Stanford Econ major * Harvard MBA * Procter & Gamble brand management in paper & cosmetics * Coca-Cola Asst CMO * SVP Marketing Launch (now Yahoo Music) * VP Marketing Inc.com (sold to Bertelsmann) * VP Marketing Zipcar (first CMO of brand) * Founder & CMO Mavens & Moguls *
I started a global branding and marketing firm 18 years ago. I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. Those jobs gave me great experience but I really started to love my career when I became an entrepreneur and took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).
I do not think I could ever go back. I am so much happier and more productive as an entrepreneur than I ever was working for others. It is all about controlling your calendar. I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night. As an entrepreneur, I can be selective. Less really is more. i’ve chosen quality over quantity. It sounds trivial but it is true. I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by. I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by. I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled. Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations. I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that 100,000 middle school aged kids have gone through. As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned.
My advice would be:
Patience — It really is a marathon not a sprint so do not set arbitrary goals like being named 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 because it may take you longer than Mark Zuckerberg to hit your stride and that's ok. Most people take many detours on their career path before finding their true calling. Don't be disappointed if you get to 40 and are still exploring because the journey really is a great adventure so enjoy it!
Fail fast — Don’t be scared to fail, just learn from every bump in the road so you make better mistakes next time, that is where you learn the most! You learn to do by doing. Course correct and pivot along the way, it makes for a fun career path.
Keep learning — Finishing school is not the end of your education, you will be a student for the rest of your life so never stop learning new things. Your education is just starting to get really interesting and the grades don't matter anymore. Be a sponge for knowledge & enjoy the learning process.
Success is personal and your definition will change over time. That is normal and shows maturity, find what matters to you and don't worry about anyone else.
Traditionally agencies and consulting firms grow vertically through a pyramid structure adding junior layers and mid level professionals who can be paid at a lower level and then billed back at higher rates to the clients as they scale once the rainmaker fills the pipeline. Another option is to grow horizontally and compensate people for bringing in work thereby gaining leverage through a network effect of casting a wider net. Both ways can work it is a matter of strengths and preferences.
I started a global marketing and branding firm 18 years ago and most of my work comes by referral and word of mouth. I think having a good online reputation is incredibly important to building a strong professional service business like mine. You have to know what digital dirt exists on you so do a Google search and social media audit to see what comes up so you do not get blindsided or surprised in a meeting. There are a few ways I can recommend to stack the deck in your favor:
* Do great work that people will talk about
* Give lots of talks and use examples from your experience, I do a lot of public speaking which leads to people talking about me
* Join networking groups to meet people who are the multipliers in your industry, they talk to everybody and know everyone
* Be active on social media so you can share your talks and content and your followers can help spread the word
* Beware of trolls who try to bait you online by posting comments from fake accounts challenging your credibility or questioning your reputation online. You have to monitor sites carefully these days. I wish that there were more checks and balances to catch them earlier. You have to take immediate action and contact the site administrators to bring it to their attention to shut them down right away if you find anything. These people are never as smart as they think they are.
I started a global marketing and branding firm 18 years ago and believe personal branding is very important to growing your business because if you do not brand yourself then the market will brand you instead. The single most important ingredient to creating a great brand is authenticity and ˙here are a few tips from my experience to help establish an authentic brand without spending a lot of money:
Be original. What makes you unique or special?
Be creative. How do you want people to think & feel after interacting with you vs. your competition?
Be honest. Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source.
Be relevant. Brands aren't created in a vacuum.
Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and live it every day.
Be passionate. Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting.
Authentic relationships beat marketing automation every time. Technology runs our lives more than ever but it is relationships that drive business and commerce so people will find more ways to connect in person to build trust and strengthen connections. Make sure you offer several ways to talk with them and get to know them. Algorithms can only tell you so much about a customer, transactions are driven by relationships. Use automation where you can but do not ignore the power of the personal touch.
Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but I think in lead generation less is more. I believe it is a mistake to hide behind technology and CRM systems when prospecting. I prefer a more back to the basics approach by disconnecting from technology periodically and focusing on cultivating human, face to face relationships. Meeting for coffee or lunch can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time. I plan lunch meetings ~3 days a week and invite clients to events I think they might enjoy attending to spend time together.
I am also a big fan of Content Marketing and Thought Leadership which are great ways to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients. Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building your following on social media all contribute increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of likeminded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts. Start small and build as you go. For me I started speaking at local events and then submitted proposals to speak at industry conferences and trade shows nationally and eventually global events too. Same advice goes for writing start with small publications then move up the food chain to reach bigger audiences. People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most. Good luck!
There is never a perfect time to launch. I started a global marketing firm 16 years ago and recommend that first, make sure you have a strong idea:
When real customers are willing to pay real money for your product or service, you have a real business. If you do research with friends & family they may not want to tell you the truth in fear of hurting your feelings so make sure the research is valid.
If the days (and nights) fly by and you have more ideas than time to address them all, you're moving in the right direction.
When you believe in your core that a bad day on your own is better than a good day at your desk job, you've got nothing to lose.