Steve Cabeza began studying digital marketing trends when the industry was still in its infancy. The year was 2008, and Cabeza, then a marketing and public-relations executive in the University of Miami health system, was intrigued by the possibilities. He started doling out digital marketing advice to friends who owned businesses. Then the economy tanked, Cabeza was laid off, and he saw a business opportunity. He began taking on clients.
In 2010, Cabeza, a creative type who had worked in healthcare marketing and publishing, partnered with family friend Marnie S. Hoppe, who had expertise in financial marketing and operations, to create Amplification Inc., a social-media marketing firm in Davie.
Their first clients were businesses they signed on through word-of-mouth and networking events. “We didn’t have a lot of resources, and we bootstrapped the company,” Cabeza said. “I didn’t have a job, but Marnie was working, so she paid to put our website up and underwrote the early days.”
Meanwhile, the economy was crashing and businesses were closing left and right. “People thought we were insane,” Cabeza said. But the partners pushed on. Mickey Byrne’s Irish Pub in Hollywood and Miami-Dade Parks were two of the company’s original clients.
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“The term ‘social-media marketing’ was hot. People were flocking to Facebook. I knew what I was doing was an evolution from the old-style ad agency,” Cabeza said. The partners started by creating content for Facebook and Twitter, and blog posts, with the vision of bringing on video production as soon as they could afford it.
Cabeza was an early adopter of LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and the like, and when the business hit milestones, he shared it on his social-media channels. “Now it’s finally paying dividends because big businesses are coming to me via LinkedIn,” he said.
In the business, Cabeza handles creative and Hoppe manages operations. Amplification uses about 16 freelancers and sources like Thumbtack for talent such as logo designers, writers and video production and social-media people to keep costs down. Amplification has 45 clients, some pro bono, with sales of $180,000 in 2015. They are on track for $250,000 to $300,000 in 2016.
Cabeza and Hoppe, who both work out of their homes, need help with organizational structure and operations. Hoppe said she would like to see the company take on larger clients, “so you can spend more time servicing them rather than having lots of little ones.” She said they also would like to focus on higher-profit video production work.
“We need to do a better job of branding ourselves as the go-to video marketing operation,” Cabeza said. “We are also looking for longer-term clients and more high-end consulting work.”
Hoppe said that every day is a new learning opportunity. “We’re entrepreneurs, but neither of us came from that background, and it’s a different animal looking at from the business side,” she said. “That’s our biggest challenge right now. We need to have that structure and put it in place.”
Amplification asked the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover, and the Herald brought in Broward SCORE, a nonprofit with volunteer counselors from the business community who mentor small business owners. The SCORE tune-up team was led by David Harris, director of marketing, Greenway Golf Course Management, whose expertise is in operational management, fiscal controls and marketing. Other team members were Michael Statner, president of Focus Systems, an IT and business consulting company, and James Rohrbach, CEO/managing partner of Launch Me Labs, an entrepreneur incubator.
Here is the SCORE team’s advice:
Define your mission: Develop a better sense of what you are and what you want to be, Statner said. “Once you have defined your mission and strategy, you can revise your website and other marketing materials to get this message out and attract the type of clients you want,” he said. Set objectives and specific goals that support your strategy, then measure how you are doing on a quarterly basis to see if these goals have been achieved, Statner said. Rohrbach said to look at the business with new eyes. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” he said.
Get accounting in order: Do a cost-and-profitability analysis of all jobs over the past six months, and include a share of overhead costs to determine profitability, Harris said. “It’s critical to get a grip on that before you get much bigger,” he said. Statner said allocating costs “will show where your revenues and gross profits are coming from and which areas need to be focused on to maximize sales and profits.” Configure QuickBooks to create reports to help monitor per-client profitability on a monthly basis and make adjustments as necessary, Statner said.
Identify what is profitable: Identify the most profitable clients, Rohrbach said. “Are you making money on all of your clients?” he said. “Look at where the revenue is coming from to find your perfect customer. Then create a marketing and branding plan to find them.” Typically, 80 percent of profit comes from 20 percent of customers, he said. “Use real data, not your gut, to find the perfect customer,” Rohrbach said.
Write a business plan: “After you identify the most profitable services that you provide, you will have a clearer vision of the direction to take your company,” Harris said. Translate this vision into a written strategic plan for the company over the next two to five years. “You must know where you are before you can chart a path forward,” Rohrbach said. Use Canvanizer.com to help define the business model or Broward.Score.org to find business plan outlines, he said.
Identify sources for clients: Identify where past sales originated — word of mouth, website, social marketing, networking, etc., Statner said. “This may help you develop a marketing plan for attracting new clients,” he said. “If you plan on focusing on a couple of industries and become experts in them, you will then know how to reach them and allocate your marketing budget.”
Plan for the future of digital: Video is proving to be the most effective internet marketing tool, Harris said. “Establish your company as ‘the expert’ in the production of video for internet marketing and you will differentiate your company from other digital marketing firms and gain a competitive edge,” he said.
Rebrand for the future: Amplification is an “audio” term. If the company is repositioned as a specialist in video production, does that name still fit? “Even if you keep your current name, I recommend that you re-image your company website, logo, collateral materials and social-media outlets to reflect your expertise in video production,” Harris said. Rohrbach said the company could keep the current corporate name and create a DBA (doing business as) for about $50 at Sunbiz.org. When brainstorming a new name, avoid unusual spellings and words that are offensive or sexual in other cultures or languages, he said.
Establish the company as a high-end consultant: To take on more profitable consulting work, become highly specialized in one area of digital marketing, Harris said. Even companies with in-house digital marketing staff outsource specialty work, such as video production, he said.
Cabeza and Hoppe said they learned a lot from the makeover process. “We were looking for feedback and insight because we have both worked for big companies, but we’ve never had a company like this,” Cabeza said. “We wanted third-party feedback. It has been really helpful with focusing the pencil, and validating the concerns that we had.”
The client: Amplification Inc., 14201 SW 20th St., Davie. The company offers digital marketing, social-media consulting and video production. It has two full-time employees and more than 16 independent contractors.
The experts: David Harris, director of marketing, Greenway Golf Course Management; Michael Statner, president of Focused Systems; and James Rohrbach, CEO of Launch Me Labs.
The challenge: To grow strategically and add structure.
The advice: Define a mission. Get accounting in order. Write a business plan. Identify the most profitable types of business. Rebrand for the future.
Based in Washington, D.C., SCORE is a nonprofit with more than 12,000 volunteers working out of about 400 chapters across the country offering free counseling to small businesses. There are seven chapters on Florida’s east coast, including Broward SCORE, which has more than 60 volunteer counselors.
Counselors from Broward SCORE meet with small business owners and offer free one-on-one counseling, as well as dozens of low-cost workshops, such as ‘Supercharge Your Website’ on Tuesday and ‘Build Your Brand’ on Wednesday. See more under ‘Local Workshops’ at broward.score.org. To volunteer or learn more about SCORE, go to score.org or broward.score.org.
How to apply for a Miami Herald Small Business Makeover
Business Monday’s Small Business Makeovers focus on a particular aspect of a business that needs help. Experts in the community will provide the advice. If you would like a makeover, concentrate on one aspect of your business that needs help — corporate organization, marketing, financing, for example — and tell us what your problems are.
The makeover is open to companies in Broward or Miami-Dade counties that have been in business at least two years. Email your request to rclarke@MiamiHerald.com and put ‘Makeover’ in the subject line.