Fire clients that are not a fit. Not every single client is a match for your business. Sometimes, taking on an additional client in exchange for revenue is an all too common growth trap. When your business starts to mature, you should be selective when acquiring new clients. It is critical to ensure they are a good match for your business and theirs. Finding a win-win balance in the relationship is a path to thrive together.
I had the pleasure to interview Michael Zima. Michael is the Chief Growth Officer and co-founder of Zima Media. He previously worked for the largest SEO agency in North America and has over 10 years of professional SEO experience working with major brands. Originally a Chicagoan, Mike moved to Spain three years ago. When he’s not working on client projects, Mike loves to stroll the beaches of Mallorca with his wife and son, occasionally fantasizing about deep dish pizza.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I first started working online when I had broadband internet installed in junior high in 1999. I started out flipping consumer electronics on eBay. I knew this was going to be my life, but I had no clue how to get there. Being involved in digital projects was always a part of my life throughout high school.
College for me was riddled with pitfalls. The internet moved so fast that traditional education struggled to keep up with it. Working from home seems more accessible in 2019 than it did in 2009 when I was supposed to graduate college with all my peers. There is so much information today from industry-specific boot camps up to expert video tutorials that can teach you almost anything. My dream was to be a part of a funded startup. This happened, the highs are great, and the reality is most startups hit a wall where all of your time, passion, and work crumbles, which brings me to Zima Media. I learned from my failure to apply it into what is now a thriving new business.
At Zima Media, we provide smart marketing services for ecommerce businesses. We are a full-service digital marketing agency with transparent pricing with no commitments on our unbeatable services. We offer on-demand subscription digital marketing services when you need them. We take businesses to the next level by using our combined agency experience and knowledge of driving qualified traffic to their stores.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
The hardest transition when going from a freelancer to a business owner is the change to your day-to-day life. You no longer can spend your time executing the everyday tasks of the business, and instead need to focus on strategy, growth, and building culture. You have to prioritize these skills, and some entrepreneurs take years to reach this milestone. A true entrepreneur loves grinding in the dirt and having FaceTime with customers who would receive enormous value by working with you directly. However, it is a thinly-veiled trap that siphons growth for a young company trying to mature.
When clients and success bog you down, it can stifle growth, and this is where growing the business cannot take a backseat. If you see yourself as an employee, you are going to need to find an operator to help you sustain the growth. Also, when your team starts to grow, it is critical to put the proper training in place to ensure consistency. Leading the company vision and keeping incoming clients happy are two fronts now. We made the transition from manager to management by hiring, delegating, and holding ourselves accountable to make the change possible.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
From the beginning, we built and maintained a remote and decentralized company and culture. It means that we do not have a physical office space. Our team is all over the world, and all of our clients are too. Even my business partner, Damien Bouvier, and I have not met in person in four years of working together. Eliminating geography allowed two guys with laptops to build an international ecommerce agency that managed to service 2K clients in 80 countries in just 18 months.
We had to optimize our procedures to develop systems where anyone in any time zone could pick up projects. We knew early on how this sort of friction can hurt growth. Our lean approach has created stellar results inside and out, and we are continuing to double down on our business model.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
#1 Work smarter, but not harder
We hear this one often, and until your attention is split into 20 different directions, it starts to resonate its true meaning. The harder you start to work, the more it can erode the vision of the bigger picture. This is when time blocking and time auditing is essential. I spent six months documenting every 10-minute increment of my workday. Prioritizing tasks that can have profound changes in your business with a small investment of time is critical. It’s too easy to ignore what’s important tomorrow.
#2 There is no net
Entrepreneurs are walking a tightrope without a net every single day. So, don’t get comfortable about falling and don’t prepare to fall on your face. You are going to slip and fall, and this is an inevitable truth because failure will happen.
#3 Fire clients that are not a fit
Not every single client is a match for your business. Sometimes, taking on an additional client in exchange for revenue is an all too common growth trap. When your business starts to mature, you should be selective when acquiring new clients. It is critical to ensure they are a good match for your business and theirs. Finding a win-win balance in the relationship is a path to thrive together.
#4 Culture starts with Y-O-U
Culture is elusive when turning into a thriving business. It begins to flourish when you hire people, train them, and start to care for them. Finding the right fit for your organization can be hard, and getting it right doesn’t always happen on the first hire. Take time to review all possible candidates, speak with everyone thoughtfully, and navigate towards the best fits for the company growth and culture.
#5 Work-what balance?
