Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Aunia Kahn. I am the CEO of Rise Visible, a full-service digital marketing agency. Our mission is to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs to rise above and become visible in their industry.
Through digital marketing strategy, website development, SEO, and branding; Rise Visible offers our support services to clients such as start-ups to more corporate clientele, helping them attain greater visibility and growth.
By building a business sense of community and visibility, Rise Visible has achieved a place where these efforts can now be offered to help establish other small businesses in achieving their business place.
With these efforts, they too can be seen and succeed in their growth. Having a strong voice as a business owner where my story can help inspire and assist others has been the greatest measure of success thus far.
In 2022 I took a huge leap in faith and launched a total renaming and rebranding of my company 2022, as well as my team has grown to include 6 (2 dogs) amazing collaborators. We are approaching our first $100K year in revenue and we have been honored to be named Top-Ranking Woman-Owned Digital Agency 2022 by Clutch as well as are certified as a Woman/Disability Owned Business.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Years ago in the late 90s, I had a good friend that worked in the web and graphic design industry. During this time I gained interest in his profession. Interestingly enough, the company that he worked for had upgraded their computers, and he asked me if I would be interested in one of the old computers that had amazing software on it.
I accepted his offer and gained access to software like Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop, Flash and so much more. This unexpected opportunity would open up a whole new world to me.
This was the gateway to where I am today. With no previous experience or intent in the field of tech, I would learn through trial and error and by use of my natural sense of wonder and experimentation. I never assumed at that time that I would be running my own company - especially 20 years later. At the time I understood that this was an opportunity for self-education, yet, I did not realize it would turn into income and thereafter a career. This all happened at a pivotal time in my life when I needed to adjust how I functioned in the world.
As I started to explore the different software, I found that it was the perfect fit for my interest in constantly shifting metrics, creativity, and psychology. Again, I didn’t know that I would be sitting here 20 + years later doing this for a living, but I knew that I enjoyed it.
Over the years I've never gotten bored. As a person who gets bored easily, I like things that change and that are a challenge. Working in digital marketing, website design/development, content marketing, and SEO are ever-growing and shifting fields that keep me interested.
Now, a year later, I am super strong and moving into scaling and talking about being a disabled woman in tech. The business I had over the last 20 years has helped me survive and I am so grateful my friend gave me that computer so many years ago!
Every day the world of technology and business shifts a little more and each day I get to learn and shift with it. To be part of something with a constant evolutionary process has been fun and fascinating.
Take us through the process of designing your services
Over time, the ability to understand and grow in the world of organic marketing with and without the internet, became imperative to achieve further growth. With the advent of social media, marketing evolved to more digital means. A vast arena allowed for the community to build.
This opened up a new gateway to building my network of hundreds of thousands of followers. This then led to partnerships and relationships that have helped me understand how to connect, share, and offer services in a way that others needed. This is how the early days of design and marketing came together to establish my business platform and firmly placed the foundation of entrepreneurial possibilities within my industry.
In the early stages of starting my business, I struggled with the monetization of my skills and services. I found it very difficult to come up with accurate pricing due to not knowing a lot of people in the industry to compare pricing with. In addition, I suffered from imposter syndrome, where feeling like what I did wasn't a real job. In part, because I enjoyed what I did immensely, but also there were a few people around me that weren't very supportive because they didn't consider what I did to be “real work”.
As I worked on a pricing structure in the early stages, I look back and see how much I undervalued myself but I also can empathize with starting from nothing and trying to turn it into something.
One of my biggest goals was to be able to provide services to people in an affordable way so that they could gain visibility and build their businesses and community. Since the inception of my business, monetization of what I do has been in constant flux. As my skills have grown, I've been able to battle my imposter syndrome.
Also, as I gained long-term clients and partnerships, monetization has become easier. I've learned over the years that the exchange of revenue for a service is not only part of a business, it's an agreement in trust and relationship building. To create a need for the services long term with compensation that meets the standards you have set for your value in business is monumental for all business owners.
Describe the process of launching the business.
How I launched my business was unexpected. When I decided to move into web design, graphic design, and marketing in a more professional manner, it was in part due to the chain reaction effect of losing my job due to 9/11. Like so many others at that time, I had a hard time finding work after 9/11.
For the last few years, I had worked as a dental assistant as I went to school since it paid good money and I enjoyed working with people. At the time, I had just moved to St. Louis, MO, and was on the first day of my new job in an orthodontist's office. When the towers were hit, the screaming in the office was beyond anything I had experienced before. We all watched everything unfold on the break room TV in horror.
I had only lived in the new state of Missouri for less than a month. I barely knew how to find the local grocery store let alone the new office building on my first day. As I looked around the break room, I was surrounded by 6 strangers I had only met an hour before, and I started to panic. It was weirdly isolating. I asked to leave and go home - they let me. I never came back. I never called.
