The April Ford Story.
I have worked in marketing since I completed my marketing degree when I was 22. I fell into marketing after working at my parent’s real estate office when I finished high school. We had recently moved to the Sunshine Coast, away from all my high school friends. At my high school, going to university wasn’t an option; it was a given once you’d completed high school. I had enrolled in a Bachelor of Business Majoring in International Business; a degree that I still have no idea what job you’re technically qualified for upon graduation.
From one person to a team of 17 in two years.
After a few years at university I finally had a network of friends on the Sunshine Coast. I’m an introvert, so building friendships was something I struggled with outside of school. I barely passed university due to my heavy workload and social commitments, of which I was so grateful. At some stage, I made the decision to change my degree to marketing. I had always enjoyed that side of business when I was working with my parents and had spent five years of my secondary schooling attending as many art classes possible, so the decision to change degrees made sense.
Once I finished university, I bounced between jobs on the Sunshine Coast; some were good, whilst others were terrible. Finally, I landed a position as an Operations Manager with a real estate coach, Josh Phegan. I had just met my current husband, Brendan, and found out that my father was diagnosed with cancer. Not only was I grateful for the way Josh Phegan broadened my mind to a different way of business, but also for the flexibility and time I was allowed to spend with my father. An opportunity that wouldn’t present again, with my father passing away two years later.
Working for Josh was an experience I will never forget.
Looking back at what we achieved together for his business during that time; we launched and sold out events, created an online training platform, and traveled to America and New Zealand for additional training and career progression. I had never worked for someone who genuinely cared about his team like Josh did. We had the best of everything. New computers, iPhones, hotels; you name it, we had it.
After my father passed away, I wanted to remain close to my family. I resigned from Josh Phegan’s team and found myself consulting to various clients in lead generation and systems (think; CRMs, EDMs, automation etc.). It was during this time that I was invited to quote for a job with a company called RV Homebase to set up a database for them to better track their business across two locations.
In this role, I was fortunate enough to meet and work alongside Sam Williams and Peter Shadforth. I started when they had just sold 20 sites and stayed until they hit 220. I went from employee to consultant, which involved a huge shift in dynamics - something I believe all Marketing Managers should experience as it teaches how to lead, guide and be accountable for how your decisions affect the bottom line of the business you’re working with.
As an employed Marketing Manager, I feel you never truly feel the pain of spending money with no result, and you never take full ownership of a campaign, whether successful or unsuccessful, as you never know the full story. As a consultant, all information is on the table; who does what, how much everything costs, what the board of directors requires, etc.
The most valuable lesson I learned during my time at RV Homebase is how working with a team impacts your results. I had to report directly to the board of directors. I was able to work alongside Peter Shadforth. Sam Williams and I discussed every staff and marketing decision together as equals. The results of these team-focused relationships were incredible; we doubled our sales and exceeded our KPIs.
I also had the opportunity to curate a team of marketing suppliers who, in my opinion, were ahead of their game. We went from 60 to 400 leads per month. We launched a Facebook page and grew it to over 25K people. We launched RVTV, designed to tell the story of people who lived at RV Homebase. We worked hard, but we had so much fun.
We went from 60 to 400 leads per month.
RV Homebase taught me that we need to take risks in trying new things and it’s okay to make mistakes provided you catch them promptly and adapt. I finished my role at RV when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel for them. The challenges had faded for me, and I could predict a quick and successful final stage sell out for them.
After RV Homebase, I felt a little burnt out and decided to leave the marketing and property industries. I’d spent my whole life in property and I was craving change. I decided to try something I was interested in, which was clothing and fashion. Thus, April Ford, a sleepwear brand, was created.
I spent thousands of dollars over six months building a brand and product. Just before I hit go, my husband was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and he became very sick. He was too sick to leave the house and function in his job. In light of this, I was faced with a life-changing decision to make; spend the money I had allocated on production and hope for the best, or stop everything and start again.
I wallowed and did nothing for a while, and following a six-month hiatus from work, I began consulting again. I didn’t want to, however I needed to, financially. I met with a friend who had mentioned how she structured her PR business around retainers. It allowed her to forecast her cashflow and resources to deliver to her select clients. It was a lightbulb moment for me. As a supplier, it allowed her to stay out of internal office politics, which is something I simply could not handle. So, I pulled the trigger with a little help from my husband and reinvented April Ford 2.0 as a marketing consulting business.
I kept the name, April Ford, as it was easily identifiable, plus some nice guy in the US gave me the URL, which I saw as a sign that I was moving in the right direction. Although I was back in marketing, instead of project work I was offering services for a set price with set deliverables, focusing on social media content creation, scheduling, and management for clients. This marketing service was something I had struggled to find when I was at RV Homebase, so I built my own team to deliver consistent content that told RV Homebase’s story.
