Investor Forum July 06
thebusinessshop.ie is Ireland’s sole online directory for selling
businesses as going concerns and helping existing businesses find
partners. Established in 2004 by Limerickmen John Ryan and John
Ahern, the site currently lists more than 100 businesses for sale
and attracts more than 38,000 unique visitors annually.
was set up to provide a platform where sellers could advertise
business opportunities. Traditionally, those selling their business
would rely on an accountant or auctioneer to hawk it around their
network of contacts. They would also advertise in the local and
national press. By utilising the Internet, thebusinessshop.ie
increases the market for listed businesses
Analysis of the origin of the site’s visitors
bears this out: while 55 percent of visitors are from Ireland, 25
percent are from Britain, 14 percent from the United States and 6
percent from other countries. “This analysis shows that many Irish
people that have emigrated in the past are now considering coming
home, and they seem to have the money to decide where they want to
live and what they want to do,” says John Ahern.
While businesses placing advertisements on the site are drawn
from all sectors, up to 40 percent of them are in the food and
leisure sector. “The site is biased towards that sector,” Ahern
admits, “but that is because we have targeted businesses that are
advertising in traditional mediums such as auctioneers and the
national and provincial press. Naturally, we want to expand it. When
other types of businesses – engineering, distribution, technology
and media – are advertised on the site they get a fantastic
response. Getting to them is key, but it’s hard to track those
Marketing is central to the success of the website and
thebusinessshop.ie has dipped its toe into different advertising
markets. Online, the company uses Google’s advertising service and
also advertises in a business-oriented ezine distributed by
www.emigrant.ie to more than 25,000 subscribers. The company
advertises in the Sunday Business Post each week and in business
magazines on a more sporadic basis. A telesales professional
researches businesses advertised in other outlets and then contacts
them in relation to advertising on the site. The company has
recently completed a leaflet drop of 30,000 homes in the Cork region
but the jury is still out on whether this is an effective
Furthermore, the company sends out a bimonthly ezine to more than
1,000 subscribers with details of the new businesses listed on the
site. “It’s an excellent tool. The number of page impressions
skyrockets when we send it,” says John Ahern, “but it has taken us
more than a year to build up this subscribers’ list.”
John Ahern identifies three areas where our
experts’ advice is sought
“We’re growing the site at a steady pace, but how can this be
bumped up significantly?
“While there are more than 100 businesses for sale at the moment,
we’re looking for advice on increasing that. With around 40 percent
of businesses listed from the food and leisure sector, we’re also
seeking to expand into other markets.
“The final one is developing our ‘businesses seeking partners’
category. Everyone that has advertised there has had a phenomenal
response. We believe it is an area of our site that is
under-utilised and we want to change that.”
Aidan Stack Manager of
Enterprise Ireland’s Media, Software and Services High Potential
Thebusinessshop.ie is attracting 38,000 hits to its online portal
for selling businesses and attracting partners. It objectives are:
increasing its number of businesses for sale, increasing traffic,
and enhancing the ‘business seeking partners’ section.
Almost half of the visitors to the site come from overseas and by
adapting the product for the emigrant market, this is an area where
the site could offer significant added value. In addition to
offering businesses for sale, the site could offer advice and
information on a whole range of issues around returning home and
setting up a business. This could include information on legal and
tax issues, private/commercial accommodation, recruitment/work
permits, logistics, transportation, State supports for business
start-ups, general business environment, etc.
To execute, thebusinessshop.ie needs to establish relationships
on a regional basis with solicitors, tax firms, real estate agents,
State agencies, etc. and develop a package or solution for returning
emigrants. This would raise awareness and begin a process of getting
buy-in from solicitors, tax firms and others as partners rather than
competitors in offering business for sale. It would encourage them
to direct their high net worth clients, and clients with businesses
to sell, to the site.
Increase Traffic to
In attempting to increase traffic to
the site, having text/email alerts on new business opportunities is
a positive move. However, there is a need to improve stickiness to
the site by offering more valued information. If a visitor selects
an interest in a leisure business, then the communications could
include the latest news on the sector, trends, recent leisure
acquisitions, any upcoming legislation, as well as existing business
for sale. In this way the site becomes a much more valuable market
research tool before somebody commits to purchasing a
While the company spends money on traditional advertising it is
important that it tracks where its leads come from. It should
identify which medium has worked best and target its advertising
Effective PR activity is a vital component in driving web
traffic. RSS marketing (Really Simply Syndication, also called Rich
Site Summary) should be considered to allow subscribers to pull new
content as it is published. A number of companies, including the
Irish company www.nooked.com, provide cost effective RSS solutions
that can be implemented quickly.
