Dirkjan Vis of Eurolutions tells us how the internet publisher specializes in business media and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dirkjan Vis: Our families are fine, thanks for asking!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Eurolutions.
Dirkjan Vis: I found the company as a web design company. I made websites and online stores for businesses in my neighbourhood. It was a nice way to pay for college, but to be honest, I wasn’t very good at it. After I graduated, I wrote some articles here, a self-made blog about becoming an online entrepreneur in the Netherlands that soon did well in search engines. I was also offered a column in a magazine about Dutch e-commerce.
Even though I wasn’t that good at writing and it wasn’t making any money, I enjoyed writing the columns or my blogs about starting a company. When I had to move my company, I joined a business incubator for some time, and they said that I should try to switch my business into something that I could enjoy more. Even though the web design company was a good business, eventually, I would fail at it since it was not my strength nor my passion. With their help, I launched some other websites as well and started asking for money for banners. That’s pretty much how it all started.
How scalable is your business model, and how easy is it to monetize it?
Dirkjan Vis: When I started my sites, I wasn’t the only one. A lot of blogs started back then. It was easy to start one or to get a nice reach. A lot of blogs were quite professional and grew fast. Blogs are very scalable. However, most of them struggled to make money with it.
Some more corporate blogs started with a paper magazine or made money with events—some with large, themed events, others with seminars, workshops or other educational courses. I chose to stick with banners and advertising as a business model. Most websites went down that road, but to be honest, only a few of those still exist. To monetize a blog without using it as your own marketing channel sure is difficult. Especially since I started hiring people to write as well. To keep the pace of growth only with banners or other advertisements has been quite a struggle at times.
So we have had our ups and downs. We have written white-label for some companies to get through difficult months, and I personally have done some internet marketing or hosting for small companies to get some extra income as well. However, because of our strong focus on SEO and entrepreneurial topics such as software or funding, we managed to grow strong in the past few years.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dirkjan Vis: Luckily, our entire business is online, and thus we could keep on doing what we did. We worked from home, and our websites kept going strong. Of course, we are very thankful for all of that. Still, it is too easy to think: they work online, so it wasn’t a big deal for them.
The truth is that our target audience is the small entrepreneurs that work offline. Their budgets dried up, and we lost many profitable traffic channels. We also work together with some events or companies that attend a lot of events, and those quit as well. And our advertisers might be software companies, but due to the pandemic, many of them kept their budgets at a minimum, so it was quite a search to find companies that still wanted to do business.
Luckily, we bet on different markets. Even though a few of our channels dried up, others, such as fulfilment or e-commerce, have grown since then. Our English website has grown fast on such topics. Because of that and because things started to normalize a bit after a couple of months, we managed to get quite a few new partners since the start of the pandemic. I understand we were lucky it was possible, but it wasn’t easy either.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what was the biggest change?
Dirkjan Vis: Luckily, my situation never got that bad that I had to make really difficult choices, such as firing people or selling core assets. But it wasn’t easy to negotiate with advertisers, or in many cases: search for new advertisers, at times when we sat home. The fact that we suddenly couldn’t go to the office anymore was my biggest change.
Especially as I have two young children that couldn’t get to school as well, I remember I said something about that, before it happened, at our lunch table at the office. But the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for that at all. It might be a cliché, but it’s so true that you can’t take anything for granted.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Dirkjan Vis: I guess we use the things that many office-going companies started using during the pandemic: we started with Slack. With advertisers, I used Zoom or Google Meet a lot. I invested a lot in SEO software such as Ahrefs, SE Ranking, Screaming Frog and SurferSEO. Because without events or interviews on location, we had to double our efforts on our own websites.
Your final thoughts or lessons learned?
Dirkjan Vis: As an entrepreneur, you always have to keep an eye on what’s going on in the world and prepare. See if you have to make adjustments. Other lessons are to have patience. At some times, the world might just panic, but it is always just for a short time. Yes, after it, things often have changed. But as long as you are able to adapt, after each period of change, new opportunities will happen. The best way to prepare for that is to have faith, patience, and good financial buffers, as making changes to your business model often means you have to invest and wait quite a while before new streams of money come in.
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