Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
At Ascend Marketing, we help small businesses to get more customers who will pay them more money, more often, through educational and Coaching Programs. Our Flagship Principle-Centered Marketing Coaching Program comes with a unique 200% Return On Investment Guarantee.
I’m Jim Ackerman, the founder of the company and the developer of this 1-of-a-kind Coaching program.
We help start-up and established small businesses with their marketing, advertising, and sales systems. These are companies that are typically too small to be able to afford an advertising agency and are run by people whose expertise is virtually anything BUT marketing.
In other words, the very most important skillset they need to succeed is almost always the one most completely absent from their capabilities.
To date, we’ve put over 600 businesses through our program. All have been given the 200% ROI Guarantee, which promises if they don’t see an increase in revenue of at least twice what they pay us, they’re entitled to a refund. To date, we’ve had to refund exactly 1 Coaching Tuition fee.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Back in the early 90s, I had developed a marketing training workshop and newsletter. When people attended our day-long workshop, we were flooded with standing ovations and positive reviews; people claiming they learned more about marketing and advertising from us than in their entire MBA programs. The testimonials about the events were awesome.
While we serve all kinds of businesses, we know our sweet spot. Businesses that are currently generating between $500K and $5M per year are our primary target.
But we found going back to those folks in weeks or months that IMPLEMENTATION rates were abysmally low. We weren’t happy with that. And, while you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, I decided maybe the chances of them drinking would go up if we shoved their faces in the water. The idea of a rigorous Coaching program was born.
I am a former television reporter and ad agency owner, and an accomplished copywriter, specializing in DIRECT RESPONSE marketing. I knew small business people were in desperate need of the kind of help I could provide. But marketing is truly a set of SKILLS, HABITS, AND SYSTEMS, none of which can be developed simply attending an event or listening to audio programs.
My solution was to develop a highly prescriptive program of weekly, 1-on-1 meetings which included specific, skill, habit, and system-building assignments that would require an hour a day from the enrollee. It is NOT like a classroom. It’s more like athletic or artistic training. The practice is a key component, along with high levels of personal feedback and accountability. Not something that can be done any way except 1-to-1.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I had for several years been writing a monthly, paid-subscription newsletter, so we took the content of those past newsletters, compiled them into a manual, complete with audio tapes for back-up, and sold 2 pilot Coaching programs for a mere $1,800 each, to prove the concept. Both were wildly successful so we refined the manual and started inching up the price.
Today, the 6-month basic program goes for $9,800.
The entire process and program were bootstrapped. We had two key advantages; a wealth of already published information that simply needed to be repurposed and reformatted, and access to our past workshop attendees and their referrals.
We have continued to innovate and refine the content and the system. We have a weekly, scheduled call with each client during which we go over their assignments and critique their efforts. They must reach a level of proficiency in each skill or system before the assignments are “passed off” or certified as complete. They typically work on several assignments each week, which are required to be turned in to their Coach 24 hours in advance of the next scheduled session. Coaches go through the assignments in detail and we are not reluctant to send clients back to the drawing board if proficiencies aren’t what we expect them to be.
No other program that we are aware of does this, in any business discipline. Some so-called Coaches tend to be cheerleaders and allow the client to primarily direct the process. Some gurus conduct what they call Coaching programs, but they are small-group teaching sessions. Again, little or no individualization, prescriptive assignments, and little or no specific critique, feedback, or accountability.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our first 2 clients for the Coaching program came from our workshops and we sold those programs for $1,800 each on the back end of the workshop.
Our next price point was $2,400 and another 2 clients, then $3,000 and up by $600 increments until we reached the current $9,800 level.
In addition to past workshop attendees and referrals, we embarked on a marketing program which consisted of 3 one-minute radio spots on 3 stations each, for 3 days each month. We offered a FREE audio program called How To Get More Customers Who Will Pay You More Money, More Often™. Those ads generated 200-300 leads a month.
We invited all who requested the audio program to attend a FREE 2-hour seminar, from which we sold them into the 1-day workshop at $497. Following the workshop, we sold the Coaching program. The entire front end of the process worked at break-even, and we made very good money on the Coaching program.
Again, there was no up-front funding for this. The company was bootstrapped. Having said that, in retrospect, we probably could have used a modest infusion of cash to prime the marketing pump, which would have allowed us to scale more quickly and bigger.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have done several things to attract and retain customers. The first is to provide the 200% ROI Guarantee. Because our service is at a relatively high price point for the kinds of businesses we serve, the Guarantee provides a level of comfort and security. Many clients have told us the Guarantee is what pushed them over the top and convinced them to enroll.
Secondly, while we serve all kinds of businesses, we know our sweet spot. Businesses that are currently generating between $500K and $5M per year are our primary target and if they have a high level of repeat purchase potential we can help them dramatically increase their business in remarkably short periods. The results generate an impressive collection of testimonials that we use to promote to other prospective clients. We do a good job of getting those testimonials on video.
Third, when we find a niche, we exploit it. We have made significant inroads with jewelers, realtors, heating and air contractors, photographers, and others.
