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

National Post (Latest Edition) - Financial Post Magazine - - COLUMNS&DEPARTMENT­S -

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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