That’s one of my all-time favorite lines from Office Space. Cracks me up every time I see it. John C. McGinley delivers it perfectly.
What do I do? I get asked that question by a lot of people. I’ve written before that it’s not exactly my favorite thing to talk about, mostly because so few people understand anything beyond “he works with computers”.
However, there are plenty of people I associate with who do understand web business and have a pretty good understanding of our business. Those conversations are my favorite. I have noticed though that one question does come up rather often. People see us running SportsLizard, Detailed Image, and LockerPulse, and also doing some side projects, and don’t really see the connection. Like, are we spreading ourselves too thin and not becoming good at any one thing?
It’s a really interesting question, mostly because there is no right answer. I have my opinion, but one can certainly make a valid argument the other way.
Anyway, first and foremost, I love side projects and I love new projects. They keep me excited and motivated, but that alone isn’t necessarily enough to justify their business value. One only has to look to Google’s 70/20/10 break down of time as a model for how working on side projects can help your business immensely.
Still, maybe even more so than Google, our side projects and secondary projects directly help our primary project, Detailed Image.
Everything we’ve ever done has had a bunch in common:
- We use servers running Apache on Linux, with WHM/cPanel as the control panel system (we’ve used other control panel systems here and there, but now everything is on cPanel)
- We’re selling something online – premium subscriptions (SportsLizard, LockerPulse), products (Detailed Image), and services in the past
- We rely on having search engine optimized sites (read my essay SEO & Web Marketing For New Web Ventures for more on our strategy)
- We market almost exclusively online, with some PPC marketing and a variety of sponsorships
- We build highly targeted newsletter lists slowly over time and integrate those in to our marketing campaigns
- We use PayPal to process all of our transactions
That is what we do. There’s probably more, but that’s what comes to mind off the top of my head.
There are so many times where something we’ve done on a previous site makes the process on a new site 100x easier. LockerPulse could have never been done so rapidly if there weren’t years of experience built up, not only in programming but in everything that goes with running a web business. I was able to set up and test our subscription system in less than a day because it’s essentially the same thing we’ve been using for years successfully on SportsLizard. There’s a piece of mind that comes with that too – the more of that stuff we’ve “solved”, the more effort we can expend on other things.
Then there’s times when new projects help Detailed Image. I discovered a better way to do our internal redirecting on DI when a Z.ips.ME user emailed me a potential issue with our 301 redirect header. I solved a lot of problems with scalability on LockerPulse which will help us with DI. We also built a pretty good mobile site for LockerPulse. It forced me to build a solid foundation in mobile layouts and mobile browser detection, so that when we go to build a mobile e-commerce site for DI we won’t be starting from scratch. We’re often able to kill two birds with one stone. We’re also able to discover things that work on one site (say, premium subscriptions coupled with advertising on SportsLizard) and port that model to another site (LockerPulse). It doesn’t guarantee success, but the more data we have across all of our sites the more we’re able to learn.
And of course, as a collective team, we have an interest and some expertise in those industries. I collected sports cards for almost my entire life up until a few years ago. Greg and George detailed professionally for a few years. And we all love our sports.
I think rather than look at it as we’re trying to become experts in sports cards and detailing and sports news, I look at it as us trying to become experts in web design, web development, and web marketing, and then applying those skills to what interests us most and to where we see business opportunities.