Doug Llewellyn, business.com CEO, discusses the company's rebranding and new focus.
One year removed from becoming its own company, business.com is unveiling one of its largest undertakings: a complete rebrand of its flagship website.
Launched today, business.com was redesigned for entrepreneurs and the owners of small and medium-size businesses who want to start, run or grow their business. The website features an active community of 55,000 professionals, and provides the tools, information and services small businesses need, including reviews of products and services, expert insights and original content.
The business.com platform also serves as a digital marketplace where small business owners can directly connect with vendors of the products and services they are looking for. The marketplace generates upward of 100,000 qualified sales and marketing leads each month for those selling into the small business segment.
From transitioning into its own company to its rebranding efforts, business.com has undergone a lot of changes in the last year.
In September 2018, business.com separated from its former parent organization, Purch, which sold its consumer portfolio of sites to U.K.-based Future Publishing. As a newly independent company, business.com has focused exclusively on providing small business owners with the critical advice and resources they need to succeed.
Leading business.com through this period of change is Doug Llewellyn, the company's CEO. Llewellyn is no stranger to the digital media industry, having worked in the field for more than two decades. Before taking over the reins of business.com, Llewellyn served as president and chief operating officer at Purch, and vice president of corporate and business development and digital media sales for the small business community platform Manta Media. Prior to that, he was with CBS Interactive/CNET Networks for 12 years.
Since taking over as CEO of business.com, Llewellyn has led the company's rebranding efforts. We recently spoke with Llewellyn about those efforts, as well as what distinguishes business.com from other publications in the crowded digital media industry, and what excites him about the company's future.
The business.com brands
Q: Business.com is more than just one website. Business News Daily and BuyerZone are part of the business.com brand. How do these three websites differ from one another, and how do they complement each other?
A: First and foremost, we want our sites to complement each other. Because of that, there are some overlapping aspects. However, as we continue to evolve business.com as our leading brand, the other sister brands will follow that evolution while being distinguishable in their own ways.
Business News Daily focuses on the small business marketplace, providing information for anyone looking to, what I would call, explore their entrepreneurial interests. This could encompass people who work in corporate America but have the underlying desire to one day leave their corporate job and start their own venture.
Business News Daily certainly provides content, information, and resources for people who are already in small business, but more so at the earlier stages, like business plan writing, where there are issues and concerns that are significant hurdles to clear in the startup stage.
BuyerZone is focused on small business purchasing decisions so business owners make the right decision the first time. This includes extensive buying guides centered on questions like "What product should I buy and how should I buy it?" We have similar content between Business News Daily and business.com, because there's a natural flow between different kinds of articles and the products and services that are available in the marketplace. BuyerZone, though, is much more about decision enablement. With BuyerZone, we utilize our quote technology services, plus other tools that connect buyers and sellers.
Q: Business.com just unveiled new branding, including a new website design and feel, as well as a new logo. Why was it important to give the brand a refresh in terms of style?
A: It was two things. One, I felt like we wanted a new front door to our website that, at a pragmatic level, provided greater clarity to visitors about what our value propositions are: our expert community, business advice through articles and what I would call decision enablement content in the form of our product reviews. You could get to all of these elements on our old homepage, but you couldn't necessarily do it easily. I think this new design accomplishes that.
In the process of redesigning the business.com homepage, we modified the look and feel of the brand as a whole. When I think about the future growth of business.com, I look at the "little c" community, meaning the expert Q&A section, as well as the "big C" community, which I think of as everyone who's involved in the marketplace. The new logo, which comprises a chat box, is intended to represent that community interaction among small business owners, vendors and everyone in the marketplace.
Q: There are a lot of online publications serving business audiences. What makes business.com different?
A: It's that combination of peer-led advice, and strong roots in professional journalism and expert advice that differentiates business.com from other online business publications. That's not to say that peers can't be experts from a small business perspective, but that's more experiential advice versus what I would call having an established rubric about what attributes are important for, say, an accounting system, point-of-sale system or other types of technologies that small businesses use. Business.com is a comprehensive resource for small business owners that provides expert knowledge of products and services complemented by experiential advice that entrepreneurs and small business owners need.
Further, we cater to what I call "service journalism" more than "headline journalism," which is what some of the other outlets are serving business audiences.
