No experience? No problem!
The unlikely entrepreneur and the creative agency that could.
No experience? No problem!
The unlikely entrepreneur and the creative agency that could.
The creative industry is a unique one. A business built on driving business results through creative communications. It’s an exciting profession with many facets. Arguably one of the few industries that thrives on mixing human interaction and technology so closely at this moment in time. A two part cocktail tried and true.
In one corner of an advertising agency you may find an account manager rhapsodizing with a client. Adjacent, a project manager is feverishly corraling resources to ensure a deadline is met. Next door, a copywriter is putting together verbiage for a campaign in silence. While in contrast, maybe in an open central area a graphic designer, web designer, web developer, app developer and other highly skilled people are planted firmly- producing what will utlimately be communications of persuasion across various mediums.
In 2007, after years of working in different creative capacities, I was ready to join their ranks. There was only one problem, despite having expeirence in much of the same types of work, I had no formal experience, or credibility. Unfortunately I was a risk no firm wanted to take on. Without a degree, without ad school, without internship, I ended up a rare case to recruiters; having experience and skills but hard-to-justify to their bossess. Add to that a recession looming on the horizon (that would eventually take hold), I never got past the lobby. Even worse, in short order I saw people losing it all and joined those ranks instead. Battered and bruised by the recession, I reached my "Something's Gotta Give" moment. Move forward or fall behind in an uncertain world. I did. I became a creative force in my own right with moxie, gentle logic and a little help from my friends.
After ample time to reflect, I wanted to pass along a few key points of knowledge that may be useful to anyone embarking on their own unlikely journey into this business.
How to overcome inexperience? Get to work.
Accomplishment is a direct result of effort put forth. Whether that effort involves education, trial and error or careful planning and execution, you have to try to have a chance at success. If you don't play the game, you'll never have a shot at winning. I wanted to make a creative dent in the world but I was an outlier to the gatekeepers. I was told that knowing a little about a lot was hard to place. Knowing a lot about a little was what they needed. A copywriter writes copy. A web designer designs and passes their work onto developers, etc. In response, the rebel in me, well, rebelled. I could do a lot of things. Shouldn't that be an advantage, I thought.
As Luke Sullivan writes in his famous book, ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This!’, “The new creative person is T shaped". The modern world of creative requires not just one specialty, but a deeper skill set spanning many facets of this business. The ability to conceive an idea and bring it to life across media, wherever that media exists- or creating the medium itself in the process. This description made me realize that a diverse skillset is valuable. I could come up with an idea, write it, draw it, design it, code it, and let it fly. I was that new breed of creative staring right back at myself in the mirror. Thanks, Luke!
With my newfound vigor, I embodied this deeply skilled persona. I found my confidence and charged ahead in my work. It became a real asset in obtaining freelance business and allowed me to connect with others across multiple disciplines to learn even more. I got into the work, and the work got into me. I became a professional. Were there challenges and setbacks? Sure thing, but with this positive mindset nothing was going to stop me.
Don't wait for a course, a seminar, the right internship, job, status or permission. You don't need approval from anyone. Just start. Be that "T" shaped creative in your own right. Whatever you decide to do, you'll only improve going forward.
Second guessing myself and finding it hard to let go of the allure of agency life.
I found myself in very a special time- as web 2.0 took hold. The whole media landscape changed, as did the craft of communications. It was such an exciting era in which to learn, collaborate and break things to produce great work. On any given day I was elbow deep into total tasks. Strategy, design, copy, media, email, web and much more. Then it hit me, Would it actually be a step back to land a job anyways, because I would have to let go of many tasks I enjoy in order to focus on one single area? Wouldn't I be let down?
At the same time, that was where prosperity lay, I thought. Agency dollars, accounts, prestige- it was the way. I eventually found closure in chocking it up to a bad economy, but my gut told me that I just didn't fit in. So be it. And the positive returns I was made aware of by my clients kept me forward-focused. At the same time I still desired to understand agency culture. It intrigued me. What was inside these mystical-designer-appointed-espresso-machine-filled-foosball-adorned-elegant-conference-roomed-temples-staffed-with-casually-dressed-sophisticated-creatives-out-of-a-J.Crew-catalog?
I ended up with questions about advertising's origins, the business then and now and how career creatives operated. In an attempt to understand this business I did what any naive person would do, I read Ogilvy on Advertising, and watched Mad Men. All the later did was left me wanting a drink, and five minutes in a bar with Roger Sterling to experience his one-liners first hand. Agency life still seemed glamorious, but I was now seeing my career unfolding just as well. I learned that you can do great work regardless of where you do it. No one had any answers, even the pros, it seemed. I stopped looking outside myself for validation and realized I could build a career off the beaten path. That was the way.
So what's the takeaway? It's ok to stay the course in your thinking, but also to find your own way. Be inquisitive. There's no right or wrong. There's only what's right for you, even if a part of you still wonders, what if. Have confidence in yourself and if that means doing things your own way.
Making the switch. Agency life, virtuallly.
