Anita Campbell has been an entrepreneur at heart her entire life. A lawyer by training, she has a wide range of interests, as reflected in her varied background in banking, information technology, human resources, marketing and eCommerce.
Anita Campbell is the CEO of her own business, Small Business Trends LLC, a media and information company. In that role she closely follows trends in the small business market and trends in technology. Before starting her entrepreneurial journey she held various executive positions in the corporate world. Most recently she was a senior executive with Bell & Howell Company, including serving as CEO of a technology subsidiary of Bell & Howell.
1. How did Small Business Trends get started?
Small Business Trends was started in 2003 with a very simple need — for an easy-to-use-tool to publish articles online for an email newsletter. You see, I’d been in the Corporate world. After I left there I started doing some consulting, and realized I needed an email newsletter to grow my marketing efforts. From the beginning content was a big part of my marketing strategy! But I was having trouble putting articles online to link to in the newsletter. A friend suggested I go over to Blogger.com and try a blog because it was so easy to publish. And he was right – I couldn’t believe how easy it was to publish online with a blog. That sounds silly today. But you have to remember this was the summer of 2003. Blogs were radical. Back then there were probably only a hundred or so business blogs. We all knew each other! Really. It wasn’t long before more people read the blog than the newsletter. Like any good entrepreneur, I adjusted my approach and started putting more effort on the blog. Month by month it grew. Fast forward nine years later. That simple tool turned into a business.
2. Tell me what Small Business Trends is doing for SMB owners.
We are obsessively focused on small businesses and entrepreneurs. The small business market is the only market we serve. If it’s a new product launch, an important economic development, social media used by small businesses, marketing, operations, finance – and it is of interest to small businesses — we cover it. We provide Web communities, syndicated content, awards and events for the benefit of small business owners, manager and entrepreneurs. Small Business Trends is the name of the company as well as our flagship website. It is an award-winning online publication for small business owners, entrepreneurs and the people who interact with them. Small Business Trends is one of the most popular independent small business publications on the Web, reaching 5+ million small business and entrepreneurs annually. We also run BizSugar, a social media site specifically for small businesses. Our tagline is: “Small business success … delivered daily.”
3. How were you able to grow Small Business Trends to the readership and credibility that it has today?
I bootstrapped the business every step of the way – starting with a small amount of personal savings. Almost every bit of profit was reinvested. I took the slow way – but I think you must start out with a vision for the long term and allow yourself the time to succeed, and not cut yourself short. As a friend of mine, author Barry Moltz, told me recently “Growing fast is overrated.” He’s right. The 4 key things were:
1) Focus on being known for something (in our case, covering small business issues). Early on I viewed the site as a publishing business, not my own blog. That guided me in focusing on small business content and not to get sidetracked writing about a hodgepodge of topics.
2) Persistence: you have to stick with it, even during times when it feels like there’s been no progress. Usually when that feeling is strongest, you soon take a jump to the next level!
3) Quality: be relentless about improving. It’s hard on a small budget to address all quality issues – but don’t settle! Even on a very limited budget, we added the best writers we could get and the best tech help we could afford. Yes, we made typos (we still do!). Yes, the site crashed (it happens less frequently today, but it happens). Yes, we had a bad logo for years (long story that!). But we never stopped trying to improve.
4) Cash to give you a long enough runway for the business to get off the ground. I won’t kid you – there’s never enough money when you bootstrap. It helps a great deal if you have another household income, or hold a part-time job or do some consulting or writing on the side (as I did for years). It’s a drag, but it’s reality.
4. What made you take the leap from the corporate world to starting your own website about small businesses?
I had started up an intrapreneurial venture inside the corporation. It was an Internet venture. When the 2000-2001 Dotcom bubble burst, the corporation decided to sell off part of it. I’d had a taste of being an entrepreneur and didn’t want to go back, and chose to leave. I’d had a very successful corporate career, and after a while money alone is not enough. I needed other challenges, such as growing something bigger than my own efforts.
