Mark Collier's Story: Selling Carrots to Consulting.
by Mark Collier
Mark at the Irish Student Enterprise Awards
I’m Mark Collier, I’m 16 and from Dublin, Ireland and I have started a number of small businesses and I’m now working on my biggest project yet. I’ve always been interested in business, my parents are both self-employed and thankfully they shared their stories and experience with me mostly over the dinner table.
I am infamous for my carrot selling business I set up when I was five, selling outside the front of my house to my neighbours at 500% margins on the retail price. My parents secretly reimbursed my unfortunate customers. I had plenty of other local schemes when I was young, but really just small scale stuff that thought me about business, money and helped build a passion in business.
When I was around 11 I really got interested in business on the Internet. My first online venture was on eBay selling used golf balls I sourced from a UK wholesaler. Mark-up was around 35% and I used to buy used stamps, pick out the unfranked ones, take them off their paper and make a massive profit on postage.
If I remember rightly I used to charge €7 (the retail cost of stamps) for postage and it cost me less than €1, not including my time. I ran this business for around a year and sold around $2,000 worth of golf balls. I then looked for a more lucrative good to sell through eBay.
That’s when I came across eBooks. I discovered that you could buy the rights to sell these books from authors for very low rates; the author could make money from affiliate links and advertising inside the eBook. You could buy the rights to an eBook that I knew I could sell at least 20-30 times for $2. It seemed an excellent business proposition.
I was clever with my market research, spending a lot of time trying to choose the best books to buy, based on past sales and a combination of other factors.
To avoid any unnecessary eBay and PayPal fees and rank as highly in the eBay search results, I used to run Buy It Now listings that lasted the maximum 30 days. I had unlimited stock of each book so I could sell as many as I wanted in those 30 days. I charged the minimum 99 cents and made my margin on the postage.
Again I bought and harvested the used stamps and made around €2 gross profit on each book sold, the 99 cent covered my listing and PayPal fees and the postage was virtually all profit. I ran this venture for over a year and made around €1,500 in sales.
It was a clever, but time consuming business model. Add to that eBay’s constant rule changing around selling eBooks and it became a less interesting idea. While eBooks still work, I wouldn’t recommend eBooks on eBay in the current structure.
I was also running a cookies and muffins business in my school. I used to make my own lunches and bring them into school. One day somebody said they would pay me to make them for them. I spotted a gap in the market. My competition was the school cafeteria who had a monopoly on the school lunches market. I began making cookies, muffins and some other lunch time treats for classmates.
On average I sold 30-35 items per day at an average sale price of 70 cent so about €20 per day. My school was very supportive – I was even selling lunches to teachers! It was a fun and interesting business to run but with all my efforts it was very time consuming. I started looking for another business model, with higher margins, low start-up costs and in an area that interested me.
Building websites satisfied all these criteria. I started learning about building websites from Lisa Irby. I learnt the mechanics of building websites, created some terrible throw away sites and focused on the other more important areas: writing content, marketing and SEO. I devoured blogs, videos, books, eBooks and podcasts on each of these topics and I was within a couple of months a theoretical expert on all three.
But to be truly great at anything you have to practice…
So I setup 2buildbacklinks.com to create a website that needed help in building links, PageRank and marketing their site. In hindsight it was a terrible concept choice but I enjoyed it and made a small success out of it anyway. The business model was advertising and a 270 page eBook called Link Building Mastery I wrote that I sold from the site. It was making a steady if low monthly revenue and receiving a decent amount of traffic. I think I was receiving 300-500 visitors per day when I put the website up for sale.
I entered the site as my idea for the Irish Student Enterprise Awards where I won the regional final and was the winner of the most Innovative Business at the national level. In total I won €700 prize money and a free trip for me, a friend and two teachers to Barcelona.
I had another much better, more amazing and much larger scale idea in the pipeline (more on that later) and I knew I needed to clear my workload.
I sold the site to a man from Denmark for $1,200. Plus the profit I had already earned from the site of €800 and the €700 + trip to Spain was my total take from the site. It certainly didn’t make much of a reward for the amount of time I spent on the site but it lead to some huge learnings, lucrative consulting contracts and the stimulus for my first big idea.
Over the course of building 2buildbacklinks.com I shared my story (and others did it for me too!) with other webmasters. I was asked by a couple of companies to do some work with them on their sites. I was more than happy to oblige. While the work isn’t as interesting as your own projects, it is quick and relatively easy cash.
I charged between €15-€20 an hour and I have earned over €2,000 so far consulting, I have a number of ongoing contracts that will provide funding for my next idea TheOpenAlgorithm.
I had cash, experience in running small scale businesses and websites so I decided it was time to go big. I’m seriously interested in SEO and most professional SEOs are nowhere near as knowledgeable in the subject as myself.
I wanted to take my level of contribution from being just a producer of content to being a producer of new information. The content I had created was nothing new, I had learned it from someone else, added a little bit to, formatted it differently and marketed. Now is the time to be different, create something new, create information that people didn’t already know.
I was going to find all the factors of all the major search engine’s algorithms.
Now for those of you who know about SEO you will already be shouting “that’s not possible” and crawling into a fetal position in the corner of the room you are reading this story in.
And you would be right that I will never truly succeed but I’m going to get damn close.
For those who don’t know about SEO, search engines like Google use these complex mathematical formulas called algorithms to decide in less than a second what shows up when you search on Google. They’re made up of at least 10,000 factors or elements that impact the ranking of one site versus another e.g. if Website A loads faster than Website B it will likely show up slightly higher in the search engines.
If you got the top 100 experts list of all the elements they think is in the algorithm we would see a list of around 500-1,000 elements and of those 1,000 we could probably only say with a reasonable certainty that 200 were elements. The goal of TheOpenAlgorithm is to find and prove the other 9,000 elements.
We use this statistical formula called Spearman’s correlation coefficient to say whether or not something is a factor or not. While there is a lot more science behind it
and it’s not a full proof formula by any means, I plan by combining other testing methods and a sprinkle of genius that we will be able to say on a factor by factor basis whether something is part of the algorithm or not.
Ultimately the goal is to have a list of 10,000 elements of each search engine’s algorithm and how much influence each element has, then give it away for free. But if we are successful there will be many options available to us to make money from it, doing training, talks, writing guides, creating software or something more original, following the Google and Facebook model of making it cool/popular before trying to make any money
It’s a massive project. If it works it will shake up the SEO industry, but first I need to learn to program (I am in the early stages of learning Python) and a whole load of other new skills. I expect the project will only really start getting results in 2-3 months and the really big ones in around 6 months time.
In the meantime while I am doing backend work I will be blogging about news and sharing my knowledge around SEO and how to increase your website’s search engine traffic at TheOpenAlgorithm.com
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