My First Post: Peddling Internet in Rural Minnesota
Since this will go down as my first blog post ever, I will spill all the blah blah about who I am and how I got here.
After working 4 long years for Northwest Airlines and hatching a first son, I decided I'd return to the University of Minnesota Duluth to earn my degree in Business, Marketing. I still remember the conversation I had with my husband; I returned from my grueling reservation sales agent job at NWA after being abused by another unhappy frequent flier, and said, "That's it. I'm going back to school. (I already had 2 and some years under my belt.) I've had enough of this crap. " Zoned into Letterman, he lethargically replied with, "Sure, honey. Whatever." Two days later, I packed up a diaper bag and my nearly one-year-old son, drove to Duluth, walked into the business school, and left the office registered full time. That's how I am--if I decide something, it's done. So, I busted my butt commuting 60 miles one way to Duluth , still working part time at NWA (another 20 minute drive from home) for 2.5 years until I graduated.
One of the first classes I registered for was titled something like "Communication in the Age of Technology and Information." The subject matter was so over my head! I didn't navigate the Internet, let alone have any freaking clue what html was. I was introduced to technology and forced to dive in head first into the world of gadgets, gizmos, and e-zipping info. I struggled through what felt like learning a foreign language, but what became the beginning of my non-stop obsession with the Internet.
I live on the Iron Range--a cluster of mining towns in northern Minnesota--where marketing jobs don't avail too often. In fact, it's rare any decent jobs surface and when they do, it's like 1000 tigers fighting for a 4 oz steak. So, I got a job at Wells Fargo as a banker. The only positive words I can truly say about that job is the training was great. I was pregnant with my second child and was given a company credit card to eat whatever I wanted for three weeks in Minneapolis--that totally kicked ass. Otherwise, the job was horrible. Wait--let me clarify. The "job" really was not terrible. I always enjoyed helping people, making relationships and getting sales. The in-your-face, never good enough, ridiculous numbers game turned what could have been a great job, into a nightmare of plummeting self-esteem and dissatisfaction. I can't describe to you how I loathed going to work. I was pregnant then, and I missed several lunches because if people were waiting--too bad. Then, after having the baby, it was impossible to pump and at five o'clock, I thought my chest was going to explode. I'd go through this ridiculous routine of building my milk supply over the weekend and by Friday, it was almost non existent. We were expected to cold call locals and try to get "sales" or appointments. The only people who were ever interested in coming in were either old and lonely, or they had no credit and saw an opportunity for getting some help (and of course, we never could help them.) I HATED the phone! I then found myself lying and selling people shit they didn't always need because I was desperate to make goals. I couldn't sleep at night, I was depressed, and I had to leave. I wouldn't work for Wells Fargo again for ANYTHING.
Luckily, I was talking to a friend one day who was getting a loan from me, and she referred me to a small ad agency in town. She even said she'd make a phone call and talk to a fellow hockey mom who worked there on my behalf. Ten minutes later she called me back and said that someone had quit THAT DAY and they needed to fill the position immediately. HOLY WOW! My escape card had been dealt. I was to bring my resume between five and six that evening. I worked at "Hells Fargo" until 5 but I just left at 4:40 anyway. I DIDN'T CARE! I just packed up my stuff and said, "I gotta go." I raced home, edited my resume, drove back to Virginia, got pulled over for speeding (it was my birthday and the cop must have seen the desperation in my face, so he let me go) and delivered my resume. A couple interviews later, I was hired as a media buyer and AE assistant. I actually was going to be creating advertising and marketing plans and I was pumped. To make a long story short, I learned a TON working at the agency. But, I still didn't feel fulfilled or happy. The atmosphere lacked dynamics and energy, I was working for peanuts and I had virtually no leadership or direction. Then, one day, a conversation with a friend changed everything.
She said, "Do you know what I wish?"
"What's that?" I replied.
"I wish there was somewhere online I could visit to find out what's going on around here."
"That's a great idea," I thought. So immediately, we googled the "Iron Range" trying to find some online guide to nightlife, events, dining, etc. Nothing existed. Now, if you’re not familiar, let me fill you in about “Da Range.” The Iron Range is a region in northern Minnesota where several small towns exist; its number one industry is Iron Ore Mining and tourism takes second place. It holds a notorious reputation for being slow to adopt, its people are set in their ways, and many residents share the perception that “nobody is online”. Back to the idea: So, my brain starts churning and I do some research of other sites like the one I created, check my credit card limits, hire a cheap but decent web designer in Minneapolis, and, racing to be first to market, I secretly planned my new venture: Rangebuzz.com.
I set up this model with two revenue streams: 1) Bars and Restaurants could have a profile and access to keep their content fresh, submit daily specials, and events taking place in their establishments for only $49/month. I’m going for quantity here; I wanted to set a price where hardly anyone would say no. 2) Once I created a nice flow of traffic, I would sell banner ads at a higher price. The site would grow and develop in 3 stages. I had to have content before I had traffic, and I need traffic before I can sell ads. So, I created a homemade media kit, bought a new laptop, a new outfit and shoes, and hit the pavement. I called on all the people I knew and showed them how this would work (although, I wasn’t quite sure it would.) I couldn’t believe I sold my idea to over 25 bars and restaurants in my first month, without seeing virtually any traffic. Next, now that I had something to show, I started driving traffic the only way I new how: traditional advertising methods. As a media buyer, I had developed some close relationships and was able to negotiate a deal on indoor ads (you know, the ones you see above the urinal?), traded a banner for some TV time, did a little radio, and ran some ads in the local paper to get people to check out my site for lunch specials. I created an e-newsletter and gave those who signed up a chance win a night’s stay at Fortune Bay Casino. I had table-toppers and window clings printed and gave them to all the bars and restaurants to display. I got my friends in bands to put plugs in for me at their gigs, and asked another guy who does karaoke around the area to plug me in exchange for a banner on my site. I did some reciprocal links with our tourism bureau’s site and listed on the major search engines. And that’s about it. I just started my Adwords campaign, and Google FINALLY listed me in their directory. I’ve had almost 75% direct traffic. My traffic improves each month (currently at 1410 visits between May 1 and May 24, 130 visits more than April, and my best week peaked at 502 visits last week) and I want to start selling advertising, but my site does not have the traffic I feel is needed to show enough value. So I’m still in phase 2, trying to figure it out.
During the last few months, I realized I’ve made several mistakes, seen about 100 more opportunities, and have changed my mind about 100 other things. Now, I’m reading like a mad woman on SEO, SMO, whatever-O so I can draw bigger numbers. I’m subscribing blogs, subscribing to feeds, examining sites like del.icio.us and Digg, and trying to get with the Internet program. I’m overwhelmed but SUPER intrigued and SUPER excited to keep learning…