In my search to find the key qualities that 6-figure solopreneurs have in common, I'm seeing that tenacity is certainly one of the primary factors. In this 5th of 6 interviews, Rob Walling describes what it takes to build what he calls an internet business portfolio. Notice the diversity in Walling's 'portfolio'; from accounting to weddings, his websites reach a diversified audience, thereby reducing his risk and taking advantage of 'hot' markets. Rob certainly ranks as one of the amazing men and women who single-handedly grew their businesses to profitable, meaningful ventures and who is enjoying the freedom that it brings.
Rob owns and operates ten revenue-generating websites that he refers to as his internet business portfolio. Owning this many micro-businesses has lead to a heavy emphasis on automation, outsourcing to virtual assistants (VAs), and a lot of hard-earned internet marketing experience.
A few of Rob's internet businesses include selling invoicing software, a website for building personal wedding websites, and a niche job website for people seeking apprentice lineman jobs.
Q. Rob, when you started your company did you have a plan in place, or did you just 'wing it?'
A. I didn't have a plan as much as a goal. Although I was self-employed as a consultant, it's not all it's cracked up to be.
I knew that trading dollars for hours as a consultant was not a sustainable path for me. I wanted to work less and have more freedom with my time. That single goal propelled me into acquiring web properties, which ultimately lead to the achievement of that early goal.
Q. Looking back, what would you say are the two important personal qualities or characteristics that are most responsible for your success?
A. A desire to be constantly learning and a willingness to take risks.
I run into many people who desire the entrepreneurial lifestyle (or what they imagine it to be), but they watch 15 hours of TV per week and they aren't willing to make themselves sick with fear by launching a blog, speaking at a local event, or building and launching a website. They are afraid to put themselves out there.
Watching this struggle in others brings me back to high school. Most people are too concerned with what people will think of them to deviate from the crowd and take a risk that may cause them to lose face if it fails. In my experience, every failure and every success has ultimately turned into a success…even if it took a few years for me to figure out why.
Q. What mentoring or coaching experiences have you benefitted from?
A. I shadowed the chairman of the board of a Silicon Valley construction company for a year. His name was Gene Ravizza, and in the first month he taught me more about being in business than I had learned in four years of college.
I've also benefitted from mentoring others. I work with several hundred entrepreneurs in the Micropreneur Academy, and interact with several thousand on my blog, Software by Rob.
Q. Rob, what was the key motivating factor in your drive and determination to become your own boss?
A. I was tired of the inefficiency of the workplace. It's insane to me that as a one-person team you have the ability to get more accomplished than many five-person teams I was part of in the corporate sector.
Q. Was funding ever an issue for you? If so, how did you solve the problem?
I built several of my web properties myself and funded my acquisitions with consulting, so funding was not an issue.
Q. What was your most challenging moment to date and how did you overcome it?
A. Any month where I don't make my 'number' is my most challenging moment. Although I'm well diversified with ten separate small businesses, if a few of them take a hit in a given month, I miss that specific amount of net profit that I want to make each month to meet expenses.
This is when my thought process turns to: 'What do I need to do right now to close this gap in the next 30 days?'
Q. What is the greatest reward in running your own business?
The freedom to live where I want in the world, work when I want, and generate income not based on hours worked, but on ingenuity and effectiveness. If I figure out a way to automate or outsource 8 hours out of my month, I can take a day off. There is no such reward when you're a salaried employee.
I remember the day I achieved this freedom quite vividly. At that moment I realized that I'll never be able to go back to a 9 to 5 job at a corporation.
Q. Do you have a 'top strategy' for success that you'd like to share?
A. The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs making is building a product that no one wants. My top strategy is to confirm there is a market for your product before you build it. If you've already built a successful product and can color outside the lines, then by all means ignore this advice.
But for your first business, test the market and confirm there's demand for it before you build your product. This is what I call the Market First Approach to product development.
Q. Rob, entrepreneurs are idea machines, and that's great. But sometimes too many good ideas can clutter the picture and stop progress. How did you harness your best ideas and bring them to fruition?
A. Now that I've launched businesses that have failed and ones that have succeeded, it's much easier to see early on if something's going to make it. So the way I harness the best ideas is to write all of my ideas down in a notebook. This includes inspiration I receive while reading books, magazines and blogs, or doing the dishes.
Every few weeks I comb back through these pages and choose a few ideas to test. I never invest a lot of time into an idea until I've tested that it will work on a small scale. So if I have an idea to start a new service, I might send an email to one of my mailing lists and handle sign-ups manually so I don't have to invest the hours to build infrastructure. If people are responsive to it, I'll invest the time and market it to the world.
It's about building and testing in the smallest increments you can, to keep your time and money investment to a minimum.
In Summary: Rob Walling is extremely creative in his approach, sees the big picture and understands the value of outsourcing. He is a planner in the sense that he researches his marketplace carefully prior to investing time and money into a product and keeps an eye on revenues to make up any anticipated shortfall. Funding was not a problem for Rob, as he utilized his own skills to fund his company's growth. Rob enjoys his freedom but approaches his work tenaciously and with a work hard mentality. He is detailed, thinks out of the box and enjoys the many rewards!