Starting a business with word of mouth marketing – meet Harlie Dover

July 26, 2012

Ever wonder how other FreshBooks customers run a business? Customer portraits connect you with your fellow FreshBooks peers to share guidance and inspiration.

Harlie Dover is a web and communications consultant who offers a plethora of solutions for businesses in both English and French.  From website design to social media, corporate videos to print marketing, she knows just what it takes to make her clients happy and get a business off the ground in the process.

How did you get started?

Someone I knew had a pretty bad website for their business.  They also were not tech-savvy enough to do more marketing online.  My boyfriend is a web designer and developer and had pointed out to them that their website really needed to be redone.  They got someone else to rework it, but it didn’t pan out.  We really wanted to help them though, so we decided to do it for them.  But I could see potential to do so much more for their business, like social media, writing and communications, etc.  So I presented a proposal to them and that was that.  When other people saw the website, they would ask who did it, and from word of mouth, my business kept growing.  That was two years ago, but it has only been 6 months since I’ve really started building the business.  Before, I didn’t know where I wanted to go with the business and was happy just going with the flow.  Now, I’m still unsure, but I embrace the challenge of building it up.

What do you love about your job?

The lifestyle is the best.  I’ve never been a 9 to 5 person.  And I get to have a tangible result, unlike a lot of desk jobs.  The diversity in my work is amazing.  When I was looking for a job, there were a lot of places that I didn’t apply to because I knew it would be the same type of work all the time.  Now, I do a wide range of things and I’m learning every day.  I get deeply passionate about my clients’ businesses and I learn about them inside and out.  I could be a saleswoman for real estate, water purification, plastic surgery, etc. because I know their product and services so well.  I love finding out about their values and goals, and building relationships with my clients is something I cherish.

Were you in a similar field before this?

Not at all.  I got my BA in Communications from Concordia University in Montreal and worked in the health industry for a few years before doing my Masters in Film at NYU.  I worked the film festivals in the US until my visa was up, and since it couldn’t be renewed, I moved back to Montreal. Since film is such a visual medium, and the web is as well, going into the web industry just seemed to make sense.  Finding a job in web or agency work without formal training and experience is really tough, even though I knew I could do it.  Since I was having trouble finding a job, I decided to create my own.   Even though I had always worked for other people before, I felt like I always needed to market myself and pave my own way.  This really helped when I started my own business.

Besides your boyfriend, do you collaborate with anyone else for your projects?

Oh, absolutely.  Sometimes, clients will want things that are just beyond my technical capabilities, but I want to make sure that they get quality work.  So I work with others to bring in their strengths, like designers, developers, content writers, social media networkers and I’ve got someone doing SEO.  Not everyone has worked out, but I’m learning.  I only work with freelancers in Montreal instead of outsourcing.  This is crucial for me.  There are so many talented people here and being able to meet face to face and talk is so important.  I really enjoy developing a network of freelancers and learning to trust them and have them trust me.  I need that because I would never want to micromanage when my time could be better spent doing something else.

Are there other tools that you use for your business?

Absolutely, though I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to find the right tools for me.  I was using some free software for project management, but it just didn’t cut it.  Now I use DeskAway because it’s intuitive and good for my team.  I also use Jumpchart for content and site map building, Hootsuite for social media management and MailChimp for email marketing.

What advice can you give others who are starting a business?

Not taking things personally when working with clients is a constant challenge.  If I had known earlier how it would be, I would have approached things differently.  Also, dealing with money.  Trying to figure out what my service and expertise are worth was difficult since it’s sort of subjective.  I had been underpaid my whole life, so I’m adjusting to actually being paid appropriately for my work.  But then again, that meant that I had to adjust to other things, like learning to expense everything and taxes. FreshBooks has helped me keep track of those things so that it’s not such a nightmare.

Where do you see your business in 3 years?

To be honest, I’m not sure.  Part of me wants to stay here, but another part of me wants to be able to have a really different experience, like get a bungalow… in Africa… and continue doing my work from there!  Of course, that kind of conflicts with me working with Montreal freelancers face to face, but maybe I’ll end up dividing my time between here and somewhere else.  I think part of my hesitation is that even though I could work remotely, it doesn’t feel like it’s a “real” business. But at the same time, with how technology is in this day and age, that perspective is changing, so who knows?  I don’t always plan too far into the future, but in this case, I do know that I am working really hard to make this business bigger and better.

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.