This is part one of my grassroots story for starting my business. This post has been a long time coming. I’m going to give my absolute best effort to give as much value as I can for those of you thinking of starting your own software media company & at the same time reflecting on how far I’ve come.
When I first started Personable Media it was the summer of 2013. I had been a programmer analyst for Hormel Foods Corporate Services in Austin, Minnesota and had many opportunities with my employer to plan and develop applications for the entirety of their lifecycle. I’m so grateful for the people I met and the projects I got to work on. I wouldn’t have the grounded point of view on creating applications with large, saleable databases if it weren’t for my experiences working there.
One of the factors in me stepping out to start my own software development company was I felt called to build software people would use to make their everyday lives easier. Working for a large company most of my programs would be used internally, which would help our company yes, but I felt the call to have a greater connection to my community with the work I love.
Starting in 2010 I began a new journey of self-growth and self-development. I graduated from Wartburg College in 2011, not soon after graduating and moving to Minnesota I started to feel like I was becoming distant from my closest friends and family that I used to see all the time. On certain holidays and special days like my birthday I started to journal how my day went, and would send it in an email to loved ones. The response I got from doing that was amazing! Many who received my update would forward my story along to others and people I had not heard from in years were reaching out through email to catch up. This is pretty neat I thought, so I decided rather than sending an email and having it bounce around I would create a free blog on blogger.com and start sharing the link with people instead. I loved this because now I had started a digital journal I could look back on and reflect on special days, events and lessons I’d learned.
My intention through my writing was always to give value to people. And in late 2012 I decided to make a commitment to myself to write to my blog every day for an entire month.
My blog blew up! Soon I started getting 40 views from Mason City, Iowa just 10 minutes after I posted. To my knowledge, I didn’t even know anyone from that city. I can say for certain, this was a very inspiring time. I began framing my own understanding as to how powerful the Internet was.
After my experiment ended my network started reaching out to me. Mostly small business owners and local nonprofit leaders to ask me to help them with their digital communications. Facebook was just starting to be a powerful tool for businesses to attract customers, and almost no one had a website that was built for a mobile phone. There was plenty of opportunity out there.
Starting with no direction
This is where I started, without direction, just solving the problems people were asking me to solve. I started out managing social media for a few customers, which eventually lead me to utilizing my software background to build and maintain their websites.
A few things I learned about small businesses early on:
- If they have a website, it’s just for people to find them on a map or contact them.
- They don’t have anyone in-house that can manage their social media or website for them.
- They believe in the power of social media for their business as long as their return on investment is concrete.
As any social media manager experiences, my first customers asked for more ways to justify their marketing expense by tracking and measuring their return on investment. Here’s how they measured it:
- Phone is ringing
- People walking through the door
- New leads
Understanding this, I began strategizing how I could use my technical background to accomplish these things, which lead me to creating my first “mini-website.”
Stepping stones, our first website
These first website’s were simple, I could create a form for the business designed to have people submit a request for more information, then share the link on social media so people would actually click to the form and fill it out. Eureka! New leads and requests for more information started to pour in because people were filling out the form, and I had a new tool to measure the return on investment for my customers.
This is the grassroots start for how we began building full-fledged websites for people. We began just with building forms that were easy for people to fill out on mobile devices. That was our first feature, customized forms.
Understanding our “why” from the onset
Our customers would of course request new features be added. So many requests, we had to establish a system for how we would go about approving or denying a feature. How far can we extend ourselves without jeopardizing our website’s conversational tone? We couldn’t add just any feature. When a customer requested a new feature we would not implement it unless we knew we knew other people (our other customers) would value it as well.
Adding our second website feature
At first, our additions were simple, adding a logo to the top of the page before the form. Easy enough to implement, but then people started asking for an easier way for people to call them (get their phone ringing), or find their business on a map (get people walking through their doors). So we added a few little buttons that when clicked, would actually call, email and even navigate to their business when the user accessed them from a smartphone. Small buttons, BIG function.
Our customers loved these mini-sites. They helped make it easier for their customers to reach them. Measuring return on investment with these sites was easy because either their customers were using them or they weren’t. I think we’re on to something here…
From there people began requesting the ability to add new pages to their mini-website, and they wanted their website to be easily accessible from a laptop or desktop computer.
Seems simple enough right?
Changing the design without losing the function
We knew what made our customers happy with our mini-websites, and we knew for them to continue being adored by our customers we needed to continue to improve them to meet their needs. So we added a navigation bar, a blog, website visitor statistics and the even ability for them to edit content on their own.
With every feature we added we held our intention, our focus to solve our customers pains. It wasn’t long before we were able to package our website offering into a stand-alone service and begin offering it to new customers, too.
Knowing our why
I love sharing this story, because even though there are so many features that have come in the past 5 years of running this business this is our grassroots story.
Our “why” has always been to help our customer’s customers find and contact them, increasing their return on investment and helping them best serve their community. The evolution of our website’s design has never been compromised.
This is what we mean when we say we design websites mobile-first. From the onset, our website’s design has been focused on helping our customer’s customer. Just normal, everyday people wanting to live present in the 21st century.
Stay tuned for the next blog where I talk about the grassroots importance of blogging!
Thanks for being personable, Heath