In September 2015, Enrique Grobbelaar, his partner Francois, and their two friends Ula and Angie started a little blog on how to save money. By early 2017, their project had become so successful that it turned into a full-time job. Enrique shares some of the tips, tricks and lessons their team learned in the process of building a succesful internet business as a sideline.
A really good idea
The idea for the website came from a fairly conservative Afrikaans upbringing, where talking about money was considered rude and common (of eerder “kômmin”).
While standing around a braai with friends, you may discuss politics, religion, your diet and even sex, but no one dares mention their Wonga loan. Money is like Voldemort from Harry Potter: we know it is powerful but we will not speak of it.
Yet, most people have money problems at some stage in their life, or at least money questions, and some people have ways of making their money go further than others can. (Daai ouens wat hulle “rande kan rek”, soos my ma sal sê.) The reluctance of many South Africans to talk about their (often shared) issues with everyday finances is where the Counting Coins team saw a need that they could cater for.
Counting Coins is a news and entertainment website that publishes articles about everything and anything to do with money. We share ideas, news and tips aimed at helping the average South African work a little wiser with their money.
What makes Counting Coins unique and incredibly useful, is the site’s focus on everyday money issues opposed to specialized ones. Not all South Africans have the cash, knowledge, or the risk appetite to play the stock market, but ALL South Africans use washing powder in their homes. Knowing which brand lasts longer, or what setting to put the machine on to lower water and electricity costs, is helpful to everybody.
With Counting Coins we wanted to create a place where people can find real-life, practical tips and stories about money, without any pretence, lecturing, jargon or any get-rich-quick schemes.
A business on the side
The entire Counting Coins team had full time jobs for the first 18 months of the company’s existence. Long and odd hours went into the creation and maintenance of the site. Evenings and weekends where money would usually be spent were sacrificed to blog about saving it. The entire team needed to have patience for the slow process of building an audience, time management skills to make sure they keep their day jobs and their side project alive, and faith in their idea and one another to persevere in tough times.
A lot of late nights, tears and Ricoffy went into creating and growing our site. (When you are starting a new business you can’t afford Douwe Egberts!)
Counting Coins has more helpful tips for startups than just bootstrapping on the coffee brand. Check out their article: 7 tips for starting your own business while keeping your day job.
Content is king!
For bloggers specifically, be they part time or full time, Enrique feels success is largely linked to consistently creating excellent content.
Yes, your website should look pretty, it should load quickly and it should be easy to use, but none of that is going to matter if you don’t give people something that they want to read, watch or listen. Most of our time goes into creating the content for our site. You want to put enough content out there to attract a large audience, but you also want to make sure you have articles that are well-researched and well-written.
No capital? No problem!
In digital business, just like brick and mortar business, having capital to spend means things get done much quicker. Website development and maintenance services, marketers and professional writers are all much easier to hang on to if you can actually pay them. However, do not despair, Counting Coins started with a budget of zero.
In my personal life I was facing near-bankruptcy, hence the idea for Counting Coins, and thus there was little to nothing to start our website with.
The great thing about blogging is it’s a fairly low cost business to get started up. Bloggers do not need fancy office locations to attract customers because their product — their content — is located on the internet. You can run an incredible blog from your spare bedroom… Or if money is really tight, from the coffee shop on the corner which provides free Wifi for the entire day, even if all you order is tap water.
For aspirant bloggers, with little cash to spare, Enrique has some useful tips for getting an internet businesses started without breaking the bank:
- Don’t be scared of starting small. You don’t have to do everything at once. You can even start with just a Facebook page and see if people like what you have to say.
- Use all the free resources you can get. There are lots of resources out there, like WordPress or Blogger.com, which allow you to build and publish basic websites for free.
- Educate yourself about blogs and the internet as much as possible. Before you pay someone, see if you can’t teach yourself how to do it.
The Counting Coins team believes in clever outsourcing of services. They only outsource services which fall outside of their team’s skill set, and only if the skill cannot be learnt by one of them via a self-help service. Enrique is also a big fan of reaching out to others for expertise and of talent pooling in partnerships. Check out the Counting Coins article: Friends and business: is it a good idea?
If you require certain skills for your website and you don’t have the money to pay someone, then try to find someone you trust with the necessary skills to join you in your business. There are always risks involved when going into a business partnership, especially when you are mixing business with your personal life. But, if managed well, it can be very successful. Remember, owning a portion of a successful business, is better than owning 100% of nothing.
Enrique explains that the only way to attract customers to your blog’s internet location is through effective marketing. Some bloggers leverage their power on social media, others dabble with the dark and mysterious magic that is search engine optimization.
I believe that you should try to use as many marketing tools as you can. The experts like to call this an “integrated marketing strategy”.
For most startup bloggers, social media will be key. Eventually you might want to consider putting some money into your social media efforts, or paying a professional to help you, but during the initial stages you can start building your audience without spending money.
Each internet business is different and may require a completely unique strategy. Counting Coins provides an article to guide entrepreneurs on deciding which marketing plan will be most appropriate for their venture. Check out: 5 basic rules to consider if you want to use online marketing for your startup.
Turning traffic into money
So now you have a few thousand people who regularly visit your web page… How do you make money off them? One strategy is that you simply don’t. You make money off other companies who also want to connect with your audience. A common model for income generation on the internet is advertising.
For beginners who want to make money through advertising on their site, I would suggest using Google Adsense. Google Adsense does most of the work for you, so you can focus on building your audience.
Once you get the hang of things, you can consider using affiliate programs. There are a number of affiliate programmes in South Africa, and most online stores also offer their own affiliate programmes.