You can listen to the full interview here:
Kevin McShan: One of the most effective ways to grow your business and your bottom line is to build an effective and easy-to-use website, which is easy on the eyes, and at Sparrow Websites, they’re dedicated to helping you with all the “nerd stuff” so you can focus on your business. By building you a custom website or giving you the tools to build a template for yourself. Justin Rule is the owner of Sparrow Websites. He joined me this week to discuss effective website building, how you can maximize your profits through our website, and to share a piece of his personal journey which included him being born with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and being declared clinically deaf, how he overcame those obstacles to walk again and to hear what the world has to offer. I’m Kevin McShan. Let’s have this conversation.
If you’re ready, we’ll talk about a bunch of website stuff with you this morning. Thanks so much for being here.
Justin Rule: Awesome, man. I’m ready.
KM: So, Justin, I know your business model is you help people get excited about their business by building them a hybrid between custom websites and templates. So I’m wondering if you can start off by telling me a little bit more about your business model and how it works.
JR: We started our business because there wasn’t a good fit between that. A custom website is something that costs people if not tens of thousands of dollars and then the other option is free, out-of-the-box template stuff that you essentially would get for free. The more we worked with small businesses and non-profit, and entrepreneurs especially… we were like, okay, these free things get off the ground but they’re not really built smart; they might look pretty, but they’re not really smart and then the average entrepreneur in average America doesn’t have that $10K-$20K tucked away to build a website. So we tried to find a place where we could build on our knowledge of what makes a website work, how does it function right, what are the best practices and be in between that space of “Not Free” but also “Not so expensive.” We do that by following trends and research and building out a framework. We make sure the guts of the site follow a proven framework that directly corresponds to each specific industry. There are patterns and things you can do that will just work.
KM: You tell people on your website that you take care of the “geek stuff” so that they can take care of the guts of running their business. Does that sort of intermingle with that point as well?
JR: Yeah. I had been designing websites for a decade before I met my business partner, Adam. Adam eats, sleeps, and drinks nerd juice. He’s up on the blogs and feeds, following trends and conversion data. I’m just designing the pretty stuff. So when we blend those two, it really helps us. We do the nerd stuff so you can focus on whatever you do as a hard-working business owner.
KM: What’s the best part of working with small business owners to give them their voice through their website?
JR: There’s a lot of noise out there. I want to be a trusted source to help them get their ideas out into the world successfully without taking their bank account in the process.
KM: How do you think website marketing has evolved in the last ten years?
JR: It’s changed a lot. It used to be about stuffing as many keywords or your town name into the text on your website as you could in order to rank higher in Google; trying to trick the system. As Yahoo and Google have gotten “smarter”, they look at websites as a whole to find searching patterns and rhythms. This allows the small business owner to completely be themselves and infuse their own tone and personality into their website. It’s really cool and you can introduce yourself to people before they even visit you.
KM: If you could give one or two concrete messages to business owners about building a website, what would you tell them?
JR: All the time, every time: Keep it simple. You can get lost in the details because there are so many options out there.
People will only visit 3 to 4 pages on your site. They want to know about you, why you do what you do. We can all price shop, but if one owner resonates with the shopper for a particular reason, we’ve connected beyond just the business. Keep it simple and keep it authentic. Don’t be afraid to infuse your personality and character.
KM: You’ve referenced pizza several times. What’s your favorite type of pizza?
JR: Everything and the kitchen sink… except for olives. I don’t like olives.
KM: What’s your favorite pizza joint in Pennsylvania?
JR: The best pizza place is NOT in Pennsylvania. It’s actually in Columbus Ohio… a place called Tommy’s. My momma gets a little hot under the collar because I ask to have pizza from Tommy’s instead of her home-cooking at Christmas!
KM: How would you advise customers to maximize their profits by using a website?
JR: I would give two pieces of advice: If you can’t be consistent, don’t start it. Don’t start a blog post upload or email campaign if you can’t keep it going on a regular basis. To maximize your profit, whatever you do, do it consistently. And second, to maximize your profit, your website needs to stay current. You don’t want it to be like a stale brochure. It needs to stay alive by keeping updates current and match your photos with the seasons. Frequency doesn’t matter, but it does need to be consistent.
We want to help people do this simple, basic stuff to get the best return on investment. If you want to begin something, keep it mind it has to keep going for it to work in the long run.
KM: Just shifting gears for a minute, I know we share a bunch of stuff in common. I have CP and you were born with the same. Can you tell me a bit more about your personal life and how your personal journey has affected the person that you are today?
JR: Daily I’m aware of the life I’ve been given. I was born 3 ½ months early, I was given a 10% chance to live. I had five of six symptoms of CP and I was clinically deaf until about 19 months. When you talk about impact, the night my mom went into labor, my late grandma read Ps. 118:17 saying “He will not die, he will live and declare the works of the Lord,” and my mom hung onto that verse when the doctors said things weren’t going to go very well. The night before I went in to see where my deafness was occurring, my grandma read a verse in Matthew saying, “Go tell John (my dad’s name) the deaf hear, the lame walk, the blind see.” I came out of that examination and I could hear!
Every day is a gift and whether you have a story like mine or yours where we shouldn’t have survived or just the fact that you were born, life is a gift. I have been given much and much is expected. Out of a gratefulness for life, I’m trying to take the life I’ve been given and bring to life what other people have been given and help them in their good works.
KM: What are you hoping your journey teaches your five kids as a lasting legacy for yourself?
JR: Nothing prepares you for raising kids. Every day I’m learning I don’t know what I’m doing! My prayer is my kids grow up to be grateful for life, the gift of life. It’s a choice each of us has to make to count our blessings every day. Look at what we have, not at what we don’t have. There’s an element of being optimistic about life. I hope they realize that life is about more than just themselves, putting food on the table, or living selfishly. The Bible says, “It’s better to give than receive” So if I model a life of giving to and serving others, I hope they can catch that.
KM: I know you had a previous life running a non-profit. Can you compare/contrast the difference between running a nonprofit vs. running a small business?
JR: I ran Heads Up for ten years and looking back, I feel like a way I could have done that better is if I’d had a business mindset running the non-profit from a business point of view. I would have approached things a little more strategically. I had a common non-profit viewpoint of “Ask people to give money to support a cause” while a small business’s goal is to provide a service to people that is accompanied by a mindset of asking a fair wage as a cost for that service. But, I needed to rethink my non-profit viewpoint and want to think of it in the same way as a small business: “I’m providing a service in the non-profit sector, in the community, which is worth a fair wage and worth a level of support.”
In my non-profit years, I had a blast serving, but I didn’t always believe i was worth a value to ask for in return because it almost felt like you were asking for a handout. It may be a lack of confidence or value in what you’re doing.
KM: My final question for you is outside business or in business, how do you think we can use creative energy to be successful?
JR: to me, Creativity is a gift from our Creator. There is a level of safety in doing things the way they’ve always been done, but also complacency because you can gauge the level of return. Creativity is where we question methods of a “better way” or “another way” or “being more authentically me.” It might be more risky, especially now during COVID when people are trying to find new ways to do business and survive. Listen to voices outside your bubble, from other business owners or customers. Be humble enough to admit you don’t have everything figured out and find a way to infuse ideas with what you’re hearing from others. That makes you a courageous leader and business owner. It will yield creative solutions and change how you do things.
KM: I want to thank you for spending a Canadian morning with us and telling us about website building and effective life living. Thank you for being here.
JR: Pleasure is all mine. Thank you.
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