She's been able to leverage that knowledge into a vibrant company that helps companies market services.
Trish, let's start with the basics. Where is your business located?
I work from home near Austin Texas. And what a home! Just moved here in June from Houston—stumbled over my dream home—two acres in a sparsely lived-in 1,800 acres development in the beautiful Texas hill country. Would not be here if it wasn't for my company!
In terms of who we serve, I am a "virtualpreneur," operating the business entirely over the Internet—though the company is NOT an internet marketing firm.
Tell me about company. What does 4R Marketing do?
4R Marketing offers marketing consulting and services to businesses that themselves provide services (no product marketing). We have two practice lines: the Content practice and the Marketing Project Management practice.
The former delivers a wide range of copy writing services to our clients—everything from email/postcard copy to lengthy reports and booklets. In between, we prepare case studies, white papers, brochures, sales letters, web site copy—pretty much any kind of writing you can think of that a service firm needs for marketing.
We specialize in what I call "knowledge marketing," items that provide free expertise as "samples" and reputation builders. Pieces that fall under this heading include white papers, articles, ebooklets, and interview pieces.
The copy writing practice has a specialty arm, Voice of the Executive—or VOX. This is ghostwriting service specifically for executives and business owners. We have ghostwritten books, articles, and other materials on our clients' behalf.
The project management practice often dovetails with the content practice. This side of the house plans and implements a wide range of marketing activities—email campaigns, webinar series, online and offline events, public relations initiatives, and much more.
The namesake of the company is the 4R Marketing Model for service businesses—a simple contextual model that allows businesses to craft marketing strategy and make effective decisions about activities and spend. The 4 Rs—Research, Recognition, Reputation, and Relationship—serve as guidelines for creating measurable marketing objectives and prioritizing initiatives. We often work with clients to adopt the model as a precursor to providing services in one or other of our practices.
I have a team of excellent subcontractors (I have no employees) that includes writers with expertise that covers a wide range, graphic designers, web designers, web marketers, printers, and individuals who provide support services as needed. Most of my team members have been with me for more than a year—I am committed to the success of their own businesses, and am keenly interested in their professional development. The good relationships I have with the team creates a solid, reliable foundation that our clients can count on.
I am also establishing a practice that may become a company of its own, based on my success with 4R: Success in Sweatpants. There is a free ebooklet on that site about being a "virtualpreneur" that has received excellent reviews.
When did you start the business?
January 2005, with basically zero dollars (enough to live on while I got started).
I crossed the $100K revenue line as of the end of 2006, and grew another 50% in 2007. In spite of the economic situation, I expect to at least match that revenue this year, if not exceed it once again.
My experience building 4R into a 6-figure consultancy while working from home is the basis for my Success in Sweatpants coaching practice—I work with small/home businesses and consultants who want to make big revenues without leaving home, or changing out of their sweatpants!
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I left a 10-year stint in the corporate world, working in a variety of marketing and communication roles for a Fortune 300 corporation and a boutique software firm.
I owned a similar company in the late 1980s, but it was (of course) not a virtual business.
The two experiences have some similarities as well as many differences. Owning that company has given me a great reference point to see the impact the Internet has had on business.
Where did you get the startup money?
I used my own funds. Startup requirements were minimal. Just me, a computer, and an Internet connection!
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
As a virtual company with global clientele, we compete with a myriad of small marketing and copy writing firms, as well as individual freelancers.
A significant competitive advantage is our combination of writing and marketing expertise at a senior level—this is a rare combination among competitors. Our other edge is pretty simple: We deliver high quality work at a good value. Once we have established a relationship with a client, we keep that client for a long time.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I do not spend as much time on overhead administration as I expected. This is one huge difference between 4R and the company I owned in the 80s—I spend far less time on nonbillable and nonmarketing activities than I did then. I am clear that I have the Internet to thank—the degree of automation and technology leverage available for small businesses is amazing!
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I wish I had put more money into reserve during the "high times." With the economy in the shape it's in now, I need to do a lot more marketing than I needed to do in the first couple of years, and while those activities are quite cost effective, they put pressures on the budget that would be easier to manage if I had a more robust reserve.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Rather than doing a lot of business planning up front, I let the market talk to me as I went.
When I first started the company, I did not have two discrete practices—rather, I characterized it generally as a marketing consultancy for services businesses. As time went on, I saw that clients valued the company first for the high quality copy writing we provide, and second for our ability to manage projects from start to finish. I continue to listen to my market and use feedback from my clients as well as research I conduct on a regular basis so that 4R stays current in its offerings and approach.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
First, set your business up as a legal entity (LLC, S corporation) and market it as such. Pay yourself as an employee of the company. There is a psychological difference between a freelancer or solo service provider and the president of a company.
Second, find and nurture relationships with top quality subcontractors—this will take some time and you will have to "kiss a few frogs" before you find the right people, so start this right away, before you think you will need the extra help.
Third, avoid getting too locked in to a business plan. Things in the virtual services market change very quickly, and you need to listen to the market and be nimble in your activities. If you are too focused on a particular path for your business, you are likely to miss out on great opportunities that you couldn't have planned for in advance.
Those are three great points. Thanks so much for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, Trish. Good luck in growing the business to the next level.