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grayson_biltmore

Grayson Bell of Imark Interactive

Tell us a bit about yourself and your business:

I’m a married, 30-something father of one, who lives in the heart of North Carolina. I’ve worked in the online space for most of my career. I assist large retailers in my day job with their marketing plans, but at night I freelance. My business is called iMark Interactive. I offer bloggers and website owners assistance with their technical issues, along with website content creation. My business was built based off a need and has grown from word of mouth advertising, my favorite kind!

Why did you want to own your own business?

I’ve been a business owner since before I graduated college. I started my first business in my apartment. It was an online e-commerce company selling electronics. I ran the business for four years and grew it from zero sales to over $1 million each of the last two years. After some relationship and health issues, I decided to shut it down and move on.

My current business was built based on a need for smaller businesses to market themselves online. While it was originally started as an internet marketing company, it’s morphed into a consulting company, which is a true passion of mine. After starting my personal finance blog, Debt Roundup, I realized that many other bloggers didn’t know how to handle technical issues. Since I was blogging when WordPress came out, I knew I had the experience I needed to offer my services to others. It’s grown ever since and people look to me daily for assistance.

My parents, as well as my brother, have all owned their own businesses. Entrepreneurship is in my blood. I love the thought of building something from scratch and making it a success. It’s a thrilling adventure for me.

When did you start the business?

I started iMark Interactive back in 2009, before I sold my other business. As I said, I wanted to help other small businesses with their internet marketing strategies. Since I ran a successful e-commerce company on my own, I wanted to share my experiences and what I had learned.

The current iteration of the company started back in 2013. Many bloggers and website owners started reaching out to me with technical issues. I would help them quickly and in a cost-effective manner. They have been my biggest supporters, spreading my services with good reviews. I’m always excited to meet a new customer and help them when they need it most.

What training/experience did you have in your business field before you started?

I had quite a bit of experience in my business field before I started. I ran my own sites, learned how to code, learned blogging platforms, and other technical aspects. While I was not formally trained in any of the areas I deal in, I learn best by doing. I have been doing this for nearly 10 years. There is no book I’ve found that’s taught me more than just working with my own sites. I wanted to get into this field, so I took the initiative to learn on my own.

What challenges did you face when starting up your business?

The biggest challenges are getting customers. Since I don’t advertise my services, I rely heavily on those who’ve worked with me in the past. This can be daunting, but I know the power of marketing and word of mouth is one of the best forms of advertising you can have.

The other challenge was narrowing my focus to a few specific things. When I first started, I wanted to do everything for everyone. Well, that’s just not scalable. Now, I focus on three main areas: blog management, freelance writing, and website customization/coding. These areas are my bread and butter and what I enjoy doing most. By scaling down my business to three skills that I do well at, I’m able to offer better service to my clients, and grow a bigger business in the long run.

How long did you have to run the business before you saw a profit?

Luckily for me, my business doesn’t have a lot of overhead. My time is where it costs me the most. In the early years, my business was never profitable, but that’s because my client base was too small. Once I changed my focus in 2013, my business was profitable in the next full month of the switch.

That alone told me I was in the right field. I’ve been able to keep my expenses low and work on creating pricing that my customers enjoy and keeps them coming back to me when problems arise.

How did the business startup affect your marriage/family?

I run my business at night, usually after my wife goes to bed. I work hard to strike a nice balance between my family and my business. I spend time with my son, put him to bed, then cook dinner and eat with my wife. We watch a little bit of TV, then she goes to bed. I follow and head into my office for work. I’m not a morning person, so night time is when I do my best work!

What’s the best thing entrepreneurship has done for you?

Entrepreneurship has taught me that I can do almost anything I want as long as I’m willing to put the work in. There will be failures, but also successes. I don’t’ get discouraged when I fail. It actually motivates me more to push through and find the success.  Running a business has also given me pride in a product I’m happy to deliver to my customers. There’s nothing better than getting a “thank you” email from a customer who you helped fix a problem. That’s why I do what I do.

What lessons have you learned about entrepreneurship along the way?

The number one lesson is that it’s is not for everyone. You can’t just start a business and hope it becomes a success. If you’re not willing to work your tail off, then it won’t make it. Remember, most “overnight successes” are not really that at all. Facebook was running for years before it hit the mainstream. There is no such thing as an overnight success.

You have to be incredibly creative when running a business. You have competition everywhere, so you need to know how to do your job better and smarter than your competition. It’s the only way you survive.

What advice do you have for those considering entrepreneurship?

If you have an idea for a money making venture, then make sure you do your research. Find a good business name, secure the domain and the name with your state. Those are low cost things you can do immediately, even before you finalize what direction you want to take your business.

After that, moonlight the business idea. Test the waters. If you want to use your business as a stepping stone away from a job, then you should always test its likelihood of success. There’s nothing worse than jumping in with both feet and immediately sinking to the bottom. Why not put one foot in for a bit until the water warms up, then go in?

Not all business ideas are going to work. I’ve had tons of them. Most of them failed, but few have been successes. It’s like a diamond in the rough. You need to be willing to dig around in order to find it.

Note: This is part of a series called Entrepreneur Success Stories, which features people who took a chance on starting their own business.  If you have an Entrepreneur Success story, I would love to hear about it. Please visit the contact page to let me know the details.