Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Barb Ferrigno, and I started Concept Marketing Group – a full-service marketing company. I started in 1978 working solo out of my home, and I grew the company over the years to 6 employees and 8 subcontractors.
I downsized the company to 2 employees and 4 subcontractors as I’m looking to retire within 4 years. What do we offer? Direct Mail Lists, Email Marketing Lists, Specialty Directories, Consulting, Writing Services, Business Coaching for the Executive Staff, Sales Team Coaching, Social Media Services, PR Services. I have 8,000 clients both global and international with new clients coming on board every week. We average 25 to 50 new customers a month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
How did I come up with the idea of starting a marketing company? Back in 1978, I was diagnosed with an immune disorder, and my doctors felt I would have a healthier lifestyle if I started my own business and could control my hours. The seed was planted in me!
We need to get it right the first time, there is no second chance so precision is extremely important.
At the time, I was working in the sales and marketing department of a large food distributor, and I loved what I did. I began planning out my transition into my startup business. It took me about 4 months to structure the business, come up with a solid business plan, and then put it into motion. I started with $500 and a computer. Little did I know that this small business would take me onto the Internet in 1994 and take off from underneath me! Controlling my hours – haha! I live and breathe this business because I love what I do. Over the years, I’ve put in 12 to 14 hour days and reaped the benefits.
When I launched the company, I wasn’t planning on growing it into a full-blown business with employees. I was thinking small and wanted to make it comfortable for me while I was raising my children. At the time, I was content with a handful of clients. Enter the Internet which changed my business completely. Starting on the Internet in 1994, you put up a website to introduce your company and offer free resources to draw people into your site. From there, people would contact you for services.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
One of the products I offered for free was an Associations List with key information on the association, their executives, etc. It was a big hit, and soon people were contacting me wanting to get the information on the disk (that’s how old this product is). I did it for a nominal fee and couldn’t keep up with the demand for it.
Then a particular client asked me to expand the list, and he would pay for me to do this – he also said it was something that would be a moneymaker for me as many businesses were wanting this information. I didn’t have an interest in expanding it, at that time, so I told him I’d think about it; he’d call me every 3 to 4 months asking me if I had changed my mind.
About 2 years later, after many, many calls he broke me down and I said I would do it. Did it change my business! It was the number one moneymaker on the website, it’s offered on a subscription basis so we have yearly renewals and it added $250,000 of revenue with this product alone to the business yearly. A new business plan had to be constructed!
Since we already had the directory compiled, and we're offering it for free, we decided to expand the data on each association. We added contact information with emails, staff size, member size, meeting/convention information, and publications. We also made it searchable on our website through an annual subscription. It allowed us to continuously update the data and make it available in real-time.
It kicked off right from the start as we had been offering it for free up until this point, and by adding the extra data it became a valuable resource and selling tool for our clients.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I believe in making your business easy to find on the Internet. We have used a combination of press releases, Google Ads, organic searches, social media with LinkedIn being my best draw for networking, client referrals, and word of mouth. It all works together. We send out a weekly newsletter to keep in touch with prospects and clients and offer sale pricing on specific products or services each month.
We approach it differently. We are more targeted to the industries that sell products and services to associations. In addition, many libraries and colleges use our products so we are constantly changing our approach with the current marketing trends.
I also believe in giving back to businesses, and I mentor small business owners as well. I remember the startup days and I know the struggles everyone is up against. If I can help other businesses succeed, I’m a success story. With our existing customers, we are always bringing new products and services to help them adjust to the changing marketing trends. We always try the products and services out on our company first so if there are any mistakes or tweaking to be made, it is perfected before it is made available to clients.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
With the onset of covid, things did slow down but we are on the upswing. I’m looking to work 4 more years then retire, but the business is steadily getting back to “normal “ and we are bringing on new customers every week. I have increased our social media marketing through LinkedIn as this platform works the best for us. I also reach out to companies on an individual basis as developing a relationship is key to the success of any marketing platform.
When I’m ready to retire, I would like to hand the business over to an entrepreneur just starting, stay on for a couple of years to train them and make sure they’re stable, and retire knowing my customers are in good hands.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Over the 43 years, I've been in business, I’ve learned a lot of business strategies. We all make mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned to test new products out on my company first, make sure they are successful and tweak them to be better, then roll them out to clients. The biggest lesson I have learned through this is that mistakes will be made, don’t panic - work through them with a clear head and apply the new strategy. Listen to your customers, staff, and any outside vendors that may be involved, take all of their suggestions, and make it work. Things will come together and, in most cases, success campaigns are achieved.
Be passionate about your work, be consistent, don’t ever give up, and don’t be afraid to ask another entrepreneur for advice.
I’ve also realized that you have to “roll with the punches” as there will always be deadlines to meet, clients to please, and “ups and downs” during the process. Stressing about things doesn’t help you meet the deadline sooner – it cripples the progress of the campaign. Being consistent in your work, no matter what problems arise, will keep you on track and make the campaign a success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I believe in using third-party software as it’s usually very user-friendly and, in many instances, it can offer a good solution to streamlining your daily/weekly office tasks. I use it. You need to be diligent about researching and using any trial subscriptions before you purchase them as you can waste a lot of valuable time, and money, if you choose the wrong software and have to start over again.
- Hubspot CRM is a very user-friendly software that will streamline your business, staff time and, in my case, take the place of two employees. It makes it easy to contact clients and prospects, leave notes for my staff, work on creativity together with staff and send out emails promptly with follow-up.
- MailChimp is a great email marketing platform with a free account with limited features that allows you to see if this will work for your company. Their staff is very knowledgeable and always willing to help if needed.
- I use Wix for my website. I feel this is one of the best software platforms for building and maintaining a business or consumer website. Very little website building knowledge is needed, their support is knowledgeable and has a very fast response time. The apps and widgets offered are simple to use and very user-friendly.
For social networking, I primarily use LinkedIn and Hunter.io as, in my opinion, they work hand in hand.
- LinkedIn has been an excellent business networking tool. I have, by far, made more connections, networking opportunities and brought on new clients through this social media platform. I find that people who have profiles on this site are looking for new networking and business opportunities.
- Hunter.io is an excellent tool for updating and finding company emails. We’ve all collected emails and found that they are out-of-date a few months later. This software program saves me hours of work to update the contact’s email and reconnect.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential author has been Zig Ziglar; if you want to learn how to sell, read his books and listen to his tapes. Even though Zig passed away a few years ago, this man knew how to work with salespeople and teach the secrets of selling. I still subscribe to his website.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Looking to get started in a new business? Here’s some advice from someone who’s worked hard for 43 years. Be passionate about your work, be consistent, don’t ever give up, and don’t be afraid to ask another entrepreneur for advice. If things seem to be overwhelming, take a step back and regroup – you’ll be glad you did.
Sometimes we get too involved and have blinders on – ask others for their perspective – it doesn’t mean you have to do it but it’s good to see it from another person’s perspective.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m not looking to hire new employees at this time. I am always looking for good subcontractors as they have done well for me. I truly am looking for new companies who can use my expertise - I do a lot of pro bono work. I love to watch young companies grow!
Where can we go to learn more?
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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