Digital Marketing & Advertising in the Outdoor Industry with Solopreneur Tim Akers

About Tim Akers
Tim grew up in Buffalo, NY where he attended St. Lawrence University and graduated in 2006. After graduating he worked at the St. Lawrence for several years as a swim coach and in the admissions office. In 2012, Tim moved out west to Salt Lake City where he looked to pursue a career in competitive cycling and endurance sports.  You can check out Tim’s site akersdigital.com.  

What prompted your move from New York to Salt Lake City?

I was working at St. Lawrence University at the time where I was coaching the swim team for the first two years and had my own business coaching endurance sports outside of that.  I left New York for Salt Lake when I got a position at competetivecyclist.com (eventually bought by backcountry.com).  I worked at Competitive Cyclist for just under a year before the marketing agency picked me up where I handled a lot of their outdoor clients’ social media and digital advertising campaigns.  I worked there for a couple years before I decided to become self employed doing much of the same stuff.  It’s been a nice transition as some of the clients have continued to work with me even after I had left the agency.

It seems that a lot of your focus was primarily on coaching and competitive cycling.  How did you transition into digital advertising and marketing come about?

That was something I kind of fell into.  I went to school for psychology and exercise science which led me to coaching. As a coach you focus a lot of time recruiting and recruiting is marketing.  You’re marketing yourself to prospective athletes.  I made the transition from full time coaching and recruiting to marketing simply because I was the young guy in the office and the most comfortable with technology.  Although I wasn’t an avid programmer, I taught myself enough HTML and CSS so I could update the admission’s office website and keep that work in house.

Tim Akers Skiing
“As a coach you focus a lot of time recruiting and recruiting is marketing.  You’re marketing yourself to prospective athletes.”

What was the transition like from being an employee to running your own business?

The transition was actually pretty easy for me.  My wife works in health care so the benefits are amazing which helps keep my overhead incredibly low.  I have a home office which is an awesome tax write off and my operating expenses are less than $1,000/mo.

Although the transition was easy for me it can definitely be stressful at times.  If you don’t bring in clients or have work lined up the for the next couple months you just don’t get paid.  There is no safety net.  When you’re an employee you know that paycheck is coming in every two weeks, but without that consistency it’s a little more nerve wracking.

Do you have any interns or employees working for you?

I have a web developer in Park City and a PR person from Sun Valley I work with on a regular basis along with a few other freelancers.  Although I don’t have “employees”, I’ve grown my professional network with other individuals who have similar business structures to mine.  It’s a pretty neat ecosystem working with other solopreneurs, freelancers and contractors.

What are your goals moving forward?  Do you see yourself growing what you currently have, or would you consider going back to a larger agency?

I definitely love this industry and the career path.  In terms of going back to an agency or working for a brand it could be in the cards.  I’ll casually look and see what positions are out there, but I’m very picky just because what I’m doing right now is very successful and working quite well.  I’m in a fortunate situation where I can sit back and wait for that perfect opportunity, and if it doesn’t come I’m extremely content with what I’m doing now and will continue down this path.

Tim Akers Cycling

You just skied in 2 feet of fresh powder this morning without having to call in for a sick day and knowing you could make your own hours.  Was the freedom and work life balance a driving factor when you decided to work for yourself ?

The flexibility is definitely nice.  It’s easy to look at someone with a flexible schedule and think, “That’s awesome, I would love to ski a couple times a week!”  And although it’s a great perk, what people don’t see is that I was up pretty late last night getting work done and I’ll be doing the same tonight.  The hours are always there so it’s not skiing every day, but at least having the option to go skiing, run errands, or play with my dog in the morning and work at night is pretty awesome.

Do you have any recommendations for someone looking to make the jump from being an employee to becoming self employed in the digital marketing industry?

I would recommend people follow their passion through a lot of different avenues.  If you’re in a position that isn’t exactly what you want to be doing it doesn’t mean you can’t be following your passion in other areas.  For example, when I was in New York I was working admissions but I also had a side job coaching.

If you’re really set on leaving that 9-5 job, pick up freelance work and the earlier the better.  Have yourself a good size emergency fund because those first few months or years could be slow.  If you can get those clients before you leave and have that emergency fund in place it makes the transition much easier.

Trying to manage a flexible payment schedule was a little difficult so I read up a good amount on that.  Some months you make $8,000 and other months you make $6,000.  Learning different strategies to manage the fluctuation in pay is extremely important.

In terms of creating your own business, there’s a great government program called the Small Business Administration and they help with advising.  They can help walk you through all the different business structures and assist you in setting up an LLC.

As for digital advertising, having credentials really helps.  Becoming Google Adwords and Google Analytics certified goes a long way.

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