KITCHENER — If you serve your community and customers well, you won't need to worry about the competition.
That's what two young business owners — Jeff Horst (right), 25, who co-owns a digital marketing firm called Echosims and Chris Steingart (left), 34, owner of QT Web Designs— have learned in the years since they began their enterprises.
The two were among 20 business owners in North America who recently received Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) awards for people under 35 who combine entrepreneurial spirit with service to the community.
Steingart, a former youth pastor who started QT Web Designs seven years ago, works out of his home office in Kitchener.
Echosims employs six people in offices in the Breithaupt Block in Kitchener. Horst and co-founder, Matt Martin, also have a side business called Meersocial, which provides online social media training on a subscription basis.
Steingart's customers range from real estate agents to small manufacturers, but he also does work, often on a discounted basis, for non-profit organizations, charities and faith-based groups. Steingart gives a lot of his own time to organizations such as Sustainable Waterlooand The Community Players of New Hamburg.
"I would say about 10 to 20 per cent of the work I do is for non-profits," Steingart says.
Horst, who grew up in a Mennonite family in Hawkesville, helped launch Echosims when he was only 21. He too has been involved in a number of local charities and initiatives. Last year, he initiated a ball hockey corporate challenge with proceeds going to the local food bank.
Both entrepreneurs have found that business success comes from doing quality work while being true to yourself and your principles.
Steingart was a youth pastor for the Waterloo Kitchener United Mennonite Church for a couple of years after he came out of university. He and his wife Jillian then taught English in Korea and he wrote a blog about their experiences.
When they returned, he decided to launch his own business. His love of project management and creative design led him to start QT Web Designs (the QT stands for Quality Transformations), a creative services firm. It specializes in website design, hosting websites, and branding of print and web content.
Steingart got into the business by taking online courses and going to seminars and workshops. He uses the WordPress custom theme development platform to create unique websites while also giving clients the ability to make changes on their own websites.
Steingart prefers a sole proprietorship. "I made a decision early on that I didn't want to be hiring and firing people," he says. But he also recognized he couldn't do everything, so he has a network of independent contractors with different skill sets he can call on.
Running his business out of a downstairs home office reduces his bricks-and-mortar costs, so he can charge customers a bit less than what bigger companies charge. He gives discounts to charities and non-profits.
"I feel strongly that groups with limited means should be able to improve their design presence and marketing reach," Steingart says. "It may not be all the bells and whistles, but I can give them something solid that they can build on."
He also provides clients with a library of video tutorials on how to maintain their own websites and make changes.
The one challenge of running a home-based business is "staying on task," especially now that Steingart has a family that includes a two-year-old son, Rowan, and a newborn daughter, Maya, who is only a month old. "I could work 24/7 because I enjoy doing what I do, but with two kids, I have to set a schedule and stick to it," he says.
Steingart says he has a lot of nonprofit clients because he understands their needs. "I speak their language and I understand the challenges they face, whether it be donor acquisition, conveying their mandate, or connecting with their target audience and developing a following."
Clients for Echosims have included home and commercial building developers, small and medium-sized businesses, and organizations such as the Accelerator Centre and the Grand River Hospital Foundation.
Horst says that when Echosims started, about four years ago, people told him not to start a website design business because there were too many companies doing website design. But he and his business partner discovered there was a need for better, high-value websites. "There was a big need to build more comprehensive websites that had more information on them," he says.
There was also demand for digital media advertising campaigns, including through Google ads and Facebook ads. So the company quickly shifted to becoming a full digital media marketing agency. It also works with a network of other independent businesses that specialize in creative design, video and other aspects of digital media.
"No two projects are alike," Horst says. "We build everything from scratch and our work is with companies that really want to take their websites to the next level."
Horst's second company, Meersocial, is still in a startup phase. It is a complementary business that sells social media training on a subscription basis. The online tutorials range from entry level knowledge of social media sites to understanding tracking and metrics so that businesses can know what is or isn't working.
Neither Horst nor Steingart worry too much about competition. Their work comes from word of mouth referrals. They have both found that what really counts is quality and delivering on what was promised. "If you do good work, you will get referrals," Horst says.
Both entrepreneurs refer work to other companies when they have more than they can do on their own. Other companies, in turn, refer work to them. "It is a very collaborative community that way," Horst says.
Horst and Steingart stress the importance of being involved in the community. "We love the community and we are very rooted here," Horst says.
Good business is also built on good principles, they add.
"Whether I am working with a nonprofit or not, my faith informs what I do as a business owner. That means I behave ethically, I don't steal designs, I deliver or even over-deliver on what I promise and I go the extra mile," Steingart says.
"I am not chasing the money but am looking to help people with the needs that they have."