Today’s Entrepreneur Spotlight is Larry Deane, from Empty Cabin Media, a blog consulting and website design company. Many people know him as Glblguy, the former owner and writer for the personal finance blog, Gather Little By Little (Glblguy was the anonymous name he chose when he started his personal finance website).
Larry has been a good friend of mine for over two years now, and did the customizations to the Thesis theme I run on my site. You can read more about the design in this article. Larry recently sold his personal finance website, and is now concentrating on his blog consulting and design business. Today’s interview discusses his entrepreneurial pursuits past and present. I hope you enjoy getting to know Larry a little better!
Entrepreneur Spotlight – Larry Deane from Empty Cabin Media
Q Larry, thanks for agreeing to this interview, I know this is a busy and exciting time for you. Can you share with us a little history about the entrepreneur in you? Was Gather Little By Little your first business venture?
A Absolutely Ryan, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview with you.
Gather Little by Little wasn’t my first business venture. To be honest, we would need to travel back in time to when I was around 12 years old. I learned to do software development on the old 70s TRS-80 Model III computers. I got pretty good at it, and while my Mom was shopping at the mall, I would hang out over at Radio Shack and play on the computers. The store’s owner saw what I was doing and asked if I would be interested in writing some “demo” programs for them in exchange for free and/or discounted merchandise. Of course I gladly did this. I’d say this was really my first business venture.
At the age of 15 I started working in a pet store selling fish and aquarium supplies. I enjoyed the aquarium hobby very much and started keeping my own aquariums. This led to another small business I ran where I would set-up and maintain aquariums for family, neighbors and friends. I didn’t have too many clients, but the side money was nice and I enjoyed it.
I later returned to the computer industry while in college and ran a small business that fixed computers, installed hardware, and trained people on how to use computers. I didn’t have a great deal of clients, but it was fun and made me some extra money. My Dad still has one of the original business cards I had printed up.
Once I graduated, my entrepreneurial endeavors got put on hold for a while as I started a career as a professional software developer, got married and started a family. Even then I continued to talk to my wife about wanting to work for myself someday and maybe being able to start my own software company, aquarium company, etc.
In 2007 I decided to give blogging a try. I didn’t start Gather Little by Little as a business though. I initially started it to help others by sharing what I was learning about personal finance. Frankly I never thought anyone would really ever read it. Three months or so into into it I realized that I could potentially make money from it in addition to helping others…a win/win if you will. Sometime later, I realized that blogging could be the foundation for a real business.
GLBL started out as just a small site for me to really play with and soon bloomed into a site that gained 3000+ readers and generated a pretty decent supplemental income for me. In my mind, it was a huge success and also proof that I could make a side business work.
Q It’s interesting that you didn’t start GLBL with the intention of it turning into a business like it did. Do you think there is more opportunity for “accidental businesses” than most people think?
A Absolutely. I think there are many similar situations where people just started blogging to share information with the their friends or just exercise their creativity only to find that there was a much larger demand for their topic and content than they thought. That’s exactly what happened to me. I initially thought that magazines and “professional” media sites would always win. I mean they have professional writers, editors, proof readers, artists, etc. What I found though was that people really loved reading articles from “real” people. They loved reading personal stories about our lives and how we achieve goals or make mistakes.
If you think about it, it makes sense. If you pick up a copy of say Money Magazine and read it, it’s pretty easy to walk away feeling like a complete financial failure. BUT, if you read blogs like you find the M-Network, you’ll feel at home and in good company. You’ll also realize that there are others out there just like you who are dealing with the same kinds of issues you deal with on a daily basis. My most popular articles on GLBL where one’s were I admitted mistakes and talked about how I was going to keep from doing them again.
Q As we mentioned in the introduction, you sold your website, GatherLittleByLittle.com. Did your design and consulting business play a factor in your decision to sell GLBL, and do you have any advice for anyone considering selling a website or other small business (valuation, money transfer, etc.).?
A Selling GLBL was an incredibly difficult decision, and yes, my design and consulting business played a large factor in that decision, along with many others. I sold GLBL for one primary reason though: to give me time to do other things I wanted to do. One thing everyone should know about blogging is that it takes time. To grow a successful and popular blog, you have to put a great deal of time into it. I did that with GLBL. But after writing for 2+ years about personal finance, I found myself repeating some of the same things…to be honest, writing on it was becoming a job. I certainly still enjoyed it, but I also had some other ideas in the back of my head I wanted to do. I found myself more excited about the new ideas then writing on GLBL. I’ve always been like that though. I start something, enjoy it for a while then move onto something else, sometimes coming back to it, other times not.
GLBL and the blogging community in general taught me a great deal about blogging and about how to build a successful blog. I began realizing I could use that knowledge to help others create blogs of their own. That is how Empty Cabin Media started. I started off just doing blog consulting and coaching, then branched out into development work and now offering full WordPress hosting and support. Fortunately I jumped on the WordPress Thesis theme bandwagon pretty early, and that has turned out to be 99% of my current development work. I would consider myself an expert at this point on the Thesis theme and I really enjoy making sites where you can’t even tell it’s using Thesis, like this one.
One of the interesting things with selling GLBL was how hard of a decision it was. I didn’t expect that. Over the 2 years I had really put a great deal of myself into GLBL and frankly developed a very strong relationship with my readers. I felt a personal attachment to them and the site itself. When trying to decide on whether to sell GLBL or not, those two things played a big factor. It was very important to me to not disappoint GLBL readers or let them down. I hope I didn’t do that. Many of the comments regarding the sale were very positive, but a few were really tough to swallow. Those still haunt me a bit.
