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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.
The site 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 exponentially.
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 sectors.”

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 advertising medium.

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.”

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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.”


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Aidan Stack
Manager of Enterprise Ireland’s Media, Software and Services High Potential Start Ups

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 Site
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 spend accordingly.

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 section
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 particular sector.


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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.
A 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 ongoing activity.


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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 strategies.
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.


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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 achieve.
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 site.

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.



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