Q&A With Mike Simmons: Journey to Entrepreneurship in Charlotte

a consulting firm specializing in marketing, CRM, websites, and business development services operating in Charlotte, NC and Miami, FL. He is also the Managing Partner of Titan Consulting, a joint venture specializing in business brokerage, start-up consulting, and capital funding. In addition, Mike is the CMO of Hathrup Capital Funding, an online social platform start-up that facilitates capital funding for entrepreneurs.

Mike graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in both Marketing and Finance and a minor in Advertising. He began his career in marketing with Kaufman, Rossin & Co., a large accounting firm based in Miami, FL, in 2008. He spent six years with the Firm, maintaining a variety of roles primarily focused on marketing and business development. He created and led the Firm’s “Future Rainmakers” initiative, which was implemented to help train its young professionals on how to network and develop business. Furthermore, Mike is heavily involved in the community and is a member of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

And guess what? We had the opportunity to speak to him one-on-one about his journey to entrepreneurship in Charlotte and all that he has learned along the way. As you’re reading, share your favorite parts with us @CBRBiz!

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CharlotteBusinessResources.com (CBR): What is WIMS Consulting? What services do you offer? Who do you serve?

Mike Simmons (MS): WIMS, Inc. provides marketing, CRM, website, and business development consulting services to entrepreneurs and small businesses that need assistance in these areas and/or don’t yet have the resources to do so in house. Each client varies, as we customize our services to fit their needs, thus some of our clients are looking for an “outsourced CMO” role, and others simply want some objective assistance on one of their marketing projects. While start-up entrepreneurs were my initial targets, it turns out many of my clients are well-established businesses that already have internal marketing resources, whether an individual or a department, and they use us as a supplement.

CBR: Why did you want to go in to business for yourself? What led you to becoming an entrepreneur? How long have you been in business?

MS: I went into business for myself because it’s always been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I thought about it quite a bit and even more so when I was in the work force and noticed how many inefficiencies there were, along with the limited value that big companies provide their clients. My “aha” moment came to me through simple math. For example, I realized I was being paid $25 an hour to work for a firm; they then billed me out to clients at about $100 an hour (not to mention $300+ for higher level managers). I thought why not cut out the middleman and charge the client $50 an hour, that way I’d make more money, and they’d pay much less for better service, creating a win-win situation. Of course, there are a lot more things to consider than that, like benefits, sick days, the greater resources and client base of larger firms, but the idea of building something from nothing is very appealing to me. I’ve been in business for a little over a year now, and things are finally starting to pick up.

CBR: What brought you to Charlotte? How is the business climate different here than in Florida?

MS: I moved to Charlotte in March 2014 to be with the love of my life. Her name is Claire Hosmann; she works for CHS (Carolinas Healthcare System) doing public relations. So far things have worked out wonderfully, as she is now my fiancé, and we’re getting married in October here in Charlotte. Considering I would have moved anywhere for her, I’m quite lucky that the city happened to be Charlotte as it’s a great place to live and work.

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Claire & Mike’s engagement photo.

The business climate here is promising but currently challenging for an entrepreneur. There is definitely a buzz around the city, and it is certainly growing. Having the big banks here and other huge companies have created an entire secondary economy that surrounds and services them. This city is on the cusp of greatness and is going to grow tremendously in the next 5-10 years and should rival Miami, Atlanta, Houston, etc. Compared to Florida, where I came from, it’s a little more burdensome. The taxes here are brutal when you come from a state with no income tax. Not to mention I received a bit of a shock when I had to pay property taxes on my car. They say they make up for that in cheaper property taxes, but I don’t own a home yet so that’s a bit of a moot point for me personally. Then again, the cost of living is lower and hopefully I’ll be buying a home soon, so it’s all a trade-off and probably comes out close to even in the end.

CBR: What are the challenges of running a business in several states?

MS: Running a business in several states is quite challenging. You have to be extremely organized to stay on top of everything and to remain top of mind with your clients. I’ve realized saying “out of sight out of mind” can ring true when working remotely. The majority of my clients are based in North Carolina and Florida, but I now have acquired clients in California and Texas. Since the launch of WIMS, I have also provided services to a handful of international clients, so keeping track of the time zones and income tax rules in each state adds additional layers of complexity as well. When you’re passionate and committed to building your business, though, you always find a way to make it all work, although it requires a lot of learning as you go in order to do so.

