The immediate challenge is discovering an economical and reliable method of generating interesting and relevant editorial content for a revitalized network of U.S. construction websites -- the foundation for our business regrowth south of the border.
This project dates back in original concept to 2005 -- when I registered a diversity of domains, contracted with offshore developers to design a content-management system, and envisaged soft-touch site maintenance with revenue from Google AdSense.
The project then never succeeded. The Pakistani and Indian-built sites (yes, I actually had sub-contractors in both 'warring' nations working on the project), produced sites minimally to my specifications, but utterly useless in quality and design. In any case, I didn't have any useful content to put on the sites, so they languished. Foolishly, I left the AdSense code in place -- earning virtually nothing from the horrible under-construction sites, while I made a modest income from my active blog and core sites associated with our printed publications, which we maintained reasonably well.
Then, Google lowered the boom, disabling my business account with a "significant risk to AdWords advertisers message." I didn't know at the time how the fact that I continued to have a valid personal AdSense account tied to my blog would change my life, and result in me becoming something of an AdSense expert a few years later (though the money from AdSense is still insignificant in the overall business.)
Well, now we are planning to restore these defunct domains to life, but we will take a gradual approach, building some useful content, looking for qualified local representatives, and tying the sites into creative and well-respected industry-specific live networking events (especially co-ordinated by the Design and Construction Network (mydcn.com). We have a plan for a high-quality (but not wildly extreme) design update to increase the sites functionality and cross-media usefulness.
The unanswered problem, though, is content. The sites need current news, updated with some frequency, and solid features to attract and retain readers (and ultimately local advertising representatives and advertisers.)
Accordingly, I've been casting my net for qualified writers to take things forward.
I started with the job board at our local Carleton University, receiving two applications. I also posted on the Service Canada job bank -- so far no responses. This afternoon, I tried another service, odesk.com, which provides an employee-type independent contractor system, where work is billed by the hour. (You can also bid by project at fixed rates, but here, odesk competes against well-established project services such as elance.com).
The service attracts workers/contractors from around the world. Not surprisingly, hourly billing rates are far lower for offshore suppliers than North American ones. However, we need writers who can understand the nuances of the North American construction industry, write clearly and effectively in English, and generate relevant content geared for specific local communities and regions. It is a tough challenge.
So far I've received six applications. I'm taking a simple approach. Each applicant will receive a three hour paid assignment at the rate the individual specifies (whether it be $3.00 or $22.00 per our.) I want the writers to suggest three locally relevant stories, and write one 500 word piece. I give some optional additional assignments, as well, without hourly compensation, to see if any of the writers will go beyond the minimum.
I'm not sure what results we will achieve, but at an average cost of less than $15.00 per hour for, effectively, 18 hours of work, the research budget is about $250.00. If all goes well, I will have six decent stories, at a cost of $45.00 a story, relatively inexpensive compared to the usual freelance rates. Of course, it is quite possible that the contractors will deliver garbage, or "work" without producing any valuable results. This is a risk I am prepared to take.
The larger picture relates to our overall business strategic direction, succession planning, and growth, of which the U.S. expansion project described above is just one example. The consultant had been recommended by another successful business owner. He told me that he gets all of his business from referrals (something I think you can understand from your own experience). However, he hit the right nerves when he suggested that one route for me to go as I advance in age and prepare to relinquish day-to-day responsibilities for the business is to become a consultant -- one who can and should earn upwards of $300,000 a year. Not bad for a part-time "job".
I'm a long way from there. In the meantime, we'll continue to build, experiment, grow and seek out better ways to find employees and contractors, develop content, and enhance and build the business.
I enjoyed the day.