Business Advice from San Diego’s Top Entrepreneurs.
I get it.
Being an entrepreneur is hard work. And, sometimes even the best make mistakes… but we’ll get to that in just a second.
The point is that when starting your own business, mistakes are going to happen.
Lots and lots of mistakes.
So, in an attempt to avoid some of the dangerous pitfalls that I am destined to make as an entrepreneur, I sought out some startup advice from some of San Diego’s most successful digital marketing entrepreneurs.
I asked them one question:
This is the actual image I made and shared around Twitter in an attempt to get some amazing advice. Please feel free to see the humor in how terrible this is.
We were able to get quite a stellar line up of respondents, so thank you very much to everyone who responded. It was truly an honor to have gotten just one minute of your time, and I know how valuable it is.
Now, if you aren’t familiar with these entrepreneurs, they are some of the biggest and most successful names in digital marketing, and they are all based right here in San Diego.
Why did I focus on San Diego, you ask?
Because I am based in San Diego, and it’s an awesome city, with seriously amazing talent. I wanted to keep it close to home and only ask entrepreneurs who are either from San Diego, or based out of San Diego (there is one exception, but he has positively influenced the San Diego startup community and it just didn’t feel right to leave him out).
And, most importantly, I want people to know that big moves are coming from San Diego entrepreneurs and this is a city that should be on the map for Digital Marketing, Tech, and Entrepreneurship.
How did I get such big names to respond, you ask?
It was hard, and took over a month from start to finish.
I Tweeted, emailed, filled out contact forms, and generally hustled in order to grab the attention of these already overwhelmingly busy gurus. I also tried to respect their time as much as possible and keep it short and to the point.
Alright, so here are their responses (in no particular order) and my thoughts on their advice:
I think it would have been nice to know that I need to be patient. I have learned that the key to success is developing strong relationships to people who matter in my industry. I always knew that was important, but I never knew how long it might take.
The man himself! Founder of Social Media Examiner and the voice behind the amazing Social Media Marketing Podcast, Mike is an industry leader, and, among other things, is having a blast experimenting with Blab and Periscope to interact with his audience live and unscripted on a regular basis.
This is seriously powerful advice.
While most people (myself included) are running around with their heads cut off trying to “network” and meet as many people as possible, it seems that Mike is telling us to stop making “useless” connections with people who you will barely remember and eventually fall out of contact with.
Your goal is to start creating meaningful and powerful relationships with the people that are in your industry and can help you make a difference.
In the back of my mind, I have been slowly realizing this truth, and I am so grateful that he was able to articulate it in such a way that we can all take action today and make more meaningful connections tomorrow.
Niche till it hurts. Narrow your focus down until you can DOMINATE your area of choice. You can always broaden out later, but if you start broad, you’ll drown in a sea of noise.
JLD is a podcasting savant. If you haven’t listened to Entrepreneur On Fire before, I highly suggest adding it to your podcast library.
We’ve actually come across this advice a few times, and after hearing it over and over again, I started rethinking our business.
Digital marketing is a big domain, and saying you are a “full service” agency is just like saying you are a Chinese restaurant that serves sushi and hamburgers. It probably means you’ve dabbled in many things, but are a master of none.
The old saying goes something like: “When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”
So we decided to narrow down our business scope a bit thanks to this advice and the other similar advice we received.
We now focus specifically on getting businesses started online. We “sett up inbound marketing funnels for startups and entrepreneurs to get them from Zero to Ten Thousand.”
As opposed to before, being a (basic) San Diego Digital Marketing Agency.
Do you feel the difference?
Even though it’s still a bit of a broad statement, this helps us focus our energy and really get down to doing the things that can really make a difference a lot faster.
Thanks John (and Chris, below) for forcing this pill down our throat!
Niche. Marketing is a broad topic. Focus on an area of marketing. Or a type of business to help (like Biotech, software, etc). Also – Get our there. Meet people. And try everything.
Chris is owner and founder of a startup marketing agency – Deon Direct, runs iMarketers.org, and works with Gerson and Associates doing direct mailing / direct marketing. I know him personally from Marketing Monday’s – a free monthly event hosted out of EvoNexus in downtown San Diego.
Hopefully he doesn’t regret giving me the advice of “niching it up” and then having me turn out to pretty much go into the same niche that he is in.
I really like the attitude of being extremely “go-getter.” Everyone is always looking for the secret to success, but the secret is in going out there, meeting people, and working your butt off.
If you aren’t trying (and failing), then you are never going to grow. That leads me perfectly into this response:
Fail fast, well and cheap
Yacine is a digital strategist and ranked by Forbes as a top 50 social media power influencer. Check out his website here: http://yacinebaroudi.com/
I really like the concept of embracing failure. It’s time to put to rest the concept of failure being bad.
