My name is Paul Dumas and I am the founder of Optimized Local Search Services.
I’m absurdly passionate about what we do. Often my enthusiasm is so profound that it elicits odd responses from our customers, salespeople and other innocent by-standers.
More times than not the responses are articulated in the form of the question: How did you get…here?
They’re not asking about modes of transportation. They’re wondering how exactly someone can be so passionate about a simple little service that costs less than $400. I imagine at times that I must seem like P.T. Barnum selling car batteries. Trust me, though, I’m no salesman.
If I were, I’d still be selling group health insurance. We are fortunate that our service has the three tenants required for good sales: Good price, Simple to convey FABs, and most importantly it works.
So, how did I get…here? I wish I could provide a succinct answer, but quite frankly I’m not entirely sure that I know the answer. I do however know the facts and perhaps that will provide some insight.
And now we return to this week’s episode of…This Is Your Life.
The Early Years
The first time I ever used a computer was in 1984 when my family bought a Commodore 64. My current iPhone has over 1.5 million times more memory.
I was ten. I’m not sure what my parents thought they were going to do with this new technology, but I sure liked playing Blue Max.
At the time, the 5.25” disks seemed simply amazing. Right out of Star Wars. Just how big was that disk that Princess Leia loaded into R2-D2 with the hologram message for Obi-Wan? Man, we’re all going to have flying cars soon.
The first computer I ever bought with my own money was a Compaq.
I used most of my high school graduation money and felt it was the wisest investment I could make before heading off to college. It was 1992 and cars still didn’t fly.
I used the computer to type term papers and play games. Somehow I never seemed to know anyone who had a computer fast enough to actually run Microsoft Flight Simulator. It looked cool in the magazines though.
My roommate had an Apple, but I thought my IBM compatible computer was better – at least it had color.
By 1994 we still didn’t know what the Internet was. Tim Berners-Lee was still at MIT…and I was most definitely not.
I took my first and only computer course as a sophomore in college. We learned how to use the SUM function in Lotus 1-2-3. The professor then spent three weeks on a diatribe about how when everything goes fully electronic, including money and credit then we’ll no longer have control over anything economically because there will be no intrinsic value to anything. Hmm…if only you had the ability to always recognize the profound when you witness it – not nearly 20 years later.
There were at least two computers magically networked to others somewhere in the world in the computer lab on campus. The first hot app for college kids was called ICQ. We could save a dime on long distance and chat with random, faceless college students who we’d never (want to) meet any other way. Sound familiar? And they say Mark Zuckerberg is a genius.
The Real World
I published my first web page on April 1, 1997. I had no clue what I was doing, but necessity is the mother of invention (Thanks, School House Rock).
One of the first projects I was tasked with as the new “Marketing Manager” for a small Dallas-based electronics importer / distributor was to find a company who could build a website in order to help market telephone headsets and other audio technology to call-centers, etc. In the early days of the Internet, website design was primarily the exclusive province of professional marketing companies staffed with a few formerly educated computer programmers. I solicited proposals from nearly a dozen different companies and basically learned one thing: at a minimum of $5k a month for six months these web designers were making twice as much as me in half the time. I simply didn’t trust that they knew some secret that could not be learned elsewhere.
I started to do research. Research in early 1997 was a bit slower process than it is today. Google wouldn’t even launch their first beta site until November 1998. Wikipedia was still three and half years away. Needless to say, the Internet was not quite the same as it is today.
In 1996 Microsoft introduced the first mass-marketed WYSIWYG html web creation software, Microsoft FrontPage. It looked and functioned a lot like Microsoft Word and if you could find an ISP who could help you with the back-end then you had a fighting chance of building your own website. I got to work.
Special thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine for the screen caps.
The website was crude by today’s standards and served very little purpose other than to digitize a print catalog. In 1997, the #1 search engine was Lycos and we used SEO was just three random letters from the alphabet. If you wanted people to visit your site, you told people about it – business cards, direct mailings, catalogs, etc.
