For the last 10 years, John and Lauri Oliva’s digital production company has found a good niche in a saturated market. They have two big clients, Bank United and VITAS, along with a mix of others that have kept them busy.
But a toehold isn’t what they want anymore. The couple want their business to grow.
“We don’t want to be Paramount,” John Oliva explained, but a “boutique studio,” with a solid and steady clientele. “The last thing I want to do is set goals and we achieve nothing,” added Lauri, his business partner and wife.
So the pair turned to The Miami Herald and Broward SCORE, their local chapter of the nonprofit organization that offers free counseling and training to small businesses across the country. SCORE sent a three-man team with expertise in sales, marketing and business strategy. And what they discovered is what plagues many small businesses.
While the Olivas are very good at what they do — making videos — they have little time left over to create a road map for their future business.
“In the past, we’d go through these plans and strategies,” John said. “We’d go through the process because business was slow. And once business picked up, the plan was out the window.”
But as the team pointed out, in order to get anyplace, you have to know how to get there.
“Vision is important,” explained Leon Schor, a retired strategic marketing consultant who for 18 years was a partner at L.E.K. Consulting, a global management consulting firm headquartered in London, and SCORE counselor. “What do you want this to be? X amount of money? X amount of clients?”
John Oliva started Digital Cut Productions in 2003 after leaving a successful career in television, where he had a number of jobs behind the camera that involved photography, editing and production at stations including WPLG in Miami, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C. and WEVU in Fort Meyers. Over the years, he’d won numerous awards: three Emmys, a National Press Photographers Association Award and an Associated Press Outstanding Video award.
But after 20 years, he decided to strike out on his own and, like his grandfather, become an entrepreneur. Digital equipment also made it possible for a lone businessman to open up shop.
In 2006, after 15 years in corporate public relations and marketing, primarily for the healthcare industry, Lauri Oliva joined her husband as his executive vice president.
The pair have worked independently or with freelancers over the last six years to build a strong business, mostly in Broward County, with clients as varied as corporate banking and consulting, law firms, healthcare, nonprofits and education. But lately, they’ve realized that with only the two of them manning the business full-time, they’re not being strategic about where they want to go. They were juggling every task without realizing that some things could, and should, be farmed out. They also needed help with sales and finding new clients, so they could concentrate on the work.
Their first assignment from the team was to draft a business plan, and one that they would take seriously and continue to use over the years.
“I had no idea how to do a budget for five years and [Schor] said do it for what you want to be. So if you want to be a $1.5 million business with five team members, then plan your sales and numbers for what you want to be and that’s a process we’d never done,” John Oliva said.
At that first meeting, the team also assessed the company’s weakness and zeroed in on a major shortcoming: marketing and sales.
So by the second meeting, John and Lauri surprised everyone by introducing a newly hired “executive producer” in charge of sales. The man has strong ties to the auto industry, a segment Digital Cut is interested in exploring. But several weeks after hiring him, the couple and the man parted ways. In a small, family-run business, hiring can be a tricky balance of personality and talent, and Lauri Oliva said things just didn’t work out.
Since Digital Cut doesn’t sign extended contracts with its clients, it’s important to maintain contact and also ask for referrals, the team said. And the Olivas, Schor said, should be devising a plan for every single client.
“How often do you see them, what do you send them and what’s the potential revenue?” he said. “You don’t have five-year contracts so you always feel like you’re starting from scratch....You guys as single entrepreneurs always have that issue.”
Along with maintaining client contact, the couple needs to do more to market for new ones, which can easily be done through a website. Mike Paim, a Web developer and marketing specialist with Island Water Sports, came up with several suggestions for improving Digital Cut’s site, including posting samples of Digital Cut’s work, a slide show to demonstrate how the business works and profiles of the couple. He also suggested the couple add backlinks — other sites that link to theirs — as a way of boosting Digital Cut’s positioning in search engines.
The company can also get better play by using Google Adwords or paying for listings and running testimonials, Paim said. He also recommended using Google Analytics, and checking it monthly to track how many people are visiting the site.
“Our website had been done organically over the years, but Mike gave us amazing ideas on how to maximize social media and blogging,” Lauri Oliva said. “That’s been a difficult thing to get to with doing work, keeping the business going, administration and constantly updating social media and blogging.”
Eventually the couple plan to hire someone to take over those labor intensive chores.
One other idea the team toyed with, and the Olivas may consider, is branding.
What branding allows a business to do, explained team leader David Harris, who is director of marketing at Davie Golf & Country Club, is “create an image for yourself out of thin air....Something that says wow. This is different.”
But settling on that brand can be tricky and should be based on the company’s strengths. For Digital Cut, John Oliva said, it’s the company’s level of experience and professionalism.
“There’s a lot of backwards ball caps and torn jeans and ‘Oh, I’m a creative.’ We’re not like that. We’re still creative, but we can work within the corporate structure.”
The best brands, Harris said, get in the heads of potential clients and what they want.
“Whatever it is, it needs to be short and on the website all the time, so it becomes the brand,” he said.
Added Paim: “Brand yourself to who you want to be and who you want to attract.”
Two months after they started the Small Business Makeover, the Olivas had a plan in hand for how to move forward and three new mentors.
“The makeover project is never something you complete in three to four weeks,” Harris told the couple. “It’s something you do over time. You roll it out over the next year, and I think you will find yourself with a very different, improved business.”