Lauren Swidenbank founded Cali Social to fill a market gap and address frustrations with corporate practices. “The decision to start my own business was born out of a blend of frustration and a gap I saw in the market,” she begins, reflecting on her earlier years working for companies that fell short in prioritizing client needs.
Her vision centers on prioritizing clients, rejecting the mistreatment she observed in other companies. Cali Social emerged as a haven, dedicated to delivering genuine value and top-notch service.
“If I couldn’t find it, then I was going to create it. About 10 years ago, the digital marketing landscape was blossoming. It offered a unique blend of creativity and analytics that I found incredibly compelling. My experience at a big agency was far from ideal, but it was also eye-opening and the catalyst for starting my own company. It showed me exactly what I didn’t want my future company to be,” Lauren said.
“So, with that in mind, I set out to create a role for myself on my own terms. Within six months of ‘freelancing,’ my books were full, and I had to make the decision whether or not to say no to people or to grow and build a team. I went with the latter as I knew that businesses really needed what I had to offer. This resulted in creating an agency that was all about genuine care for our clients and our team – a place where people are excited to come to work, where clients feel valued, and where employee turnover is low because everyone genuinely wants to be there. It’s worked a treat!”
Planting the Seeds
The growth of Cali Social, however, was no overnight success. Lauren vividly recalls the transition from employee to entrepreneur, a move that happened literally overnight, accompanied by the initial pressure of no clients and income. Embracing risks and trusting her instincts became paramount. “One of the game-changers for me was hiring a business coach,” Lauren notes, highlighting the importance of external guidance. Saying ‘yes’ to almost everything, from challenging projects to significant investments, proved to be a pivotal strategy, contributing significantly to the business’s growth and resilience.
A $70,000 investment in a rebranding effort, while initially nerve-wracking, paid off handsomely. The move strategically targeted the US market, attracting three high-profile clients within two months of the relaunch. “This included a fashion brand in Canada, a luxury skincare rage in New York, and a makeup brand from Colorado. Every one of them said that they were drawn to us because we looked to be the specialists in their particular field. We made the initial outlay for the rebrand back from new business in just two months.”
The X Factor
In a sea of digital marketing agencies, Cali Social found its unique space by recognizing the need for specialization. Focusing exclusively on female-first brands in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle, the agency delivers tailored services and builds deeper expertise. Lauren emphasizes the importance of being selective with clients, turning down more opportunities than they accept. “We’re selective with who we work with, which means turning down more clients than we take on.” This selective approach ensures that Cali Social consistently delivers top-tier service to brands aligned with their values and expertise.
Trials of Early Entrepreneurship
As Lauren reflects on the evolution of Cali Social, she candidly shares the challenges that peppered the early years of the company. A notable hurdle was the adoption of no-minimum client terms, an initially enticing strategy for boosting sales. Navigating tax complexities provided a crucial lesson in financial management, contributing to the company’s growth. “Hiring has been another key learning. Understanding that no one will ever be as invested in your business as you are was a hard but necessary realization. It shifted my approach to hiring, and I now focus not just on the skills but also on the alignment of vision and commitment. Our hiring process is much more rigorous, including practical skill demonstrations to ensure that we’re bringing on people who truly fit with our ethos and our goals.”
Lauren’s intentional time-blocking strategy for mornings allows her control over half the day, ensuring afternoons are dedicated to revenue-generating work and team support. “I’ve definitely improved how I manage the conflicting priorities, and I credit this to being strong at delegating tasks that don’t need to be done by myself (yes, even if it’s quicker if you do them!). I also time block meetings solely for the mornings so that I can control at least half of my day. My afternoons are spent on the actual revenue-generating work and assisting my team where needed.”
Navigating a Saturated Market
For aspiring entrepreneurs, Lauren’s advice is multi-faceted. “For those starting their journey, my advice is multi-layered. Firstly, don’t underestimate the value of a good business coach. But be discerning – ensure they have not just theoretical knowledge but real-life experience in successfully running a business. Remember, a saturated market isn’t something to fear. Your unique perspective and offerings have a place, and maintaining a positive, expansive mindset is more powerful than you might think.
“Also, actively seek out and engage in a business networking group. The benefits go beyond business referrals – the growth, education, and emotional support these groups provide are incredibly impactful. And while your friends and family are important, having a network of peers who understand the unique challenges and triumphs of running a business is indispensable.”