Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Getting Laid Off Is Sometimes a Good Thing

Getting Laid Off Is Sometimes a Good ThingName of your company and URL

My company is called GREEN LEAF PROMOTIONS. We are a promotional marketing and design company.

www.greenleafpromotions.logomall.com

Date Started

I started looking into doing a business like this in August 2008.

What is your product or service?

Green Leaf Promotions uses imprinted ad specialty items to help our customers gain new customers, and stay ahead of their competition. We basically imprint all types of promotional items ranging from pens, to sticky pads, tote bags, mouse pads, floor mats, etc. I always tell my customer that if there is a spot big enough for a logo, more than likely we can imprint it. Most people think that we only do pens when I tell them that I own a promotional marketing business, but that is just a small item that we do. I tell my customers to try to think bigger also. We can do the sail banners that you see outside of offices, we can do the big gorillas that you see on top of buildings, the sky is the limit. We specialize in finding unique products to help our customers advertise themselves so that they will be remembered. Nowadays it seems that EVERYONE is handing out pens, but we like to help our clients find something that people are going to hang onto and use regularly so that our clients info stays in front of the customer all of the time. For instance, we did nail files for a nail salon to use as a business card.

We also offer email marketing campaigns to our clients. We have found that this is a great way to keep our name in front of our clients, so we encourage our clients to do the same. We either set them up with a campaign that they have total control over, or we do all of the writing and emailing ourselves after their approval. We offer a 60 day FREE trial to anyone that is interested:

http://www.constantcontact.com/index.jsp?pn=greenleafpromotions

We have just started in the past few months looking into mentoring anyone who is wanting to start a promotional marketing company. We can help them thru the process and show them the ins and outs, what to do and what not to do.

What is the most interesting item that you have ever done for a client?

I would say that this would be imprinted condoms that a bar was handing out at New Year’s Eve.

Why did you start your company?

I actually started this company on a whim. It was not something that I had been thinking about, nor ever thought that I could accomplish for the little bit of money that I put into it. I had been working for 2 years as a buyer for the gift shop for a small locals casino where I live. I was ordering imprinted pens, t-shirts, coffee mugs, travel mugs, etc to sell in the shop. I finally got to the point where I was ready to leave there due to alot of things going on. I called the company that I had been buying from and told them that I was leaving, and to please direct any questions on outstanding orders to my boss. I was shocked when the woman who owned the company called me the next day and asked if I would come and work for her and learn the selling end of the business. I couldn’t pass it up! I worked for her company for almost 2 years. She taught me everything about the business, and business was good for them. I was extremely dissappointed when I found out that after being in the business for over 10 years, they were ready to retire, and therefore sold the business. A new owner came in, changed the name, and changed the way that I was used to doing business with the clients. Needless to say, we sort of clashed and I was not happy. I had the same business values that the old owners had. The new owner did not have these. After a year of trying to work with the new owner, I finally decided that I was going to leave and pursue something else. Ironically, he was going to let me go the same day that I wanted to leave. At this point, I did not have a backup plan, and was very unsure of where I was headed. For the past year, I had been selling candles on the side thru a direct marketing company. I was going to networking meetings to try to grow that business to keep me going. At one meeting, there happened to be a woman there that had just started her own promotional marketing business. She actually had no clue as to what she was doing. I overheard her talking to someone else at the meeting about some “talking” pens that the person was looking for. She seemed really lost as to what to tell this person, so I stepped in and told her a couple of companies that she needed to contact that I knew carried the pens. The girl that was running the meeting happened to hear our conversation and took me aside after everyone was gone and asked me why I didn’t have my own promotional marketing business because I knew ALOT about the business. She happened to have her own business too, and told me that I knew more than she actually did and she had had her business for almost 2 years now. I told her that I was broke, and that I didnt have the type of money needed to start a big business like this. She sat down with me for 5 more minutes and showed me how I could do this very inexpensively, and that’s when I started looking into it. And she was right! When I saw just how little I needed to invest, I jumped on the chance and have never looked back!

How is it financed?

My business was never financed in the aspect that I took out a loan to start the business. I did not want to owe money at the very start, so I found ways to do this business and not owe money to anyone. I never took out a loan. I was lucky enough to live within the city limits where my business license at the time was only $25 to start. It was based on projected sales. Someone told me to project low in the first year so that you will pay the minimum for a business license, which is what I did. My most expensive purchase was a fax/copier/scanner that I paid a little over $300 for. My father gave that money to me as help to start my business. I knew that I would need to have a decent search engine for the products that I needed to find for my clients. I had been used to using a reallly nice one at the place that I worked at, but knew I could not afford that at the time. The girl that introduced me to starting the business had told me about a website that is FREE for all distributors of promotional products where you can do product searches, set up quotes, Purchase Orders and Invoices that look pretty professional. Plus it had all of the contact info for the vendors if needed. All I had to do was prove that I was in business and that I was a distributor and not an end user buyer. On top of getting that for FREE, they also offered a simple website for FREE! I was so happy to see this. I spent a few days making it look professional and then launched it. I had alot of vendors that I knew specific people that worked there, due to my working relationship with the company I worked for before they sold their business. They had taken me to all of the trade shows and introduced me the pertinent people. So I contacted the ones that I knew and told them that I had ventured out on my own, and a good many of them offered me free imprinted items to print my logo on to start handing out to advertise my business. Granted, it was mainly pens, but one company did give me about 250 free business card magnets. But from that day forward, I took advantage of every free offer for self promos that I could find. I don’t think that a lot of people in this business realize just how many free self promos you can collect when you go to our biggest convention of the year. I think that I have paid only about $80 in self promos for my business to date. I just received 200 free can coozies for doing a survey, 300 free pens for another survey. I received 1000 free temporary tattoos from a company at the convention. I have also received free ribbon, free letter openers, free computer screen cleaners, and more! So now I was in business with very little out of pocket expenses. I also use all of the free advertising that I can as mentioned in the next question, and I was running the business out of my house with no overhead expenses.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

