The hardest part about becoming an entrepreneur is deciding you’re going to do it—cutting ties with your current comfortable lifestyle and taking the first step. I have friends from business school who, in my eyes, are as smart or smarter, more disciplined and with more potential than some people I know actually running successful companies, but they lack the guidance or confidence in making that first move. They say they want to venture out on their own, but then five years will pass and they’re still working for the same giant companies.
I always knew I wanted to started something on my own, but just like those peers of mine with so much potential, I had no idea how. I held lots of conversations with business owners, but not much seemed to help. I was scared of taking that first big step—quitting my job with my comfortable salary and lifestyle. Luckily, I found a way to start the company I dreamed of without having to take that risk.
About three years after I’d completed my MBA, I was working for a really good mid-size company. I kept quite busy and was happy; my hard work was really paying off for them. I was making more than any MBA three years out would expect to make, and I was spending upward of three hours a day strategizing with the CEO. I was making the company a lot of money it clearly wouldn’t have had without me. I could tell I was appreciated.
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Still, I wasn’t reaping as many rewards as I felt I should have been. In return for my increase in sales, I was granted a $15,000 raise (plus a nice bonus of $5500). That sounds like a substantial amount, but compared to what I was earning for the company, it was pennies. Not even pennies—I had produced $20 million in additional sales within my first year. My compensation increase wasn’t even a full percentage point of that figure. After that first year, I became increasingly unsatisfied. I began looking to the outside, and not just for small projects; I decided I was looking to grow a business, not just take on a few gigs. I began speaking with friends about sales and what I had been doing for my company at the time.
One guy in particular was a roofer in desperate need of leads. He was a savvy business person and therefore understood the need for marketing and the importance of having his name appear in local markets where he could ostensibly get business. I had insights others didn’t; I saw potential in mid-size, local markets that was basically being ignored. I knew by using quality digital marketing tactics, I could help this guy. My approach to getting him leads was simple: I was going to provide him with the effective marketing services afforded large national companies but on a local scale to spread the word about the business, and I would get the company visibility on various search engines and websites so anyone looking for his services in his area could find the business easily.
I created not just one but multiple websites, focusing on different counties, cities, and service areas so that the company would show up in searches for roofing services in multiple markets. I also added rich content—for example, blog posts and landing pages with tons of keywords related to the business—to all these websites and a small budget toward paid search. Because the business was so localized and so highly visible, it quickly started getting many leads from people looking to hire its services. Using the skillset I had developed working for a large national eCommerce retail company, I knew I could help a small roofer in a localized area. I made around $500, just from the leads I brought him the first day. We were sending him a hundred additional qualified leads per month, which resulted in 40 new jobs for him with a total revenue increase of $200,000 a month.
I couldn’t believe how lucrative this was. With a marketing spend of less than $200 a day, I began earning a profit of $20,000 a month. I was earning more than my actual salary while spending an average of 30 minutes a day on this project. At this point, I knew I had something substantial. I decided I could take on more of these clients on the side. Because it was such a small investment time-wise, taking on additional clients was not a problem with my full-time job. Over time, as I realized that this was a bigger opportunity, quitting my job became an easy transition.
My biggest challenge was, predictably, acquiring clients. I reached out to everyone I knew for any contact information I could get my hands on. Within a few months, I’d generated a healthy list of contacts, with everyone from doctors to lawyers to bail bondsmen. Once I got my contacts, the rest just fell into place. I found there was hardly any competition for what I was doing—offering high end marketing services to local, mid-size companies. This was a hole in the market. Businesses like this roofing company had only inexpensive tools and low quality leads available to them, as there were no seasoned professionals with national experience focusing on this market. Eventually, it made more economic sense to quit my job than to keep it. So I quit, and started what would come to be known as Local Marketing, Inc.
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