During my junior year of high school, there was a new class being offered — which I think was called “The Fundamentals of Design.” I’ve never been good at nor have I ever really enjoyed school, but this class stood out to me as something that had the potential to be enjoyable. On the first day of class, we had a guest speaker from Cal State Fullerton who spoke to us about the future of design. For the first time in a long time, I actually took notes. Good ones. He spoke about how quickly times were changing and how software was evolving and becoming more and more sophisticated by the year. And the best part? That in order to excel in a creative profession, one wasn’t required to know algebra, calculus, or know the insides of the human anatomy. Sign me up!
Over the course of the year, we’d continue to have more guest speakers come in. The more I attended class (I think I had perfect attendance), the more I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life — to design and create.
During my final year of high school, my TA (Teacher Advisor) passed away unexpectedly while walking his dog. And just like that, someone whom I had visited with daily all throughout high school was gone. I found myself reflecting on those previous four years, and what he had meant to me. I wouldn’t say we always got along — I didn’t with most teachers — but one of the things he taught from day one (and was evident on how he approached teaching), and that has stuck with me ever since was to “find a job you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” He truly was one of those rare teachers that was in it for the kids. He was a great teacher, a great advisor, and a big part of why I am in the profession I am today — in large part because of the statement that was ingrained into my mind during high school — do something you love.
To make a long story short, I graduated (barely), and immediately following high school, I began doing some simple design projects for friends and family — logos, business cards, t-shirts for my friends bands, CD covers, flyers, promotional / marketing collateral, and so on.
Growing up, my dad lost his job a quite a few times. It seemed like every few years, I’d walk home from school (do kids still do that?) and I’d see my dad’s car in the driveway. The first time, I thought “wow cool, dad is home early from work!” By the second and third time, as I turned the corner to walk down my street, it was always obvious why his car was there — parked in the same spot, with a cardboard box in the backseat — dad lost his job. It was brutal to watch as a kid, and the older I got, the more I realized that I wanted to find something and do something that I had more control over… but it had to be something that I loved. So couple the advice from my TA along with what I experienced growing up with my dad’s many jobs, I set out to do something I loved, and get paid for it!
In 2003, when this all started, the way I got most of my business (and remains the same today) was by word of mouth. People took risks on me. Sometimes I knocked it out of the park, and other times I fell flat on my face. But one thing I observed from all my dad’s layoffs, is that no matter how many times you fall, you are the only one that gets in the way of getting back up or not… and so I learned at a young age to just find a way to roll with the punches.
While working at part time jobs and designing on the side, one thing led to another, and after designing a business card, I was asked if I could do a brochure, and then a banner, and then eventually a website. I was then asked if I knew how to optimize the site for this new thing called SEO or search engine optimization. Could I help them get more sales / leads, and help with their social media? A lot of new sites were integrating video on their site as they moved away from Flash and onto HTML5, so naturally I was asked if I could do that too.
I was young. I was newly married and living paycheck to paycheck. Some months we’d pay our rent and the check would bounce because a client hadn’t paid on time. But I was having fun, and truly loved what I was doing — bounced checks and all! I was hungry (figuratively and literally), so my answer to all those questions? “Of course we can do that!” …and then I’d hang up the phone and immediately start researching how to do whatever was being asked, or who might I know that could do it so that I could contract the work out to in order to deliver for the client. Bright Oak (before we had that name), was really built on the foundation of never saying no. If a client had a problem, I was going to do whatever I could humanly do to help them solve it. Call that immature or reckless — it worked. And I was getting paid to do what I loved.
In late 2009, it was finally time to formulate a legal business, but what on earth do you call your own company? Those who know me, know that I struggle the hardest with working on my own stuff. I am too much of a perfectionist and am never satisfied with my own projects. That’s partly why we haven’t had a website since we started.
So back to the name. What does Google even mean? What is Billabong? Nike? Does it even matter? And so goes the tormenting struggle of trying to find the right name for your company. For some people, names don’t really matter — but to me, it had to have meaning. It had to have a story. So I looked no further than my own.
Growing up I was always fascinated by trees. Some of my earliest design work had trees and nature in it. I am Christian, and so we have Christmas trees and the Cross. I went to Greentree and Brywood Elementary school. I lived in an area of Irvine called Northwood, on a street called Laurelwood, and went to Northwood High School and at the center of my high school was a giant oak tree. So wood / trees, for whatever reason, followed me wherever I went, and because of that, it just seemed natural to find a way to incorporate that into the brand.
I played with an acorn, tree rings, branches, different types of trees and researched the significance of many different trees. The more I researched, the more I knew I wanted to use an oak tree, or an element of the oak tree in the brand name. The oak tree stood for durability, strength, wisdom, protection, and longevity. And then one morning, with the help of a friend, we came across a famous oak tree called “The Bright Oak” located in Leeds, England. The description of the tree read:
“the Bright Oak historically stands as a notable meeting place for wise and powerful people to gather around, share information, and solve problems.”
That was it. Close the book (internet). No more searching. I was going to name this agency Bright Oak, because that is exactly what we do. Each morning, we wake up, we gather around our proverbial oak trees, and help solve our clients’ problems.
At Bright Oak, as you read on the homepage of our website, we believe there is always a solution. There are certainly times where we may not immediately know the solution to the problem, but we have never failed to come through for our clients.
We’ve been so successful at solving our clients problems, that over the last 10 years, we have yet to spend a single dollar on marketing for ourselves. Now part of that is because we’ve never had a website, but we’ve never needed a website! Our clients have, and continue to do all of the selling for us. Every single client we’ve ever had has come in through networking, someone stumbling across our work we did for another client and picking up the phone, or a referral from one of our clients to their brother in law, uncle, or friend who needs help.
We have always believed in quality over quantity. We are not interested in becoming the next Saatchi & Saatchi, nor do we care to be like some of those big SEO factories that have thousands of SEO accounts, but have a 50% client turnover rate. We are not interested in growing for the sake of growing. Have I had to hire new staff over the years? Of course. But that’s because we needed to keep up with all of the work coming in. Will the well run dry at some point? Maybe. But until then, we are going to keep doing what we love to do — gathering around, sharing information, and solving our clients problems!
So to the daydreamer out there in high school who is struggling with square roots and trying to memorize all the different parts of mitochondria, or to the freelancer living paycheck to paycheck, or to the many men and women who dread Mondays — take risks, make mistakes, don’t be afraid to fall on your face, there are people cheering you on and always remember to get back on your feet… and when you do, go find something you love to do, and you’ll never work another day in your life.
Building a marketing agency has had its fair share of challenges and hiccups. Is every project smooth and without any issues? Heavens no. But as we continue to do the best we can, gathering around the Bright Oak to solve problems, we build relationships along the way — relationships as strong as an oak.
These articles are mostly going to be centered on writing about stuff going on internally here at Bright Oak, about various topics on web design, technology, and overall best practices for marketing. We hope you enjoy them, and look forward to connecting in the comments!
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