Start me up… building a business in 2014 vs. 1987

Nearly 30 years ago I found myself looking for a new job in advertising during a serious recession. After pounding the pavement fruitlessly for a couple of months I concluded the pursuit was a waste of time and shoe leather and the only person who was going to hire me full time was me. So I started my own business– Roth Marketing Communications Inc.–  again pounding pavement, but this time pitching my 15 years of advertising and marketing experience while hoping to also trade on a college degree in “creative writing,” whatever that meant. The difference? I wasn’t asking anyone to be a full-time hire, but rather simply to be “rented” as a consultant.

It took a while to gain traction but the concept eventually clicked with some great clients like the Perrier Group (now Nestle Waters), Price Waterhouse  (pre- “Coopers”), Prudential and many others. I grew the business successfully and happily for 8 years until the then chairman of Landor, a family friend, came to me looking for someone to open their corporate practice in NYC. It hadn’t occurred to me to return to formal agency life again (I liked being my own boss) but this was Landor! So after a bit of soul-searching, I decided it was good bye RMCI.

It proved to be the right call, to say the least, but 19 years later I find myself again starting my own firm in a quasi-recession, only this round I haven’t wasted a minute seeking full time employment. I already know the drill and am keen to be back at the helm of my own firm. But the contrasts and similarities between starting up in 1987 vs 2014 are interesting. What’s the same?  Well, you still need a company name and market positioning, plus some semblance of a brand identity and business cards to go with it. Basic stuff. I also learned back then that incorporating oneself helped assure prospects and clients you’re serious and in it for the long haul. That hasn’t changed much.

Marketing oneself is also a given, both then and now, but how that’s done today would have been unfathomable in 1987. I recall investing (cautiously) in a small print ad in Crain’s NY Business Journal (headline was “Ghost Writers in Disguise” — get it? Enough did.) I also worked with a graphic designer (remember “mechanicals?” No, probably not) to create a simple 3-fold, press-printed brochure about my services. With no clients, a brochure at least helped me look legitimate! I also installed a second phone line, tapped into the word-processing dept. (yes– they were a separate department, rented by the hour) at my wife’s firm… and I was in business. Important note here: no computers, cell phones, email or Internet; that all came much later.

These past few weeks, I’ve faced these familiar challenges again setting up HA Roth Consulting LLC, but what a difference 30 years makes! I needed some fast business cards, so $75, a little time on-line time and 3 days later I had them. Ordered a new corporate credit card on-line and had that a day later.  Set up accounting and time-tracking software with virtually instant downloads (though learning to use them properly required serious help from my accountant.) Updated my LinkedIn profile, which I’d never taken too seriously before, and have come to appreciate how it will undoubtedly be my core outreach tool (can’t believe the number of people I know– one of the few virtues of advancing years!).

Finally, it came time to build the HARC website. Took a stab at doing this myself through Squarespace and it was a total failure. So I enlisted the very capable aid of a young (needless to say) pro named Joseph Orr [] who has guided me every step of the way.  It’s been an amazing journey thus far and now I think I’m almost ready for prime time. Starting with this blog, in fact.

What have I learned to date? The fundamentals don’t change– a point of view, good trade dress, accurate business and financial tracking and management, targeted marketing outreach and active networking and partnering– but how they get delivered never stops changing.  It’s faster and, in many ways, easier now than it was back in 1987, but it still requires hard work, focus and a determination to succeed. Same as it ever was….

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