Today I was asked to share my story with the readers of my blog, so I thought I would share the 3 main things that have truly changed my life in amazing ways. I hope you are able to take these 3 things and apply them to your life/business. Bear with me this is a long article.
Ok, so a quick background. Growing up, I hated school. I did everything I could to squeak by and not really apply myself. That is except for one area… Art! I have always loved to be creative and draw. Every Christmas all I'd ask for would be art supplies or music to inspire my creativity. I had no interest in college, but being forced by my parents (thanks by the way) I found art school.
So I go to the Art Institute, get a job at an advertising agency and the person training me was a freelancer. Early on I knew I was going to follow in her footsteps and go out on my own. 5 years later I did that very thing. I did however jump on this new thing called the internet in '95. Although, I was still new to the world of advertising, the web had some great appeal to me.
In '99 I started my own company. In the first year my business was ranked top web design firm of Central Pennsylvania where I started my company. For the next 4-5 years I freelanced like crazy and business was good. I knew I wanted something bigger though, I wanted creative freedom that the agencies wouldn't give me, I wanted direct contact with clients and I wanted the money involved with these things.
Looking to make a big change I ended up moving to Texas to cut ties with my agency clients and start finding real clients and no freelance work. I knew three people in TX a girl I met at a design conference, a girl she introduced me to (who now is my wife) and another woman I met at a design conference that gave me freelance work several years ago. I basically broke ties with the first friend, married the second and still talk to the third once in a while, since she quit working at her firm and started her own design shop.
September 2002: This is the month I moved to TX. Looking back I sure was cocky. Relocating to a place you are unfamiliar with and where you do not know a soul is a ballsy business move. This is not one I would recommend, although it did get me what I wanted… a branding firm, not a freelance business. It was a burn the boats kind of move so I had no way to retreat. No place to go but forward at all costs. I have always had the philosophy that failure wasn't an option, so here we go on a new journey!
I joined the chamber and networked like crazy. I saw a bunch of people that needed help with branding, but for whatever reason I was unable to get the type work or size accounts I wanted. I had a few good years and a lot of lean years. A big mistake I made was I funded my business with credit cards. I ran up $20K in debt, hit a few lean years and nearly lost everything. I borrowed some money to clean up this issue and started paying things off and then paid the loan back over the next few years. Business is picking up and I nearly got the debt cleared up, but start funding again on credit cards.
June 2007: I got married. After a few weeks back from our honeymoon, my wife and I start looking at our financial situation. Between the wedding and my business we were in debt somewhere in the range of $60K. Business was starting to slow down and I knew I needed to make a change. Betsy (my wife) found a free beta web trial of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University (FPU).
The #1 thing that
changed my life…
Financial Peace University.
After going through a few classes I realized Dave was right and the credit card interest was working against me. I cut up all my credit cards on the spot that day and never looked back. Again, if you do this, cancel them first. I cut them up and threw them away. Trying to cancel the cards when you do not have the cards can be a hassle. Anyhow, from this day on I have run my life and my business as a 100% cash based lifestyle. If I don't have the money, I can't buy the things I want. As a matter of fact I can only buy the things I need, those wants are on the back-burner right now.
I continue to run my business and market my company mostly through networking, direct mail, a website and trade shows. This marketing got pretty expensive as you can guess. So going through a tough patch overcoming this whole debt vs. cash only thing, took some time, but it was life changing. Beyond all these issues, I decided to rebrand my company under the new name Brandwise.
May 2008: I got asked to present to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce on branding and how to market in a recession. This was my first major presentation to some 70 people. Because of the change in name and this presentation, I needed to rebuild a website based on the new company name. I built roughly a 15-20 page site even though the previous site was 60 some pages. Although I build websites, the time commitment to build out another large site got put on the back burner.
I hit another slow patch in business and so I took a break to figure out how to continue to market in a recession, just as I told everyone to do in my presentation. I reworked my strategy and dropped the chamber and any trade shows due to the cost and level/types of clients I was getting. Direct mail seemed to be the best option so I sent, 3 out of a 5 mailer campaign over the next few months. Not getting the level of response I needed, I kept looking.
May 2009: I don't know how I found these guys, but somehow Hubspot showed up on my radar. I tried a 7 day trial, but had a hard time setting everything up. A sales rep called me, not sure, but maybe it was Pete Caputa. I knew I needed a change, was this it?
The #2 change and best marketing thing I ever did… Start inbound marketing
I gotta tell you at the time hubspot was $250 a month and this was a lot of money to pay monthly. I was used to spending roughly $120 a year for my website hosting. Of course the site barely worked from a business development perspective. I gave Hubspot 3 months, if they didn't perform and get me a ton of new traffic in 3 months I was done. 3 months in, things were looking great! Still I was not convinced. At the end of the first 3 months I said if I can start generating leads from my website in the next 3 months, I'll stick with Hubspot. 6 months in, I was getting so many leads, I knew this was a match made in heaven.
