This is a Guest blog post from Thomas Ma, an awesome up and coming entrepreneur whom I have had the pleasure of watching grow these past few years. He is the LA-based Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps Media. This is great reading for any young person or aspiring entrepreneur. Lots of lessons learned. Enjoy!!
I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was heading home from my last final of the semester to wrap up my junior year in college.
I had no internships lined up, and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. All of my friends had internships and it seemed they had their professional career figured out.
Nope not me. No one called me back. Since it was the last day, I decided to take one final stop at the college career center to see if they could help me out.
This is when I bumped into one of my friend at the career center and we started talking. Suddenly I started to get all these ideas in my head.
From that moment, I went back to my apartment, and continued to carve out my idea. I didn’t stop. I put 100% into it from that day. Of course it started out slowly. I had a lot to learn.
One Fun Fact:
It took me from May 9, 2015 — April 2017 before I had my own company bank account. That’s nearly 2 years!
In light of this 5 year mark, I wanted to put time and share what I would do today especially in this pandemic. My hope is to get other people to progress with their own journey. This advice is good for any type of industry.
1. Marketing yourself on upwork.com
2. Building out your network
3. Be vulnerable and share your journey
4. Learning a New Skill
5. Tools that you should know about
6. Outsourcing Talent
7. Digital Marketing
8. Building your digital brand
1. Create an upwork.com account to market yourself
Study other people in your industry. If you are into consulting, you look up consulting on upwork.com
Look at the following:
Hourly rate, $ they’ve earned, success rate, and country their from.
In this case, Kim has a great profile. He has a high success rate and over 6 figures earned.
Here’s his profile:
Look at is his hourly rate, title and what he is putting in his summary. It’s clear that he’s getting reached a lot.
Below his profile is his work history. Study how much he has earned and how much people are paying him.
Do this for 5–10 of the top earners int his category. This is the benchmark.
Try your best to optimize your profile so that it matches up with some of the best on Upwork. When you apply, at least you will stand out.
As you build your account in the beginning, it’s going to be tough. You’re going to have to be relentless. This means applying to as many jobs as you can. It may even mean not making a lot of $ to build up your profile.
Review and job success rate is critical to standing out as an applicant.
2. Build out your network
When starting out, it’s critical that you have a network. In order to thrive in what you do, you have to surround yourself with like minded people. These are the people who you will hang out with the most and learn from. You will also progress with these people and it’s amazing to celebrate milestones together and also being there for one another when things don’t go as planned.
If you don’t have a business network, it’s okay 🙂 I will share some of the things that I would recommend.
Before you build your network:
Make sure to optimize your social media profile with what you do. That includes Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, etc…
This way people get a sense of what you do when you connect with you.
Here are a few places you can find events or meet people:
The strategy applies to all the platforms below: When you join the platform, go to the search bar and enter keywords that relate to your niche. If you were in fitness, you could try wellness, health, fitness, coaching etc.
Eventbrite (Tons of free online events)
Instagram DM (search out hashtags in your industry and engage with people)
If you join a new group, read what members are posting. Engage with their post if you like it, and add them as a friend.
If they accept you as a friend, shoot them a compliment and let them know you liked their post. If they respond, ask if they are interested in connecting with you via zoom.
While on zoom, spend time genuinely getting to know the person.
Things you can talk about:
How covid has impacted you
Your background on how you started
Sharing what you’re passionate about
Why you started
The purpose of this is to build your own network. If people genuinely get to know you, they’ll support you. You never know who they know.
After you connect, you continue to stay in touch with them and invite them to events that you hear about.
As you continue to evolve your network, you will have access to more events.
This strategy can even be applied to zoom hangouts. To engage on zoom, you can send them a private message and use the same strategy.
In the space of creating your own brand, showing up is half the battle. You have to show up and build your network every day. Make it a goal to fill up your entire calendar with zoom events and zoom meetings.
Things to avoid at networking events:
1. Don’t ask the “what do you do” question. That’s straight to the point of what they do and it shows you don’t even want to get to know them for who they are
2. To be efficient with your time, you can state that you have 30 minutes or whatever at the beginning.
3. Don’t talk too much about yourself unless people ask you questions. If you talk a lot, you’ll never be able to learn about the other person. You have to make the other person feel special that you are talking to.
A small recap on networking:
If you are starting out, you can do the following to ensure you progress every week.
- Start off by booking one event per day on your calendar
- Make a goal of how many zoom connect meetings you want to take. Maybe in the beginning, make a goal to meet 5 people per week and then scale up.
- If you meet someone and share common interest, offer to collaborate with them. You can collaborate by co hosting a happy hour with your joint network. This way you meet more people and so does your new friend.
- If you are able to host events, you become the go to person for that event. People will get to hear you. This way you expand your network at a faster pace.
- If you host great events, make sure to do it on a weekly bases. As you host more events, people will bring their own network.
3. Be vulnerable and share your journey
When I started, I used to take a selfie photo everyday of my Starbucks cup or wherever I was at in the world. I’d post most of the stories on Linkedin.
I wanted to show people what the journey was like. Overtime, I was able to build more followers because people liked hearing my story.
The reason for doing this is because it builds your digital brand. The more people know about you, the more they can potentially help you.
One networking tip here is to connect with people who like your post. Right away you have something in common.
4. Continue to learn
One of my favorite podcast to listen to is NPR how I built this by Guy Raz. It has stories from some of the great entrepreneurs in the world.
It’s nice to hear how someone started and made traction.
