As most of you know by now, I’ve been on a “quest” of sorts since February 1, 2012. That was the day I officially opened the doors to Sprouse Marketing Group (SMG). And that was the day I officially began my journey towards building a better business: specifically, a marketing services business that brought together knowledge (and people) I had been surrounded by and succeeded with for my entire 15 year post-athletic career.
It was a not-so-sudden decision by me, since I had frankly been contemplating it for quite some time. Probably the better part of two years. I didn’t *do* anything about it, it was just in the back of my mind. Until one day when it was at the front of my mind.
I found (and in talking with other entrepreneurs, this wasn’t unusual) that the very day I committed myself to the new venture it set off a chain reaction. There were the obvious things; like getting emails and notes via social media from people I hadn’t talked to in a while and lots of well-wishes. There were also the less obvious things; people almost immediately asking very detailed questions about the premise behind my new company. Some interested in becoming clients, others just curious. People in the press took notice; it isn’t every day that someone abandons a successful 15-year career and decides to forge a new path…to build a better business than what’s out there currently.
Yet, that was the subconscious (at first) decision I was making. I now understand this more consciously. When you’re an entrepreneur, you look for angles. You look to satisfy a need that isn’t there. You look to provide value where value is most welcomed. You look to improve on what’s currently being offered. I guess you just look to do things better, to improve, to offer more compelling products or services.
Two days from today, Sprouse Marketing Group hits its 6-month mark. In 6 months, we’ve welcomed new clients (who are still clients, by the way) in all kinds of interesting industries. Fashion, men’s skin care, technology, entertainment, medical, publishing, art, sports, hospitality…to name a few. Like most businesses, we started with 1 employee (me), then 2 employees almost right away, and have grown from there. Like most businesses, we started with 0 clients, and have grown from there.
There are a couple things that I’ve taken particular note of along the way that I think have helped us build a better business. Some of this, I probably learned 20 years ago in college. Some, I picked up along the way over the last decade. Some may seem like lip service or elicit a “no shit, Sherlock” reaction. Yet, I can tell you, when you’re truly running a business – your own business, big or small – most of us can’t truly appreciate the following until you’re actually doing them:
1) Client communication: It is sure a lot better business model to keep happy clients happy, rather than seek new ones. Client retention 101. Tied up in keeping clients happy is constant communication in addition to performing well. I’ve heard of agencies that either rely on the client themselves to log into some interface to get updates & reports OR agencies that provide monthly reporting. Neither works. We have a totally different way of communicating with our clients that works. But I underestimated the importance of this early-on. Now, it is the #1 most important thing in our business.
2) Internal communication: If you run a small business, or in our case a boutique agency, communicating clearly and effectively internally is #1b to client communication which is #1a. Again, I think this is something I underestimated in the early stages of the business – and is now something that I think is the hallmark of not only what we do but how we do it.
3) Clear value propositions: Let’s face it – marketers are everywhere. Marketing agencies are everywhere. But really good ones who are on the hook for performance are not. The biggest ah-ha moment for me has come in confirming what I thought was the case before I even started the business: that if you provide something other people don’t, whether you’re in a recession or not, people will see the value and gravitate towards it. Value propositions can take many forms. We hang our hats on 3 in particular, and they are absolutely unique to us. I’m sure if you thought about the things you could offer someone that absolutely no one else can, you could come up with 3 of them too. I think too often we all get “cookie cutter” in our mindsets, but you need constant refinement.
4) Lastly, pure and blatant honestly. This was a refreshing one for me because sometimes you literally cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. By this, I mean that your business will not (and SHOULD NOT) appeal to everyone. If you’re trying to appeal, or provide value, to everyone, you will fail. Understanding, and being completely honest with yourself and your prospects is probably the thing I love the best about what we do. Sure, I think we can help a lot of businesses. But I do not think we can help ALL businesses. Their needs or resources may not fit with what we offer and how we offer it. Realizing this has been important. I think every business needs better marketing; but SMG isn’t a fit for every business.
I look forward to sharing more specifics when we hit the one year mark. It might even include some of these thoughts in the form of a book…