[Editor’s Note: The following post is an interview I had with my good friend Jesse Eldredge. Jesse started his own business, Eldredge Brand Management, directly out of college. Before diving into this interview make sure you check out Jesse’s first post on the blog, What’s on Your Bucket List in 2017.]
I think it’s important for everyone to understand that change is alright. You might think you know what you want to do, to discover that you actually want to pursue something completely different. And that’s fine! Don’t be scared of it.
Jesse, first off, welcome back to the blog. As the first guest post you helped me get started so it’s great to have you back after I’ve gotten a little more established. Could you start by telling my audience a little bit about what you do over at Eldredge Brand Management?
Great to be back Ben. It’s been really awesome following you on your blogging journey! Thanks for the opportunity to kick some ideas around and answer some questions. Yeah, so I launched Eldredge Brand Management about eight months ago now. Growing up I was surrounded by small business owners and I realized that the majority of them did not have time to create and distribute their own content. As your guy Seth Godin puts it, “Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.” So, I recognized that small businesses need help with content marketing. Eldredge Brand Management is a content development agency/startup. We target (and by we I mean me, as it’s still a startup and I’m currently a one man show) small local businesses and realtors. Our mission is to help them create personalized content that ads value to their customers and that sparks engagement within their community.
What does that look like? Content includes photographs from inside of their business, videos that show what goes on day to day and offers a unique, behind-the-scenes look into a business, blog posts written to reach their target audiences, and basic website design/redesign. If you are a business owner, you could think of us as a creative team designed to capture your business in action and portray that to the world. We want to help small business owners build powerful brands. We want to help business owners brand their genius. A lot of our competition offers very generic content- basic articles and boring infographics that any normal person with a phone could find on google. We aim to create quality, authentic, fun, personalized content for our clients. Because content shouldn’t be boring and generic. It should excite people. It should make them want to tell their friends about you. It should make them want to come buy your products or use your services. So yeah, that’s sort of a summary of what we do. Eventually, I want to have a team of creatives- writers, designers, photographers, video/film people but there’s a lot of work to do before I can start thinking about that right now. Excited to keep building and seeing where I can take this thing!
Today I wanted to talk to you about starting a business fresh out of college, something that terrifies most of us. College students (like myself) all want security right out of school, claiming we’ll start our own business’s later down the line. How did you find the courage and strength to overcome security and start your business right out of school?
Love this question and this might be a longer answer than you want. But real quick, I want everyone to know that basically every single person in my family owns and operates their own business or works for someone in the family. When I went to college I thought to myself, ‘I want to be the first Eldredge to be a business man. I want to be the corporate man. Suit and tie. Nice watch. Briefcase. Crush the 9-5. Climb the corporate ladder. The whole works.’ I wanted that security. I wanted that nice salary. I thought that was what I wanted.
Fast forward a few years later- two things happened that changed my entire thinking and the trajectory of my career. First, I met a group of really cool, highly motivated, ambitious kids. They really challenged me to think about my future and how I wanted to spend my time and live my life. I started reading a lot of personal development books and listening to a ton of motivational audio stuff. At that same time, I was sitting in all my college classes frustrated and wondering how any of the stuff I was “learning” was going to help me. I’ll go deeper on this in one of your following questions. So all of that being said, I think it’s important for everyone to understand that change is alright. You might think you know what you want to do, to discover that you actually want to pursue something completely different. And that’s fine! Don’t be scared of it.
For me, once I knew that corporate was, in fact, not for me at all and that I would suffocate in that kind of environment, I set out to do my own thing. I just knew that I would be alright. I knew that I could make ends meet. Fortunately, I was able to bring on some family members as my first clients and that really has helped sustain the business up to this point. But I recognized that if I didn’t try now, then when? When you finish school you literally have your whole life ahead of you. There’s an insane amount of opportunity, potential, and freedom. No family. No mortgage. You can afford to give up that security and really see what you’re made of. Yeah, you might have to pick up a part time job. You probably won’t have much “play” money. Yeah, there will be months where you barely pay the bills. But these truths are 100% fine at this stage. Be patient. Don’t get me wrong, I think people can certainly unlock all their potential and talent at the corporate level. I think that some people are wired more that way and can thrive in that environment. For me, I knew that I wouldn’t last a week. I felt that it would almost put a barrier up and lock down my talents, passions, and potential. And I wasn’t willing to let that happen. So it’s a tough choice. Doing your own thing is not easy. It’s not what you see on these entrepreneur/success accounts on Instagram. It’s unpredictable. It’s up and down. But you have total control of it. You have freedom to do what you love and to explore your passions and your gifts. That’s probably the biggest thing that keeps me going. That’s where the strength and courage comes from.
