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MyStartUpStory of a Creative Business: Ben Prager of Prager Creative

June 10, 2016

Every entrepreneur has their own startup story. What led you to start Prager Creative?
In my last position I was working six days a week rebranding and re-establishing an industry-leading print facility as a new breed of marketing agency. My wife and I wanted to expand our family, but I realized that I could not keep working like this—I’d miss out on all the best parts and would have to leave all the hard work for my wife. I knew I needed an exit strategy. Almost immediately, I knew I wanted to start Prager Creative.

My previous position was basically like having my own agency with funding. I had some truly insightful, experienced leaders who whole-heartedly believed in what we were doing and supported my decisions. I’ve never taken that trust or guidance for granted. We had an amazing time working together. I learned a lot about the business side of running an agency—finding new clients, closing sales, drawing up contracts—as well as getting to work on some really great projects Going out and doing it on my own seemed like an exciting new adventure and a calculated risk.

I made the decision and committed. The company I was working for wanted time to really transition the new director and team, so I was blessed with part time freelance work while I found my first clients. I remember that first Monday on my own was absolutely amazing. It was bright and sunny. I made some coffee and sat down at my laptop with a list of to do’s and prospects. A few hours into the day I realized, ‘I’m not getting bombarded by pointless email with the entire company cc’d. Every email I get is actually important. I can focus. This is great!’

My new business strategy has been about the same since I found my first job out of college: Find a company you want to work with (or for), look for a reason you will benefit them and get in touch. An organized follow-up process is critical. You have to be at the right place at the right time. On the other hand, it’s a numbers game. If you’ve got enough of the right leads up against the wall and you’re following up, you’ll hit something.
I think my timing was spot on because right out of the gate I actually had two prospects. I actually had to choose between them because they were competitors. The one I went with is still my largest client four years later.

Anything worth having comes with some risk. What was the biggest risk you took when starting your small business?
Like many self-funded entrepreneurs, I think the biggest risk was money. I kept reminding myself that everything made sense and it added up on paper, but what if it didn’t work out? One thing I’ve learned is that there is a total surprise waiting around every corner. And those are some of the most coveted moments in owning your own business. The other risk was never being able to go back. Opportunities like the one I left don’t come along every day. I was directly tied to the success of my department so there was an incredibly huge upside to the six-day work weeks. I took more away from the experience than I could have imagined.

In general, how important is courage for small business owners?
Courage is critical for small business owners, but it needs to be calculated courage. Having been in business for four years, I want to make a new move every day. You want to be really good at being able to say ‘not yet’ or ‘let’s go with it’ and roll the dice. The more often you can do it and get it right, the better off you’ll be.

What was the hardest part about starting Prager Creative?
The hardest part about starting Prager Creative was selling myself as a company as opposed to a consultant. I knew that if I started taking on independent freelance projects, that’s what I’d be. That can be a very rewarding and lucrative venture, but I wanted to do something different. Today, a business can be just about anything. To me, it meant being able to put the right team in place to solve for more than just creative services. It meant being able to build a strong marketing strategy, manage go-to market planning and media negotiations—as well as offer start to finish execution and report on campaign results.

Was there ever a moment when you felt like you’d made it?
I have lots of those and they keep changing. The first few big ones were renting office space, hiring my first employee and getting my first annual contract signed. With that said, I still don’t feel I’ve ‘made it’ and I thrive on working toward that.

Why is small business insurance important for entrepreneurs? Have you ever had to file a claim?
I needed insurance for a state RFP we were submitting. Luckily for me, Hiscox Small Business Insurance was the first company I turned to and they made the entire process easy to understand and worthwhile. In fact, they still do that whenever we talk or I make changes to my policy. Insurance is critical for small businesses because it doesn’t really take much to bring down a business no matter how large or small it is. You need insurance so you’re prepared if something happens or you get sued. Luckily, I’ve never had to file a claim.

You have to have the right type of insurance. As your business changes and grows you need to stay on top of it. When you start your own business, you discover a universe of ongoing costs for things you need like insurance. It’s critical that you don’t overpay. When you’re dealing with the business of doing business it’s hard to come by a service provider that is efficient, cost effective and really good at what they do. Hiscox Business Insurance truly delivers on all three of those values.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking of starting a business, but haven’t made the leap?
When I was just out of college it took me some time to find my first job. My father told me, “Just remember, it’s impossible not to find a job.” I have used that advice many times and have shared with many others.

Other valuable advice I’ve learned or received includes:
• You have to start somewhere.
• Don’t expect to show up late and leave early.
• Always be your toughest critic.
• Never worry about being judged or what people will think and say.
• Never take no for an answer, but don’t be afraid to tell people no.
• Plan your time. Many people are busy but they aren’t actually getting anything done. Be sure to finish what you’re doing and try not to get distracted.
• Trust your team and don’t be afraid to let go.
• Always know where you’re going. No one is going to tell you.

How do you deal with setbacks, challenging clients, etc.?
You need to deal with setbacks and challenges or they will fester inside. Although I don’t do enough of it, exercise is probably one of the best ways to de-stress and reflect. Taking something away from how you dealt with a setback is how you move forward. I’ve also found that just relaxing and a good night’s sleep can work wonders. Many times I’ve finished up a day at work or gone to bed worried about a problem but when I wake up it seems simple to solve.

Watching my son grow up alongside my business has been incredibly rewarding. Many times when I have a setback or really tough day, he and my wife are the first two things that pop in to my mind and really put life in perspective. Finding a work-life balance is critical. I’m blessed, and I would be nowhere without my wife’s constant support.
And if none of that works, nothing beats a big fat dry gin Martini with a twist.