Making Eye Contact
While global expansion is every entrepreneur’s dream, those who rush into expansion usually fail. For Mellissah Smith, founder of Marketing Eye, the potential to fail has been negated by her ability to read a market and act accordingly. In fact, the US market is where Marketing Eye belongs.
In its eight years of operation, Marketing Eye has developed from a niche service provider into one of Australia’s leading marketing representatives. In that time, founder and former CEO Mellissah Smith has developed along with the company; she still possesses the same enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm has been tempered with experience and maturity. That is why the time is right to make an impact on foreign soil.
This was always Mellissah’s goal: global expansion was a high priority, but the business model wasn’t quite right to allow her to take the leap.
“We always thought that we would be in the US and Europe and we have been working towards that in our eight years of operation,” Mellissah says. “However, what postponed the move was that we originally thought we would franchise and become a global company in that way.”
The inability at the time to put strong quality control systems in place for the franchise model, meant that model had to be re-examined. It was quickly found that the systems in place in Australia would not translate to an overseas market.
“A lot of services industries fall apart when they apply the same quality checks they use in Australia. Unfortunately these checks may not transpose into other markets and so the same brand experience isn’t actually occurring.”
It was deemed that an ownership model was still the best model to break the into the US market. As Mellissah says, “By having ownership of the concept it allows us to control the quality and the customer experience.”
So while the seeds for expansion were sown early, Mellissah held off until she was certain that she could provide a brand experience that would not only match local provision, but exceed it as well.
She also needed to understand the market, particularly in its current form.
“In the last 12 months we have conducted a lot of market research, spoken to key players and even other marketing companies. This has enabled us to gauge what the market is like. The US has gone through a lot in the last few years and understanding that means we have a better opportunity to succeed. We understand that companies are looking at their market spend; they are leaner now and may not want or be able to afford an in house resource. So Marketing Eye fits in well with where the US market is today.”
Marketing Eye’s business model is unique and transportable. For a small yearly sum, Marketing Eye provides a marketing manager, responsible for the marketing outcomes of a client’s company including generating leads, improving brand awareness, expanding into new markets, leveraging existing client relationships, public relations and social network marketing. With a no-outsourcing policy, clients benefit from no additional markups through third-party suppliers for consulting or web services.
This service may be just what US business doctors ordered, to get that country’s small businesses back on their feet and profitable.
“The time is right to make an impact on foreign soil.”
Marketing Eye was formed to provide a niche marketing service, one that no other marketing company could offer. According to Mellissah, in 2004 when the company founded, small businesses needed more than they were getting from their marketing representatives.
Her vision then was to offer a service like no other and she immersed herself in the business. Today Mellissah says she works on the business rather than in the business, but it wasn’t always that way. Like the business, she too has matured into a leader and innovator.
“Now I can work on the business not in the business.”
The Mellissah who founded the company eight years ago would have expanded into the US on a whim. That she didn’t is credit to the restraint she showed when advised correctly.
Instead, with her eye on future expansion, rather than her finger pressed firmly against the immediate expansion launch button, she focused on turning Marketing Eye into a leading small business.
“I think the business has gone through a number of changes since we started in 2004. We were able to strengthen the model and this enabled us to weather the GFC and grow during that period. We have used the Australian market to fully understand the business. Originally we didn’t have a subs model like we have today. Also, we realised that small businesses are different to corporations and they need one bill at the end of the month. Therefore everything we offer is inclusive. That has been one of the biggest lessons.”
Another lesson, a more personal lesson Mellissah has learnt is to communicate her vision and invest in her staff.
“As an entrepreneur you find that you have all this enthusiasm but you are not communicating properly, or getting buy in. Entrepreneurs get so bogged down in running the business, finances and HR that they forget to invest in people. You need to engage in staff, make them part of the process and let them come to you with their own ideas about how to grow the business. If they are not doing that perhaps they are not the right person for your team. In the last two years I’ve invested heavily in people. I listen to them, make them part of the big picture and value their feedback and advice a lot more than I used to. It is a far better process than making all decisions myself.”
