10 Entrepreneurial Tips for Building a Strong B2B Business and Brand

by Debra Andrews | March 7, 2024

Written in Celebration of Marketri’s 20th Anniversary

Most know me as a marketer, and the exciting field of marketing is absolutely a passion of mine. But there’s another passion that I rarely write or post about—entrepreneurship. It’s an exciting, challenging, nerve-wracking, sleep-losing, time-sucking, adrenaline-inducing career choice. It’s not for everyone but being an entrepreneur has fulfilled my creative itch and natural craving to build something. If you’re embarking on this journey or already cruising down the road, I offer you some tips that I’ve learned from 20 years of owning Marketri.

1. Gain Visibility Within Trade Associations

When I started Marketri, I was an unknown in the tight-knit Philadelphia and Bucks County communities, having only moved to that area from Maryland two years prior. My specialty was, and in many ways still is, professional services marketing. So, I decided to champion the launch of the Philadelphia chapter of the Professional Services Marketing Association (Note, I did this before I had my first client).

To jumpstart this initiative and gain credibility for the chapter quickly, I reached out to prominent senior marketers in the city to get their participation on the planning committee. We held a CEO panel event at Deloitte’s offices, thanks to Karen Hoy, and a networking event at the exclusive Pyramid Club. To drive attendance, I methodically compiled a database of over 500 marketers throughout the region. The events were a hit, and the Marketri and Deb Andrews names were out there! Did it take a lot of time? Yes. Did I land my first client? Yes! Shortly after the launch of the chapter, I signed on with The Curchin Group and BKC CPAs.

2. Outsource Accounting and Tax

Even though I graduated with a finance degree and could have leveraged QuickBooks to do my own accounting, I outsourced it once I had my first customer and had a minimal amount of revenue coming in. Why? It’s not that complicated, right? The reason is straightforward. Every minute spent configuring accounting software and making entries was time away from being the sole consultant in the business and the sole executive working on the business.

No one could easily own those roles nor outperform me. I chose to outsource something non-core, knowing that it would be done much better than I could do it. Doing bookkeeping right is important. If you need a loan or desire funding at some point in time, you will need solid books and financial statements. Messy books = messy business. It’s not a good look. 

3. Build Your Own Network

Marketri was born in quaint Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which is in central Bucks County. I didn’t know many people, especially in the business community, and knew that referral sources would be key to getting my pipeline moving. It’s especially important for early-stage companies that don’t have a treasure trove of references. It’s easier to get business when you’ve had business! Having business colleagues who were well respected in the business community refer me to prospects was necessary. Going to Chamber events was helpful and fun, but I needed specific referrals that played to my strength in B2B professional services, and I wasn’t meeting enough of those at the monthly “Link at Lunch.”

I founded the B2B Business Alliance in 2005 with Don Adriaansen, Bill Rossman, and Sean Galt, three dynamic individuals who were interested in business growth and had similar target audiences. I enjoyed the energy and camaraderie of the group. Somehow, together, we were stronger, and the referrals did indeed begin to flow.

4. Choose Vendors and Sub-Contractors Carefully

I scaled Marketri in the first few years through partnering with subcontractors, as I didn’t have much free cash flow and never got loans or received equity funding. For the client-facing subcontractors, it was important to have a seamless experience, so they had Marketri business cards (yep, we had them), email signatures, and even phone extensions. I never deceived clients about my team being W-2 or 1099; actually, they rarely asked. What clients wanted most was having a consistent experience, and that remains the case today. They also care about quality work.

When it came to hiring subcontractors, I didn’t always choose wisely, and those were hard lessons learned. Every touchpoint and deliverable were reflections on me and Marketri. While I always made the client whole, an imperfect experience is a chink in the armor. I learned to vet subcontractors carefully, ensuring that they cared about my clients as much as I did. It was easy to tell those that led with their hearts vs. their wallets. I stayed far away from the latter.

5. Invoice Every Month at the Same Time

While regular, timely invoicing seems intuitive and silly to point out as early-stage businesses are hungry for cash, you’d be surprised at how bad some small business owners were at this critical task.  Cash is king for all businesses, especially small ones, so getting them out and enforcing a 30-day payment policy is essential. Invoicing consistently and timely, however, isn’t only about cash flow. It’s a reflection of how well a business is run.

Personally, I dislike receiving invoices 3 plus months after services are rendered.  It’s best to invoice while expected fees are fresh in a client’s mind. No business owner likes surprises, and because many wear multiple hats, they don’t always remember what they needed or asked for in prior months. Why take the chance? In 20 years, I’ve always invoiced the first week of the month and have only had one instance of not getting paid.

