by Maura Kelly (Adapted from March Irish Echo article)

Being self-employed and owning a business is a dream for many people. Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t have the start-up capital needed for the bricks and mortar. That is one of the reasons why ambitious starts-up’s are turning to the Internet. For a fraction of the cost, you can launch a virtual enterprise online.

However, on the Internet not everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. Everyday, thousands of sites fail to shine while others become Web sensations overnight. From the stay-at-home Mom blogger who has a bigger audience than a best selling author, to the kid who gets discovered from a YouTube clip, “certain” people are turning their passions into profits. Overall, the online economy is going through a second boom and in January the US Commerce Department reported that E-commerce sales alone totaled $165 billion in 2010.  And, according to a new study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) interactive advertising is responsible for $300 billion of economic activity in the US.

To illustrate the passion to profit story, Pete Cashmore created Mashable.com when he was a 19yr old living in Aberdeen, Scotland. Launched as a one-person blog in 2005, today Mashable.com is one of the world’s most profitable blogs. This must-read website for tech connoisseurs on social media trends has over 11 million monthly readers and reports millions of dollars in revenue through its advertising and events businesses. Now 24, Pete has managed to scale his small business into a major online player by creating content people want to read. He developed his product first and the advertisers came to him. In fact, the most successful bloggers focus on the reader first and then on the money.

BalconyTV.com is one of my favorites. Founded in 2006 by three flat mates in Dublin who had a balcony, they decided to create an online show featuring musicians on –what else, a balcony. “Music with a View” is their tagline and to date Balcony TV Dublin has featured hundreds of performers, such as the Ash and The Script.  They’ve since moved to a bigger balcony but their overhead is still low and bands are lining up to perform. More importantly advertisers have noticed the 15 million viewers who tune in. In 2011, balconies are buzzing in Germany, London, and NYC with several new locations in the planning stage.

New York Bars On a local level (NYC) I have to mention fellow IBO member, Sean Murphy and MurphGuide Entertainment. The heart of MurphGuide.com is wrapped up in its tagline: “Connecting the Fun to the Fun People” The website is a nightlife events destination for busy New Yorkers and visitors. From live music round ups to charity fundraisers and “happy hour” locations, the site has events for everyone.  

Sean started MurphGuide Entertainment in 1997 as a side business while working at Verizon. He decided he wanted to make a name for himself in “nightlife marketing” and soon became an avid student of the night.  Word of mouth and weekly email marketing blasts helped build a community of partners and attract readers to MurphGuide.com. In the past ten years, the site and blog has grown and become one of NYC’s more popular nightlife events resources.  As it turns out, March is the busiest month for the site, because readers are looking for St. Patrick’s events and the sports fans are looking for places to watch March Madness (NCAA basketball). 

I recently caught up with Sean in Manhattan and here is what he had to say. I started MG as a side project and self- financed it. Three years in, I decided to quit my job and devote by fulltime energy to building the business. Originally, my main source of income was producing and promoting nightlife events. Advertisers came later when the Website had built up a following.

How did you build your brand and grow readership? I didn’t have much of an advertising budget in the beginning. Early on, I realized that on-line marketing was the way to go. I developed a lot of partnerships and link exchanges with other event promoters, bands, venues, etc. When Google launched and quickly got popular, things started to pay off for me. Google takes into consideration the number of sites that link back to your site.  I have many partners and Google is still my number one source of traffic.

Tell me about the MurphGuide community? The MurphGuide readers are New Yorkers and visitors who appreciate the fun things that the City has to offer — music, comedy, pubs, restaurants and theater. The age range varies. My original readers and friends still follow me and are now 35-45 and up.  MurphGuide continues to reach new readers in their 20s and 30s – college kids and those who just moved to NYC.
 
How did the recession affect a business based on entertainment?
I have lost business due to the recession –some companies reduced their advertising budgets and consumers reduced their entertainment budgets. On the other hand, I have gained new clients and new readers both looking for deals and connections.
 
How do you extend engagement with the MurphGuide community?
From the beginning, I hosted MurphGuide branded events as a way to get the MurphGuide readers to connect with each other in the real world.  Since the Web is constantly evolving, MurphGuide has to evolve right along with it.  For example, we have developed a strong following on Twitter – (twitter.com/murphguide). Our Facebook page is still growing (MurphGuide.com/facebook). I have also become involved with Meetup.com which is an events oriented social networking site. I particularly recommend the NY Celtic Music Meetup Group and the Irish in NY Meetup Group. It’s all about getting out there and meeting your customers –your community and being accessible. 

Where do you go for inspiration and support? My friends and family have been my mentors and best inspiration. I enjoy discussing Internet industry trends with them, and I share what I learn with my clients and help them manage their digital presence. The IBO- the Irish Business Organization (www.IBO-ny.com) has been very helpful too. I have been a member since 2000 and have met suppliers, clients, mentors and friends.

 

As Sean knows, there are amazing resources online for individuals looking for inspiration and information on joining the online economy. Check out http://www.mixergy.com and Gary Vaynerchuk’s best selling book “Crush It.”  While the online community is thriving don’t underestimate the importance of off-line relationships. The IBO holds monthly events and get-togethers and this year will march up Fifth Avenue with Martin Dunne as IBO Grand Marshall of the 250th St Patrick’s Day Parade.  For information, go to www.ibo-ny.com.

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