As a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Hardy, Owner of Empty Desk Solutions.Brittany Hardy is the Owner of Empty Desk Solutions, a boutique marketing company located in Port Coquitlam, B.C. that specializes in helping small businesses achieve their growth goals with social media marketing solutions that are both effective and affordable
With three young children, Brittany believes in balancing work and home life and continues to find new ways to support and employ other mothers who want to start their own businesses or stay at home with their children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mycareer path to date has been somewhat unconventional and has come to me, for the most part, without intentionally choosing it — how lucky am I?! It really did just fall on my lap…
I was actually working in the beauty industry managing a salon as a single mother, when I was presented with an opportunity that I just couldn’t refuse. It was the offer to join a National mortgage company at their head office as a Jr. Marketing Assistant. I remember thinking ‘oh my, I know nothing about marketing’ (or so I thought), ‘but what the heck have I got to lose?’. I decided to jump two feet in, give notice at my position at the time, to move on over to this new job and learn absolutely everything I possibly could. I had the pleasure of shadowing their VP of Marketing and working directly with their upper level management to bring marketing products and services to life for their 2000+ broker network. I managed to turn my ‘Jr Marketing Assistant’ position into ‘Marketing Project Manager’ within a few short months. Before I knew it, I was managing the rest of the marketing team and IT dept — wow what a change! In 2014, my husband made a career change that resulted in an initial decrease in salary that we had to account for… to the tune of $30,000/year less — I certainly wasn’t getting a 30k raise, that’s for sure! I had to quickly figure out what I could do ‘on the side’ to make extra cash for the family. Empty Desk Solutions was born in a weekend and I began to seek clients who needed small business marketing help. It was apparent within a few months that social media marketing specifically was a missing service in my local market, so I went all in on promoting my social media marketing skills and now have over 150 clients across Canada.
Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think I made a concerted effort to wipe the embarrassing marketing mistakes from my mind, but there is one such occasion that I recall vividly. It was when I had to do my first official price increase to my client base and I was terrified. In my hurry to get the email out, I had typed ‘current rates of $75/hour are increasing to $75/hour — we hope you will still love us just the same…’ Doh! Of course the emails started coming back saying ‘steal of a deal, looks like I was one of the lucky ones to get to keep my current rate’. Ugh — face palm! Sheepishly I had to send a follow up email to our database (using a funny photo of course, because… why not) with the text ‘oops… by $75 an hour we meant, $95/hour. Can you tell we rushed hitting send on this one?’ Hah!
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
My company is entering year seven, and I am not certain I can pinpoint just ONE tipping point where we started seeing success. Each year we have chosen a slightly different focus to see what it does for us and sometimes it seems like trial and error (like most marketing I suppose!). The biggest shift in terms of clarity was a rebrand we did in 2017/18 that I believe started attracting more of our ideal clients. While we don’t have a particular niche we work with, we do know what ‘kind’ of people we like to work with, keyword… kind! It’s all about kindness and finding clients that share our values of family and kindness. Once we aligned our overall look and feel to include that, we naturally started hearing from clients that were a better fit for us. The other largest shift in our business was mindset related. Once I really started investing in myself and my mindset by joining an elite mastermind group called ‘The Social Clique’, I noticed a big change in the business. Not only was I making more, but I was so much more focused, clear, and less stressed!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes Empty Desk Solutions stand out the most is our honesty, transparency, fairness, and that ‘kindness’ piece again. We are consistent in the type of information we share and focus on providing value and educational content at no charge on all of our social media platforms to attract our ideal clients without pushing sales. Many other agencies are all sales and no value upfront, which I think separates us from them a great deal.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Over the last 6 years, we have focused primarily on servicing 1:1 clients and businesses with our unique monthly customized social media marketing plans. This year we are working on new courses and a membership area to add a new arm to the business. I know that our plans, and a done for you service, is not for everyone, particularly those just starting out in business or those with a very limited marketing budget. Creating courses and an affordable membership for those that need to ‘DIY’ I believe will help fill a gap that exists in our local market today. These businesses will be able to level-up their marketing without breaking the bank.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
I love this question so much! It is VERY easy to burnout or get overwhelmed in the marketing space, and I have two major pieces of advice to attack this head on. My first piece of advice is about systems, and my second is about clarity. I was fortunate to work with a business coach very early in my journey that was ALLLLLL about systems. In fact, her business name is ‘Systems Business Coach’. We did 1:1 coaching where I was introduced to what type of systems I needed, and then I dove all in to take her year-long program called ‘Business School for Busy Entrepreneurs’. This program took me through creating systems in every single corner of my business, and I try to impart some of this experience on other agency owners or marketers when they are starting out. Document everything! Create step-by-step how-to tutorials and/or training videos as you go about your day to day managing your business so that the second you begin to feel that overwhelm and awareness that perhaps you can’t do it all on your own, you will be ready to hire and you’ll have all of the systems and training in place to ease that transition. The second piece of advice is around clarity and how to apply it to multiple areas of your marketing business. I often see marketers doing ‘all the things’, which is great if you’re truly a marketing generalist and know a little bit about everything, BUT it can quickly lead to confusion with potential clients not knowing what you’re really good at. You end up doing a bunch of things you don’t love and that don’t always make the best profit because you haven’t been clear about what it is that you offer. Clarity is also so key in terms of letting your clients know what type of deliverables and results they can expect. You wouldn’t believe the number of proposals I’ve seen in my time with little to no deliverables listed and what seems like an arbitrary price tossed in — it’s shocking! If you’re clear about what your deliverables are, and what the cost and more importantly, value, is — your business will thrive.
