Duran Inci is an Internet Technology Consultant with over eleven years experience in e-business, including Digital Marketing, E-commerce Systems and Integrations. As Co-Founder and COO of Optimum7, Duran has developed sophisticated processes resulting in leading-edge execution of marketing and management strategies.

When I started Optimum7 back in October of 2007 with my partner Arthur Cooper, we had a business plan based on what we could foresee to be the future of digital marketing. I was 25 years old and not at all experienced with running a business. We only had a handful of clients and we knew that we had to sell marketing packages and consultations to grow. Google was the primary player, so we adjusted our business model around Google developments.

From 2007 to 2013, Optimum7 grew exponentially both in revenue and in the number of employees. We had more than 30 medium-sized businesses as clients when the marketing technology started to shift. Google began making sudden changes in its search algorithm and products, which affected us negatively. Clients began to see these unstable fluctuations and it became difficult for us to convince them that our long-term processes guarantee them a good ROI.

Due to these circumstances, in 2014, we had to restructure our business model to include services such as custom programming, e-commerce systems and integration. We had to structure new departments, documentation, relationships, sales strategies and executions. There were also frustrating moments with my partner, as cash flow and sustainability became an issue. We came to a stall, snowballing delays for four months. The fact that we had to stop everything, lose time and fix things made me very impatient.

At a difficult crossroad such as this one, one needs to consider all of the options and alternatives. At the time, the only options we seemed to have were as follows:

  1. Take a step back and cut staff.
  2. Take a step back, restructure, and cut expenses including executive pay.
  3. Sell the company (we had offers).

After intense discussions, painful meetings and a long assessment, we chose to go with the second option.

We had to go back to the drawing board and re-create our execution processes, which required us to:

Hire project managers to decrease the margin of error.

Previously, we had senior engineers plan certain executions and build strategies. Then entry-level programmers would execute them. We realized that our efficiency was weak and billable hours were low. So we hired project managers to assist with executing these complex projects.

Build new training structures as well as an internal wiki to assist staff.

We never really had a set training process. Our training was "hands on" and we would throw our new team members into our daily operations. We realized that this also resulted in some frustration and errors. So, we worked to create a training process for new hires. This consisted of projects assigned to team members based on different levels of expertise. We then built a comprehensive internal wiki that contains all our process, past client support issues and resolutions.

Create a custom project management system to control the workflow between departments.

We were using a project management system but missing the ability to track dependent task workflows and accurate billable and non-billable hours. We developed our own internal data analysis and reporting tool and integrated that with our project management system. This allowed us to see all workflows, tasks, processes, approvals and time spent on projects in real time. By doing this, we were able to improve billable time by 35 percent and build accountability measures to decrease our margin of error.

Develop a completely new sales funnel for the new services.

We had to expand to increase the spectrum of our services, so we built relationships with various e-commerce providers and different custom CRMs. We became partners of custom software providers and increased the sources of potential leads. Quoting custom programming projects can be challenging since there are so many intricacies, and we had to adjust our sales process to decrease the back and forth and improve the sales completion cycle. But we built templates for the different services we offer and packaged our solutions, resulting in a significant increase in sales and a decrease in expenses due to improved efficiency and profitability. We were able to switch our business model to 50 percent consultation and 50 percent development.

As a result of these steps, our team is more involved, efficient and better informed. We are also more profitable and scalable, and overall, we are a better company.

Looking back, I realize what a gruesome process that was. But the funny thing is that right when we were in the middle of this painful change, I did not feel hopeless for one second. Knowing that there are probably thousands of entrepreneurs going through similar growing pains of business operations, the Optimum7 team set out to create a basic plan that guarantees profitable results--one that anyone can follow.

So, the biggest challenge one might face as an entrepreneur is choosing between restructuring the business model completely and selling/losing the business. It goes without saying, it always takes some trial and error to achieve the best results no matter what line of work you're in. I've learned that it's these challenges that help open the door to finding what can turn one's vision into a reality.