Ep 4 – Ryan Townend – WJ Communications
The Ambition Project – Calgary Entrepreneurial Podcast
The Ambition Project is a video series in which we interview successful and ambitious Calgary entrepreneurs and talk to them about their struggles, what they’ve had to overcome on their journey and valuable insights they have to share with up and coming business owners. The series will premiere on September 18th, 2018. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated or stream an episode on Spotify or iTunes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Welcome Ryan, thank you for gracing us with your time today.
Ryan Townend: Yes, thank you for having me.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So Ryan Townend is the founder of William Joseph Communications, which is a local Calgary marketing agency. So tell us a little bit more about WJ Communications.
Ryan Townend: Founder, you make me sound like 150 years old. Okay, so what can I tell you about WJ? I started the company 15 years ago, and yeah, we’re a full service marketing communications firm in town here. We really have a focus on Western Canada. We have four offices now in Western Canada. And yeah, it’s who we are.
Jonathan Hafichuk: You started out doing marketing for a farm or a zoo in Saskatoon.
Ryan Townend: I did.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Tell us a little bit about that, how did you get into that?
Ryan Townend: Oh, goodness. You’re taking me way back. So, when I was in university, the one thing that I was always told was you need experience to get a job in your career in your field. So the whole idea was match your passion with something you’d like to do, with experience and go that route. So I love animals right? I grew up on a farm. I’ve had dogs since I was like one. So that just kind of came naturally. So I went to the zoo and I said, “Hey, can I volunteer here?” They’re like, “What do you want to volunteer doing?” I was like, “How about marketing?” Most people want to feed the animals, I’m wanting to do their marketing. So they’re like, “Yeah, you know what? We could definitely use some help here. Come in.” And then the next thing you know, they moved it over to a little part time position while I went to university.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what did you learn from doing the marketing for them?
Ryan Townend: What did I learn for doing marketing for a not-for-profit? How to take this much money and spread it this far to achieve the organization’s goals. You go to school and they teach you things like how to… If McDonald’s has eight billion dollars and you have to do an ad campaign, what does that look like? And then you go into the real world and they’re like, yeah, it’s not like that. We don’t have eight billion dollars. We actually have this much money, but, that’s what it’s going to take for the year. So, it’s kind of a bit of a reality check when you come out into the real world. Yeah, and honestly that’s something that is so valuable that I still use today. I remember being that guy thinking, how am I going to do this. So when clients come to me, that’s still the mentality that I always have is like, how are we going to help them take this much money and spread it this far with their marketing and branding.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you guys work quite a bit with small businesses. So, I imagine that experience working with a limited budget really helps you take your clients and use their budget for the best possible outcome right? I imagine your approaches are quite strategy, and quite results driven?
Ryan Townend: Yeah. You know, the thing is, there is actually no correlation between budget and size of account believe it or not. You can have a startup that walks in that has properly allocated the funds to build their brand and their strategy, and they’re a big account. And you can also have global giants that have about $12 to spend to spread their dollars. So the whole idea here is in any case, you just always have to figure out what’s the game plan right? I always joke around and say, actually, the less money you have, the more important strategy is because you can’t actually waste the dollars. We have to figure out how exactly we’re going to spend that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. I’m sure working with small businesses they really appreciate that because it seems like typically the large agencies don’t always use budgets as well as they can.
Ryan Townend: Yeah. You know what I think? Like I started from my basement right? So I was… Jeez, a long time ago now, but I remember when I had literally $3,000 to start my company. And I was like, okay, how do I stretch that $3,000 to get to the next level right? That’s what it’s all about is you start at this level, you got to get to the next level, then you got to get to the next level, and what is the plan to get there?
Jonathan Hafichuk: So how did you get your first client when you were starting out in your basement?
Ryan Townend: My Auntie Mary helped me find her. I guess it was nepotism at it’s finest, so yeah. We just went to our friends and family, and she worked at the [U of C 00:06:21], and she put a good word in for her nephew that started his business, and next thing you know, the U of C was my first client.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow that’s a pretty big first client.
Ryan Townend: Yeah. Well, you know what? I think the thing is we had a really great reputation, and a really great structure, but it was that introduction that I really needed. Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So, how did you go about building that initial structure?
Ryan Townend: Well, there was two business partners, my partner and I. So I said, what are you good at doing, and this is what I’m good at doing, and we just took the jobs and we divided it in two, and that’s how it started. We were so poor at the beginning that we had one laptop, and one cell phone. So I would go and do sales calls in the morning when he would use the computer, and then I’d come home and then use the computer in the afternoon because we literally had very little to start with.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What services did you focus on when you started?
