Today is the marketing launch date for our new publication, Ontario Construction News. Today’s door-opening reflects a rare challenge for someone who has asserted he is a marketing expert for more than a decade in this blog — because the product is my initiative.
The feeling here is something akin to a journalist becoming part of the news story — really uncomfortable. It is one thing to offer advice to others; it is quite another to actually do the job. And I realize (since marketing is both science and an art) that I might fall flat on my face with a big failure.
As we prepare for the launch, some thoughts about our situation quite probably apply to yours. Remember, observations here are in live time — I don’t know how things will work.
Every business/marketing challenge is unique.
For Ontario Construction News, the challenge is developing a regional daily electronic newspaper designed to match certain extremely specific requirements in the Ontario Construction Act. Unlike other jurisdictions in North America, the regional (provincial) law requires the publication of a government-mandated form, a Certificate of Substantial Performance (CSP), when a project is almost complete. This sets off certain very specific time-based deadlines for the setting and perfection of construction liens and the release of holdbacks.
Until now, the law’s wording was so specific that contractors and owners could only publish these legally required notices in one publication, the Daily Commercial News, which benefited from something extremely rare in business — a mandatory, legal monopoly requiring the entire market to do business with a particular business.
The new legislation passed last summer changes the definition of “newspaper” to allow the product to be digital — but the other specific requirements remain in place. We are perhaps the only other publisher equipped to enter the market, and so it seems to have a reasonable chance of success.
Market research is important, but cannot answer every question.
In our case, we could tell exactly how many certificate notices have been published each month for the past several years, and in fact, I built a spreadsheet from that information. We can also roughly estimate the fees charged for these ads, and determine the market size. It’s impressive.
What we cannot answer — and won’t know until we go out there — is how much market share we will actually capture, even if we offer a 50 per cent off discount on current rates. The reason: We cannot truly start selling these advertisements until just a few days before we start the daily publication schedule because these ads are extremely time-specific and must be published within a few days of receiving the order. The question: How much market elasticity is there for a purchase some only need occasionally, but a few higher volume clients might need several times a year.
Risk mitigation is important (and it is best to assume the worst, while hoping for much better).
In the initial planning for this business, we plugged in some reasonably conservative numbers — a 10 per cent market share at 50 per cent discount — and came up with a “wow, this works” model. But as the months passed, I began to experience some cold feet. Unlike previous start-ups, where I could obtain cash-in-advance orders for a publication even before we had a physical prototype (or at least, firm orders, with commitments to pay the bill before our costs would be incurred), we cannot sell Ontario Construction News ads until we truly are publishing daily — with its truly massive editorial and production challenges.
I did what I could to mitigate the risk, entering into strategic alliances where up-front fees are either deferred or turned into performance/results-based compensation. I also accepted I would have to work rather hard for a while on a bootstrap budget, so set the launch for when I wouldn’t be needing to take any vacations for a few months. And I worked on cutting every external cost possible to minimize the risk to cash flow.
This means if the business starts off slowly, or fails, the loss will be painful, but it won’t cause me to lose my home, retirement savings, or (hopefully) dignity.
There’s joy and growth in starting something new.
Traditionally 65-years-old is defined as a retirement age — and in fact the Government of Canada has started paying me the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security benefits (similar to the US Social Security system). We’re also eligible for seniors discounts which come in handy.
But right now I feel more like a young student taking advantage of student discounts as I hold the line on costs and set out to make this project happen. Although there is obviously plenty of stress in the exercise, it is still both stimulating and rewarding, and I will have no regrets — even if the initiative flops.
We’ll see soon. Our marketing partner is preparing the notification blitz to a 20,000 plus qualified audience in a matter of minutes. Stay tuned. It is going to be an interesting ride.