Enhancing business seeking partners
The company’s existing market research and
telesales activity will continue to generate leads and could be
expanded to target other sectors. The company could also consider
using a professional PR consultant to prepare and place articles in
selected media using the ‘wealth of interesting information about
people buying business and franchises in Ireland’ they mention to
generate coverage particularly targeted at the sectors they wish to
expand into. Publishing success stories in the business press,
featuring companies that successfully attracted a partner, would
raise awareness and generate new leads. Continuous targeted PR
creates brand awareness and generates word of mouth referrals which
is a significant element of online marketing. Seeking opportunities,
via relevant trade associations, to provide speakers at seminars and
conference is another effective way of targeting companies in a
Mark Fielding Chief
Executive of ISME (Irish Small and Medium Enterprise)
Launching a website is like opening a shop in the Sahara: nobody
knows it’s there unless it promotes itself.
The online marketing strategy of thebusinessshop.ie must be
integrated into the full offline marketing and promotional
activities. In business we talk about ‘location, location,
location’. As a website does not have a ‘real’ location, and lacks
the ability to physically attract clients and customers, then the
overall promotion of the concept becomes most important.
In the early days of the web there was a mad rush to drive as
many visitors as possible to websites and that tendency still
exists, which can be a serious and expensive mistake. Ahern and Ryan
must concentrate on quality over quantity, and one of the best ways
to increase the quantity of quality visitors is to get linked.
link from another website is, for all intents and purposes, embedded
word of mouth, a recommendation from that website to its visitors to
visit thebusinessshop.ie. Users of the Internet have become very
sceptical and are conservative in their behaviour, so building and
maintaining credibility is of key importance to success. There is no
better way to build credibility than to have hundreds of quality
websites linking to you. Google analyses the number of linkages to
websites and the more links the higher the placement.
However, linking is not simply about getting placed higher in
search engine results. Each link must be thought of as another road
to your website along which a visitor travels to you. Forging
quality links involves finding websites that attract your type of
target market and then convincing them to include a link to you.
They will do this as long as you have valuable content that will be
of interest to their customers and a reciprocal arrangement can be
negotiated. Another approach is to pay for a link, either by monthly
fees or through ‘click-through payments’, where you pay for every
visit through that particular link.
It is also imperative that the website is properly registered
with the top search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Alta Vista,
to name just three. There may be specialist search engines, so check
these out also. These search engines need to be monitored regularly,
as they can change rules by which results are presented. Ryan and
Ahern need to draw up a set of keywords and search the engines using
these to see whether they are dropping down the listings. They also
need to be careful not to abuse the search engine registration
processes, as the website could be removed for violations.
While search engines are important, they should still be only a
part of the overall strategy. So many websites have been launched
enthusiastically only to be left in the wilderness of cyberspace.
Every piece of literature should have the web and email address;
this includes letterheads, receipts, business cards, brochures, etc.
When planning offline promotional and marketing activities, the
company should seek ways to get people to go to the website and the
key activity should be to get people to join databases, as these can
be used to inform and promote in the future.
To be successful, targeted marketing and promotion must be the
Craig Bale Senior Manager,
M&A Transaction Services, Deloitte
Ireland has a tremendous volume of knowledgeable, experienced and
successful entrepreneurs who are continually seeking to develop
their businesses and identify new opportunities. Thebusinessshop.ie
is well placed to provide these people with the information/contacts
necessary to implement their relevant business
Effective marketing requires an understanding of your
audience. In general terms, your target audience can be broadly
split according to their requirements, namely business disposal,
business acquisition and partnerships/alliances.
The majority of business disposal cases include individuals
wishing to divest their businesses, entrepreneurs wishing to realise
their investment and seek new challenges with more established
businesses with the owners seeking retirement.
The audience that
you need to address is the owner-managed business. A recent Deloitte
survey of builder providers across Ireland highlighted that
approximately 40 percent of respondents saw succession planning as
an issue likely to impact them in the coming years. If applied
across all industries, this suggests a large percentage of
owner-managed businesses are considering business disposals.
