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Internet marketing venture got its start at home, with virtually no budget

Internet marketing venture got its start at home, with virtually no budgetDiane Potter’s company, Springboard Designs (www.springboarddesigns.com), was born out of a set of circumstances that led her to gamble big. She lost her job, and she wanted to stay home with the baby boy she had just adopted. She knew that to earn enough to support her family – husband, Ryan, was still an apprentice plumber – she would have to commute to a nearby town, and that was going to incur a lot of expenses. So, Diane took a risk and began working from home in an unfamiliar industry: Internet marketing and website design.

“I knew starting my own business was a risk, but I didn’t realize how much of a risk. In my case, ignorance was bliss,” she said. “Had I known all the statistics on how many businesses fail, I might have been afraid to move forward.”

You could say Potter’s company was started on a shoestring budget, if no budget counts. She was attending college while starting her venture in May 2008, and she was using college loans to supplement her living expenses until she could earn enough from the new venture to be self-sufficient. The biggest start-up cost for Potter was in training herself for the new industry of Internet marketing (she paid $2.500 for a 6-week course at AssistU to begin learning how to be “virtual assistant,” to do Internet marketing and website work. She took class after class, learning about shopping carts, list-building for email marketing, WordPress website design and more. Once she reached the point of taking on full-time employees and contractors, she could use her earnings to finance the expense. Her biggest investment was time, and it took a lot of hours of work before Potter could afford to hire employees.

“I built my business using an old laptop and a desk my husband made for me,” she said. “That was all it took to get my first client. We have changed models a little, now using full-time employees in an office space. But at one point, I was billing out nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year from the little desk in my home office. Four years later, we have become an international agency, helping business owners all over the globe. We will be mentioned in an Entrepreneur magazine story in July 2012, and it’s been exciting to see all the changes clicking into place.”

Potter said she had one major misconception when she started her Internet marketing and website design business, and that was the amount of hours she would have to put into it when starting up. “I thought I was doing something wrong. I had this image of a business owner as someone who played golf and let others do the work. Then I met other business owners and heard their stories, and I realized that in the beginning, this is what a business owner has to do. Had I known that initially, I might not have beaten myself up about all those 80-hour workweeks.”

Potter now has a full-time project manager and a lead web designer/coder to take some of the workload off her shoulders and to manage a team of 10 independent contractors. To build up to that point, Potter had to take on some less than ideal clients and learn some lessons about boundaries along the way. Potter’s first client made her doubt herself and the future of her business because the woman was so demanding. She called Potter at all hours, and expected immediate response on projects. Potter felt trapped because she could not afford to leave the client initially and she didn’t have the confidence that comes with experience to stand up to her. When she did finally quit, the client continued to ask her to do work for several more months. Potter learned the importance of setting some firm boundaries on working hours and turnaround time, and she got some great advice from her business coach: “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it so big and so painful you never make it again.” Potter laughed, and told her coach, “I must be an overachiever.”

Internet marketing venture got its start at home, with virtually no budget

Diane Potter

What Potter did right, however, was invest in her education and learn her Internet marketing business inside and out. Every day, she taps into that knowledge to sell clients on her services, to trouble-shoot problems that come up with website projects and to train employees. Along the way, she’s learned the software programs of her industry, paid and free. And she’s tapped in to the many free tools offered online, from Google’s many resources to free plug-ins that allow customization of WordPress for website design. And she’s taken full advantage of the free marketing you can do with social media promotion. You can follow her on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/springboarddesi), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/springboarddesigns) and LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/springboarddesigns). She also has a YouTube channel,

Social media promotion is Potter’s No. 1 way to promote her business, but she also uses Google ads and Facebook ads to get the word out. Publicity is the key to success for Potter’s business; the more clients she can attract, the more the firm can grow.

She recently launched her new website, www.springboarddesigns.com , with tiered packages that offer affordable website design for small- and medium-sized businesses. The packages are designed fit all sizes of budgets and needs. Whether it’s building a whole website or just looking for help with traffic numbers, clients may customize the work for their unique business needs. The goal is not to be the highest-level website design firm in America, but to be the firm that offers affordable website design and marketing services. The firm also brings a comprehensive approach to website design, because in addition to having a site built, complete with copy writing and graphics, a customer may also tap into the firm’s resources for e-commerce solutions, social media promotion for events and blogs, the set-up and management of shopping carts and email lists, and a whole lot more.

Potter’s long-term goal is to be one of those business owners she originally pictured spending leisure time with their friends and family, without the burden of the day-to-day operations. While Potter is much closer to that goal now, she still plays a management role in her firm. Eventually, she hopes to pull back further. That said, she said it’s unlikely she would sell unless she received an offer too good to refuse. Potter isn’t one to close the door on any opportunity. Internet marketing is a market of changing equations, and Potter, too, must be flexible to stay one step ahead of the game for her clients.

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