Mary Clare Bland

Business is actually really easy. It’s like losing weight- everyone knows how to do it, they just don’t want to put in the effort, or get so hung up on reasons why they can’t do it that they don’t even try.


Ms. Bland started her career on Wall Street, where she worked as an International Portfolio Manager and Oil & Gas Analyst. After years of telling Fortune 500 executives how to run their companies, she decided it was time for her to start her own business. Thus she started, and managed, two small business in Manhattan. They grew to be very successful.

However, she quickly discovered that high end marketing and digital solutions were outside the reach of most small business owners- particularly herself. So starting in 2005 (when Facebook was in its infancy), she embarked upon a campaign to learn as much about digital marketing and advertising as she could. Her skill set grew in tandem with the industry.

Eventually, other small business owners started asking her help with their social media campaigns, SEO and blogging. After years of helping other small business owners achieve their digital marketing goals, she decided to open her own agency. She does this from Madrid but has clients all over the world.

Ms. Bland’s passion is travel- she has visited over 60 countries and stayed in hotels ranging from the fanciest luxury palaces in Abu Dhabi down to a sleeping bag (tent: no, snakes: yes) in the Australian Outback. When she isn’t working or traveling, you can find her enjoying long walks in Madrid, taking photographs, watching her favorite TV shows or talking to family and friends.

Where did the idea for Bespoke Digital Solutions come from?

Actually, it came about very organically. After I left Wall Street, I started a Kid’s Tae Kwon Do school in Manhattan. That was back in 2004, when very few small businesses had a digital presence. In the beginning, I bartered with a customer of mine who owned a fancy Madison Avenue advertising agency to make my website.

I had a website, but had no idea how to drive traffic to it. I asked a friend of mine, who was a traffic manager, to do it for me. He said, “No, but I’ll teach you how to do it.” So in 2006 he got me up to speed on everything- it was much simpler back then. Just SEO and Adwords.

When Facebook started to gain traction, I decided it could be a cheap way to promote my businesses. I was one of the first small business owners to use social media. As the industry grew, so did my skills. Eventually, other small business owners saw what I was doing and asked me for advice. Then they started offering to pay me.

When I decided to sell my businesses in NYC and move to Europe, I did a lot of soul searching, trying to determine my next step. One day I had a flash and realized I had already grown a micro business. It was something I quite enjoyed doing, so decided to make it my full-time occupation.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I think, particularly if you work for yourself, having a routine is key. First thing in the morning I check email and read news relevant to my business. I have stopped watching most other news because the world is such a dark place right now it just brings me down. I read The Economist Espresso and The Guardian Morning Briefing every morning, and that is it. I limit my personal time spent on social media to no more than a half an hour a day. Just doing those two things: limiting news watching and personal social media time, has massively increased my productivity. I also work from home. Some people have trouble focusing at home, but that never really bothers me. I find the time saved commuting greatly enhances my daily productivity.

I typically spend about four hours of the day doing actual work, and usually an hour or two in meetings. The rest is spent communicating with clients and building relationships. For me it is important to keep a balance between work time, communication and planning. I make sure at the end of the work day that I have a to-do list written for the next day. If I have a big workload, I make weekly and monthly to-do lists.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I can’t just sit down and think of how to do something. I need to act. Once I start a project, things just flow. If I get really stuck, I force myself to go for a walk, or call someone to brainstorm. But action is key.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Cryptocurrency. My academic training was in economics, and I worked in finance for many years. That, combined with my love of anything digital, means I find myself helplessly drawn to cryptocurrency’s siren song.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Something I learned pretty early in the game: the good thing about being an entrepreneur is you have the power to solve any problem. So, whenever I feel worried or stressed, I force myself to sit down and research ways to solve the problem, rather than stressing. If I really panic, I put that energy into lead generation. In short: I have replaced the habits of procrastination with problem solving and action.

What advice would you give your younger self?

