Our Spotlight Interview will feature the story of Kent Lewis, the President & Founder of Anvil Media. His experience in running a business will help our avid startup readers in their venture to start their own Business from Scratch.
Please state your name and a little about your current status.
Kent Lewis, President & Founder, Anvil Media. I’m also the founder of pdxMindShare and co-founder of SEMpdx.
What exactly does your company do?
Anvil is a digital marketing agency specializing in paid media (search engine and social media), search engine optimization (SEO), Amazon, podcasting and organic social media strategy.
How did you start your company/business as a startup?
Self-funded with $1,850 for a used laptop in 2000.
What struggle did you go through to reach your current status now?
My primary challenge was my former employer(s) threatening to sue me if I pursued my past clients, despite having the relationships prior to employment. Fortunately, this was 2000-2002, so there was plenty of other business to be had and I was able to avoid any confrontation with past employers.
How did you manage to cope up with those struggles?
Until hiring employees, my biggest challenge was making the time to sell to new clients and do the pro-bono work I enjoyed (teaching, speaking and working with local charities). I overcame this challenge by hiring employees in 2003.
Who inspired you to move forward and influenced you in all your achievements now?
My first mentor, Delayne, was a senior partner at a PR firm I joined in 1995. She guided me to leave the firm and take a new job at a sister web development agency in 1996, which lead to my successful career as a digital marketer. My second mentor hired me as a digitally-savvy PR consultant at a large Portland agency in 1997.
In 1999, I left that agency to follow him to a startup agency. I learned more about how to run agency teams and agencies. Unfortunately, we had a falling out in 2000 and he died of a heart attack 9 months later. We didn’t have an opportunity to reconnect and I regret that, but forcing me to leave the company I co-founded pushed me to start Anvil a week later.
What piece of advice will you share with those who would like to follow your footsteps?
I recently wrote an article based on a presentation I gave at my alma mater (Western Washington University) on twenty lessons I’ve learned over a 20+ year career as an entrepreneur. I’ve included a link to the two-part article below, but here are my three primary tips:
1. Inspect, do not expect:
Although I’ve been a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (www..eopdx.org) for more than a decade, I’m sometimes slow to learn lessons in business. One business measurement lesson I learned the hard way was how to effectively measure my team’s performance. Early in my career as a manager, the conventional wisdom (that many still swear by today) was to hire smart people and get out of the way. I got the first part right (hiring smart people), but I did not follow through to ensure they knew how to do their job and had the support they needed to be successful. Most importantly, I managed by instinct and perception, which became deadly. Years later, my mentor advised me to inspect, not expect. I immediately instituted a weekly status update, including goals for the coming week and an update on goals from the previous week. It has helped me appreciate what my executive team can accomplish, where they need support and how often they get side-tracked by unanticipated emergencies. My only expectation nowadays is that my team will update me on a weekly basis. Inspect the rest.
2. Measure what matters:
A related lesson to measuring what you manage is to measure what matters. This insight hit me like a truck back in 1996, when my healthcare client based in Alabama asked me to provide weekly traffic reports for their website at the end of each week. For a month or two I faithfully faxed the Excel chart to my client (yep, old school), without a peep. One Friday afternoon, I decided to skip faxing it, figuring I’d send it Monday morning since they didn’t seem to care. I was wrong. The following Monday morning, I arrived at a handful of emails and angry voicemails wondering where the traffic report was, as the executive team and board relied on that data. I then realized that this relatively simple “vanity” metric mattered deeply to my client and I’d underestimated that reality. I diligently reported the site traffic data for the remainder of my interaction with that client but also used it as an opportunity to expand the discussion to include additional metrics that may also provide insights into the company’s health and future growth opportunities.
3. Clearly define goals and associated metrics:
The most successful client engagements I’ve been a part of across 9 agencies and 20+ years as a marketer had one thing in common: clearly defined goals and metrics. Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a large national bookseller, increasing ROI through troubling times for the company. Unfortunately, after nearly a year working together, we could not agree with the CMO regarding objectives, strategies, tactics, and metrics. Realizing we were set up to fail, I resigned from the account. More recently, a similar eCommerce client we enjoy working with shared disappointment in our performance, despite a lack of clearly defined accountability, goals, and metrics. From our perspective, our output and performance were strong, yet our client was measuring us on different metrics and data. Apparently, my learning curve is relatively flat and I’m now requiring the goals and metrics definition as part of our onboarding process with all new clients.
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