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Star Power: How I Grew My Ad Agency Only Using Referrals

Abby Endres, founder of LIFT

Let's take it back to January 2009. For 10 years, I had hustled in New York – or New York hustled me. I had been working my way up the corporate ladder in the sports and entertainment industry. I loved talking the talk and walking the walk – with the big guns and good 'ol boys.

I worked in marketing for amazing companies on high profile sports and entertainment brands, from the NY Rangers to the Radio City Rockettes, The Grinch to Bon Jovi, Disney Princesses to Monster Trucks. I was making lasting connections and sponging up everything. My career was my life. Nights, weekends, 24/7. I was a driven working woman with a Stillman School of Business M.B.A. – and I was married with our first child on the way.

It was time to asses my life and make a change. A change that could be the death of my career. For a woman working in sports and entertainment marketing, a decision to leave NYC (or LA) was considered career suicide.

That June, we moved our life to Saratoga Springs, New York, and NYC traveled with me. I could not sit still. I needed fast pace, energy, challenge and thrilling work. Early on in my career, I spotted a hole in the industry – one that connects venue with promoters with agency. There was a need for an ad agency that understood all sides of the business and the vital relationships and marketing service that goes with it. Later that month, LIFT was born, and not long after, we got our first referral.

LIFT's first client was DreamWorks, a 5-star referral from a former colleague. DreamWorks needed someone to market, manage and oversee a portion of a live tour. Soon I was responsible for the success of four markets. Business was building. The hustle had returned: Build the portfolio. Find success for my clients. Service like crazy.  Deliver. Deliver. Deliver.

I had a choice: keep doing what I was doing or build out a full-service agency. I kept building. I positioned LIFT hard as an agency, not as a consultancy. There is way more clout in a "we" versus and "I". And we grew.

Eight years later, LIFT, is a contender. And even though we have great talent and passion within our agency, without referrals, it would be a near impossible road to hoe. But the beauty of delivering on referrals is they multiply. The contacts you make early on move into bigger positions, and possibilities open for your business. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.

That's why I treat every referral like that first one for DreamWorks. We never leave anything on the table. It's about creating great work, bringing great service and driving results. Our client roster now includes international sports teams, Broadway shows, touring concerts, world-renowned attractions and have even expanded to retail, leisure and product-based marketing. And if you can believe it, the business is 100-percent referral based.

At LIFT, there's no agency ego, just a desire to succeed – and our success is tied to our clients. If we don't deliver, their business goes somewhere else. So, we keep a proof of performance for our clients, give them the credit they deserve, and work keeps rolling in. And we thank our referral-loving stars.

These are giant, shining, golden opportunities gifted by colleagues and friends. Never forget how they came in the first place. It's why we'll never stop doing what we do. Hitting deadlines and measurement goals. Being honest. Delivering relentlessly.

Just like NYC, the day-to-day hustle is what keeps me going and keeps LIFT firing on all cylinders. 

About the author: Abby Endres is the founder of LIFT, a marketing and advertising agency founded in 2009. LIFT's main objective is to help brands deliver increased revenue and attendance through custom ad campaigns and activations. LIFT is a certified member of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).  

Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.

Image Credit: LIFT