This is part of our series called, Entrepreneur Success Stories. These stories will feature individuals or couples who “took the plunge”, whether part-time or full-time, into starting their own businesses. The business owners we feature will share details about what led them to start their business, what they’ve learned along the way and how other potential entrepreneurs can prepare to start their own businesses.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My wife, Nicole, and I live in Omaha, Nebraska and have three young children all age 7 and under. I spent about 12-13 years in the financial services industry but knew that something was missing. I had always wanted to work for myself but never thought it was possible. I left my day job close to three years ago and now run a virtual ad agency along with my wife. At our company, Ink Harmony, we do a variety of things from copywriting to marketing strategy to branding for clients all over the country. We also have a few international clients.
Why did you want to own your own business?
I wanted to have more control over my life. In every role I ever had in the corporate world I lacked passion for my job and I lacked freedom. Yes, I received a paycheck and had benefits but I had very little freedom. Case in point, in my last job, if I ever wanted to take more than five days in a row off I had to have it approved by superiors 3-4 levels higher than I was, superiors who didn’t even know me or my situation. I wanted to have more say over what I could do with my time and wanted the ability to work on things that I wanted to do and that mattered to me. Short story long…I was miserable to the point of getting physically ill by walking into the office. Something just had to change in order for me to enjoy life more.
When did you start the business?
My wife started the business a little over five years ago. She had been a copywriter for about 8-10 years and we just had recently had our second child and she wanted to stay home. She started freelance writing to make up for her lost income. Fast forward two years and we were faced with having to make a choice: turn away clients or hire someone. Seeing as that I was miserable in my job it was a no-brainer that I quit my job and join my wife as partner of Ink Harmony.
What training/experience did you have in your business field before you started?
My wife had been a writer for close to ten years like I said above. I had some experience, but it was much more peripheral in nature when it came to the writing and marketing aspect. From a business standpoint, I gained a fair bit of experience through getting my MBA and used that to help manage the business aspect of what we had going on.
What challenges did you face when starting up your business?
We faced two main challenges in the beginning – getting our name out to potential clients and budgeting. There can be a lot of competition within our niche so it was a challenge bringing in new clients in the beginning. Thus, we really needed to get in front of decision makers and be bold about doing so. Over time we were able to build up a growing client base and the overwhelming majority of our clients now come via word of mouth.
With regards to budgeting our challenge was moving from a more traditional budget to a zero-based budget. Throw in a fluctuating income and it proved to be a challenge the first year or so. Thankfully we had a healthy Emergency Fund to lean on if we had to and learned over time how to deal with the fluctuating income.
How long did you have to run the business before you saw a profit?
Not really long at all – a few months at most. Due to the nature of our business, we really didn’t have much in terms of start-up costs. We had to pay a lawyer to make our business an LLC, which only cost us several hundred dollars and we both already had laptops so we were good to go.
How did the business startup affect your marriage/family?
I feel that it has brought my wife and I closer together. We work together all the time and realize for some couples that wouldn’t work. Of course, neither of us are perfect and get on each other’s nerves at times but it has been great overall. We both bring different strengths to the table which allows us to build something stronger. I know it sounds cheesy, but I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else.
What’s the best thing entrepreneurship has done for you?
I enjoy life much more. We get to choose who we want to work with – which can be very freeing. While we earn more than we ever did in the corporate world, we put in considerably more work…but it’s well worth it in the long run. It has also allowed us to use our journey as a way to begin to teach our kids that coloring outside the lines makes life more enjoyable. I had friends tell me I was clueless and was making a huge mistake when I left my day job. I get it – I have a young family with five mouths to feed. But, those same people are still miserable in the roles they’re in and I’ve never been happier. Again, short story long, that freedom and ability to work on what I want is why I work for myself.
What lessons have you learned about entrepreneurship along the way?
I don’t know long you want this, lol. I’ve learned a ton along the way and rarely a week goes by where I don’t learn something new. I’ve learned a lot about myself in that I tend to lose focus easily. I’ve become much more of a goal setter over the past three years. Having not just a to-do list, but a goal list has done a lot in terms of helping me stay on track.
Another big lesson I’ve learned is to not be afraid of risk or change. We sat on the sidelines for years knowing we wanted to start our own business but allowing fear of risk to hold us back. Now that we see the success of our business I question why on earth we waited, and it was because of the fear of the unknown. Of course, I’m not taking on crazy risk now but am much more apt to take on risk now than I was before I joined Nicole at Ink Harmony.
What advice do you have for those considering entrepreneurship?
Don’t be afraid of it. If you have an idea and see a need for it in the business world then you never know what will come of it. I also encourage you to surround yourself with others that will not only hold you accountable but also those that have some of the similar desires you have as both can be used to push you to be better. I will also say that it’s not for everyone. Yes, there are a lot of great things that come out of working for yourself but it’s not for everyone. Everything is up to you…everything. That includes salary, retirement, insurance, professional growth, getting business and so much more.
That said, if it’s something you want to pursue then do so wisely. Taking that first step has the potential to open up so many other things in life and the last thing you want to do is miss out on those things due to fear. More practically, and much more importantly, have and understand the purpose of an Emergency Fund.
To learn more about John and Nicole’s business, you can visit their website, Ink Harmony.
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.