When I was 18 I attempted and failed at my first business venture. I used part of a student-loan to start a concert promotion company. I was convinced that I could leverage the web and social media to sell thousands of tickets through my own online platform. I spent countless hours learning about web design and digital advertising, with the hope of selling thousands of concert tickets online. Long story short; my first venture did not go as planned and I didn’t meet my sales quotas. The venture ended swiftly, and I was left in debt.
Although my first business was a failure that costed me thousands of dollars, I fell in love with the technical and artistic process of creating digital journeys. In my early 20s, my priorities as an entrepreneur evolved as I became obsessed with the idea of building my own social app. I created several web-based apps as prototypes, none of which gained any major traction.
The Fall of 2016, I left my full-time job as an E-Commerce manager to sell social media management services through my own freelance agency, known as Growth Group. This is my first business venture that’s actually been profitable, and in less than a year of operating, I’ve learned more than I ever had working in a 9-5 job or attending university lectures.
1. Make it easy for clients to say ‘yes’.
In my previous digital marketing roles, I hired and managed various marketing agencies. Traditionally service providers in the social media marketing space require commitments and contractual agreements from their clients, which many business owners find shady.
Instead, I decided to offer a performance based model that’s commitment-free. As a freelancer, I’ve never required any contract or long-term commitments from clients. We offer a commitment-free subscription model and competitive pricing that makes us attractive for prospective clients, especially new businesses. It’s allowed us to build trust with clients in a wide variety of industries, and new prospects are more inclined learning about our services. As well, existing clients have piece of mind that we’re continuously striving for results in order to maintain their business.
2. Run a financially lean business.
When I decided to quit my job to start Growth Group I had just under $1200 in my bank account and over $10,000 in debt. I was also working with three other companies as a freelancer during my off-time. Although I was still making significantly more at my full-time role, I was convinced that the few clients I obtained freelancing was sufficient proof-of-concept to pursue my venture full time.
I began working on expanding my client base the same morning that I quit my full time job. Roughly 2 days were spent creating a basic online presence for Growth Group, and generating leads from my personal network. Off the bat, my new venture had little financial burden, other than roughly $500 for registering a corporation and purchasing a dedicated hosting plan to build and host websites.
In terms of office space, I worked from coffee shops and my living room. As well, instead of investing in an expensive software suite of marketing and design tools, I opted for open source solutions that I customized for each client’s needs. In the first 4 months of launching the business the only major expenses were freelancer wages, my cost of living, and gas/food for seeing clients.
8 months have passed, and our business is still financially lean with our only major expenditures being staff wages (we’re no-longer outsourcing), and our office space which is held on a short-term lease. We don’t even own our office furniture, it’s on lease. However as a company, this provides us the flexibility to relocate, hire staff, invest in tech, take business trips, and really evolve the venture as we see fit.
3. Past achievements are great, but provide value.
Although we have an incredibly talented and diverse team, clients don’t hire us for resume or portfolio. Instead our main anchor is an action plan that we tailor to drive measurable value for each client. For every prospect, we study the business beforehand and form our pitch with a tailored strategy, as opposed to a cookie-cutter-style service. I’ve learned that in any proposal, insightful ideas, suggestions and questions will leave a more lasting impression than mentioning your accolades or name-dropping.
4. Value your independence as an entrepreneur.
Having the freedom to run a business and pursue your own clients presents a new form of ‘opportunity cost’ and forces you to completely reconsider the way you’re investing your time. Before I commit to any endeavor, I often try to determine whether it’s value will be realized immediately, in the future, or residually over-time.
As digital marketers, we have a flexible and autonomous working environment, a luxury that’s rare in most workplaces. But from a start-up perspective, we have to be frugal about time, and every dollar that enters and exits the company. I view my time as priceless, because entrepreneurs are not paid by the hours they work, but from the problems they solve.
5. Learn to say ‘no’ to bad clients.
When I first started freelancing, I would accept any new clients. I’m still hungry to work with new brands and entrepreneurs, but I’ve learned to evaluate opportunity cost and focus my efforts where it matters. Some ventures like my concert planning business, are built to fail. And no amount of marketing or advertisement can compensate for poor planing.
For our team, it can be difficult to produce value for a business that’s compromising on it’s product or service. We view our clients as partners because we’re invested in their success. And weak partners are counter productive in building lasting value-driven relationships. It’s like the saying; ‘you become who you surround yourself with’. The same principle applies with your clients and business partners.
It’s nice to be running a profitable business but also extremely challenging. Through this venture and my past, I’ve worked with several entrepreneurs, and yet to meet an ‘overnight success’. Above all, in my experiences, successful businesses are built on passion, long-hours and late nights.