Today I'll be interviewing Dan Lawrence from Shop21. He has the most unique story I've seen so far in this blog series.
What motivated you to start your very own business?
I never really considered any other option, it was what I always wanted to do and, apart from a few 'student' / 'summer' jobs etc have been self-employed ever since I graduated in 1997.
How long had you been thinking about starting?
As above I went straight into it so have been self-employed for 22 years now :)
What is your business all about?
I was one of the very first SEO's in the UK/EU , getting into it pretty much straight after graduating in 1997, when i joined a couple of friends who had set up a web design agency straight after Uni , but I was most interested in how to get websites to the top of the search engines i.e. get business (this is before Google had the monopoly and you needed to optimise for about 5 or 6 different engines and directories). But alas they did not share my enthusiasm and whilst I did persuade them to offer SEO as a service they were not that supportive or enthusiastic (weirdly since they were a web design agency, seems incredible now). So I decided to build my own online shop to test & develop my e-commerce SEO skills further and before I 'let loose' on any clients websites.
However this went better than expected and I didn't have time for any clients since the shop achieved unbelievable search engines rankings for pretty much anything I targeted (I just wish i had the vision to set up websites in other higher value areas/sectors rather than stay focused on my own shop, but i thought that was the most sensible thing to do at the time).
Before i knew it was turning over thousands per month via my very basic website and from my tiny one bed flat in North London, (which I have just redeveloped and gone live after 11 years of neglect, a few weeks ago, which you kindly commented on re the shopify feedback section :).
So in summary my business is twofold, primarily an SEO consultant and then also an online retail store.
Where is your business located?
My business address on my website is central London although being one of the first Digital Nomads (https://digitalnomad.global/) I’ve always promoted working remotely/being location independent but my shop needs a physical address to aid customer perception (trust etc). It’s also addressed in the centre of London for local SEO reasons (since that’s where many of my primary target market are located), but I am currently resident on the Isle Of Wight ( off the south coast of England ).
How is life now that you’re a business owner?
It’s never been tougher to be honest. Amazon have eaten the lion’s share of e-commerce market share, and its increasingly hard to compete online because of them.
Also SEO takes a lot longer to take effect these days (although overall that is for the benefit of all since is due to google concentrating more on quality), but still it’s a hard slog to achieve organic traffic from search, especially if you are starting out with a new website in a competitive space.
I'm pushing 50 not married, no kids, once owned a flat in central London, had to sell it, etc etc, these are all costs/sacrifices of staying committed to independence but I’m ultimately free and have been at the forefront of an important marketing discipline and of leveraging online business to aid/enable lifestyle design so I’m still pleased i chose this path and don't have any/many regrets :) it’s the cost of freedom!
How have you found using Shopify?
I’ve found it pretty straightforward, and a pleasure to work with for the most part. I had some clients a using it a few years ago and implementing on-page SEO was a nightmare and I actually used to recommend clients against using it, however they have made some serious improvements over the last few years and it seems to be great all things considered (especially when you factor in costs).
Any advice for anyone wanting to start a business?
You will spend all day everyday living and breathing it, so only do it if you love it and are prepared to sacrifice literally everything to succeed at it.
Also clearly and carefully define your definition of success. Independence and freedom and being the master of my own destiny is how I define it for me, so long as I maintain financial independence I consider it a success. Sure it would be great to make millions, but that’s a secondary objective.
How can we find you ?
My online shop is here: https://shop21.uk.com/
My Digital Nomad newspaper is here: https://digitalnomad.global/
My main first attempt at trying to run a business from a tent on a beach in 2008 is here: http://www.digital-nomad.info/
You can follow me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/danlawrence
Connect with me on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danlawrence/
Anything else you would like to share?
Never forget: "Illegitimati non carborundum" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegitimi_non_carborundum) and keep smiling :)
Clayton's Final Thoughts
What a journey Dan has been on. If you want something in life you just have to go for it. Life is to short to sit back and wait. It was a pleasure interviewing Dan. I thought his SEO journey was very interesting. It's not every day you get a chance to talk to one of the first SEO consultants.
If you have ever wanted to go after your dreams of building your own website Shopify is a great platform. They're offering a 14 day free trial. CLICK HERE
Thanks for taking the time out of your day to read this blog. I hope you found some massive value from this.