Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.
Hey friends. I am so excited to be talking to you for the first solo episode in the new year and it’s a special one. So this week is our anniversary at Stratos. It’s my fourth year of being self-employed and so I just wanted to mark the moment with a special podcast recording about our origin story. If I’m totally honest, it’s probably going to be more for me to look back on than it is for you all.
That being said, I do have a ton of people who asked me how I got into business. What happened? And then how did we get here? And so I’m excited to share that with you. I feel like the new year has us all super reflective in general. And then I just get an added layer to be able to look back and see what has happened, especially in the past four years.
So this week, in 2018, I actually left my full-time job. The job that I was working at at the time was a really unhealthy and toxic scenario for me. It was really unfortunate because I loved the work, but the cool thing was, I was a social worker before this, but I got to do a lot of marketing for the program that I was in.
And so we were working on branding, we were working on marketing the program so that we could get more participants. And so I got to learn a ton about social media, website development, et cetera. And so right before I left, over the Giving Tuesday holiday, like Thanksgiving holiday, I had a friend who ran a local nonprofit, super small nonprofit, and they wanted to run a social media fundraising campaign.
And they asked me, they were like, “Julia, you know, more than we do.” And I was like, “Yeah, not that much more than you!” Well, they asked me to do a fundraising campaign with them. So I wrote all of the copy for it and they raised $4,000 in one day. And at that point, I was like, you know, I know that’s not a ton of money, but it definitely was helpful for them. I wonder if people would pay me for this?
And so I started having that in the back of my mind. Playing around with it a little bit, continuing to do marketing for my program, but things just reached a crux in January and I decided I needed to go for my own mental health. So if you’re in that place, I know it’s really scary, but consider yourself and consider how important your mental health is. Don’t quit without a plan. And my plan was probably a little weaker than most of the people in my life would have liked. But what I basically did is, on January 15th, I left my job, filed an LLC and decided, okay, I have three months worth of living expenses and I still had another part-time job at Revel, shout out to Revel, and I was like, okay, you have three months to figure this out, Julia, and you need to have at least one client who is going to pay you by the end of these three months so that we at least have proof of concept.
So, I left that job and I started searching for clients. Fortunately, like my parents were very good advocates and my dad actually helped me find some of my first clients. I also have built a huge network with my previous job and so I was able to find a couple of clients through there. In the end, after the three months, I want to say I had five to seven clients, all paying very little money. But to me, it was proof that this could work. I didn’t know how I was going to make it work entirely, but I could make it work.
And I was doing at the time, social media, very simple website builds, website edits, email marketing for some of these people, at super reduced costs. At the time, I felt like it was a lot of money and how could I even charge more? But that is where I started.
But here’s the thing. At the time I was living in Madison, I was living a block off of the square, if you’re familiar with Madison. And I was living in a 300 square foot studio apartment with Lucy. And I was paying $900 a month. And for what I was charging clients, I was like, this is not gonna last long. And so I decided, with the encouragement of one of my very best friends, Katie, that I should move to Beaver Dam, we decided we would find an apartment together and we found this beautiful 2400 square feet, I think, maybe a little bit smaller. I’m not sure, but we split it and it was $300 each of us.
It was exactly what I needed. I needed to work from home. I still had my part-time job in the city and so I would drive in the 40 minutes to go and I loved living there. It was a really hard decision because I felt like I was giving up this “dream” that I had of living near the square, being close to all the action. Instead, I was moving out 40 minutes into the country. But I had a bigger dream; I had a dream that I could work for myself. I could work from anywhere. And so what was really cool is I actually started practicing some of those things while I was living there. I started making trips out to Salt Lake City, which now, you know why I live in Salt Lake City, but I got to make some trips to Florida, I could work on the go.
I actually even went to, where did Katie and I go, we went to Ireland. That was the first week that I actually took a full vacation. I could start stepping in and practicing some of those dreams. And sometimes I had to work. I had to work when we were visiting San Francisco and San Diego, but I still got to experience some of the gifts that came with self-employment and started enjoying some of it, even though I had to make some sacrifices in other areas.
So moving on. Oh, one more thing about 2018. I had a lot of mentors, a lot of friends who are business owners that I would meet with and ask questions of, make sure I was doing the right thing, because honestly, I’m going to be totally honest – I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t even know where I was supposed to start.
I think that’s one thing that I would always tell business owners is, you gotta start somewhere. You may not have all of the answers right now, but you’ll figure them out as you go. And so you got to start somewhere. And so I remember meeting with one of my very good friends and telling her that I dreamt about hiring people and I dreamt about building out a team and helping people create a similar lifestyle, really, where they could have the freedom to work from anywhere, to be flexible with their hours, et cetera.
And she wisely, wisely told me, cause guys, remember, this is the time that I like charged 300 bucks for 30 posts a month on social media. She very wisely told me you got to figure out your business first and make money for yourself and then hire people.
At the time, I’m going to be honest, I felt like this friend crushed my dreams, but she was so wise because I then started focusing on what I needed to do rather than like the 15th step ahead of me, where I would hire people. And so when we came into 2019, I was starting to feel overwhelmed. I had way too many clients, not enough time to do all of the work for them. So I decided to ask one of my dear friends from Revel to help me.
And so, Ryann, you have all heard from her because she did our last episode on keeping marketing weird or keeping social media weird. Ryann was our first team member to come on board and she came on super part-time, at the time she needed some extra work and she had worked in marketing previously. And so we decided, okay. Ryann’s going to come on as a contractor first, but really by the six month, by the middle of the year, we had so much work that I was like, okay, we’ll figure it out, but we need you you full-time actually. And so she came on as her first full-time employee.
