I’m Danny Lacey, and right now, I am going through the pains of growing a business from the ground up.
I’m the CEO and founder of video marketing company Stada Media. Therefore, I have the responsibility – and accountability – of having employed over 25 staff; servicing over 150 customers; generating revenue of over £2 million, and dealing with the stress and anxiety of growing a business – including times where we almost lost everything.
Setting the scene
In this blog post, I’m going to set the scene for my entrepreneurial journey and tell you the story of setting up my first ‘business’. I’m going back to where it all started – when I had no idea what entrepreneurship actually was. In fact, I had no idea that business life was going to be my future.
Please note, I’m not trying to ‘teach’ – I’m simply sharing my experiences in the hope that they help current and future entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. We’re all in this together.
A bit about me…
I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker. After spending 20+ years as a radio broadcaster, I realised I just wanted to do film. Radio really wasn’t the thing for me – I was happy at the time and I was earning a decent salary, but I wasn’t fulfilled career-wise. So, in my 30s, I picked up a camera for the first time.
However, I soon realised I wasn’t going to make any money out of being a filmmaker. Well, unless I became the next Steven Spielberg – which, let’s be honest, isn’t going to happen any time soon! So, I decided to go into video production.
I’ve spent most of my adult life self-employed or a business owner. I worked for someone once for about a year, but it didn’t go well – I think I’m just unemployable! I did the work, I thought I could do a better job of it myself, and I set up my first business.
The ‘spike’ moment
Right now, I’m the CEO and founder of Stada Media. We’re a video production business based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. At the time of writing, there are 11 of us on the team. We’ve grown very much organically – from the very early days of me in my spare room at home. At this time, I was making low-budget corporate videos and TV adverts.
Then, in 2014, we had what I like to call a ‘spike’ moment. A client approached us around Christmas time and asked us if we could help them set up a new TV channel on Sky. It was a big, six-figure contract – and that was the catalyst for growth to where the business is today. It meant that I had to employ staff and take on office space.
Goals for Stada Media
To me, I have reached success if I can get the company to £10 million in revenue and the maximum number of staff and clients. Right now, we’re on course for about £500k this financial year. This is up significantly on previous years, and we continue to grow year on year.
Hopefully, if we keep going in the direction we’re going, we will eventually get there. The aim of Diary of an Entrepreneur is to share that entire journey – but right now, I want to catch up with you so we can get to the present day.
In this blog post, we’re going to look at two businesses I set up when I was younger and my journey to becoming a radio broadcaster.
I worked incredibly hard to finally get my break on radio. That sheer fight and determination to achieve my dreams has continued with me throughout my entire adult life. When I have a dream or a goal, I put everything I’ve got into it. It might take me a long time – it took me over a year to get on the radio – but I get there eventually, through blood, sweat, and a lot of tears!
So, let’s go right back to when I was around 12 years old. It was at this time that I made my first real attempt at making money – something that wasn’t a paper round, a milk float or measly pocket money. Yes – technically, this was my first ‘business’!
Danny’s Car Wash
We lived on a relatively quiet street, but I noticed that every weekend people would be out washing their cars. Not just that – arguing over the washing of said cars. I also noticed that we had quite a few cars travelling up and down the street – and I saw a moment. I saw a potential to make money.
Again, at the time, I had no knowledge of an entrepreneurial part of my brain. I had no thought of this becoming a business in any way. However, an opportunity presented itself – so I wanted to capitalise on it, and make my millions.
Lesson 1: Advertising is key
So, I grabbed my dad’s bucket and sponge. We also had a child’s toy cash register knocking around the house, so I grabbed that too. Dad was very kind to put 50p into it in change, in the form of twos, ones and, back in those days, half-pennies!
Now I had all the tools to set up my car wash. However, this was when the naivety set in. I thought getting customers would be as easy as grabbing a piece of paper and a pen and drawing an advert for ‘Danny’s Car Wash’.
I headed off to the local off-licence and negotiated with the owner, persuading him to let me put my advert in the window. He charged me 50p for a week to have the advert in the window – which, in those days, was extortionate!
I went back home and sat in our driveway on a deckchair, next to my till, my bucket of soapy water and sponge. I sat there and waited… and I waited… and I waited. Lesson number one, in the cut-throat industry of running a business, was learnt: advertising is key.
I thought that I would put this advert in the window and I would get a flood of customers wanting my services. However, this naivety has followed me all through my life to this day.
Anything new that comes along that I’m not 100% sure about, I’ll have a go – and 99.9% of the time, I will waste my time, money and resources. Now, a lot of people might be reading this and thinking, ‘What an idiot! Why doesn’t he just pay someone else to do the work for him?’
I have an old-school mentality of simply figuring it out, learning and not wasting time – and this is how a lot of entrepreneurs think, too. Entrepreneurs’ brains work by calculated risk – they don’t think about it too much, and just get on with it.
I look back on this memory of setting up my first business with fondness. Again, at the time, I didn’t know business was going to be my future – but the lessons have stayed with me.
Let’s get onto the next ‘business’ I set up – and from which I actually started making money!
At the disco
Now we’re heading into what I ended up doing for the next 20 years: DJing and radio broadcasting. The first time I actually started to make money from a business was when I got involved in mobile disco.
I was really close to my cousin growing up. He was 10 years older than me and he was a DJ. I went along to a few of his mobile discos and got really excited about it – I thought, ‘I could play records, talk nonsense in-between and get paid a load of money for it!’ I wanted a piece of that.
So, my dad bought a load of kit on the cheap. I was building most of it: tripods, speakers, lights. I went to car boot sales and bought records (there were only records in those days!).
While my friends were at school revising for exams, I was out earning money at mobile discos. We could be earning anything between £50 and £70 a night.
