Dave Simons

Founder of p2p Business Awards

Dave M. Simons is a bootstrapping, no-code app building husband and father of two. Never having learnt to code, Dave began p2p Business Awards as a side-project; something to keep an active mind learning after the 9 to 5 grind, and generate a little extra income.

Identifying that small businesses need to be able to build trusted brands on a budget, Dave designed p2p Business Awards as a no-nonsense, low-cost small business award scheme available year-round across broad business categories. p2p Business Awards help small businesses, entrepreneurs, small charities, social enterprises and early-stage businesses whose marketing budgets can’t compete with those of established companies and who have to work smart to be heard above the noise.

From the outset, Dave chose to build a new concept in Business Awards from the ground-up – something that would be completely different from traditional business awards programs. With p2p Business Awards the focus is on value and engaging with peers. There are no gala dinners or trophies on offer and there is no secretive judging panel involved; entrants have to judge each other’s submissions. Business networking between entrants is encouraged through an in-app messaging functionality.

Dave wanted to create a program that could help winners to maximize their Search Engine Rankings, and chose to do this through high quality backlinks from personalized winner certificate and press release links. Following the initial launch, Dave has been gradually building the p2p Business Awards web presence through entertaining and informative blog posts about business awards topics and competitions like “PJ’s against Pandemics”, a fun response to Covid-19 and self-isolating home workers.

Where did the idea for P2P Business Awards come from?

There comes a point when you realize that the first flush of youth has receded. This is quickly replaced by the dawning awareness that you are fast approaching middle age. For me, I had the nagging feeling I was stuck in a professional rut and that I wanted –and needed- to learn some completely new skills to keep my little grey cells active. After all, my kids could forget about me in my dotage. Was there the potential for some kind of side-hustle that might look after me in my advanced years?

After reading an online article about no-code app developers, I began learning how to develop in Bubble. Bubble is pretty intuitive –even for people like me who don’t have a coding background- but I quickly ran out of freely available training materials. I decided to try applying this newfound passion to a real project. I had a few app ideas, but the idea of no-nonsense, low-cost small business awards was really a flash of insight that once it arrived, I just couldn’t get it out of my head.

The inspiration first came from a conversation with a friend and small business owner who explained to me that he had spent a small fortune on entering a business award scheme. At the time I was talking to him, the award organizer had just notified him that his business had been shortlisted in some categories. He was excited and simultaneously petrified. With a nervous disposition at the best of times, public speaking really isn’t his thing. Just explaining things to me, he was stumbling over his words. He told me that he wasn’t sleeping well, and was suffering with a recurring nightmare: He would reach the podium in front of a room full of celebrity billionaire business leaders like Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey to applause that would gradually change to howls of laughter as the room noticed he was still wearing pajamas.

I’m a good listener, and we brainstormed the problem a little. Perhaps a stand-in could take his place if he was really that terrified? But his business is small, and he didn’t think his bookkeeper would do much better than he would. She certainly wouldn’t thank him for the opportunity. I pointed out that gala dinners –while they can be awkward- mainly involve eating and clapping, and are generally not all that exciting. Ever cynical, I also pointed out that his likelihood of winning any categories might actually evaporate if he declined the opportunity to attend.

What made things worse was that he was evaluating whether he could realistically afford to go to the “grand gala dinner evening” at all. The cost of a single ticket was more than a days’ turnover. Plus, this was not a local event. It was going to mean taking a whole day out of the business. He would need to hire a dinner jacket. He would need to find a hotel room (the special “subsidized rate” available through the event organizers was the cost of a weekend away with his family). Then there would be the train ticket… By the time we finished talking, he had more or less decided that he wouldn’t go.

Weeks passed, and while I often replayed the conversation in my mind, I took no action. That was until one of those airless summer nights when it was my turn to lie there staring upwards as the ceiling fan noisily moved hot air around the room. 2am… 3am… 4am… my brain was whirring away. By the time the birds began their morning chorus I knew who the app was for, what it should look like, what functionality was going to be important for users and how it might be monetized.

My nervous friend decided not to attend the grand gala dinner. Guess what? He didn’t win any prizes that night.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Although I’m a homeworking micropreneur and freelancer, I also have kids. This forces me to repress any temptation I might have to laze about in my pajamas all day. I get dressed. I make breakfast for everyone and make sure everyone gets to where they are meant to be, on time, before retreating to my home office by about 8am.