Ryan Townend: This is the joke. People always ask me, “Like Ryan, what is it that you do?” And I would always say, “Whatever you’re willing to pay for.” Because, at the beginning, we actually didn’t know what we did. Like graphic design kind of yeah, but then people were like, hey, do you do this? Oh, yeah. Yeah. We could do that. And then, do you do this? Sure we can do that, we know a guy. And we just started to surround ourselves with a great support system of contractors that could help us facilitate all those requests.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So a struggle in businesses like yours is often finding reliable contractors that do good work, can hit deadlines. There is multiple things there that they have to be able to do. How do you vet those people, or how did you vet those people when you were starting, and what did you learn or improve on over time with finding good contractors? I imagine now it’s mostly staff, but…
Ryan Townend: Yeah. It’s 95% staff. You know, I think at the beginning, I always say it comes back to value systems. Know your value system, and then you know who the types of people that you want to attract are. Like if you’re a keener, make sure you work with other keeners right? I think that’s what sets you up for success is shared values. At the beginning it was just people we knew. People that became friends of ours throughout time that we said, “Hey, we really enjoy your friendship. We get along. Can you help us out?” So that is really what started at the beginning. Where it was friendship at the beginning, now it’s culture. Our culture at William Joseph is so strong that people kind of understand the vibe that we’re all about. They know about who we are and what it’s like to work at our agency, that it attracts those people to our door now to say hey, you know I share your value system. I want to be the next employee that you guys hire.
Jonathan Hafichuk: When you started out in your basement, what were your initial goals? How big did you hope the agency would get?
Ryan Townend: That’s a great question. You know, when we started out we never thought we were small. And it’s funny, literally we built our brand. It was like a New York agency. We got a business center address up on the 30th floor of Petro-Canada, now Suncor. And really, we played the game right? And so, clients would come to see us on the 30th floor with the reception area as big as this restaurant, and they were like, wow, so impressed. And then Tim and I would come out and they would think there was a whole team of people behind us. At that point it was just Tim and I, but the whole point is perception is reality. And I think with marketing and branding, how you project yourself is the image you’re putting out there. So we projected that we were that of a confident professional firm, and people honestly always would say, wow, are you guys from New York, Toronto?
Ryan Townend: The name William Joseph too demanded a lot of respect and credibility. Let’s be clear, it was Ryan and Tim. Like, Ryan and Tim’s Design Studio or, I don’t know. I think we thought about The Creative Monkey Group back in the day. But then when we looked at it, it’s our middle names and William Joseph just fit. You know? It’s my grandfather’s names, it’s my dad’s name, and it was my partner’s middle name. Like, there is just so many ways it lined up that it just fit perfectly. So, William Joseph on the 30th floor of Petro-Canada. Do you know what I mean?
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Ryan Townend: It all gave that story of prestige, and credibility, and trust.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So, in your first year, what were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
Ryan Townend: You know, it was a good thing that I started this company when I was 27 because I just got used to having money, and so to lose it again really wasn’t that big of a deal. Like it was back to all like, oh shit. You know, back to mac and cheese. As long as the dogs have food, we’re going to be struggling again. But I think when you get the golden handcuffs too long, it’s harder to become an entrepreneur unless you have a huge savings account. So again, I was young enough to just say let’s try this out, and let’s make this work.
Ryan Townend: You know, I think the biggest challenges… I think the thing is the uncertainty. WE gave ourselves this period. Like at the end of 10 months we had to be making this much money, otherwise we have to get real jobs, and 10 months came, and honestly, we just slid over our level. Right? And so it was like any rational person that is risk averse would say this is a bad idea, go back and get a job. Because we were making good money right? And we just hit that level, and we’re like, okay, let’s keep going. So, yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you have doubts in the first year about if you were going to stick with it?
Ryan Townend: Do I have doubts now? After this many tattoos I’m like, I guess I best stay at my own job because I don’t know who would hire me. You always have doubts, at every step of the way. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets different, right? The bigger you get the harder you can also fall, right? So I think year one, you’re so jacked with adrenaline. It’s like we are going to do this, and we are going to make this happen, and you have so much excitement, and that passion is what just attracts people to you, and it’s super exciting.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Did you have any issues when you were starting your business with work life balance?
