One of the perennial themes on Business2 is the need for a strong competitor to realestate.com.au and domain.com.au. I’ve previously told you that, if you think you’re going to launch an “REA killer,” you’re dreaming.
I stand by that prior post. But three things make it worth looking at exactly what is involved in setting up a portal that serves real estate agents: the anti-REA sentiment, the creation of Real Estate Digital Marketing Services and the expected launch of a new industry portal.
To reveal the secrets of starting a successful portal, I turned to someone with direct experience: Bill Tamvakologos.
Over the last four months, Bill has helped launch and build a successful business-for-sale portal, anybusiness.com.au. His advertisers are business brokers, and commercial and residential real estate agents from across Australia.
Serving real estate agents as he does, Bill has great insight into the industry, but is impartial in the battle over listings. [Disclaimer: I work for Juwai.com, which has a commercial relationship with Bill’s company.]
Q. Why did you launch Anybusiness.com.au?
Bill: My previous role was the national manager of realbusinesses.com.au (RBA), part of the REA Group and then the #1 businesses-for-sale site in Australia. When the decision was made internally to shutdown RBA, we saw an opportunity to build a new portal by improving on the best elements of RBA, but also incorporating key business-critical tools specifically designed for the business broking market, like our AnyDigitalSolutionSuite.
Q. How hard was it?
Bill: We knew the biggest obstacle we had to face was building traffic and enquiry. To be honest it wasn’t that hard to actually build the site. That’s the easy part. The support that we received from the brokers across the country was humbling, so building subscribers and listings were also not a major challenge.
Q. What does it take for a new portal to become a raging success?
Bill: You have to focus on generating real value to the advertiser. For example, raging success for us in 5 years equates to our members receiving bucket loads of value from AnyBusiness, but all at a very reasonable cost.
Q. You recently signed a partnership with my employer, Juwai.com. What’s that about?
Bill: That’s part of our effort to generate more visibility for our customers’ business listings, and more leads for our members. Buyers from China and India generate 30% to 50% of inquiries into the purchase of Australian businesses.
Q. How does the competitive landscape affect a new portal’s chances of success?
Bill: Every new portal faces the challenge of explaining why they are better than sites that have been established for many years. In our case, when RBA exited the businesses-for-sale space, it left a gapping hole and a splintered marketplace with many small sites. This confused the consumer and gave us an opportunity to grow quickly, provided we could offer a better solution.
Q. Are there some things that are vital when launching a new portal, but overlooked by most entrepreneurs with stars in their eyes?
Bill: A lot of people think that setting up a portal is straightforward – but it’s not that simple. Anyone can build a website, but it’s elements such as the user experience, the database structure, the back-end administration, the SEO considerations, the industry knowledge and most importantly the financial backing that are the more complicated and can make or break a portal.
Q. What does it take for a new portal to become the leader?
Bill: Over the years I have seen many new portals come and go. Most never get the needed traction with the advertisers or the users.
You need to be in it for the long-run and invest heavily. You simply can’t be focused on short-term financial gains. It takes time to become No. 1.
A crucial element is to not operate as a one-man-band. You need to build the business with solid foundations, systems and structure. If you can make the founders obsolete, you have a viable business that doesn’t depend on any individual to keep growing.
Q. What growth strategies should new portals follow?
Bill: At anybusiness.com.au, we found that sustained investment and offering a suite of tools made the most sense. We have to deliver as much value as possible to our members, so we don’t rely solely on the site itself. We also provide tailored digital solutions to pro-actively stimulate enquiry and positive ROI for brokers.
Any portal should also have a major focus on SEO and SEM, as we do. And, you have to invest all of your profits back into the business for research and development, to build new products like our AnyApp for smart phones and tablets.
Q. How much of its revenue does a portal spend on marketing?
Bill: If you are serious, marketing and technology will easily be the majority of your portal’s spend. Many of the small sites have a free-to-list or very low-cost model. That is not sustainable for building a market leader because you won’t have the resources to invest in growth. In our case, we spend on SEO, paid search, online display advertising, remarketing, partnerships etc. We operate very lean, so that the majority of our revenue and funding can be dedicated to marketing.
Q. Is it necessary to have a sales team that calls or visits customers in person?
Bill: I believe it is essential for any portal to have a sales team. It doesn’t necessarily have to always be in person, but it is crucial to provide your members access to a team of specialists. This obviously starts with a sales team, but you also need IT & customer support.
Q. Any last words?
Bill: Try to find a niche or market that you can dominate. For example, our portal anybusiness.com.au is the only serious player in the market that is dedicated to the business-broking space. We live and breathe ‘businesses for sale’ and will continue to develop and build value for our members. That focus gives us a real advantage.