I make each day productive by writing three tasks for the following day at the end of each day. One task is typically an easy, quick win or enjoyable task. One will normally be one I would rather not do. That might mean making 10 sales calls or chasing payments. The third will usually be a long-term project that needs to be broken down into smaller tasks each day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Write ideas down. Sleep on them a few times. See if they still seem like good ideas, and then actively research them. Anticipate possible risks and challenges. The key to the process of understanding potential roadblocks is to force yourself to design and visualize ways of mitigating them. Otherwise, you just end up demotivated, and ideas go nowhere. If an idea still has legs after that process, I create a basic plan including a summary of events from concept design to launch, timeframes and dependencies. I’ll sleep on it some more, then with a fresh pair of eyes decide whether to go for it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The democratization of tech. I have benefited from this myself; with no-code app building you need inspiration and perspiration. Crucially, you don’t need a big budget or angel investors. It offers new routes for people to express their creativity and in some cases build a profitable business.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Don’t do any single activity for more than 45 minutes before taking a short break. The break can be anything that doesn’t last for longer than about 7 minutes (unless it is time for lunch). I find that taking regular “breathers” helps me to be energized and focused for my next 45-minute sprint.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Buy shares in Apple before about 2003.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

A founder’s focus should be building a viable business, not simply a start-up.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Wake up. Get out of bed.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Deciding early on, that p2p Business Awards’ path to growth was to go small. That meant focusing the solution on small businesses, micropreneurs, solopreneurs, small charities, social enterprises and early-stage businesses who might have unlimited passion and ingenuity, but finite money and time to get affordable recognition and to gain greater exposure and credibility.

Understanding that this was the market for p2p Business Awards; low-cost, high value and no-nonsense awards for small businesses, made it straightforward to build “buyer personas”, and build targeted, and as a bootstrapping founder, inexpensive campaigns around those profiles.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I am an introvert. I constantly need to fight my natural instinct to keep everything under wraps until my product reaches perfection. It doesn’t matter how many times leadership and development gurus tell me to “fail fast, fail often and succeed faster”; it is still a counter-intuitive and alien concept to me.

Yet, these gurus and influencers are right. Nothing ever reaches perfection, and good enough really is good enough.

Eventually, my heart pounding, vision blurred, I plucked up the courage to launch. Once I had pressed the button labelled “Deploy current version to Live” the world stopped spinning –just for a moment- as I realized that it was too late. There was no going back. And worse, I immediately noticed things that I needed to change. Some big stuff, some small stuff. Launching focused my mind on the bugs and other issues, and pushed me to scramble to get them fixed before anyone else could spot them.

But I later found out that I didn’t need to panic.

As a first time product developer, I had no idea of the time and perseverence required to get search engines to recognize and rank content. Overnight success is the exception- not the norm. In the age of false prophets each promising to 10X your sales for either 97$ or 997$, it might be taboo to say this, but during the first 3 weeks after I first launched, all I could hear was the sound of crickets and tumbleweed. I was literally the only person who saw my site during this time.

Part of me was disappointed and part of me was mightily relieved. I took this as an opportunity to hone the solution and develop some sort of SEO and marketing strategy. The great thing was that I had chosen a development platform –Bubble- that allows and encourages me to iterate as often as I want. I have found that every iteration creates (to quote Josh Kaufman) “positive autocatalytic feedback loops”. The iteration and feedback cycles really are never ending, and I wish I had realized that sooner.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

My handwriting is –and always will be- awful. Having worked in various sales positions, I know the challenges sales folk have to reach the people they want to help, to get prospects to notice them and then engage with their product or service. Like most people, I hate receiving stock sales emails and random cold calls. But I love to receive personal, handwritten letters by snail mail. I often thought that if I had handwriting that anyone –not just me- could actually read, I could get better engagement by writing personalized letters to prospects via snail mail. I know I am not alone in this.

While there have been great advances in AI, 3d printing etc., I haven’t found any service which provides really realistic, automated handwriting using fountain-pen type ink and human-like handwriting for bulk lead generation. The future is surely here or near… Someone go make it happen!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Buying a second monitor for work. This transformed my productivity. I don’t know why I resisted for so long.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Trello: It’s so simple, that things actually get done.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

When I first read Persuasive Business Proposals by Tom Sant, it was a revelation to me. I don’t think I had ever seen the mechanics of persuasion articulated in a way that I felt I might be able to learn them. I had always believed that some people were born with the ability to persuade others, while the rest of us were simply born wide-eyed and impressionable. I frequently go back to the book, and I recently found myself writing a blog entry about tips for winning small business awards and included a short summary of the “Persuasive Paradigm” as part of that. Of course my post’s little synopsis doesn’t really do it justice. I recommend people go to the source and read the book!

What is your favorite quote?

Arnold Rimmer from the TV Series “Red Dwarf”:

When you’re younger you can eat what you like, drink what you like, and still climb into your 26″ waist trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age, 24-25, your muscles give up, they wave a little white flag, and without any warning at all you’re suddenly a fat bastard.

Key Learnings:

• Middle age doesn’t mean that you have to stop learning, creating and adapting. If you can find a new skill that tickles your curiosity, analyze how you could apply or monetize that skill.
• Keep at it, and don’t get discouraged. Even if your business idea is good, you will still need reserves of perseverance and patience!
• Sometimes the gurus are right: Good enough is good enough. Founders really should launch as soon as they have a minimum viable product. This is important not only to fail fast, but also because fast iterations create their own feedback loops and continuous improvement cycles and actually help you create momentum.