Would you believe that Service.com.au, one of Australia’s fastest growing and most comprehensive trades and services online directories… started out with Dan Kerr and his co-founders in an office with a leaking roof, donated furniture and no internet connection?

Believe it.

Dan Kerr tells us how the co-founders of Service.com.au created a successful online trades directory for businesses across Australia in need of more online presence and exposure to clients.

Getting Started: From Big Ideas to Big Returns

Dan’s co-founder, Jacob Banks, worked in sales for a large print directory in the Gold Coast. The more advertising he sold, the more frustrated he became.

He noticed his clients were paying huge dollars for little to no return on their investment. And tradies were the hardest hit.

So was launched the idea of a trades-specific online directory, where the entry-level costs of physical printing were eliminated. This online directory would also enable clients to track page activity, providing the business with more transparency over the performance of their advertising, and ultimately the ability to calculate a monthly ROI.

Jacob quickly pitched the idea to Dan Kerr and Dexter Devlin, now co-founders of Service.com.au.

But starting out was no picnic. Dan explains that the early days were full of learning as they went along.

“We were set about moving into a small office on the Gold Coast, little did we know there was no internet connection. Hard to start an internet based startup without the internet. ”

Their next move was to purchase an out-of-the-box directory website, which they overlaid with their own design.

Cold calls to tradies across Australia then gave them insights into the current advertising methods tradespeople were using. They wanted to find out whether trades businesses would be willing to pay for an online solution that gave them better reporting on the effectiveness of their campaigns.

“Initially we started by offering 30 day FREE trials, little did we know 30 days later no-one would pay as we had no traffic to the site. It was 3 months of contacting trades businesses before the first sale was made.”

The founders never took a wage, and all worked second jobs in the evenings. All revenue generated was reinvested into the business.

But today, Services.com.au has over 50,000 businesses on their site, connecting them to thousands of potential clients every week. The hard work paid off.

Having identified the gap for affordable, effective advertising for tradies, Dan and his co-founders created a service where tradies pay a low annual subscription for a priority listing in the directory and receive unlimited enquiries via phone, email and SMS.

The Startup Dilemma: When To Outsource

One of the first challenges for Dan and team was deciding when to outsource, and when to develop internal capabilities. In the beginning, technology was one of the services that they felt needed to be outsourced.

“To start with all of our technology was outsourced and therefore we relied on agencies, which by their nature are expensive and can take a long time to deliver. In saying that, it has allowed us to grow the business to this point and as none of the co-founders are technically proficient, we wouldn’t be where we are without it”

More recently the startup employed their first full-time web-developer. A positive change that has led to measurable progress over the past 6 months.

“Primarily we found that we were outsourcing tasks which were purely bandaid solutions to ensure the website was up and running. No work was really being done to advance the product or provide a better experience for our customer base”

Now, the team is only dedicating 10% of their time to fixing website issues and running updates. As much as 90% of their time is spent releasing new features and improving the product and experience for both their users and service providers.

But one service they have chosen to keep outsourced – is their bookkeeping and finances.

Bean Ninjas assisted Service.com.au with setting up Xero for their business, and the relationship keeps growing. Now Bean Ninjas continues to assist with any Xero issues, day-to-day bookkeeping queries, and the preparation and submission of their quarterly BAS statements.

“The biggest benefit would have to be the ability to talk with professionals and get prompt feedback on accounting related issues. In the past, bookkeeping and submitting our BAS was a laborious process that has been made a whole lot easier since joining up with Bean Ninjas.”

SEO, Content Marketing, and Steps for Effective Media Exposure

Now, Dan and co-founders Jacob and Dexter might have found the simple ‘phone call’ to be a good strategy for sourcing those first few businesses. But, they also recognised that they were dealing with a double-sided marketplace.

They needed tradies, and clients looking for tradies.

To enable this double-sided growth, Service.com.au does a lot of work around SEO, content marketing and having exposure in as many media outlets as possible.

They try to publish new content every other day. This content takes the form of tips and tricks for their users (normally to do with renovating), puzzles and quizzes, and educational material for their tradies.

A focus on being ‘mobile friendly’ and having a good site structure for SEO has led to positive results for Services.com.au.

We get the odd blog that does really well but I truly believe it’s a long game and about producing good content on a consistent basis.”

Some recent media exposure highlights have been features on 9 News and 2GB radio. Dan offers 3 simple tips for effective media exposure:

First Tip: Take every opportunity that presents itself.

Second Tip: Put yourself out there for people to stumble upon your story. If no-one knows what you’re doing, they can’t write about it.

Third Tip: Find a great PR person who already has the contacts!

Once you’re getting the exposure, Dan Kerr suggests you monitor the return on your investment.

“This is always a challenge and the traditional media channels like tv/radio/ newspapers are particularly hard to measure. It’s often more a feel or best guess, looking at trends in your analytics.”

However, Dan advises, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Offer codes or ask users ‘where did you hear about our business?’.
  2. Annotate your analytics whenever you get additional exposure. This way you can look back and analyse any changes in revenue that coincide with these events.
  3. Monitor referral traffic and where users have come from. Advertising specific landing pages and then looking at traffic from that source can be helpful too.

Dan Kerr’s Recommended Reads, Podcasts and Programmes

First on the list for Dan’s recommended resources is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

“I think it gives some great insights into how to deal with people, which is key in any business.”

But, if you’re not big on reading, Dan also suggests the Startup Podcast, which gives great insight into the early stages of starting a business.

“There were plenty of scenarios that really resonated with our journey.”

Finally, a resource that really assisted in their journey was the Bond Business Accelerator run by Bond University, that Service.com.au graduated from at the end of 2014. 

“The program really opened us up to networks of people we wouldn’t have come across by ourselves and got us to think more strategically about our business as opposed to always focusing operationally. I’d highly recommend any kind of accelerator/incubator to any startup or small business.”

 

So, where will YOUR business start? Perhaps in a leaky office in the Gold Coast? Or maybe from your very own couch?

The more important question, though, is when?

Whether you launch in 7 days, just like Bean Ninjas did, or you start blogging about your passion and then turn your blog into multiple 6-figure businesses like Joel Runyan did, it’s completely possible.

You’ve just got to get into action! Could you be our next customer success story? (We sure hope so!)

Meryl Johnston

Meryl Johnston

Co-founder at Bean Ninjas
Meryl is a Chartered Accountant, entrepreneur and surfer!

Prior to Bean Ninjas she ran a cloud accounting consulting firm, worked in both commercial accounting roles, as an auditor (BDO), and as a lecturer in accounting and audit.
Meryl Johnston
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