Examples of potential initiatives to widen the target audience
include advertising in regional press; attendance at seminars and
conferences for particular sectors or on particular topics; and
developing associations with trade organisations.
Business acquisitions covers a wide range of interested parties;
existing businesses wishing to expand, businesses wishing to
diversify, along with entrepreneurs and high wealth individuals.
These people continually scour business articles and trade magazines
for potential targets. Effective marketing, which will also develop
the company name and brand, would include the publication in
customer’s websites, and the national and regional press of
successful transactions and customer testimonials.
Those businesses included in the business partners category have
identified and assessed the potential alternatives available to them
and are seeking the solutions. In a large number of circumstances,
the businesses may not be aware of the full range of options
available to them.
To attract potential business partners, the website would benefit
from examples of recent successes, and the differing range of
partners that could be formed, including equity partners;
distribution agreements; joint sales/marketing initiatives; joint
ventures with businesses (vertical or horizontal integration);
financing; management buy-in teams.
While entering ‘business shop’ in a Google search will return
thebusinessshop.ie as the first result, entering ‘businesses for
sale + Ireland’ thebusinessshop.ie domain name does not feature in
the top 40 search results. It is generally accepted that almost 50
percent of traffic to websites is generated from search engines,
therefore gaining a high listing is important for increasing traffic
volumes. While different search engines will have different criteria
for listing and ranking websites, the site will rank higher if other
websites link to yours.
Although a link currently exists from the Enterprise Ireland
website to businessshop.ie the company should develop its
relationship with that organisation as it is likely to be a first
port of call for overseas investors. Additionally, alliances should
be sought with international ‘business for sale’ websites and
reciprocal arrangements for advertising agreed upon.
There are a number of business talk shows on local and national
radio stations. If possible, the website should appear on programmes
discussing the topic of businesses for sale or seek to advertise
during these programmes.
Fergal O’Byrne Chief
Executive of the Irish Internet Association
John Ryan and John Ahern have done a great job identifying a real
niche opportunity in the Irish marketplace and developing a company
around this idea. The fact that it is an online entity is testament
to the growing use of this medium both as a business tool and as a
channel to market. The website currently attracts a modest number of
visitors annually and it is imperative that they ramp up the number
of quality visitors. The company has dipped its toe in the world of
online marketing but I believe there has to be a strategic plan
developed to market this company online.
Specifically, the company needs to identify the exact target
market online, choose the detailed list of keywords it wants to go
after and decide on a daily budget to spend online. There is very
good value to be obtained using both Google Adwords and Yahoo's
Search Marketing advert system. Online marketing campaigns can
easily be developed by resources within the company or handed over
to one of the many excellent online marketing companies (see
www.iia.ie for a vendors list).
Online marketing offers high
levels of measurability. The leaflet drop alluded to did not, as
yet, yield a discernable return. With Google and Yahoo the cost of
each site visitor can be accurately predicted. Assigning a value to
each visitor will divulge a cost of acquisition for each new
advertiser to thebusinessshop.ie. Return on investment is easily
measured online and thebusinessshop.ie needs to be crystal clear as
to what it can spend online each month and what results it will
Another way to beef up the visitors to the site is to
offer more content. Offering visitors free basic taxation advice,
sample non-disclosure agreements and links to other resources builds
up the stickiness factor of the website and encourages people to
link to it. Populating the professional services section (even
though non-revenue generating at present) will increase the number
of links and build confidence in the site among visitors.
Viral marketing should form an important element of the overall
online marketing mix. Having useful content, special offers,
refer-a-friend incentives and featured case studies of successful
thebusinessshop.ie clients all drive interested traffic to the
There are currently more than 1,000 subscribers to the site’s
ezine, but this number should be increased at every opportunity.
Having regular, interesting and thought-provoking content will
assist in building up the subscriber list. For example, the top ten
tips currently featured on the homepage is a great idea, but there
is a sparse amount of actual content behind the link. Drive users to
the ezine by offering detailed advice on each of these ten elements
in future issues of the ezine. It is time-consuming and
resource-intensive, but it will work in the long run.
It is also
great to see the founders had the foresight to buy the .ie, .com and
.co.uk versions of their domain name – this will offer them
marketing flexibility when they want to expand.
Thebusinessshop.ie is an intriguing idea and deserves to be a
success. By focusing on the online marketing of the website I
believe the company can grow and become the best in its market.