can figure out those two things, you’re well on your way to dominating the competition.

And through it all, get on LinkedIn. It’s still a small enough network that you can really establish yourself there. Get to know people in your industry. Comment on their thoughts and posts. Share some of your own. It’s the most direct way for you to build your business and your (personal) brand.

It’s a big world out there. It’s crowded and noisy, but your business is not to worry about what other people are doing. It isn’t about the platform. It’s how well that platform enables you to connect with your audience. You choose the right platform for your business by going where your audience is and engaging with them. Don’t look to impress everyone or get the biggest following. Ultimately the only currency that matters is connection. Connect with your audience and you’re golden.

leveraging linkedin

4 simple strategies to start using today

Early in 2017, the world’s largest professional network LinkedIn broke 500 million users. That’s no small amount, and yet, in a world of over 7 billion people, where Facebook has 2 billion users, 500 million is kind of–dare I say–small?

That’s the great advantage of LinkedIn right now. It’s enormous, but it doesn’t feel enormous. It offers tremendous opportunity but it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

Or does it?

Last month we told you why you need to be all over LinkedIn.But for most people who use Linkedin, a picture and some basics about their job is all they ever do. We know that it can be nerve-wracking to put yourself out there on LinkedIn. Staying within your profile is safe. And anyway, what do you have to say that’s going to help anyone?

We get it.

So today we’re going to give you 4 strategies that you can start using today to build your network, raise your profile, and grow your brand.

1. Write Posts

The great thing about writing a LinkedIn post is that the best ones are just quick thoughts. You don’t have to worry that you’re not a writer. Here are some ideas to get you started:

-Observations. If you don’t already, start paying attention to what you pay attention to. We all make observations and notes to self about what we see going on around us that could be improved. Start sharing yours.

-Ideas. Share ideas of thought leaders in your industry with some of your commentary. Share your own ideas for the future of the industry, how you would like to make it better, how it could be improved or how it might change or how a certain technology or platform could impact it, or is impacting it. You have a million ideas, I’m sure. Share one now and then.

-Help other people. You’ve worked your way up the ladder, you’ve started a business, you’ve spent years doing something that you’re really good at (or not). What can you say to help someone starting out? What about someone mid-career? What about a challenge you overcame or a lesson you learned that might help another person?

-Articles. Sharing interesting pieces is a great way to leverage LinkedIn. Just don’t let this be your only strategy. You want to share your own original work, too.

2. Build Relationships

LinkedIn has 500 million people on it. Go get to know a few of them. Help them with their work. Accept help with yours. You can do this by:

-Posting content

-Commenting on posts.

-Saying Congratulations and Happy Birthday when LinkedIn prompts you to.

Using groups, or creating a group and inviting others to it.

-Creating partnerships: This Entrepreneur article suggests using groups to find businesses related to your work that can help you serve clients. Real estate agents, for example, would partner with insurance agents and mortgage brokers.

3. Consistency

Don’t feel like you have to write a post everyday. The strategy of consistency is that you interact with other people on at least a weekly basis. Use LinkedIn for more than your professional updates. The more you interact with other people and their work, the more you get to know people and understand their needs. Then, it’s easier for you to make content that’s valuable, and that’s how you’ll create a network of people that you can both help and be helped by.

4. Don’t Be a Me-Monster

This might be the most important thing about leveraging LinkedIn: it isn’t all about you. So much advice is about being an authority, being a thought leader, creating content. Think instead about building relationships. You don’t win over people by talking only about yourself. Add value to other people’s lives.