Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in business development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ciara Ahern, Founder of Sixth Element, located in Cleveland, OH, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Sixth Element is a strategic, creative branding agency. We help businesses to create, breathe new life into, and strengthen their brands. Our top differentiators are our bold, clean, high-design aesthetic, passion for the edgy and unexpected, close collaboration with our clients, and incisive approach to all we do.
Many of our customers are parent companies launching new brands, products, or services. They typically require anything from brand strategy, naming, and identity to go-to-market strategy and core asset creation (e.g., websites, product packaging, messaging & content). Some of our customers are established businesses with tired or outdated branding, including businesses that have evolved over time — while their branding, content, and creativity have not. We also work with clients on strategies to fuel growth, reach new audiences, accomplish a goal, or solve a problem.
We are industry agnostic and specialize in bringing brands to life across all creative customer touchpoints: from the digital customer journey to events and experiential marketing via environmental and interior design or through product packaging, high-design merch, and much more.
Tell us about yourself
For the bulk of my career (15 years), I led strategic integrated marketing planning and initiatives at full-service agencies, primarily for Fortune 500 clients. I'm an out-of-the-box thinker obsessed with branding, design, and all things creative, but I am also very business-minded and results-oriented.
I believe that all marketing investments should be strategic and purposeful — and I didn't want to work for an agency that focused more on selling services than creating value. I was also regularly underwhelmed by the creative, brand, and design work coming out of larger, full-service agencies.
These were the key drivers that motivated me to create Sixth Element, a creative yet highly strategic and business-minded boutique agency. I love solving problems and believe that there’s still a huge market for truly differentiating branding, design, and creativity.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Our most important accomplishment is 100% client happiness and enthusiastic feedback on all work to date. That’s the metric we care most about. Ultimately, we truly love what we do, which comes through every project we take on.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Building a truly epic team is no easy feat. But I’ve also never had the opportunity to hand-select a core team of creative geniuses who regularly blow my mind — and are also a joy to work with. Knowing upfront that the caliber of my team largely dictates the caliber of my business and our work was crucial.
I am regularly in awe of my team members, love working with them, and am incredibly proud of the work we’re doing together.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Bring in the right people. Your core team is your greatest asset and can drastically help or hinder your success.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths, and prioritize delegation of your weaknesses as you grow. Your time is a highly valuable, finite asset — so use it well. There’s no point burning yourself out on something someone else could do far more effectively and efficiently.
- Think and plan — but be nimble. Remember that building your company is just phase one. You want to be thoughtful and intentional about the building process but flexible enough to evolve and optimize as you grow. Be highly strategic about where you invest your time and money. And never allow yourself to be tied to anything that isn’t working, serving your customers, or fueling your growth.
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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