The Inside Story of Johnny Boy Marketing

Big things happen in odd places and at the strangest times.

I met my future wife in the basement of a dingy college residence hall.

The biggest boost to my career came when I had to cancel an interview with someone who could have been President of the United States.

And I realized I could do this whole marketing thing on my own while angrily driving home in a torrential downpour on the back roads of Missourah trying to avoid the demolition derby that is Interstate 64 West.

Johnny Boy Marketing wasn’t Johnny Boy Marketing during that drive. It was IMIG Marketing, a company I hastily named around 2010 because I had picked up my first real side gig making some marketing materials for a guy who had invented this thing that helped mechanics correctly torque tire lug nuts.

I thought “IMIG” was clever. Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. Whatever it is, it is no longer.

The idea to create my own full-service marketing agency came largely because I know what good marketing is, what good business strategy is and what good employees need to become and stay great employees. And I was seeing precious little of the latter two in my recent career experiences.

My wife has been saying for years … “John, you need to be your own boss and do your own thing. You can do this.” And like an idiot, I’d brushed it off. She might have believed in me, but I sure didn’t believe in me.

Go out on my own? Like, totally? Impossible!

Except on that rainy spring late afternoon, it didn’t seem so impossible. It seemed … doable.

Because of substandard pay and promises of bonuses that didn’t and weren’t going to materialize for what I could see as the long-term future based, I had a need to make extra money to help my family have a budget that didn’t run a U.S.-government-style deficit.

I started writing some long-form articles for a former newspaper colleague of mine from when I was managing editor of The Faribault Daily News in Minnesota. I hired Marc in 2008, and he became sports editor a few months later. Marc was and is good.

When he heard I was looking for side work, he tossed some of the overflow he had at his own freelance marketing firm based near Chicago to his former boss. I loved and love it. He does all the interviews, sends me the transcripts and a brief overview, and I do my thing, cranking out 500 to 600 words per story on some really interesting people doing amazing things.

So something was already started …

To set the stage: On that drive home, yes, I was angry. I was suddenly being micromanaged by someone who knew nothing of marketing and was focused solely on cost cutting while expecting growth that would not materialize if other issues outside my purview were addressed strongly and quickly, and that wasn’t going to happen.

There was precious little actual leadership happening in the company, and every decision that was being made seemed to be coming from a place of fear rather than from boldness and a drive for success.

The latest bit of micromanaging had been this random shift from “work from wherever you want” to “you must be in the office on these three days, even though I, myself, will not be working from home on most of those days, I am never in the office for a full eight hours on any day, and there is no need to be in the office on those days because hardly anyone actually comes into our office to work … ever.”

Paternalism (or, in this case, maternalism) in the U.S. workplace really, really bothers me. Random rules and regulations that are hypocritical and randomly placed or enforced are production killers, lead to high turnover and do nothing positive. U.S. employers in general seem to think of their employees as little baby birds that need to be shepherded to and fro by the big daddy bird. It’s silly and demeaning.

I’m all for following the mandates of a leader who leads by example and who clearly articulates a vision and purpose. I’m not for following random rules more geared toward a third-grader than an accomplished professional exceeding expectations at every turn.

So let’s just say that I was in the mindset for change.

I’d already been contacted by a recruiter who ultimately would lead me to the new job I recently accepted, but I kept hearing my wife’s voice in my head. “John, you need to be your own boss. You can do this.”

Indeed, what I was making through my work with just one client in my side gig was already half what I was bringing in from my full-time job, and I was doing that work in the mornings and evenings with no problem at all.

How much could I make if I responsibly grew my side gig and actually developed some word-of-mouth successes? Could it ever be enough to fully pay the bills and give us the reasonable but comfortable lifestyle we’re seeking?

Why the hell couldn’t it?

That was my thoughts while traversing the hills and curves on those rural back roads.

I mean, I’ve spent 30 years communicating for others. I’ve made money for a variety of different organizations and business leaders. Why shouldn’t I be the one to solely reap the rewards of my efforts? Why should I continue to take random dinky road trip vacations in which I have to ask permission to use my own time off when those whom I’m doing the work for are on their fourth luxury vacation of the year?

So I took that new job the recruiter helped hook me up with. It’s a great job, and my plan is to be there for the rest of my career. It pays well. The work is good. The people seem great. I’m looking forward to starting.

What that increased salary does is give me the opportunity to slowly build up Johnny Boy Marketing. I’ve accepted work with a second client for a one-off project that looks as if it’s going to turn into more than just a one-off. I’m close to nabbing another client, which might cap me out for now.

I’m taking my time, doing my research, setting up the structure of Johnny Boy Marketing and working toward getting all the legal stuff in order. I’m talking to those who run their own businesses and learning from what they’ve learned. At each step, my own business plans are being confirmed as logical, sensible and doable.

So will Johnny Boy Marketing be my full-time gig? Who knows? I’m perfectly fine with it being a successful side gig that helps people meet their personal and business marketing needs. As I said, I expect my upcoming jump to be the one I’m in until retirement. Johnny Boy Marketing might be waiting for me after that. Who knows?

But if the need ever arises, it dawned on me on that rainy drive home, I’ve got this. I can do this.

My wife was right all along.

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