Getting Smart About E-Commerce With Leslie Linevsky

by Shonali Burke on June 2, 2010

With e-commerce all the rage (Image: Jenny Downing, Creative Commons), today’s read from Women Grow Business is an appropriate Q&A with Leslie Linevsky, co-founder of Catalogs.com. Here’s a quick bio:

Leslie Linevsky is attuned to issues affecting e-commerce and direct mail. She connects with hundreds of marketing executives to develop, analyze and refine online marketing strategies. Leslie has presented as a speaker for the Direct Marketing Association and at the national ACCM conference. In 1997, Leslie co-founded Catalogs.com, which advises over 650 companies with print and online catalogs. She holds an MBA in business administration/international business from the University of Miami. Contact Leslie at leslie@catalogs.com, or connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

What most influenced you to launch your business?

I have always loved the idea of taking an idea, brainstorming business concepts and running with them. I like the freedom to work through an idea and be able to switch gears quickly, without layers of corporate structure.

My work style is hands-on: being responsible for every aspect of a project and seeing it through from conception to implementation. I am extremely independent, resourceful and a natural multitasker. This makes running my own business a good fit. And, it’s good that I love sales and marketing, because that part of launching and growing a business never ends.

What key strategic and operational tactics helped your business first get started?

When Catalogs.com was first started, we chose NOT to accept outside venture capital.

We went very slowly in our growth. To keep expenses down, we had modest office space, used 2nd hand furniture, and did not hire unnecessary staff. We basically rolled up our sleeves and got the job done.

Regarding advertising and marketing, we tested several avenues and if we didn’t get a good ROI quickly, we moved onto other advertising vehicles.

We hired top notch independent contractors and negotiated, upfront, what total fees would be on a per project basis. It was wise that we never agreed to “hourly” anything.

What decisions have best enabled your company to endure the current economy (and excel)?

In response to the current economy, Catalogs.com increased R&D expenditures relevant to new programs and development of our website. We’ve also increased our advertising budget. It may seem counter-intuitive to increase spending in a bad economy, but we have to stay ahead of our competition in order to survive. Catalogs.com has lost clients that can be directly attributed to the economy – businesses closing or filing bankruptcy - so it is critical that we aggressively go after new clients.

What failure or missed benchmark proved a good business lesson (and why)?

In the first few years of running Catalogs.com, I failed to make critical personnel management decisions quickly and decisively. I was very hesitant to terminate a senior member of my staff, for fear that the whole company would fall apart. In reality, once that senior member left, we actually found a replacement that was significantly better and has been with our company for years.

I learned that a company’s success is built around a team, not just one person, and that personnel decisions are best made with alacrity.

How do you use social media for your business?

We started incorporating social media in our online activity years ago. We have a number of blogs, an article site, four Twitter accounts, personal profiles and company pages on Facebook, and a strong LinkedIn presence. We Digg, Stumble, Delicious and bookmark in a number of other ways. We also contribute articles to Examiner, eZine and other sites.

In the beginning, most of these were “stand alone” efforts; now we are refining how we use each of these social vehicles, defining our audiences and making a concerted effort to weave them all together. As a web-based business, experimenting with social media is a natural for us.

We discover something, like Foursquare, and we check it out. Even if we don’t use an application, we stay abreast of what is new.

Where do you envision your business in 5 years?

I would like to see Catalogs.com on Wall Street, and me in the French Riviera. I’ll be catalog shopping in a variety of ways (flipping online catalogs on my iPad, fanning myself at the beach with my print version, texting my girlfriend on my iPhone with news of the hottest and latest pair of designer shoes), blogging and enjoying life.

[Editor's note: my kinda lady! Leslie, let's talk shoes sometime.]

How does technology influence your future business decisions/model?

First, it requires Constant Change:

To survive and be “profitable” using the internet, you must move quickly.  Catalogs.com is an internet-based business that requires constant change. We originally launched the company with only one business model, but quickly learned the need to evolve and develop various program models to meet a wide range of different retailer and ecommerce needs. Changes in technology often lead to changes in buying behavior.

Originally, Catalogs.com serviced the traditional print media industry, but as more and more shoppers began using the internet, the need for qualifying customers became even more critical. Today, marketing executives require high ROI, and that’s why it is so critical to distinguish between browsers and buyers. Marketing to consumers over the internet is a constant evolution.

Technology has given shoppers more choices, more research, and savvy marketers can no longer depend on old-school brick-n-mortar merchandising tactics to lure buyers.

Second, it requires deep R&D expenditures:

Twelve months ago, you never heard of the iPad. Today, it’s the hottest technology on the market. Never knowing what new invention will occur next, like the iPad, we now find ourselves shifting gears, once again, to explore iPad applications.

Catalogs.com is moving at lightning speed with our R&D efforts to become mobile and allow shopping via a Blackberry or iPhone. To stay ahead of your competition, you must saddle and use all available means to penetrate and reach your market. Nielsen predicts that more than half of U.S. phones will be smartphones by the end of 2011. I sure would hate to be the company that can’t be found with an iPhone.

More from:

Catalogs.com is the Internet’s trusted authority on catalog shopping.  For over 13 years, shoppers have universally recognized Catalogs.com as a premier shopping service, attracting more than 950,000 unique visitors each month.  With 36 unique categories, the comprehensive website allows consumers to preview hundreds of catalogs and provides the opportunity to opt-in to receive a specific catalog, shop major and specialty retail websites and find great savings offers from hundreds of merchants.

Image of Leslie Linevsky used with permission

Shonali Burke is editor of Women Grow Business and one of the country’s leading business communicators, who was named to PRWeek’s inaugural top “40 Under 40″ list of US-based PR professionals. She specializes in creating and implementing integrated (online and off), results-based, measurable communication programs for clients both large and small at Shonali Burke Consulting. An accredited business communicator, she is also Adjunct Faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s M.A. in Communications program and active in the local communications community as President of IABC/DC Metro. Talk to her via her blog, Waxing UnLyrical or Twitter.

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