5. What was your biggest struggle in transitioning to starting your own business?
I’ve always enjoyed working so I had no problem with the kinds of things often mentioned by newly-minted entrepreneurs, such as self-discipline, avoiding distractions and keeping regular work hours. In fact, I have the opposite problem – I often have to force myself to “turn off.” I’d say the biggest thing was having big ideas, but no longer having all the corporate support or budget to carry it out. It’s frustrating to see opportunities, but not have enough time or money to pursue them.
6. What do you do in a typical day?
Well, I have to admit: it’s not glamorous. It’s not exciting. But it is mentally and even spiritually rewarding. As soon as I arrive at my computer in the morning, I visit all the sites – it’s the online version of “management by walking around.” I check comments, and moderate any, and respond to a few myself. Then I check social media for comments and messages and try to respond. If I am really pressed for time, sometimes I have to defer this. Then I check email. Email for us is a huge source of business. We get emails from about a dozen inboxes. I have staff who monitor many of them, but they often forward things to me for decisions after they’ve filtered through them. You cannot be an Internet news publisher without being open to communicating, and most of that comes through email. However, I never look at email as a burden. Instead, emails are opportunities that come directly into our computers. What could be better than that? I am in ongoing Google chat communication with my Operations Manager and IT Manager throughout the day. I work on sales proposals, growing traffic and special projects. Typically I work from 8 to 6pm, with a couple of breaks to walk around outside during the day. Sometimes I come back after dinner and do a bit of work. That is often when I write, because it is the only uninterrupted time I have. That’s when I check reports and stats (analytics, etc.), too – so that I have “thinking” time to evaluate how we’re doing and what we need to change. This is strategic and tactical. Even though I work alone, I am constantly communicating with people via chat and email so there’s really quite a lot of social interaction. I love it!
7. How does your background in law help and affect your work online?
It’s a huge advantage. There are a lot of “hidden” legal issues such as copyright, trademark, defamation and contracts. It helps to understand them and avoid pitfalls. Also, legal training is all about analyzing and solving tough problems. That helps you in business.
8. What is your biggest challenge as a small business owner?
Juggling all the balls. There are so many things you need to know and be able to do or understand as a small business owner! You’re the quintessential jack-of-all-trades. You wear many hats. That’s exactly why I commissioned Mark Anderson of Andertoons to create a custom cartoon for Small Business Trends showing a business owner wearing a few hats, but running out of space to wear more and having various functions like marketing appear on arms and legs instead. It’s currently our Twitter background. That to me is what it’s like being a business owner.
9. What other challenges do women often face when starting their own business?
I think the challenges are compounded for a working mom and wife, and they can be self-imposed if you set expectations for yourself to be great at many things. Not only do you have to be a business owner who knows how to balance the books, market like a pro, close sales and understand technology – but as a wife and mom you may set expectations of being a gourmet cook, Martha-Stewart-level housekeeper, perfect mom and lover and helpmate to your spouse. Talk about wearing many hats! I’d say “cut yourself some slack” and don’t expect to be perfect at everything. Success doesn’t require perfection – focus, quality and persistence are more important. Now on the good side: I feel like I’ve faced fewer limitations owning my own business than in the corporate world. When you’re in charge, it’s liberating.
10. What is the most rewarding aspect of owning your own business?
Two things – it’s the satisfaction that comes from:
(1) 1. Creating something bigger than yourself. It’s a heady feeling.
(2) 2. Providing opportunities (jobs, freelance gigs, experience) for others. You really have the ability to impact many people as a small business owner. ·
11. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself. Be open to taking advice, but if you are convinced you have something that the market needs, don’t let yourself be talked out of it before you prove it one way or the other.
12. How can SMB owners and aspiring entrepreneurs connect with Small Business Trends?
Read the content, of course. And share YOUR content over at BizSugar – that’s the whole point of the site. If you have a news tip email us and we’ll check it out. Go to http://smallbiztrends.com and http://www.bizsugar.com. We will be looking for you!