As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing William Gardner.
After spending 15 years in business development, sales and marketing and understanding the pressures clients feel when selecting a marketing agency to work with, Will Gardner aimed to build an agency that would focus on the clients specific needs. One of the most important being the performance of each client’s campaigns and always making sure their results were put first and foremost. Starting off with only a laptop and cell phone, Will Gardner has now grown Gardner Media Group into a successful digital marketing agency that operates across the globe.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I spent 15 years doing sales, marketing and business development before I started my own business. I held director, manager, and VP titles but my entire career was dedicated to help other companies grow. After years in the corporate world, I decided it was time to start my own business, and be my own boss. My skillset was always marketing focused so that’s where I turned, my own marketing company. I still get to help other companies grow, but now it’s it’s while running my own successful marketing business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I originally got started with my own company, it was called ‘Eight Marketing,’ however I spelled it “8IGHT Marketing,” with the number 8. People started referring to it as ‘ight marketing’ and ‘8 ight marketing,’ and didn’t really understand it. The lesson I learned was, don’t try and overthink your logo and name, keep it simple and something that people will remember.
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?
As far as mentors, there is a gentleman named Tony Kitchkov, he owned a plumbing company called Delta Mechanical in Mesa, Arizona where I’m from. Directly out of high school he took me under his wing. I don’ think he meant to mentor me, but he had me doing all of the grunt work and taught me the plumbing business. You know, a lot of people out there pay someone to mentor them, but in this case I was getting paid while he was mentoring me so I’m pretty grateful for that.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I think really what separated me was the fact that I concentrated on getting plumbing companies phone calls every day. Because I have been primarily focused in the plumbing industry, I know that SEO and all of the cool stuff surrounding marketing helps, but the biggest thing plumbing companies want is to get the phone ringing. That’s what helped me be successful because I knew how to do that. I can get the phone ringing and make them into successful plumbing companies.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I think specifically as a leader you’re going to be aware of issues and problems that not every employee is going to understand. You need to find a way to be positive and continue to enforce the vision you’re going with and consistently communicate with the team. You have to do it everyday. You have to be aware of cashflow, customers, sales and everything all at once but you can’t let that spill over to the employees all of the time.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I have definitely considered giving up. When you’re in business for yourself you experience so many emotions in the day. You can go from “wow I was born to do this,” to “why did I even start this?” For me, it’s the thought of, I don’t have another choice, quitting is not an option. I can’t imagine going back to work for someone, it’s not about the money. I don’t want someone to tell me yes or no on my ideas. That’s what motivates me. The freedom to try what I want and see the success. When my customers are winning, that’s a win for me. It drives me to keep doing better.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Remaining positive. I mean, sales reps, video guys, the marketing team, they have to feel like it will all work out so they continue to come to work every day and put their best foot forward.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The little things go a long way. Take them out to lunch, break the ice, try not to make it all about work. Keeping a personal relationship is huge. That’s what I find works the best. When you have a good relationship with someone it’s easier to work through things as a team. They will want to come to work and work for you if they know you care and appreciate them.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
It’s best to just say it and be honest. People appreciate honestly so be up front and say that we need to have a difficult conversation. It’s usually not as bad as you think it will be. It’s better to be forward and say what needs to be said instead of them finding out the difficult news through another source. It’s hard to recover from that and you backpedal.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Adapt and overcome. The last 4 or 5 years of being in the business for myself, I’ve learned it’s never going to be how you think it is. You need to be able to adapt and pivot. Every day is different from the next so you need to prepare for the future but also know that plans change.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
For us it’s delivery. As a marketing company no matter what goes on, if you are the consistent company that customers can rely on to deliver results they will not get rid of you. If you get the phone ringing and generate leads, they will stay with you during the ups and downs in business. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Most people during difficult times want to turn off their marketing and expenses. Which is funny because that’s when you should be turning it up. When things aren’t going well, you don’t want to stop marketing. It can be the first thought but you need to take risks sometimes to get reward. Spend money to make money. Even for us ,we decided to open our office back up in September in the midst of the pandemic. Should I wait or go back? I’m so grateful I opened early and there are uncertainties but I can already see the momentum picking up. Getting out there and getting more business, people are wanting to drive more business and with effect marketing programs it’s possible.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
As a marketing company you know the fundamentals of marketing but it can be harder to market yourself to customers as they all have individual needs. You need to make sure you have multiple lead streams. This month we’re doing podcasts, we’re doing a tradeshow, we’re doing LinkedIn, we do our own online marketing, referrals. You really have to not rely on one lead source. You need to constantly looking for more ways to generate leads.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
-Make sure you’re being found online — Be sure that customers are able to find your business online. This is number one.
-Be realistic with your team with where you’re at — Keep a positive attitude and vision of attainable goals. You have to go out and bring in new business as the owner.
-Managing your cashflow and not being afraid to spend money — Finding the right balance of spending money in growing your business.
-Be a leader — Employees look to you for direction. Be the leader they respect and want to work for but don’t micromanage.
-Multiple Lead Sources — Diversify your leads and new customers. If you have customers and sales that solves a lot of problems.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A motivational speaker named Eric Thomas said, “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breath then you’ll be successful.” This is relevant to me and my life because not only do I want to be a successful person, but my success is based on the success of my clients. That’s my priority.
How can our readers further follow your work?