Read articles on medium.com especially the entrepreneurship articles
Stay active in the reddit entrepreneur community. A lot of people post insightful advice on there, and it’s an easy way to connect with a small group
5.) Tools/Sites you should know about
http://www.hemingwayapp.com : Spell checker you can use before you post or email someone
https://unsplash.com: Website with great stock images you can find
https://clipchamp.com/en/video-compressor/ : Compress large files
https://www.squarespace.com : Easy website builder. When you make your website make sure it’s optimized for mobile
https://hunter.io : Tool that lets you find emails from brands you are trying to reach
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/inshot-video-editor/id997362197 : App that lets you edit videos. You can put around a white border and text over your content
6. Outsourcing Talent
What does this mean? It means you are hiring someone remotely to complete the work for you. They can be from anywhere in the world!
Talent you can hire for: video editing, graphic design, app development, website, basically anything you can think of is on there.
As you expand, you are going to need help. Upwork is the best place to find remote talent.
If you want to save cost, I would highlight recommend looking for talent in Philippines, India, and Ukraine.
When you have your job list up, you can filter for people in those countries and invite them to your job.
I highly recommend upwork.com
Here are some tips to hiring talent:
When you make your job listing, you want to have the following:
-Catchy Header (study other people)
- Clear instructions on exactly what you want and keeping it short and brief
- Follow up questions that the applicant should respond to
Here are some I recommend:
What is your hourly rate
What is your working hours
Have you read the instruction? If so, how much and how long would it take to complete
Do you have a portfolio?
All the questions above help filter out who is a good candidate and who isn’t.
If you like their answers, you can give them a small paid tester. If they pass it, you can give them a larger project.
Always let people know if they do good work that you will have more projects for them.
When you find someone you like, you can add them to your roster.
If you master the ability to outsource, you can scale a creative agency. This means you can find clients who need a service. An example is if you had a bunch of designers you liked, you can market yourself as a creative agency who does graphics.
Add your creators work to your portfolio. Show people your work. Find clients who are willing to pay.
Once you find clients who are willing to pay, you give the work to the person you liked.
Recap for Agency via Outsourcing
- Find talent
- Test talent. If their good, add them to your roster
- Show case their work
- Find clients who are in need
- If client is in need, then they will pay you for the services.
- Give the project to the remote person. Make sure they meet your deadlines
7. Digital Marketing:
Learn how to run paid media ads on Facebook.
Steps I would suggest:
- Start to do a deep dive on free courses that they offer online
Free Resources that I like:
Tristan’s Facebook Ads Course: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_Ic8HZSPfIW9TES3jPgpCg
Once you learn one platform, you can figure out other platforms such as Snapchat etc..
A few advice:
Start small when you run Facebook ads campaigns. Learn how to track your ROI (return on investment)
At the end of the day, your goal should be to make profit.
Study your competitors advertisement through the Facebook tool. You can look up every single company and what ads they run.
8. Building your digital brand
I never envisioned myself as a live fitness coach, but I found a new passion.
What started out as an opportunity to learn turned into something that I look forward to every week.
I had no idea what it was like to coach. I wanted to change that. To build a great brand, I wanted to learn everything. The coaches are important. They are the ones leading the tribe for ~1 hour.
My first class had 4 people. My second class had 4 people.
Week 2: Started to get 10–15 people for my two class
Week 3: Averaged 30 people for my two classes. This time people are referring their friends and family to join.
I love this because it’s so fun to see people enjoying something that I teach and having them bring their friends.
Take a look at the Eventbrite photo. Eventbrite drove over 100 users to my listing.
Eventbrite drove over 100 email sign ups to my fitness class. Facebook drove ~30 and I spent about $150.
Here’s how you can build out your digital brand throughout this pandemic
List your events on the following platforms:
Meetup (Yes you have to pay $30 group fee, but you will gain users over time. Study other groups in your niche and optimize your group title)
List your events on all the builtin websites. They have cities in Austin, NYC, Chicago, etc. It’s FREE!
List your event on Facebook Events. Make a page. This is the group I made:
Log into Facebook to start sharing and connecting with your friends, family, and people you know.
List your event on Linkedin Events. Invite all your network. Yes it’s tedious, but you have to hustle when you’re building something new.
Find people commenting in fitness related post.
LIST ON EVENTBRITE. YES IT’S BOLDED FOR A REASON.
OPTIMIZE the keywords. They give you 10 for a reason. Think of words people would search if it was someone looking to attend your online class.
Leverage all the keywords in the main title
State the time, timezone, day, and date in the header
Find a clear stock photo that stands out. I use Unsplash.
Add questions they have to answer. In my eventbrite, I ask people where they come from. I also suggest they join my Facebook fitness community.
Facebook Groups are key! It reaches more people. If you post an event, you are able to invite every single member in the group.
Nurturing your audience:
Engage with people before class. Ask them where they are from
Throughout your class find a way to get users to engage. In my fitness class we do virtual high fives and fist bumps
Bring people together after the event. At my events, we take a group photo online
Reach out to people who attended your class and thank them. They’ll appreciate it
Remember people’s first name. Especially if they come back.
Livestream your events. This way more people have access.
Why you should build out a digital brand:
People can learn about you. If they like what you do, they will come back. If they continue to come back, they will bring friends to join them. Overtime, this is your fan base that supports you. It’s important that you are able to identify your super fans.
My hope is that this will give you the small push to get you started.
No matter what happens, be proud of what you do. Do things because you want to. Don’t do it because of someone else telling you what they want for you. It’s your journey. Make sure you can smile and have fun with your choice.
If you are looking for a good community to join, this is the one I created:
Sapphire Stories: A Community of Passionate Doers
Community of Doers who are pursuing their passion. Our goal is to connect and inspire you with your own journey. Follow…
If you’d like to stay connected with me, you can always reach out @boredwithtom on Instagram