This Week's Agenda: The Lanford Rules

  |  February 25, 2002   |  Comments

How do you become successful? It might be as simple as living by a few basic maxims.

Be honest. Have fun. Deliver enormous value. Don't worry about your competition. Stay a student.

These are some of the rules Audri Lanford and her husband, Jim, live by. They've helped the couple stay together and profitable for 24 years.

I called the Lanfords to talk about Wz.com, the "competitor" to About.com the couple founded two years ago. How are they keeping it alive while everything else on the Internet seems to be dying?

The answer is reinvention. Instead of waiting for the ad market to turn around, Wz.com is creating products people might buy.

"We had built about 550-600 different realms," Audri said (like About.com sites, except Wz.com has "wizards" instead of guides), on everything from Harry Potter to running a home business. "The revenue model just stopped working."

So, "we completely reorganized. We still have 750,000 subscribers from the original model, but the revenue is now more oriented toward publishing."

Specifically, they're publishing e-books, PDF files that can bring in $8 to $10 each from readers who may have started out as Wz.com members.

"The first one we did was called 'Getting Paid to Make People Laugh (without being a comedian).' We interviewed a humor coach, John Cantu. He goes by Cantu," she said. "He helped Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone, and others get their breaks. He owned the Holy City Zoo, where all these people got their starts."

The Lanfords are now taking preorders for a print run of that book, and they have another half-dozen e-books, plus two freebies. (My work is in one of the freebies. Want a copy?)

Reinvention keeps the Lanfords afloat while others sink. When the ad market turns around, Wz.com will be ready for it.

Now about those "rules."

They're really just maxims Audri and Jim say they live by, maxims that have allowed them to run a succession of successful businesses (such as NETrageous, an early Internet marketing firm, which they sold a few years ago) and stay sane.

Here they are:

  • Do things that are based on honesty and integrity. "You shouldn't have to say it, but you do," Audri said.
  • Always give huge value. "That doesn't mean low price. We want to make sure everything we offer is, to the right customer, a no-brainer to buy."
  • Make it fun to do business with you. "Our staff meetings sound like parties, but we accomplish a lot."
  • Don't worry about your competition. When the Lanfords ran NETrageous, they put together a "Billion Dollar Internet Marketing Summit" and invited all their competitors as speakers, at $5,000 each. "When you work with competitors, there's typically more than enough."
  • Use outrageous marketing. "About.com's site is pretty straightforward. Wz.com is much lighter, more fun."
  • Learn all the time. "Only 10 percent of business owners read, listen to audios, take courses, or go to seminars. And those 10 percent are the ones who are successful."
  • Test, test, test. "Out of 35 ideas, 3 will work really well. You have to try new stuff, and most of the time you'll fail, but that's OK. As long as you're persistent, you'll be successful."
  • Give back. One way the Lanfords give back is through Internet ScamBusters, a free site where they describe common Internet frauds.

The rules may sound simple, trivial, or self-evident, but deep truth can be like that. The test is whether they work. For the Lanfords, they do, in good times and bad. This makes them worth trying.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dana Blankenhorn

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.

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