Ryan Townend: Oh there was none. Let’s be clear. I still don’t even know if I’ve mastered that. I was just talking about that today. How it’s like being an entrepreneur, it can just pull you in. You literally can work 24/7 every day on your company, and you have to get past that spot of feeling guilty not working. Do you know what I mean? So the first year I remember Christmas day, we had Christmas dinner. I excused myself, and I said, “I have to get back to work.” On Christmas. And I was okay with that. I loved what I did. It was so exciting. Like if you think of your best hobby, and things that you love doing, that’s what it was like on year one doing work all the time. I was just so excited. I was like I got to get this ready because January is coming. We got to get new clients. It was exciting.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. I know. I remember actually close to when we first met, our mutual friend Trina, said “Yeah, he’s gotten really big, but he totally deserves it because he worked way harder than anybody else.”
Ryan Townend: Yes. These gray hairs are probably well deserved.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So when you were starting out, you positioned yourself as a large agency to have that image. So that ideally I am assuming you could attract large clients, but from what I understand, you really worked hard to pursue those large clients. Like you chased them down. I know a lot of people who have started marketing agencies in the beginning. They usually start an agency because they have really good connections. They’re really well connected, and they can start, and just have a bunch of clients.
Ryan Townend: Yes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: But it sounds like that wasn’t the case for you.
Ryan Townend: No. No. So, when we started we had a really good personal reputation. You know, your personal integrity is what takes you through life, and we had a really great reputation, and we knew a lot of folks. But I think the thing is, I didn’t come from the industry, right? So the challenge was like, Ryan we love you, but what have you done? And I didn’t have that portfolio on day one. I remember thinking year one, oh when I have a real life examples of things I’ve done how easy this will be. Because I was just really selling the idea of, we can take you to this place and you have to trust in me in the beginning to get you there, right? So yeah, we were big with the chamber of commerce. We had trade shows. We were putting our stuff out. We definitely sent out direct mailers. We knew who wanted to work with, and we made that known.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What would you say was your biggest component of your strategy to get clients? Was it networking?
Ryan Townend: Yeah it was. But you know the thing was, the first client that took a chance on us was the Jubilee Auditorium. So Susan Bennett, I had known her from my past job, and I loved her, she loved me, and so as soon as I started my own company, she was like, “Ryan, give me a call. I think we can make something happen.” I was like, “That’s awesome!” Now I have the Jubilee. So then I’d go to the next person and I’d be like, “Oh I have the U of C, I’ve got the Jubilee.” Oh Ryan you guys are on something. You guys are like the new kids in town. So that momentum really caught on, so I really played that card. Like, hey we are the new kids in town. Fresh ideas, we’re not stuck in traditional agency thinking because, I am not even from an agency. So let’s just try to figure this out from a business perspective, and that’s a mentality I use today.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So at some point in your career you worked on expanding into Vegas, of all places.
Ryan Townend: Yes. So the company started off slow. First year we made like 40K, next year we made a little bit more, and then this thing soared right? It went into the millions real quick. And I remember being 30 having a company in the millions, and I was like, holy this is amazing. So my friends back in Saskatoon said, “Ryan come home now. You went to out west, you worked in Calgary. You’ve created this amazing agency. Come out to Saskatoon and open there.” And then from there, I was like we’re doing a lot of facility marketing. Like the Jubilee and stuff. And I was like, I want to learn more about facility branding.
Ryan Townend: So where do you know? Or where do you learn about that? And it was at I time where I was like, do I go back to school? Or I just wanted to grow my thinking. And I was like, well we’ve got some clients with US connections. Where do they have amazing venues? Where do they have amazing tattoo artist? Vegas! So let’s set up shop there. And I remember when I told the staff that one day, they’re like, “Okay, we’ll go with you on this one.” So, I opened up an office out there, and we had it for three years. The unfortunate thing was is it opened right during the recession. So the 08′ recession that just hit and crumbled, the US didn’t spend.
Ryan Townend: So it was an expensive learning lesson. The good thing was, I did learn a lot. I learned how I ended in Trump’s board room at Trump Las Vegas and chatted with those guys off and on, and they just kept teaching the importance of going from good to great with attention to details. I got to meet a ton of other folks. I got some mentorship from a gentlemen that ran Cirque Du Soleil’s marketing for North America. Like incredible people that just kind of imparted all this knowledge. So it was an invaluable time in my life. You know, the stuff that I saw and I learned I took it all in, and I think when you come to any William Joseph office now you notice those attention to details, and that’s something that I learned probably in Vegas, and why I put such an importance to it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So do you still have any mentors that you work with or look up to, or people you look up to, or people you follow? People that help you?
