WorkinSEO Podcast-Nerissa Marbury - Founding a running a digital marketing company

EP#9 Nerissa Marbury – Founding & running a digital marketing company

This is the story of a woman who always envisioned herself running a company but never starting one. “I’m a reluctant company founder” Nerissa planned to acquire a company that was having some challenges and be able to turn it around successfully and run it very well. Today OneEpiphany is a successful 10+ years old consulting company. The hardest thing you could ever do is start your own business.

Nerissa Marbury is founder and president of One Epiphany, LLC, a digital marketing and operations consulting company. Nerissa helps clients amplify and share their message so they can connect with the ideal clients and grow their business.

🧡 Many thanks to our guest for sharing her experience with us.

Listen to a genuine story of what it is like to found and run a digital marketing company in the hospitality industry:

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Getting in touch with our podcast guest, Nerissa Marbury
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WorkinSEOPodcast full transcript with Nerissa Marbury

Thank you to Ahrefs for sponsoring the Season 2 of the WorkinSEOPodcast

Isaline: Hello, everyone. It’s Isaline. I’m thrilled to record another episode of WorkInSEO podcast, a podcast where we explore the diversity of career path. We interview amazing people to learn from them and help you find your way in your SEO career. I’m Isaline Muelhauser, SEO nerd and content strategist, founder of the SEO consultancy,
Today, I am joined by the brilliant Nerissa Marbury. Nerissa is founder and president of One Epiphany, LLC, a digital marketing and operations consulting company. Nerissa helps clients amplify and share their message so they can connect with the ideal clients and grow their business.
It is a very impressive career because she has 20 years of digital strategy and operation experience. This is really an honor to have her today in the podcast. Hi, Nerissa, and welcome. 
Hello, Isaline. It is such an honor and pleasure to be here today and be a guest on your show. 
Maybe a little bit of history for the people who don’t know us yet. We have been exchanging messages and emails for about a year or even more. That’s one of the extra reasons I’m happy to have you today because I remember the first time I interacted with you, I was such a beginner as a company founder. It was the beginning of my company. I was very unsure of myself, but you just embraced me and asked me questions. 
You really treated me like an equal. It was really good. It was a really good feeling for me. And so, thank you for that, by the way. It was great. Today, I’m hoping that we can share a little bit of this feeling with the audience. 
Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that with me. I didn’t realize. What I will say, just as far as one of the reasons for that is if you’re a founder, a business owner, a CEO, a president, whatever title you decide to choose to give yourself. Whether you’re a solopreneur or someone who’s running an enterprise, you are a peer if you’re a business owner, if you’re a C-level person. So, yes, I would absolutely treat you as a peer. 
Can we rewind a bit and can you tell our audience an overview of what you do today currently and why you started One Epiphany? What’s happened then?
One Epiphany has evolved over the years. We started off in 2010. As I tell so many people, I was a reluctant entrepreneur in 2010. It wasn’t the plan or the expectations that I would have started One Epiphany. But during that time, there was an economic downfall within the U.S. and other parts of the world are impacted as well. However, I had learned that the hardest thing you could ever do was start your own business. Things were pretty hard at that point because I had graduated with my master’s in creative brand management in 2009. For the first time ever, I couldn’t find a job. So, I started One Epiphany in January 2010, just because I had more time, money, and anything else. I would just go like, “It’s a little pet project. I’ve been doing these freelance things.”
Fast forward, it wasn’t until 2013 that I really decided to see if I put my mind to it and really put effort into the business, how far I could take it. I’ve been riding that wave ever since. In 2013, unlike in 2010, I was focused on brand marketing. In 2013, I shifted to digital marketing. At the end of 2019 going into 2020, I was looking to evolve the business again where we would focus on a niche industry that follows one of my personal passions because I want it to integrate my personal passion more into my business and that’s tourism and hospitality. 
