Candice Simons is the founder of Brooklyn Outdoor, an advertising agency that specializes in out-of-home media like billboards, hand-painted mural signage, transit walls, and experiential marketing. Started in Detroit, Simons has grown the company to serve clients across the country with offices in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. “We’ve grown immensely in the past four years, which I’m so proud of,” she said. “That’s what keeps me moving forward and keeps us growing. Our business is now in its fifth year. We’ve gone from $600,000 in sales in the first year to upwards of $6 million in 2015.”
Choosing a Path
I went to Michigan State for two years and then moved to finish school at DePaul in Chicago. At the time, DePaul offered a sales concentration. That was the program I ended up connecting with the most, because I found it had the most real-world application. I always struggled in school because I was like, “Why do I need to know this?!” I started getting interested in sales and realized I was inherently a good salesperson.
After I graduated in 2006, I ended up working at a brand-new advertising agency. They were so new that if I wanted anything, I had to build it. That was the biggest blessing in disguise. Throughout the years that I worked there, I really learned all that I could learn and decided it was time to move on.
I moved to Detroit and thought about whether I wanted to start working for someone else or if I wanted to give this a shot myself. Things just naturally fell in place to go down the path I’m going down now. I thought, “If it doesn’t work out, I can just turn around and go back in the other direction.”
Financing the Business
I’m totally bootstrapped. When I moved back to the Michigan area, I bought my house because I thought I might never get a loan again after starting the business. I knew that I had to have my environment around me set.
It’s all you when you start a business. I was using my personal cards to run the business and working as much as I possibly could at the beginning. Unfortunately, for a while I was not doing so hot in the credit department. Historically, I’d always had the best credit because I was so on top of paying every bill. I never like to owe people money. Having that piece of debt was really difficult for me and a huge weight on my shoulders. I got rid of it and it was great, but now I’m going to have to take on more debt to be able to scale the business. I’m at the point of needing to take out loans.
One of the biggest struggles that we have with cash flow right now is that our clients pay 60, 90, 120 days, but we need to pay our vendors upfront or net 30. I just started developing a system to help manage cash flow to make sure that I’m not making decisions that are negative for the company because we don’t have cash on hand. I hired a really great company that offers outsourced bookkeeping and CFO services. On a monthly basis, we go over the financials so that I’m able to put my arms around where we are and where we’re going in the next three months. I’m starting to look at solutions like Fundbox that help companies that don’t have the problem of if the money’s going to come in, but when.
Business Challenges and Rewards
Being everything to everyone is a challenge because there’s only one of me. I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself. I think that’s really important for business owners to continue to improve.
The most rewarding thing is the freedom of owning your own business. There are only so many hours in a day, so being able to reprioritize your day to get certain things done is valuable. When you’re working for someone, you can’t just take two hours off to go to the doctor. Since I’m working from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, I can shift meetings around to have time to take care of myself. I’m also starting to enjoy the fruits of my hard work by taking vacations and things like that.
Also, it’s great to be able to hire more people and actually impact the people around us and our community.
I’ve made mistake after mistake after mistake. Sometimes, entrepreneurs feel like they need to project a sense of success all the time. In reality, that’s not the case, because you’re just trying to keep up.
A huge mistake I made initially was making excuses because I didn’t have the time or the money to do things. I made a list of things that take me the most time like laundry and cleaning. I should have invested in help with those things from the early stage because I would have been able to make money for the business faster. I would recommend that anyone starting out make a list of those things that you just dread and take up so much time. There are many sources out there that can help you conquer them inexpensively so you can spend more time on making money for the business.
We celebrate uniqueness at our company and that’s what makes our company so successful. I’ve always been myself. I’m very unique and I don’t dress the same as everyone dresses in a professional setting. I don’t suggest that for every industry, but we’re in a fun, creative field and all of our competitors are very sterile, corporate, and buttoned up. We are the antithesis of that.
Advice for New Entrepreneurs
The biggest advice I have is to just go for it. If your heart is in it and you feel like there is a need for something in your market, get out there and do it. You just have to put one foot in front of the other. If you don’t succeed, just go on a different path. If you never gave it a shot to begin with, you have to live with that.
What’s Next for Brooklyn Outdoor
We just hired three people over the past few weeks. That’s huge growth for us, since we’re a small company. And we’re seeing the Detroit market really getting a look from a lot of our larger advertising clients, which is exciting! To be at the forefront of that resurgence and rebuilding of the city is really exciting!