Here at Small Business Trends we’ve had an amazing year and we could not have done it without you. We’d like to share a look back, with our 2018 Annual Report.
The Year Started Slow – But Ended Great!
The year 2018 has been fantastic overall for us. But the year did not start out that way.
Sales in the first quarter of 2018 were slow. At the end of February cash flow was at a low point.
But the team did not let that get us down. Instead, it inspired us to work harder. We spent the next two quarters catching up, getting out of the red and back to the black.
And then we had a terrific fourth quarter to cap things off. More on that in just a bit.
Thank you, dear readers, from the bottom of our hearts. You inspire us to do better.
And thank you to our valued sponsors and advertisers. You provide the financial backing to keep Small Business Trends publishing. We appreciate your business!
In the following annual report I will go over our accomplishments, the challenges we faced, and why we are so stoked for 2019!
Accomplishments by Team Small Business Trends
Reached 30% More Small Business Owners
Our traffic grew considerably during 2018. We were able to serve 30% more small business owners this year compared to last.
We are in the digital publishing business. Think of our business as similar to a magazine or newspaper. Just as with any magazine or newspaper, our “circulation” numbers are a key performance indicator.
Some of you found us via Google and other search engines.
With the boost in search traffic we also got a pull-through in direct traffic. We’re telling our story better, and that has improved our brand recognition. For example, we improved our About Small Business Trends page.
While traffic is good, that doesn’t mean anything unless we meet your expectations. Using advanced analytics and big data, we were thrilled to discover:
- A core group of readers are brand lovers of Small Business Trends. Over 11,000 of you visit an average of 35 times a month. Wow!
- Another 300,000 visit many times a month.
- And another 1,750,000 visit a bit less frequently during the month – typically one to a few visits.
Our goal is to give you more content you desire, so that you WANT to return — often. For that, we knew we had to better understand what you like and what engages you. That’s why data is so important to a small business.
Our big data analytics revealed other useful insights. For example, we learned that longer content is more popular. Content with at least 1,000 words has longer time on page and better engagement overall.
Here’s another interesting factoid. Not only do YOU prefer longer content, it’s also better for us. Longer content earns more — at least 5X more. See Revenue by Word Count chart below.
Conclusion: Be data driven. Don’t assume anything about your audience or customers. Each business, site and audience is unique.
Reinvigorated Our Social Media
We got a small but sustained boost in traffic from revising how we approach social media.
Over the past decade, we’ve gotten considerable traffic and branding visibility through social media. After all, we’ve been on Twitter since 2007 — that’s 11 years!
But times have changed. So we had to change:
- We rebranded our @smallbiztrends Twitter account from a combined personal/organizational account to a company account. I started using my individual account (@anitacampbell).
- Our social media manager has increased engagement 150% through several strategies, including sharing humorous content.
- We improved our LinkedIn presence, publishing more content there.
- We upped our presence on Pinterest, YouTube and Quora. And we cut back on Google+, in light of Google’s plan to shutter the network in 2019.
Conclusion: Social media is evolving. Every small business should periodically re-examine what it is doing and where.
Achieved 25% Improvement in Production Processes
We refined our internal content production processes, achieving 25% improvement.
In the publishing business, content is our product (not just a marketing technique). Efficiency, quality and quantity all matter. Processes and systems can make or break profitability.
- Our executive editor did a fabulous job guiding the team toward evergreen content that leverages our content investment wisely.
- Our assistant editor did a magnificent job coming in 10% under budget for content expenses. He manages a global team of talented writers.
- Our search specialist does wonders on on-page optimization.
- Our editorial assistant does a great job filtering news to keep our publishing schedule moving.
- Our client administrator worked with the Content team to ensure 96% on-time delivery of sponsored content deliverables.
The team collaborates virtually. We are proud of being able to operate as if we are in the same room — even though we are across the globe. We use various chat tools and shared documents to achieve this.
Occasionally we even hold our Tuesday executive team meetings by video. Note the screen capture image at the top of this report showing a recent meeting.
We estimate we got 25% process improvement overall.
Conclusion: Process improvement opportunities in a small business are often small things staring you in the face. Improving one small thing may not move the needle. But add up several changes and the difference becomes meaningful.
Challenges We Overcame
Like any small business, we face challenges every day. In 2018, team Small Business Trends had three large challenges to overcome.