Q: A key component of the business.com content is reviews of business-related products and services. Why is providing this type of advice important, and how do you remain transparent about your independent reviews process?
A: In terms of remaining transparent, I think it's a question that everybody, even Consumer Reports, gets. If you're reviewing products, how can you remain independent if you're getting paid to review them? My answer is if we lose that credibility and independence, we won't have an audience, because they won't trust us. Trust is a big tenet of what we have built at business.com and Business News Daily over the years.
Whether you're Wirecutter, CNET, Inc., business.com or any of the other publications, trust is important if you're an independent review site. We have protocols and operations that allow us to maintain that separation. We also have a culture where we don't need to test those boundaries. It's never been an issue for us. The fact that we have millions of people coming to our sites every month is a testament that we're doing it right and people trust us.
As to why we think reviews are important, frankly, most small business owners are really good at their craft – meaning they're good at accounting, being a doctor, being a roofer, baking cupcakes, being a mechanic or being a florist. They need help, though, with running their business. Further, as their business grows, they need tools and services and different types of technology to run the business well. They need a knowledgeable, efficient resource to turn to so they can cut through the clutter and determine what the best service or software is for them. I think offering reviews will always be important.
Q: Business.com offers a community where members can share advice and contribute expert articles. What is the value in people joining the community, and how do you envision the community growing?
A: Being able to get what I would call grassroots experiential advice from fellow business owners, in conjunction with the expert advice our staff members give, is critically important.
Let's say I own a coffee shop in Waltham, Massachusetts, and I'm having trouble figuring out how to get the morning shift to show up on time before commuters walk in the door. That is an issue a lot of coffee shops likely have. In the business.com community, I can ask that question and someone who might own a coffee shop in Chicago, Illinois, or Denver, Colorado, may respond with, "Hey, I had that problem, too. I incentivized my morning shift by doing X, Y, Z." Compare that advice to the counsel you might get from a business expert.
The real-world issues that emerge from our Q&A platform are critically important for business owners as they seek advice.
Q: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the digital media industry over the past two decades, and how is business.com addressing them?
A: The biggest thing is it's super easy to be in digital media. Anybody can have a WordPress blog and be up and running quickly. Some of the challenges are how do you grow at scale? How do you remain trustworthy? There are several brands out there that don't have a high utility value; they're more infotainment. There are services out there that don't have much of a brand, and you're not sure if they're trustworthy, but you can tell they're probably making a lot of money.
What we're trying to build at business.com is that authentic, trusted experience that serves the needs of small business owners with a business model underneath that foundation that helps us invest in how we can help all sides of the marketplace.
The future of business.com
Q: What's next for business.com? Where do you see the company going?
A: We have a lot of growth potential in the community side of the site. I believe we'll see a lot more organic interaction between our professional journalists and experts on staff and our community. There's a lot more room for the community to grow and be very valuable for people.
It's unclear how much more content expansion we'll do. We will always cover important, new categories, but we're at 100-plus categories now. Are we going to reach 300 categories? Probably not. But we'll probably reach 150 over time.
Q: What excites you the most about business.com and its future?
A: We're only at the tip of the iceberg. Let's not forget small businesses aren't solely the property of the United States of America. There are plenty of markets overseas where we can be incredibly valuable as well. I think our brand can go global.
We don't have any plans in the next 12 or 18 months to be in international markets; we're building something that should be valuable not only to small business owners in the U.S., but certainly across the world.
Q: How does your company's culture translate into what business.com does for small business owners? How is that culture evolving?
A: I think we need to be nimble and adaptable. Small business owners figure that out probably five times a day. We've got a bigger operation, but we're still small – less than 100 people. For a digital media company, we are certainly not a big enterprise.
As we see the marketplace changing, our customers' needs changing and the needs of small business owners changing, we can't just say, "Oh, we have a plan, and we're going to stick to that plan." Instead, we have to say, "OK, how does our plan need to evolve?" so we don't get yo-yoed back and forth into changing plans every week.
We need to constantly ask ourselves, "How do we serve our customers on an ongoing basis?" I like to think that we're scrappy and will adapt and continue to help small businesses adapt to the coming changes – technological, economic, governmental and otherwise.