I decided to volunteer for the local red cross on and off for the first 2 weeks. As I stepped back into the workforce looking for work, as you would imagine no one was hiring. Furthermore, I was struggling with my health and the stress of 9/11 threw me for a loop physically and emotionally.
I knew at this time I needed to do something. I had been primarily in freelance mode up until then and did that kind of work for enjoyment and education, not money. I knew that had to change. I had started to build my portfolio therefore the opportunity to utilize it was now necessary. First, I tried to interview at a web design company my friend worked at as well as a couple of others in the city, I was denied various jobs due to my lack of experience and small portfolio
I got quite discouraged but I started to strategize and reach out to potential clients, friends, and family to see if people needed work done. I found that I needed a new way to work in the world with the recent tragedy as well as my health. The business strategy was set in motion to position me in a new place and not have to rely on an employer.
Enter the entrepreneur inside me and so I decided to do it on my own. Over time, I built up a solid clientele and income. Again, this was a slow build but it was by my design and a solitary venture I knew I had to do. Although not a traditional launch in terms of strategy and planning, it was where a business was launched out of necessity and self-belief is something I loved doing.
During this time, as I mentioned, I also started to have health issues, so this helped me have my schedule and control my environment while I had severe ups and downs physically. This additional turn of events only sparked the need and vision for what could be done in building my business while adjusting to life’s unexpected offerings that would challenge the possibilities of this particular business strategy.
Over the next 20 years, it would continue to be an ongoing business venture, but it wasn’t until 2018 I got one of my life-changing diagnoses and treatments and started to move my business into growth mode slowly. Little by little my health started to stabilize and by July 2021 I got the most important diagnosis of my lifetime, the diagnosis and treatment was the umbrella and reason for every other disease and ailment I already had.
I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and Dysautonomia. It changed my life and my business. Now, a year later, I am super strong and moving into scaling and talking about being a disabled woman in tech. The business I had over the last 20 years has helped me survive and I am so grateful my friend gave me that computer so many years ago!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The way that we have retained and attracted clients have, for the most part, been through solid work and referrals. The power of building a referral-based business was not only always a set goal but also something I knew was key in solidifying long-term client relationships.
However, since we are focused on digital marketing, using digital means such as social media, newsletters, Google My Business, reviews, Facebook groups, and other sites has been paramount for us as well as our clients. Utilizing the tools that are now abundant and a skill set in their own right means we can provide those things for our clients with the most up-to-date information, tools, and tactics.
The onset of a scarcity mindset had, for a very long time, led to completely underselling myself and my skills. When I learned to embrace my true value and ask clients for that value, no one questioned me.
Having a good website, good customer service, solid branding, regular client support, as well as supplying our clients and potential new clients with valuable resources is key. Having a good foundation upon which to build for any business is first and foremost where one needs to take root.
For example, we offer a blog with numerous articles to help small businesses and run the podcast Rise Above Be Visible which provides tips, tricks, support, and occasional interviews to help small businesses. The information and experience we have are equally shared with those we aim to elevate and support.
We try to keep everything consistent, up-to-date, as well as informative, and educational. To offer clients services that not only help them where needed but also offer life-enriching experiences that are relatable and firm in case studies is vastly important to us. We believe in mirroring what we do and offering that to the client.
This means holding close to the strategies and the behaviors that we provide in helping and teaching our clients to do for themselves. It is more than leading by example, it is absolutely about living proof of sharing the business core values we carry in our brand. We have been our biggest case study to date.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Since 2020, our business has changed exponentially. As I mentioned before, getting the right medical treatment after 20 years of no diagnosis and no medical support was monumental. In July 2021, I was finally given a life-changing diagnosis. These changes, it’s given me the ability to scale our business.
Currently, as of June 2022 (Q1 & Q2), we have made $50,000 in revenue in comparison to making $25,000 the whole year of 2021. Our goal this year is to hit $100,000. I have also hired a couple of amazing contractors to work alongside me and join the team of Rise Visible.
Additionally, I applied for DOBE (Disabled-Owned Business Enterprise) certification and I recently became certified as a women-owned and disabled-owned business on Clutch, a large B2B tech marketing and review platform. We’ve been able to join our local Eugene Chamber of Commerce, the Technology Association of Oregon, as well as continually network virtually in our community because of the opportunities for virtual networking and events since Covid.
Since I’m limited in how I can interact with the world with my rare disease, these types of opportunities to network and connect with the community have been vital to our growth over the last two years. To be a company that works directly with local businesses as well as expanding regionally and nationally within the virtual workspace has helped us grow. This has been another example of how circumstances can produce successful opportunities for everyone.
