Everyone starts their own business with the end result in mind: tons of customers, referrals, and a significant market share. Why do people even create their own companies, if not because they believe in their ability to grow and the importance of their product to potential customers? To Cathy Cain-Blank, president and founder of CC Marketing and Communications, it’s important to plan for all of the hard work and strategy it will take to achieve your goals, in addition to dreaming big.
Cathy knows how much effort goes into growing a business not only because she helps other companies expand their reach every day, but also because she had to do it herself. What started as an e-newsletter based out of Cathy’s living room turned into a successful business handling scores of jobs each month. Cathy got to where she is today with not just excellent service, but trial, error, and a lot of business savvy.
Meet our small business owner:
- Name: Cathy Cain-Blank
- Title: President
- Company: CC Marketing and Communications
- Industry: Marketing
4 things Cathy has to say
Want a quick summary of how Cathy grew her marketing business? Here are some of the main points she stressed in our interview:
- Start small—but don’t forget to grow. It’s okay to launch your business by tackling a specific industry or offering a tailored service. You’ll build up credibility within a single network, strengthening your word of mouth and referral potential. However, don’t forget to expand your portfolio, both in the types of customers you work with and the products and services you offer. Don’t just wait for the opportunities to find you; as you grow and learn more about your industry, try new strategies if you feel you can support them.
- Don’t fake it. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular project and aren’t sure you can deliver quality service, find a partnering organization or refer your client to someone you know and trust. Pretending to be a jack of all trades doesn’t help your new business; industry veterans know you can’t and don’t offer every product or service under the sun when you’re just starting out. Instead, build your customer base off of the skills you do have, and keep lasting, trusting relationships with your clients that can blossom into new opportunities in the future.
- Use the tools available to you. Whether you’re a “mom and pop” shop or a remote team like Cathy’s, there are plenty of free or cheap tools online to help you grow your business. Using web-based resources can help you streamline your workflows and become more efficient as a company. You don’t have to break the bank, either—there are plenty of affordable products and apps out there.
- Never underestimate the value of a face to face meeting. Even if you’re in constant contact with your clients via email, phone calls, and Skype, an in person meeting can really cement a good working relationship. If you want to stay in the front of a former client’s mind for future business, meet up with them at a conference or get in touch the next time you’re in their neighborhood or city. Take advantage of in person meetings whenever you can—you never know when an off-hand introduction will turn into years of good business.
Cathy is no stranger to owning her own business. Her first marketing endeavor specialized in creating print communications. After she sold it, she worked for a large corporation for several years before eventually transitioning to working on her own again. The second time it was to focus on developing online communications.
Fourteen years ago and out of a corner of her living room, Cathy started CC Marketing and Communications. The business is dedicated to developing email marketing, website content, and other online communications for small and midsized B2B companies of all business types. Cathy originally worked with a few freelance designers, but she is now supported by a production manager, production coordinator, and a team of designers/HTML coders. She still reaches out to independent contractors, like web developers, graphic designers, and freelance writers, to handle special projects.
If you’re interested in how Cathy got her business off the ground and running, read on!
Look outside your target market
“It doesn’t really matter what the content is—we know the tricks of the trade.”
Cathy began her small business by serving a particular industry—no one but Cathy had an email marketing newsletter campaign designed specifically for that slice of the market. By starting small and targeting a specific industry, Cathy built up her business and her credibility with customers. But when that industry was hit hard by the recession in 2009, Cathy realized things had to change. She remembers thinking to herself, “Time to wake up, Cath. You better stop thinking of the world outside of that one market as ‘non-industry companies’.”
Cathy started working with all kinds of companies in order to build her customer base back up. Initially, Cathy had to figure out which companies in other industries were worth going after. Through some trial and error, Cathy figured out that younger, smaller B2C’s were often interested in a DIY method for marketing, rather than hiring an expert like Cathy. More developed businesses and B2B’s, however, wanted Cathy’s business and could afford to pay more for her top-notch services.
Her second hurdle came when Cathy had to convince potential customers that she could work with companies outside of her initial target industry. Once she built up her portfolio with different samples from a wide variety of clients, people realized that with production work, it’s a matter of knowing the technology and knowing best practices.
“It doesn’t really matter what the content is—we know the tricks of the trade in order to generate as many opens as possible and generate a higher-than-average percentage of click-throughs,” Cathy explains. Potential customers recognized that Cathy’s company could develop content for their business that was substantive, targeted, and meaningful, regardless of what industry they were in.
Now, Cathy is working with only one company in her initial industry. Her customers are everyone from insurance agencies to automotive manufacturers, business coaches, and more. By looking outside of her target market, she has not only increased her company’s security by relying on a variety of industries to generate business, but she found her biggest and most profitable customer. She easily completes over sixty jobs a month for that single company. Cathy credits her relationship with this customer with the success of her business today: a little bit of luck, but a lot of hard work.
Keep your remote team connected
“Use the web-based tools that are out there to make life simpler. It’ll streamline the process...It will make you far more efficient as a company.”
The CC Marketing and Communications team is comprised of web developers, graphic designers, and copywriters—however, everyone on Cathy’s team is remote, from her production manager of nine years to the many freelancers and contractors she hires regularly. While there are challenges with having a remote team, they use online tools to keep themselves organized and in sync.
Cathy’s advice to other companies, remote or not, struggling to stay connected: “Use the web-based tools that are out there to make life simpler. It’ll streamline the process...It will make you far more efficient as a company.”
Cathy and her team started using Gmail before it was mainstream in order to chat with each other and stay in touch. Now, Google provides a variety of applications she and her team use every day. They use Google Hangouts to message one another and Google Documents to share their ideas and work, just to name a few.
