For the fifth episode of the DNQ interview series, I’d like to welcome Arianna O’Dell, founder of Airlink Marketing! I met Arianna in Bucharest, and we clicked and became good friends:
I was extremely impressed by how she built her business from the ground up. There was one point in my life in which I was considering creating a marketing agency as well, and I actually worked on crafting the structure of it with another potential co-founder. In the end, I decided to put the project on hold. But I wanted to hear more about Arianna’s experience with founding her company, especially on how she came up with the idea, executed on it, and found clients for her business.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Arianna O’Dell!
How Arianna O’Dell Started Her Own Marketing Agency
Sharon: Tell us about yourself!
Arianna: I am the founder of Airlink Marketing, a global PR, design, and marketing agency that focuses on helping hospitality and travel companies attract and retain clientele. I got my start at a marketing agency in Seattle working on social media campaigns for brands ranging from consumer products to corporations. After taking a weekend trip to New York City, I found myself head over heels with the marketing epicenter. I decided to move to the city that never sleeps and jump in headfirst to the hospitality scene.
During my three years in New York City, I had the opportunity to work with incredible brands and teams. Though I enjoyed my time in the city, 2015 had been a rough year. After going through a family loss and a myriad of health issues, I found myself completely burnt out and grappling with the question “what do I really want from life?” I had always known deep down I was an entrepreneur from the rush I got as an 8-year old selling lemonade.
New York City was a great experience but something inside of me no longer wanted to be in the city. It was on to my next adventure: starting my own company.
I’d always loved traveling and found it made financial sense to live abroad while doing this. I knew I’d be able to live for 1/6th the price abroad which would allow me to grow my company.
Sharon: Do you feel like you can stay productive while living abroad?
Arianna: I was productive, before I met a fun group of friends in Bucharest! (Shout out to Sharon, Jason, Mike and Sizzo) Just kidding.
(Oops, sorry Arianna! :P)
Sharon: How did you start your business?
Arianna: I immediately started networking to land some initial client contracts. I was simultaneously building my agency website while working on a number of different projects to fund the initial design and development costs.
Sharon: How did you find the contract work that got you started?
Arianna: Through networking and referrals. Ask for referrals when you’re doing great work for your freelancing contracts, and let people know you’re actively searching for work.
Sharon: When and why did you develop the idea to create a marketing agency?
Arianna: I’ve been passionate about marketing for years and starting an agency gave me the ability to work with interesting clients on a myriad of fun projects.
Sharon: Were you scared when you quit your job?
Arianna: Nope. In my life I’ve hit “rock bottom” so many times that now it’s pretty easy to get up from. I knew that if worse came to worse I could go back to waiting tables like I did when I was 16. Asking “Would you like fries with that?” wasn’t so bad.
Sharon: How’d you build your team?
Arianna: Over the past few years, I’ve outsourced a number of projects. I got really lucky with the designers and writers I found. Without their help, Airlink Marketing would still just be an idea. Not only do I look for personality and a strong portfolio, I also look for people who I can work well with while remote. I make sure these team members can collaborate effectively through Skype and Slack communication tools.
I found my team through UpWork. What I do is create sample projects so I can get a sense of their work and hire based off of that. Website redesigns can be costly, so using smaller sample projects can reduce costs when evaluating talent.
Sharon: Do you advertise your company on social media at all?
Arianna: I actually found one of my biggest projects through posting on Facebook. I mentioned on Facebook and LinkedIn that I had started my own company and we had time to take on new projects.
Sharon: You did this on your own page?
Arianna: Yes, on my own Facebook page.
Sharon: What’s your overall vision/goal with Airlink Marketing?
I’d love to create creative campaigns for hospitality clients while growing the business to be able to provide more jobs for creatives. In the long run, it’s more important for me to build something that makes an impact than just focusing on cash flow. My favorite part of owning a company has been the creative freedom it gives me.
Sharon: For beginners who want to start their own agency, what’s your recommendation or advice?
Arianna: Be flexible, and be willing to take financial risks. Have a support network of people doing similar things. As I was starting up, my network was extremely crucial in times of self doubt. Their reassurance that everything would be okay helped get me through the bad days.
You can start anything by creating a brand and perception. One of the most important things is investing in design so you convey professionalism and credibility.
Sharon: Great tips! Any last words?
Arianna: Can I leave you with a good song instead?
Haha, thanks for the Enrique video, Arianna! I enjoyed Arianna’s story of how she brought Airlink Marketing to life, and it was also interesting seeing how powerful social media can be for obtaining clients. I want to thank Arianna for speaking with me and explaining how she started her own marketing agency!
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