Jennifer Stine – Fortune Web Marketing
After spending ten years in the financial services industry, Jennifer Stine knew she wanted to create something of her own. Inspired by her entrepreneurial dad, she founded Fortune Web Marketing in 2007. Over the past 15 years, Jennifer’s company expanded outside her home state of New Jersey with a growing group of colleagues. As president of her company, Jennifer works to create an inclusive and non-corporate environment where her team can flourish.
Episode 30 – Jennifer Stine, Fortune Web Marketing
Jennifer Stine founded her business, Fortune Web Marketing in 2007. Fifteen years later, Jennifer's company has grown to become a full-service internet marketing company with 18 employees. Here today to share the story of her business and share more about how she balances life, family, and her team, is Jennifer Stine.
Jennifer, welcome to the show. I'm excited to have you on today.
[00:01:17] Jennifer Stine: Thank you so much, Sanjay. I appreciate you guys.
[00:01:21] Sanjay Parekh: Let's start with giving just a little bit of background about who you are, and where you come from to the listeners.
[00:01:27] Jennifer Stine: Okay. So, my name, like you mentioned is Jennifer, also known as Jenny. So, if you call me Jenny, I will not be offended at all.
And actually, I was born and raised in New Jersey. Went to school at Penn State, got my master's from NYIT, worked in the financial services industry in New York City for a very long time, maybe 11 years, and then decided that, didn't want to do that anymore. So, we decided to start Fortune Web Marketing.
So, now we have four offices from coast to coast. Eighteen people, pretty much seven departments within, and a brand new video and livestream production company as well.
[00:02:06] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Eleven years working for kind of a big company. What was it that made you say, hey, this isn't for me. It's, time to move on.
[00:02:18] Jennifer Stine: So, it was 11 years with that one company. And before that, I would say it was probably five or six years in Philly, other companies in the New York City metro area as well. But the reason that I left it's really not the most positive story. But being a young woman in the financial services industry, working in New York City, there were a lot of hardships against women in the workplace, right? Yeah. So, it just got to the point where — I can't really complain, I had a million different mentors along the way. But it got to the point where you just realized, unless you did something completely drastic in that industry, in that city, surrounded by the people you were surrounded with, things weren't going to change.
And I realized I had way more potential than they were allowing many, many women in my company to have. So, I decided that I was going to achieve that potential and start my own business.
[00:03:17] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, what is it that made you think the path for you at that point was starting your own business? Instead of saying, hey, I need to find another job at a place that values me better.
[00:03:29] Jennifer Stine: I think I'm very strong willed and I'm very independent and I figured I could do a lot better job if I didn't have the restraints and constrictions and the low ceilings that most people are given, especially women at that time in the corporate world. So, I kind of wanted to just break out of all of that and see what potential I really had inside of myself.
[00:03:51] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Did you have a model of entrepreneurship? Like in the family? Is somebody else in your family an entrepreneur? Did you do anything entrepreneurial as you were growing up?
[00:04:04] Jennifer Stine: I think I always had a job since I was like 11, right? So, I've always had that work ethic.
But my father does own a small business. He's actually an antiquarian book dealer, meaning that he sells first editions, antique books, signed copies, things of that nature. So, he's always had his own business since I was about two or three. Other than that, my mother was a teacher and a social service director, and my stepfather grew up in, you know, the board of education and being a teacher and social services worker himself.
So I really didn't have many entrepreneurs in the family except for my dad.
[00:04:46] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Did you ever work in the bookstore? Did you ever help out there?
[00:04:49] Jennifer Stine: Yes, I did work in the bookstore. I did. There's a little tiny beach town along the Jersey shore called Ocean Grove and he had a store there to start.
Then he moved it back downtown to Asbury Park, next town over here on the Jersey Shore, and I worked in both places. Very interesting. You learn a lot. I'm very good at literature categories on Jeopardy.
[00:05:15] Sanjay Parekh: That's great. So, I’ve got to ask you, so a lot of people, especially when they're kids, they work in stores retail or not, they end up hating those things.
So I’ve got to ask you, do you still love the smell or hate the smell of books?
