Kent Business School’s 12-week extra-curricular Business Start-Up Journey (BSUJ) has quickly gained traction since it began back in November 2015, helping an array of bright young business minds apply their wider skills to creating and running a business. Ebenezer Kouao is now in his final year studying Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Kent and was one of those students who took part in the first BSUJ. He now runs his own business alongside his studies.
What is your business concept?
My business is in digital ‘Affiliate Marketing’. I am running a few websites catered to specific niche products that bring several thousand unique visitors, each with the intent to buy, to my sites.
A somewhat unconventional business, as an affiliate marketer, my mission is to provide value to my audience by solving their questions and educating them about the products they wish to buy. Through this I can effectively ‘sell’ products on behalf of manufactures from which a commission is received.
My first “successful site” is www.thecoolerreviews.com. Its primary goal is to become an authority brand within the coolers, beverage and tailgating (motoring, trucking and camper vanning) industry.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea of Affiliate Marketing came from the fact that I had no idea how to market to an audience.
During my first year I developed a start-up project called JobbFeed.com. JobbFeed’s main objective was to connect graduate computer software developers with employers using a match card interface based on location. The problem is that JobbFeed had no real audience or organic traffic. I learned that realistically JobbFeed is only as valuable as the audience who use it.
The subsequent business idea of affiliate marketing came from me wanting to apply practical learning to understanding effective audience targeting. Learning how to market an already trusted product would help me better understand the needs of an audience in order to build a consumer service, rather than the other way round. This eventually led me into the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and Affiliate Marketing.
What processes and changes did the business go through?
The best change I made to my business was to delegate and outsource my content. Creating content for my site can be time-consuming especially when each piece of content is a minimum 2,500 words and this, coupled with studying for my degree in Computer Systems Engineering, meant only so much time could go into building a business.
To afford this change I learnt to re-invest profits into the business and with that I hired two exceptional people; a freelance writer and a graphic designer. The ability of detailed delegation allowed me to focus on the bigger picture leading to increased productivity, value and efficiency.
What were the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge was learning patience and how to plan in the presence of uncertainties. Creating a new site with intentions to be an authority site is not a short-term goal, and I learnt it is something that does not happen overnight. My first website did not break 20 monthly searches until it was six months in, before that I created two “unsuccessful sites.”
What has been the thing you have enjoyed the most?
One thing I have enjoyed the most is the planning and the process. Results don’t show the next day; it takes a while to market your site and build a brand. The idea of knowing what you did six months before has helped you today, and what you did today would help you six months after is interesting. Also, knowing you provided enough value that manufacturers want to be featured on your site, partnering and sending products to be reviewed is amazing.
I like to think of affiliate marketing as farming; it’s slow, but with careful planning about the nature of the soil and the environmental conditions, a tangible crop can grow.
How do you see your business developing?
Scalability is the name of the game right now. The goal is to scale my sites to a larger outreach and audience, expanding the product categories I review and cover. As of now, I have stuck strictly to organic techniques – SEO and gaining referrals from authority sites.
Since most of my traffic is targeted at the US, one thing I would like to develop further is the use of social media, email marketing and offers to amplify each brand’s presence, as well increase the returning user base.
How did your degree course help you?
Learning how to program using application programming interfaces (APIs) and scripting code for my website has been very beneficial as most of the costs were with maintaining a database and hosting. This knowledge gained through my degree allows me to be my own technician, reducing costs as well as giving me an advantage over the competition by incorporating APIs e.g. Amazon Web Service’s API and analytics tools.
How did the Business Stat-Up Journey help you?
I had the privilege to join the very first Kent Business Start-Up Journey. Coming from an engineering background, I knew very little about business and all its terminologies, I am still learning now.
The Business Start-up Journey is really a road to greatness. It has really helped me learn how to hone in on my craft and apply it into the world of business. Transforming my mini-projects into a possible start-up, failing, learning and being able to pivot my skills into a new industry is credited to the programme.
Further, I joined a helpful community of peers where we could constructively criticise and attempt to break each other’s business plan, only to strengthen it. Also, learning the communication skills from pitching your own product was significantly beneficial.
Lastly, the helpful staff and mentors make it an awesome journey – if you’re a person interested in business, this is an opportunity I urge you do not miss!
What advice would you give to anyone looking to set up their own business?
JUST START and calibrate after. I’ve never really written a business plan or proposal, the best thing close to that was on a scrap piece of A4 paper. I believe the goal in business is to provide value for your customers. And your goal is to make the best Minimum Viable Product (MVP), test it with the market, know its desires and requirements, and from there re-calibrate. Iterate this 3-step process.
At worst, pivot. The term failure is subjective in business; an interesting quote from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is; “Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.”
Only you get to define that.
Ebenezer Kouao is a final year student studying Computer Systems Engineering at the University of Kent.