What This Entrepreneur Learned Building a Business on Smart Partnerships

What This Entrepreneur Learned Building a Business on Smart Partnerships

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Vicky Llerena is the founder of Social Vibes Media, a New Jersey marketing agency focused on online brand building. Llerena’s passion is helping minority and women-owned businesses establish an online presence that will enable them to generate more leads and get noticed by potential customers. She credits a commitment to networking and building partnerships with fueling her business’ growth.

From Corporate Job to Entrepreneur

I worked in corporate for six years. It was my first job after college. I moved up the corporate ladder from entering journalist information in our database at PR Newswire to creating user guides and manuals as part of the editorial team. I learned the ins and outs of multimedia press releases working for the premiere distributor of news releases at the time – What is content? How is content shared? How is it tracked? One day, I told myself, “I really want to do this on my own. I think I could help friends and family that have small businesses.” So, I saved for about a year and I quit my corporate job to launch Social Vibes Media.

Managing Business Finances

I saved up for a year working my 9-to-5 in corporate and also teaching college courses at night about 4-5 times a week before I left and started the business.

I opened up a business credit card when I started, which was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a small business owner. When you don’t really have a customer base yet, you’re hoping that because you have access to capital with your credit line, your business is going to explode and customers will come to you. It really doesn’t work that way. You need to first bootstrap while you obtain your first few customers and start generating revenue. Then, when you’re more confident, you can apply for a loan or borrow money or open up a credit card or take some of your savings and invest. Until that happens, don’t make the same mistake that I did and open up a credit card and get yourself into debt or borrow money from your savings.

To better manage cash flow, I’ve learned to reduce my overhead expenses and not spend on tools, resources, software, or equipment that I can easily outsource or work in partnership with another company that already has that equipment. For example, we initially started an in-house team of videographers, which was very expensive for us because not only did we have to purchase video equipment like lenses, tripods, and cameras, but we had to purchase software for the editing and laptops for all of the in-house editors. I got into so much debt because of that. We quickly learned that there was a pool of really good freelance videographers, photographers, and directors that you can work with on a project basis that have their own equipment, editing tools, and software.

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Our clients make a 50 percent deposit on our services and then we give our vendors a 50 percent deposit on the services we’ve agreed upon. Once we complete the project and our client pays the balance, we pay our vendors the balance.

Business Challenges and Rewards

The most challenging thing is being the face or the brand of the business. You’re managing the day-to-day projects, but then you’re also having to network and connect with the business community. A lot of it’s time management. When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re working around the clock. There’s not a time when I clock out, not even on the weekend. My evenings are filled with business events. My mornings are phone calls and projects and client meetings.

The most rewarding thing is that I can have team meetings at a coffee shop. I don’t have to be in the office. The best part of that is the sense of freedom and doing what I want to do. Yes, it’s hard work, but there’s more flexibility. It’s a sense of autonomy that I never had working for corporate. It’s 150 times harder, but the feeling that you’re your own boss is great. In corporate, I felt like I was part of a structured rat race.

Lessons Learned

I was very isolated at the beginning and did not understand the true meaning of partnership. I felt like I could grow this on my own. I felt like I had to figure everything out on my own. The minute that I started to understand partnerships and joint ventures and how to connect with organizations and people, it changed things so much for me. The way that I do business is so different now. Naturally, customers enquire about my services now, I don’t have to chase people down.

I’ve learned that partnerships are key to me. Because we are a marketing agency, we offer services like Web design and video content for social. When I partnered about a year ago with a company called Novofex, it was great because we use each other’s resources and I don’t have the burden to hire additional talent or pull in new software or technology.

I made all the mistakes I could make as a small business owner, but I educated myself and talked to my mentors that had gone through this process. They were able to guide me and tell me, “This is what you need to do and this is who you need to connect with.”

Advice for New Entrepreneurs

Save money. Don’t quit your day job just yet. Form partnerships. Learn to delegate work. Know your business.

What’s Next for Social Vibes Media

I was just named a Top 25 Brand Builder by Leading Women Entrepreneurs. I just received an award of recognition from Lead Hudson County for a project we designed that was meant to help small business owners in the Hudson County area. I’m also so excited about my continued partnerships with The NJ Tech Council, The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, and Rising Tide Capital, which is an organization to help entrepreneurs. We’re continuing to work together to create more programs and raise awareness within the small business community in Hudson County.

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About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing (http://www.fireworkwritingonline.com/), located in San Jose, California.

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