The work-life balance is something I think about a lot. The transition from a solopreneur to a CEO of a company has made it even more challenging. You have to invest in the company to find the work-life balance. When you finally start to reach 3–6 people, finding time to take a single day off is a luxury. As I said, you have to invest in the company, and you’ll be able to take out perks for a well-deserved vacation after a couple of years of grinding.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It is a lifestyle business and not a regular 9 to 5 job. If you start with these bumpers, you are in for a rude awakening. You are not choosing a job or a career; you are choosing a path of success, which is also a lifestyle. At least, in the beginning, you cannot quit at the end of the week if you are not happy with the results. You have to be aware of the life choices you are making, and it can impact both your work and your personal life.
There is no exit from avoiding burn out because your obligations begin to increase over the coming weeks and months. You will burn out right away if you think it’s just another job (so will the company). At 11pm you might get an insulting email, etc. At some point, you need to create a boundary where you can relax for 2 hours. I take 60-minute vacations with my wife and son on the coast in Mallorca. It’s my escape, and it helps me recalibrate for the next set of challenges tomorrow. Finally, being healthy and active is vital to your well-being.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I almost dropped out of college (for the 3rd time and 3rd college) and could have walked away from a Marketing & Communication degree from Columbia College. I’ve often said, I learned how to be an entrepreneur on the streets. Growing up in Chicago in my early 20’s, I spent a lot of time at the Philip Nearing School of Wing Chun. Then I started to gravitate to the inner circles of some of the most talented business people Chicago had to offer.
The most impactful meeting was with Bejan Douraghy, CEO of Artisan Talent. His story of coming to America and sacrificing everything while sleeping in his office to make it inspired me. Bejan was the first entrepreneur I met that walked a path I wanted to walk. He set the bar for “culture” by valuing his network of freelancers well ahead of his time when it’s the trend today. Everything I learned from him was by listening. I once asked him for one favor, to get a job as a freelancer at Artisans’ elite class of freelancers. The caveat was, I didn’t have my degree yet, and I was stuck. In some way, this opportunity pushed me, and I secured my first SEO contract as a freelancer after graduating from college.
When I mapped it all back, if it weren’t for that one contract, Zima Media would not exist today.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
We have 60 percent of our revenue (up from zero percent nine months ago) coming from our subscription as a service marketing agency. We do not lock our clients into complicated contracts (they can leave when they want). We provide flexible month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter subscriptions with clear and transparent pricing allowing us to build meaningful relationships on trust and merit. The goal would be to have 100 percent of our entire core business on this new subscription model.
We are also a healthy and thriving business that is self-financed. We are 100 percent owned and operated by us. This is how we keep our overhead low, stay true to our identity of steady growth and please our clients and colleagues.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Going to Columbia College, we would talk about the first wave of advertising & marketing. Chicago has marble towers housing the Olgivy, DDB, FCB all with links to the Mad Men-era so many of us in the industry romanticize. Their lasting legacy today is passing insightful commentary on traditional marketing strategy and giving insane overhead costs to their clients. This is the first crack in the facade of what’s wrong with some businesses today.
The second wave came with the internet. It allowed entrepreneurs to run with scissors and cut a lot of cords that traditional agencies still depend on. Social media agencies sprouted up, and the first wave was flexing its muscle to hire talent and keep up with the pace. Now, we are starting to see digital become the only trend that matters, and we are entering the third wave.
The third wave is already here, and it’s distributing every industry already. Some people say it’s robots taking over their jobs, technology automating their roles, and we call it the future of work. What we see as the future of work and will be our lasting legacy, is a new way of doing work as a remote company. We are building a business that is truly decentralized, where democracy can prevail and provide efficient and informed decisions as a collective, rather than an individual choice. This is being driven by millennials and solopreneurs that are more likely to work as freelancers and skip the traditional cubical office job. We are building the blueprint on how to create a successful remote and decentralized business.
Anyone can harness the power of the third wave. The vindication is two guys with laptops across the world from each other who have handled 2K clients in 80 countries in just 18 months.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I may not have started the movement, but as I mentioned before our company is at the forefront of creating decentralized and remote businesses. Young entrepreneurs grew up creating lemonade stands on the corner. The corner is now a lot bigger with the internet. Your first job won’t be flipping burgers or washing cars. It will be delivering for Postmates or starting work as a freelancer on Fiverr. The future of work is here today, and we are helping make it a reality.
Working online (for real) earning a good wage with almost unlimited growth potential from home, from anywhere, from any time you feel, already exists. Today is the best time to start making money from the internet.
My challenge to somebody that’s stuck going into digital should evaluate the #1 passion they are not fulfilling. Find out how you can sell that passion and find a corresponding website or platform that has the customers. If you are a graphic designer, start selling banner ad designs on Fiverr. Promote your services and try to get $100 in one month. When you reach that milestone, add a zero to it and start chasing the $1000 a month mark. $100 will buy you lunch, and $1000 will pay down your debt. There is a whole world out there, now go and get it.