Music Made In The UK
Around that time, I was starting to see how popular mobile discos were – and I had an idea. I thought, ‘How can I make money from mobile discos without actually having to go and do mobile discos?’ So, I decided that I was going to set up a DJ agency.
I still remember the name of the company – ‘Music Made In The UK’. The idea was that we had a bank of mobile DJs, and clients would call up and book one of our DJs for an event. The DJ would do the work, and we’d take a 15% commission.
My mum and dad let me use their shed, which was an absolute mess, but I managed to renovate it into a little office. I probably spent more time setting it up with paper trays and stationary than I did working!
The Yellow Pages
However, I decided I wasn’t going to make the same mistake that I did with the car wash. This time, I needed traction and to get in front of potential clients. So, I paid £250 that I’d saved to get a small advert in the Yellow Pages (I’m showing my age again here).
The moment the Yellow Pages was released, the phones were ringing off. The. Hook. Remember, it was all landlines in those days, and it wasn’t long until my mum was threatening to kick me out!
That said, we were clearly becoming very popular. It was then that I learned the power of speculation and spending in advertising.
Lesson 2: Have a good business model
However, I also learned that my business model sucked.
On the surface, the model seems pretty straightforward. However, you’ve got to remember – we’re back in the day when there was no such thing as PayPal or bank transfers. It was cash and cheques – this meant that I had to either go and get the money, or wait for clients to send me cheques in the post.
Given that DJs all finish work at the same time of night, it was absolutely impossible – I was driving all over Yorkshire to collect my 15% in cash. At our peak, we had 10-15 DJs out at any one time, and most of my time was spent waiting for them to send us cheques. As you can imagine, most of them took forever – and some didn’t even send them at all!
This also introduced me to the world of customer service and client expectations. Often, on a Friday or Saturday night, I’d get a call from a client saying that their DJ hadn’t turned up. Or, they’d turned up and they only had 3 records in their entire collection.
In my first business – my first ‘proper’ business – I was learning a lot for the first time. What it was like to work with a team, work with clients, and handle all the transactions in between.
It’s safe to say, this business was also a complete disaster. Despite this, I’ve taken the lessons with me throughout my entire life.
96.3 Radio Aire
While all of this was happening, I was still chasing my dream of becoming a radio broadcaster – on my local station in Leeds, 96.3 Radio Aire.
There’s one lesson that’s followed me from my first business at Danny’s Car Wash right the way through to today, and that’s persistence – but more importantly, self-awareness.
Lesson 3: Enthusiasm, persistence and self-awareness
I sent Radio Aire countless demo tapes and letters showing my enthusiasm for working at the station. One after the other, after the other. Back then there was no email, and I didn’t have a computer to print the letters off – instead, a typewriter! They’d write rejection letters back, and I could be waiting weeks before I heard back from them.
Even so, there was something within my confidence that meant this constant rejection didn’t affect me as it might affect most people. Most people would give up, but it had the complete opposite effect on me. I was made even more determined to succeed.
However, I was also self-aware enough to know I wasn’t perfect. In fact, I wasn’t even good. I just knew I had the drive – and my enthusiasm, confidence and persistence about getting work on this radio station got me further than the talent itself. Read that again!
This also plays a big part in marketing and advertising – it’s about selling yourself and making regular noise. That’s the only way people will remember you.
Change of plan
I knew this method of sending letters wasn’t working – I was sending them to the same person every time, and I just wasn’t getting an answer. I knew it was time to get innovative and creative.
So, I decided to approach the radio presenters that were currently on the radio station directly. Specifically, I approached the ones who did shows in the evening, because I knew the rest of the studios would be empty. I told them I’d love to come and shadow them – make tea, do the photocopying, answer phones, whatever – anything to get a taste of being at this radio station.
One of the evening presenters invited me in, and I spent a while hanging around with them. I made tea and everything else I said I’d be willing to help with, but I knew what I really wanted to do.
So, one night I plucked up the courage to ask if I could have one of the studios for an hour to get to know the job. They agreed, and I started spending one night a week in that studio, refining my art.
About 6 months later, I produced a demo reel that I thought was better than it’s ever been, and sent it to the boss. That’s what led me to present a couple of overnight shows – and the rest, as they say, is history.
A ‘no’ is not a ‘no’
Keep going. A ‘no’ is not a ‘no’ – it’s a ‘yes’ or a ‘maybe’. Have confidence, but guided confidence. I didn’t go into that radio station thinking I was brilliant and entitled to the job – I knew I had a lot to learn, but this was backed up by my undying enthusiasm. This is why now, as an employer, I love it when people approach me with enthusiasm.
- You have to spend money to make money. You’ve got to speculate to accumulate.
- You don’t know what you don’t know. Getting to know is the only way to learn.
- Making mistakes is a compulsory part of the journey – embrace it.
- Whatever your vocation in life, you have to be a great salesperson. Selling yourself is more important than ever before. It’s a very noisy landscape out there, and if you’re not willing to shout about what you do, you’re not going to get very far – it’s as simple as that.
- Utilise and take advantage of all your experience to help you achieve everything you want in life. What’s happened in my life outside of business has steered me in business.
- Finally, one analogy I love comes from the film Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi gets Daniel to do all of these crazy, miniscule tasks – paint fences, wax his car, clean the floors – repeatedly, for weeks on end. Daniel has no idea that Mr. Miyagi is actually training him for his fights – and he ends up winning spectacularly. The same goes for business: getting your team to do those smaller, attention-to-detail tasks will solve wider problems.
So, that’s my story of setting up my first business. If I’ve motivated you in any way, shape or form in this blog post – my work is done! Please share this post with anyone in your network if you found it helpful.
If you’d like to contact me directly for a chat, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.