Today five years ago I decided to start Brand Advance. At the time I had a tech start-up with two other founders and we ran into some challenges raising capital. Investors in the Orlando area, like many other places around the country, were deploying their capital in real estate and buying up everything they could after the economic crash.
Looking back on the situation – I can’t blame them.
Real estate purchased at the bottom of the market at 2009 and 2010 has seen substantial appreciation and they are likely cash-flowing like crazy, or have sold for a significant return. Nevertheless….this left three starving recent college grad entrepreneurs up the creek without a paddle. The enticing real estate market and lack of savvy tech investors in Orlando meant that “higher risk” tech investments like our venture GroupTable, a collaboration software with thousands of users seen here on Mashable, had officially ran out of money. Very much an “Oh Shit moment”.
Then something dawned on me. We don’t need money. We need designers, developers and marketers. I thought to myself that with my background in marketing if I were to create a marketing agency that resources would exist to work on client ventures and my own.
On 9/6/2009 I created and registered the company Brand Advance with the State of Florida.
You may be thinking to yourself…How could he start another company with hardly any money and expect to have a team able to do work for others and his start-up?
The model was simple and effective. Utilize contractors / freelancers that I had experience with and trusted to do client work and manage the projects internally. As we gain more profit margin bring more work in house and use extra available time to work on internal ventures. The first full year in business Brand Advance did over $220k in sales and by the end of 2010 we had four people working in our office. Again, this was with no loans or investors.
Over the last five years I have learned many lessons by running my own business and working with other entrepreneurs through the process.
Lessons Learned from Growing and Managing Brand Advance
The Work & Clients
- Produce work that you are proud to put your name on.
- Set realistic expectations in the client’s mind and work to exceed them.
- Be honest with clients about their current situation, goals and what it takes to get there.
- Become a trusted adviser for clients and inform them about what they need even if: they ask for something else, you don’t offer what they need, it may not be pleasant for them to hear, it may mean less revenue for your company.
- There is such a thing as a bad client. Cut them quickly and as painlessly as possible.
- Don’t sacrifice your quality of work and reputation for a client’s budget
- It can be hard to save a sinking ship – don’t take it personally when clients fail because of circumstances outside of your control.
- Developing long and meaningful relationships with clients is better than one time projects.
- Develop incentives for clients to do business with you on an on-going basis
- Ensure that your team and the clients clearly understand the scope of projects
- Quantitatively measure results and share them with your clients. Numbers don’t lie. (Below is a snapshot of website analytics from one year 2012-13 compared to the next 2013-14 from our SEO work and website improvements of apartmentsUCF )
New Business & Sales
- Your happy customers are often the best source of new business
- Responding to RFPs suck, but landing the right one can produce a lot of value and open doors
- I’d rather have another expert on the team than a sales person any day. Education produces better results than sales.
- Speaking at the right venues and sharing your expertise on topics is a great way to gain new business
- sharing your insights on topics via a blog or social media is a great way to gain awareness and land more customers
- Scheduling free consultations with prospects to share your insights can be a great way to open new relationships
- News coverage and press helps
- Working closer with existing clients can be a more mutually beneficial way to grow revenue than being distracted by pitching new business all the time.
- Pitching the right prospects (developing creative material to work them) can be an investment, but can pay off.
Employees, Culture and Collaboration
- Having a bigger team is not always better from a business standpoint
- Building and maintaining your company culture is important and not a passive activity
- Hire people more talented than you who care about their work and the clients
- If you have confidence in your employees don’t over manage them. Let them do their job, give them what they need to be successful, provide insight as needed and let them rock out!
- If you have the right employees, care about them and treat them right they will treat clients right.
- Having in-house employees makes projects go much more smoothly than virtual employees or using freelancers.
- Equipping employees with the tools and environment they need to be successful is important
- Having differences of opinions and creative conflict can often lead to a better overall outcome
- Having people who see the world differently work together can be challenging at times. Know your team and don’t take their style of communication, passion, or frustration personally.
- Celebrate successes internally and with clients. (Below is a recent pic of the Brand Advance team and Bruce Wang of MICROJIG to celebrate the growth of his company and the wonderful work we have done together)
Growing Pains, Financials and Team Capacity
- Keeping a close eye on your cash-flow statement is important. Cashflow is king and should be a major factor in decision making.
- Growing pains means your growing. (Know if you are you having growing pains, or just pains)
- Service companies are more challenging to scale than product companies
- As a service company you must be sure to quantitatively measure and monitor the capacity of their team.
- Developing internal revenue producing ventures enables you to be more selective about the clients you want to work with and how much you charge.
- Having a supportive wife who “Gets it” is extremely helpful. Shout out to Lindsay Brim! Love you babe
- You can indeed grow a company to over a million dollars in sales with no loans or investment
I hope that you enjoyed this post!
It has been a great five years for Brand Advance and I look forward to many more years to come. I am blessed to do what I love everyday and work with such a wonderful and talented team. I invite you to visit our company website to learn more about Brand Advance and see our work.