Q: I am Frank Borgia of frankly.com.
If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Mr. McQuown: Well, I wouldn't have gotten my master's in
One thing I did wrong was not believing in the entity Proteus
early enough. I didn't do things like getting a credit line at a bank
to make investments within the company. It wouldn't have been much,
maybe $10,000, but when you are two people just out of college in a
basement apartment, you can't imagine it. I hate to say it, but it is
kind of my Mom's fault for raising me so conservatively on the money
side, though that has come back in good ways. I didn't believe in the
entity strongly enough to put a lot of skin in the game early on and
take a loan. I did it later, but, to be quite frank, I didn't do it
You also tend to think, at least I did, that you don't need to
write a business plan because it is all there in your head. When we
got our first MBA employee, then we got our second, it was an exercise
they made me go through. I said, "Come on you guys. We are
talking semantics here." But in hindsight, it is a very important
exercise to go through, and I would encourage everyone to do it. I
know it is hip to say you don't have to do one, and people are getting
rich without them, but it is a very important exercise. You will learn
a lot about yourself, your business, what is going to work and what is
not going to work.
Ms. Masri: It is hard to do a business plan while you are
actually working on the company. It is good, in a way, because you
identify a lot of things. It is something we've recently done as part
of working on getting some financing for cash flow, improvements and
Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but I think the biggest thing when you
first start out is that you feel like you are not a "real
business." That was detrimental, at first, because people can
read fear on a person's face. You can tell when they don't believe in
themselves or aren't confident, and that was one of the hardest things
for me. I am not a salesperson by nature. I was more of a
behind-the-scenes kind of salesperson. I'm the one who writes all that
direct mail that you throw in the garbage. When I had to speak in
front of people, I got very nervous and felt like I didn't want to
give away too much about our business. I didn't want to tell anybody
that I was sitting next to my husband, Keith, and that we work out of
our home. It just sounded kind of cheesy, to be honest. We have
definitely gotten past that point, but, at first, it was a real
stumbling block for us. Once we got the confidence and said, "We
are doing good work. The clients like us. They are referring us to
their associates and we are getting new business. What do we have to
be ashamed of?" That is when things really took off.
Ms. Martin: I probably would not have moved next door to the
neighbor that called on us.
Every lesson I have learned, I learned for a reason, so it is hard
for me to say what I would have done differently. I had a
quasi-business plan which I am refining right now. At this stage, I
need to have a business plan to show me the direction. There are new
services we want to add, and I need the answer to whether we can do it
as a self-funded company or whether we need to go after funding If we
do go for funding, what is it going to take? Could we find a funder
that would share the same values? We are doing it now to see our
vision more clearly down the road.
Q: I'm Jeff Cleaton with Cybercash.
What do you do when a client comes to you with a big plan that
includes things outside your expertise?
Ms. Masri: We sell ourselves as advertising people who do Web
development, so a lot of times people will say something like,
"Oh, then can you do our logo? Our brochure? Our direct
mail?" When we first started out, being really scrappy and
wanting all of that cash to be able to grow, a lot of times we would
say, "Yes, we will do this, we will do that." Now it is to
the point that we put our foot down and say, "We are really not
in the business of doing this. We have dedicated ourselves to doing
this one thing and doing it really well." That said, we have
people we know through our contacts who can do print advertising or
high-end programming if a client needs it. We don't do any of that
kind of work, but we do know people who do. We're not ashamed to say
that we don't feel comfortable doing some things, but we know people
who do it. That raises your clout in the eyes of your clients when you
can point them to a professional who offers services that will work in
tandem with yours.
Ms. Martin: Our clients see us as what you would call a
"one-stop shop." We started in the business through
tradeshows. We did all of their print collateral, design, copywriting,
print management, direct mail, you name it. Then we did their
tradeshow floors. We did their Web sites, and they looked to us to
carry out their image. We can reposition them in the direction they
want to go and carry everything out. Because our clients have that
comfort level with us, they will also ask if we can do their PR. We
don't do PR, but we can bring the experts in through our strategic
alliances, and it's been very, very effective for our business.
Q: I am Julie Burnette from Julie
& Company. I'm a very overworked and very tired Web
designer on the verge of hiring my first employees. How do you go
from a sole proprietor selling creative services to hiring other
people to work for you? My problem is that I think people buy my
brain, and I'm not quite sure how to hire people to sell my brain
since they don't have my brain, if that makes sense.
Ms. Masri: Hopefully cloning will come along.
Ms. Martin: We're waiting for cloning, too.