Well, the whole world knows what happened in 2020, a global pandemic. At least my desire to go full steam ahead into the tourism and the hospitality industry as having that be my company’s core niche didn’t quite work out as well as I would have liked. Instead, I started thinking about the services that One Epiphany has offered over the years. Which ones we really enjoy, which ones we do well, and which ones we want to do more of. Although One Epiphany, we can do a little bit of everything when it comes to digital marketing, our core focus from the service side of things is search engine optimization, which that’s how we started talking. Email marketing and automation, marketing operations, which does include project management, and then, of course, all of these aspects require some level of strategy. We always provide strategies to our clients.
When you say that’s where a reluctant company founder, what exactly did you fare or what did you envision that you wouldn’t fly in being a company owner? 
This goes back to when I was in grade school where I did envision myself owning a company. I have wanted to be a business person since sixth grade. That is how I define it, “I want to be a businessperson.” 
By the time I was in college, I knew that I wanted to acquire a company that was having some challenges and be able to turn it around successfully and run it very well. I always saw myself buying an existing company and going from there versus starting a company from scratch. That’s why I was saying I was reluctant because it was not on my radar whatsoever to start something from scratch. But as I have been saying, probably since then, life happens. That’s when you need to take advantage, or at least figure out how you can pivot in order to make things work better. 
I hear that in fact you had this leader and you know this feeling already that you wanted to run your company. You had this motivation, even though, as you said, it was not founding, starting from scratch. But still, being that person, what skills do you think served you in this role? Did you have them already, or was it more a process of developing skills?
I think it’s a combination of the two. You won’t ever have everything. At least for myself, I enjoy learning. I won’t ever say that even for an area that I’m very good at that there isn’t something I still can’t learn. As far as skills for being a business owner, you definitely need flexibility. I believe you do need attention to detail. If you personally do not have it, that’s when you need to hire someone who does because I think it’s really that important because there’s a variety of details that you don’t think about when you’re an employee. In the U.S., we call it W-2 is the tax form that you get. Then when you’re not someone’s employee is a 1099. I’m going like, “You’re a W-2.” 
When you’re an employee, you’re typically just focused on your specific responsibilities for that specific role within that specific company. However, when you’re a business owner, you have different constituents, different stakeholders, different clients, externally, as well as internally and you have to be able to manage at all. You’re also wearing different hats at different stages of your business. I am a proud micro business. With that, I end up wearing more hats than let’s say the CEO of a very large company would be wearing. With that, I’m able to more directly speak to the pain points and the problems that other business owners or business leaders that are running mid-size or maybe slightly smaller companies but also understand the pain points that come with enterprise-size companies as well. I think that’s definitely an advantage to where I can be nimble, meaning my company can be nimble and deliver on what’s needed. I feel that I’m going a little bit off your question, but to go back to the skillsets, it’s really just being willing to take a risk on yourself and being confident in your ability to deliver on it.
Oh, this is so well said. I also really liked how you said that attention to detail was a useful skill because so far, I never considered that it was a skill. I thought it was something that takes time. When you see everything and you want all of the details covered, it kind of feels good to know that it’s a skill. Yeah, we can own it because it’s actually super useful.
As I have my company for only two years so far, I find it really impressive the 10 now, nearly 11 years. I’m like, “Wow, so much must have happened.” Can you recall the challenges? Of course, the pandemic, and the change of directions and, but what else? Did you face that you were like, “Oh, I didn’t expect that?”
I’m not sure if it’s a challenge or not, but the transitions that I made within the company. Then also, I call it training a client. It may not sound the best in those terms, but I feel it’s really important to train your clients, to interact with your business in the way that you would like for them to engage with you.
Just to elaborate on that, one of the challenges, and you may have already experienced this yourself, is because you’re a smaller size business, people don’t necessarily consider you a business. This is where in the very beginning, after 2013, when I was going, let me really focus on this and see how far I can take it because I never tried before then. Some of my first engagements were with big advertising agencies when they’re outsourcing to One Epiphany. I started feeling, “They’re seeing me as an employee.” I’m not an employee. It was, “Okay, well, what can I do to make that shift so that no one mistaken One Epiphany as Nerissa Marbury, and Nerissa is just a freelancer when that’s not the case. The owner and president of this company. You just happened to hire me to work on this project for you.” That was one of the challenges or the mindsets to really make certain that people saw One Epiphany and continue to see One Epiphany as a business and not just as an individual doing work.
