Starting a small business – Success stories from the field profiles individuals who have taken the giant step in starting small and profiles individuals who have dropped the shackles of the corporate world and taken their ideas, passions and dreams into the world to start their own business ventures.
This profile focuses on a company called Focus Insite, which provides recruitment services for market research in the Medical, B2B and Consumer Product markets. Started by Jim Jacobs, the company has experienced high growth and is leveraging social media as means to compete against the big market research shops. Jim shares his insights into starting a small business from scratch…with almost zero working capital and the challenges he’s faced and overcome.
SBR – Tell us about your business….how you got the idea and what motivated you to start it?
Jim – I have always been entrepreneurial since I was a kid in Overbrook Park from having a paper route to being the kid that shoveled snow. I had been heavily involved in real estate and had my own commercial real estate brokerage. The “great recession” hurt pretty badly and I was involved in multiple lawsuits chasing after breached commissions. With the growth of telecommuting, and growth of Amazon for retail products, I saw a steep decline in office space needed and growing amount of retail.
I had broken my arm pretty badly at a hockey practice and needed surgery. I was unable to drive for 6 weeks and got a call to be in a paid online study on my social media habits. I thought it was absolutely fascinating and discovered it could be a recurring revenue, high margin business which was what I was looking for. I wanted to do an experiment and decided to see if I could start a business with $20.00 in start up capital to help pay for the “hockey funds” in the house (since I have three boys who play hockey including myself). I never expected it at the time to become my main full time business but after chasing hundreds of thousands of dollars in breached real estate commissions and settling for pennies on the dollar, this business became much more appealing to me.
Jim – Well you’re starting this business at a zero, and then less than zero with start up costs. It was challenging especially considering family expenses. I originally saw it as a “side hustle”. However, I quickly discovered that if you meet a need in the marketplace, and do the things that others aren’t willing to do- then clients will come to you. Pretty soon we got a lot of repeat business and we were off to the races. One big client was all it took to get us going. We took the projects that no one wanted- and turned them into gold
Jim – I just think we are in such a blessed time with the internet for starting a small business. Khan Academy, Coursera, YouTube- really with some “elbow grease”- there really isn’t a skill you can’t learn for mostly free on the internet if you put the time in. I started this from a debt position. Plus our library had access to a tremendous amount of resources. There really wasn’t some magic resource- I would take a few hours every night and teach myself Facebook ads, how to build email lists etc.
Jim -I wanted everything on a SAAS platform so we can work from anywhere. Upwork was pivotal finding experts to work in various specialties on a contract basis. We also like using google docs and sheets and Zoho products have been terrific as well. Mailchimp was used for our email campaigns as was Zapier to help automate the business and slack for communication. Amazing how we can communicate all over the world instantaneously. Process Street is also pivotal as we continually refine and document every single process moving forward so we can grow this business.
Jim – I don’t think there is such as thing as “work/life” balance. When you’re starting a small business, it’s a 24/7 grind quite honestly. Now its a little easier as I put in systems and the right people to implement those systems. Process is everything and that is our 4th quarter theme: “Trust the Process”….You’re always raising the bar because no one wants to work for a business that isn’t in growth mode. Motto is “don’t miss”….Don’t miss your kids games or events because it goes by too quickly- but there is never a “balance” in growth mode….
Jim – The number one issue is CASH FLOW. Expansion and growth sucks cash. Cash flow is vital and maintaining it in growth phase is very very difficult. Also you need to leverage yourself out right away and make sure. Wearing “too many hats” doesn’t allow you to grow.
Jim – Finding people through Upwork and Fiverr have been terrific boons in the “gig” economy. We’ve also used “Hiremymom.com” which has found us great people with terrific job skills who just need a flexible work schedule. People always think “Outsource” – because it equates to “Cheap”- but that is the death of your business. Stop thinking “Cheap” and think “Best”….I save a ton of money by hiring the best in the business through these platforms on short term engagements where they become “affordable”…Slack is another program we can’t live without that allows us instantaneous communication around the world.