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 about that?
Oh there are so many people I could list here, but I’m going to pick three.
- Michael and Ginni Davies (former bosses at Dominion Lending Centres head office). They gave me the opportunity to go from salon employee to trying my hat at this marketing thing, and I never looked back. They both imparted leadership skills and a communication style that I use to this day with my own team and I am forever grateful to them for believing in me.
- Veronica Love — another colleague from my Dominion Lending Centres days. Veronica used to call me to give me pep talks and push me outside of my comfort zone to play bigger in my role. I never understood at the time why she so graciously gave her time to help me, but looking back now, I have started to do the same with younger women I meet that haven’t yet discovered their full potential. She came into my life at a time where I didn’t even know what a mentor was let alone know that I needed one. She’s a very special person and I adore her.
- Family! I don’t know many people who wouldn’t list their families here, and I am no different. My parents always pushed me to achieve more, and I know that when I chose the career path that I did (not university) they were less than impressed. Truth be told, this motivated me even more to break out and be successful so I could show them I could do it! My kids, especially my oldest daughter, who even as a tiny little baby motivated me to keep going. When you’re young and on your own with a baby, you have two choices. Go go go, or give up. I was full steam ahead for her! And to my amazing husband, I couldn’t run the business I do today without his support and help with the family. His shiftwork allows me to work at unconventional times and we can balance (somewhat) a family with two working parents, and our kids get the best of both worlds by not having to be in childcare because I am able to work from home. It sometimes feels like a dream!
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
In a world where we are bombarded with advertisements day and night, I would have to say that it takes A LOT for something to really stick out and be memorable to me. I adore things that can make me laugh while getting their point across. Some of my favourites are the classic Budweiser ‘wassup’ campaign, the snickers campaign (specifically the one with Betty White, because… c’mon, who doesn’t love Betty White?!), and one that I always find hilarious (because the writing and scripting is just too funny not to laugh), is the ‘Hello tushy’ bidet campaign. For a product like this, I guess you do have to think outside the box a bit, and I think they do a great job at it.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
I think all successful marketing campaigns share a few key elements, but I don’t believe that there is a one size fits all blueprint. Sometimes the most unconventional ideas and campaigns can go viral and become successful while other extremely well thought out campaigns, following traditional rules, can totally flop. The key elements for a successful campaign in my opinion are: a well identified target market (step one!) that aligns with a truly great product or service, a strong value proposition or ‘why’ the consumer or client should pay attention, and a crystal clear call-to-action.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
I’m so glad this is a question in this interview because social media marketing is our jam! I consult my clients to combine traditional ads (can also be on Facebook or Google as an example) with a strong content and engagement strategy. People are looking to engage with brand and business online that have personality and a solid reputation. With traditional advertising this can be lacking, so by combining a well thought out social media marketing strategy, you get a much more well-rounded campaign as a whole. I think as people continue to be turned off by traditional ‘ads’ (they are often ignored), businesses and brands will have to continue to get smarter by sharing MORE value and stories that resonate. Better storytellers are being born in business every day now it seems!
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
My 5 things I wish I was told before I started are:
- Marketing is hard! Example: things change every single day in marketing. What works one day might not work the next, and what works in one business might not work in another. Even case studies sometimes seem very legitimate, but you can copy almost exactly what another business is doing and still fail miserable with your marketing. The key is to try and try again until you find something that performs well for you, and then perfect the heck out of that one thing before adding more.
