Take Some Risk exists to do two things: help clients make or save more money from marketing. The year-old performance marketing agency is located in Vancouver, Canada, and helps eCommerce, SaaS, and technology brands create, manage, and scale profitable PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns globally.
The company’s founder, Duane Brown, never wants the agency to be large -- his ideal size stops at 12 people and currently sits at a team of four.
When asked what makes his agency different from others flooding the market, he says, “We know what to do when something goes wrong. We won’t hire someone with one year of experience. These people generally know how to do everything right but have no idea what to do when challenges arise.”
The Last Straw in the Corporate World
Brown started Take Some Risk for reasons that will sound familiar to many -- he was unhappy at work. “I realized the companies I was working for weren’t going to fire people who weren’t good at their jobs and would promote people who were average. I decided to take the risk -- and one client -- and start my own business.”
There were many unknowns in Brown’s new venture. One thing he knew for sure, however, was that he wanted to do it on his own. “We’ve all had to do group work in college,” he recalls, “People end up not pulling their weight and leaders disagree on pivotal decisions.
By running a business without a co-founder or board, the decisions are mine and I choose how to move the business forward.”
First Steps to Building a Business
Once he defined how his business would be structured, Brown set about building it. “You have to have the stamina and confidence to push through the painful parts. For you, that might be accounting, business development, or hiring -- but you’ve got to push through the uncomfortable parts and know when to ask for help.” Here are a few other steps Brown took in his early days.
1. Keep a cash reserve
He recommends having at least four-to-six months budget in the bank. “When you’re starting off and don’t have a large client base, it might take prospects a few months to close. It’s a complicated process, and you need to have enough money in the bank to keep the lights on.”
2. Separate business from self
Brown also knew he was going to incorporate his business -- for tax reasons and to separate his business from his personal life. He filed papers with the Canadian government, opened a bank account, and turned his attention to buying a domain, setting up hosting, and brainstorming a name for the business.
3. Earn your first clients
When it came to “convincing” his first few clients to take a chance on his young company, Brown didn’t have a hard time. “I’d been working with my first client as a side gig before I left my day job. They were built in.” From there, he worked his network and contact list asking for referrals. “If I see someone in my network who might need my help, I reach out.”
4. Nail down pricing
When it comes to price, Brown is honest, “I don’t compete on price and I don’t sugarcoat things. I find this attracts the right kind of clients for our business: clients who are interested in the benefits and the quality we can offer.” This model has helped Take Some Risk grow their client base exponentially over its first year.
Brown is also a staple on the conference circuit where he expertly networks within the industry and fosters relationships with current and future clients.
For Better and for Worse
Being the sole owner of an incorporated business has its ups and downs. For Brown, it’s all worth it, but he’s just as honest about the challenges as he is about the benefits.
Challenge: Educating clients
When asked about the early challenges of owning his own business, Brown answered honestly, “Even after you’ve closed a client, keeping that client can be difficult. You’re always one paycheck away from another agency swooping in and stealing your business.” To combat this, Brown and his team work to educate their clients on the exact benefits and real value they receive with Take Some Risk.
Benefit: Immediate decision making
“I can make a decision today and implement it today. I don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval,” says Brown. He also cites the ability to hire who he wants as a perk. “I know the right questions to ask during the interview. Execution is everything in our business, and I want to hire people who can do the job.”
Challenge: Cash flow
As far as what he’d warn other entrepreneurs against? “Manage your cash flow and make sure clients pay bills when they’re due.” Brown explains, “Many people take cash flow for granted. Because of that, we bill every 30 days (while some companies bill net 45, 60, or 90 days) to make sure we always have the cash on hand we need.
Benefit: Keeping it simple
Brown has an accountant do his company’s taxes, but everything else is managed in house. “If we get big enough, I’ll probably outsource HR part time, but right now that’s manageable for us. We want to keep things as simple as possible. The more people are involved, the more complicated your business gets.”
Challenge: Maintaining a full pipeline
Brown also recommends always having opportunities in the pipeline. “Sometimes we work ourselves out of a job because we do what clients hire us to do. I always do more business development than I think we need, because it always takes longer than anticipated to close a deal.”
Finally, Brown recommends only spending money on things that will move the business forward. “That foosball table might sound fun -- but is it really going to impact your bottom line?”
One area Brown has seen returns on is using Bing Ads to help his clients reach new customers and grow their business. “There’s something going on with the Bing Network audience that I've not seen anywhere else,” Brown says.
Having Strong Values
Brown also advocates for defining company values early -- and sticking to them. “If we don’t think an action will help a client make money, we’ll push back. We won’t just say ‘yes.’ And we’ll fire clients if they can’t take that feedback. If we’re not driving revenue that will earn a client substantial gains, we’ve got to push back. We stand by our values, even if it means being fired.”
Take Some Risk’s Company Values
Brown doesn’t views his company’s values as stopping with him. “I live these values, so any time there’s a teachable moment I can lead by example. After all, If I don’t live them, how can I expect my team to?” Here are Take Some Risk’s four pillar values:
Passion - “It’s important to have a passion outside the business. If all you want to do is work all day, I don’t believe you’ll be the best at your job.”
Curiosity - “You need to know why things are happening in your accounts -- not just that they’re happening.”
Courage - “It’s hard to tell a client you made a mistake. You’ve got to have courage to do the hard part of the job.”
Honesty - “Be honest. Sometimes, doing what’s right isn’t easy, but you must do it. Otherwise, it’s hard to work in this industry -- or any industry.”
Owning your own business is a leap of faith, a lot of planning, and even more perseverance -- with some pretty fulfilling days sprinkled in. Know your values, be honest about the good and the bad you encounter, and you’ll build a strong foundation for a business you and your clients believe in and value.