Could you walk us through early stages of starting your business? Were you hesitant at first or did you know there was an untapped market and you wanted to fill it?
I wouldn’t say I was hesitant. I think overwhelmed is probably the best word to describe it. I knew that there was an untapped market. I was confident that I could help businesses/individuals create content. Basically everything else was unknown territory. It was like, alright I have this great idea. I have a little bit of talent. And I have all the time in the world. But what’s next? There’s so much that goes into building something from the ground up. So many different steps to consider and learn about. Everything from what type of business organizational structure to choose and all the different implications of that, to what should I call my business, to what should the logo look like, to which bank to talk to, etc. Then you have to think about who you want to target and how you are going to reach them and what makes you different or better than your competition. All of that stuff is a lot to think about, but it’s all crucial to starting out on the right path. It’s a constant learning process; it never stops.
I think the biggest thing for everyone out there is that you have to be confident in what you are doing and you have to put yourself out there and see how people respond. Test the market. The more you do this and the faster you do it, the quicker you learn what’s working and what’s not. Then from there you adjust based on what people actually want. A huge part of these last eight months has been asking the right people the right questions and then adjusting my ideas and my plan based on their input. The sooner you get the hang of this the better.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in the first year of Eldredge Brand Management?
There’s a few. For me personally self discipline has been a challenge. Starting a business means that you get to call all of the shots. Every win falls on you, and every loss falls on you. You have total control and freedom. There’s no boss or manager giving you projects or tasks to work on. You wake up and you get to choose what your day looks like. This is amazing, and terrifying at the same time. So for me, there are days that are full of meetings and tasks and there are other days where the calendar is completely empty. On the days that aren’t busy it can be challenging for me to find stuff to do. Sometimes I just want to relax and not think about the business, which is fine to an extent, but it’s just something that I always have to watch.
Another huge challenge has been making up for my lack of experience. As a younger guy with very little experience in the marketing/advertising/agency world I do get questioned about my lack of experience. From a potential client’s perspective it definitely holds me back a little bit. Again, you just have to be confident and try to convince people that you WILL add value to their business and their brand. Lastly, I would say sales is another big challenge for me. When you first start out you have to fill every role in your business. Owner, operator, sales guy, camera guy, content guy, scheduling, designing, editing, it’s all me. Unfortunately, I do not consider myself as a strong sales person. Clearly, this is a BIG problem for a young business that needs sales in order to grow. But, it doesn’t mean I’m doomed. I think I’m slowly getting more comfortable with sales and I can’t wait until I can afford to hire a sales person.
As a marketer myself, I’m interested in what you’ve learned helping out small businesses. What mistakes do local businesses commonly make with their marketing?
I think the biggest mistake small businesses are making is underestimating the power of social media and not putting out their own content. The sheer volume of people spending time on social platforms is incredible. By putting out content you get in front of people and they might interact with it- like it, comment, share it. Think about it; do you think someone is more likely to search for a certain industry in their area or get on Facebook for 10, 20 minutes and see what’s going on. Obviously it’s check Facebook. So as a business that’s where you want to be because that is where the consumer’s attention is. I’m helping clients reach 10,000- 20,000 people a month organically by putting out content. No secrets. Just some effort and consistency. The problem is businesses/business owners either don’t have the time to create content and put it out, or they don’t think they are creative or good enough to make their own content.
The other thing is that they need to understand that good content is more about storytelling and less about a sales pitch. People don’t like being pitched. People do like seeing what goes on inside of your business. People like feeling as though they are a part of what you have going on and they are happy to show that they support you. Being consistent with your content strategy is an amazing way to build a vibrant community around your brand. Too many businesses are missing out on this incredible opportunity.
Do you feel as if college adequately prepared you for the business world? As many people know I’ve been a huge critic of the current state of college courses. I’m interested in your take as an entrepreneur if you feel like school was worth the cost of admission.
