Providing guidance, even to businesses that aren’t clients, can lead to great word-of-mouth referrals. In return for your help, they will remember your kindness. When someone who is a better client talks to them, they will refer that client to you.
Flynn Zaiger graduated from Tulane University in the Spring of 2012 with a BSM in marketing and communications, immediately getting a job in the corporate world. Six months there were enough, and with the many resources available to entrepreneurs in the city, Flynn decided to see if he could create a better place to work, performing much needed internet marketing assistance for the many businesses in New Orleans and around Louisiana. In October of 2012, Online Optimism was started with nothing but a laptop and a lot of coffee. The company has never had any kind of outside investment and has remained profitable since day one. He has led the company in its growth through five expanding office spaces, reaching a dozen team members in under five years at their largest office on Magazine Street.
In addition to running Online Optimism, Flynn is actively involved in the community. He has presented repeatedly on entrepreneurial subjects at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and spoke on digital marketing and analytics at Sage Summit in Chicago. His expertise has led to him being featured on Forbes.com, Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, CIO.com, and Social Media Today for his insights on digital marketing, managing millennials, and entrepreneurship.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
After working in the corporate world and seeing all the workplace issues in that environment, I wanted to see if I could create a better place to work. By the time I graduated from college, the brick-and-mortar retail collapse was in full swing. I realized that in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana area, many businesses were in need of internet marketing assistance. I found that digital marketing was a solution to what was lacking in my city. Many marketing boutiques in New Orleans are more focused on traditional marketing strategies, such as TV advertising, so I decided to create an agency to help businesses navigate the digital landscape.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am constantly running from meeting to meeting, while also managing my team of employees. Time is one of my most valuable assets, so I try to find ways to be as productive as possible in the time I’m given. The best way for me to be productive is to create a team that can function without me hovering over its shoulder. Not only does this make my employees more efficient, but it frees me to do other tasks.
My number one way to increase productivity is to create checklists, guidelines, and written processes for everything I do. A written guideline allows my employees to complete their tasks without me being present and allows us as a company to track all of our processes and improve upon them in the future.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I find the best way to bring my ideas to life is by working with my team to think about different strategies that are effective. I like to make sure that everybody feels open to sharing ideas—the more voices that are out there, the more we can put our ideas together and come up with one that works. I’ve found you need to be open to brainstorming ideas together, because more often than not, the first idea that you come up with will never be the right one.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend I’m most excited about right now is the continued focus on influencer marketing. My agency’s social media team strongly believes in the strength and importance of influencer marketing. It’s already a very big deal, but I can only see it continuing to grow as it allows consumers to connect with their favorite brands in a very personal way.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a very competitive spirit. I’m always trying to make our company the best for our city and clients. I’ve learned to take this competitive spirit and use it when I look at companies I admire, so I can see what they’re doing and borrow their ideas. The best business strategies are done hundreds of times over. To be successful, we need to look to each other to gain inspiration on how to apply someone else’s success to our own business. Looking at both direct and indirect ways companies have become successful is a great way to learn about new trends and make your business more productive.
What advice would you give your younger self?
“It’s a very small city. Be nice to everyone.” I realize this now, but it isn’t something you notice when you’re just starting out. The people you run into the first week of business, you’ll likely run into again and again throughout decades of your business. Now, I’d tell myself that even if it’s unprofitable, even if it takes extra time, helping out those who may not be able to immediately help you back is important to getting the goodwill you’ll need to grow your business in the community.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Being first in the market is not essential to winning the market. There are new social media platforms being invented dozens of times a day. If we tried to get our clients on these first all the time, we’d be wasting effort on platforms that will not reach critical mass. Instead, don’t worry about being first. Focus on platforms that are proven to meet the audience, so you won’t be wasting your time or your client’s.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I highly recommend that everyone take the time to regularly network. You never know who can help you out. It’s a skill you need to learn quickly and never stop doing, no matter how successful your business becomes. Every month, I try to make sure I’m going to a lot of networking events for my industry, handing out and accepting business cards, and following up with people I meet. I believe in the power of networking so much that I support everyone on my team, including interns, attending networking events they express interest in. I can’t stress the importance of networking enough, and why it’s something I do over and over. Networking has translated to a lot of financial success by gaining new clients, referrals, and more.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One of the biggest strategies that has helped me grow my business is providing guidance to businesses that I won’t necessarily gain anything from. Providing guidance, even to businesses that aren’t clients, can lead to great word-of-mouth referrals. In return for your help, businesses will remember your kindness. When someone who is a better client talks to them, they will refer that client to you. We still hear from businesses that we haven’t spoken to in years, but they remembered the guidance we gave them and referred clients to us. This has been highly effective in growing our business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Some of our earlier hires weren’t the right culture fit, which led to problems as we grew. They didn’t fit in with the rest of the team and did not align with the company’s vision. It’s so important to have a team that can work together toward the same goal. Now we work to implement culture interviews to make sure the employees we hire match better with the growth that we’re building.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love to see a business come about that focuses on a personalized report of your digital presence. This business would be able to tell you what people find out about you on the internet. Its selling point would be to pull information and show it to you, while also teaching you how to build content and make it better in the eyes of the public.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I regularly spend $100 or more on office snacks and Friday lunches for my team, and it’s always a great decision. By keeping the office stocked with snacks my employees want, our team stays fueled, focused, and happy. It’s well worth the expense in exchange for the higher productivity and employee satisfaction. We also go out to lunch together on the company dime every Friday, rotating between our employees to choose the restaurant. It’s a great way to get out of the office and bond over food and Weekly Wins, our time for sharing the successes we’ve achieved each week.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Slack is an office-place instant messaging application. It’s great for sharing files or pictures, and it allows us to bypass most emails, which can be too formal or unnecessary and are often overlooked. Also, it lets us share GIFs to keep things less serious than email.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The First-Time Manager” by Jim McCormick. When going through training with employees, you can find many useful tips to keep employees motivated. Having motivated employees is the most important aspect of growth and retention. This book is full of helpful tips you can easily apply to your business.
What is your favorite quote?
“I’m an optimist about humanity in general, I suppose.” — Tim Berners-Lee
- To be successful, you need to look to other businesses you admire, gaining inspiration and applying someone else’s success to your own business.
- Being first in the market is not essential to winning the market. For example, focus on social media platforms that are proven to meet the audience, so you won’t be wasting your time or your client’s time.
- Providing guidance, even to businesses that aren’t clients, can lead to great word-of-mouth referrals. In return for your help, they will remember your kindness. When someone who is a better client talks to them, they will refer that client to you.
- Networking has translated to a lot of financial success by gaining us new clients, referrals, and more. It’s a skill you need to learn quickly and never stop doing, no matter how successful your business becomes.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.