Steve Lamar is the founder of the marketing planning & calendar platform, PromoPrep. After spending a decade in digital marketing agencies running marketing campaigns for his clients, he saw a huge need to help marketing teams improve their planning process. He spent the last 4 years helping marketers improve their organization and efficiency with PromoPrep.
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Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Steve Lamar: I’m a digital marketer turned startup founder of a martech SaaS called PromoPrep. I used to work for digital marketing agencies helping brands manage their marketing campaigns. While there I continued to run into issues with their promotions and campaigns becoming difficult to keep track of – most worked in spreadsheets and email.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Steve Lamar: I’ve always been driven to be an entrepreneur and as I speak with other entrepreneurs, that tends to be a common theme. I think there is a motivator that you’re somewhat born with but I absolutely think that people can work their way into being an entrepreneur because it takes all different types. For instance, my wife is an artist and paints commissioned portraits. She does not necessarily consider herself as an entrepreneur and starting a business is not something she set out to do – but yet she runs her business because she enjoys painting and working with clients.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Steve Lamar: Being an entrepreneur gives me the flexibility to make decisions and go in directions that I think are best for my business. As an employee, I didn’t have the same autonomy and ability to shape where the company was going.
I am a self-starter and very motivated by problem-solving and helping other people. I found being an entrepreneur gives me the greatest flexibility to do both.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Steve Lamar: My company is a SaaS platform for marketing teams to help with their planning process. The company has evolved as we’ve learned more from what the customer needs. When we first launched it was missing a lot of functionality that was needed for more sophisticated marketing teams. As we continue to talk with and learn from our customers we’ve been able to build out more features that help them solve their day-to-day problems.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Steve Lamar: The biggest assumption I see a lot of entrepreneurs have – particularly in the software space is they’ll build it and it’ll be such a great product that people will just naturally come to it and start using it. This really is a horrible assumption. It’s one that I made to a certain extent even being in marketing but it’s not the reality. Particularly if you’re bootstrapping and you have little budget to start – nobody knows who you are and paying for ads is extremely expensive.
So you have to be that face of the company for a long time to get out in front of people and make them aware of your solution and talk to them about their problem to better understand how to help them. Another assumption is not correctly calculating how long it will take to get traction. When I first came up with this idea I was so excited about it. I spent so much time building and just assumed companies would just see the value right away and switch their internal process over to start using it.
Very few entrepreneurs – particularly in the software space – gain traction quickly. It takes a long time to find your customers and get them to commit to using your product.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Steve Lamar: Probably one of the biggest assumptions I made, in the beginning, was calculating how long it would take to produce a product that was good enough to get marketing teams to change their process and start using our platform.
Unless you’re solving a problem that is so acute and so painful to your customer it’s not a quick decision for them to necessarily make. That extends the sales cycle, it makes it more difficult to come up with the right marketing message, and ultimately makes it more challenging to drive new customers.
Another huge assumption I made was what it would cost to not only build the platform but also to market to customers. I assumed they’d be able to put money towards paid search and drive customers that way. But quickly found the cost of driving traffic through Google is extremely expensive. So I’ve had to come up with different ways to attract customers more organically true social channels and SEO to keep costs low.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Steve Lamar: I would 100% recommend finding your audience first. Understanding what your clients’ pain points are before starting to build anything. Really focus on building an audience – which can be done a lot easier through social channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, even Facebook depending on where your audience is. If you can get in front of them and start building relationships with the type of people you’re eventually going to be marketing to, it makes that process so much easier.
But this needs to be a genuine process. You can’t look at everybody as a potential customer. You need to build genuine relationships with people and just push your product. Be there to be helpful and provide as many resources as you can to help them solve problems without trying to sell to them.
For instance, I am very active in a Facebook group for marketers. I try to provide helpful answers and resources in this group which has led to people naturally coming over and being curious about what I do. This has led to acquiring new customers because I built a relationship with them before I tried to sell them.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Steve Lamar: I don’t know that I got bad advice before I started, but I made a mistake in not looking for enough advice. I didn’t talk with enough people that would be potential customers or would-be users of the system before building. So my bad advice was more a lack of advice and using that advice to steer the direction of what I was building.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Steve Lamar: We somewhat benefited from the fact that a lot of marketing teams were working remotely and needed tools to better collaborate with. This opened up opportunities for PromoPrep because the tools they had established when they were all working in the office didn’t necessarily work when everybody was remote.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Steve Lamar: I think one of the biggest myths of being an entrepreneur is the lack of understanding of all the different roles you’re going to have. For instance, you’re responsible for the bookkeeping, the marketing, the research and development, administrative work – every aspect of running a business falls on you in the beginning.
I would suggest trying to look for help as soon as you can. If you can outsource anything like bookkeeping – this takes added pressure off trying to do everything knowing that someone has handled it and will do it better than you will.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Steve Lamar: 100% you have to be a self-starter. If you have a hard time getting motivated and making decisions (when you have no idea what the result is going to be) you’ll have a hard time being an entrepreneur. This may fall into that bucket of risk-taking but I don’t consider myself a risk-taker. However, I do like to be challenged and I do like solving problems and I think that’s a large driver for me.
You have to be okay working alone – it can be one of the loneliest occupations even if you have a team or people you work with because ultimately all the decisions roll to you – particularly in the beginning.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Steve Lamar: One of the best books I read when I first got started was a book by Rand Fishkin called Lost and Founder. It’s about his experience running Moz and the challenges he ran into being a founder. It was extremely eye-opening to read his account finding success but also running into many challenges with the business and personally. Another book I recommend is by April Dunford called Obviously Awesome. It’s a book about how to get product positioning right which will put you at a huge advantage when you’re first starting out.
And finally for me reading a book by Arvid Kahl called Zero to Sold was about his journey and advice building a software company and eventually selling it.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Steve Lamar: I love web analytics and working with clients to help solve problems on their websites. So if I wasn’t on this path with PromoPre I would be working with brands to help improve their website performance.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Steve Lamar for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Steve Lamar or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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