Kristen DeGroot on What I Learned From My Solopreneur Journey
Kristen DeGroot is the CEO of The Campfire Circle, an agency for agencies. She's an inspirational solopreneur and we're grateful to have had the chance to sit down and share insights from her solopreneur journey.
Could you begin by telling us about your background, what led you to become a solopreneur, and what specific industry or niche you've carved out for yourself?"
Well, it's kind of a long story but I'll give you the highlights. I graduated college with an English writing degree. At first, it was hard to find a way to use my degree for a living so I got frustrated, put my stuff in storage, and went to India for a while. I ended up in Dharamsala and taught monks English. I blogged every day while I was there and some how my blog became popular. When I came back to the states, I was able to leverage my blog and landed a job at a software company. After a year I climbed my way to head of marketing. After 5 years of that, I decided I wanted to be a freelancer. I freelanced for 7 years and a lot of my clients were in the B2B space, agencies in particular. As a freelancer I worked with a ton of agencies. Sometimes client facing, but usually to grow and scale them with my organic approach to lead gen. 6 months ago I knew I wanted to start my own agency and at first was thinking a general B2B agency but those are a dime a dozen and I knew I need a niche. Having grown so many agencies, I launched The Campfire Circle, an agency for agencies.
Starting a business is often a leap into the unknown. In your early days as a solopreneur, what were some unexpected challenges you faced, and what strategies did you develop to overcome them?
Starting a business, especially on your own is a little scary. I don't know that it was unexpected, but my main challenge when I first launched was landing my first client. Once I did, I was able to leverage their agency and the work I did for them and even got a testimonial and it was like a snow ball effect. Once I had "social proof" landing clients got so much easier.
Can you share a pivotal moment where you realized that your unique approach was actually working? What did you learn from that experience, and how did it shape your journey?
I have an organic approach to lead gen because cold outreach just doesn't work as well as it used to. So I did a lead magnet for an agency and they said it brought in more qualified leads than anything ever had and they were very happy with my work and I was even happier that I was able to give them such good results.
Your success hasn't come overnight. Could you delve into the key principles and practices that you've found most critical in building your business as a solopreneur? What differentiates your method from others?
First, humanize your business. We all stare at screens more than ever and consumers don't want to read content about a business that is overly professional and doesn't have personality. Another way to humanize your business is to embrace thought leadership as the leader of your business so consumers can put a face to your business. Second, network like crazy. You never know where your next customer will come from. It's also helpful to find like-minded business owners to bounce ideas off of. You can network at in-person events like local meetups and industry conferences. You can also network online by joining LinkedIn Groups that align with your industry.
Running a business solo requires a blend of skills. How have you balanced the demands of various roles like marketing, product development, and customer service? Can you share any tools or strategies that have been particularly effective?
Since my business is a marketing agency, I'm lucky to have the marketing experience I have had over the year so I'm able to market my agency all on my own. Customer service needs to be exceptional for new businesses. So I prioritize my clients' emails, offer them my number to text me, and just listen to their pain points and goals. Since my business is a service, I don't have to worry about product development but I do add more services that my agency offers as I gain traction.
Reflecting on your journey, what's one lesson you learned the hard way that you wish you had known when you first started? How would you advise other aspiring solopreneurs?
As I mentioned, my most popular service is lead gen in the form of lead magnets. I had no trouble getting agencies on a call and getting them excited about my lead gen approach. But after the initial call, I would send the proposal and no one was biting. With a little digging and just coming out and asking the agencies why they weren't moving forward, they kept saying they didn't have the budget for it. So, I lowered the price and found the sweet spot. I advise aspiring solopreneurs to do a "soft launch" and work out all the kinks before spending budget on a bunch of marketing.
Innovation is often key in entrepreneurship. How have you fostered creativity and innovation in your business? What tips can you offer to those seeking to continually innovate in a rapidly changing market?
Creativity and innovation makes consumers take notice as we live in a very cluttered digital world. I apply innovation and creativity by positioning myself as the go-to thought leader for agencies. I publish in a ton of publications and run a blog for agencies. Along those lines, I have an innovative approach to my writing and make it super conversational and it really resonates with my target audience. My advice for those wanting to be innovative in their industry would be to get a pulse on their target audience through research and surveys so that they can understand their pain points and thus offer innovative ways to tackle those pain points.
Looking forward, what are your plans for the future of your business, and how do you see the landscape for solopreneurs evolving in the next five years?
I just plan to keep growing my agency and will need to hire full-time employees soon. Right now I just have me and some freelancers. When it comes to the next five years and the landscape for solopreneurs, I think showcasing expertise in an industry through thought leadership, while important now, will become even more important. Research overwhelmingly shows that younger consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they like the brand and their values. If your business can be the go-to expert in your field, you don't have to worry about keeping prices consistent with your competitors.
For those who want to know more about you, your work, or perhaps even become a client or collaborator, how can they best get in touch or follow your journey?
Email me: email@example.com or Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristen-degroot-03a76062/