When you add “cheap” in there, I think it clarifies your purpose as an entrepreneur – we are supposed to find out what doesn’t work for two reasons:
1. So we don’t do it again and keep throwing money/time/effort away.
2. So that we get closer to knowing what does work and begin focusing our efforts on that.
NEVER B afraid 2 “fail”~Fear of failure IS failure. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” WANT IT?~MAKE IT HAPPEN
Brook is a Social Media Producer and Marketing Strategist focused on brand development and strategy. Check her out here: http://brookehgriffin.com/
I am all about conquering fears and objections that we encounter in life. This reminds me of a common phrase I hear when working with “old school” business owners, and it goes something like this:
“I’m not good with technology,”
“I don’t understand that whole internet thing,” or
“I’m not a computer person.”
I don’t like the negativity and I don’t think it has to be true. When you say you aren’t good at something, you mentally reinforce your objections to getting better. STOP IT.
Next time you catch yourself putting up a barrier between you and anything else – knitting, coding, social media management, firing an employee – whatever it is… next time you say, “I can’t” or “I’m not,” I want you to pause and take a second to think deeply about why you feel that way.
Ask yourself: How can you actually change to make yourself better?
As an entrepreneur, that’s what you need to be asking yourself in order to succeed.
Personally, I’m not a coder, and I tell people all the time that I am not a coder. But I would never say that I couldn’t become a coder… or a knitter, or a gymnast (ok probably not going to become a gymnast). My point is, you should refrain from putting up barriers in a mostly boundless world, where you can plug into the internet and learn anything you want.
There was one piece of advice that I actually heard numerous times starting out, but I didn’t pay enough attention to it early on – and I wish I had. And that was to focus on building my list. I didn’t fully understand the impact of having a well-developed email list and never put much effort into gathering those email addresses. It wasn’t until much later that I was advised by a mentor to invest in this aspect of my business and it made a significant impact on the growth of my business after that.
Jenn is a Social Media and Instagram consultant and runs a Social Media Examiner top 10 social media blog on her site Jennstrends.
Jenn is “niching til it hurts” as an Instagram expert and it’s paying off. We had the pleasure of meeting her at Social Media Marketing World 2015 and were very impressed with her ability to drive a meaningful conversation and make a 30-minute chaotic networking experience turn into something quite valuable.
On the topic of building a list, I think it’s important to remember that you want quality over quantity. You don’t need to have a huge list, like Social Media Examiners 300,000+ one (which is most likely impractical for most of us).
All that is important is that the right people are getting your message and that you own that list and own the real connections that are being made with the people on the other end of your marketing efforts.
Don’t chase all of the shiny objects. Early on it’s easy to get distracted by the next opportunity – the next big thing – but if you start jumping around you will lose focus on your core business. Focus on one or two projects maximum.
James Hickey is an Internet Marketing expert, consultant, and speaker. Also, he’s a really great guy and a fun time. If you ever have the opportunity to buy him a beer, take it.
When he was giving me this advice, it was as if he had seen what I have been up to recently (and he works just down the hall from me so this is totally possible).
I had to stop and ask him if he was spying on me, because I have been chasing all of the shiny objects, like:
- You name it, we’ve tried it (or at least thought about trying it)
…which means that sometimes we’ve lost some focus on our core business.
I’m going to talk a little bit more how Meetup has become a great tool for community building later in this post, but for me, I agree that I shouldn’t chase all of the shiny things… SQUIRREL…
…I do however, need to give a lot of things a shot to find out what is working for our business and what isn’t. So, in other respects, I want to try all the shiny objects and “fail fast, well, and cheap.”
When I started my online business I focused entirely on building relationships online and neglected the importance of getting out and building relationships in person. I wish someone had advised me to get out more, attend events, and book speaking engagements. At the end of the day, people do business with those they like, know, and trust, and a personal referral is invaluable, even in the online world.
Sheena helps busy entrepreneurs and small businesses maximize the power of social media to increase the success of their online marketing efforts. Check her out here.
Right on Sheena, what a rockstar. There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone else succeed. It’s that kind of selflessness that gets me out of bed every day. To help another person succeed gets me that much closer to my success.
It’s so true that we have to get out and meet people IRL. Face-to-face interactions are still the easiest way to get to know someone and build trust. Not to mention, you can’t drink beer virtually…yet.
On that note, this seems like the appropriate time to shamelessly promote a Meetup that I am co-organizer of called San Diego Digital Marketing Experts. It’s a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs, startup founders, and business owners to hang out, learn more about digital marketing, and start cultivating the real life relationships that just might help them grow their business.
The most valuable skill anyone can learn is to filter out the information quickly: accept something that is useful and reject something that is not. If you know yourself well, you don’t need learn from the mistakes of others.
Also, don’t seek too much of advice before you start your business. Start first and then ask for advice.
While he doesn’t technically live in San Diego, he has had quite a positive influence on the startup and entrepreneur ecosystem here (and so much of an impact on me that I decided to take control of the San Diego chapter of Startup Socials), and he deserves a notable mention.
This advice is so unbelievably powerful and I live by it every single day. It’s a bit of the signal and the noise issue. We are getting marketed to, blogged at, distracted, etc. etc. and there is an information overload. It’s your job to discover what is true, what works for you, what will benefit your business, and quickly discard the rest.