This was the cheapest marketing I have ever done for the type of results I was getting. In the first year, I got more leads from my website than I have ever gotten in the life of my business. I have been with Hubspot now for some 2 and a half years. Here is the deal with this tool, if you work it, it works for you. I work with many CEOs and marketing teams delivering these exact results. If you don't do the work, the tool just bleeds your dry. I've seen both sides sadly. This has changed my business forever or at least until the next wave of marketing which Hubspot will likely be a part of. This is the best bang for your buck when it comes to marketing. Inbound marketing can be done without Hubspot, but it is a ton of work and a big learning curve. I prefer to have a partner going at it with me and helping me become a thought leader in my industry as I help my clients become thought leaders of their industry. I would highly recommend Hubspot for all types of businesses.
June 2010: Pete Caputa has been working with me over the years on Hubspot and for years he has been telling me I needed to be getting retainer based work. I understood why, I just didn't understand how. I had several newsletter clients over the years that did monthly newsletters. This was the only retainer based work I have been able to get. The downside is this was only $1000 per month at best and $400 a month on the low side. This is a heck of a lot of work for little pay. On a conversation with Pete he tells me… "sell only retainer business of $2500 a month or above." I tell him, that's easy for you to say, but how do I do that? Pete said "Call Rick Roberge and do whatever he tells you!" then I hung up and called Rick!
The #3 best thing I have ever done in business…
Learn to sell by hiring
Rick Roberge at Kurlan!
So here was the deal, I was getting leads and lots of them. I was working lots of small project work, but not making a ton and constantly needing to go find more work.
August 2010: I have a conversation with Rick and he sets me up with a $1000 sales evaluation. Wow! $1000 is a big chunk of change and what if this evaluation says I suck at sales and will never be able to perform? Well, Pete said do as Rick says, so I did it. Of course it told me I was sales challenged, but it also told me why and that there is potential for big growth and improvement if I overcome a few weaknesses.
So Rick and I do a little sales dance until I figure out what he is offering and how much it is going to cost. This was the biggest investment I have ever made in my business for monthly consulting/training and honestly IT IS THE BEST INVESTMENT I HAVE EVER MADE IN MY BUSINESS! Thanks for the tip Pete!
Although it took time, by June of 2011 I hit my best year ever with 6 months left to work. 4 years after creating a cash based life and business, we nearly got the entire $60K in debt paid off. At this rate it might be by years end. So the only thing I owe money on is my house, everything else is paid for with cash. And now thanks to Rick I am able to sell the leads Hubspot is helping me generate. Think how quickly cash will add up as we have no debt and double or triple our best year ever? There is a good chance next year will double this year. As you can see money is no longer going to be an issue for Brandwise, for myself, my wife and for our kids (when we have some).
I must tell you, sales training is similar to hubspot, FPU or any other goal. If you don't do the work, you will not reap the rewards. A perfect example happened to me recently. Business was booming, at least compared to previous years. I spent a lot of time servicing customers and managing my business. I made a few calls a week, but mostly on whatever came across my desk. I wasn't actively prospecting. Then in a 2 month period I lost a decent sized client, had another decent client put things on hold for a few months and I fired another decent size client. When you lose 3 big accounts in a 2 month period, you had better hope you have something in the works already. Well, as I mentioned, I wasn't prospecting on a regular basis so my pipeline was pretty dry.
At this point I told myself, I screwed up. I knew I was only using part of the training I had gotten, and now I was going to pay for it. I decided that prospecting was where I screwed up and I got a little, I told you so from Rick. What are you going to do? Well, I set a goal of 100 prospecting calls or emails each week to new prospects. The first week I had 37-40 calls in, the second 51 calls. The key is by doing this I am starting to fill the pipeline again and at this rate I should have 4 new clients to replace the previous 3 in 30 to 40 days. Imagine what will happen if I continue this pace. I will have a strong, filled pipeline always. I will master sales by having a ton of sales experience. I will be able to pick and choose our clients instead of just taking whatever comes along. I will shorten our sales cycle by applying this new sales experience. One goal I am striving for is something Rick shared with me early on. He told me a story about his trainer or mentor saying "I want to have you be so skilled at sales that I could take your wallet, blindfold you and drop you off in any city and you would be able to make money to support yourself that day." Wow, that is a bold statement! That is where Rick is taking me. I will be that guy and quickly getting there by improving everyday! Thanks Rick!
So these are the 3 things that changed my business, my life and my family-tree forever.
- Dave Ramsey: Financial Peace University
(made Brandwise and myself debt free- I also became a trainer to teach FPU to share it with others)
- Hubspot (allowed Brandwise to become a thought leader for the branding/marketing industry and market more effectively than ever before)
- Rick Roberge: Kurlan's Baseline Selling (trained Brandwise how to sell, grow business several times over, allowed me to pay off debt and fund future growth)
Again, this story is by no means to brag or flaunt our success (failures). I hope this is more of a roadmap for others to follow. If your business is struggling I'd recommend getting out of debt and going 100% cash based. It is tough, but will put you in the best place in the world. If your marketing sucks, look into Hubspot and hire a Certified Partner (like Brandwise) to help you make a lead generation machine. You may be too late to hire Rick since he is on his last hurrah and retiring in December, but if you want sales training you can talk to Kurlan or have a conversation with Rick and I to evaluate your needs and tell you about the new Smarketing Program we have developed. We will be doing sales/marketing evaluations and helping people set up the Baseline Selling program and a Hubspot based marketing program.
I hope you learned something here and start changing your life/business for the better today. Best of luck!