Our marketing efforts today are highly dependent on speaking engagements, trade shows, publishing articles, and videos in industry organs and telemarketing. We offer a sample of our services in the form of a Marketing Fitness Check-up, during which we diagnose areas of potential marketing improvement for a company and make recommendations for quick, easy improvements in results. The MFC is valued at $397, but we often give it away or sell it for as little as $97.
I’ll make the MFC available to the Starter Story audience for FREE. Simply fill out this brief 7-10 minute questionnaire. Then hit SUBMIT and we’ll contact you to set up a FREE MFC Consultation.
I also wrote a book a few years ago that remains relevant and may become more so again should the economy continue to reel from the COVID lockdown. The book is called How To Market Your Crap When The Economy Is In The Toilet.
Our services are good enough that about half of our sales are repeat purchases. That may take the form of re-enrolling in Coaching programs, joining our membership, or purchasing other information products and services. Customers may also dip their toes in the water with these less expensive info-products and the Coaching program becomes their repeat purchase.
We have found that video, whether distributed on YouTube or Facebook or through industry digital publications, has been particularly effective in promoting our business. So much so that we have developed video programs for two particular industries currently; retail jewelry and pet-related enterprises.
The YouTube channel is BizKaboom.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today we provide a business opportunity for marketing professionals who want to be on their own as Marketing Coaches, with the opportunity to earn a 6-figure income working less than a 40 hour work week and the ability to enjoy a highly flexible lifestyle.
Coaches perform their services via phone and internet, allowing them to choose their hours and to conduct their business from anywhere they can get phone and internet services. For example, I spent 3 months in Great Britain and Europe a few years ago and was still able to both sell my Coaching programs and conduct my services, all the while exploring England and Scotland and 9 European countries.
Coaches are first tested for marketing competence, then licensed, trained, and certified to sell and conduct our programs. We provide the material, the structure, the back office, and on-going training and support. Coaches spend about 1.5 hours a week with each client and the rest of the time they choose to spend working the business is selling. We provide a variety of marketing tools to help them sell their programs and even provide an ROI Guarantee for their modest up-front investment to become licensed and certified.
Each Coach can serve up to 2 dozen clients a year and still keep their workweek in that manageable, 40 hours or less range.
We are actively seeking candidates to become new Coaches and that constitutes the growth plans for the foreseeable future. We are also open to selling the business anytime in the next 3 years.
Interested candidates can check out the opportunity here.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The most important thing I’ve learned in this process is that lifestyle is more important than mere money. I have raised 9 children through this process and the lifestyle has allowed me to spend time with them and their mother, doing things that money cannot be a substitute for.
The ability to enjoy a comfortable and flexible lifestyle has resulted in successful, well-adjusted children who have all grown up to be entrepreneurial, to be responsible citizens, and to raise good families of their own. Each of the 9 (7 boys and 2 girls) spent between 18 months and 2 years serving as Missionaries for The Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They were sent to all parts of the globe, from China to Germany; from the United States to Venezuela. I would not trade these outcomes for anything.
In the early stages, before developing the Coaching program, I was never home, chasing the almighty dollar in my ad agency and other endeavors. The development of the Coaching program changed all of that and my family benefited greatly, as they will tell you. Unlike my relationship with my father, which was not bad, but not great either, my children are my best friends. They include me and my wife in many of their activities; not in an “Aw, we oughta invite the parents along” way, but in an “I love being with my Dad” way that amazes me.
My greatest advice for helping you achieve financial success in business and still stay in control of your time is to delegate what you can, but retain the roles of Chief Visionary Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, and define and honor at least one hour a day to devote to the “on the business” activities of marketing and innovation.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My most relied upon tools include:
Infusionsoft, from which I have a complete POS system, digital marketing platform, and the ability to develop and deploy sophisticated, multi-channel, fully testable, and trackable, highly automated marketing campaigns.
YouTube for distributing videos that sell.
FreeUP the freelancer platform that allows me to engage freelance services – largely overseas – for anything from patent searches to video editing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
By far the most influential book in my career is Ogilvy On Advertising. This is the “bible” from which I developed my entire direct response marketing philosophy. It was written by the late David Ogilvy, founder of the Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency. Ironically, he is known as the Father of Image advertising, yet he believed heartily in tested and tracked advertising that produced results for his clients.
Other Gurus for which I have great respect and have followed in webinars, live events, podcasts, and subscriptions include:
- Jay Abraham
- Dan Kennedy
- Gary Halbert (deceased)
- Frank Kern
- Ryan Deiss
The first 3 are the old school shamans of marketing and I suspect they heavily influenced the last 2, who are the young bucks of the marketing world today.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
As you’re considering starting a business, or are in the early stages of already starting one, please remember that, as the great industrialist Peter Drucker said, “…there are only two legitimate functions of the business; marketing and innovation. The rest are the expense.”
Remember that when you own the business, your first and foremost responsibility is to BRING IN THE BUSINESS. To that end, make marketing a lifelong study. You can delegate certain marketing functions and tasks but you must never ABDICATE your primary marketing responsibility.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Principle-Centered Marketing Coach
- BizKaboom Small Business Marketing
- Facebook Group
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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