Once I started, I began receiving referrals from other marketing companies on the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. I was at capacity with four clients and I knew that if I said no to any referrals, I would never see those referral opportunities again. I recognised that with four clients, each was responsible for 25-percent of my income. If one dropped off, I had to find another client to replace them.
That’s when a friend of mine, Sofia, who had worked with me on RV Homebase and other consulting projects, committed two days each week to helping me. Brendan and I had just sold our beautiful house to build our dream house on a block of land we had bought a few years prior, and had also bought a total knockdown property that we had planned to flip to fund our dream home. The house was straight out of the 70s. It was freezing cold, dark, and something from your worst nightmare. We worked on a huge desk together in the living room until Brendan and I bought an office in Buderim. I had never thought about growing April Ford into a full agency, however I knew I couldn’t work from this house anymore; nor could I handle the embarrassment of staff members visiting this house that was straight out of the 70s. Not the cool 70s; the cringeworthy 70s.
When Sofia left to have her beautiful baby girl, I found myself needing help again. Thankfully the stars aligned and following a conversation with my sister, she announced that she was seeking a change from her world of Occupational Therapy, so she jumped on board.
As my husband’s health started to improve, we bought an office and gave life to April Ford, the agency. We settled on the office on 30th June 2017. We had one staff member; my sister. My husband began managing the invoicing to ensure invoices were being sent - a task that I’d normally push to the end of my to-do list when prioritising clients’ deadlines. I think I worked for seven days per week for two years straight. No holidays, no time off, and no life outside the service I’d promised to deliver to my clients. One night I worked so late that the security guard in our building locked me in the top floor.
Fast forward to today and April Ford is a team of 17…
Fast forward to today and April Ford is a team of 17 with four distinct revenue streams and divisions. We started solely with social media content creation and management before adding social media advertising and Google Ads to our service repertoire. As we continued to grow, clients began asking us for additional design services and eventually, websites. I still receive requests to set up lead nurture systems for clients every now and then; it’s my background and something I have a love/hate relationship with.
Every service at April Ford has been carefully created with the client in mind. As a Marketing Manager, I was tired of the inconsistent costs for services, so we offer set pricing for all our clients. I’ve never worked in an agency, so I have no idea how they function, however I have worked on the other side and know the frustrations a client can face in adhering to budgets. We have never tried to lock a client into a contract for services; if they don’t want to work with us, the feeling is reciprocated.
At the beginning of 2019, my husband, Brendan, decided to leave his career in business sales and work primarily with April Ford. He’s currently our General Manager and Financial Controller. Growing a team involves overcoming many challenges, and it’s something I underestimated. It’s challenging, because what comes innately due to my experience must be taught to those who have been allocated a task. As your team grows, so does the number of times your name is mentioned throughout a day, so productivity is often a balancing act of personal and employee tasks.
Josh Phegan is a huge believer in checklists and processes, and they play a large role in driving our business. Whilst it took me a year to implement checklists, they’re now an integral part of our processes, and often the easiest way to train new staff. We managed to build a team of five employees without written processes, and now we live and breathe via task lists within our project management software, Asana. This keeps our internal emails to a minimum, and all conversations focused on actionable tasks.
With fast growth comes fast spending. Being a service-bases business, there should be no surprise that our largest cost is wages. I would once read articles about fast-growing companies going broke, and I now understand why. As the business has grown, my role and my responsibilities have changed.
My role is to support each employee, working with and teaching them how to handle each situation, whether that’s inside of our business or in their personal lives.
During my career I’ve experienced toxic work environments and as a result I channel enormous effort into creating the opposite for our office. My favourite book, The Dream Manager, taught me that everyone has a dream and it’s their own dream. My job as a leader is to help my employees to achieve their dreams, and in turn they’ll help me achieve mine. I try hard to empower my team in their roles. I dislike micromanaging, yet I love when a process is followed to a tee.
Growing April Ford has been lonely. I have sacrificed my personal time in lieu of promises made to those who pay my invoices. The bigger picture is that April Ford is now a business that runs day to day, without me. Our team is simply the best. They are smart, innovative, and enthusiastic in embodying the April Ford values. It may sound silly, but some of our staff even have April Ford listed in their Instagram bio, which is a sign they love what they do and they’re proud to be a part of the April Ford team. I am in awe of what they create and achieve, and I am lucky to work with them every day. To say I am so proud of what we produce as a team is an understatement.
So, after all of that, what is my dream?
I want to work with clients who are kind, and those who want to work with us.
I want to work with a team of people who are innovative and high performing.
I want to work in an office that is inspiring, friendly, and most importantly, fun.
I want to work with people who are smarter and better than me, so I can learn from them, and together we can achieve our dreams.
I want to live and work on the Sunshine Coast.
And, I generally just want to be happy.