There are lots of ways to make money. Don’t get too fixated on one.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Business is actually really easy. It’s like losing weight- everyone knows how to do it, they just don’t want to put in the effort, or get so hung up on reasons why they can’t do it that they don’t even try.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Always do something to grow your business. I have read very few books on entrepreneurship. But once I a friend loaned me a book, and something it said really stuck with me: “Most people are so busy working in their business that they forget to work on their business.” That is so true. Especially when things are good, it’s easy to forget to focus on marketing and sales. But that just sets you up for a potential nervous breakdown when things slow down, as they inevitably do unless you keep up your growth momentum.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Through the years, I have had a couple different types of businesses. But one thing has been true for them all: always provide the best possible customer experience you can. This not only guarantees follow-on business but will provide you with a steady stream of referrals. And if something goes wrong? That’s ok. Things always go wrong. Making mistakes, and learning from them, is a part of life. The key is to admit your mistake, apologize and do something to amply compensate the customer in return. That builds a brand loyalty that can never be underestimated.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One of my employees stole a large number of my customers and started his own competing business a couple streets over. I did what I always do: focused on how to grow my business and make it better, as opposed to going after him. Eventually, many of my old customers returned because he didn’t provide adequate customer service and didn’t provide them with a consistently good experience. In the end, it cemented my reputation in a very good way. But it sure was stressful and upsetting to go through!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

This is something I realized early in my entrepreneur voyage: there are two ways to make a successful business. You can have a brilliant idea no one has thought of, or you can take an existing idea and execute on it better than anyone else in the market. The perfect example of this is Starbucks. They have created an empire by serving really expensive coffee in paper cups. Hence my advice: look for an execution gap in your local market and fill it. For example, I live in Madrid, Spain. It is really, really difficult to get a decent salad here. I think anyone that opens a Chop’t franchise could make a fortune! (And not that impostor Chop’d you find in London, but a real Chop’t)

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Last month I bought a plane ticket to Ireland. It was a last minute thing, but a friend (who is also a client) invited me to go on a photography shoot with her to the Cliffs of Moher. I had never been to Ireland and decided to go. It was great just to get away and clear my head for a few days. Plus, the trip had an unexpected benefit- it helped me cement a new business relationship!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

I really like HARO . I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but through it I have generated a lot of press both for myself and my clients, gained a lot of links to websites (both for myself and clients) and even made some good professional relationships. My advice is to write very well thought out, concise pitches. I never pitch anything that isn’t 100% relevant to the query and try to write them in such a way that the reporters’ time is optimized.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

It’s ironic- when I was a kid, all I did was read. In the summer, the library used to give a special award for everyone that read 100 books and I did it a bunch of years in a row! But after graduate school I stopped reading for pleasure and never really picked up the habit again. That said, last year my sister gave me an excellent book for my birthday. It’s called “Circling the Sun” and is about Beryl Markham. She is best known for her aviation feats- in fact the only person I know that had heard of her before the book was published is my dad, who is a pilot. Ms. Markham was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic from east to west. She was also the first female horse trainer in Kenya and owned her own horse farm, in Kenya, in the early 1900’s.

Aside from the fact that she had the most fascinating life, what really appeals to me about this book was the pride that Ms. Markham took in her work. She had a life filled with so much adventure, but also a great deal of tragedy. Throughout all of the grief and loss her anchor was her work, and the pride she took in it. That is something I can relate to. I think it is a very empowering message for any entrepreneur.

What is your favorite quote?

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I have no idea who originally said it. I first heard it from a Kung Fu Master.

Key learnings:

• Having your own business is a roller coaster ride. The only way to see through the cycle is to learn to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
• The day you decide you no longer need to grow your business is the day it starts to fail.
• Take pride in your work as that is the one thing that will see you through the roller coaster ride of life.
• Every woman should learn to be financially independent.
• The best kind of growth is organic growth. This is true for businesses and relationships too.


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