In March of 2015, I left my comfortable, corporate, nine-to-five job.
I was a web administrator for a major law firm in downtown Toronto. The hours were good, I enjoyed going into work every day and my co-workers were wonderful. My job was to manage the firm’s website content, microsites and social media properties. I loved the job, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t enough to satisfy my creative and entrepreneurial itch.
I love business. Specifically, entrepreneurship. I realized that, despite having a job I liked, wasn’t fully content to spend all my time working for a paycheck.
I wanted to build an asset that would eventually work for me over time. I wanted to build a body of work that I could point to and own.
Below is the story of how I turned my passion into my career.
A little back story
In 2011, I co-founded a company that specialized in event planning, artist management and experiential marketing. We would promote and execute events that welcomed any number of guests—from the dozens to the thousands.
The business was suitable as a two-partner company, but it never really paid the bills for both of us. We worked out that it was enough to pay for one person’s salary, but we hadn’t figured out how to make it profitable for both of us. And we worked hard!
In 2013, I sold the company to my then-partner, who still runs it today to great success—still holding enviable clients, like the Royal Ontario Museum, Gladstone Hotel, and Amsterdam Brewery, to name a few.
Back to school
After about a year of growing the company, I decided to undertake a post-graduate program in Small Business Entrepreneurship at George Brown. I wanted to learn how to run a profitable company without having to figure everything out the hard way. The program taught everything from bookkeeping to taxes, marketing to finance, law to business planning and more.
When that was done, I didn’t feel ready to jump back into the land of full-time entrepreneurship. I sold the company, graduated from school and began applying my skills in a corporate web-administration job, while I figured things out. I was constantly learning and honing my skills as a digital marketer and web developer.
Less than two years after leaving school, I resumed full-time self-employment. But, this time, I took the role of Digital Strategist in a brand-new company: my own. KVNW Digital Marketing was born.
My birth as a web developer
I have been making websites, to varying degrees of competency, since I was 14. My family had a dial-up modem, and my parents hated that I was always occupying the phone line. Between 3:00 and 11:00 pm, nobody could reach our house (except during dinner, perhaps, when my teenage appetite trumped everything).
By age 16, I had a security-related website, with nearly 30,000 unique visitors per month—thanks, in big part, to the team of like-minded “web guys” I enlisted to help me.
Since then, I have built many websites. Some for fun; some for the companies I worked with over the years. Always part-time.
The fundamentals of building an online presence and selling products and services haven’t changed much. At least, not the principles: build a platform, create lots of content and promote it like hell. The tactics, on the other hand, are always evolving.
When WordPress came around, for instance, I was able to build websites using pre-built themes and templates. My work suddenly got (and looked) a lot better. And time was on my side: I didn’t have to build everything from scratch, which meant I could pass along those time and cost savings to my clients.
I also started building up a team of freelance developers, who do impeccable quality work. A new era was born, which brings me to today.
My rebirth as a Digital Strategist
While working full-time for the law firm, I was honing my skills as both a web developer and a digital marketer. I read and digested as much information as I could—about pay-per-click marketing, social media management, email marketing, content marketing, you name it.
I had already done a lot of this type of work for clients and myself before. But, this was different: I started to take it seriously. For the two years that I worked at the firm, I spent every inch of spare time learning and delving into digital marketing. It’s a deep and technical field—exactly what I still love about it.
This built-in passion, combined with knowing the business of building and promoting an online presence, became my competitive advantage. And it all stemmed from that pivotal occasion: building my first big website, all those years ago.
Why I’m a Digital Strategist, not just a web developer
For as long as I remember, I was a leader (of sorts). Without trying to sound self-absorbed (which I’m not), I’m comfortable communicating online and in-person; written or verbal. And I like taking initiative in a group of people.
Growing up, I was usually the captain or alternate captain of many sports teams. I was the lead singer in a band and typically liked to bring people together. The funny thing? I was never the best player on the team, or best singer in the band, or best coordinator of activities with my friends. I wasn’t the biggest, fastest or strongest, but I worked my heart out and got the job done.
Subsequently, I am not the best web developer in the world (but I am actually pretty good) or the best at any one digital marketing tactic. Like an effective team captain, I am skilled at understanding the big picture and how everything works together—how the pieces fit, how things should look and function, how to manage a team—to get the right results. This comes partly from my personality and partly from my deep understanding how people use the internet to make purchase decisions.
Why being a leader matters to my clients
Most of my clients are under $5-million in annual revenue. These are small (but mighty) operations that fight hard for new business, while doing everything in their power to nurture existing customers.
What they don’t need is to hire and manage five specialists, or one person who is “good enough” to do a little bit of everything. They hire me because I know what needs to be done and I can bring together the right specialists to do it effectively. And I do it for a cost that makes sense to their business.
Building an online presence can be broken down into a few key parts:
- Strategy: a clear goal, and a logical plan to achieve it
- Platform: a website, along with social-media properties
- Content: website copy, blog posts, and other forms of communication
- Syndication: sharing content, using it to reach new audiences and driving others to it
- Conversion: encouraging new leads, building a database and making a sale
As an independent consultant living and working from my home office in Toronto, I could try to do all of those things myself (and be okay, if not very good, at most of them). But, rather than spending my time becoming the “best writer,” the “best designer” or the “best pay-per-click manager,” I can bet on my strengths: building and leading an expert team that can create a plan and get results—all custom packaged for clients, at a price they can afford.
Today, as a Digital Strategist, I’m on top of what is changing and what is working in the digital marketing world. I make sure that the results I get for my clients meet the highest possible standards for their budget.
Clients will benefit from my 15 years of online experience. They will benefit from my extensive knowledge of running a business. And they will benefit from my passion for managing and packaging an effective end result.
Of course, I couldn’t do it without the talented people I lead—each a specialist in his or her tactical work, and each contributing to my clients’ ultimate success.
I win when my clients win
The biggest benefit of my current work? I get to do what I do best. It’s hard, but what job isn’t?
It’s rewarding, because I get to build a body of work that I can be proud of. I get to solve problems, and I learn from everything I do.
I get to add to my experience every single day, building something that I want to do for the rest of my life (at least, in some capacity).
I get to be an entrepreneur—in control of my time and my destiny.
I do for a living as an adult what I did for a hobby as a teenager. I get to help passionate people grow their businesses and see financial and personal results.
Because I bet on my strengths every day, instead of forcing myself to become the “best” at any one particular tactic, I can become the best at what I do.
I become indispensable to my clients by learning about their business, helping them solve their challenges the best way that I can. Instead of a supplier of services, I become a partner in their success.
And that’s what that makes me very happy.