Reflections of Being a Business Owner on The 20th Anniversary of Strategic Media
When I started Strategic Media, Inc. 20 years ago, I didn’t have a five- or ten-year plan. I was laser-focused on year one and building the company from the ground up with a simple approach: work tirelessly—no matter how many hours a day that meant—and give it my best. I never imagined SMI would become what it is today, but reaching this milestone makes me extremely proud, grateful, and even more excited for what the future holds.
Reflecting on the past 20 years, I’d like to share some key takeaways for anyone that is thinking about starting a company.
Provide a service that has demand, and be willing to take risks to do it
SMI was in its first or second year when I went to lunch with my Grandfather who was ninety-three years old at the time. He had built his own shoe business during WWII, sold the business to L.L. Bean, and then went to work for them. My Grandfather used to tell me about getting to work before Leon would arrive and always enjoyed the appreciation he received for his hard work. That approach to work passed through the generations and has been at the core of my approach to SMI. I recall him asking me why I thought I could start a successful business. He wasn’t casting doubt, he simply was proud that his young grandson took a chance. I told him I took a chance because I knew I could provide a service that had demand and I could do it as well or better than anyone else.
Always stay true to your core values
Early on my focus was buying the best media to deliver the best return on ad spend. I never considered that doing my best work with integrity would be a differentiator, but as I learned more about business and was exposed to more companies I realized that doing the right thing when nobody is watching is rarer than you’d ever expect. Values that include integrity and honesty set us apart from many of the direct response agencies in the early 2000s. Clients recognized this differentiator and chose us.
Don’t sell your service for less than it is worth
Earning new business or winning a new account has always been a highlight for the company. But, believe it or not, parting ways with two of our first clients were some of the earliest triumphs of the past 20 years.
Some of our first clients had very unreasonable expectations. They made a habit of having steep demands and refusing to pay market value for services they received — all while being very unprofessional. Instead of being excited to start each day, I dreaded interacting with these clients, which took away from the positive environment our company thrived on. As our cash flow increased and I was confident that we could grow other accounts profitably, I was able to cut ties with the companies unwilling to work with us respectfully. The lesson here is that when you have a quality service, don’t sell it for less than it’s worth, and also make sure you are working with clients that share your values. I realized we couldn’t wait to make changes that would have an immediate and positive impact on our business. Once we made the necessary adjustments, we could focus on new ways to help our clients grow their campaigns. Removing those barriers meant that we could do the thing we set out to do from the beginning – help companies grow with profitable audio advertising strategies. We’ve been doing it consistently for 20 years.
Several years ago when the company was financially stable, we began giving back to various organizations around the world. One of the first recipients was World Bicycle Relief, which provides bicycles to students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs in developing countries, removing the barrier of distance by foot in the hot sun. As time went, on significant emphasis went to Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation because my twin sons learned to ski with the organization, and to the Barbara Bush Children’s hospital to support families coping with childhood cancer. Our goal of donating one million dollars to charities is becoming a reality, and it’s making a difference. There are many other organizations we contribute to, and we’ve found that sharing with organizations that support others is our greatest success story.
Believe in yourself and the team you build
When I first started my business, I worked long hours in my apartment. After a few months, I hired my first employee. He worked 25 hours per week at our dining room table before my wife said enough is enough and it was time to rent an office. She was very supportive of me during those first few months and years and she continues to be my sounding board with the many aspects of our company.
Looking back, I remember celebrating the milestone of SMI’s first year with trepidation since the company was so young. But after that, I began setting goals. I wanted to be regarded as the best direct response agency at five years. At ten, I wanted to further solidify that with our contemporaries. At fifteen years, and now 20, my goals continue to be tied to the success of our clients, the personal and professional growth of our employees, and the opportunity to be charitable. It seems surreal to reflect on all that we as a company have experienced, but I remind myself daily that it came with hard work, dedication from a superior team, and the belief that we would get here.
Do what you love to do
Each year we have our annual meeting to talk about our wins, losses, and goals for the upcoming year. I remind myself and my staff of how fortunate I feel to work at Strategic Media. Every day I get to come to work and do what I love to do. I’m excited about finding solutions to the challenges we’ll face. I’m excited about working with people I respect. And I’m excited to work for clients that have businesses I believe in. I want all of my employees to be enthusiastic about their work, to feel appreciated, and to be proud of the work they are doing. I also encourage each and every one of them to find the job that will give them joy. Life is too short and I want everyone who works at SMI to be here because they love their job. If not, I want to support them in finding something that does.
Never allow yourself or your staff to grow complacent
Over the years we have come up against healthy competition, won accounts, lost accounts, learned from our mistakes, and grown immensely from the tremendous opportunities our team has earned. I have extreme confidence in the professionals that I get to call my employees; however, I remind them to never grow complacent and always look for areas of improvement.
I founded SMI with the mindset that success was the only option from Day 1, and our team has carried that mentality forward with each new day, new hire, and new opportunity. I remind my employees and myself to not take anything for granted – work-related or not – and I firmly believe this little reminder has helped us all push through and work harder each day than we did the day before to provide for ourselves, our families, and the clients we serve. It’s by no accident that we have created one the best direct and brand response audio agencies in the country. Reflecting on the past, I look ahead to many more years of success.