[00:05:29] Jennifer Stine: I love it so much that I refuse to read a book on any type of e-book platform, like a Kindle, for example. I need to feel it. I need to smell it. I need to touch it. And I just think it would complete disrespect if I went the e-book route you know, to my father.
[00:05:46] Sanjay Parekh: I’ve got to say, I do read e-books as well, but there is something definitely different when you've actually got a physical, because I read physical books too.
There, there's something different about that and the experience of it, and, how much you glean out of the book versus digitally.
I think we could talk about books for a long time but, let's get back to your business. You said something interesting before you said ‘we’ started this, so it sounds like it's not just you.
That started this business. Do you have a co-founder or somebody else that helped you along the way?
[00:06:17] Jennifer Stine: I did. I had a co-founder when we first started for only about two years. And then we separated the companies. I was running his software company and doing marketing for his other businesses as well.
And we parted ways when we realized the direction was different. But I think I will always say ‘we,’ because I don't consider my companies mine. I consider them my colleagues, and that's another word people might not use to describe their staff or employees, but they're my colleagues They don't work for me, they work with me, and this is ours, not mine.
[00:06:51] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I love that mindset. It's, a great way of thinking about the team that you're on because it really is a team when you're in the early days especially. So, let's talk about those early days when you jumped off to do this, was your first time starting a company. How did you get started?
Like how did you find clients? How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do, that you wanted to do marketing and you also did software it sounds like. How did you decide those things?
[00:07:17] Jennifer Stine: I've, always done marketing almost from day one. Even in Philadelphia, New York City, et cetera.
Honestly, it was my business partner at the time was in an industry that needed a lot of marketing help, a lot of marketing help. It was more like on the distribution supply side of things like office supplies, office furniture, break room supplies, that type of thing. And at the time there was over 3000 independent dealers just in the US not even including Canada.
And they were, they didn't have websites, they did not have a marketing plan. They were still like door to door, here's your big catalog this thick and fax your orders in or call them to me. So, we, hit that industry first and that is still a huge cornerstone of our business to this day.
That supply side, distribution angle. On the B2B sector of things. But it was just a lot of work. I was thrown into speaking gigs and educational seminars across the US and that wasn't my thing. And now I can do it with my eyes closed. I was thrown into sales. Again, wasn't my thing, but I think I'm okay at it now. Just a lot of hard work and being terrified of failing at something like the sales and the training sessions across the U.S., that scared me. But you have to do it, right? It's your baby. You want to make this successful. And I was not going back to the Wall Street, New York City corporate world.
So just threw myself into it, learned from my mistakes, celebrated the successes, and moved on.
[00:09:00] Sanjay Parekh: Did you make a clean break from working and then starting this up? Or did they overlap for any period of time?
[00:09:06] Jennifer Stine: Clean break, which was also terrifying, because I took about a 50% pay cut as well.
[00:09:12] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So how did you, fund it then, initially? Did you have a client already lined up?
[00:09:17] Jennifer Stine: It was my business partner at the time. Really, he gave me a laptop and said, go. So, there were some people on his end that helped with accounting, and I learned all about that on my own as well. Started doing my books by myself. I grew up teaching myself how to code and all these search engine optimization techniques. So, whenever could hire part-time people, I would train them and then they would come on full-time. But it was a huge pay cut for several years and I took my laptop and I went.
[00:09:54] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, it's 15 years now that you've built it up. Obviously those first couple of years were really tough. How did you figure out like that whole process? Which one do I do first? Do I go find a client? Like, do I hire people? Like how do I piece together all of these pieces?
Because it's almost a chicken and egg problem, right? You go get a client, but then you don't have the people to serve it. But if you have the people to serve it and you don't have a client, you can't pay them. And all of these things are interrelated. So how did you think about of that continuum?
[00:10:26] Jennifer Stine: In the beginning it was really easy. I needed to find clients because I knew I could do it all, right? And then again, it was just long, long days and really starting it. But our focus when we first started was really search engine optimization, paid advertising on the Google Ads side, all stuff that I'm certified in and know how to do.
I know how to code; I know how to write, actually writing is my passion. One day I will become an author. But not yet.
