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Divorce statistics that read like an epidemic have encouraged a growing services industry to cater for it. Rebecca Spicer talks to a woman who’s taken advantage of this trend and, with some clever marketing, is making a success of her online business.

Active ImageWhile many of us dream of the day when we say ‘I do’, the reality is a growing number of people are saying ‘I don’t’, with the divorce rate predicted to tip over the 50 percent mark by 2015.

As a single 32-year-old woman living in Sydney, Melinda Poole realised just how many people can be affected by relationship breakdowns when she kept meeting more men who had been divorced than not. "All their stories were different but I thought, well, if it’s happening to men, it’s happening to women," Poole says. "So I wrote down on a piece of paper everyone I knew who had been affected by a relationship breakdown or divorce and I thought, well, this is a market."

Until then, Poole describes her career as being tumultuous, especially as she worked in IT during the crash of the early 2000s. She’d also been involved in recruitment and real estate, but was interested in becoming her own boss.

So she suggested an idea to her uncle and cousin—David and James Craig—for an online directory to help people going through divorce. David had an entrepreneurial background in marketing but had branched out on his own to run a web development company with his son, James. The threesome couldn’t have been better matched with David to run the back office, Poole to take care of sales and marketing, and James to develop the website. After some serious research on the internet they realised they were onto a unique concept.

"We realised there was really nowhere that combines all the different services online that somebody needs when they’re going through a relationship break-up," explains Poole. "You can go on the internet and there are 27 million pages about divorce but there’s nowhere that brings together lawyers, accountants, financial planners and counselling services, and everything you need at all stages of the divorce process. So, we set up Australia’s first." Fittingly, it is called i-dont.com.au

Starting Online

So, how do you get businesses to pay for a listing on an online directory when it doesn’t actually exist? "It was excruciatingly hard," Poole says. With experience in selling concepts, she met the challenge head-on. "We built up what we called a soft launch product, which was very much a shell of the website we were building. So if they contacted us through our front page on the web and were interested in being a business subscriber we would email them a password, and then give them access to see what we were building. It was all smoke and mirrors really, but it made them feel like they were getting access to something important."

Active ImageAlthough Poole started working on the concept in August 2004, she was only able to leave her full-time job in February this year, two months before the official launch of the site in April. Four months later, the report is good. "We’re going off," she says enthusiastically. While there’s no debt in the business, Poole admits the co-founders have only just started being able to pay themselves, with most of the business’s income going straight out again to pay for advertising and spend on the site.

With some 100 businesses in the directory, Poole believes there’s a long way to go, with a potential market of about 4,000, but early indications are positive. It’s also a more diverse market than first thought, depending on which of the perspectives you take from those involved in a divorce, including that of parent, child or even retiree. And so there are many avenues for Poole to tackle. The site also includes a section with links to other relevant websites and government bodies, such as Relationships Australia which has endorsed i-dont.com.au around Australia. And the site provides divorce articles and a discussion forum to further encourage visitors to use it.

Poole has a goal of building the directory up to 2,000 listings in the next 18 months and will look to exporting the brand and concept to the UK, US, and New Zealand. "The internet is a wonderful medium for being able to do absolutely anything you want to do. If you have the right technology and the right systems in place you can manage it all appropriately, and we do.

"The key to everything is to get our brand very well recognised in the market and build the correct type of strategic alliances with businesses who are reputable and that will foster professional and quality assured names for us." And what a catchy name it is. Together with the provocative speared-cupid logo (opposite) it wasn’t long before this clever branding was turning heads. Both are in the process of being trademarked worldwide.

As Poole’s first attempt at running her own business, she’s found the experience both challenging and rewarding. "Maintaining the momentum is important," she says. "The beautiful thing about the internet is that it needs to constantly evolve, you need to constantly work it—it can’t remain static. You need to be giving people quality up-to-date content so they will come back and reinvest their time in your product.

"I’ve realised I’ve got more drive and determination than I thought I had, and you’ve got to be passionate about it. Not only because we love the brand and think it’s a cool idea but we also think it’s providing an incredibly valuable service to Australians."

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