As an example of having faith in her staff, Mellissah recently stepped down as CEO of the company, handing the reigns over to Julie Schoneveld.
"As you get older, you make better decisions."
This has two benefits: it allows someone fresh to steer the company and it allows the founder to lead the expansion, which is now Mellissah’s sole focus.
“We had the right person to take over from me. When you find a talent within the organisation, you need to reward them and allow them to grow. Sometimes, as a founder you are not necessarily the best person to continue to be the CEO. It was an easy transition and a lot of it had to do with understanding the business and knowing that Julie, like all Marketing Eye staff will put their own stamp on the business. I have more trust in letting go of the Australian operations. Julie is nothing like me, but we share one vision. I am a typical entrepreneur and she is a manager. She understands things that I may not be able to understand and she has experience in being in large growing corporations. I started in business at 25, so I was out of the broader experience loop fairly fast.
“So now I can work on the business not in the business. Things happen and you fall back in, but in the last 18 months I have been able to work on the business and that allows you to realise that you have a sustainable business.”
While Mellissah will still be communicating with her Australian clients, the move away from the CEO’s seat allows her to follow her dream and the time to build a global marketing firm.
Global expansion means Marketing Eye on steroids. Mellissah is taking everything she has learnt during eight years of business in Australia and intensifying those lessons.
The concept moving forward is the bigger and better version.
“I think you have to take this approach especially in an aggressive market. You can’t duplicate what exists. We know who our competitors are, how they operate, their points of difference and it allows us to go in and be a better organisation.”
Mellissah is also adopting staff who want to better themselves and is seeking capital to make working for Marketing Eye experiential. In fact a training program is being developed that will allow staff to take a day or a month to explore the world and examine what other brands are doing. They can then take those experiences and apply them to the small businesses with whom they are working. It is a program she hopes to model back in Australia.
“It is a massive investment in people; their future, their dreams and where they want to go professionally. I want to work with every single member of the team and find out what their dream is. Often when you run a small business, you don’t have time, money or energy to be able to capture the essence of what every member is trying to achieve. In our US business, this program will give staff something they can’t get elsewhere.”
Mellissah’s vision is to turn Marketing Eye into the number one innovator of small business marketing in the world. In Australia, they have already developed concepts, technology and products that no one in the world has. It means that they will launch into the US as an established innovator.
“We want to be the small business marketing equivalent of Apple. That’s what will set us apart.”
And that’s what makes Mellissah a great entrepreneur. She has been grounded by many powerful mentors, but she has balanced the lessons she has been taught with her unbridled enthusiasm to build and to innovate.
Her mentors have taught her to be herself, the importance of good manners and to always act with a safety net in place, but if the Mellissah of today could teach the Mellissah of eight years ago a lesson or two what would they be?
“I would tell myself invest in people and believe in people. The other lesson is not to go too fast and to get things right from the start. Back when I was 30 I wanted to be where I am now when I was 31. But I’m glad that didn’t happen. I looked after my own backyard. Now, small businesses are attuned to what we are doing. My blog gets hundreds of thousands of hits and people are interested.”
She has also come to terms with being an entrepreneur.
“When I was 30 I thought the word was tacky. I thought people were out to get something.
As I’ve become older I now appreciate it and understand that I am different from someone who climbs the corporate ladder. It’s a whole different experience and psychological profile. We have big dreams. So when someone tells me their dream I don’t scoff at it, I see their dream and share experiences.”
She also feels she has more power and insight and that has come about by listening to everyone; from the receptionist to the CEO, everyone has something different to add.
“I grab that shared knowledge and make informed decisions for fewer mistakes. That is power.”
"I looked after my own backyard."
Eight years ago at 31, had she taken the journey to the US, she would have sought the glamour of New York City. However, with the wisdom of others behind her, she has opted for Atlanta because she knows that is best for business. She realises that as you get older, you make better decisions.
And now she feels empowered to take to take on the world.
“There will be tough days and there will be successes,” Mellissah says. “And there will be days when I pull up my sleeves. But there is one thing for certain, now is the time.”
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