Cathy and her team used to send files back and forth to keep each other up to date with the latest versions and edits. Now they have Anchor, a file syncing tool that pulls documents across computers, smartphones, and tablets so that Cathy and her team have real-time access to any changes.
Less Annoying CRM
“The CRM, without a doubt, is huge for us,” exclaims Cathy. Less Annoying CRM serves as Cathy’s production guide where she and her team can access client data, project notes, schedules, and tasks, as well as collaborate and keep each other updated. “We’re living by this product.”
Before Less Annoying CRM, Cathy and her team had used two different CRMs that didn’t work for her company. One was designed for a different industry, and another that didn’t have the kinds of features Cathy needed. After Cathy heard about Less Annoying CRM at a conference about a year ago, she decided to give the software a whirl and moved her business into the CRM.
“There are a number of features that made our lives easier and more functional,” Cathy explains as she takes us through her day in the CRM. Between calls with leads, online meetings, and content development, Cathy uses the CRM to see what she has to get done and how she can plan ahead.
Cathy and her team use the CRM in a unique way. She has extra users on the CRM to help manage her calendars, including her private tasks, production calendar, mail dates, and scheduled jobs. The color cues and prefixes she adds to different kinds of events help her not only keep track of her business’ schedule, but gives her peace of mind. Once something is in LACRM’s calendars, she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore.
Want to keep your calendar more organized? Check out these tips about staying on top of multiple schedules and tracking different kind of events in the CRM.
Because Cathy’s team is virtual, they also use the CRM to store information about their clients’ projects, including links to online documents, login information, and updates. Since there are always two team members monitoring every project, everyone can stay up to date on the job’s progress by checking notes and document updates left by other team members.
Learn more about using notes to keep track of projects and online documents!
Cathy says it wasn’t hard to get her tech savvy team to use the CRM. “It’s a given today,” she explains of their ease with technology. Because her team is so eager to use the CRM, it’s been easier for them to improve their efficiency and modify their workflows based on the capabilities of their various online tools. “We’re always looking to fine-tune our processes based on what we can do with the CRM.”
Having trouble getting your team to use the CRM? Check out our tips for encouraging CRM use.
Meet face to face
“Even if we then don’t meet thereafter, the initial meeting--or maybe two meetings--make all the difference.”
At first, Cathy had never met most of her customers. She would do a few jobs for them, and it was likely she wouldn’t hear from them again. When Cathy started meeting up with former clients at trade shows, she realized the importance of a face to face meeting.
“It really cemented ties in the relationship,” Cathy explains. She used to speak at trade shows and conferences, but even now she still utilizes in person introductions. “We get the chance to meet face to face and get to know each other a bit. Even if we then don’t meet thereafter, the initial meeting—or maybe two meetings—make all the difference.”
By the time Cathy meets a client in person, she has often already done a significant amount of work for them. She regularly maintains relationships with customers via email, phone calls, and even chat in a few cases, but periodic face to face meetings increase the lifetime value of her customers and often bring in more work.
Cathy has only met the members of one of the companies she works with twice, but she’s done tons and tons of projects for them—”literally a few hundred” in her estimation. She credits their in person connections with keeping the working relationship going.
If you’re small, make accurate claims
“You need to be very clear and be able to back up what you say you’re good at.”
Cathy’s biggest piece of advice for new business owners or people thinking of striking out on their own like she did: don’t claim expertise where you can’t. There are plenty of companies that purport to be the jack of all trades, and whether they are or aren’t, potential customers are less likely to believe them when their business is new and small.
Cathy elaborates, “I think for a young company, unless you’re starting off seriously bank rolled and you’ve got a number of partners that are part of the mix, and you all come from an industry where you’ve got lots of experience...I think it’s pretty difficult to really make the argument that you’re wonderful at all things.” And even if the company claims to be great with every potential service, Cathy doesn’t buy it: “Not if you’re a small company. You can’t be. I don’t buy into that. If your team is that small, you can’t have that kind of expertise in all areas.”
Cathy believes that one of the main reasons her company has received so many leads from word of mouth is that from the beginning, she and her team were recognized as email marketing specialists. She knows CC Marketing and Communications lost some business over the years because of their specialization, but she has also received jobs from current clients outside of her advertised area of expertise because of their relationship. “People that know us and trust us will look to us to do additional work for them,” Cathy explains. “If there’s something that we don’t feel comfortable doing, I’ll look for a partnering company or refer someone I know.”
Cathy’s company also continues to expand their services as time goes by. Though they still consider themselves email marketing experts, they advertise content marketing creation, banner ads, presentations, and website development as example marketing tools they provide for clients.
Cathy describes how her company is moving beyond email and helping customers boost their presence on sites like Linkedin. “It’s what our skillset is...we’re helping people appear as thought leaders,” Cathy explains. “People know their industry, they just don’t know how to communicate effectively on their own”—and that’s where Cathy and her team can help. The key relationship between email marketing and social media presence is allowing Cathy and her team to evolve as the market changes.
The next chapter
CC Marketing and Communications is as successful as it is today because of Cathy’s hard work and her excellent growth strategy. She made sure that her team had a niche, but enough wiggle room to keep up with not just the market, but the ever-changing technology they needed to stay organized. As they continue to serve customers, and as the marketing industry as a whole becomes more and more web-based, Cathy and her team will keep expanding their areas of expertise and the array of tools they use in the process.
Given that Cathy and her team are B2B and often work with B2B customers, she’s trying to predict what will come next for her industry. As she and her team start to work more and more with clients on Linkedin—“that’s really what we seem to be evolving to, beyond email”—, she wonders if Twitter is the next social media frontier. “That, to me, still seems to be up in the air, as far as a lot of businesses feeling if it has value or not.”
Whether Cathy and her team tackle the Twitter-sphere in the next year or so might be undecided, but Cathy has the tools and the know-how to keep succeeding.