[00:10:57] Sanjay Parekh: I think somebody will collect the first edition of that book somewhere in some bookstore.
[00:11:00] Jennifer Stine: Yeah, exactly. Maybe I'll sign it too. But yeah, it was just find clients, and then service them.
It didn't take long before we were able to get, we hired interns at first, and honestly, that was really our strategy is find interns and from there we trained them. You really can't, even back then, it was even more difficult than today. There's not a lot of options for an online marketing degree.
Even the classes that you take in college are, they're wildly ineffective even to this day. Like they'll teach you principles and about buyer personas, but you sit somebody down who's getting their degree in online marketing and say, build me a Google Ads campaign, and they have no idea what you're talking about. They're like, "I did a simulation of it."
I'm like, that's not going help here. And probably not ever. It really was, get interns and train them. And that's what we did. Yeah. And then eventually they became part-time and then they became full-time.
[00:12:03] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. That's great. You said something there talking about, and this is a normal story of founders, is those long days that end up happening, especially in the early days.
How did you think about that in terms of your own wellness and sleep and exercise and, fitting these in, and how has that changed from then to now?
[00:12:26] Jennifer Stine: So, didn't really think of that much. I was young back then and just going, going, going. Always found time to try to take a vacation here or there, a couple days off or an hour off every so many days.
But I am not the best at that. I am not going to lie. Not at all. And ever since the pandemic we've had some business changes in business circumstances right before the pandemic as well. So, for the last five years, there really hasn't been too much of a focus on myself. Any time I do have for goes right into my son and my family.
And I always like to say people that own a business don't take vacations. We might travel, and we might throw an extra day here or there, but we are always on, we're always getting texts, we're always getting emails. We can't not check our email. Like the buck stops with you. Unless it's like a physical store, you can hang the thing on the door, and even then, you're not really off. You've got orders you need to place for the next week or whatever the case might be. So, I like to say entrepreneurs really never get time off and that's okay, because we can make our own schedule, but coming out of the pandemic, it's been rough.
You do try to make time for yourself, as much as possible, and I think I should be back on track with that by the end of the year, but it is not my strong suit at all.
[00:13:52] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I think this is definitely a common story with founders and entrepreneurs because it is, you're exactly right. It's tough. I've gone on family vacations and it's like I still have to take my laptop with me because if I don't and I come back after even a couple of days or a week or two, it's unbearable. It's just how much it would take weeks and weeks to dig out from, and probably things have gotten missed in the interim. How do you think about those boundaries then? You talked about spending time with your son and, family. What does that mean? Do you make sure that, hey, I don't check my phone during dinner. What, are the things that are like, these are bright lines for me that, this is a boundary that I'm not going to cross?
[00:14:39] Jennifer Stine: We don’t use our phones during dinner. We try not to use our phones right before my son's bedtime. Not saying I don't get online and start working after he goes to bed, I do. We do have a family little ritual during dinner where we watch Jeopardy. My son is 10, but he loves Jeopardy and he's actually pretty good at it.
Sometimes he even beats me and I'm just like, what are you going to be like when you're like 18? Or even 16 or 13, for that matter? But we, always put our phones down at meals. We do a lot of like hiking in the woods and vacations and stuff, and I would say it's hard to keep your phone down because that's where our cameras are, and everything is documented through that but we try to limit screens when we're doing things together as a family.
[00:15:29] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, that's great. That's great. It sounds like he should maybe start getting ready for the College Jeopardy thing, right? Don't they have that? I think they've got College Jeopardy.
[00:15:38] Jennifer Stine: They still do. Yeah. They used to have kids Jeopardy and we looked into it. They don't do that anymore, but he's like, oh, I could do this in college. I'm like, "Yes, you can."
[00:15:45] Sanjay Parekh: I was going to say, I vaguely remember the kids' Jeopardy thing, but I haven't seen it in a long time. It sounds like he's getting ready for that.
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[00:16:20] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's talk about how you scaled this business. You're at now the point where you've got offices all through the US and obviously it was very different from when you started, it was just basically you and, maybe a partner and kind of getting going.
What kind of systems or apps or technologies have you put in place to help you make it, make that transition and grow over time?
