National Post (Latest Edition) - Financial Post Magazine

INNOVATORS

People get sick, sometimes seriously, but that doesn’t mean their businesses can’t soldier on

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Randy Milanovic overcomes cancer and reforms his graphic design business at the same time.

Randy Milanovic was 43 when his doctor told him he had cancer and suggested he prepare a will. It was 2009, the depths of the recession, and business at Milanovic’s graphic design firm in Calgary was drying up as the demand for brochures and other print-based marketing products fell. He took stock of what he would be leaving behind if he didn’t make it. “I got a sense of just how quickly we can exit this world. I saw that there wasn’t much of a legacy I was leaving,” Milanovic says. “I thought, you know, if I’m going to do this, I want to do something that I enjoy doing, something where I can have a positive impact.”

If there was ever an excuse for lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself, a diagnosis of Stage IV lymphoma would be it. Instead, Milanovic spent his recovery reading everything he could get his hands on about online marketing, doing as much research as he could manage. Some days, that meant 15 minutes of work; other days, eight hours.

By the time Milanovic returned to full- time work several months later, he had learned enough about online marketing to turn his business in a new direction. It seems to have worked. Kayak Online Marketing increased its revenue 25-fold compared to the old graphic design business, and it now has about 450 clients, earning a nomination for Calgary’s Small Business Week 2013 Breakout Business Award. “In the span of just a few years, that’s pretty incredible. We never expected that,” Milanovic says.

Milanovic says he was partly inspired by the frustratin­g experience of handing control of his previous company’s web presence to someone else. The more he learned about online marketing, the more it became clear that a lot of people calling themselves experts and gurus in the field were actually phonies. Instead, he became a blogging and social media machine, building his profile and credibilit­y by posting about online marketing and engaging in conversati­ons with others who were doing the same. He says he bought $50 worth of advertisin­g through Google AdWords and business started rolling in.

What sets Kayak apart from the online marketing “snake oil salesmen,” he says, is its insistence on teaching clients how to take control of their web presence, which was inspired by his ownexperie­nce recovering from cancer, a responsibi­lity he couldn’t hand off to someone else. “You can’t give up. You’ve got to make it happen. There’s no offloading it,” Milanovic says. It’s a sentiment he applies to both beating cancer and attracting web hits. “If we get a client that says, ‘Will you do it for us?’ weactually say no.”

Today, Kayak offers a combinatio­n of consulting, web design and marketing services. The business has also developed a training program to help business owners learn the tricks of the trade.

Five years after his diagnosis, Milanovic refuses to dwell on the possibilit­y of the cancer returning or the details of his illness. He prefers to think about his goals for the company and helping his clients. But he’s also a lot more comfortabl­e with his legacy. “Now I know that if I ever did exit this world early, there would be something I left, and that would be a more positive environmen­t,” Milanovic says. “I look back and I’m motivated to make a positive contributi­on.”

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