Rob Lawson, Credit Today, LLC, Roanoke, Va.
SIPA: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into this business?
LAWSON: Swim team coach at the Wooster, Ohio, YMCA. First “real” job: credit manager at The J.M. Smucker Company. I decided to start a newsletter after being a white collar fraud investigator for 13 years. I’d accomplished all of my original goals in that field and didn’t want to get stale or “fight the dark side” my entire career. I also had a burning desire to start something on my own. So I just kind of looked around at the skills I’d developed and the needs in the market and figured that a newsletter might be the best thing to do. I clearly remember researching the idea and finding SIPA (called the Newsletter Publishers Association at the time). They sent me some of the materials that helped me decide to make the jump, and I’ve been a member since day one.
Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road.
Funny, I can’t think of one particular moment. I’m not sure what that means! In general, I feel like I’m on the right road when orders flow in. Some might say that means too much of my personal worth is tied up in orders. But what that means is that people are excited about your business and are being helped by it, which is gratifying.
In brief, describe your business/company?
We’re a newsletter, mostly how-to, but occasionally some actual news, for business credit professionals. That’s not consumer credit, which most people think of first when thinking of credit; and also not bank credit, which is probably the second thought people have when “credit” is mentioned. We started as a print publication supported by a website; and now have officially made the transition to a web business, supported by a print publication.
What are two or three important concepts or rules that have helped you to succeed in business?
– Stay in close and constant contact with your customers.
– Get into their minds and make sure that anyone involved in editorial and marketing does the same.
What is the single-most successful thing that your company is doing now?
We’re embracing the web-model. On the one hand, the change can be daunting, since things that previously worked aren’t working nearly as well (direct mail, for example). But on the other hand, it’s an exciting time to be in the information business, since the web allows us to deliver information (and test marketing) faster, cheaper, in greater quantities and more targeted than ever. How can you beat that? But the most important thing the web gives you is its interactive nature. Any time you can get your subscribers involved in the process, you’ve got a stronger business model than where they passively receive your content.
Do you see a trend or path in 2010 that you have to lock onto for 2011?
Social networking and broader wireless bandwidth—4G will be out soon, and that’s 10 times the speed of 3G—are changing the world very rapidly. Facebook didn’t exist 8 years ago, but now gets more screen time than Google. And more and more of the activity is on smart phones. So if you look a few years out, most of the planet will have in their hands a device that connects them instantly to every bit of information ever developed. Last I saw—and this is probably already obsolete—they’re activating 200,000 Droids (the Google competition for iPhones) a day! If you don’t think that’s breathtaking, you’re not thinking. And as niche information publishers, we’re right in the middle of all of that.
What are the key benefits of SIPA membership for you and your team?
I love the listserv and the conferences.
Where did you grow up?
Suburban New Jersey, on the commuter line to Manhattan.
What college did you attend? Is there a moment from that time that stands out?
The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.
Are you married? Do you have children?
Married for 16 years, 3 kids. So I’m also a soccer, swim, piano, band, and a few other things, dad.
What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?
Lately, maybe swimming, or perhaps stock investing and studying the markets. Roanoke is the only place I’ve ever seen where the summer swim league has the parents swim in the meets with the kids. So I came out of retirement after many years of easy fitness swimming and kicked things up a notch. I never thought I’d be competing (and I probably take it too seriously) at this age. But the competition and camaraderie is what has made it more fun than I would have ever imagined. I’d recommend it to anyone. That said, I think I might retire and work on piano or hiking or something. It’s a lot of work!
Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?
“The World Is Flat” by Thomas Friedman is fascinating and an important read for anyone in business these days. Since I’m now in the South, I thought I’d learn about Robert E. Lee and just finished reading a psychological profile of him.
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