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the challenge

When Peter Donato launched a website for Ontario runners 10 years ago, he never expected it to end up as one of his biggest business failures. The site,, successfully helped runners connect with one another and offered detailed information about races across the province, but then it fell on hard times. His challenge is to bring it back to life.Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue.

When Peter Donato launched a website for Ontario runners 10 years ago, he never expected it to become one of his biggest business setbacks.

The site,, helped runners connect, and it offered detailed information about races across the province. It became one of the more popular running sites in the province, attracting about 2,500 visitors a day and making up about 25 per cent of revenue for Mr. Donato's main business, All Sports Marketing Inc., a Toronto-based event management firm geared to the running industry. The money came from banner advertising, premium calendar listings and other efforts.

Over the past four years, however, the site has been gradually losing visitors to social media sites such as Facebook, which have made sharing race details simple. In January, 2011, the site hit rock bottom. Traffic was down to about 10 hits a day.

"We had to kill it and put up something temporary," recalls Mr. Donato, the president and founder of All Sports Marketing, a firm with five full-time staff and expected 2012 revenue of $400,000.

It wasn't just social media that hurt. The site was doing so well that Mr. Donato says he rested on his laurels. "Because it was popular and had a following, we stood back and didn't do anything new," he says. "And we lost a lot of fans."

In June, 2011, Mr. Donato finally took some action, relaunching the website and adding new features such as race reviews and blogs. He now wants to focus on races around the world instead of just in Ontario.

While traffic is going back up, it's nowhere near what it was before. And while generating close to the same percentage of revenue (the company is charging more for advertising), Mr. Donato thinks that if it could attract more visitors, the site could do 10 times the business and generate revenue of $1-million a year.

One way to improve the numbers, he says, would be to re-entice old fans. He's tried to spread word to the running community that the site is new and improved. He's given out 5,000 branded sunglasses , he's set up a presence on Facebook and Twitter – but he is still having trouble getting visitors to return.

He does have the e-mail addresses of former users, but hasn't reached out yet. "People are so busy, so it's a challenge to change their habits," he says.

The Challenge: How can All Sports Marketing get Mynextrace's former fans to return to the site?

The experts weigh in:

Nasos Makriyiannis, Founder and managing partner of management consulting firm Komand Consulting Inc., Montreal

The first thing they should do is focus more on smaller races. I know they want to go global, but I think they can get back their fans if they focus on Ontario and Canada, as they used to. Global won't bring back the old readers. Smaller races will also be more willing to partner with you .

Consider creating a platform for actual registration and payments. He could facilitate the payment process for the race itself, so runners wouldn't have to go to the marathon website. Or offer discounts to races if they register through the site. He really has to do something they haven't done before – and isn't being done – to entice the older readers.

Spencer Saunders, President and founder at marketing firm The Juice Agency Inc., Toronto

He needs a compelling call to action. These people stopped using the site in the first place, so he has to get across what it's giving them now. That means highlighting the website's new features and attributes. It's not good enough to say we've redesigned so come back. If he has e-mail addresses of old visitors, he needs to send something out with this kind of information.

He should also try to segment these e-mails. If he knows there are six events coming up in the next three months, he should target people based on where they live, their interests and other relevant information. That will generate more clickthroughs. He's facing an uphill battle – it's far easier to retain an audience than to win it back.

Sarah Prevette, Founder and chief executive officer, Sprouter, Toronto

We shut down for two months before we started up again. The key, we found, was being honest and transparent with our members. We told them exactly why we shut down and about what would happen next.

He needs to look for that old contact information and then reach back out to people. Share the story of what happened and share his vision. People resonate with the human story.

But also let the people be a part of it. Ask them to give you feedback on the site and what else they'd like to see. That's the best way to get these people back – get them involved in the rebuilding process.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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