Yes, I am the face. Yes, I do manage my social media platforms because I do believe that there’s a human behind every brand. For One Epiphany, it’s me. However, there’s so many other people, team members, and strategic partners that I work with behind the scenes so that we can deliver on the variety of client needs that require different skill sets. Which really allows One Epiphany to be nimble and be able to scale. In some cases, downsize our team depending on the need of the client. One of the challenges was just having other businesses see One Epiphany as a business and not just as an individual. 
Another challenge would be just the balance. One of the perks of having your own business and one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy being an owner or running One Epiphany, I’m very excited about it, is the freedom that it gives you. In 2002, I actually told someone I got laid off from one of my early jobs because of 9/11. At that time they were going like, “Nerissa, what do you want to do?” I said, “I want to do what I want when I want and with who I want.”
Now, I didn’t realize it was going to take me 11 years to get to that point. Which brings me back to 2013 to where it was like, let me really put forth this effort. One Epiphany gives me the freedom to work on the type of projects that I want to work on. Work with the type of clients I want to work with. Also gives me the flexibility to work where I want to work and when I want to work there. 
I’m not sure about other businesses or even yours, Isaline. However, One Epiphany, when I started it in 2010, not knowing where it was going to take me, I purposely arranged it so that it was a virtual office from day one because I knew that my own personal feelings about being within a structured environment, having to go to a brick-and-mortar office day in, day out really didn’t fit me. I’m the type of leader who I don’t believe in telling people to do things or asking people to do things that I want to do myself. If I knew from day one, I’m not going to be going to an office every day. I wouldn’t be able to, in my right mind, ask my team members to do that. I knew I wasn’t going to be there. 
I love what you said because you touched two very important subjects as a company owner, which is the client’s relationship and the balance. When do I work? What is work? What does not work? Because sometimes it kind of mixes.
To go back to the first subject, can you give me an example of actions or a process that you have implemented in your relation with the clients? Maybe at the beginning of the relationship to show them, to position yourself as a company.
That’s a great question. Well, first and foremost, because some people don’t do it or they do it in the very bare minimum way: contracts. Contracts are extremely important. It is not necessarily for when things go well. A contract is for the unexpected negative aspects of business. Thankfully, I only have a couple of those situations out of the 11 years, but contracts are definitely important. From that, it’s having a master of service degree, as well as a statement of work. The master services agreement has my legalese, the template boilerplate type contract language that is consistent across any client that One Epiphany engages with. It’s very similar to what you will see with larger companies. I felt that that was really important because the companies that I engage with are a variety of sizes. I wanted them to say, “Oh, this is something I’m familiar with seeing.” That’s one aspect. 
Then, the statement of work is probably typical to most people’s statement of work. I really won’t go into that. However, I have interacted with different companies because sometimes I’m the client, One Epiphany is the client. I do take note of how they present themselves contractually. It’s just a little bit interesting. 
I would say, for me, it’s starting with the contract. It’s also providing the client in personable ways. You don’t have to be mean about it. But setting your limitations because you had mentioned earlier about those boundaries and getting the balance. This is where, as anyone who’s running their own company knows, you work outside the typical work hours. This is where I prefer to use those non-traditional work hour times for One Epiphany, for Nerissa’s professional development versus having to work on paid client work outside those hours. 
Now, if I choose to do that, that’s one thing. Sometimes clients think that because you’re smaller that — I don’t know if this is the right word or phrase, but I feel as if they believe you should be accessible to them at all times. Because it’s like, “Well, you have the flexibility. You can talk to me at 7:00 in the evening.” No, I’m not available. 
It’s also responding to emails. Even if I’m reading emails, scheduling an email is your friend. This is where you can read it. You can respond to it. Schedule it so that it is sent to your client during your typical business hours so that there’s no misconception that you’re available during those off-hours.
