A SCIENTIFIC EYE FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP
IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations
Duane Carey left behind a secure job as a hydrogeologist to start IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations and pursue his passion of helping businesses grow. Today, he finds himself advising others contemplating a similar move into entrepreneurship, and educating companies to be wary about who builds their website.
Q: Before you went into digital marketing, you were a hydrogeologist. How did that career change come about?
A: We did a lot of litigation support in the environmental field, and much of my job involved giving trial lawyers the scientific justification to extract money from businesses through claims of contamination or even the future possibility of contamination. Some of those claims were very genuine and people had been injured or put at risk, and it was very fulfilling to be able to help them. But many suits were much more dubious and seemed to exploit the general public’s fear and lack of understanding of science — all of which came at the expense of business and industry. I decided I wanted to build businesses up rather than tear them down.
I had gone back to school to earn my MBA at Johns Hopkins and had contemplated a career change, but I had a toddler at home and another child on the way, so it certainly wasn’t the right time to make the change. But entrepreneurship has a way of forcing itself into your life, whether you want it to or not. So I eventually threw caution to the wind and just went for it.
Q: How does IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations benefit from your background as a scientist?
A: I think it gives me a good balance. I’m creative, but not in the artsy kind of way — more so in a resourceful manner. Science, especially hydrogeology, is about piecing together a story with limited data and then testing it, tweaking it, and continually evolving that story. That is exactly what we do in digital marketing. There is a treasure trove of data available to make really smart decisions with limited marketing resources. You have to understand the numbers, trust them, and then make good decisions based on them.
Q: You’re passionate about pro-business activism. How does that come through in the work IMPACT does?
A: I think the biggest, most important way is understanding who business owners are. I truly consider them the heroes of our system. They are the people who create the jobs that employ everyone and build the tax base that our entire system depends on. They are the ones who fund the nonprofits and donate their time and talent to those causes. They are the ones who skip paychecks when times are tough so their employees don’t have to. They are the ones who innovate. Because we understand them and appreciate them on that base level, we are instantly speaking the same language the moment they walk through the door. Yes, we’re a marketing company, but we’re really a business growth company that uses marketing to achieve that growth.
Q: You work a lot with the medical, construction/commercial real estate and nonprofit sectors. How do you support each of those verticals?
A: They’re pretty disparate verticals, aren’t they! But they’re really not. Although everyone thinks their business and industry sector is unique, all of marketing comes down to communicating a message to a target market to compel them to some action. The differences really come down to whether a business is B2B, B2C or B2G. Within each of those categories, there are whole suites of strategic approaches that work across industries.
Q: A lot of businesses rely on subscription services to host their websites, or create the sites themselves. Why should they hire a professional?
A: We’re seeing a lot of these subscription issues in particular vertical markets. The pitch goes like this: “You’re a veterinarian and we specialize in websites only for veterinarians. With our system, you don’t need to pay a huge sum upfront for your site; you can simply pay a monthly fee as you go. And, you don’t even need to provide your own content because we can write it all for you, including your monthly or weekly blogs.”
This is very appealing for obvious reasons, but we’ve seen terrible consequences from this model. First, the company often owns the URL, or web address, and you simply pay a fee to use it. So you are stuck with golden handcuffs — when you stop paying your monthly fee, they can simply hand over that same URL to the next guy who’s ready to write a check. Second, you usually don’t own the content, so when you realize you should really have your own site free and clear of a vendor, you have to start over completely from scratch (again, it’s the golden handcuffs). Third, the search engine optimization (SEO) is usually very poor on these sites. One reason is that they use duplicate content — the content they use to populate your site might be on dozens of other sites around the country, which is how they do it on the cheap. This tells the search engines that you are really nothing special, so they rank you low in the results pages.
And as far as creating your own website? Good grief, don’t! There’s no question that a savvy professional can build their own site these days, but in 11 years of doing this, we’ve never seen a good one. There are just way too many variables to understand to do it well.
Q: Like many marketing companies, IMPACT has to compete for millennial talent. What do you do to stand out as an employer, and to make sure the candidates you attract are the right fit?
A: Well, to be very frank, most millennials can’t hack it here! But that is actually the biggest appeal for the good ones. We’re growing fast and doing some really great stuff, and I’m very focused on advancements from within. So a young person with talent, drive and superior work ethic can write their own story. No one holds your hand here, and we’re a very flat organization, so you get a ton of responsibility here that you would never get in a large, bureaucratic environment. The other thing we do to ensure the right fit is to very diligently interview and hire. Good prospects need to come in for a day and work on some of the tasks that would be part of their job. It’s a good way to see them in action and learn who can actually do the work, as opposed to just interviewing well.
Q: You left a fairly secure job to start your own business. What’s your advice for others contemplating a similar move?
A: I actually give advice on this all the time because people call marketing companies when they are contemplating how they would fuel their business. Here’s some:
- Start it on the side — on nights and weekends — to be sure it’s for you and to ensure that you have the ability to source new work. I did not do that. I just dove right in.
- Talk to lots of entrepreneurs to understand what it’s really like. It’s not at all how it looks on TV!
- Ask advice only of people who will tell you the truth and then listen to them! It is amazing how many downright terrible business ideas people have, and either no one had the guts to burst their bubble or they refused to hear the reality of the situation. This is serious stuff, and I’ve seen people cash out their retirement accounts to fund bad ideas that were doomed from the start.
- Go in eyes-wide-open. It is astounding how much work is involved in owning a business. Your life will never be the same, and that is mostly a good thing, but there’s also a lot of bad. Government regulations and litigation potential increase every year, and there are dozens of things to worry about beyond your primary role in the business.
- Once you commit, go all in. It’s fine to dip your toe in the waters at first (see first tip above), but once you make that commitment to become a bona fide business owner, you cannot hedge your bets with a contingency plan to go back to your day job if “this whole thing just doesn’t work out.” After all, if failure is an option, then failure is – indeed – an option!