Ryan Townend: Yeah. That’s a great question. So, I kind of will take that three ways. I don’t have one person per se. You know I think I have different groups. I look to my team all the time for advisement and guidance. Like, hey, I’m thinking about making this move. What do you guys think? Is this a smart direction for the company? I have great friends that I talk to say here’s what I’m doing. See great things will tell you when you have your head up your ass, and no one else will tell you. They’re the ones that will say you are being stupid. This is not the way to do this. Here is some advice, and you need to listen.
Ryan Townend: And then I go back to my mom. Honestly, everyday I call my mom and she is just the biggest fan of mine. So she is always saying, “Ryan, you just got to believe. You got to keep going.” There is days where it has been so dark in that company, where I’m like, I don’t even think I can make it through the day. And my mom would always say, “Ryan, you have to have faith. You have to believe that tomorrow will come and it’s going to work out.” To the point where I actually got believe tattooed on my hand, and in her handwriting. So it always reminds me when I sit there to believe that it’s going to work out.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. You got to go on faith sometimes.
Ryan Townend: You got to go on faith sometimes because every bit of rational thinking is not there right now.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. So what kind of things bring you into that kind of dark place? What kind of things worry you or make you doubt yourself?
Ryan Townend: You know, I love control, and as an entrepreneur you can control pretty much nothing. As much as I say that, you can have all the strategies in place and the infrastructure, but you worry about things like cash flow. You worry about things like payroll days. You worry about, is that big sale going to come through, or what happens if it doesn’t. You now have all these, I call them my kids. Like my family that I have to take care of. And you know I don’t ever want to go back to a spot where you have to lay off because of lack of sales and stuff like that. So we’ve really put in measure now of diversification, different cities, to really kind of stabilize. All those lessons I’ve learned, I’ve put all those measures in play now so that I can kind of take a deep breath and go, okay, I think we’ve solved that. We’ve solved that.
Ryan Townend: I think a huge challenge that you worry about, and it’s a double edged sword, is growth. Right? I remember the biggest stress I had in year one was to have an employee. Then we’re committed to pay this person every two weeks. Well now I have this many employees, and you think, it’s going great but how big is this going get? You know? It kind of messes with your head too sometimes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Were you ever concerned you weren’t going to be able to make payroll?
Ryan Townend: Oh yeah. I think every entrepreneur will go through those cash flow cycles, were they kind of think you know. like I go back to 08′ when the recession hit, and 85% of our clients were oil and gas, and they all stopped spending in the same month. Now, luckily that was when we were booming so we had great reserves, but it definitely was frightful when you go 85% of your revenue has stopped.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Ryan Townend: You know?
Jonathan Hafichuk: So how did you deal with that?
Ryan Townend: And cut! How did you deal with that? You know what, when you are really stressed, what I’ve now learned, is you need a go to list. You need a go to list of things that will pull you out of, Gene and I always joke about this, it’s called a dark place, is that I’m always like, oh I feel like I’m going into a dark place right now. I’m getting really stressed. So you almost have to have pre-built in things. Get outside. Walk the dogs. Jump on the motorcycle. Call your friends. Get out of the environment for a minute to help yourself reset because sometimes you can make it darker in your mind than it actually even is just because of stress and starting to freak out. But when you kind of have those little go to solutions. It kind of helps you reset and go, okay well wait a second. It’s not actually all that bad. What’s our plan? Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How did the recession here effect you? Was that the 2008, because that was later.
Ryan Townend: Which one do you want 2008, 2014?
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah the 2014 one.
Ryan Townend: I was way more diversified at that point. So we did have Saskatoon at that spot. So it’s funny the two provinces, when Calgary is doing great and Alberta is doing great, Saskatchewan sometimes feels like it takes a dip. And then when Alberta is kind of maybe not doing so well, Saskatchewan helps us ride it through, right? So by having the multiple markets you can really feel like they tend to fire at different times.
Ryan Townend: You know I think the biggest challenge that I had in my business was, I had a business partner. We were great for honestly, I guess the company is 16 years old now, and we did phenomenal together for honestly the 12 years. And it really got to a spot where his passion didn’t align with mine, and we found a breakdown at that level, of where the partners, actually myself and he, we weren’t getting along. It was causing friction in the office, you could feel it. And we had to actually separate and go our own ways. And that was probably one of the darkest days in my life with this company, because you have to sometimes cut the person loose so they can live their dreams. And then you have to sit back and go, okay now I have to continue on alone.
