Contrary to the dreaded hours, even months some of us spend scrolling through job boards, editing every cover letter 1527462 times only to receive back an automated email knowing our applications are lost in cyber-space, I happened to make one of my favorite connections yet while job hunting and finishing up my MBA last spring.
I met with Justin a couple of times post-email to learn more about the position and was not only drawn in by his knowledge for the industry but more so his casual and laid-back demeanor. You meet him one time and leave feeling like a partner or colleague instead of a pitched, sales victim. Even after deciding to leave the marketing world to pursue financial planning, I still look to Justin for unbiased career advice and appreciate our shared interest in maintaining relationships.
*Speaking of relationships, Justin has referred a handful of Reference Club interviewees to me and rents LASANAN's office space from Alex Bandar's Idea Foundry (previously featured) in Franklinton.
In the short time I've known Justin, he hasn't only added value to my professional development but has made me feel valued as well. And I think that's what it's all about.
The Reference Club: Tell us how LASANAN became LASANAN.
Justin Moodley: The agency developed from my personal consulting business. After spending about 10 years of being a hired gun at other organizations, I had a realization that there was a better way to run a marketing agency.
The actual process was a reverse engineering exercise, which is something we do for our partners nowadays. I knew that I wanted work/life balance, to be able to do my job from anywhere, to exclusively work with people that I respected, generate enough revenue to pay myself a nice salary, and make a positive social impact.
From that (really ambitious) end-goal, I created a checklist of all the milestones that I would need to hit in order to get there, and then spent a couple of months developing the brand.
TRC: There are a ton of boutique-size marketing firms in Columbus. What makes LASANAN different?
JM: A lot.
We specialize in digital strategy, and we’re not looking to grow out of that to become a full-service agency. The core of our business includes analysis, strategic planning, experimentation, and training. A significant portion of our revenue is actually driven from other agencies that specialize in creative services like branding, design, media production, and development.
We also have a unique business model. For the most part, it ties into this liberating concept of not being driven by billable hours. We’re a hybrid agency in that we’re focused on providing services, but it’s not the only way that we generate revenue.
SIDE NOTE: Traditionally, marketing agencies grow when they increase their volume or margin on billable hours. That means the firm is motivated to overwork their staff and/or under-deliver to clients in order to maximize profits, and it manifests in several toxic ways.
For example, if you come up with a service package that follows a strict process, chances are you can hire entry-level people to follow a repetitive process which isn’t custom to your customers. That kind of mind-numbing work isn’t engaging for the top marketing talent that’s out there, and you’re forced to incorporate “B and C grade” employees into your organization. And in the end, the client isn’t getting a thoughtful approach to growing their brand, they’re just getting busy work that’s packaged nicely.
I didn’t want to fall into that trap with LASANAN.
TRC: From our first conversations, I've always thought your business model makes sense. You and I have talked about transparency and how important that is now, more than ever. If you can't explain what you're going to do and how you're going to do it, it's hard to make a business deal with intelligent people. Okay, next one: A time I failed at something business-related was________.
JM: Just one thing? Ha.
On the surface of any startup, there are always failures in that you’re never doing things perfectly. There’s so much trial and error that has to take place so that you’re able to more-quickly get to where you want to be, and experimentation is at the core of what we do both for ourselves and our partners.
It’s tough for me to point out just one specific failure, but I can tell you that I’m very careful about the relationships that LASANAN enters into. We approach our relationships with vendors and clients as partnerships, and its disruptive when there isn’t a mutual benefit to our collaborations.
TRC: That was a trick question, everyone is probably relieved to know there wasn't just one failure. Would your high school friends be shocked to know what you’re doing with your career right now?
JM: Ha - I honestly don’t think most of them understand what I do enough to be surprised. I still consider a handful of people from my high school as close friends, and I don’t think any of them could tell you what a marketing strategist does.
I was always a social kid and enough of a nerd that I don’t think anyone would be surprised I found myself in the startup and marketing verticals.
TRC: In your industry, what’s your opinion on cold-calling to generate leads?
JM: We personally don't do any cold calling but I understand why some do. Our best relationships have been through referral. When someone is able to say, “You should speak to Justin” or “You should look into LASANAN”, it’s those who are the absolute best customers to have as well as the best people to work for and with. We’ve reached out to 20 to 30 people who have never heard of us last year and maybe one turned out to be someone we ended up working with in a meaningful way.
However, we think there’s a difference between “cold-calling” and just reaching out to people via email or social media to tell them what they’re doing is cool, without it sounding like a sales pitch. I’ll just say something like “we, as a collective company, like what you’re doing and I just wanna say hi, that we think it's cool.” We've found that a small percent of the time, people will see our domain name in the email address and will want to know what LASANAN is. Even if nothing comes of it, I’m happy to tell a local craftsman or artist when they’re doing something cool. I enjoy spreading positivity and think when you do that enough, people will acknowledge that, start a convo, and even end up being people to build great connections with. As long as we're nurturing a circle of really good people, we don’t feel the need to focus on building a sales department, and I never really want to do that.
TRC: What’s your best piece of networking advice?
JM: So this is tough because I’m naturally a little introverted. I don’t go out and shake a lot of hands. I was at an networking event last Thursday and I was more motivated to go to this cool new rooftop place than actually meet anyone. So if I do have any advice when it comes to networking, don’t do it broadly, do it targeted. I primarily want to network with other marketing agencies who can compliment what we do and I want to network with end-users and brands who appreciate what we do. So instead of going to trade shows or general marketing events in town, we normally try to cultivate some kind of shared communication or try to get involved with something where people have the option to learn more about us if they’re interested but not in a way where we’re pushing it on them. I’m really bad at selling what we do but I’m good at selling in solutions to people. We had an 80% close rate this year on proposals we sent in, which I think is because we were only targeting people we thought we could really help and add value for.
I’d also suggest to avoid talking about what you’ve done in the past, but instead what you’re able to do for someone.
TRC: You mentioned "don't do it broadly, do it targeted" when it comes to networking. Can you expand on that?
JM: I think it’s harder to grow if you’re really broad but it’s easier to maintain your marketing opportunity if you’re broad. So the way my mind works is, traditionally, if you’re going to run a pilot program to figure out what works, you’re going to cast a net and find out what pockets work. There’s a huge cost saving when you plan and narrow down on something. Some people think, lets just throw something out and see what sticks but I don't think you should do that.
TRC: How would you describe what you do to your kids?
JM: I think I’ve explained it to my two-and-a-half-year-old son before that I help people who have their own businesses like me (I try to drive home to them that I’m an entrepreneur). I always try to explain to them that daddy is in a support role and that there are other people who struggle like me to run their business better and I’m just a resource for all of those people.
TRC: What’s your favorite part about what you do?
JM: I like that I’m able to help people who are going through the same struggles as me. At the end of the day, we’re both businesses trying to grow . The neat thing is that by our clients allowing us to help and do business with them, they’re helping us as well. It’s a really beautiful, symbiotic relationship.
TRC: Okay, this one is sort of tacky, but what would your autobiography be called?
JM: Hm, so because I’m a poker player, something with the term “grinder”. It’s a term poker-players use to describe someone who commits regardless of what the return is. They’re trying to make their craft better and improve their life. “Grinding Through Entrepreneurship” or something like that. It’s how I’ve always approached everything; stay focused, stay true and as long as you do those two things while working hard, you’ll get to where you want to be.