BTSB: Jeff Small of Strategic Media

Below are some excerpts from our conversation with Jeff Small, founder of Strategic Media, a radio advertising company based in Maine that has a client list featuring the likes of Vistaprint, FanDuel, and eharmony.  Jeff has built the company around a core competency in traditional radio and his company has doubled over the last five years thanks to that focus.  Now, Jeff is looking out to 2025 with two goals in mind: to build expertise and business in the exponentially growing podcast sector and to donate $1 million dollars to local charities–the combination of which give Jeff and his team both purpose and drive.

You can listen to the full episode by clicking the audio image below, on our website, or on iTunes (more podcast players coming soon!).  Know someone who would be great on the Big Time Small Business podcast?  E-mail in at podcast@chenmarkcapital.com.

We are taking a short break for the holidays, so look out for our next episode on January 11th!

Sometimes, ignorance really is bliss

I think that I was young enough to not know any better, brave enough to take the risk, ignorant enough to not know what I didn’t know, [and] cocky enough to think I can do this.  There’s a big benefit to not knowing all of the pitfalls that are ahead.  I jumped into it with both feet, confident that I could make a go at it, and do it as well as anybody.  I knew that I was an excellent media buyer, so I was ready to prove to some people that we could do it.

I didn’t have anything to lose, so to speak.  My wife was working, so [she] could support the start of the company.  I was all in.  I was ready to go and do whatever I needed to do to make it a success.  It wasn’t a problem working 16, 18 hour, days because I was young, and had the drive to do that, and the excitement of starting something that was my own.

Are your employees’ families sleeping well?

At any given time I want to make sure that not only the 30 people that work for me, but their families, are sleeping well knowing that I’m looking beyond three or six months down the road, but I’m looking [out to] 2025.  Where are we going to be, and how are we going to get there, and why is it important?  That forward thinking, I feel, is something that a lot of people lose sight of that aren’t in my shoes, or aren’t in the business owner’s shoes, [to make] sure that there’s a plan in place to get where the company can be sustainable.

I’ve had to develop [that] over time. It didn’t come naturally.  There were a couple of tough times where I pulled myself away from the day to day, and things didn’t go as I anticipated.  I had to step back [in].  It didn’t happen the first time.  It didn’t happen the second time.  But the third time, we were in a position that I could bring on people that had the skillset, had the talent, had the experience that I needed to look a little bit further out.

Growth doesn’t have to be uniform or ubiquitous

In the last five years, we’ve more than doubled in size from where we were in 2013, which is really fantastic and exciting.  We put together some stretch goals over the last couple of years for the team, and they delivered on them.  My focus over the next couple of years is to not minimize that growth, but limit that growth, and really identify where we can be even better than we are now.

I want to give my team, much like I have, the time to step back and look at how we can do things better–really peel back a couple layers–and to put that into our planning for future years.  As we grow the podcast side of the business and look for growth with the agency there, it will allow my legacy division to focus on improving some of their systems even more so.

Push the limits, feel the reward

One of the things that I’ve learned from my staff on the terrestrial side of the business is the limitations and barriers that they felt they had three or four years ago really don’t represent the truth. There are challenges that people put up with [because of] an expectation of what’s normal, or what they’ve created as normal.

That’s probably one of the things I enjoy most as a business owner, is working with people to help them see what their potential is and see that if we streamline certain processes there really are ways that they can accomplish a lot more.  When you push the limits on what you thought you could do, you might be exhausted at the end of the day or the end of the week, but it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding than being tired at the end of the day because you didn’t know what to do for the last two hours.

People, at least the feedback I get, feel very rewarded just with their professional growth.  In a small business they might not have a different title than they had two years ago, but they’re doing a lot of different projects, a lot of different work, and it keeps them very engaged.

Find your purpose

Our profit-sharing plan is tied to a giving back initiative.  So, one of the bigger benefits we have is that for every X amount of dollars that we advertise on behalf of our clients, we give $1,000 to a local charity.  Going to 2025, that number sticks out because I do have a goal by 2025 to give a million dollars to local charities.  That is an 11-year stretch starting in 2014.  We’ve got a ways to go–we’ll be at about $300,000 through the end of this year which is really exciting–and it’s something I’m really proud about.  I’ve asked people that work for me, “What are organizations that you’re interested in? How can we help support them? What is important to you?” 

Giving back here locally has been something that I probably have as much pride in as anything.  When things are hard, we can point to that and say,“Look, if we hit this metric, we’re gonna be able to do XYZ with this [charity].”  It gives [us] more purpose than just saying, “Let’s go be excellent media buyers. Let’s go really refine our process with the data that we’re using.”  But why are we doing that?  What’s the purpose behind it, beyond providing a livelihood for the 30 people that work at Strategic Media, and driving great business for our clients?  It’s a little bit more meaningful.

Have a great week,

Your Chenmark  Team

Subscribe to Weekly Thoughts