Ryan Townend: And after having a person on your right hand side for 12 years that you bounced everything from, from the memories of being in that basement on day one, all the way through to having that person there, to have them gone, you always question, can I do this myself? And it was a really hard decision, and it was really hard to walk back into the office the next day. And all I can think of was, again my team was there. They were there before, and they were still there. And I relied so heavily on them during that transition because I thought you know, you guys can help me take us to the next level. And they all ponied up and did that with me. So, that was a really kind of dark time.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And it was a good decision in the long run it sounds like. It sounds like something that had to happen right?
Ryan Townend: Yeah. It does. But you know the thing is, people, when you’re going through times like that, it’s easy rationally to say, oh you know this makes sense and blah, blah, blah. But emotion plays a big part right? So emotion can keep people in relationships longer than they should. Emotion can help you justify bad decisions, and so sometimes it’s really challenging to say it rationally. I know this is what has to be done, but emotionally its hard to let go.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. Well at that point its pretty much like you said, a marriage right?
Ryan Townend: Yes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So, that would be difficult.
Ryan Townend: Yeah. After a decade.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what did he go onto to do?
Ryan Townend: He went out west, and he’s pursuing his passion now. And yeah we’ve kind of just let it separate.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Cool.
Ryan Townend: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you scaled very quickly when you where starting. I guess the first couple of years were a little bit slower, and then you just really ramped it up.
Ryan Townend: Yes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: When you scale a company like that, obviously it takes a lot of systems. It takes the right people in the right places. Missing components can really cause things to go awry. How did you go about building those systems? How did you go about building that foundation, and that structure so that you could scale successfully without imploding?
Ryan Townend: That’s a great question. You know, as much as we grew rapidly there, we’re in a way more rapid growth mode now. Like I’ve never seen before in my life. So when the company started it had a nice trajectory, and it did go up, and then the first recession came and we crashed down, and we tried to pull up, and then another recession came and took us further down. And then when Tim left the company, I really had a decision at that point of what do I want to do about this, right? Coming out of two recessions, you have debt, you don’t have savings, but you do have an amazing reputation with an amazing team. And I literally went and took, I use an airplane analogy a lot, I took that throttle and I just pulled it back as hard as could. And we literally tripled our marketing. We created director’s circles. We surrounded ourselves with the smartest folks we knew on that team. We invested in management. Those managers were each in charge of developing their processes. And we just pulled the throttle.
Ryan Townend: And were we were bringing on one good client a month, we’re now bringing in over probably, at least one a week. And so then not only did I do that to Calgary. I opened up Red Deer and Grande Prairie last year at the same time. So, you think, jeez its kind of crazy to open up one office. We opened two, simultaneously. So that throttle even went harder because now we had a good connection with Saskatoon’s office. But this is now, well, how do you manage four offices versus two? Now there is talks about even more offices, and really developing processes to keep you profitable is key. Because Just because you grow doesn’t mean you’re making money, right? So I think that’s the whole thing is, how do you grow efficiently? Because you can’t drop balls either, right? I think the thing is, the last thing you want to be known for is, oh they’re big, and now they’re sloppy, right? You want every client to always feel like they’re the only one, that they’re very, very special to you. And that’s what really matters to me is giving that really customized service.
Ryan Townend: But, again, now we have over a hundred clients in our portfolio where we used to have only honestly 20 four years ago. So…
Jonathan Hafichuk: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow. So you now have four offices as of quite recently.
Ryan Townend: Yes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you have projections or goals for the next five to ten years in terms of offices or staff? Or are you just going with the flow?
Ryan Townend: No, I do have goals. I think what happens is companies start to take on a life of their own, and you either are a part of it and you just go with you it you know? We’re very fortunate. We’ve had cities reach out to me and say, “We’d love to have a William Joseph in our city, would you consider that?” I’m like, wow, you’re now looking for me. I think it’s really interesting because we’re really western in our values. I don’t know. I think when you’re from Alberta or Saskatchewan, there’s this prairie mentality that we have. You know I definitely think a lot of our clients are still oil and gas of course, but there is a western mentality that lives in us. And going down to like a Houston, that’s not out of the question just because of our oil connections. We have been asked to go east out to Toronto. And that’s again, an obvious option for us as well. I really think that this company can explode. The people that we have on the team are phenomenal.