After that I moved to Salt Lake City. Another really cool thing that I realized as I was building my business is I could live anywhere. And so I decided that for my own personal life, I was ready to move out of Wisconsin and to Salt Lake City, primarily to help our local church because I had some extra free time that I could use up. And so it was a beautiful, beautiful move. I’m so thankful that I did it, obviously for other reasons, because now I am married and have a beautiful little girl all the way, but we are so excited. I was, yeah, I was so excited, even at the time to move to Salt Lake City. I had no idea what the future held, but I knew that I could work from anywhere and so I was able to make it happen.
Guys, I hate to interrupt this podcast, but I want to share a quick message about a resource we have here at Stratos for you.
Hey podcast, listeners, Ryann. Here, are you tired of coming up with new content for your email marketing? After years of writing emails for ourselves and our clients, we’ve compiled our favorite content hacks into seven categories.
Freshen up your content so you don’t bore the audiences you’re nurturing. Download a free copy of our guide at marketinginthewild.com/freebies.
At the beginning of 2020, I started realizing, you know, what? This feels uncomfortable to have a business called Julia Block Marketing Solutions because it’s no longer just me. At the time, when I had been a solo freelancer, it made a ton of sense, and there’s nothing wrong with having a name that is named after you but I just got to the point where I was like, I think this is going to be a lot bigger than me and I am ready to change the name.
However willing I was to change the name, it was impossible to come up with a name. And so I remember sitting in Florida, we come here every New Year’s, and trying to come up with a name. I had no idea what I wanted that name to be. I had no idea what the new brand would look like. Thankfully, I had a really good friend who is a brand strategist, and so she helped us work through it. I believe if I remember correctly and I might be corrected by my siblings, my sister came up with the name Stratos.
If you figured out that it comes from the word stratosphere, you are entirely correct, but we wanted to just really emulate this idea that we want to create marketing that is high level. That we want to create excellence within marketing and within our business and within our client’s businesses.
And so that’s where Stratos was born: on a couch in 2020 in Florida. And so really that’s when that’s when the hiring started. I can’t remember if it was right before 2020 or if it was after 2020, but that’s when Kelsey and Savannah came on. Both part-time.
Savannah’s our designer. She’s fabulous. She’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. Kelsey came in as admin and now her role is actually a content coordinator. And so it’s been cool to see. She actually kept us alive because she kept us so organized, but she also has been able to migrate into a role that fits her better. And so that’s been really cool to see too.
So on a personal note, at the same time in 2020, I met my husband and we also all know that COVID happened. And so at the time when COVID first happened in March of 2020, I remember sitting for a whole week at my dining room table doing a puzzle because really my brain could do nothing else.
I was like, I have just hired three people, cause at the time there was only three of us, well, four, including me, but three people who depend on me for some sort of income. What is going to happen? I had so, so much anxiety that week. If I’m totally honest, I spent a lot of it in prayer being like, okay, God, you brought me into this mess – entrepreneurship and hiring people – I trust that you have a plan here.
We really wrestled our way through it. We had no idea what was going to happen, but what was really cool is that a lot of the people that I had talked to previously about marketing, especially digital marketing, realized, oh, so this is what Julia has been telling us about. And this is why she has been telling us that we need social media. And this is why she’s been telling us that we need email marketing. And so I am so, so grateful that we actually had a growth year that year. Surprisingly enough.
We were able to double our income on the year before, which was crazy, but we were also able to hire a project manager and account manager. And then we hired an executive assistant, Allison, who you all have probably met, but Allison, the reason we actually hired Allison was because I was going to be getting married on January 1st, 2021. And I was like, I did not start this business to have to work on my honeymoon, but I knew my staff was tapped out and they wouldn’t have the bandwidth to take care of emails. I needed a right-hand person who would be able to make sure all of the admin stuff was done. And so that’s when Allison came on board. We’re so, so grateful for her, we love her. But that is really why, as I mentioned before, even when I moved to Beaver Dam, I really wanted to make sure that I continued to live this lifestyle that I wanted. And more and more as I grow this business, I’m like, Hey, I did not start this business to work 60 hours a week. I started this business to live with freedom and have flexibility. And so I have been super careful about making sure that, while I can’t have everything, that I do get some of those gifts that come with it.
I realized that there are some times where we have to work 40 to 60 hours a week, but there are other times where I’m like, Hey, I can take a half day today. And that feels good. So to all my fellow business owners: make sure that you’re doing both the celebrating and the working. But don’t work yourself down to the point that you’re burnt out because that’s really where I was in the middle of 2020.
I think we all kind of were probably because of COVID, but I really was like, what have I done? And so I had to make sure that I could take three weeks off for my wedding and my honeymoon, and they were glorious, glorious vacation weeks.
In 2021, we hired Kat and Bryce, who are now our sales and retention manager, Bryce is, and our operations manager, that’s what Kat is. We’ve also hired two interns, Justine and Karly. Justine is now another content coordinator because she’s amazing. And Carly is our design intern who does beautiful work for us. And she really was able to help us, especially while Savannah, our original designer, is on maternity leave.
And so that’s what’s been really cool, is that we have been able to support our team members. I joke that while I’m the business owner, technically we all work for Stratos and if Stratos doesn’t work and run smoothly, we’ll all suffer the consequences. And so I was talking with my team