Kamau and Carol Austin would be the first to tell you that their business had humble beginnings—so humble, in fact, that they often used the free computers at the Montclair, N.J., public library to conduct research on how to start a small business.
That was more than a decade ago. Today, the husband and wife team runs a Web-based search engine business out of their suburban New Jersey home that helps entrepreneurs propel their Internet business by learning how to effectively rank their sites on various search engines. Called Search Engine Plan.com (www.searchengineplan.com ), the business invites visitors to “learn to use our free search engine training resources to become a Searchpreneur©.”
Search Engine Plan.com uses “webinars,” which are seminars presented on the Web, and “telecourses” to attract clients. On May 23, for example, Kamau Austin will share information on how to squeeze big profits from small online markets at a webinar titled “Using E-Bay and Search Engines to Increase Your Internet Traffic and Earn Additional Sources of Income.” The webinar will be followed by a telecourse on “Generating Income from Search Engine Traffic” on May 30.
For the Austin family, the road to self-employment was a decision made by “a higher authority.” When the couple’s young daughter, Elon, was diagnosed with autism, the Austins immediately decided that it was time to channel their energy into caring for her on a full-time basis. This meant establishing a business that would enable them to keep in contact with Elon at all times.
However, launching a business was an alien endeavor for Kamau, who had been a corporate sales executive.
Unfamiliar with even such basic small business concepts and lingo as “business plan,” “angel investors” and “marketing strategy,” Austin decided to take a few business courses at a local community college.
The courses, plus the abundance of data he obtained from the Internet by using the computers at the local library, equipped him with enough knowledge about the Internet itself and about marketing to start a Web-based business.
Within a short period, the Austins were able to parlay their challenges into a successful entrepreneurial endeavor, using strategies from which other would-be business owners can learn. Today, Kamau Austin is one of only a handful of African-American gurus on marketing and selling via search engines on the Internet.
“Everyone knows that it’s not easy to start a business,” Austin says. “It’s even more difficult when you know little about the process.”
Through his research, Austin discovered that search engines drive more than five billion people to various Web sites each month. Surprisingly, nearly one-third of those searches are for local businesses. “The Internet economy is a trillion-dollar industry,” he says. “More African-American media need to focus on this burgeoning industry.”
Not only do e-businesses generally require a much smaller start-up investment than their brick-and-mortar counterparts, but having access to the Internet also gives entrepreneurs access to an international market that they would not have otherwise, Austin says.
Maximizing his Web presence, Austin five years ago teamed up with a New York City microloan broker to find financing for small and minority entrepreneurs wishing to start, grow or expand a business. The partnership seeks out funds available through grants and the U.S. Small Business Administration as well as commercial real estate financing to raise loans of $250,000 to $2.5 million for clients.
“Our broker helped raise more than $3 billion for small and minority-owned businesses in the past several years,” Austin says.
The site boasts that it has raised more than $70 million in S.B.A. loans in the last five years.
“Anyone who has a good and commercially viable idea and a solid business plan and access to funding can succeed as a small business owner. Just look at me,” Austin says.