As a new college graduate, reality definitely kicked my ass. Back in 2009, I was fresh out of Grad School in Toronto with big dreams of working for a fancy Advertising Agency, planning extensive Print or Radio campaigns and working with big name brands.
Disappointment smacked me hard upside the head when I moved home to Ottawa. The only job I could find was with a medical device company that didn’t know fuck all about marketing and certainly didn’t value it. I had no colleagues in my field, no direction, no one to mentor me and I was barely making minimum wage. I can’t even count the number of times I wondered if I’d made a mistake when I chose Advertising as a career.
“Should I go back to school?” I wondered. “Should pick up a trade instead, maybe become an electrician? Something that will pay better than this?”
But there was a silver lining!
While I was away for Grad School my older brother had fallen in love with the most incredible girl. She was so sweet, so kind, so funny, such a hard worker and I fell in love with her too. She was a dancer, choreographer, a teacher and talented as fuck! So, imagine my surprise when my asshole brother, a manufacturing engineer who once told me that marketing was just bullshit, said that he and his girlfriend were planning to open their very own dance school!
“You studied advertising,” my brother said to me. “Do you think you could help us market our dance school?”
I tactfully decided NOT to remind him of the time he told me marketing was bullshit because this project sounded cool (and I liked his girlfriend, so there’s that)!
That’s what started it all. My burning passion for helping small business owners and creative entrepreneurs was ignited when I realized that I could make a difference in my family’s own business!
So, How Did I Get into Online Marketing?
It wasn’t until late in 2010, close to a year and a half after graduating, that I finally managed to get the hell out of that godawful medical device company and find myself a real job in marketing. I ended up with a copywriting job at a software distribution firm (Ottawa is a tech city, in case you hadn’t noticed). At last, I was at least learning something related to what I studied, but oh man! I was really effing bored!
“Who cares how many copies of Microsoft Office we sell?” I thought to myself. “How seriously boring is this campaign for Adobe Creative Suite?”
As I continued working directly with a strong marketing team I started to learn all about email marketing (open rates, A/B testing, etc). I also had my first experience with Google Ads and began to learn about e-commerce.
Slowly but surely, I worked my way up from copywriting and was given the task of managing the company’s online marketing campaigns (Facebook and Google Ads mostly). Online marketing was still REALLY new at the time but I actually had a fantastic boss who valued continuing education and encouraged me to keep learning as much as I could.
The dance studio owned by my brother and his now-wife had opened for business. Every time I learned about a new online marketing tool or tactic in my job I would get SO EXCITED thinking of all the ways I could utilize this knowledge to help grow the dance studio.
The Competitive Dance Season began and I was spending my evenings and weekends at competitions, helping out backstage, cheering from the audience, my mind completely blown by the incredible choreography my sister-in-law had put together, so proud of the innovative props engineered by my brother.
“Software is boring as shit,” I thought. “But THIS is something worth marketing!”
Then I Realized That Working a 9-5 Office Job Was Torture!
“PLEASE HIRE ME!” I begged my brother and his wife.
“We can’t afford to pay you,” they said. “We wish we could, but we’re not breaking even yet.”
“But I’m DYING at work!” I cried. It was kind of true.
I hated setting the alarm and dragging my ass out of bed. I was bored out of my skull in meetings about software sales. After a while, I started waking up with terrible headaches and calling in sick. When I did make it to work, I was mentally checked out and secretly working on dance studio projects when I thought my boss wasn’t looking.
But he was looking and I was reprimanded.
I was desperately looking for another job! Maybe with an advertising agency this time? Maybe if I found something that wasn’t so boring, I’d like work better?
I saw an opening at a company I’d interned at briefly in college. The position paid WAY better than what I was making at the time so I decided to go for it! More money! Whoo Hoo! I was quickly offered a position and began working with… another software company (hmmmm there’s a theme here).
I thought that making more money would help me feel motivated and that things would start to get better! Instead, they just got worse. Way worse. It was like being back at that medical device company. I was surrounded by software developers and engineers and nobody knew the slightest thing about marketing. I had no support, no marketing budget to work with, nothing. So I continued to spend my work days checked out, focusing on dance studio marketing strategies until…
I GOT FIRED!!
Shit! Was I ever humiliated! Fired?? I mean… I HATED my job, I hated working in an office and I HATED driving to work. But fired?? What the hell was I gonna do? It took all the strength I had not to cry as one of the managers stood over me and watched as I packed up my belongings from my desk, glaring at me as if I were some sort of criminal.
But to be honest, it was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me! It was the kick in the ass I needed to turn what I loved into my job! Maybe the dance studio couldn’t hire me yet, but I sure as hell was determined to grow that business! At that moment I vowed to make KaliAndrews Dance Company the most successful school in the whole friggin’ city of Ottawa because dammit I wanted to get paid to do what I loved!!!
Wanna know what happened next? I TRIPLED the number of registrations at the dance studio and turned it into my full-time job!
How I TRIPLED the Size of My Family Business in 3 Years
It was 2013. I had just been fired from my crappy software job, I was embarrassed and didn’t know what to do next…
So, I volunteered to help out in the office at the dance studio for something to do, which turned into my brother offering me minimum wage to stick around. The more time I spent at the studio and the more I go to know the customers and the business, the more I truly believed in its potential. I became filled with passion and determination, doing everything I possibly could to grow that business so my family would be able to pay me a full-time salary.
In other words, their success became my success and I HAD to hustle to make ends meet!
By 2014 the studio was doing well, but it just wasn’t where my family wanted it to be. My brother came to me and asked, “Why isn’t the business growing? What do we need to do to increase registrations?”
“Well… You need to invest in online marketing. Nobody will know who you are and nobody will register if you don’t step your game up.”
“How much do we need to invest?” he asked.
I knew the answer already. I’d done the math so I didn’t hesitate when I told him, “$10,000 would turn this business around.”
“NO WAY!” my brother shouted. “It’s not happening! We just can’t put that kind of money into advertising. We don’t have it.”
I don’t know what came over me, but right then and there I just wanted so badly to see the dance studio succeed! I was so inspired by the students and so proud of what had been accomplished so far and I believed in my own skills enough to know that I could take that $10,000 and turn it into profit.
I may have lost my mind at that moment but…
I Offered to Put Up the Money Myself!
Crazy, right?!?!? I know! But I did it! I managed to get approved for a line of credit (don’t ask me how that happened) and I made a deal with my brother where I would invest the money up front and he would pay me back a percentage for each new customer the business acquired (so basically I took on all the risk, he wasn’t going to pay me back unless there was a return on my investment).
I put that money into Google Ads and I managed that campaign in addition to my administrative work in the main office. And you know what happened?
I GREW THE BUSINESS BY 71% IN JUST ONE SEASON! By the time I left the studio 3 years later, the business had grown by nearly 210% from when I had started. THAT’S MORE THAN TRIPLE!
I made my money back and finally convinced my brother that marketing isn’t bullshit (he’s not really an asshole, by the way, I love him like crazy and I’m just being hard on him cuz that’s what little sisters are for).
Investing Your Own Money in Online Marketing is Fucking Scary, I Know!
I sound like I’m bragging, I know. But the reason I’m telling you this story isn’t to pat myself on the back (ok, maybe a little), it’s because I want you to know that I understand how scary it is to invest your money in marketing. It’s terrifying! There’s a big risk that you may never get that money back. But I took on $10,000 of debt for a business that I really believed in and with hard work it paid off three-fold.
If I can do it, so can you!!!!
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