CBR: What obstacles did you face while starting this company? How did you overcome those?

MS: I have faced and continue to face a lot of obstacles while starting and continuing to run this company. Between taxes, regulations, building my brand and trying to get new clients while servicing my existing ones, it seems like there is a new obstacle every day (and the same ones tend to pop up again). I just try to keep reminding myself that I’m living my dream and that I’m very fortunate to do what many people aren’t. It takes a high level of focus, determination, and sheer will to keep pushing forward every day. You need to remember that you will ALWAYS have setbacks and hit roadblocks; the key is to not let it get to you and mess with your mind. Try to anticipate them and mitigate those risks, but at the same time, understand that things come up you can’t foresee, and you just need to deal with them and keep fighting to reach your goal.

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Claire and Mike at the Charlotte Chamber

CBR: Do you have advice for new business owners? What things do you think are most important when starting a business?

MS: I could write an entire book on advice for new business owners (and in fact I am working on it as we speak!). I think the most important thing is to do your research and due diligence before starting anything. Ignorance is not a valid excuse when starting a business, and you don’t have the room for error you do when having a corporate gig. Also, new entrepreneurs are inherently optimistic, which is a great thing, but you need to couple that with a bit of realism, too. I tend to tell people to follow the “Rule of 3” when thinking about the financial aspect. Whatever you project your revenue to be in year one, divide that by 3, and contrarily, however much money you think will cover you in the start-up phase, multiply that by 3. This isn’t an exact science, of course; it just will allow for more realistic expectations and give you more of a cushion to be flexible.

CBR: How has your business experience been within the Charlotte community? What local resources have you used along the way (ie: Chamber, CPCC, SCORE, SBTDC, etc.)?

MS: The resources available in the Charlotte community are amazing. I started doing my research even before moving here to get a better idea of the business climate, local organizations, and more insight into the city in general, and it made a significant difference as I was able to hit the ground running. The Charlotte Business Resources website was a huge help, and I’ve even referred many clients and contacts here since. I am also a member of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, which has been a tremendous asset from the networking side, as well as their online resources and printed reports. I’ve also used SCORE, as well as some others, but the first two really had me covered. In addition, getting a Meet Up account and finding all the other smaller/targeted organizations and networking groups have been a goldmine for new clients and relationships.

CBR: Would you change anything about your business if you could go back to the beginning?

MS: This is a harder question than it sounds. On one hand, if I could go back to the beginning I wouldn’t change a thing, as I’m thrilled to be where I am today. On the other, there are so many things that I’ve learned along the way that I would love to apply and implement that probably would’ve saved me a lot of time and have me even further along now than I am. Primarily, I would’ve spent the months prior to launching more diligently putting money away and setting more realistic expectations. Starting a business is hard enough; adding the fact that I moved to a different city on top of that made it significantly harder. All in all though it’s been an amazing journey so far, and I don’t have a single regret. I truly believe that all the obstacles and struggles I’ve faced so far were needed to make me a better businessman tomorrow and into the future.

CBR: Do you have any plans for the future?

MS: Oh, do I! In addition to my primary company, I have also launched a joint venture with my business partner, Matthew King, called Titan Consulting. We primarily focus on helping start-ups and existing companies to find funding. Of course, we also provide the services necessary to help get them there, such as writing their business plans, financials, valuations, building their brand, etc. We are also planning to launch a radio show on 1660 AM this summer called “The Monkeys of Main Street” which will discuss a variety of topics that impact start-ups and entrepreneurs but in a fun and dynamic way. We will then repurpose this into a podcast as well. We’re very excited about this, as it will be an exciting way to enhance our brand and expand our reach.

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Matt King and Mike Simmons working on launching the Monkeys of Main St. Business Radio Show/Podcast

CBR: Is there anything else we haven’t asked that you would like people to know?

MS: I just want to sum up by emphasizing that, while starting a business is hard work and everyone knows that, there are simultaneously more resources available than ever before that provide knowledge and guidance. If anyone has a dream to become an entrepreneur, now is the time to pursue it.

Also, if any of your readers are interested in following along with my journey as an entrepreneur, or perhaps seeing some of the insights I’ve gained along the way, they can check out my blog, “The WIMS Guide,” visit my website, or they can follow me on social media.

Of course they can also reach out to me directly if they’d like to chat or if they think I might be able to help their business get started or grow at msimmons@wims-consulting.com.

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