HAHH. College- the biggest waste of time and money out there. No, but seriously I do not think that college prepared me for the business world. I have also been a huge critic of our current education system. It certainly didn’t help me start my own business any better or smarter or faster. Spending four years (five in my case) studying and memorizing powerpoint slides and notes gives me no advantage in the real world. Taking tests and stressing about grades is not a good use of time and energy. Marketing major- not a single class on how to use social media. Not a single class on content marketing. What was I learning? Marketing theories that were established in my parents generation. The whole thing is messed up, man. Everyone wants you to have experience, right? The biggest challenge for kids entering the job search fresh out of college is that employers want experience. Well, I’m sorry that I just spent the last four years memorizing powerpoint slides and not actually doing any real work that taught me real things. If college isn’t meant to get you that experience that employers are all looking for than what purpose does it actually serve? Learning comes from trying different things. Learning comes from execution. Learning comes from failure. College doesn’t give you any of that. So yeah, really frustrating and messed up in my opinion
My disclaimer is that I’m extremely blessed and fortunate to have had the opportunity to go to college. I never want to take that for granted. I also will admit that I probably should have applied myself more in the classroom. I just couldn’t get into it knowing that it wasn’t helping my future in any way. My advice for any of you who are in college or who are about to start college is to focus on relationships. Do everything you can to meet new people and build rapport. Teachers, peers, staff. Everyone you encounter on campus. It’s the relationships you cultivate that will lead you to great opportunities. It’s also fun. Put yourself out there. Say what’s up to the kid that aways sits near you in class. Introduce yourself to the babe that makes you coffee every Tuesday before your AM class. That’s where the real value of college is and it’s something that I took for granted. If I could go back, 100% of my energy would have been meeting new people.
One thing Gary Vaynerchuk and Mark Cuban always say is that everybody is not a #1. Not everyone is an entrepreneur and can handle running a business. What characteristics or skills do you think young entrepreneurs NEED to have coming out of college?
GaryVee would love this answer. (if you’re reading this and you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuk is I highly recommend that you look him up on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook asap).
Patience. Everything you do is going to take longer than you think. There’s two sides to this answer. One is internal, meaning you have to be insanely patient when you’re first starting a business. You don’t just launch a website, create a Facebook page, and suddenly have clients calling you every day. It’s brick by brick. Meeting by meeting. Networking. Doing stuff for free in order to get your foot in the door. A lot of people aren’t willing to do any of these things. They want it fast. They think they deserve it right now. Understand that you have to put in your time and build your reputation and it takes a ton of work and a lot of time. Patience. If you are talented and you work hard you will get there eventually. The other side is external. All of your peers are going to be accepting jobs. You’ll see them post about all their new offers. You’ll watch them buy a sick car. They’ll probably get a nice apartment in the city. All of that is awesome stuff, right, but for a lot of people who start their own thing they might feel like they’re missing out or that they are falling behind. Again, patience. You won’t have stability when you’re first starting out. You literally start at zero. Put your head down and put in the work. You have to be willing to do what everyone else isn’t. It’s a huge risk. But that’s what makes it exciting. Don’t worry about what they’re doing. Be so consumed by making your dream, your idea become a reality that you don’t even have time to notice what else is going on.
Real quick, the other thing that’s essential is the ability to be quick on your feet. By that I mean that it’s really easy to get crippled when something goes wrong or something goes a different way than you had anticipated. Keep moving. Keep adapting. Keep trying and failing. All of this is brand new territory for you. You’re almost expected to mess up and have to start over. It’s just part of the process. Flow with it, don’t fight it and get all discouraged. Progress is the name of the game at this stage. Little by little. Execute!
Like myself, I know you’re a big consumer of content such as blogs, books, podcast, etc… Is there any piece of content you’d like to leave my audience with? Something that you feel everyone should take in?
If you’ve stuck with us up to this point, either you’re feeling what we’re saying or you just love reading. For all my readers out there, go pick up “The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho. Incredible novel about a boy goes out on his own to find out what his purpose is in life. It’s a must read. So many awesome life lessons throughout the whole thing.
[Editor’s Note: I cannot recommend this book enough. I consider myself an avid reader and this is one of my favorites.]
In college/about to graduate and not really into reading? Check out GaryVee’s rant that every college student needs to hear. So true and so powerful.
Finally, where can my audience find you on the web?
Facebook: Jesse Eldredge Facebook: Eldredge Brand Management