We also launched a monthly initiative where we take a percentage of our sales and donate it to a cause or organization each month (https://risevisible.com/community-support/). We also donate one of our services to a small business that is in financial difficulty or in need of aid for its business aspirations.
I have also launched the Oregon Disabled Business Owners Association which is a website that lists self-identified disabled business owners who want to be a part of this directory and its resources that strive to bring visibility to disability in the world of business ownership.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the most important things that I have learned as a business owner is to make sure that you are being paid for your value. I feel often that small business owners get caught in the trap of not knowing their worth and also being stuck in the fear mindset that if they don’t get enough work they’ll end up having to close their business. Being someone who has struggled with a serious illness, I have worried and felt similar concerns.
The onset of a scarcity mindset had, for a very long time, led to completely underselling myself and my skills. When I learned to embrace my true value and ask clients for that value, no one questioned me.
I even began to take on more clients than I had before. This in turn resulted in retaining higher-paying clients that took me more seriously. When you take your value seriously and position yourself to do so, others will follow that lead with respect and appreciation. It first must start with you.
In retrospect, all the fear that I had was unfounded. The interesting thing is when I work with clients, I’m often helping them build their business and we often talk about pricing, value, and positioning.
When dealing with websites, line sheets, brochures, courses, etc. I am always encouraging our clients to make sure that they are being paid for their value and their time. The funny thing is over the years I’ve had a hard time doing the same thing and I believe other people can relate to how difficult coming to such an ah-ha moment is.
The turning point for my business was when one of my clients, whom I had worked with for many months, while in a meeting with me, told me that I was charging too little and asked me to please raise my rate. At that point, it was hard not to see the writing on the wall. It was humbling and painful to realize how I, along with so many others do not value ourselves in a way that should never be neglected.
Since then I’ve had no problem asking for what I am worth. As with all stages of small business development, there is a feeling of risk in doing so. Taking time to re-evaluate, redefine, and offer my worth with confidence has led to more growth in how I take on new clients and how I can offer further my own experience to further help them in return.
This has given me the time and space to be able to take on clients that might be financially struggling from time to time without undue stress. It has given me more freedom to be helpful, work smarter and live a healthier life.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There is a never-ending sea of resources to use in business. As a full-service digital marketing agency, we have continued to use a few valuable tools such as:
- Semrush for an all-inclusive tool for SEO, content marketing, and social media.
- Ahrefs has been a stand-out tool for encompassing beyond the research and analysis of SEO while performing excellently in rank tracking and many website abilities.
- Moz is another excellent tool to utilize in the realm of SEO metrics and analysis of traffic and ranking.
- Notion has been a truly trusted and helpful workspace organizational tool that has more uses and abilities than I could list.
- Monday is the epitome of a solid and multifaceted CRM platform that is highly customizable.
- Active Campaign has been key in the execution of email marketing and automation.
- HubSpot as a high-performance and thorough CRM resource is practically limitless.
- Wave is concise and necessary in the world of accounting software.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Inspirational books would be anything by Seth Godin and anything by Simon Sinek. I suggest the book and the TED Talk by Simon Sinek - Start With Why as a great jumping-off point for any person.
Podcasts have been an important part of my life since the beginning of podcasts. Along with our podcast Rise Above, Be Visible, a few, if I could only name a few podcasts of inspiration and resources would be Akimbo, Duct Tape Marketing, Social Media Examiner Podcast, and Entrepreneur On Fire.
With either books or podcasts, I tend to steer my time and education towards not only marketing and design, but also psychology, all facets of entrepreneurship, and stories of empowerment and hope. A couple of other books I would suggest reading are Mindset, Stroke of Insight, and The Brain That Changes Itself.
I believe all of these things can find a place, and a story, and have an impact on each of us. I try to convey that in my business and always look to expand upon how each of us can contribute to our own lives with growth so we may be able to enrich the lives of others needing to fulfill their dreams and life purpose also.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
For anybody aspiring to do something that they are passionate about and love, I'd encourage them to go for it. I'm a big believer in calculated risk-taking and not wasting your life doing things that do not bring you joy, offer independence, and help you live your best life.
It is easier said than done by someone who has done it, but I assure you that you can do it too. First, ask yourself why you want to do something. If the answer you come to aligns with your passions and values then you have created a mission that I would encourage you to follow.
Remember, everyone that you know that is successful and doing what they love in life had to start somewhere. Some people have started being privileged while others have started with absolutely nothing. So don't let anything stop you. Don't let others influence you or bring you down. If you feel something passionate inside yourself, I implore you to take that journey.
Even if you try and you fail, you have still tried and that is more than most people. You can get up again and try something new. There are no limits to what you can try. At some point, the stars will align if you keep persevering and never give up.
Remember this Japanese proverb: “Fall seven times, get up eight.”
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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