Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in digital marketing but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Gordon Van Wechel, Founder & Chief Alchemist of Alchemy Consulting Group, located in Chesapeake, VA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Alchemy is a full-service marketing agency. Roughly 75% of our work is digital, with the remaining more traditional ad agency products. This product mix gives us the ability to carefully analyze what a prospective client needs to meet their objectives and structure a mix of products that will accomplish this. Frequently we'll start with one or two products, implement them, and as they generate results for the client, add the next product. Our digital products are like many agencies. We build and update websites and do reputation marketing, search engine optimization, video marketing, social media, and paid advertising. Something that is unique about our agency is that we have created and trademarked four products that, when implemented one at a time, help our clients establish a solid marketing foundation and then build their growth structure on top of this. Our offline products include direct mail, scripting multi-media campaigns, and content writing. Our typical customer is a business generating between $250K and $5 million in top-line revenue. Our specialties include many professional practice niches as well as companies in the building trades. We have clients across the United States.
Tell us about yourself
I started my first company at 25, and over my career have built and sold three businesses, each doing more than $5M in sales at the time of sale. Along the way, I also had a few failures. Such is the entrepreneurial life! I started Alchemy in 2003 to take the lessons I'd learned in growing my own businesses and share them with start-ups and smaller enterprises. When I started, the internet was very new, and most advertising was done through traditional channels. In 2006 we began building websites and doing search engine optimization, and our online products have grown from there. I still enjoy sitting down with business owners and helping them articulate where they would like their business to go and then helping them design a path to achieve those goals. I'm very proud of the fact that our clients have stuck with us for a long time. Our longest-standing client started with us in 2007, and we have many that have been with us for more than five years. The same is true about our team. Almost all of our people have been with me for 5+ years.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Surviving. I know that sounds facetious, but after nearly 40 years as a business owner, I've experienced a lot of economic turmoil, as well as some really easy years. How does one do this? Know your core product/service well, really understand what your customer needs and wants (these are rarely the same thing), and build a solid team. I've been fortunate enough to do this a few times.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
Finding work/life balance. As a business owner, it is easy to think you need to do everything or at least be involved in every decision. That means you've given up ownership of your business and just defined a low-paying job for yourself. Create clear patterns of management for every activity in your company, and delegate as many of them as possible, like 80% or more(!), so that your focus can be working on the business rather than mired in the day-to-day activities of the business.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Know your trade; really, be an expert at what you are going to offer. I see so many people with almost no business experience and very little life experience offer their "expert" services. Until you've been through a couple of dramatic swings in the economy and survived, I don't think you can be an "expert."
- The customer is not always right, but he/she is always the customer. People engage our company and me because they trust we know what we are doing. Sometimes we have to tell a client that their idea just won't work or their business isn't ready yet for what they want to do. Having those conversations in a diplomatic way that acknowledges the client's vision but helps them see reality is an important skill to build.
- Your business is no stronger than your weakest team member. As a business owner, you have to become proficient at clearly defining what each person on your team is to be doing, training them in such a way that they clearly understand their responsibilities, and then holding them accountable.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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