My company, Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA), celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The odds of startup businesses making it to 30 years is less than 1 percent, so I’m thrilled to have created something out of nothing and have it still be in existence.
That being said, businesses fail all the time. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones. However, I also made some important decisions along the way that put us on the right path. Being an entrepreneur is no easy task. Here are some of the key elements that I think have helped us succeed and grow along the way.
Find your niche. While working as a marketing executive at Philips Lighting, I found that a lot of agencies didn’t take the time to understand my business in order to provide the right strategy and tactics I needed. They just wanted to sell me services that didn’t apply to my business. In 1987, I founded CMA, a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and integrated communications firm in Central New Jersey. Soon after, we added an associated management division.
Be strategic. If your organization lacks a strategy, you won’t know where the company is headed. Without a goal and a compass to guide you, you could be going full steam ahead in the wrong direction. I’ve always set company goals and then paired them with a strategy for how to achieve them. One of the initiatives I implemented was the introduction of an association management business unit. What I found is that marketing and association management are at opposite ends of the business cycle. When one business ebbs, the other one flows.
Work in your clients’ best interests. People do business with people they like and trust. That’s why my business philosophy is to be a strategic partner with my clients. Coming from the client side, I designed CMA to be an extension of a company’s in-house marketing department. We offer services from public relations to social media to design to digital— all supported by strategic marketing—in one place. We are in it for the long haul and prefer to have long-term relationships with our clients.
Define and embrace your company’s core values. My management team and I gave a lot of thought when it came to outlining CMA’s core values. First we identified employees who exemplify traits we admire and then came up with the seven core values we live by today— passion, enthusiasm, excellence, professionalism, solution-oriented, accountability and teamwork.
Build an outstanding team. Treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. Encourage your employees to learn and take on new challenges as they grow within the organization. Embrace a management style that treats people professionally and gives them the flexibility and freedom to create their own path within our environment.
Don’t have a backup plan. I started CMA after the 1980 stock market crash had led to a global recession. People told me it was pretty stupid to start the business in the middle of the recession. When you have no other recourse but to move forward, you move forward. Failure isn’t an option, so push ahead and succeed.
Be financially prudent. CMA has never been in debt. Companies that haven’t survived recessions often have a lot of debt and have had to downsize or close their doors. We have always been prudent in not spending what we don’t have. We continuously market ourselves and have a very steady business development effort, even during downturns.
As the business grows, loosen the reins. In 2015, CMA welcomed Chief Operating Officer Christian Amato. He is helping to shape our overall business vision, analyze expansion opportunities and deliver growth.The agency needed a strong operating executive to lead day-to-day operations, which allows me to focus on the vision of where we are going and the strategy to get there.
Embrace change. Customers typically prequalify their purchasing decisions online as part of their buying decisions. Marketing has become about driving people to your website and letting them go through that part of the buying decision themselves. When I started my organization, people had bigger budgets, fewer mediums and fewer groups in the workforce so you could focus on fewer things. Now you have more generations that want to receive their messages differently and more mediums.
Jeffrey Barnhart is founder and CEO of Creative Marketing Alliance (CMA) a full-service, award-winning strategic marketing and integrated communications firm that builds reputation, relationships and return on investment. He can be reached at email@example.com.