As for advice on selling I do have some, but let me precede that by saying I’ve only sold one blog, so not even close to being an expert on blog sales. For evaluation, I used a 24 months of income rule. Meaning that the value of my blog was basically my current monthly revenue stream over the course of 24 months. I then added a premium due to rank, authority, and popularity. That became my asking price. While I can’t disclose the final sale price, I did end up getting very close to that in the end.
One suggestion I’ll provide for those that might consider selling their blogs or websites down the road is to keep meticulous records on both your traffic and income. Traffic is easy: just install Google Analytics as soon as possible. Income is a little harder. Fortunately there are many options. I started with a simple spreadsheet but now use Outright.com as it just makes things much easier for me (and it’s free!). Outright also integrates seamlessly with Freshbooks, the software I use for estimates and invoicing for Empty Cabin Media. Whatever you decide to use, make sure you track it monthly and by income source. Oh and keep it backed up and safe!
Q Blogging and web design are very different business models. What have you learned from running two different types of businesses, and do you have any related advice for others starting a business in either of these verticals.
A Yes, they sure are but there is also a great deal in common as well. The fundamentals of running a business still apply to both: record keeping, time management, marketing, employee/contractor management, etc. The key difference in the two models is clients.
With GLBL, I could write when I wanted to. If I didn’t want to write/post an article for a week I could, sure I might lose some traffic but I was the only one impacted. With my consulting business I can’t do that. I commit to deadlines and I’m expected to meet them. The other big difference is that with GLBL if I stopped writing, I continued to make money. Sure it might decline over time, but the income didn’t stop. With my consulting business, I get paid by the job in most instances, so if I don’t complete the work, the income stops.
Neither model is good or bad, just different.
As far as advice, for blogging here’s what I would suggest:
- Pick a niche to focus on that you are both knowledgeable about and enjoy writing on. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it for long.
- Don’t wait, just start writing. Far too many people spend months trying to make their site perfect. Don’t make that mistake. If you think you have a good topic to write up, go reserve that domain name get your basic site set-up and start writing. Or better yet, let me do all of the set-up for you and all you have to do is write!
- Find other bloggers in your niche that are starting out like you. Partner with them, become friends and help each other grow. Much of the success of GLBL was due to the M-Network. As a matter of fact, you’re reading this because Ryan and I were in the M-Network together and became friends. Just like with any business, relationships matter.
- Don’t underestimate the amount of work. Growing a successful blog involves: writing, maintaining your site, keeping it fresh looking, marketing, participation in social media, and participation in your niche through reading other blogs and commenting on them.
My advice for starting a consulting/development shop is:
- Build a website that shows what you can do. If you haven’t done anything yet, do something for a friend for free. You can use that site as a testimonial for what you can do. Make sure you have a strong About page that tells your credentials and makes visitors understand why they should hire you.
- Participate in related forums and give information away free. This will get you noticed and help establish you as an authority. I did this by being very active in the DIYTheme forums for the Thesis theme. Most if not all of my current and past business came from readers of those forums.
- Create a blog. Make sure you have a blog on your site where you write articles about what you’ve done, are doing and shows readers what you can. Personally I even write up detailed articles that tell readers how to do cool stuff with Thesis for free. For example: Thesis feature box and Thesis Theme – Add another menu. Why do this for free? The articles draw readers to my site which in many cases convert to clients.
- Make customer service and quality your number one priorities. Customers are your bread and butter, and your business is only as successful as they make it. Don’t ever forget that.
Q What are your future plans for Empty Cabin Media or other business ventures? Do you plan on starting any more blogs or money making websites?
A That’s an excellent question and to be honest one I am still trying to work out. Ultimately I’d love to grow Empty Cabin Media into my primary business and do it full-time, but I’m not there yet. Doing so is tricky too as in order to grow it that big, it requires are large time investment. Something I just don’t have right now with 6 kids and a full-time job.
With that said though, my plans are to continue working with clients to develop awesome looking Thesis and non-Thesis based sites. I’d really like to continue to grow my WordPress Hosting option as well, as I really think it could make it far more easy for non-technical people to start out from day 1 on a solid blogging platform that looks professional.
One new feature of Empty Cabin Media you’ll see soon are Thesis skins. These are custom Thesis files that you’ll just drop into the “custom” directory that will allow you to very quickly give you default Thesis site a slick look and feel. I have 3 or 4 almost ready to go and will continue to announce them. For now they’ll be free, but I would like to develop some more “premium” skins down the road and make them available for a reasonable cost.
As for blogging, definitely have a few things in the works there as well, so make sure you subscribe or keep an eye out for those as well. While they won’t be personal finance related, they will be about some other hobbies/interests I have. I’m working on getting the sites up and running now and hope to launch them soon. They’ll of course be based on Thesis!
Q Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs or bloggers?
A Sure do: Just start. I’m a huge advocate of just jumping into the “pool” rather than getting wet slowly. With any online business or venture, hesitation is time wasted. Start with the basics and grow from there, but JUST START!
Ryan, thanks so much again for the opportunity. It’s been a pleasure.
Thanks for sharing, Larry.
Do you have a unique entrepreneurial story to share? If so, I would love to hear it (please use my contact form). Unique stories, businesses, or other enterprises may be considered for future editions of the Entrepreneur Spotlight.