How to Leverage Your Corporate Experiences for Your Start-Up

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At an early age, I enjoyed starting clubs, organizing events, and launching fundraisers for my school. My eagerness to work on these extra-curricular activities gave me inklings of wanting to start a business one day. By the time I finished university, I thought about it as a possible career path, but opted to find a job in order to gain more experience while I searched for an idea (discussed more in this post).

Now that I have embarked on my entrepreneurial journey, I often think about where I would be today if I had started earlier. Nonetheless, I found my time working in marketing and advertising to be invaluable. Instead of running around in a panicked frenzy, I leaned on my past experience to achieve each milestone. In the article below, I share my experiences and some resources that I hope will be useful in your journey.

  • Creating a Strong Brand — In my role as a marketing executive, I was responsible for launching a number of new products into the market. In many instances, when we launched new campaigns, we would see a boost in brand awareness and sales, and then these results would gradually plateau or even reverse. Here’s the thing. A fancy marketing campaign will undoubtedly give you short-term sales, but long-term success requires a strong brand. What does this involve? Many people associate branding with a logo, but it’s much more than that. It requires a thorough exploration of your purpose, an authentic and relatable story, and a clear articulation of the benefits to your fans, and how you want them to feel when they interact with your brand. This would then need to be delivered consistently over a period of time. It sounds straightforward but is an extremely difficult exercise. One of the first steps I took when I embarked on my venture was to begin with the brand, because I knew that if I didn’t get this right at the outset, it would be difficult to reverse later on in the minds of consumers.
  • Writing Clear Project Briefs — Between branding, marketing, advertising, direct marketing, and media briefs, I have written more briefs than I can count. A brief is a document that contains key information for a potential partner or agency that you want to hire. This is usually the step after you have devised an overall go-to-market strategy. There are some variations between briefs but the key elements include the following: context for the brief, business & marketing objectives, target audience insights, key message, benefits and features of the product/service, call-to-action, key brand elements, budget, and timing. Writing a brief is as much an art as it is a science, but the key is that the document forces you to be clear and concise. The best briefs are insightful, provocative, and brief. When done right, all parties are clear on the deliverables, and it reduces the chances of misinterpretation and delayed timelines. Here is a sample template that you can leverage. Tailor it to your specific industry/service/product.
  • Providing Thorough Feedback — It took me many years on both the agency and the client side to hone the skill of providing feedback. When I was a junior account executive at an agency, I didn’t know how to effectively share a point of view that was different from what the client wanted. Sometimes I would strike the wrong tone and come across too harshly. Other times I would be too afraid to speak up and appear indecisive. Similarly, on the client side, I needed to ensure my comments to the agency were focused on the ideas rather than nitpicky tactical items (although sometimes this is needed e.g. spelling and grammar). More importantly, I also needed to listen and be open to the fact that their solutions might be stronger than mine! Viewing feedback as an exchange of ideas helps to alleviate stress and can lead to better business decisions and outcomes.
  • Organizing Kick-Ass Team Workshops — Throughout my career, I have organized and attended a number of workshops that ranged from terrible to outstanding. The terrible ones tended to start with murky objectives, require too many stakeholders to approve and/or attend, review tactical topics that could have been solved remotely, and did nothing to boost team morale. The outstanding ones, as you can imagine, were the opposite. The team comes together to solve specific problems in order to achieve clear and realistic goals, where the individual members leave feeling valued and respected, and are able to form lasting friendships. When I kick-started my project with my agency, it was amidst the pandemic. However, the same principles still apply when carrying out workshops online.
  • Managing Budgets to a Tee — On both the client and agency side, I was responsible for managing budgets. On the agency side, I was given the budget from the client to manage. On the client side, you are the one deciding the budgets for your various vendors. Either way, I never overspent by $1, and ensured that all our books were properly closed each quarter and that our suppliers were paid on time. During my time in business school, I also gained exposure preparing balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and calculating LTV. So, it wasn’t completely foreign to me. When starting a company, it’s a good idea to roll-out your spreadsheets and start managing your financials.

While I approached entrepreneurship in a roundabout way, I am grateful for these experiences and hope it will result in less costly mistakes for my start-up. For anyone who took the corporate path but are now looking to make the jump, you all have a lot of valuable experiences that you can apply against your start-up. You learned more than you believe so don’t discount it!

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The founder of Dreamwriters, a self-publishing platform for young creative writers and artists.

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