6. Never Get Comfortable

Marketing has evolved at lightning speed over the past 20 years. Digital marketing became mainstream. Marketing technologies emerged. Social media became a new way to communicate and share. Websites have become more than electronic brochures. Generative AI was born. There’s not been a year where I planned on or wished for the status quo. In a changing world, I’ve had to commit to continuous learning, remain curious, and explore new avenues even if they are just once and done pilots. Being an entrepreneur is more than a job. It’s a life choice. You need to love it because it’s like a baby that needs nurturing even at the age of 20 (Marketri’s age). I chuckle when people think I have flexibility as a business owner.

Yes, I can say when I work and don’t work, but the reality is that I’m always working even when I’m “off.” Having a sense of urgency around moving plans forward, monitoring the external environment, and thinking about how to be better has kept my mind churning a good 12+ hours a day and even on the weekends. Entrepreneurship isn’t a quality-of-life choice.  It needs to be a passion.

7. When Client Issues Arise, Don’t Be Short-Sighted

Handling client issues can be tricky, especially when an owner firmly believes they are right. Over 20 years, there have been small bumps in the road at Marketri. During those moments, even when I didn’t feel we were at fault, I put myself in the client’s shoes and looked at what we could have done better. There’s always a learning lesson, even if it’s how to communicate more proactively and better.

In the early days, every dollar mattered, but I would write off charges if a client wasn’t completely happy. It’s rarely worth it to have a discontented client. My reputation mattered more. Marketri’s brand was more important. Seeing the forest through the trees isn’t always easy. It’s natural to be defensive. However, I recommend that when client issues arise, take a long-term view. Over the course of two decades, you too will see that the small bumps are meaningless, and the lessons learned will only make your business stronger.

8. Hire the Best Even When You Feel it’s a Stretch Financially

Most early-stage companies without funding scale like Marketri. It takes a while before the first full-time hire can be made. I was conservative when it came to our cash flow and was afraid to stretch outside of what I thought Marketri could afford. Greatness, however, comes at a price. I’m certainly not encouraging entrepreneurs to spend what they don’t have. Taking small risks, however, can be transformative. Exceptional talent will be the thing that makes or breaks a business. Poor performance and churn are killers to both the top and bottom lines.

If you find someone perfect for your business but feel they’re just out of reach, ask yourself if that’s true. Run some financial scenarios that include the upside of leveling up such as repeat business and more business from existing customers. How will this hire impact your ability to focus more on the business as opposed to doing the work, and will that result in more sales? Perhaps it’s time to take a stretch!

9. If You Work From Home, Virtual Offices Boost Credibility

Marketri’s first office was bricks and mortar at 62 W. State Street in Doylestown. I had downsized my home situation to give myself the financial space to start Marketri. A friend and successful entrepreneur in the area, Stephen Worth of Worth & Company, let me park a desk in the building he was renovating and work rent-free for a year. What a gift! Having a real office from 2004 – 2009 gave a small, growing business an air of legitimacy that was important before WFH was a thing. In 2009, I bought a house and decided to move my business there. I only had one employee at the time and felt that capital could be better utilized elsewhere since we rarely had clients come to us. Google maps, however, started in 2005 and had become mainstream, and my comfort level with my home being the office was low. At that time, I also knew I wouldn’t be in the Philadelphia area for the rest of my life.

Virtual office space was the answer to my mini dilemma. Through Davinci Office, I “leased” space in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia, which became our home office. I contracted to have a phone line, an answering service, and mail forwarding through our main office. Like magic, fast-growth companies across the country began to find us. I wondered if they would mind that we didn’t have employees in their location. The answer was no. I never lost a pitch due to geography. The pandemic fueled the awareness and growth of virtual office space, so Marketri’s office set-up isn’t a best-kept secret anymore. I highly recommend trying this method to professionalize remote, early-stage companies and to broaden your geographic target market. (Keep in mind that there are state and local tax implications of working in and hiring from different states. Consult a qualified SALT accountant before proceeding!)

10. Enjoy the Ride and Celebrate Memorable Milestones

I vividly remember the moment I received my first business inquiry. My internet wasn’t working properly, so I was in the public library checking my email. It was there, sitting in a quiet cubicle, I knew the business was going to take flight. That opportunity and client, The Curchin Group, kicked-off on November 12th, my 39th birthday, and would go on to be a 10-year partner. There are too many significant moments to mention them all. I celebrated many of them with colleagues, friends, clients, and a few margaritas along the way.

On the 20th anniversary of Marketri, I’m grateful that I took a chance. If you’re a business owner, I hope one of my tips helps you. I typically write on the latest and greatest in the field of strategic marketing and rarely discuss entrepreneurship as I don’t consider myself an expert. However, over two decades, I’ve done many things right and just as many wrong. I’ve learned a lot! If I can be a resource for you, I’m an open book and would love to hear from you.