Well, before Facebook or LinkedIn started getting really big, or maybe it was before I really knew and understood more about them, I used all of the free online tools that I could find. Someone introduced me to Merchants Circle and told me it was free to use and you could post pictures, blog, write a newsletter, etc. so I immediately signed up. When I signed up for them, they offer advice on other tools to use, such as yellowpages.com. To use yellowpages.com for free, you are only allowed VERY limited info about your company, but I thought what the heck. To this day I am still amazed at how many phone calls I receive from the same yellowpages.com ad that I placed when I started my business. And yes, I do track where all of my new business is coming from. This is essential. So here are a few free online places that I use and recommend:

Merchants Circle

Yellowpages.com

Google

Facebook

LinkedIn

Manta

Do you use social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter?

I actually just started to REALLY use these the past year. I have a Facebook account for my business that is seperate from my personal facebook account. I don’t think that you should mix the two because you never know what one of your friends might post that would be an embarrassment to your company profile. I try to post updates at least once a week on it.

www.companies.to/greenleafpromotions

I also use LinkedIn because it seems to be geared more towards businesses, and I can follow the businesses that I am interested in doing business with.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/greenleafpromotions

We do not use Twitter because I was told that you really need to keep up with it on a daily basis and I just do not have the time to do that.

How many people are currently working, including employees

I basically have 3 people working for the company. Myself, my husband, and one independent contractor. Our goal is to add about 5 more independent contractors by the end of 2012 spread across the United States.

What is the best advice you never got?

The answer is always NO unless you ask, and never ASSUME anything!

What almost killed your business in the start?

I don’t think that i really have anything that almost killed Green Leaf Promotions. I did take a part time job merchandising in large name stores to have a definant income coming in to take the stress off of me, so I basically got out of the business what I was able to put into it.

What is the one thing that you did right?

Well, I think that some people would say that this might not have been right, but I made all of my clients pay up front, and I still do. When I started the business, I did not have the money to pay the vendor for the order and then wait for my clients to pay me, and at that time, until I was established with the vendors, they wanted payment up front. I would not place an order with a vendor until my client had paid me for the order. But I also did not use ANY of that money on that order until the order was delivered and I knew my client was happy with the product. I have ready quite a few articles the past year saying that this is the best way to conduct business now with the way that the economy is. Most of my vendors that I use on a regular basis do not require payment up front, but I still ask my clients to pay me up front. I do have exceptions to where I have clients that have done alot of repeat business with me and I know that they pay on time, so I bill them.. But if it is a new client, I expect payment up front. I have seen too many businesses struggling to get money from clients that are not paying them. This has kept me in the clear, and I do not owe money to anyone.

What was the biggest transition you had to make?

I guess this would be having to make all of the decisions on my own, and being held responsible for any mistakes that I made, and learning how to take care of them myself.

Are you currently in the black or the red?

We have just about always been in the black since we started. Our sales have been increasing per year, and we are expecting to have a great year in 2012. We have some exciting new ideas for the business that we are working on putting into place.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

We market ourselves primarily on Facebook and LinkedIn and at networking groups. When I first started the business, i attended quite a few networking groups that I was just not happy at, so I made the decision to start my own networking group. This way I had control over the businesses that I allowed to join, and also how the group was run. I would say that about 75% of my business comes from the people in the networking group that I own:

The Las Vegas Professionals Networking Group. (we are on facebook under GROUPS on Lena Das Page)

I also do a good bit of direct mail marketing, but as of yet, I have never bought a mailing list. I get all of my mailing lists for free from Merchants Circle. I decide who I want to target at that specific time, and send out mailings to those people. This is how I received the order for the nail files. I had targeted 25 nail salons in my area, then followed up with them.

We also send out monthly email newsletters that have tips on marketing yourself, and also any specials that we have going on at the time.

What would make your business more Successful?

Again, I get out of my business what I am able to put into it. If I had more time to spend doing things for my business, I know that it would definitely be more successful. But I am very happy with where it is at now.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself, or sell in a couple of years?

I would always want to run it myself, but turn out to BE that bigger company! LOL That is my goal over the next 5 years! I want Green Leaf Promotions to be a huge name in the Promotional marketing industry, and have reps working for us across the United States.

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