Interview with Victor Clarke

Job Security in Entrepreneurship: Our interview with Victor Clarke, the founder of Clarke, Inc.

There are many reasons why people go for entrepreneurship, some have an amazing idea, some just want something more out of their lives, for some it means spending more time with their families. But, in almost all cases there is always the lure of managing yourself, being your own boss. This was one of the main reasons why Victor Clarke left his $100,000 job to start Clarke, Inc., a company which provides print and digital marketing material and advice.

So, we got in touch with Victor Clarke from bebetterdomore.com to get into the depths of things and bring out the inspirational backstory found in every successful entrepreneurial venture.

How did it all begin? Was it a natural step in your career?

It all began when a gentleman, who was at least 30 years older than me, came begging for a job.  He was recently laid off as a salesman and desperately needed a new job.  I was taken aback that he was in such a dire condition.  He was nearing retirement, was well respected in the industry, and was asking me for a job.  I was a young, 35 year old snot-nosed brat, who would decide his fate?  I swore I would never be in his position and vowed to make sure it wouldn’t happen to me.

This occurred while I was the Director of Federal, State & Local Government and Education Sales for Corporate Software.  The company sold Microsoft, Lotus, IBM, etc. software via floppy disks and CDs.  I managed approximately 15 sales reps in the Washington DC and Oakland, CA areas.  I was living in Northern VA and I was making well over $100,000 at the time.  However, I was dissatisfied with my work, traffic, my boss, the area, etc.

My wife is from southwest VA and we had two young boys.  She wanted to move back home and I wanted the boys to grow up in a more safe and friendly environment.  So we found an offset printing company, purchased it, packed up and moved to Lynchburg, VA 150 miles away.
While selling printing is a long way from selling computer hardware and software, it was a natural step in my desire to be my own boss.  By owning my business I could avoid the stress of a potential layoff and the degrading process of begging for another job.  The money is significantly less, but I found peace owning my company and not driving in traffic every day.  And the folks are a lot friendlier than the big city.  I have no stress!

What was the greatest difficulty that you faced in setting up your Marketing Firm? How did you resolve it?

I spent way too much money investing in the latest management theories and software in an attempt to be perfect.  Nobody or any business can be perfect.  A few years ago I sold my building, and laid off most of the employees, but kept all my customers and brokered out the business.  I learned that my customers didn’t expect perfection.  In fact, I still wonder why non-Clarke, Inc. customers would ever be willing to put up with some of the incompetence I have discovered.  Why didn’t every prospect come to my business after dealing with poor service and quality from my competitors that are now my partners?  I should have spent more time, and less money, perfecting my existing systems and software rather than purchasing the latest fads.

How has been the general response from the customers? What is their level of awareness about changing search engine algorithms and how mobile friendly sites are getting greater ranking?

Most of the small businesses we work with have no idea about the importance of their websites, search engines and why it must be mobile friendly.   They remain more comfortable with good, old-fashioned print marketing.  With print remaining the major portion of our business this is good news for me – for now!  However, they will have to understand the web’s importance in just a few short years.

When I tell clients that B2B sales customers will contact a sales rep only after independently completing 60% of the purchasing decision process using the internet1; and that by the year 2020, customers will manage 85% of their business relationship without talking to a human2, it gets their attention.

1 Jay Baer, Youtilty

2 Gartner Research

What is your take on Black Hat SEO and the subsequent tough updates like Panda and Penguin?

Black hat practices (i.e. keyword stuffing, invisible text, adding unrelated keywords to the page content or page swapping) was once considered the way to get your website ranked higher by the search engines.  But the implementation of Pidgeon (stressing the importance of local SEO), Panda and Penguin (aimed to lower the ranking of low quality sites) by Google has eliminated the need for black hat practices.  In fact, black hat practices will likely get your page banned today if discovered.

Here’s a short list of must haves for small business sites to rank higher on search engines today:

Think Local.  One area in which small business may have an advantage over multi-national competitors is by thinking local. That means you should max out all of your free local listings that will help drive people to your website. It’s particularly important to make sure your Google local listings are set up properly.

Be Consistent. The more you get yourself out there online, the more likely potential clients or customers are to find you. However, there is also a bigger danger of inconsistent business listings which can confuse the search engines and affect your SEO. This may not seem like a big deal, but a 2014 article in Search Engine Land listed it as the most significant issue affecting local rankings.

Avoid Website Pitfalls. Your website is the engine of your SEO operation but all too often it needs an oil change or a complete overhaul without your realizing it. If you have multiple locations you should have unique, well written pages for each location. If the copy is the same on all pages, barring a few details, it will be a turn off to the search engines.

Get High Quality Backlinks. Backlinks are one of the main building blocks of good SEO. They are links that are directed towards your website and are also known as Inbound Links (IBL’s). The number of backlinks that go into your site can be an indication of the popularity or importance of your site. The search engines – Google in particular – will give more credit to a website that has good quality backlinks. In the past it didn’t matter so much who was linking to you and some businesses which were desperate for back links could buy them. Others would set up subsidiary websites to link to their own in the hope of gaining more Google juice. Both of these practices are frowned on now.

Lastly, there are many other entrepreneurs out there who are facing difficulties in bringing their products/services into the market. If you could give them just one advice, what would it be?

CASH IS KING!

Profit is an opinion.  Cash is a fact.

Watch your expenses.  Don’t spend money you don’t have or on things you don’t need.  Don’t use your business as a piggy bank.  Watch your receivables.  Don’t let customers get behind in payment.  Even better, you should collect payment prior to product or service delivery.