We just celebrated 5 years in business at Banyan Creative. Its hard to believe how quickly it has flown by. One of our long time partners asked me how I felt about it. I first said, "Has it really been 5 years?" I suppose time flies when you are having fun. (or when you are bootstrapping a business and have two kids under 5 years old). Its been a whirlwind. I'm thankful for the 5 years that we have had so far and look forward to the years ahead. In some one ways I feel like I'm already in the bonus.
Only about 20% of businesses survive their first year. And only half of those make it to the 5 year mark. So I suppose the next big goal out there is the 10 year mark.
Its been an unlikely journey to say the least. Businesses get started for all kinds of reasons. And our story is no exception. We don't necessarily have some rags to riches story. But it has involved a lot of hustle, setbacks, failures and victories. Looking back over the past 5 years, its been a joy and a sense of accomplishment to push through the challenges to meet the goal.
It seems as though the days fly by, because of so many varying activities from sales, client work, billing, accounting, travel, conferences and creative sessions. While its not for everyone (and even my head spins some days), I love the variety of it all. I love learning about our clients businesses's from manufacturing to healthcare and how we can drive results for them on the web.
Personally, its allowed me to shape how my days look and step into a creative role that previous jobs had not allowed me. I started this business because I wanted to bring all of who I am into my daily work. I didn't want to drive to work everyday and have to leave that at home in the car, because it didn't fit.
"I started this business because I wanted to bring all who I was into my daily work. I didn't want to drive to work everyday and have to leave that at home, or in the car, because it didn't fit."
Not everyday is a bed of roses. There is always something to learn and there are plenty of setbacks. In digital marketing, if you don't keep a posture of learning, you will be out business or irrelevant before you know it.
Here are a few reflections, I've learned over the last 5 years in business for those either running a business or thinking you want to start you own business.
1. Its going to take longer than you think
Building a business from the ground up takes awhile. Don't rush the process. Everyone thinks that once people find out about your services you will be in the money. While that might be true for some, for most its not. Marketing can't fix a bad product. You need to have a great product, solve a real problem and be able to communicate that clearly to your target audience.
2. Cash is the lubricant of business
Think of a rusty old wheel that is creaking and grinding just to turn. Think of cash as the grease on the wheel to get things moving. Cash flow is always a battle in a business of our size. Make sure you build up a cash reserve as soon as possible and it will allow you to hire when you need to, and sustain yourself through the slower times.
3. Work like a Farmer. Spend like a Pauper
Running a small marketing agency feels a bit like being a farmer at times. You have to work the land, churn the soil, know when to plant, when to harvest and when to ask your neighbor for help. And also like a farmer, you have an advantage if you wake up early. Cash is precious, and its important when you are starting your own business with your own cash you keep expenses as low as possible. I'm in the services business so I was able to keep expenses low as we built the business. Not everyone can do that, nor do I recommend this for every business. But the point is, be frugal and always ask yourself: do I really need this?
Its no secret that I am a man of faith. Nothing has strengthened my prayer life quite like the pressure of running a business. I believe God cares about our daily work. I believe he cares deeply about the details of it all. We have had our ups and downs Allowing God to be an anchor in all of it to sustain through the emotional mental, physical and financial waves has been so important. Waking up early and planning my day, my week and my year is so important. But even more important, praying through the day has helped me not only keep a sound mind, but make better business decisions based on my faith and my values, not just about money.
5. Hire for Your Weaknesses
No one can do everything themselves. Thats the surest way to burn-out. Make sure you find good help that you can trust from employees to contractors. You can't do it all! Let me repeat that. No really, you cannot do it all and expect to grow your business in any meaningful way. (Learned this one the hard way.)
6. Find Another Business Owner You Want to Be Like in 5 Years
There is has nothing that has expedited our growth like meeting more experienced business owners who you want to emulate. It can be isolating at times and you can get stuck in a rut. You have to be able to find another business owner or multiple owners that you can reach out to for ideas and decision making. For me I was thankful for Xan Hood over at Buffalo Jackson. Not only was he one of our first key clients, but he also provided some valuable transparency to help us avoid some big mistakes we would have made early on.
7. Stay Humble
We live in a culture that is quite self-absorbed. Social media, txt messaging the ability to self-publish to thousands or millions of followers from our iPhones. It seems like everyone is building their own platform megaphone and yelling through it as loud as they can as often as they can to be validated by "followers" who could care less about you or your product. As marketers we are judged on performance metrics at the outset of a campaign. There can be high turnover in our business across the board. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail. Let the work speak for itself. Let the message resonate with integrity. One day you will be on top of the world. The next day you might be kicked to the curb.
Stay humble. Your day will come.
Thank you to all our friends, family and all our current and previous clients that have partnered with us. Its been a real privilege. And thank you to my loving wife, who has sacrificed and believed in me through thick and thin, and through all the ups and downs that come with running a bootstrap-underdog-marketing agency.
Here's to the next 5 years..... Lord Willing.
Sam Casey is the founder and owner at Banyan Creative LLC based in Matthews, NC.
Sam Casey is the Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner at Banyan Creative.