I lost my position as Director of Content Marketing at an ice cream company in September 2015. I applied for jobs after that, but after a couple of months, I decided I wanted to control my own destiny. I wanted to create an opportunity for myself to use my experience and education in food and culinary arts with my marketing, journalism, and communications background. I wanted to write my own paychecks. I wanted to create and control my work environment. I researched the opportunity, I started listing potential prospects, and once I felt confident my concept had the potential to be commercially viable and lucrative, I wrote a business plan, formed Saltshaker Marketing & Media LLC, sold off some shares I had in the market, and started! Saltshaker is entirely self-funded, except for a small investment from my sister.
I am measuring success in very small steps right now, but I have big goals. Ultimately, I want Saltshaker to become a $20 million business. Right now, I consider these my successes: 1. Acceptance into LaunchPad 2X, an accelerator program for women entrepreneurs. This program starts in late September 2016. Only 25 companies are chosen to participate each year. (Website: launchPad2x.com) 2. Establishing clientele: I have serviced 10 clients so far, 6 of them with recurring agreements. 3. Reaching the break-even point: I am on track to reach break-even by October or November 2016, 10 to 11 months after launching Saltshaker. My accountant said, “Shaun, you know most businesses don’t reach break-even until year 2 or 3.” I told her, “I don’t have a choice!” I attribute being able to reach break-even so quickly to being resourceful, keeping costs down, and being ambitious with routinely establishing and pursuing goals. 4. Launching a successful content marketing program: I knew I needed to use content marketing to not only acquire customers, but to show them that I know my stuff! My content marketing program included publication of a 32-page full-color magazine with recipes, an email newsletter, and an ambitious online program that includes a blog with articles. Month to month between June-July and July-August, our page views and uniques each went up 200%, our Facebook referrals were up 1,450%, Twitter referrals were up 866%, and LinkedIn referrals were up 4,700%. We did it through good quality content. I studied my target audience and discovered the topics they liked and the people that influence them, and started producing articles. 5. Early identification and establishment of a company culture: I'm the only full-time employee but I have 3 regular part-time contract employees. I believe culture is key, and that it has to be established from the beginning because it does start from the beginning whether you realize it or not. Culture impacts employee retention, client relationships, and creativity—and creativity is what Saltshaker is selling. Creativity is one of the most affordable competitive advantages Saltshaker can have. All the contractors who work with me regularly take the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment. I am also reading a lot about the concept of Psychologically-Safe Work Environments.
I first went to SCORE to take the SimpleSTEPS series - I did all of the SimpleSTEPS classes, which were helpful. I also took the Mini-Business Plan Course, which was very helpful. I later went in for one-on-one mentoring to have a mentor review drafts of my business plan and help me with my income statement and other financial statements. I now have a standing weekly appointment with a SCORE mentor. It does a lot to help me stay on track. It holds me accountable and it gives me an opportunity to troubleshoot the things I am most concerned about. I feel it's critical to my success.
Jeff is my biggest cheerleader. He lets me drive what I need out of our weekly meetings. I know that he has run several large businesses of his own, but yet he has a great way of listening and helping me discover what the best path for my business is, while offering valuable insight or helping me see things from a different angle. He's very approachable, which is helpful, because I rely on my meetings with Jeff to troubleshoot the things that I am most concerned about -- I make myself tell him the things I am most worried about every week, so we can work on them before they become major problems. Jeff has set up speaking opportunities for me, and he's told other people about what I do, which I think is awesome! Something small but touching to me: At the end of every meeting, when I thank Jeff for his time, he says, "No. Thank you." Wow. I can't imagine why. That's really precious.