Ryan Fitzgerald | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ryan Fitzgerald

Background:  

Orlando-based Net Conversion provides targeted and measurable digital marketing campaigns that focus on driving bookings and revenue for hospitality and travel companies across North America and the Caribbean. Fitzgerald and partner Frank Vertolli founded the company in 2007.

The Mistake:

We didn’t focus on what we were good at. We were executives at Universal Orlando, and we said, "We’re going to be a digital marketing agency." We thought we were going to do everything – online marketing, analytics, build websites, provide creative. You name it. Anything that you thought of that you could do on the internet, we were gonna do.

At the time it was just myself and [co-founder] Frank [Vertolli] doing that. And while Frank had experiences with project management, website builds, and writing marketing briefs to get banners done and all this other stuff, neither of us were programmers. We didn’t have a lick of creative skill. But when you’re starting out, you really kind of say yes to everything. Every step is one step closer to saying, this thing is solid. We have revenue coming in. We have new clients. This thing is great!

Everything that we did that was related to something that we weren’t really great at or personally could do, that’s where we spread ourselves too thin. And we realized we were becoming what we didn’t want to be, which was kind of a master of nothing. That’s what it really came down to.

It was an incremental thing. And it took us at least a year or two after starting out to realize it’s better to say no to some of these things because it was taking so much of our time. It was double or triple the amount of time to project manage these things that we weren’t good at and that we didn’t do, rather than focusing on the stuff that we were really good at and providing value on that.

We used to have this list, where we’d list clients that we’d like to have, that we wanted to go get. And we’d go back to the list [periodically], and maybe we’d talk to one or two of them. And eventually, it was like, the list is growing but we weren’t actually able to talk to those people. There was a disconnect between the aspirational and what we were actually doing.

There was a disconnect between the aspirational and what we were actually doing.

The Lesson:

If starting a business is a leap of faith, a bigger leap of faith was being able to say no and to realize that if we continue to go down this path of saying we do everything, we’re not going to be able to grow like we want. We were getting away from why we started the business in the first place. It was a conscious decision of ours. If we want to grow, if we really want to be successful at what we’re doing, we have to say no to [some] stuff. Otherwise, we’ll never have time to focus on what we’re really good at.

All of the stuff we were doing that didn’t match our core competencies were all project based. So there was a definite start and [then] an end. So it’s not like we had to let [clients] go. When those projects come, you just have to say no, politely bow out or offer advice on how [that project could go], but don’t take that new business.

The things that were right and that we did well were based on analytics, and those were ongoing relationships. So really what we did was [concentrate on] going after those, and to keep those longevity clients that we had.

And the change has really evolved into what makes us unique and different. Now whenever we talk to anybody we say, “We do two things – paid media and analytics.” And we feel like those two areas we are really experts in, and we can go very deep in those two areas rather than being all things to everyone.

It puts us in an interesting position. We are not creatives, right? But we can tell you what creative makes you more money. It gives us almost a third-party kind of freedom. Whatever that message is, we make sure you’re reaching that consumer as quickly and effectively as possible.

Follow Ryan Fitzgerald and Net Conversion on Twitter at @netconversion.

​Photo courtesy of Ryan Fitzgerald

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