3 Tips on How to Bootstrap a Multi-Million Dollar Agency
Jaclyn Johnson of Create & Cultivate created and sold a successful marketing agency with no money. Here are three tips you can learn from her.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
$18,000 a year. That was the offer Jaclyn Johnson got to work at a magazine in the heart of New York City. It was her dream job, but $18,000 was barely a living wage especially in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
She joined another agency and worked her way up.
Eventually, she took a leap of faith and moved to Los Angeles to work for another growing company. Three months later, disaster struck. She was laid off with zero connections in Los Angeles. Instead of moving back to New York where she was comfortable, she used this misfortune to start hustling.
It paid off. She built an influential events and marketing company that was acquired and now is the founder of Create & Cultivate which has featured speakers like Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teigen and Jessica Alba, to name a few.
I sat down with Jaclyn to get three tips on how to build a successful business.
Be more resourceful than everyone around you.
"When I was laid off in Los Angeles I had no local contacts or resources to count on. I honestly struggled with where to start. But I knew that If I was persistent and talked to anyone that would listen, I would get somewhere," says Johnson.
In my opinion, the biggest misconception of anyone starting a business is the assumption that everyone wants to hear what your building. In reality, almost no one cares. I know it's harsh, but it's something almost everyone needs to hear.
When I built my network in Chicago, I took 250 coffee meetings in one year. I went from knowing no one to be one of the most connected in the space. So, if I needed to raise money or get connected with someone influential, I was one email away from getting connected to that person. I didn't make any excuses about what I didn't have. I worked to build the resources I needed.
In my opinion, resourcefulness is one of the best traits for an early entrepreneur to have. The internet has created a world where you are granted access to anyone in the world with a single email, tweet or Instagram DM. You have zero excuses to not succeed or to reach the right people.
Launch first, figure it out later.
"When I started Create & Cultivate, I had no business plan. I didn't study any conferences. I didn't nitpick what I was doing. I just launched without thinking too much about it. I knew from my previous business that it takes shape from being out in the world," says Johnson.
If you're not embarrassed by your first public launch, I think you are doing something wrong.
Jason Fried, a fellow Inc. columnist, had a great tweet about launching first:
If you want to feel good, brainstorm it. If you want to appear good, test it. If you want to know if you're any good, ship it.-- Jason Fried (@jasonfried) November 28, 2017
Amen to that.
It's okay not to make money right away. Start with a side hustle.
"I've lived on both the east coast and west coast, and they have different philosophies on how to start companies. What I realized pretty quickly is that, if you believe in what you're building, you don't need to make money right away. For me, blogging was my catalyst for finding new jobs and starting new businesses. I did it without expectations of making money right away," says Johnson.
When I quit my job and went on my own, the first year, I dedicated to writing a blog post every morning. I ended up writing 150 blog posts in one year. One of the blog posts ended up turning into a book. The only comments I got on my first 100 blog posts were visitors commenting on my grammar. I wish I was joking.
But, similar to Jaclyn, I used this as a foundation to build a bigger community.
Of course, building a business that makes more money than it spends is important, but Jaclyn knew that investing her time in side hustles would eventually lead to something much bigger. Every side hustle brought her closer to her dream. It grew her connections. And it also allowed her to tap into the online zeitgeist.
There's a lot to learn from Jaclyn, and I was honored to interview her. She's now 32 and continues to build Create & Cultivate into something great.