Ryan Townend: Honestly, you’re only as good as your people. And when you have phenomenal people that hit it out of the park every day, the sky is the limit. We really could take on anything we want as long as we keep attracting the right talent, really embracing the people that we have. We’re such a family, and I think, keeping this family feeling at 30 people, we’re now coming into that next generation, right? When you’re 10 people, 11 people, you are family. You know, you sit around the table. Staff meeting we all sit around the table. Now you’re 30 people, multiple cities. Well, what’s next? And it’s really easy. You land two clients and you’re like, oh, we could add two people there, four people there. Well now we’re 40 people. Now the process that worked at 10, doesn’t work at 40. So we’re now investing a lot in process and change management. That’s a position now almost right? So it’s different. See me next year, I’ll probably have four more cities. I don’t know, but we kind of have our eyes on some spots.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah. Very cool.
Ryan Townend: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So on kind of the personal side, I think you’ve developed a relatively strong personal brand, which I believe has kind of helped to build your company from what I understand. Was that orchestrated, did it happen by chance? Did you have kind of like a plan to be like, all right, I want to be known. I want to do these speaking gigs. And how do you pick where you position yourself, what you speak at, what events you do? Sorry that’s a very broad question.
Ryan Townend: It’s a very long question. Did I start off to have a personal brand? Not really. I think just be yourself honestly. I think I encourage everyone to just be authentic, be true to who you are, and be yourself. You know it’s great that I think what people resonate with me is my passion for my business, and my passion for their business because I wouldn’t really want to work for something if I didn’t really care about it. Do you know what I mean? So whether it was the zoo, or whoever I work with today, I’m always like, jeez that’s interesting, how do we make that happen? And I have an authentic passion towards that. And that passion is what you feel through our company. You know, whether you talk with me, or my team, that passion is what’s present, and that’s what takes us forward.
Ryan Townend: You know, my personal brand, like LinkedIn. My LinkedIn followers have gotten a little crazy. I guess I’m now like an influencer. I’m not sure how that happened. You know, I just tell everyday stories. Nothing remarkable. But we share our learnings, we talk about our clients. I share my challenges. I’m the first one on LinkedIn to say I had a shitty day. What do you guys do when you have a shitty day because I’m having a shitty day because I think too many people paint these pictures of everything is perfect in social media, and then you get all this stress of like, oh, look what they’re doing, look what they’re doing. Their lives are perfect, and why is mine so shitty? You know, so I am pretty transparent. And it’s funny. People come up to me and they’re like, “Sorry you had a bad day.” And I’m like, “I don’t even know who you are.” “Oh, I follow you on LinkedIn. I know last Tuesday you had a shitty day.” I was like, “Oh, thanks man.”
Ryan Townend: But yeah. It’s kind of crazy, honestly we did this little experiment, my friend and I, we just posted on LinkedIn, I love cake. And I do love cake. Let’s be honest. And I love cake at 2:00 on Tuesdays or something. And we posted it and we had all these likes. Well, the next day, people showed up at the office with cake at 2:00. And I was like, “I like winning lottery tickets. Like maybe you could bring those.” But you know, it’s just interesting because I think people tell authentic stories with passion.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Ryan Townend: People follow that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Does that influence your approach in marketing for your clients?
Ryan Townend: You know, we’re very strategic in nature. We have a director of strategy, and the strategy team that really ties it to goals and objectives. So every one is really uniquely different tied to their culture, their brands, their outcomes, and stuff like that. And then our whole team, through creative, through content, through social, through video, they help tell those stories right? So I think the thing is, what’s consistent is we give a shit. I say this all the time. At WJ, every person that you touch actually really cares about your business. They care about our business. They’re always giving us ideas. My team will honestly text me on a Tuesday at like 11:00 at night being like, “Was thinking about this. What do you think about that?” I’m like, “That’s awesome, throw it in.” And we really encourage everyone to have a voice. We always say that. Like, you know what, your opinion matters and we need to hear it because that’s what helps us all get better.
Jonathan Hafichuk: If you can sum it up, what role does story telling play in marketing in your mind? How do you implement the story telling into the marketing?
Ryan Townend: Yeah. That’s a great question. So your brand is your story. Right? I have a brand, you have a brand. It’s our story, it’s who we are, and companies need to figure out how to uniquely tell their story. Right? Their story explains what they do, why they do it, who they do it for. It tells what makes them unique in the marketplace, and if you try to cut a corner, and you just talk about what you do, your competitor will talk about what they do, and then, you know what happens? It’s going to come down to price because you both do the same thing right? Well no. It’s totally different. This is our story, right? So I think people have to really invest in telling the story of who they are and who they’re going to be. Not just letting their old story kind of linger from behind, because that’s the story of who you were.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Ryan Townend: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Very cool. Okay, so now I want to kind of wrap things up, I want to go into some really applicable, really actionable ideas for people who are starting businesses, for people like back when you started, have small budgets for their marketing. So, for starters, if someone is thinking about starting a business, maybe not from a marketing standpoint, but from an entrepreneurial standpoint, what do you think are the most important points that they should consider before starting a business.
