Think big! I would have never believed that one day I’ll have employees and run a successful business that earns much more than any of my previous jobs as an employee.
Robert Brandl, who is originally from Germany, started a site called WebsiteToolTester in 2010, as a place for beginners to find actionable information about the topic of website creation. Since then the company has evolved into the Tooltester Network, which consists of five different projects, ranging from app creation to email marketing, all with the goal of making web technology available to beginners. The company is based out of Barcelona, Spain.
Where did the idea for WebsiteToolTester come from?
Back in 2009, I wanted to create a travel blog for myself with an online store but to my surprise, this was still a rather difficult undertaking. I searched the entire internet for an easy tool to build websites and eventually found names like Weebly, Webnode, and Wix. And even though it was the early beginnings of these simple website builders I had the feeling that they were up to something big!
As it was hard to find any decent reviews on these tools at all, I started collecting the information from my own tests and put them online (on a site that was built with a website builder too). WebsiteToolTester was born and very soon started to attract 100s of visitors every day. We monetize our traffic using affiliate programs.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I have a team of five employees and we work from a coworking space. My biggest tip for productivity is that I work three days in the office and two days from home. At home, it’s easier to work distraction-free and do phone calls. For me it’s the right mix and works perfectly.
I also think I have a pretty good intuition when it comes choosing what avenues to follow. I could be doing talks and presentations, connecting with people on social media etc etc. But early on we noticed that it’s really our Google rankings that make or break our business. And that’s what we focus nearly 100% on.
In terms of productivity tools, Trello rocks our world. It would be impossible to produce the output we are currently publishing without it.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We follow a pretty analytical approach when we implement new ideas. There are different tools that enable you to research what people are searching for on the web (Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, Moz etc.).
Usually, we only execute ideas where we can be pretty sure of ranking well on Google and receiving a high number of visitors. When it’s a larger project we typically first implement an MVP (minimum viable product) and create something bigger if it has proven successful.
Following this approach has helped us to reduce the number of outright flops to nearly 0%.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Working remotely! The fact that, in many cases, people can now freely choose where they want to live and work is super exciting to me. For example, I left my German home 7 years ago to live in Barcelona and thanks to the Internet, I am able to serve customers all around the world. Only a small part of them is actually from Spain. 10-15 years ago, this probably wouldn’t have been possible as the technology wasn’t quite ready yet. A good part of our staff also works remotely.
A nice side-effect for our business is that we can choose from a huge pool of highly-qualified talent in Barcelona.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Since the birth of my daughters, I usually shut my computer down at 6pm. Before that, I often kept working more hours but I wasn’t necessarily more productive. Now I cut down on social media and other distractions during the day to focus on getting my work done.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Think big! I would have never believed that one day I’ll have employees and run a successful business that earns much more than any of my previous jobs as an employee. Had I known what I know now I would have set up the business a little differently, which would have made the (especially international) expansion easier.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
A lot of people believe they need to publish new blog posts at least every week, be very active on social media and build a community around their businesses. This might be one path to success but it’s certainly not true for all businesses. A lot of businesses (like ours) receive their customers through search engines. And search engines primarily prefer quality instead of quantity – also they don’t care much about social media. That’s why, for example, I’d rather update and optimize an old blog post (that is already ranking in Google) rather than writing an entirely new one.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Once a year I meet with a group of 5 friends who are also entrepreneurs. In these Mastermind sessions (that always take place in a nice and sunny location) we do a review of our biggest successes and failures of the past year. It’s a great help to learn from my peers and to see what works well for them.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
My focus has always been very international, personally and professionally. That’s why very early after starting WebsiteToolTester in German, I added an English version as well. Soon after that I hired my first employees who helped localise the site in Spanish and French. Today we are serving seven languages.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Back in 2012, there was a lot of hype around hiring staff cheaply in the Philippines. So together with a recruitment agency I tried to find a remote content writer. My experience, however, was pretty sobering. Even in the interviews I never had the impression that the candidates fully understood the products I was reviewing on my site. Also, it would have been challenging working together with such a massive time-zone difference. In the end, I decided to hire an intern locally, which has been one of the best business decisions I ever made as he’s still working with me today.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think in the SEO field there is still a lot of potential for consultants, especially for local businesses. I’d offer free SEO Audits for potential clients as a pipeline for new leads. The audits don’t need to cost a lot of time as there are plenty of tools that can do that in an automated way (Ahrefs, Screaming Frog SEO Spider).
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent a bit more than $100 on a nice meal on the first date night with my wife after the birth of our girls, which was well worth it!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Ahrefs is a fantastic SEO suite that lets you find niche keywords that have high search volume but low competition. It also lets you check what types of articles are working for your competitors and why. It’s the one application next to Gmail that I use daily.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Work the System” is a fantastic book as it highlights the importance of business processes. I never thought that a small business like mine even needs SOPs (standard operating procedures) but the opposite is true. Everything that gets repeated over and over again needs to be documented so you can hand tasks over to your employees easily.
What is your favorite quote?
In German we say: “You’ll always meet twice in life”, meaning that you should always treat people with respect and honesty as the next time you meet the person, they could be your boss, client or someone else with an important role in your life.
- You can find a business idea by solving an issue you are having yourself. In this case: building a website without coding.
- Find out what makes or breaks your business without just following the current hype. Figure out the best way to find new customers, be it SEO, social media or personal sales and double down on it!
- Do Mastermind meetings with your peers to give and get feedback.
- Set up processes in your business to become more productive.
- Recommended reading: Work the System.
Robert Brandl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robertbrandl
WebsiteToolTester on YouTube:
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.