This is the second story in our new guest post series on career transitions in content marketing! This series will include insights and advice from experts in the field to help guide others who want to change their career path in content.
I have had quite a varied work experience throughout my career, from cinema manager to accountant, and finally an SEO specialist. SEO has been my primary field for nearly a decade now.
As I spent most of my career in SEO, I’ve been employed by various companies within different industries, though I quickly stabilized in SaaS. Being a specialist, however, didn’t fulfill my ambition to one day create an agency, and I always strived for more.
My big break came when a team lead position as an SEO Manager opened up in Tesonet, a company I worked at from late 2018 to 2020. After that I hopped through various companies as the Head of SEO.
There was one thing sitting at the back of my head, though. Way back when I had written down a goal to start my own agency by 30 and I was getting closer to that number.
It didn’t help that I had landed a position as the Head of SEO and Growth Marketing at Oxylabs, an amazing company with a promising future, a great salary, and a stable work environment. Still, I wanted to keep growing.
In the end, I was faced with a decision—I could try to pursue the goal I had set for myself or continue my journey at Oxylabs. I chose the latter first. A blessing in disguise was that there was nowhere to grow as the company wasn’t looking for anyone (at least then) to be a Chief Marketing Officer.
So, after some preparation and hyping myself up, I left the company to start my own agency—Growth Bite.
In a sense, yes. I haven’t done anything quite like it and it’s impossible to compare a safe and stable corporate job to starting your own business. These are two different worlds in how you have to approach work.
In another sense, it wasn’t as “faith-based” as the idiom might make it seem. I never approach any subject, task, or project without preparation and assessment. It’s never purely based on faith that it will work out.
So before leaving Oxylabs, I carefully assessed how many clients I could start with, my financial responsibilities, how I would build my network, and much more. Only when I was sure I could lose my consistent salary and had a good shot at making it work did I go forward.
You need to be mentally prepared. Too many people try to start their own businesses because they think they have an amazing idea or worse, because they are bored or irritated at their current workplace.
While you may have a great idea, what makes a business work is execution. Without preparation, it’s hard to execute well.
As mentioned, I had a goal to start my own agency by 30 and it was always sitting in the back of my mind, constantly reappearing throughout my career. When you have a goal like that, every minor inconvenience in work or life reminds you of it. Your own marketing agency seems much more enticing in those moments.
Another important catalyst for the change was the acceptance that I was both competent and confident enough to do so. There’s a thin line between the two and both are necessary for a successful business journey.
There’s a pervasive myth that confidence is all you need for a successful business, which leads to a lot of heartache. There’s even research to support it—most successful entrepreneurs start their businesses at 40+ years old.
To me, it makes perfect sense. You need confidence because the journey to success is rarely linear. There will be numerous challenges, ups and downs, backtracking, and mistakes. Without confidence, you won’t be able to handle it.
At the same time, you have to be competent and have the skillset that’s required to manage a business. In many cases, this involves doing hands-on tasks for a significant period of time. I think that’s why most successful businesses, even in SaaS, are founded by people much older than the idealized 20-something entrepreneur.
Unfortunately, confidence doesn’t always come with competence. In many cases, it may be the other way around, as evidenced by the Dunning-Kruger effect. You have to be highly skeptical of your skill level while maintaining confidence. It’s like walking a tightrope.
Going back to myself, when I was deciding whether to become a CMO or start my own agency, I realized that I now had the confidence and competence to do both. For the longest time, I either felt not competent or not confident enough. This is what holds a lot of people back—it’s never the perfect time, but if you don’t take the leap, it will never happen.
A lot of preparation happened before I actually started the agency. I had been freelancing for a while, so I had 3 customers by the time I made the jump. That saved me from an initial no-revenue period where new agency owners can find themselves.
In just a couple of months, I’ve reached 13 clients and am currently working with about 10 contractors in-house.
The number changes (in both directions) quite often as is the nature of a marketing agency. As such, I put a lot of effort into finding new ways to get Growth Bite’s name out there.
I’m also looking into opportunities for renting out office space for meetings with both clients and contractors.
On a separate note, being a perfectionist sort of helps with running an agency. Constantly tinkering with pitch decks, the website, and many other aspects of the business brings improvements faster than most would expect. A small change here, another there, and you end up with impressive results in just a few months.
First, you have to be a generalist as an agency owner. In the initial stages of the journey, the actual work that you’ve developed expertise in is a fairly minor part of the day.
A major skill I had to develop was sales. Finding clients, partners, and presenting your services is crucial to your success. While many marketing agency owners would prefer not to have to develop and use these skills, it’s the name of the game.
The marketing skills I’ve carried from my previous position are helpful though since Growth Bite is a marketing agency. While SEO is my strong suit, I always sought campaigns that go beyond SEO fundamentals. So, both in my work and now in my agency, I use the general marketing skills I’ve gained throughout my career.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but my habit of never quite closing off from work has been a boon to my agency, at least during the starting years. I believe I’ll eventually move away from it, but for now it’s essential for the continued success of the business.
Additionally, I’ve always maintained a large network of professionals in all areas of life, not only closely related experts (i.e., marketers). Business is often about what problem you can solve and how fast, so having a large network of people who you can trust expedites that process.
Finally, having a dedicated workspace and regular starting time was an important habit. When you become your own employer, there’s no pressure to start working or even do so at all. So, it’s easiest to just have a set environment and routine that gets you into the groove.
I’d go back to what I said about confidence and competence. Once you decide what sort of business you want to run, you have to ensure that you have both the hard and soft skills required.
Managing a business involves many moving parts that each interact in unexpected ways. You have to be good with people, but also have the hands-on ability to work through problems.
Set the foundations for your success first, don’t work purely on hype. Create a network of (potential) clients, price your services, find reliable partners, and only then start the pivot. If everything goes smoothly, extensive preparations may seem unnecessary. But how many times do things go perfectly in business? Almost never. So don’t bet against yourself.
Lastly, set a timeframe and ways to measure your own skills. It may seem more attractive to stay where you are and continue learning. While at the start it’s usually a competence issue, eventually it becomes a confidence issue. Setting timeframes and measuring your work will help you avoid the other most common pitfall—never feeling ready enough.