Ryan Townend: This is great. Let me tell you all. No. Number one, do people want what you’re selling? At the end of the day, a business is as only viable if you’re solving a problem or a need that somebody has. If they aren’t interested in what you’re selling, and you can’t even through education explain it, is it really going to be viable? And I have seen a lot of different companies through my doors, and the more tightly tied you are to, this is the client’s challenges or their problems, and here’s how we’re going solve that for them and be the best at it, than that’s the winning companies that you’re going to find, right? So that’s number one. Number two, do you have the knowledge to pull this off? It’s not a hobby folks. Its not like hey, I want to be a business owner, I’m going to try this. You have to have the smarts to understand how a business operates, and what you don’t know, you have to surround yourself with those experts, right? You find a lawyer, you find an accountant, you find a marketing person. You find all these people that surround you, so when you don’t know something, you never guess. As soon as you’re guessing, you’re putting vulnerability onto your company.
Ryan Townend: And so I always say surround yourself with the most expensive people you can afford, because you hope that they can give you the best advice, right? Like William Joseph, come for a cup of coffee and an hour conversation, 150 bucks. That hour can save you six months of grief by guessing, right? So I think you know, number one, is your business viable?
Ryan Townend: Number two, surround yourself with people that can help you answer things. I’m really all about, you can always make more money, but you can’t get back time. So what makes me cringe, understand this, life long learning is amazing. Read books, go to courses. But if you’re like, I don’t know marketing, I’m going to start reading books, and in three years I’m going to come up with a plan. Oh my god! In three years I was already at almost a million bucks because you surround yourself with smart folks. You say, can you help me get to the next level? What book should I read, but can you do this while I’m doing this? So really know what you’re good at, and do the things that you can do to make money. And then outsource the other stuff and let them do it, right? So those are I guess would be my three tips.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. And then the next thing I’d like to touch on is, a company just starting out they’re brand new, how should they determine where they should spend a very limited marketing budget?
Ryan Townend: So number one, it all depends on how big you want to be, right? So you can have a start up that actually is trying to talk to a global market. Or a start up that’s just honestly on the corner store. Number one, get an hour of consulting to help figure this out. And then you can figure out from that time period, which angle are we going to go with?
Ryan Townend: So if you’re really, really small, business card, website. Hit the streets, go network, call your buddies, because you just need to have some credibility. At the beginning that all I had and it was me networking like crazy. But if you are bigger, and you want to project out of the gate, like honestly, we have entrepreneurs that walk into our office and say, we need to look like a global giant because our clients that we are going after are global giants on day one. Help us build that credibility, trust and profile so when we turn the light on Tuesday, we look like we’re ready for business. So I think honestly entrepreneurs come in so many different sizes, it’s just all the goals that you want to play.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What is the importance of professional branding versus do it yourself? So professional design, professional photography, professional video, what difference have you seen that make versus people who build all their stuff in Canva, their website is Wix, their photos are taken with an iPhone 4?
Ryan Townend: Yeah. You know what I think the thing is, is it all comes down to people buy from people they like and trust. So your brand has to tell an authentic compelling story that differentiates you, and it has to exude credibility and trust. And were all playing the game as entrepreneurs against global brands, against Apple, against Google, all those guys, they’re billions of dollars. But we’re used to that, we’re savvy consumers. So if you put something in front of us that just doesn’t feel credible or trust worthy, our spidey senses pick up, and were like geez, well I really like that John guy but, just his marketing just doesn’t feel like he’s all that credible. And it starts making you question things right? So I always say do less, but do it really well. I don’t care if you can afford two photos, and we make your website like, that’s the primary photo and that’s a secondary, and then that photos on the back of your business card and whatever.