In time I became restless. What would be the outcome of the all the chaotic, semi-amateur to Carey-Grant-polished-handsome work over the past few years? Was I to become a career freelancer or was it time to step out into the unknown. And that unknown, what would it look like? Walls and open spaces or home offices, coffee shops, coworking spaces; project management software? I had no clue if I was doing this whole creative-thing-as-a-business right anyways. Onward, nonetheless, I thought. I'll just get to work. In early August as the door began to gently swing shut on twenty-ten, I founded Aybar Creative at twenty-six; having never stepped foot in an agency, and now I embarked on the journey of creating my own, sort of.
A short lived office space gave way to something better, that I saw as bigger than myself, virtual scale. Working outside the bounds of traditional walls allowed me to harness individual talent into teams that could scale up and down as needed to meet client needs. So I rolled with that concept. As a leader I was free to consider anyone I felt would be a great fit regardless of traditional qualifications, which felt like redemption. Clients benefited from extraordinary talent at their fingertips hungry to exceed expecations. The atmosphere always laid back and focused on maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This was a new concept for me personally and truly eye-opening. I saw it as a sign of the times with such new found creativity out in the world. We were off and running!
Thinking differently doesn't have to be ground breaking. It just has to make sense. That's a huge lesson I learned in founding my agency in this way. I didn't need a fancy office or any office. I only needed talented people who shared a vision and a goal- to do great work. To get there it was as simple as coming to the realization that we didn't need more than we already had. The rest were tools of the trade and in the details that are sorted out on each project anyways. What tech to deploy, who would be a great fit and so on. We didn't need to be in a room for those decisions to me made. It was just that simple.
The unlikely entrepreneur and the agency that could.
“Hello! My name is Onur Aybar of Aybar Creative. We are a small creative collaborative offering affordable design, digital, advertising and direct marketing services to small businesses like yours.”
While my team was virtual, often times I had to be out there. I must have repeated this opening to my sales presentation a dozen or so times and I don’t think that I ever got good at it. After all, I was the most unlikely entrepreneur, in this business of all things. Reality set in that the process of building a company was new to me too, and I had to take a deep breath every now and then. Virtual was still so new to many, athough catching on at this point. It was still a hard sell, but at this stage I learned two very different things about presenting your own abilities versus creating an image for a company.
Individuality is something that we all develop as we grow. You become who you are and continue to grow through experiences. Being yourself is a natural occurrence. Building a company is drastically different in that you are creating a personality and culture unique to your desired vision for success.
I didn’t know where to start. Was Aybar Creative the rebel agency run by a guy who knew nothing about agency life? The anti-agency? How about the agency that isn’t really an agency but an overnight birth of a creative liberation. I simply didn’t have a clear pitch. I was close though. Very close.
Web design, development or any digital task in this modern age is being online. No one person is capable of having all answers to all questions, it's a group effort. Open source projects, forums, online magazines, blogs, articles, Reddit; communities exist all over the world. I'd pull in a developer here, a designer there, a copywriter there; logistics. What I came to find in pitches was that my counterparts were all people like me. Opposite the table but not opposite in what decisions they faced. My solution was as simple as realizing we didn't need an office. We had the talent, we could scale that talent, so we could help clients succeed. That's it! No physical boundaries became a huge asset.
Virtual existence became our greatest strength and our unique selling point with low overhead and true flexibility. Did clients really need that hundred thousand dollar website or could fifteen grand get the job done? Did they really need us to fly cross country to meet or was virtual better? Was there a market for us, you bet. After surviving a recession and seeing resumes sent to me piling up, and so many colleagues needing work, I was estatic to pull people in and see so many of them invigorated.
As I write this now in 2013, we've had the pleasure of taking on a special project for Choice Hotels International, have helped a few start ups find their feet, and helped small businesses grow and compete. Most rewarding is that everyone I've worked with has remained a dear friend to this day. Not only has taking the risk of just getting to work developed value in my business, I've gained life-long friendships.
I try to remember in this experience, however unlikely something is, unlikely still includes the word, likely. Any idea, your idea, another person's idea(s) may seem like a long shot, but what if they aren't? Anything is possible in life and in business. The word unlikely even contradicts itself, as anything in life can. So don't get hung up on negativity. Go forward. Get to work finding out what works and what doesn't. You might just surprise yourself.
In Closing. Get to work, get to work, and get to work.
The beauty of the world we are living in is that there truly are no limits, just as my high school classmate Alexis Ohanian professed in his recent best selling book, "Without Their Permission". I believe the key is to quite literally roll with it. Let one idea flow into another, go for the ride. Meet people, have ideas that you believe in and then see about bringing them to life. That's the secret sauce. Just getting to work with full conviction in your ideas. The rest is in the details that will try to knock you down again and again. Be resilient and incredibly flexible. Work the problems and the solutions. Don’t stop, evolve, and keep evolving.
I may never build a big agency or even a small one, and that's the beauty of this business, and even life itself. That an unlikely entrepreneur and a team of rogue creatives can do great things without any barriers, permission or fear. That anyone can be creative and put that creative to use. It's your birthright, to be creative. Everything usable in this world was discovered and/or developed by creativity. It can solve any problem. You just have to get to work.
Hi, I'm Onur Aybar, Founder & Creative Director at AYBAR. Originally written in 2013, updated and republished 3/2017. Thanks to Dave Heneberry for editing my endless maze of thoughts into something cohesive.