Just to give you an example, one client during the early part of our engagement, he was going, “Just to let you know, I don’t sleep well so I’m typically up. You can write to me at any time of the day. I’ll most likely respond. I’m here for you.” I was going, “Oh, that is such a good thing to hear. I appreciate that. But I just want to let you know, I do sleep. You won’t be hearing from me outside of typical hours unless there’s a real emergency.” 
That was my friendly way of just saying, “Hey, I’m, I’m happy to know if I need you, I can reach you. Unless it’s an emergency, you shouldn’t expect me to reach you outside of those hours because I try to respect those non-working hours,” whether it’s a client, whether it’s a team member, and definitely if it’s myself as well. 
I hear it’s really about setting healthy work relationships, about having boundaries and contracts and, and also telling what’s our favorite way of communicating. For instance, I’m also a big fan of scheduling email. I never answer work-related questions on something like WhatsApp. Even though they would send me something, I would answer per email just to let them know to transfer the information on a channel that I feel comfortable with. 
Smart person. I absolutely agree. I do think similarly. One of my pet peeves is people who want to do business via text message. It’s like my business number by chance does allow for texting. However, I don’t typically check it. If someone sends me a text it might not be responded to right away. When I do identify it, I definitely try to transfer them over to email because it’s a traditional business format. I guess I’m old school from that side of things. But also, on a personal level, I’m not really big into texting individuals personally. I would prefer to pick up the telephone and have a conversation. If time doesn’t permit, let’s put it in writing and see if we can get on a call later on. 
You mentioned how you organize your work. I’m very curious to know how I can last 10 years? I’ve been there for two years. I can see that the rhythm I’m having now, it’s okay and I really love what I do. But I can’t imagine doing that for 10 years. I think at some point, I’m going to have to stop, and just take serious weekends and this type of thing. 
What’s your secret? How do you stop your mind and just your computer just to refresh and reset sometimes?
You have to know the reason behind your business. It goes back to my earlier comment about freedom. This is also where I’ve been challenged over the last 11 years of finding that right balance because at one point it was like, “Oh, the reason why I have One Epiphany is to give me the freedom to do what I want. I don’t want to work a full 40-hour workweek.” But then, I really wasn’t doing enough because there was like, “Okay, I’m doing the paid client work. But then I started slacking on business development.” There was a time when I just focused so much on work and just had my head in a computer to where it was, “Okay. I’m a self-declared workaholic. I thoroughly enjoy working most times. But at the same time, I thoroughly enjoy experiences that live outside of my profession.”
With that, it was just trying to find that balance. Part of it is determining how many hours you will dedicate to paid clients, and then how many hours you want to have for your company. That’s one of the things that I’ve been doing in recent years to make certain that I’m giving my company what is needed. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I thoroughly love helping my clients and seeing them to see that I’m one of their biggest cheerleaders, but at times is at the detriment of my own business because I would prefer to do client work than to work on One Epiphany initiatives and responsibilities. 
With that, I’ve had to say, “All right, this amount of time can go towards client stuff, but I also need to dedicate to my own business if I’m wanting to evolve.” This just goes back to how for One Epiphany over the years, we’ve made tweaks and alterations. I would say we’ve had our own forms of evolution over the years. This is part of that in the most recent evolution. I’m actually tracking my time more so that I can see for sure how much time I’m giving to other initiatives versus One Epiphany. I can hold myself accountable that way. It’s a challenge. There is no magic pill, but I would say just try to allocate and be as best as you can or determine how much time you’re going to put for paid clients, how much time you’re going to put for your own business. 
