Lessons From A Year Spent Outside The World of Advertising

1024 576 Michael Kraabel

A year ago, I stepped away from the world of advertising and marketing (with the exception of a few projects here and there) to focus my energy on building a buisness (and brand) of my own. I started a company called Bishop+Rook – which builds and restores vintage Land Rover Defenders – offering products and service to those with a sense of adventure and a taste for nostalgic simplicity.

After 20 years of working in an industry I loved, the process of leaving the advertising world behind has opened my eyes to why so many clients and agencies can’t seem to find the magic they all hope for. Truthfully, I’ve learned the most about marketing and advertising by not being IN marketing and advertising. By starting my own business, I was finally building my own brand, becoming my own client, and re-learning the art of running a successful start-up business.

Clients and Agencies generally fail to achieve mutual happiness and success because each side is looking for different things in the relationship. Agencies (the people working on the day-to-day account) don’t generally understand the client’s business. Clients don’t generally understand how to use external creative and strategic talent to drive their busines forward. Angst grows between the two sides (jut like politics) when it seems like each is speaking a different language and both refuse to take the time to simply talk and be honest with each other.

I can’t solve that age-old issue – except maybe to serve as a translator for client-agency relationships like a therapist may help a busted marriage. What I can offer is a list of poignant observations from a year spent growing a passion project into one of the nation’s leading Defender Restoration shops. Here are a few things I’ve learned (or re-learned) over the past year:

– People are everything. Entrepreneurship is not a spectator sport – you’re only as good as your weakest team members. It’s the duty of management to handle these talent gaps, conflicts, and relationships. Be transparent with your team and they will repay that with honest work and enthusiasm. As an owner, I’m open about the risks we have as a company, financial situation, pending projects, deadlines, capabilities, and overall operations. I hired them to be experts at what their good at – restoring cars. It’s my job now to make sure they have something to do each day.

– Take Risks. If you want to grow a business you need to take bigger risks than you feel comfortable with. Put everything on the line and don’t be afraid to fail and start again. We started Bishop+Rook with an idea that more people would want to spend more time offline and outdoors over the coming years. We wanted to offer reasonably priced, but mechanically sound and capable off-road vintage vehicles. We acquired expensive inventory, created business processes, hired team members, expanded our shop space, developed partnerships around the world, and grew our portfolio. We approached each product as if our reputation was on the line – never cutting corners or sacrificing quality. Every Defender we put on the road was a representation of who we were is a company.

– Brand Matters. How your customers perceive you is way more important than your product or service. Having clients that trust you to do the right thing goes way beyond anything you could ever do as a company. Humans are emotional creatures, with passion, fear, anxiety, and the ability to dream. If the totality of your brand persona matches with that of your prospective customers, it’s a match. If not, you need to bridge that gap in order to generate a relationship. For us, we chose transparency and quality as two virtues we wanted to highlight.

– Create Content. From simple imagery to in-depth guides, use your expertise in your category to teach people. Show them you’re willing and able to be a helpful partner by sharing your knowledge and experience about whatever product or service you’re selling. People are also very visual, so make sure you’re speaking to all of their senses. When people are researching they’re doing so not to find a solution, but because they have a question. Every conversation should begin a premise that the prospective customer has an information gap and you can be the person to close it for them by simply listening and helping them out. Content can be designed for one-to-one relationships or built for mass audiences. The key is to invest just as much in your content as you do any marketing, sales, or technology tools. If I were running a large enterprise marketing department my spend and investment would be 50/50 – 50% on content and expertise, 50% on the marketing and tools needed to reach and engage prospects.

– Lead Nurturing Works. Successfully engaging customers at the right time in THEIR journey (not YOUR sales cycle) is the most important thing you can do to close the deal. People start their journey at different levels and at different stages of the engagement process. You should be there to make their decisions easier, eliminate stress, and help build the confidence they need to make their final decision. We’ve had customers who look at our site on a daily basis – from looking at projects to reading our guides. One of them recently called us after following our story for 2 years and he said: “Thank you for all the stuff you’ve written, it really helped guide me through my options. I’m ready to adopt a Defender now.”

– Use Technology to Help You. Even as a small shop, we get a dozen calls a day from people interested in building a custom Land Rover Defender. We can’t possibly keep track of that in our head – or where they are in their buying process. We’ve implemented a very robust CRM system and we use every aspect of it – from lead tracking and scoring to communications and contact logging. We used part of the system for the first few months and it worked, but it started to truly pay off when we built out the entire system and trusted it to do what it was designed to do. I don’t know how many companies I’ve consulted with over the years that buy a platform only to use it at the bare minimum level. Invest in your tools – it’s amazing how much the return will be in the long-run.

– Schedules, Timelines, and Meetings Don’t Matter. While it is good to make progress moving forward, I’ve come to learn that unnecessary or arbitrary deadlines only create stress and anxiety among your team members, customers, and the world around you. We’re all too focused on “showing progress” rather than “making progress.” When I was in advertising, half the time (and money) was spend preparing for meetings. Not making good stuff, or making smarter marketing, but simply preparing for meetings. I’m just as guilty as any client or agency there is in the world. At Bishop, we’ve taken a slightly different approach to managing growth – we ask ourselves a simple question: “where do we want to be in the future and what do we need to do to get us there?” The answer to that question is used to reverse engineer the tiny steps needed to walk back into our starting point. Restoring a vintage Land Rover is no different than launching a marketing campaign. We assess where we want the project to end up, decide what work needs to get done to get there, figure out what type of resources are needed along the way, and then we break down the steps of the process and work backwards.

– Have Fun. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, no amount of money can buy that day-to-day happiness. If you’re going to be spending between 8-12 hours a day doing something, you should really enjoy it. Have passion for what you’re doing and believe in it – be enthusiastic. I’ve seen so many passion gaps in the past; from clients checking things off of lists because they have to and agencies not doing their best work because team members don’t like the client or the product they’re working on.

I’m Mike, I restore cars for a living. But what I really like to say is that I’m a Defender Preservationist who helps people find adventure in everyday life.

Michael Kraabel

Founder – Bishop+Rook




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