They say every great business idea is simply a solution to a problem. Identify a problem, offer an innovative solution, and make money.
Prior to founding Four Six Commerce I was not seeking a problem to fix, but sometimes it presents itself anyway. By the summer of 2014 I had finally heard, and read, enough stories from struggling small business owners to finally identify the problem I was destined to fix.
Whether it was fellow conference attendees, friends launching e-commerce ventures, or perfect strangers I encountered online - the story always had the same elements. There was a brilliant idea or a clever new product, a beautifully designed webstore selling it, lots of money being poured into marketing, and a passionate but frustrated entrepreneur wondering where it was all going wrong.
Don't get me wrong. Creating a small business out of nothing is anything but easy. But that begged the question which would ultimately define what Four Six Commerce is all about. How could so many driven, intelligent people be failing so miserably in the world of digital commerce?
After all, there were countless design firms, marketing agencies, and digital specialists out there to support them. I spent more hours than I care to admit studying the business models of both traditional web design firms and modern marketing agencies. I also revisited my many interactions with the array of digital specialists that had previously tried, and failed, to earn my business as the E-Commerce Director of an online retail operation.
I believed that if I could fundamentally understand why the designers, marketers, and specialists were failing to help these digital small businesses succeed I would have the blueprint for a brand new type of digital consulting business.
Being an official partner of both Shopify
, we have had the opportunity to interact with some spectacular design firms. They build gorgeous webstores and develop amazing user experiences. They bring ideas and products to life in a way that you cannot. You share your inspiration, pay a hefty design fee, and when it is all done they hand you the keys to a fast, shiny new site or webstore.
To continue using the car metaphor, design firms are essentially the Ferrari or Maserati dealership. They sell you a supercar, at a supercar price, but never bother to ask if you know how to drive one. You write the check, take the keys, and slip behind the wheel without a clue as to what comes next.Be self-aware. Know what you know, and know what you still need to learn, before you launch a digital business.
There are tons of great marketing and advertising agencies in the world. In the Dallas area alone there are dozens. Since we are based in Dallas it is only fitting that I mention The Richards Group
, long considered the gold standard among branding and marketing agencies. (We're also quite partial to The Launch Agency
because they do great client work in addition to owning and operating our shared office space.)
The greatest drawback of using a marketing agency is that the agency wants to do your work for you. Hiring a marketing agency to drive traffic to your website is essentially hiring someone to drive your Ferrari or Maserati for you. If you can afford the very best, your business may do quite well. Let's face it though, you can't afford to hire the very best. And how much will you learn about driving when someone else is behind the wheel?
My love for many of the talented people working at some of the amazing agencies aside, marketing agencies are always going after bigger and bigger clients. They want million dollar accounts. They do not want clients doing a million dollars a year in total sales. These agencies are simply out of reach for most small businesses. If you are doing less than five million dollars per year in total sales, you don't need a marketing agency. Period.
Apart from the designers and the marketers is a third group I dealt with far too often: the specialists. The world of e-commerce and digital marketing is filled with specialists. Most are well-intentioned individuals with a hyper-specific focus. Maybe it is analytics. Or logistics. Or content. Or pay per click advertising. Whatever it may be, when you run a digital business, your inbox will chime daily with unsolicited inquiries from these digital specialists.
I'm not saying these specialists can't be helpful and don't have a place, because they certainly do, but it is important to know how to properly utilize them. If you talk to a content specialist, he or she is going to tell you that content will fix all that ails your business. If your Ferrari or Maserati isn't performing and you take it to someone that sells tires, what do you think he or she is going to suggest? Exactly. That you change the tires.Don't let your focus get too narrow. Use specialists only as needed and learn as much from them as possible. If they aren't willing to educate you about best practices, it is time to terminate the relationship.
HOW FOUR SIX COMMERCE CAME TO BE
Design firms sell beautiful sites and webstores but offer little in the way of training. Marketing agencies are too expensive and offer little in the way of education. Digital specialists, while sometimes useful, bring too narrow a focus to the table and can quickly sidetrack your business. Those were the conclusions drawn from the summer of research.
The result of this understanding? Four Six Commerce.
We are a small business, founded on years of e-commerce and digital marketing experience, focused on serving other small businesses. A digital agency that really isn't an agency at all. A digital partner focused on client education and big-picture strategy.
To bring the metaphor full circle, Four Six Commerce will teach you how and where to drive your supercar, how to fix it when it's underperforming, how to make it go even faster when it's performing just fine, how to leave the competition in the dust, and how to enjoy the ride.
It's your car. You drive it. We're just here to help.