By Ross Wade, Elon School of COM Career Guy
Mr. Fred Sexton, Founder and CEO of Mouse and Man, an internet marketing firm in Charlotte, connected with me via email after reading some of the EyeOniMedia blog posts. I thought he had some great insights on internet marketing, but I was really interested in how he started his own business. Fred was kind enough to answer some questions…check ’em out below:
1. Why did you decide to pursue a career in design/interactive media/web marketing?
I graduated with my degree in business management from NCSU (sorry Elon grads). I had interviewed a couple of companies throughout college and did some temp work at a large corporate company. I wasn’t offered a job through any of the interviews and the temp job “layed me off”…although I didn’t know you could really get layed off. Either way, I found it bluntly obvious that I wouldn’t make it in corporate America with staff meetings and your boss’s birthday party that everyone was forced to pretend like they were happy. I never liked the idea that someone else can control your destiny. Does that mean I’m a control freak? No! I actually have little control over day to day stuff with what we do now. The biggest thing for me now is to pay people as much as possible based on their performance. This is also partially how I generate revenue and is one of our main differentiating factors as well.
At any rate, to answer the question asked, I’ve always been drawn to how things look and how humans react to design. Check out my more traditional art website for more on this, fredsexton.com. So, I graduated from NC State with no job lined up and starting with my Dad who ran his own company (in lieu or corporate America). I did some graphic design and marketing types of things…all computer related. I felt I was learning a lot and slowly talked with other friends who needed small “ web jobs”. After a couple years of kicking this around I inevitably got too big for my own good and incorporated and started an official business. However, I got to the point of changing the business from more of less my hobby (design/art) and to a real business. I tell people know that I’m in the eyeball business, which means that I control the flow of internet traffic and what eyeballs look at online.
2. What did you do in college to grow your skills? Internships? Mentors?
I’m pretty pessimistic about my college education. Most of the classes I took were a complete waste of time, aside from me learning how to do things that I didn’t like to do. But now that I’m a boss I have other people do all of this stuff so this skill really isn’t needed as much anymore. I think one of the more important ones though was public speaking. However, overwhelmingly the entrepreneurship program/classes/series that Gary Palin (now at Elon) I got started with was amazing and really changed my life. I never knew I could work that hard and really love what I was doing so much. I hate to think what I’d be doing now without it. I probably spent 10-20x more time on this discipline in college than anything else related to my formal education. There were a couple people associated with the entrepreneurship program that I really latched onto but no one I could say with at the mentor level. This I think is my one big regret because I think having one at this crucial stage in your life and moving forward it very important to be able to bounce all kinds of stuff off someone who’s “already been there” and that you can really connect with and trust.
3. How do you network and grow your business?
I grew my business by working really hard. This isn’t a bad thing though if you love what you do. I networked by going to local events. Most of the ones I found though you were really bad. I felt like I left with a bunch of cards from realtors. There were a couple though I liked and got better at these higher level ones. Basically, it was people/companies that I aspired to be like, smart, quick, agile, fast, ect. I think it’s important to surround yourself around others that you want to be like…not the other way around just to make you feel special or important.
4. What advice would you give to someone considering starting their own company? First steps?
Do it! Stop messing around with your business plan. It’s never going to be finished. If it’s a really good idea then get someone else to hire you to work in this field then learn as much as you in can while perfecting your own business. Also, when you launch outsource the crap out of everything…payroll, accounting, website, CRM, technology, phones…just stick to directly what makes you money for your business. It will cost you (much) more but you won’t be spinning your tires trying to learn Photoshop at 2:00 AM to create a brochure to get to a printer in the morning for a presentation next week.
5. What are your professional goals over the next 5 years? 10 years?
5 year goal is to be the company that EVERYONE knows for internet marketing. We’re going to have local offices in every major city in the USA. 10 years = world domination.
6. What has been the greatest challenge of starting your own business?
Delegation..you can’t do everything.
7. What has been your greatest success?
Understanding what your (or your businesses) weaknesses are and finding good people to fill these gaps.
Just to add to Fred’s advice…prior to being a career counselor, I worked in multimedia, and I have a couple of friends that started their own business after working for someone else, and have been quite successful. It can be done.
Below are tips for starting your own business or working for yourself:
- Find a mentor. Connect with your career services office to find alumni that have started their own business.
- Know what you want to do and your plan for doing it. Most folks call this a business plan.
- Connect yourself (network) with others that are successfully doing what you are doing. I suggest doing some searching on LinkedIn or good old Google. Informational interviews are a great way to connect with folks.
- Know and understand the steps to starting your own business. Be informed and know what you are getting into before you start.