[00:16:21] Jennifer Stine: I think across both companies, we have really great project management systems. We also have, I'm going to tell you like, really, really great managers of each department who are fantastic at just project managing and keeping everything in check.
So, I would say our project management systems. On the video production side of things, we really invested in a lot of like brand new Sony cameras. We're migrating to Monday, the project management system, which is good for video editing and video production. And we have Sling Studio and Restream IO for our streaming capabilities.
And we’re probably moving to a more LiveU — I don't know if you've ever heard of that — L-I-V-E U — mode — L-I-Vl for a lot of our video production and streaming services. And, honestly with us it's honestly about the project management, right? Because we have to know how to code and build in 25 different web development systems, from WordPress to Shopify and everything in between. So, for us it's the project management software. We use a plethora of email marketing tools. We use a lot of scheduling tools for social media. We use a lot of competitive analysis tools from Raven to SpyFu to Semrush for the search marketing side of things. So, it's really like a whole conglomerate of tools.
[00:17:51] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, what's interesting in kind of what you said is, it sounds like this has been a transition over time, but when you got started, like a lot of these tools that I think you mentioned did not exist. So how did you piece it together back then?
Was this just a manual effort, or? That's exactly what it was?
[00:18:13] Jennifer Stine: That’s exactly what it was. We're talking like Alta Vista was still around when I got started. Did I just date myself?
[00:18:20] Sanjay Parekh: Hey, I loved Alta Vista too. It was a great search engine.
[00:18:23] Jennifer Stine: Yeah. We've been through a couple, like a perfect example of that I think would be like online quoting tools, right?
We used to do, like all of our proposals were manual, right? We just wrote them, and I would save templates and try to create templates and back then content blocks, but they were just in like word docs saved as, this is this service, this is this service, right? And it would just be a PDF that you would sign and fax over, they would hand it to you right there and you'd be like can I take a photocopy? So, it was just things like that.
Now we've, been through about three different online quoting tools. All of our contracts are there. Even our employee handbooks and everything that needs to be signed is signed and executed online from internally. So, it's finding the right tools that won't break the bank, that are actually good. We're, in a predicament now with our new software, our quoting software tool, and it's terrible. You always find that not every solution works for you and you have to find different ones.
[00:19:30] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I will say I've been surprised when I've run into people that run businesses that are traditionally not viewed as very forward and tech enabled, that are using some of the things that we use in some of these other businesses, like DocuSign and, things like that. And I'm like, oh it, really tells you something about the folks that are running those businesses, that they're embracing these things, that their colleagues and competitors are not.
So, another thing that you mentioned that I think is super important for founders is your project managers and finding the right people. Is there something that you do in terms of trying to find those right people? Are there interview tricks that you do? Or like finding and hunting down the right person, even if they're not looking for jobs. What do you do to find the right people for your business?
[00:20:19] Jennifer Stine: Oh, I'm just going to start this whole part of this conversation with, let me tell you how hard it is to find the right people nowadays.
It’s near impossible. It's not, and I hate to say this they might not be ideal or they're not getting taught the right stuff in school, so I'm going to have to train them from the start. Or it's that those generational stereotypical mentalities that are out there and they exist for a reason.
They're very real. But when we do go through a pretty rigorous process. So, I stopped doing the initial interviews ages ago. It was frustrating. And it was a waste of my time, initially. So, the managers of our departments will interview. Nothing gets posted for a job opening without me giving approval on the description and everything like that, requirements, all of that, salary. They will screen and interview first, and then they come to me and if they pass the Jennifer test, we actually give them a test, right? So, say it's social media, we'll give them three very different clients and have them write posts, create an image and suggest ads. And suggest changes to their social pages of what they think could be done better.
If it's a content writer, we will give them a blog post or a landing page to write. And it's pretty easy to sort out the bad from the good right at that moment. Some people get it done in two days. Other people take a week, and after that we just don't even bother. And you can get that actual physical work back and you have a really good sense of their style, their vibe, if they would fit with certain clients that you have, or in certain verticals.
So really, it's that test that kind of drives it home for each candidate that we bring in for an interview.
