Welcome to our founder lessons series. This week we have an exclusive interview with Ian Kirk, Founder and Managing Director of Opportunity Marketing, a marketing consultancy business in Leeds, UK.

Ian reveals how he started his marketing consultancy business and the secrets that has kept him and his team in business for the past fifteen years. He also shares their success factors and what you need to start a successful business.

Introduce Marketing Opportunity 

Opportunity Marketing is a marketing consultancy which offers strategic marketing support to SMEs from all sectors. Having been established in Leeds in 2008 we now cover the whole of Yorkshire along with neighbouring areas and have growth plans looking to cater for SMEs around the UK through a network of franchisee consultants. Our aim is to ensure SME’s get a positive return on investment from their marketing spend.

Why and how did you start Opportunity Marketing

Within my employed roles as a marketing manager within SMEs I grew increasingly frustrated by the fact that I would have a number of marketing companies approaching me and trying to sell me their services without taking the time to find out whether it was in the best interests of the company.

It also occurred to me that most SME businesses do not have the luxury of a marketing manager and so it is the business owner who is often being approached (who generally has no marketing knowledge).

This inevitably lead to many businesses investing in marketing activity which is not being held together by any overarching marketing strategy and thus may not even be right for them.

What’s more is that marketing companies were not really bothered whether it generated a positive return for its clients and didn’t even track this anyway.

Opportunity Marketing was set up to plug that gap so that SMEs could work out what was the correct strategy for them and what marketing activities they needed to invest in to achieve the greatest returns.

What have been the biggest success factors for your team?

One of the main success factors has to be maintaining realistic growth aspirations. A common problem with many start-ups is that they want to run before they’ve learnt to walk, which ultimately leads to frustration when the business isn’t growing as quickly as they’d like.

I accepted the fact that the company would have to grow gradually, and after 8 years the growth has continued but it was important to first establish it. Additionally, identifying which jobs I didn’t quite need to do and outsourcing them also played a large part in helping the business grow.

While you think you can anticipate all of the work that’ll be required to run your own business, you tend to find there are more tasks than you initially expected. One of the first things I outsourced was my book keeping, which helped me free up more time to spend in other areas of the business

As things have progressed I’ve found that going out of your way to help people can work its way back to helping you and your business. I’ve maintained this “giver’s gain” mentality from an early stage and as rewarding as it is to help other people, you often find they’re more open to helping you in return, whether that be in the form of a referral or another means.

Finally, and one of the factors I’m most grateful for, is having a close support network which allowed me to get the business established. There have been some tough spells making it to this stage but having family and friends that you can rely on when the going gets tough certainly makes pulling through those time easier.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced launching and running the company?

As with many other startups, one of the trickiest aspects during the early stages was the cash flow. With money being tight there’s added pressure to make the business a success even quicker. Thankfully I managed to stay calm and steered through the tough spells to get Opportunity Marketing to where it is today.

Another challenge I faced was finding the time to work on the business and in it. Not having any employees meant that I was trying to juggle the process of servicing my clients while also trying to promote the business to prospective clients whilst also considering the longer term strategy.

A final aspect of launching your own company which is often overlooked is the task of keeping your morale high, especially given the fact you can find yourself isolated at times.

It’s almost inevitable that at some point you’re going to experience tough spells when you start your own business, but being able to keep focused and committed to making a success of your business is crucial. As I mentioned earlier having a close support network played a massive part in keeping morale high.

Which do you think is most important: the right market, the right product, or the right team?

It’s difficult to just pick one, especially coming from a marketing background where the mentality of having the right market being just as important as having the right product is in engrained in you.

I’d say these two go hand in hand, as without one the other is useless and you need both for a successful business. For a business to reach it’s true potential however, having the right team is crucial as it allows you to increase your capacity and scale up your offering.

What are your final words for those chasing the startup dream

As a marketer the first thing I’d say is make sure there’s a place for your product or service within the marketplace. Also look at what makes your offering different to what’s currently out there and how this will benefit your customers. Establishing this will help you to position your offering more effectively from the get go.

On a more personal level I’d say prepare to be patient. Don’t expect your business to be flourishing from day one and understand that it’s going to take persistence to get to where you want to be.

Also trust your gut instincts.  Not all advice is good advice!