Compensated for Seasonality
As I mentioned at the start of this piece, our first quarter of 2018 started in the red. Why? Seasonality.
Revenues in our industry are seasonal, just like many of your businesses. Our business model is based primarily on ad earnings. We are able to provide content free to you because we earn from advertisers and sponsors.
Advertiser spending is traditionally lower in the first quarter. And for unexpected reasons, we ended the prior year with smaller-than-normal cash reserves.
I was honest with the executive team. I explained what we were facing. There’s no point in hiding the situation. If you do, you can’t get your team’s help to turn things around.
I’m happy to report that team Small Business Trends rose to the challenge. We not only managed to get through the first quarter, but we had an amazing turnaround in eight months. Two factors contributed.
First, we forged a strong partnership with the right ad revenue partner. This gave us a recurring revenue stream. We have multiple revenue streams, but most have huge swings from month to month. Having one revenue stream that’s more predictable made all the difference.
Second, ad rates for the final three quarters of 2018 were on fire. The Ad Revenue Index image above below rates for the entire industry during 2018. Rates nearly doubled between January and December, as you can see from the image below. That helped too.
Conclusion: Find at least one predictable revenue stream. It alleviates some of the white knuckle pressure to meet payroll. You will be freed up to work ON your business, not just IN your business.
Addressed Deferred Maintenance
Imagine for a moment that you were so busy, you didn’t have time to keep your store shelves and warehouse organized. You didn’t have time to clean the premises.
Fifteen years go by. Just think what your business would look like!
That’s what we were facing. Think of this website (smallbiztrends.com) as our storefront and warehouse.
For 15 years we kept creating new content. As the site grew, maintenance required more time — so we tended to put some of it off. As a result:
- Outdated content piled up like virtual dust bunnies.
- Older links broke.
- Technical issues negatively affected Google crawling.
To top it off, we came face to face with the 80/20 rule. Big data analytics showed that 80% of our ad revenue is driven by about 20% of our content.
This is caused by two factors. First, some older content is simply outdated. Second, the more content you have, the deeper the best content gets buried.
We knew we had to take a step back in order to grow in 2019.
We started by conducting a site audit using a tool called SEMRush. The great thing is that the tool gives a roadmap for how to fix the issues, and we’ve made good progress already.
Conclusion: Don’t put off maintenance. Time is not your friend.
Optimized Site Speed
Site speed is more important than ever, especially with the shift toward mobile visitors. So we set a goal to improve site speed during 2018. And I am happy to report the site is much faster today than before we started.
One of the changes that dramatically improved site speed for us was caching pages on a CDN. Previously it would take a few extra seconds or partial seconds to create the page dynamically. Caching really helped.
But improving speed is not a “once and done” task. Many factors slow a site down. In fact, speed varies page by page. And new issues pop up. We have to continually tweak.
Conclusion: With some challenges the bar is always moving. Keep at it.
So there you have our 2018 Annual Report from Small Business Trends. We accomplished some things we are proud of. And we managed to overcome some gnarly problems.
For 2019 we intend to:
- Understand voice search. Voice search is the next frontier. I bought voice search devices for each of the executive team members, so we can experiment
- Organize the site more. We will continue weeding out older, less relevant content. We will focus more on structure.
- Improve user experience. We intend to focus on improving the mobile experience for you, in particular. We’ve already started. For example, we recently widened our mobile template by a number of pixels. When we implemented our responsive template five years ago, mobile screens were narrower. Screens have trended larger since then. In addition, our COO has undertaken UX improvement as a special project of hers.
- Focus on branding. We will strive to increase brand recognition. Knowing we have so many loyal readers encourages us to do more to stay top of mind.
- Continue building team strength. One thing we’ve learned over 15 years is that a small business’s strength is its team. When our team members put our collective heads down, we accomplish amazing things So we are investing in training and expanding the knowledge of the team.
We can’t wait to see what 2019 brings!
We at team Small Business Trends hope this Annual Report inspires you to reflect back on YOUR success. After all, that’s our mission. “Small business success … delivered daily” means we strive to help you be successful, everyday.
Wishing you a successful year,
Anita Campbell, Founder and CEO of Small Business Trends.
PS: What are you proudest of from 2018? What do you plan to focus on in 2019?