I Decided To Be My Own Boss And Start A $600K/Year PR Agency
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Erika Taylor Montgomery, the founder and CEO-President of Three Girls Media, Inc. I oversee sales and marketing for the company. I’m also a wife, mother and have a dog named Phoebe Ingrid Blu, a Jack Russell terrier mix, and a flock of chickens. Three Girls is a full-service marketing and public relations agency and offers a wide range of services including social media management, blogging for search engine optimization, email marketing, media relations, and website design and build.
We serve small and mid-size B2B and B2C companies. We work with clients in all industries who want to increase their brand awareness and name recognition through various marketing tactics.
Over the last 16 1/2 years, I’ve grown the business to ten employees and we gross about $550,000 annually. We’ve been at that level the last three years.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started in college as a theatre major but transitioned to broadcasting after falling in love with it during an Introduction to Radio Broadcasting class. I was on air in San Francisco for over 20 years both on radio and TV. I eventually decided to make a career change and get into marketing and public relations. I went to work for a large Silicon Valley PR agency, then transitioned to become the press secretary for the California State Legislature. When I couldn’t stomach politics anymore I was at a crossroads - should I go back to work for another PR agency and put in 70-80 hours per week, or should I do something else?
The answer was clear! I decided to be my boss and launched Three Girls Media, Inc. in June of 2005. I knew it would allow me to set my hours and spend more time with my young son. Work/life balance was incredibly important to me and being an entrepreneur gave me ultimate freedom.
Unfortunately, I was broke at the time. A good friend of mine agreed to lend me $3,000 to get started. I paid her back immediately with the income I made from my first client, and I’ve never borrowed another penny for the business.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart and it takes an incredible amount of dedication and hard work to make a business successful. Long hours? Check. Late nights? Check. Little pay to start? Check. But if you put in the work and see it through, the rewards are priceless.
Contrary to popular belief, Three Girls Media wasn’t started by three women. When I was launching the marketing and PR business I was sure of one thing: If you want to spread the word about something quickly, what should you do? Tell three girls and the news will spread like wildfire! The name was catchy and the signature logo we designed of girls gossiping enhanced the message perfectly.
Take us through the process of launching multiple marketing and public relations services.
When I first started Three Girls, it was strictly a public relations agency. We represented products and services and helped get them media coverage by running PR campaigns for our clients, pitching them directly to the press.
For the first six months, I ran the company by myself. Soon though I had too much business to do it all alone and hired my first employee. As the internet grew and social media emerged, we saw an opportunity to increase our services and integrate social media management. I learned to use the platforms for business first, taking classes when necessary, and was then able to train new team members we hired to do the work. We did the same thing when email marketing services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact launched; I learned the platforms first and trained my team to use them
As search engine optimization became important, I educated myself again and we began to offer blogging services. Later we brought a graphic designer on board to do everything from creating logos to business cards and brochures. Lastly, we started to sell website design/build and worked with a partner who specialized in that to provide those services. Today, we offer all these services and more and are a creative team of 11!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Websites were still relatively rudimentary in 2005, but I created a simple one using GoDaddy that explained our value proposition and services. The site was pretty bare-bones but provided clear information about our services. With that $3,000 loan from a friend, I was able to subscribe to a public relations industry database that allowed me to find and reach out to journalists.
Then, I had to find my first client! I started cold calling local businesses to share what I could offer, but the initial client I signed found me through my website. It was a husband and wife team that owned a French bulldog named Brie they wanted to make famous. I’d never represented a pet before, but I was determined to get the job done.
Right off the bat, I’d learned the power of a good website and that’s a lesson that has stuck with me. Although website design and build have changed dramatically over the years, the fundamentals remain the same.
At Three Girls Media, we believe there are nine website fundamentals.
- Be Clear About Purpose - Your website needs to have a clear intent that allows the user to easily interact with it. Some purposes are explaining your expertise, generating leads, sales, and customer care, and building your company’s reputation.
- Keep It Simple - This should apply to the imagery, typography, and color of the site.
- Straightforward Navigation - If your site’s navigation isn’t clear and easy to follow, users will get frustrated and take their business elsewhere.
- E-shaped Patterning - Your website design should follow the way we naturally read in western culture - left to right and down the page - forming an e-shaped pattern.
- Establish Visual Hierarchy - Arrange the items on the page in order of importance. Make sure your users know where to focus.
- Compelling Content - The words on the page are just as important as design, make them count!
- Use A Grid-Based Layout - Designing in a grid will help the site feel balanced that’s well organized.
- Fast Load Time - There’s nothing quite as frustrating as waiting for a website to load, If yours takes more than two seconds it’s a problem.
