Auction Frogs is one of those virtual businesses that grew out of frustration. Kristi Saucerman had been managing nonprofit “silent auctions” for 12 years, always seeing the final bids come in at far less than the value of items donated. Sure, it was still a win-win for everyone. The bidder got a smoking hot deal. The charity received funds and the sponsors received recognition and loyal customers.
But what if there was a way to extend the time of the silent auction and the bidding audience? That would mean more funds for the charity and more marketing exposure for the donors and sponsors. Kristi reviewed a few online auction options, but found them all too expensive for tight nonprofit budgets.
So, she took a ‘leap’ of faith—and created Auction Frogs.
I talked with Kristi recently about her business.
GG: What advice would you give someone wanting to start a virtual company?
KS: If you’re going to build an online business, make sure it’s turnkey so you’re not reliant on any one geographic area. I can move my family tomorrow and Auction Frogs can still go on.
Conduct a test group for your idea first. Figure it all out with a small group of people you trust as well as people you don’t know. Get feedback and identify strengths and weaknesses. Modify your product based on that feedback. Never stop getting feedback, even as your business matures. Never allow the business to stagnate. Perfection will never be attained—it’s always a work in progress. Change with the times and the needs of your customers.
Once you get that initial test group feedback, take action and go live. So often, entrepreneurs get “analysis paralysis” and they never take the next step. Here’s the problem: If you take the time to make it perfect, it’s already outdated by the time you get it out in the marketplace.
GG: What tools do you find indispensable for your virtual office?
KS: First, I looked for a really good web developer. It’s important to get one who is available when you need them. We use Google Analytics to track the statistics of each auction. We track number of bids and click-throughs for each item, so we can provide that information to both the nonprofit client and the donor/sponsors. Sponsors want to know that they’re not only making a difference, but that their donation makes good business sense in terms of market exposure.
We also use “Share This” and “Page View Count” Open Source Applications. “Page View Count” helps with tracking while “Share This” allows bidders to share an item with their network via social media or email.
GG: What type of marketing should virtual companies be using today?
KS: Social media, hands down. For Auction Frogs, Facebook has been particularly powerful, because it taps into a more emotional, personal level of viral marketing. For example, say we’re conducting an auction for a school. A parent might send a message to her friends on Facebook that says, “Hope you can take a minute to support Suzy’s school by going to our auction page,” with a link to the school’s Auction Frog webpage. Of course, friends want to help and they start sharing the link with their friends, and so on. It’s the emotional bid that drives up the bid amounts and that’s why online auctions work.
There’s also more opportunities online to increase traffic so more bidders visit the auction site. Bidders are reminded by us, via email and on the auction site itself, of why they are bidding: to help the school or nonprofit. We often feature testimonials or videos on the auction site so bidders can connect on a more personal level.
We also use Craigslist to advertise some of the larger items up for bid as a way to draw traffic to our client’s auction site.
GG: How do you get paid?
KS: I charge nothing up front. After the auction is complete and the funds have been received by the nonprofit, I receive a small percentage of the auction’s gross revenues. That percentage can easily be earned back through selling advertising spots on the auction webpage or by the increased funds the nonprofit will receive by using my services than if they hadn’t.
GG: What’s in the future for Auction Frogs?
KS: Our mission is to help as many organizations as possible improve their fundraising models.
I work primarily with nonprofit organizations that have a working model of a silent auction already, but want to bring it to the next level. They have sponsor relationships and volunteers already in place.
Auction Frogs provides our clients with three benefits: 1) A higher return value for items up for bid compared to that of the value at a traditional, offline silent auction; 2) a reduction in volunteer hours required because of our simplified approach, and 3) greater exposure for their nonprofit and for the donors and sponsors.
I’m also working on a concept called “The Frog Pond.” The Frog Pond is a repository where businesses can donate to organizations in exchange for ad space on the online auction sites. Bidders will have the option to click through to the website of the donating business.
We’ve had excellent response so far from the business community on the Frog Pond. It’s a great way for businesses to receive maximum exposure for their donation dollars.
GG: How can our readers contact you?
KS: They can visit our website at http://www.AuctionFrogs.org.
Next post: More timesaving Twitter tips.
Later next week: Preparing your elevator pitch and our travel tip of the week.
Visit us at: http://www.thetravelingoffice.com.