Baaqir Yusuf

The Art and Science of Sales

June 4, 2024

When we first embarked on our venture, our project portfolio was as diverse as it could get. We created brand marketing videos for an array of organizations - from nonprofits and churches to local businesses and university departments. We even ventured into making wedding videos and crafting social media ad campaigns. Each project was a learning curve, a step towards understanding the nuances of what our ideal client process should look like. 

But here's the twist: while embracing a wide variety of projects, we were on a quest to discover what we truly excelled at and were passionate about. This process of exploration is crucial. It’s about identifying your niche, which profoundly impacts your brand marketing strategy and how customers perceive the work you do. For us, this journey of discovery led us to specialize in creating compelling online educational content. This focus didn’t just happen overnight; it evolved as we honed our skills and understood our market better. It was also in part motivated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of treating this external force as a crippling variable to the business we worked so hard to build, we instead adapted to better serve the growing needs of our clients and the market.

Let's talk about spreading the word. How did we go from a creative spec video of a UNC campus snow day to landing significant projects? A lighthearted passion project we worked on for fun led to a short marketing video for a local spa that our talent happened to go to. We stretched a $400 budget to do everything we could to make the video a strong portfolio piece for us. It was a stepping stone. This project opened the door to a much larger video campaign with a local non-profit where we produced a four-part marketing docuseries, a leap in both scale and revenue, and then a large-scale media campaign for the Kenan-Flagler Business School where we worked to redefine the culture of a top tier business program. It was truly a full circle moment as we were able to support the institution that gave us legs in their growth journey. It’s all about building that momentum, project by project.

A crucial lesson we learned early on was the difference between working in the business versus on the business. In the beginning, it was vital for us to be hands-on, so we could build hard skills and intimately gain an understanding of the production process. However, as we grew, we realized the importance of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture - focusing on growing the business, networking, and refining our processes. This strategic shift is what differentiates a business owner from an employee. If you’re able to bring someone else into your business that’s not you to do the work at the quality you do it or better with your process, you can continue to work on your business rather than in it, allowing it to grow and not just work to get done. 

Lastly, specializing is key. Being a jack of all trades can only get you so far. By focusing on a specific niche - in our case, online education content - we not only improved our craft but also gained a deep understanding of our customer profile. This specialization set us apart from the competition, allowing us to build a unique brand identity. It also helped us understand how to most effectively communicate with our customers and what areas they would be looking to improve the work they’re doing. Tristan will discuss this in more detail in the next module.

Remember, every small project is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to inch closer to finding that niche where you can truly shine. It’s about the journey from being a generalist to becoming a specialist in an area you're passionate about.

Now let's delve into the next section, where we explore the dynamics of sales strategies and the undeniable power of networking. Once you embrace the fact that sales and marketing are essential for growth, the next question is, how do you effectively implement these strategies? There's a spectrum of methods, from social media marketing to personal networking, but not all strategies are created equal, and different strategies work better for different products and services.

Let me share a vivid example of a strategy that backfired spectacularly. One summer, we decided to go big. We sent out over 15,000 cold emails, hoping to blanket every potential client in our area. The result? Zero clients acquired. If I remember correctly, we may have scheduled two meetings. This experience was a hard lesson in the importance of personalization and genuineness in outreach. Mass emails, especially those that lack a personal touch, often come off as insincere or spammy, reflecting poorly on your brand. It’s also just annoying.

On the flip side, our most effective strategy was thoughtfully building a robust network. This didn't involve direct selling but fostering genuine relationships with thought leaders, professors, and business owners. By strategically expanding our network, we increased what we like to call our 'luck surface area.' or your chance of being lucky. This is equivalent to the action you take towards your passion, multiplied by the number of people you effectively communicate your passion and activities to. Business growth can be unpredictable, but by nurturing these connections, we set the stage for 'lucky' breaks in the form of referrals and collaborations. 

Our networking efforts paid off in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Connections led to referrals, and referrals led to projects. It was never about making a sale on the first interaction. Instead, it was about laying the groundwork for trust and mutual respect with regards to the value each person could bring to the table. This approach underlines the fact that your network truly becomes your net worth. The relationships you build, the value you provide in these interactions, that’s what sets the stage for sustainable growth and success.

Allow me to share an example of a web of interactions that led to our first six-figure video project. During my senior year at Carolina, I helped found a consulting club called Consult Your Community. In CYC, students engage with low-income and minority-owned small businesses over the course of a semester through an innovative program in which they are trained to provide business owners with comprehensive, pro bono consulting services. One of my member’s introduced me to a business owner of a web design company in the area thinking we could share insights. Over a coffee, he and I bonded over entrepreneurship, building robust business workflows and client trust, and our passion for doing meaningful, creative work. After just one great meeting, there was a sense of established trust – we became confident that each of us could refer one another to clients that needed a partner for our core services. 

Fast forward a few months, and the UNC School of Nursing reached out to us for help with a video project to market a new program they were close to launching. Uncoincidentally, Alex’s web design company just completed a website redesign for them, and subsequently referred them to us for help with this.

The project manager was a fan of the work we produced; showcasing the broad-based impact of nurses and the purpose of the program to build nursing leaders. When she left for a new role at the UNC School of Social Work, she was staffed to lead a sizable online education project for a new, public course on trauma education. Because of the success of the last collaboration, we were her first call. It became our first six figure video project.

Remember, entrepreneurship is as much about building strong, authentic relationships as it is about having a great product or service. Your journey in business is intertwined with the connections you make and the impressions you leave. Keep these lessons in mind as you navigate the exciting world of entrepreneurship.

Check out a featured project case study below.

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We partner with select brands and top-tier institutions to create impact and drive measurable growth


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