By 1998, I was officially a webmaster for hire and built my first e-commerce site and fought through the incredibly tedious process of making frames work within Microsoft Frontpage. It was also my first foray into graphic design and animated GIFs.
I was paid in golf clubs. I still have them, in fact.
By 2001, I was building websites that actually approximate what a website looks like today.
SEO started becoming a player as well. Back then it was very basic and we didn’t know much. Meta tags and directory submissions were about the extent of it. Over the next several years the site grew to generate over $50k a month in direct sales and formed a nice complement to the indirect sales channel.
By early 2008, I was ready to try making money on my own site. I launched e-Giftology.com using the ProStores e-commerce platform. At its peak, the site offered over 175,000 unique items for direct purchase. Every single item was drop-shipped directly from the vendor and I held zero inventory.
Virtually everything I know about optimizing a website to maximize organic traffic I learned by managing this site. In the first year of operation, my total expenditure was less than $500. At it’s peak, the site was generating over $10k in sales per month. Not bad for a part-time hobby. Not good enough for a career change. When the time investment surpassed the return, I shut it down and moved on to other things. The entire process proved to be more valuable than a formal education.
From Employee to Entrepreneur
By 2009, the economy had officially slowed to a snail’s pace. Perhaps you heard about it on the news. As companies closed their doors and retailers begged to hold Christmas every month so they could stay afloat, I saw opportunity.
In 2006, I had already formed a company to help formalize the independent consulting, web design and SEO work I was doing as a result of referrals and casual networking. To seize upon the opportunity, I needed to differentiate my company and broaden my market.
The key to any marketable idea is to satisfy three basic requirements:
1.Is the idea definable so that it can be easily conveyed to prospective customers?
2.Is there a definable market for the idea that is accessible?
3.Can the idea be delivered at a price point that both creates demand and provides profitability / sustainability?
Embedded within the literally dozens of various services I provided as a generic SEO / Web Designer was the key.
Optimized Local Search Services was born. The idea definitely satisfied the three requirements:
1.If so inclined, we could package the service and sell it on the shelves of the big box office supply stores. While what we do is complex, what it does for our customer is quite simple. It was a huge advantage that the service and subsequent results were quantifiable.
2.The market for the idea was perhaps the most exciting part of the entire process. The service is designed specifically to work best for small, local businesses. The exciting part is that there are literally local businesses on every corner.
3.Price points are simply a matter of analyzing the competition, managing operational efficiencies and establishing and articulating value to the prospect. Actually, this was the easy part.
Now and The Future
Thus far we have been successful in marketing our service to local businesses, I believe, for two primary reasons:
1.We understand our market both in terms of prospective customers and competition.
2.The service works and it turns out the fastest way to grow a business is leverage referrals.
I’m often asked by business owners if we have any competition for what we do. My answer surprises them a bit. Of course there are companies out there that offer various forms of local search optimization, but they are not our competition.
Our competition is the myriad of options available to a local business owner when they consider anything even remotely related to marketing and advertising. We compete for the same dollars used for anything ranging from online pay-per-click programs to the printing of business cards – and in most small businesses the dollars are limited.
We are able to compete in this arena because of how we have differentiated our service. First, all services are for a one-time fee. By eliminating monthly fees and long-term contracts, we immediately stand out among virtually every other advertising and marketing method out there. Second, over 75% of our business comes from our unique direct in-person sales approach. We’re a local business serving local businesses. Any time you buy something it is comforting to know that there is an actual person involved in the transaction. Finally, our service works and we’ve published a broad list of references.
The remaining 25% of our business consists primarily of services provided through a growing reseller network. Our resellers consist of SEO companies, web designers, advertising agencies and commercial printers.
Future growth of our company comes through duplicating our sales process in more areas. We started in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and soon opened an operation serving metro Atlanta. The goal is ultimately to have an operating sales force in every major metropolitan area in the United States.
If you’ve read this far, you should know that we are always hiring enthusiastic people. Also, if you’ve read this far, you obviously have the time to look into a new venture.
Thank you and remember to always check out your local business even if it means driving right by Wal-Mart.
You can connect with me on either LinkedIn or Google+.