Thank you for sharing your sidepreneur story with us! Please introduce yourself and your business.
My name is Eric Roberts. I grew up in a small town in Jones County, Mississippi called Laurel. I started taking photographs at a young age, long before digital cameras. My parents and grandparents have always been supportive and nurturing of my passions. I received my first 35mm SLR when I was 14. My parents did not have much money, so it was a big risk to give a 14-year-old an SLR. I studied Film at the University of Southern Mississippi. I started my first production company when I was still in school and produced several projects outside of school.
After graduating, I wanted to work full-time in the Film industry to hone my skills. I worked hard and landed a full-time gig at a production company in Jackson, MS. I worked on some cool projects with folks from HBO, MTV, VH1, Discovery, Fox News and other national brands. After several years of working in the film industry, I decided to start shooting stills again. I did photo shoots for actors and models and rediscovered my love for photography. I did that for about a year until my wife and I decided to move back to Laurel and start our own company. We started out just shooting photographs and freelancing on film jobs.
Eventually, we grew to become a full-service advertising/marketing agency. My wife and I noticed a need in what we call “the Pinebelt” for a company to offer the type of services Roberts Creative Group now provides.
Thank you for sharing how you got started as an entrepreneur! What are some interesting details about you as a person outside of business?
I started training for my first Ironman in 2010 and completed Ironman Florida in 2013. It was an amazing experience that taught me you can do more than you think with dedicated self-discipline.
There are many parallels between the struggles of Ironman training and daily business operations. Also, recently I have renewed my interest in rock climbing and mountaineering. I climbed Cathedral Peak and Half Dome in Yosemite last year.
What changed in your thinking that allowed you to create a business and not stay an employee?
I have always been put into situations where people have asked me to lead. My wife and I always knew that once we had the right tools and knowledge, we would start our own business. In 2006, the timing was right, the knowledge was there, and we both knew it was time to make the jump. Also, I will say here that we started the business debt-free to grow slow and make mistakes that would not sink us. I think that has had a big influence on any successes we have had.
Did you feel fear as you started your business? Was fear a good or a bad thing?
I felt fear only in the sense of starting any kind of adventure, not fear like scared to a point that you can’t move. I think a healthy sense of fear helps process why you are attempting any journey.
How long did you run your business while you were an employee, and was there tension between your role as an employee and your role as a business owner?
I ran my business on the side for about a year, and there was never any tension while I was doing this. I keep in touch with my former employer.
In your opinion, does owning your own business allow you to affect more people for good than a more conventional career? Why, or why not?
I do think that as a business owner you are definitely under a microscope by your team members. I love working with my team members, and I like how they challenge me. I also love the opportunities I get to stretch and challenge my team members.
What habits have you created that help you succeed in business?
There are a few habits I have to try to sustain the success of the business.
- Wake up early (5:00-ish & workout).
- Have a quiet time in the morning that does not involve business work.
- Go for walks as often as possible during the work day/week.
- Do not check email while working on projects.
- Build something with my hands once a quarter.
Did you borrow money to start your business?
No, I did not borrow money to start my business. I think starting your business debt-free allows you to make small mistakes and grow the business slowly. My best financial advice is to ask yourself this question, “If I had this money to invest and was not the owner of this business, would I invest it in my business?” Also, if you have a spouse that is good with money management, consult them on your decisions.
How important are strong relationships to your success?
Strong relationships are vital to health whether that be mental, spiritual, financial. Find other business owners that have had success, build relationships with them and ask them for advice as often as possible. Strong client relationships not only make for good business, but also make for a fulfilling business. Get to know your clients and build a personal relationship with them as much as possible. Genuinely care for your clients beyond financial reward.
How do you recommend others handle those critical of their dream of owning a business?
Those that are critical of your business ideas usually have many valid points. Write their critiques down and think over whether those critiques have any validity. If they do, try discover the solution. If the solution is a journey you’re ready to take, then they might have saved you from a future mistake.
Where should aspiring entrepreneurs look to find others who will champion their dream?
Find a group of people you trust and that will be honest with you about your dreams. Read as many biographies as you can. There are many other people who have documented their struggles, and you can learn a great deal from their failures (and successes). Also, know you are going to fail and you should expect it often. Everyone who owns a business knows there is just as much value in failure as there is success.
I am interested in how you cope with uncertainty. Share a story about a decision you had to make “in the dark.” How did you go ahead? Ultimately, did it take faith to make that decision?
One of the biggest decisions early on was hiring my first employee. It was a huge leap at the time. I did not know whether I could pay him, but knew I needed help to move forward. The experience taught me so much about dedication to my team. There was a great amount of faith involved, not to the point where I did it blindly, but I knew if I wanted to grow I had to make this decision. It was one of the best moves I ever made, not even financially, but ethically.
Do you believe faith in God is relevant to running your business?
I do believe having faith in God is crucial to running a business. It gives you hope beyond just trying to run a successful business.
When did you most want to give up on your business, and how did you persist through that time?
The time I wanted to give up was when I lost a critical team member. It was not due to a falling out, but some other reasons beyond both of our control. We are still good friends today. I persisted knowing that the business I had created was valuable to our clients. I strongly believed in the service we provide. It helped me go back to asking myself, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” That’s a good question to ask yourself once a year.
Is there ever a time it is good to quit?
I think there is a good time to quit. We now turn potential clients down because they do not fit our tribe. I was listening to a podcast recently by Tim Ferriss and he was talking about startups with Noah Kagan. He said, “Don’t try to make a crappy product great by what you can bring to the table. Find a great product and make it awesome by what you can bring to the table.” Quitting on certain products or endeavors is a great move.
What is one mistake most new business owners make, and how can we avoid it?
Make sure whatever business you are starting is something you love to do, not something you can do to solely make money.
What book have you read that will best help a prospective business owner, and why?
I recommend the book 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller. We tend to get hung up on questions like “What job am I going to have for the rest of my life?” or “Am I in the right job?” The book helped me understand that as long as I am using the natural gifts and passions I have, my “job” may change. Moving ahead, as long as I am pursuing my calling, I will have confidence and joy in whatever “job” I may have. If I do not have joy, I am probably traveling down the wrong road.