Heart of the Entrepreneur - The Sweet Science
Martha Piland // MB Piland By Rick LeJuerrne
To the casual observer, boxing can be a brutal sport where the sole objective is to beat your opponent to a pulp, but below the surface there is so much going on tactically and strategically between the combatants that boxing is much more like chess than a bar room brawl. It is elemental, simple yet complex.
For the entrepreneur, marketing is the sweet science. It is the magic that makes everything go. It is the most important skillset of the entrepreneur. And just like the great fighters, great entrepreneurs make it look easy. Their businesses work. Sales are made. Customers are happy. But what looks simple on the surface is not; it is often the result of a combination of a hundred different little actions executed carefully by the entrepreneur.
No one has mastered the marketing skillset, the sweet science, quite like Martha Bartlett Piland. Fifteen years ago she started MB Piland Advertising & Marketing and since that time she has built a successful business out of sharing the tactics and strategies that entrepreneurs need to know. Recently, I sat down with Martha to discuss what it takes.
RICK: Do you remember when you first got the idea to start MB Piland?
MARTHA: Gary (Martha’s husband) and I were in a restaurant in Chicago. I had been mulling over the idea. I was working in a corporate marketing position at that time and I was really missing the chaos and energy of the agency business. We were having dinner and I was daydreaming out loud, “wouldn’t it be cool if I could start my own agency.” Gary said, “Why don’t you? There is no reason you can’t do that.“ That was my light bulb moment. I thought, “I can do this.”
RICK: What did you do next?
MARTHA: At that point, I started researching and wrote my business plan. Then I gave my notice to my boss, quit my job, and started. I remember that time very clearly. I didn’t have any clients when I started. A lot of times a new ad agency starts when someone leaves the agency where they’re employed and takes a client with them. I started from scratch. I had my home office, my computer, my brand that I worked up, and I just started.
RICK: One of the attributes of entrepreneurs that make them different is their ability to deal with uncertainty. Starting out with no clients, it doesn’t get anymore uncertain than that…
MARTHA: In the early days, I was just calling people and taking them to lunch, telling them what I was doing, and using my network to get the word out. I remember some days thinking, “What have I done? Was this a big mistake? Is this going to be okay?”
RICK: Did you have a contingency plan?
MARTHA: No, it was going to work! I had my plan but it didn’t say, “I’ve got this many months to make it.” I assumed that we would be a viable product.
RICK: Do you remember the moment you knew you were going to make it?
MARTHA: I remember I had a major pitch to the Kansas Department of Commerce really early on, for tourism. We made the top two in the cut. We didn’t get the account. But to me that was huge, because the client had been around, they had worked with agencies before. For us to have made it that far… And the agency that won the job was really good. It was great credibility for us, good external validation.
RICK: What is your secret for “Working on your business, not just in it?”
MARTHA: I think you plan your work and work your plan. You have to do that. You have to be focused. And you have to be self-disciplined. I don’t think there are any lazy entrepreneurs. You can’t be. It is too easy to get sidetracked and waste time doing the fun stuff and let the hard stuff languish. I try to do the hard stuff first.
RICK: What does it mean to be entrepreneurial?
MARTHA: I think people can be entrepreneurial whether they are in business for themselves or not. It is a way of thinking about looking for new opportunities and ways to grow your business or the enterprise you are working in and acting on those with vigor, intention, strategy, and purpose. I also think being an entrepreneur is a lot like climbing a mountain with two dull steak knives. It’s by your own force of mental toughness and will that you are going to get to the next height.
RICK: Do entrepreneurs get enough credit?
MARTHA: Yes and no. If someone hasn’t been a business owner, they can’t really know what it is like. How much you pay in taxes when you’re self-employed. All of the administrative tasks you have to do. What it feels like to lose a major client. I think about the entrepreneur who gets up every day through the good and bad. It can be hard. It is difficult to appreciate, but do people respect entrepreneurs? I think they do.
RICK: What is the toughest part of being an entrepreneur?
MARTHA: The toughest part is also the best part, and that is, it rides on you. I am fortunate to have a great team around me, really stellar people, but still, ultimately what we do are my decisions. I can screw it up or do it well. I either have the rewards or the painful results. So sometimes that can be tremendous pressure.
RICK: Can you believe it has been 15 years?
MARTHA: In some ways it feels like more than 15 years and in some ways it feels like a lot less. I think about my abilities and what I knew then and I feel like I have grown tremendously. Fifteen years ago the idea of cold-calling someone was intimidating. Obviously, I did it, but it was mentally hard work for me. Now it is kind of fun.
RICK: Anything else you can share about being an entrepreneur?
MARTHA: A friend recently sent me a note with a quote on it that I thought was appropriate for entrepreneurs, “Life without risk isn’t an adventure, it is a shame.” I like that, it suites me. The risk and uncertainty can be scary, but the adventure—the reward—is well worth it…
Heart of the Entrepreneur
Starting and growing a small business without spousal support is extremely difficult if not impossible. Make sure you both understand what it is going to take to be successful and that there will be sacrifices along the way.
Martha said it best – plan your work and work your plan. But be flexible. It never turns out exactly like you planned it.
There are no lazy entrepreneurs. It takes focus and self-discipline.
Sharpen your steak knives. You are going to need them. Not sure what this means? Read the article!
Do your employees share your purpose and passion for the brand? That is the first step to aligning your internal and external brand. Doing so will grow company sales measurably.