- Gurus are usually fake. I feel like this one doesn’t even need an explanation hah! We’ve all seen the internet and social media gurus flaunting their success and seemingly endless knowledge online. I would have saved a TON of time if I knew that most of these people were very inexperienced in their fields and sometimes even fraudulent. I believe it’s less about finding someone that is ‘internet famous’ to teach you what you ‘think’ you need, and more about researching others in your field that have the level of success or business you want to emulate — then work with them as a mentor or find out who they worked with or learned from!
- Stay consistent and you will win. Although I knew this to be true, I wish someone had told me to just keep going on small things (like building an email list as an example) to create consistency — outliving my competition. I don’t know the exact average for how long marketers are in business, however it seems like most freelancers and small teams last 1–3 years max before something falls apart. This could be anything that tanks them, lack of systems… not a good enough product or service… lack of communication etc. By staying consistent you can outlive your competition by becoming really good at a few key things.
- Systems are key! I was very lucky to have the business coaching and mentorship that I did early in my journey, but I also wish that even as I was just first starting that I knew just how important it was to create systems. When I look back at things that have fallen apart in my business, it’s almost ALWAYS directly related to a broken system or lack thereof altogether. My business coach would always say ‘people don’t fail, systems do’. It’s so very true!
- Innovate constantly. While this is important in every business, it’s even more imperative in the marketing world. Technology changes, habits change, the way we consume media changes… I could go on forever. If you fail to innovate, your clients will look elsewhere for what might be newer, shinier and better. It’s your job to innovate your own products and systems to keep them engaged and getting results.
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
I would love to speak to tools that I use to manage my business that other business owners can leverage to become better marketers themselves. Each business will have different requirements for what they need in terms of marketing, but in general as it relates to social media marketing and what I do, they would need:
- A graphic design tool (or designer)
- A system to manage creating content — planning tools!
- A system to manage posting and ongoing community engagement on social media
- Reporting tools — how do you know what success will look like?
We use Canva to create amazing graphics and it’s so intuitive and easy to use! Gone are the days of needing a graphic designer for simple graphics tasks. You can use already created templates and simply match them to your brand style and colours for effortless design. Win!
To create content and plan it out, we use a combination of google sheets and google docs. Instead of using the office suite and having multiple team members working off of different documents, we use the Google suite to work collaboratively! Our google sheet for content planning becomes a baseline for what is happening for an entire year, giving us (and our clients) a clear picture of WHAT content needs to be created and when. Once the plan is in place, we move to google docs to write and store the content. In our case we send it to clients for approval before it goes to the scheduling phase, but for DIY clients or small businesses looking to do their own social media marketing, it starts to build their content library. Awesome!
Last but not least on our list, to schedule, manage, and report on results, a scheduling software is required. We use sendible.com to post our social media content from ONE dashboard to multiple social media channels at once. We also pull reports from this dashboard that will tell us who we reached, etc., and we are able to see all incoming activity (comments, messages, shares, etc.) so that we can manage our entire social media presence from one convenient place.
All of these tools are very easy to use and can empower any small business to take control of their social media marketing.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skills?
I’m guilty of not spending enough time reading or listening to podcasts! With three young children (and one more on the way!), I’m right in the thick of managing the business as is while providing a great service to my clients. The learning I do is primarily inside of membership groups such as Social Media United (Rachel Pedersen), and The Female Entrepreneur Association (Carrie Green). I find tremendous value in these groups because they both have expert trainers and guest trainers on marketing and other business-related topics, but they also have fantastic, engaged groups online that are ready and willing to help.
Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?
I’ve never looked at any one person as a true hero, but instead I recognize how each person contributes to both my life and business. They are all so interconnected. I could say that the gals on my team are each my hero because without them I could not run my business. I could also say that my family is the reason I keep doing it, so they are all my heroes too!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The movement I would most like to be a part of or create is one that would empower other female business owners and entrepreneurs to get started. When I was on my own with my oldest daughter, I looked for anything and everything to survive in terms of work, and I wish I knew there was opportunity out there, especially in marketing, to create my own future. When I started my business my very first goal was to hire another mom so that she could learn what we do and work from home with her children. We’ve had three mothers on our team now and it feels amazing to be able to be a part of their journey in this way. I often get asked ‘how did you start?!’ and I always say the same thing… ‘I just did!’. I didn’t wait for it to be perfect. I didn’t wait for everything to be figured out. I just went for it and adjusted along the way. I’d love to be able to help more women get their start.
How can our readers follow you online?
If you would like to follow along online, we post our articles to our blog at emptydesksolutions.ca and all of our social media links can be found there on our website as well ☺Thank you so much for letting me contribute to this fantastic series!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.