Ryan Townend: But what you do, do very, very well, that tells your story. And as you grow you know you build it out. Our marketing program now is more than our revenue on year three. I never would have thought this. We have our own WJ magazine. We’re on TV programs. We’re on all these things now doing all these things. It’s inconceivable starting with three grand in a basement that’s where we ended up. So when people tell me, “Oh Ryan, I just couldn’t do that, or I couldn’t afford it.” I’m the first one that actually says, “Actually bullshit. Because I did do it, so don’t tell me. I literally had three grand in a basement, and here I am with a marketing budget, 400 grand a year. Well how did that happen? If it’s not possible how did I do it? So I do think being a business owner that’s gone through ups and downs, I can relate to people. And you know what I think the biggest challenge is, is entrepreneurs, they’re just scared.
Ryan Townend: It’s like there is so many variables at play. But you know there have been day where I’m like, do you pay rent? Do you pay staff? Do you pay marketing? Do you do this? It’s hard, you have all these competing expenses, and you don’t know really where to prioritize, but if you don’t keep your name out there, and keep the sales coming in, you’ll never solve the other problems. Right? So anyways. Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Makes sense, that’s great.
Ryan Townend: Market, market, market, williamjoseph.com. Shameless.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So where can people find out more about you online?
Ryan Townend: Yeah, so you can definitely go to our website williamjoseph.com. You can follow me on LinkedIn personally. Again we have our WJ magazine, you can get copies of that at any of our offices, and yeah we’re always happy to have people over for a conversation. We’ve launched something really quite cool. You talk about authentic branding, so I love meeting people because ever person has a story right? I honestly think this comes back from my grandfather who would talk to everybody on the street corner in Wadena, Saskatchewan, and everybody knew Joe and Annie, so my grandparents. So I think I go their gift of gab. But my grandma was also the first person that would say, come on in and have dinner. She would invite you into their house, and you would always go to grandma’s place, and you would never know who was in her kitchen.
Ryan Townend: And I think that buried deep in me somehow, and that’s how I run my company. You’re always welcome to come in for a cup of coffee, and so I created something called Ryan’s Roundup at Ranchman’s. So we do marketing for Ranchman’s, and I love the culture and vibe of the establishment. So what happened was, we would have Christmas parties that were amazing, and Stampede parties that were amazing. And then people would say, geez it’s been six months since I saw you, we should get together more often. How many times did people say that? So I was like, you know what? Why don’t we meet the first Thursday of every month at Ranchman’s, and then we can just like touch base. We all kind of have that. We all know that we’re all going be there that day. So, I launch this for my friends, and then I said to my clients, come out to Ranchman’s. Let’s have a beverage because we work so hard together. It’s kind of nice sometimes to just have a moment to chill and bond.
Ryan Townend: And the next thing you know we ended up opening this up to the public. And we said, you know it’s where good people hang out. Pretty simple, if you want to hang out with some good people come out to Ranchman’s the first Thursday of every month. This thing took off, right? All these people are coming now because they’re like, Ryan we want to meet you, we want to meet some good people, and Ranchman’s now has this following. And I was like well wait a second, then I get the grief. Well why don’t you have a round up in Grande Prairie? Why don’t you have a round up in Saskatoon.
Ryan Townend: So okay, does anyone really want us to have it? Yes we do. So now we’re having Ryan’s Roundup in Saskatoon at our local, the university pub. So we’re celebrating 100 years of our business school this year, and were throwing a Ryan’s Roundup at [Louie’s 00:41:06]. You know and it… Strategic actually slash brilliant, but authentically is where it came from. It was just a gathering spot for our friends to hang out, and people that wanted to learn about us, to just hang out. You know? And those are those little things where I think authentically people they can tell that you care, and yeah. It’s taken off.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Very cool.
Ryan Townend: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s awesome. I might have to check out one of those.
Ryan Townend: First Thursday of every month in Calgary.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Perfect.
Ryan Townend: At Ranchman’s. You’re all invited.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Great. Awesome, well thank you so much for your time. I appreciate all the insights. I think you were able to provide a lot of value to up and coming business owners.
Ryan Townend: Perfect.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So thank you.
Ryan Townend: Oh, thanks for having me.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Our first sponsor is Symbol Syndication, which is a video production company that I started. We do video production and online marketing for businesses of all sizes, ranging from solo entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies.
Our second sponsor is Gravity Cafe. They have been gracious enough to give us their space. The coffee is awesome. They have live music three nights a week. The beer is great. It’s an awesome place to come hang out.
Another sponsor of The Ambition Project is Business Link. Business Link is Alberta’s entrepreneurial hub. They are a non profit organization that helps people navigate the steps towards starting their own businesses. Just because you’re in business for yourself doesn’t mean you’re in business by yourself. Business Link’s team of in house start up experts are there to support you all along the way.
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