The person that takes in the most information in the shortest period of time, filters out the bad and keeps in the good, wins. They will learn faster and grow their business more rapidly than anyone else. They will always be on the cutting edge, and they won’t be dilly-dallying around with things that don’t benefit them.
For seeking advice, I believe he is hinting at the idea that you need to get your hands dirty. The fact is, the trial and error method is going to tell you more about your business and what you need to do to be successful, rather than relying solely on advice from others.
My general startup advice sounds cliché but is so true:
– Talk to customers before, while, and after building your product
– Always be learning from customers and the market
– Companies that learn & react the fastest always win
Austin is a well-versed startup founder, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and founder of Startup San Diego – dedicated to building the San Diego Startup ecosystem to foster an innovative economy.
Austin is obviously referring the lean startup methodology here. Not actually following lean startup methodology is probably the number one biggest issue that could plague a startup, especially a tech startup.
The problem is that every startup says they are “lean” but usually they mean they are cheap!
You must actually lay forth the concepts of “The Lean Startup” and “The Lean Entrepreneur” and probably keep those books on your desk in order to be a truly Lean business. (By the way, saying “Lean” inappropriately is a HUGE pet peeve of mine and I always interrupt people with a “that’s not what lean means…”)
Don’t hand out equity. It is sacred. Also, debt can really help you grow a business.
Brandon is Co-Founder and CEO of Internet Marketing Inc which is an enterprise-level marketing agency based right here in San Diego (they got the #2 spot in my article on the Top 10 Digital Marketing Agencies in San Diego).
I really appreciate his advice. It’s true, and I am probably overeager to hand out equity to future employees, investors, etc., but I also want to make sure and align their incentives with that of the company, so I have conflicting feelings about what I should or shouldn’t do.
In any case, I will absolutely be thinking about this advice before locking in our first equity employee (which is probably still a couple months away).
As for debt, I am completely comfortable with leveraging some loans and debt to grow our business, and you should be too.
As a professional poker player, I know that it takes money to make money, and if I see a big opportunity, I will leverage any debt opportunities possible to go all-in on it.
In order to create something truly great and successful, it’s going to take a hefty investment, and more than just your time.
If you are a bootstrapped or underfunded company, you should consider all opportunities for leveraging debt to accelerated the growth of your business. Even if that ends up growing it into the ground faster, at least you will have learned and be onto the next best thing sooner, rather than stuck with a side business that flounders around and struggles with success for years (I have one of these floundering side projects by the way, it’s located at Open Face Solutions).
Hire as many great people as you can afford, as quickly as you can! The more help you have the better… BUT before you do so – take a course and/or read some articles on hiring, what questions to ask, what to look for, what to avoid, etc etc. Hiring the right people is not easy and you will get better with practice – which is all the more reason to start as soon as you can! Start by searching freelance sites like Upwork.com, guru.com, elance.com, etc. You can also search Twitter and Linkedin to find great contractors.
Back in 2014, I read somewhere that hiring people is most likely going to be the largest challenge facing startups in 2015. I tend to agree, but possibly for a different reason.
Hiring is no longer about paying someone to do a job for you, it’s about indoctrinating a friend into your vision.
With a significantly lower barrier to switching between jobs, and a huge movement towards everyone being their own boss – “the entrepreneurial shift” let’s call it – we know that passion, and not dollars, will drive the best results when hiring.
Learning how to hire has been a big worry for me. So much so, in fact, that I have been talking with my good friend, who runs a large department at Netflix, about bringing him in as an advisor to train me to perfect our hiring process.
We haven’t finalized anything yet, and Brandon just warned us about handing out equity… But doing it right is so important… Hiring the wrong employee can sink a business, and I don’t want to make that mistake.
I wish I knew I didn’t have to do everything myself.
This advice is particularly true when building a very strong personal brand, which is exactly what Pat has done.
I do know that he has some help, but I understand the pain he is going through.
For me, I am trying to build something that can exist without me, a standalone business that can grow to be more than just a person, but at the same time, I have embraced the power of a personal brand and see myself as the front person for my “band” (not a typo).
I think the most important thing you can do is figure out exactly what it is you do best (or what you love to do) and try to hire other people to cover all the other things.
Rrr, Mari Smith…
So I tried desperately to get Mari Smith to comment for me. If you are reading this and have any opportunity or sway that can help me get a quick response from her, I would be forever grateful.
She is the Queen of Social Media and I feel like this post isn’t complete without her, especially since she is based right here in San Diego.
Unfortunately as you can see, she dodged my attempts at stealing a quick piece of her brain. Hopefully I can eventually add her thoughts to this list. Stay tuned…
Alright, that’s it for now. The plan is to keep growing and adding to this list because there are still so many phenomenal San Diego entrepreneurs.
The main advice I’m hearing is:
- Nichify – find your little corner within the industry and become its master.
- Don’t be afraid to fail – it’s part of the learning process.
- Be present and make meaningful connections – both online and in person.
- Get good help – don’t go it alone.
What are your thoughts? Are there any pieces of advice that you disagree with? Have you learned some of these the hard way? What other advice do you think entrepreneurs need to hear? Please let me know in the comments section, tweet at us @splashopm, or tell us on Facebook.