One thing that I did not mention that I do want to bring up as well is to pay attention to your mental state, to what your body is saying. Your brain and your body will speak volumes. Having your own business, if I want to take a nap, I can take a nap during the day. It’s one of those things where it’s being mindful of that because you cannot be productive, you cannot be efficient, and you will not be able to succeed as quickly as you like if you’re tired, if you’re exhausted, if you’re mentally drained, if you’re stressed. That’s where just taking those breaks, even if you’re saying, “Oh, I don’t have time for a break.” I tell everybody who tells me that, “You have five minutes. If you had time to talk to me right now, you have five minutes for yourself.” You just build it up from there to where it’s like, “Okay, it’s 10, okay, it’s 15. I’m doing a whole day to get to where I’m going to do whatever I want to do.” Whether that’s sleep, whether that’s going on a nature walk, whether that’s going to your favorite restaurant and trying new things on the menu. You have to find things that really bring you joy because that’s the only way you will be a good leader to your team, as well as a good person.
I love your advice. I’m going to try to follow more of them, especially when you know how much time to dedicate to the company. At least in my case, that’s very often that I didn’t plan enough time to do that. While I spend my whole weekend doing invoices, for instance. I really like this idea of planning, and of course, tracking the time. Not only the time for paid work but also the time for company’s work. 
I see that we’ve already talked a lot. You’ve given us so much already. Can you tell us what you see next for Nerissa? I mean, for yourself.
Oh, wow. What do I see next for me? Great thing. Actually, see, this is where I was about to start talking about things I’m doing for One Epiphany. but you said “Nerissa,” so I’m taking that as me personally.
I am looking forward to emerging back into the world. The reason why I say that is because typically, one of the first questions people ask me is, where are you? Because I could be a little bit of everywhere within one month or within an entire year. It goes back to where I would say, my personal passion is travel. I really like exploring, introducing myself, and learning about cultures that are different from mine. I think that having that understanding makes a person help make the world a better place because the similarities across nationalities and cultures are really more alike than different, at least based on my personal travel experience. 
For Nerissa, it’s travel. Having more opportunities to join podcasts like yours. To be able to get on stage and speak about my business, about the industry marketing or what have you, and about some of my personal beliefs and perspectives. I’m definitely doing more talking or speaking engagements and I’m looking forward to being invited to more.
What about for One Epiphany? 
For One Epiphany, this is where we are looking for opportunities to work with destination marketing organizations. I’ve been calling it SBA-related organizations. Because we’re a U.S. based business, for those of you who aren’t aware of, SBA, it’s a small business administration here within the United States.
One Epiphany and myself, over the years, have been big supporters of entrepreneurs, startups, businesses of all sizes. I’m wanting to help support the organizations that support these businesses. For example, One Epiphany is working on building up its relationship with the small business development center within the state of Michigan, which is one of those SBA-related type entities. We’re working with innovation centers in order to help support different phase companies with their marketing. Those innovation centers are typically funded with SBA funds. Really, just trying to identify ways that we can continue to build our team. Expand internationally because we have had international clients, but we definitely want more. To be able to assist them in marketing to other Americans, if the U.S. market is where they’re trying to be.
If they have further questions or if they want to get in touch, what is the best way? Where are you? What’s your favorite platform or channel?
Across all social media platforms, you can find me at One Epiphany, same as my company name. I am typically very active on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter. You can find me on Facebook and IG. If you want to have a conversation with me, then I would say Twitter and LinkedIn are your best bet. 
My website, you can check us out at Learn more about the company, our services. If you’re interested in having a conversation or doing business with myself or One Epiphany, let me know. We’re here to help.
Thank you so much for participating in the podcast. I totally second what you said because I’ve been following you. I recommend everyone to follow you on Twitter and LinkedIn. I really like what I read from you, so go and follow. 
Thank you.
That’s it for today for this WorkInSEO podcast. Of course, you can find the podcast on all your traditional podcast platforms.
We are also on Twitter. That’s the handle @WorkInSEO. Pretty easy to find. Please send me some feedback or some questions if you have some. I’m happy to either answer or transfer them to someone who’d be able to answer you properly. 
That was a beautiful podcast. I’m really happy I got a chance to talk to you, Nerissa. I’m hoping to see you at more conferences then.
Absolutely. I’m looking forward to that as well as we start traveling more in the near future. 
All right. Thank you, everybody, for following us. That was the WorkInSEO podcast. See you next time.