[00:22:21] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Is this something that you implemented early on in kind of the life cycle? Or is this something that you of figured out as you were going?
[00:22:30] Jennifer Stine: Definitely figured out as we were going. You'd look at, they'd send you samples of their work, which to be honest with you, might not be their work all the time.
And that became pretty evident. I would say we probably implemented this about seven years ago. Seven, eight years ago. But it wasn't something we did for the first half of the company's existence. And then as soon as we did that, it was one of those things like, why weren't we doing this the entire time?
Like it would've saved so much heartache from onboarding and payroll and HR and interviewing and training, if we just would've done this in the beginning.
[00:23:11] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. It's, one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect, but that's probably what tells you it was a good idea. It just took you a little while to find it.
Thinking about where you are now, you've probably in 15 years, you've got a lot of lessons and, probably the same thing in terms of what you were before you became an entrepreneur. What is it that, if you could go back and talk to your pre founder, pre-entrepreneurial self, what would you tell that person about what they should do?
[00:23:48] Jennifer Stine: Don't take as much crap for as long of a time. No, really, I think that would be the only lesson to myself don't stay somewhere that you're not happy and you're not being treated well. Other than that, I don't think I would change anything and, a lot of times you'll get asked this question in interviews. I don't think I would change a thing because everything you do, whether it turns out disastrous and it was a mistake or it was wildly successful, you learn from that. So, I don't think I would go back and do really quite anything differently.
[00:24:23] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, how has that experience of being honestly treated poorly as an employee informed how you have built systems to treat your employees now, your colleagues now, not your employees?
[00:24:36] Jennifer Stine: Yeah, my colleagues. It's like the founding principle of this organization. That's what, we treat everybody very well.
We don't talk down to people, we don't discriminate. We don't do anything like that. It's a founding principle. It's what drives us. And I always say that we are the most non corporate, professional and driven organization you will ever work with. We have graffiti on our walls.
We have marquees hanging from actual boardwalk boards. We go out for team activities and dinners, and we go to music concerts and festivals. And we are driven, we are passionate about what we do. We're really good at what we do, but this is not a stuffy corporate environment and will never be.
[00:25:26] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. What's the last team event that y'all did together?
[00:25:31] Jennifer Stine: What's the last team event that we all did together? I want to say it was probably a concert. So we do, we live in a music town, where our main headquarters is, Asbury Park, New Jersey, is a music town. It's been tough to get everybody together at one time.
Some of our employees are in Arkansas and Kentucky, and of course Cali, with our office out there. So, whenever we do have majority of people here, we'll try to go do dinner or happy hour or some sort of like team building or just hanging out activity, but especially since covid, it's like impossible. But yeah, and then a bunch of our employees will tag along when we do our trade shows and our speaking seminars, and we always do fun stuff there. I always say when in Rome, so whether it be Vegas or Orlando or Chicago, we're going to go trip around for at least a few hours a day and show them a good time and show them the city that we're in.
[00:26:38] Sanjay Parekh: That's great. That's great. Okay. Last question for you, somebody that's thinking about taking this leap to turn their idea into a side hustle or their side hustle into a full-time business, what advice would you give them?
[00:27:00] Jennifer Stine: It's a lot of work. And I'm not sure that's a piece of advice, but if you want it badly enough, you have to work for it, right? And once you do come out the other end and you sdee, wow, I created that and I can do this, and this is mine. And I have that control over where it goes and I can make this happen, it's probably the best feeling.
But you just got to work for it and it's, a lot brighter on the other side.
[00:27:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, absolutely. Jennifer, last, really last question. Where can our listeners find and connect with you?
[00:27:40] Jennifer Stine: LinkedIn is probably the best bet. Speaking of that work life balance, I made all the other social channels private, so you're not going to get me there.
But the website is fortune web marketing.com and I'm also on LinkedIn as Jennifer Ray Stine. And of course, the company has all of our social profiles as well.
[00:28:02] Sanjay Parekh: That's awesome. Thanks a lot for being on the show, Jennifer.
[00:28:05] Jennifer Stine: Of course. Thank you so much.
Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to SmallBusiness Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter @sanjay or on my website at sanjayparekh.com.