I can't do design. I'm sales and marketing, so I got the team
together. That is what has made us successful. You are the person
producing the work right now, so you are not out selling. When I
started LeapFrog Solutions, I knew the team I wanted to get together.
I had worked with these individuals before, and I knew the talent they
had. For me, it was a very easy sell.
When bringing on employees, you have to make sure that you don't
hire someone like yourself. That was my first mistake. The very first
person I brought on was another salesperson and I needed more of a
marketing admin. She and I got along great, and it was really quite
comical in the end to watch when I realized her administrative skills
were worse than mine. I hired her thinking, "She a salesperson.
She has to be great." I learned quickly to make sure you know
your real needs before you hire a person.
Ms. Masri: Yes, especially if you are going from one person to
two. When we started off with myself and Keith, it was a good
combination because I was doing all of the sales, I was pretty much
the office manager and I did the writing and the marketing; Keith did
most of the programming and the design. To some extent, we still work
that way. I do my fair share of programming, but I'm not a designer.
You said that you are overworked and you are stressing. What are
the things that you need to take off your plate? If you are having no
problems getting new clients and doing the designs, but you're
crunched converting the designs into HTML or you're not up to speed
with Cold Fusion, then that's where you need to spend the most time
looking. One of the most effective things we have instituted is time
tracking. It is just fantastic. Not only does it help you decide how
much you are going to bid on a project, it also lets you see where you
are spending a lot of your time. That is probably the best way to get
started, then try to write down the skills you need and figure out
where to go from there.
Mr. McQuown: Our situation was a little bit different because
my partner and I were right out of college and had no real world
experience whatsoever. We needed somebody to increase the bandwidth of
work, but we also needed somebody to polish our image. After several
rounds of interviews with different people, we selected a woman who
had worked at Earle Palmer Brown for
about five years. We had to give her equity, simply because we
couldn't afford her, but she was able to come out of sales meetings
with us on and say, "Okay, Patrick, I know you are really
excited, but don't yell at the client." or "Those
misspellings in your emails, you are going to have to fix that."
We had a unique need in that sense, but the one thing I can say is
that your first hire is probably going to be your most important one,
only because that's the first time you are not directly overseeing the
work from start to finish. You see them talking on the phone to a
client and think, "I hope they are not swearing at them or
something." There are so many trust issues that come into play.
Hands down, it was one of our most important hires, and she worked out
great for us. So, take your time and don't hire somebody just to
increase your bandwidth. Hire someone who is actually going to bring
something to the table, and whom you trust without a doubt.
Q: My name is Michelle Fisher with Inner
Angles. That question was so similar to mine that I am
going to try to get mine narrower. Suppose you have a customer who
wants a specific system built, and you need to hire someone to do
it. Do you have any tips on how to find someone who's compatible
just for this particular project?
Mr. McQuown: The only thing that I can say is what Layla
touched on about choosing your clients. You have to pick jobs that you
will excel at 100%, not just because you want the revenue or the
client when the technology they use is totally different from what you
are skilled at. The list of variables that can make a client
inappropriate for you is a long one—maybe it is too big, too small
and so on. What has worked out very well for us is to call a spade a
spade. We are all sipping the fire hose here, and there is so much
work to be had that it is not even funny. We have worked out
relationships with companies that are bigger than us, smaller, the
same size and those which used different technologies. Some are very,
very good; some need to be worked on. Some we don't trust to do the
work for us. We have said, "Okay, we have a client that needs
this and we do not do it. We are trusting you to do the job." We
essentially hand over the client to that person, and it's theirs to
lose. It's almost a shoo-in that they are going to get the work
because we have given them the recommendation. It works the opposite
way, too. Somebody bigger can't handle a job or doesn't have the
bandwidth and they know that they can hand it down to us. We have
gotten the nod from Proxicom,
for example, and the customer knows that they can trust us to do the
work. I know there have been a lot of missed revenue opportunities and
clients we have passed up as a result, but it would not have been
appropriate for us and would have come back to haunt us. You have to
establish a network, and you have to establish it quickly. In the
services industry, there is no reason to think that you're
competitors; you just aren't. Yes, you might bid against them on a job
or two, but the fact of the matter is that there is enough work out
there for everybody.
Ms. MacPherson: Thanks, Patrick. I think we are going to wrap
there. Let me close with a couple of thoughts. What we have seen this
morning is that there are different styles and approaches, but there
is clear consistency on the need to focus on your people, hire people
who complement you, focus on your customers, manage the kind of work
you bring in—and believe in yourself and your dreams. We would like
to thank our panelists, and thank you all for coming this morning.