“Know Your Worth” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey Radin, the 21 year old founder of Sherman Square Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in search engine optimization. Jeffrey has been in business for nearly two years, has helped over a dozen local businesses, and runs his company from Ithaca, New York, where he has been concurrently pursuing an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. He will graduate in May 2019.

Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?

I’ve known that I wanted to start a business for a long time. And I have always been interested in not only SEO, but also storytelling, branding, stuff like that. I’m a creative writing minor.

And so, once I had been in Ithaca for about a semester, it was easy to realize that there was a need for SEO and also no local company capably and consistently meeting that demand. I also realized that the demands of college were not what I had thought they would be, that I would have a lot more disposable time on my hands than I had thought I would have.

So my desire collided with an opportunity and there was nothing, theoretically, standing in my way, so I decided that I had to at least try. This was late 2015. I spent the rest of that year and all of 2016 consuming just about every piece of SEO content I could, developing the process that I initially used to rank my own website #1 for “Ithaca SEO.” I officially incorporated in early 2017 and have been operating happily ever since.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I educate my clients. It’s really important for a number of reasons. Most optimizations aren’t plainly obvious in the visual sense. All you really can see, as a business owner, are the metrics that’ll indicate whether or not the process is working. And I usually work on a month-to-month basis, so business owners need to be able to take a look at their metrics, actually comprehend what is going on, and use that information to make an informed decision about whether or not they’d like to extend my retainer.

So I make sure that they know how to grade my work.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Every project is exciting. Even though I’m providing substantially the same service for each client, they all come to me in very different starting positions, have different needs, and different goals. So SEO entails very different things for just about every single client. Every campaign is different, and I learn something new every time.

And each client is in a different industry. I can’t best determine what types of keywords to target and what techniques to use if I don’t understand both the industry in general and the client’s particular business model. So I get to learn a lot about each client’s business and industry, and a decent chunk of the time, I’ll learn something that helps me with my own business.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

From my for pleasure reading, I’d say Grendel by John Gardner. I first read it for an eleventh grade english class. It’s kind of heavy — it’s Beowulf but from the perspective of the monster, Grendel, so it’s able to do some really cool stuff with perspective and good and evil. I don’t want to spoil it.

But the book The Way of the Wolf by Jordan Belfort is by far the best and most useful sales book I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1 - Say no.

You must be willing to turn away clients that are not right and you must be willing and able to say no to existing clients if they make overlarge requests.

2 - Be patient.

Turning away business can be hard, especially if you don’t yet have a stable flow of clients and revenue. But if you started a business, you should be in it for the long haul. And if you go about your business the right way over the long haul, you’ll end up ahead.

3 - Leave the house.

I can promise that, no matter how much you can really add value, you won’t get any clients if you just sit in your living room all day, Instead, get out of the house, make cold calls, network, whatever. Most important is that you interact with other members of your business community. Even if they don’t seem like potential clients, there can be significant benefits to merely maintaining professional relationships.

4 - Add Value.

Especially if you’ve recently started a business and you’re fighting to grow, break even, or whatever, it’s really super easy to stop thinking about others and only focus on what will help you. But if you express genuine interest in others, especially their businesses, you’ll likely discover you can add value for them in ways that cost you nothing but will help you build relationships, foster good will, and establish yourself in a way that will lead to business down the road.

5 - Know your worth.

It’s altogether too easy to charge too little or even to give your services away for free, at least at first, to prove yourself or to get that first or second client. But you need to feel comfortable in your own skin saying, “This is what I do, and this is what I charge,” and then letting the chips fall where they may. If someone balks at what you feel is a fair and reasonable price, they are probably not a good potential client. Moreover, if you just focus on consistently adding value for others — because of your skill and ability — you’ll help establish your true worth, others will vouch for you, and then you can ask for what you know you’re worth — and actually get it.

Jean: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

- Published on June 27, 2018