- Make It Mobile-Friendly - More people than ever are visiting websites on smartphones and mobile devices like tablets. Make sure yours looks great on them.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Although my website initially worked to draw in customers and still does, I never discounted the power of other types of marketing. One mistake I think entrepreneurs and small business owners often make is not including marketing funds in their budget. You should invest 10 percent of your gross annual income into marketing campaigns.
At Three Girls Media, we invest in social media marketing, Google ad campaigns, email marketing, and networking groups, as well as advertising on key websites, such as our local Chamber of Commerce website. Most of our business comes from either word of mouth referrals or organic searches on Google. We’ve tried Yelp advertising in the past but it ended up being a waste of money and we never got one lead from it.
Search engine optimization is also an important part of our marketing strategy. Frequency is important for SEO so we post new blog articles five times a week and they’re all written with solid SEO techniques in mind. This includes everything from keyword research to using a tool to grade the post headline, as well as meta descriptions, alt tags, keyword-rich captions for images, and much more. Our goal is to drive organic traffic to our website.
Many people initially find us by searching Google for things that we’ve written a blog article on. Once they read our article there’s a call-to-action at the end that entices them to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Once we land a client, we’re extremely high touch and provide world-class customer service. By creating high-quality content specifically for each client’s audience and being super responsive to their needs and communication, we get a lot of referrals, and clients stay with us for the campaign after the campaign. Our oldest clients have been with Three Girls for nearly 12 years!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
After being in business for 16 ½ years I’m excited to report that we’re still growing and extremely profitable! Most of our clients first contact us through our website which has average monthly traffic of 18 thousand visitors. From there we arrange a complimentary 30-minute consultation following which we’re usually able to prepare a proposal for the services the potential client is interested in. We’re averaging about 35% year-over-year growth.
We’re on track to continue to grow the business for the next several years. At this time, given the demand, we’re putting more focus on social media management services and less on public relations.
In 2022 I’d like to grow our client base, enabling us to hire more team members. I’d also like to bring larger clients on board in both the short and long term.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the biggest and hardest lessons I learned was to be exceptionally cautious when considering a business partner. Early on in the life of Three Girls, I brought on a partner to focus on sales. She had no experience in marketing or public relations and it turns out she and I had fundamental differences of opinion in how the company should be run. She ended up going behind my back and trying to close the business down, attempting to fire all the employees in one day. Fortunately, her plan didn’t work, but it left me battered and bruised and much more cautious about who I’d trust as a partner.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m a control freak so asking for a hand was a tough lesson to learn. However, as your business grows you’ll quickly learn that you can’t do everything yourself. Whether it’s from a friend, family member, or neighbor, don’t hesitate to ask for a helping hand when you need it.
One of the things that helped me build my business was the fact that I was willing to give it my all. Being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart and it takes an incredible amount of dedication and hard work to make a business successful. Long hours? Check. Late nights? Check. Little pay to start? Check. But if you put in the work and see it through, the rewards are priceless.
A skill that’s particularly important as a business owner is organization. There are many different tools people use to stay organized, but Google calendar and Google Keep are a couple of my favorites.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use many different tools at Three Girls Media. One we use all day, every day is Slack. One of my employees described it as “instant messenger on steroids.” It allows you to create different channels, invite team members to them, and then you can chat in those channels in real-time. It’s a wonderful tool.
We also use Trello for the organization. Trello allows you to create different boards and pin cards to them with information that’s relevant to each board. You can add notes and comments and customize the boards visually.
Another tool that’s proven to be incredibly useful, especially given the pandemic, is Zoom. We not only use it for staff meetings as our team is fully remote, but I use it for sales consultations as well.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are several great books related to content marketing. A couple of my favorites are Content Chemistry: The Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing and Social Media Marketing Workbook: How to Use Social Media for Business.
If you’re looking for a great podcast that will teach you everything you need to know about marketing your business, check out Two Minute Marketing Tips, available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
One of the things that helped me succeed, especially in the early stages of my business, was seeking the advice of mentors. Don’t be afraid to ask business people you admire if you can take them to coffee and pick their brains. One of the pieces of advice that I took to heart was, “Don’t be afraid of change.” Whether that was adding new services over the years, revamping our website every so often, or trying new marketing techniques, we’ve remained nimble and it has served us well.
In the same vein, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m a control freak so asking for a hand was a tough lesson to learn. However, as your business grows you’ll quickly learn that you can’t do everything yourself. Whether it’s from a friend, family member, or neighbor, don’t hesitate to ask for a helping hand when you need it.
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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