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 Note: Anyone can start a directory business in any part of the country. This is a great business opportunity helping small businesses get found by customers looking for their product or service.  The biggest requirement for starting this type of business is being outgoing and helpful.

Business: Find It Montana      Owner: Maria Phelps

Location: Montana     Website: www.finditmontana.com

Type of Business: Online Directory guide to find businesses, services, attractions, fun and life in Montana. This is a directory of small businesses and services that helps businesses be found by potential customers, along with providing marketing solutions to help small businesses succeed.

Estimated Start-Up Capital: $250 – $2500 This business opportunity can be started part-time with little capital, though to succeed you’ll need to work hard. The biggest expense which will be discussed below is developing a good website which can be outsourced easily. This business takes more time than it does initial capital.

Business Background:  Maria originally spent 6 years working in a hospital as a nurse while figuring out what she would do when finishing school.  The one thing she strongly enjoyed while working in a hospital was helping people, but a fear she had was burning out in the hospital and not enjoying it possibly one day.Maria_web200-

Maria always had a strong desire to own a business. Maria’s husband and herself looked at several different franchises, considered starting a retail clothing store, a restaurant and several other types of small businesses. While completing school, working and looking at several different business models, they noticed several small businesses closing around them.  The economy wasn’t exactly strong and the one thing she didn’t want to do was open a competing business  in the local community, while others were closing.

Maria is extremely outgoing and noticed that many small businesses, though having great products or services, were having difficulty being found.  This is when she had an aha moment and decided to help other businesses, instead of opening her own business and competing.

Business Model: FinditMontana is a place where people can come to find other businesses in the local area easily:FinditMontana

 

Owners can list their businesses on the directory that Maria spends time getting traffic to. Business can also receive help for their business through consulting, receive social marketing assistance and much more.  A directory listing starts at $35 a year for a simple listing, $145 for a Pro listing and a featured listing service is also available.  Each package offers different features, and her number one goal is helping businesses just get started to get better exposure online.

Starting the business was done by posting on Facebook what she was looking to do in helping businesses. She also attended several networking events, placed phone calls to businesses and got out to meet people face to face. She wanted everyone to know about the business and initially gave away a lot to build up the site.  In a year she built up a directory of just under 500 businesses, though has plenty of room for further growth as she continues to help businesses get found and succeed.

Initially Maria started as FinditFlathead.com in the beginning of 2012.  The directory grew because she was helping businesses grow, be found and has an amazing passion for the community.  Soon surrounding areas of Montana were requesting her services and thus FinditMontana was born.

Business Set-up Cost: The start-up costs aren’t traditionally high for this type of business. This can be run from your home and requires a website being designed that can handle a lot of data. To keep the cost extremely low, they developed their initial site on Yola. Yola is free and you can have a professional looking site up in moments.  Maria recommends though starting with a good site like WordPress.

As her site grew to 1000 pages inside the first few months, she had to have a new site designed. Moving 1000 pages of a site is a lot harder than just having it built out originally. The new site cost under $2000 to have it developed and performs much better.  You can find help designing a site with local small business web designers or check out Elance or Odesk for help creating a website.

Biggest Small Business Mistakes: Like all new small business owners, mistakes happen.  In the beginning a lot was given away to get the site up, though she learned that businesses were willing to not only pay for the listings that were driving business, but that they’d pay for her time.  Early on she had a directory listing customer who wanted to meet for help at her storefront.  Maria was so busy as the business was growing that she said she’d have to charge the customer an hourly rate to meet.  The customer was surprised to hear this, as she said she expected to pay a fee. Lesson 1 is if you give great service customers expect to pay for it and are more than willing.

Another early on mistake was worrying about having everything in the beginning. She worried about having a mobile site and other minor issues that initially wouldn’t impact the big picture of the company. Stay focused and power forward, verse worrying about every minor detail that will prevent you from starting.

Best Marketing Ideas:

  1. Network with other professionals as often as possible.  Maria provided great advice saying that you should try and network with older more experienced business owners when possible.  They’ve been around the block and can provide tremendous advice and guidance.  Maria is active also with Young Professionals and excited with their entrepreneurial spirits, thus sits on the board of a group of young entrepreneurs. 
  2. Collaborate with everyone, even competitors. Try to build alliances of ways of working with one another.
  3. Social networking is highly important. The more businesses you help when having a directory business, the more other businesses want that help.   Twitter and Facebook are all great marketing tools.
  4. Submitting articles about whats going on in the community to other sites  like blogs, magazines and other media helps get more traffic to her site and thus traffic to her customers.

Typical Work Week: Great part about starting a directory online business is you can develop your own schedule.  Typically she spends 6 hours a day minimum and around 40 hours a week.  As a solopreneur you handle a lot of the various tasks which can require more work at times.  She loves the flexibility to create her own schedule to be available for her small business customers and be a mom!

Recommended Tools and Resources:

  • Entrepreneur Magazine
  • Read tons of social media sites each day.
  • The Bean Cast  is a great Podcast on marketing for small businesses
  • iPad – Couldn’t live without it 🙂

Parting advice for Starting a Business: If you have a dream you can accomplish anything. You’re the only person that can prevent yourself from succeeding, so make sure you never have to say “I wish I had”. Regret is terrible! You need to live your dreams and fulfill your passions. The best advice Maria ever received herself, was from an 80 year old author and business friend who said the following:

“The little expenses are what will kill your business. You don’t need every little gadget or hottest toy.  All those $10 and $35 dollar items add up and end up killing small businesses. Keep your head down and focus on your customers.” 

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