This week, we are lucky enough to have a contributed post from Olivier Lemaignen of who, along with being the founder of Black Diamond Search and an excellent marketing strategist, also has the distinction of being the winner of our Facebook iPad giveaway. In his post, Olivier shares what life was like after being laid off, despite having helped the company he worked for become a shining example in the Search Marketing industry, and charging into the unknown in order to create his own business. Even if your own company is in an entirely different industry, the snags, solutions and advice he gives is easily applicable to anyone hoping to build their brand and their business.

It was a Matter of Circumstances

I was asked recently why I decided to start my own company. At first I really didn’t know what to answer other than “it was a matter of circumstances.” To help you understand what I mean, I’d have to take you back a couple of years. I had been working at a major ($3 billion+ in revenue) Silicon Valley software company for seven years, had been handsomely rewarded for my performance and even recognized with a “Marketer of the Year” award presented by the founder. This award was specifically for my contributions in the field of Search Marketing, having taken the company from laggard to a recognized thought leader in the industry. To make a long story short, new management came in, decided to “throw out the old” and… there I was, being laid off despite an impeccable record. This whole experience really made me question whether, in the long run, I wanted to depend on the whims and politics of a corporation versus take my future a touch more into my own hands.

Thankfully, I had a new job lined up before my previous employment ended. The benefit of working hard, delivering results and never burning bridges was brought to life in a very tangible way. To me, these three topics are linked respectively to a strong work ethic, skill in your craft and the understanding that people are key when it comes to your career. After all, you probably spend more time with co-workers than with your family so your professional relationships matter (LinkedIn’s recent IPO is a testament to just how much your professional network matters). Contrary to common belief, “burning bridges” is not something you do with a company. It’s something you do with some or all of the people who work there. And the majority of these people will likely work somewhere else eventually, quite possibly at a corporation where you’ll be seeking employment (or new business) in the future. The question to ask yourself BEFORE doing something that will burn a bridge (yes, it was quite tempting to me too) is this: how do your actions reflect on your character and how will people remember you?

A couple of folks on my team had similar thoughts about wanting to break free from politics and we decided to start Black Diamond Search. We felt strongly that our experience delivering outstanding results for multiple business units of a large and diverse company was not that different from delivering outstanding results for multiple smaller businesses. We had the fundamentals nailed, had proven results, brought over 5 decades of direct response to the table, and had a passion for search marketing.

So we took the plunge.

Step 1: Find a name for our company.

This sounds easy but it’s not. We started out with a company name that sounded good to us but made our first potential client chuckle during the introductory call. That experience triggered the search for a new name which brought us to Black Diamond Search (or BDS). I was speaking at Mediapost’s Search Insider Summit in Park City, UT at the time. I’m a downhill fanatic and that’s how BDS came to be: a name that conveys both complexity and the skill needed to master it (for the non-skiers out there, “black diamond” indicates the steepest and most technically challenging downhill ski slopes.)

Here are some tips on “pressure testing” a name for a new business:
– Put yourself in the shoes of your first client, banker, accountant, or employee – how would you react to your company’s name?
– Do you have a story behind how you came up with the name? It makes for a good ice breaker and the question is bound to come up eventually.
– Avoid “cute” and “filled with testosterone”, unless it applies to your type of business.

Step 2: Get the LLC formed.

I had worked with my previous team on MyCorp’s Paid Search and SEO efforts so I already knew about the company. In the process, I had been exposed to their passion for helping new businesses with all the legalities of getting started. Plus, the price was right… so choosing MyCorporation was a no-brainer. This was my first experience starting a company and one of my business partners took care of most of it, but I was surprised by how fast the process went with MyCorporation and then how long it took with the State. My tip: start early and be sure that your name is available PRIOR to investing in steps 3 through 5. Otherwise, you’ll waste both your time and your money.

Step 3: Create a brand identity

This was a fun experience! It was a step that made us feel we had something tangible, more than typed words on a legal document. We had a logo, a font type, a PowerPoint template and business cards – physical proof that we now owned a business! Starting a company is serious business, but we also chose to focus on the fun elements. We drew energy and enthusiasm from these moments, which we then turned around and re-invested into other to-dos. To have our logo and collaterals created, we turned to the referral from a designer friend. We instantly felt comfortable with the recommendation and were able to focus on the task at hand rather than second-guessing the decision.

Step 4: Create a web presence

Nowadays, having a website is a must. Whether you leverage its content to be found on Google or whether it becomes your publicly available business brochure, you are expected to have one. Especially in our field of online marketing, it would be hard to explain NOT having a web site. Going through the process of creating the content also triggered some great conversations between the partners. We talked about our vision for the future, whether our focus should be narrow or broad, and why we were doing this. Interestingly enough, while the outcome was the same (starting a business together) our motivations, timeframes and expectations couldn’t have been more different. Putting pen to paper and sharing our thoughts to create the content for the website also helped us define our roles and understand each other’s perspectives – very important to accomplish early to avoid tension later.

Step 5: Find clients.

My dad was a successful entrepreneur who started his own company at age 30 and retired by the time he was 52. I always told myself that I wasn’t cut out of the same DNA, that I would never take a chance with starting my own company. And suddenly, here I was doing exactly what I had sworn was not my path… Funny how life goes… Now I’m the guy who mostly handles the “sales calls” and the proposals even though I never thought I’d be good at it. I guess it truly is a matter of circumstances.

Step 6: Open a business bank account

I won’t spend much time on this topic other than to say that this can be a test about how much you trust your partners. One signature or multiple? Withdrawal limits or not? Our conclusion: no alarm bells went off and we’re still partners ☺.

Now, to be completely transparent, have I really let go of the corporate world to be my own boss? No, not completely… I still need the security of medical coverage, 401k’s and ESPPs… After all, I have a wife and six kids to take care of. But my long-term goal has changed as well: I now want to be able to sustain my family with the proceeds of my “side business” within 2 years. It changes things. Priorities get re-visited. Time gets re-allocated. Connections get re-evaluated.

It has been an interesting journey so far. No regrets whatsoever. I can’t wait to see what happens with the latest set of proposals we sent out. Stay tuned…