The Campaign Workshop is a Washington, D.C.-based political advertising firm that helps get messages out for democratic groups and candidates running for office. Founder Joe Fuld recently spoke with us about his experiences starting and growing the business.
How did you get started with your business?
I had been at other advertising firms prior to this. I had been a partner at other places, run campaigns, been a chief of staff in the New York State Legislature, and owned another business more than a decade prior. I started doing advertising consulting in about 2000. I found something I really loved to do and wanted to build a business out of it.
Who was your first customer?
Relationships matter a whole lot. People having confidence in you matters a whole lot. My first customers came out of work that I had been doing and people I knew. I just doggedly called people to find out through my network what was available and who needed help. I really showed people that I could help them.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
At the beginning, I funded the business. But, as I’ve grown the business, I’ve worked with banks to get financing. That is hard to do at the beginning.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
One of the biggest mistakes I made and learned from was not having systems, and needing to develop systems for things quickly. I learned very fast that, if I was going to succeed, I needed to not only have a good product, but a system to make good products. In whatever business you’re in, you need to be able to replicate things and do things consistently over and over again. Consistency is what builds a good business. Otherwise, customers can’t rely on you.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
I built relationships and was open to explaining to people not only what I could do, but also what I could not do. Sometimes, when you start a business, you’re willing to take on any client to do anything. Understand what you’re good at and what kind of work you really want to take on.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I learned how to run a business by being an employee at other folks’ businesses and seeing what they did. Then, I became a partner in some businesses and learned more. I’ve also learned a lot from other businesses. I’m a member of EO, the Entrepreneur’s Organization, which has taught me a great deal by being able to connect with other business owners and really work with them. Coaching and mentorship from the people I’ve met through EO has been a huge help to me in learning how to run a business.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
The best thing is to be able to build a great culture with employees. And to have success for my clients – To be able to help them achieve their goals.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
You can’t say, “yes,” all the time. There are going to be things that you’d like to do, but you are just not able to do at a given time. You have to set limits on what you can do and what you can’t do. That is hard when you’re the boss.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
It’s surprising how fast it all goes. Six years have flown by really quickly. It feels like yesterday when it was starting. You have to try to stay ahead of it all.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
There are a lot. Peter Fenn, Hal Malchow and Scott Widmeyer were bosses at previous companies who have been friends and mentors. These are all people who have helped me along the way. Also, the entrepreneurs in my EO forum have all made a huge difference to me. Looking at people both in your field and out of your field can really help you see how to run a better business. Sometimes, we are myopic and only look at people within our business as role models. But, I think a broader view is really helpful.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Plan, but don’t plan too long. You need to have a plan and think about your budget, but sometimes people have an inability to start. Sometimes, you need to figure out what your product is and start promoting it while you’re planning.
Don’t wait too long to hire. You can’t wait to hire someone when you need them, you need to hire them before you need them. By the time you need help, it’s too late.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
So many things!
I wish I knew how long it would take to grow the business the way I wanted.
I wish I knew how quickly time flies and that you need to have a vision and a plan for not just a year from now, but for three or five years from now.
I wish I knew how important hiring is. I was lucky in that I got good core people around me. I think every single day about how important it is to have a good team.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.