When Maria Dykstra started working at Microsoft, she wouldn’t have predicted an entrepreneurial twist would help her launch TreDigital, a boutique marketing firm with a global focus on growing her clients’ reach.
A Typical Start
Beginning at age 22, she spent 14 years with the tech giant in the classic office environment (the physical location, not the software suite), managing teams and growing the business. Her time with Microsoft wasn’t atypical. She started working in a call center, answering phones and troubleshooting issues. Soon, she moved up into a lead position and then transferred into a newly-formed advertising technology department, a department vocally opposed by a certain company head.
“By default, I think that made the department entrepreneurial,” Dykstra said. “We had no money. We had no support.”
She rose through the ranks of the new department over the course of four years.
“My team was one of the first to do rich media advertising,” Dykstra said. “We turned the MSN home page into a Coca-Cola-branded home page. We were the first people to put the moving interactive banners into X-Box Live, which became the beginning of advertising in the online gaming world. I worked with Google on advertising possibilities.
“However, I realized quickly I just didn’t want to do that. I was bored. I was demotivated. It was exciting, but I wanted to do something else. So, I left. When I walked out, I had no idea what the entrepreneurial world was. But I liked the idea of helping the company grow their reach.”
Defining Your Terms
Today, as the managing director of the boutique marketing firm TreDigital in Bellevue, WA, she has plenty of definitions for the dynamic world of new businesses, new processes, and new ideas.
They include the freedom to make your own choices; a level playing field; a lack of a hierarchy; a shorter decision-making cycle; and increased responsibilities.
“I love the rollercoaster of entrepreneurialism,” Dykstra said. “You work 80 hours per week for yourself so you don’t have to work 40 hours a week for someone else. I love that one day you can be on top of the world and the next day you can be at the bottom.”
Growing Your Reach
These days, her favorite task is working with a client who thinks they are constrained by geographical boundaries and increasing the reach of their message.
“I enjoy working with a local business and helping them see there is a possibility of their message getting to the global level,” Dykstra said. “We help take small businesses and turn them into thriving global brands. We literally help them grow their reach”
This messaging process, Dykstra said, should optimally cycle through three stages.
It begins with discovery, finding out, in small doses, what works.
“The discovery stage is the most painful of all,” Dykstra said. “You go up and down. Your revenue goes up and down.”
The goal with discovery is to narrow down to one to three marketing channels, which allows a concentration of resources with proven results. If the company has set the proper foundation with discovery, they move into the growth stage.
“They abandon the experimentation and really focus in on the best channels,” Dykstra said. “They pour all their money, all of their finances, all of their investment into those channels. This is how you grow your reach.”
Then, after a burst of growth, the increasing trend becomes unsustainable and the company moves into a maintenance phase before the entire cycle starts over with discovery.
“I see a lot of businesses get stuck in discovery,” Dykstra said. “They have the vision. They have the passion. They have the commitment. They are people who understand they have reached a certain level of growth but the just don’t quite know how to get to the next level. They’re stuck.”
Her advice to entrepreneurs?
“Don’t go chasing the new, bright, shiny object. At the end of the day, there is the lean, the proven, the traditional. The proven platforms are what work. They grow your reach. The new things can be distracting. Embrace the system that works. Test systemically, figure out what works, and pour more money into those efforts.”
She recognizes the contradiction in her advice.
Dykstra defines an entrepreneur as a creative person who is willing to take risks, who thinks differently or non-traditionally, who pushes boundaries, takes risks, takes bold action, and who doesn’t hesitate to get back on their feet when they fail.
However, she encourages her clients to focus those talents, skills, and resources on developing their product or service while using proven methods to get the word out to the world.
“Think beyond the boundaries of your business,” Dykstra said. “Think five, ten, fifteen years down the road and then build that foundation. Think about how what you do today will enable you to have success tomorrow. In our world of instant gratification, it’s hard to do that, because everyone is ‘I want it now.’”
“My favorite entrepreneurs have a vision,” Dykstra said, saying the proven marketing methods can share their vision with a lower investment of time and money. “They have that conviction but they also have fear. They’re not confined or restrained by their fear. It’s a mindset. It’s all about moving forward.”