Lockdown Economy India in Digital Marketing Agency with Shounak Choudhury
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Deepti Sharma
Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
In this interview, we meet Shounak Choudhury, the founder of VertiCo Media, a Digital Marketing Agency based in Delhi-NCR, India. He shares how the lockdown presented an opportunity to start a business in Digital Marketing. Due to the lockdown, there was a mass exodus of businesses from offline to online and it helped him put his plans into action. Shounak also speaks about his challenges like acquiring clients when the business was newly established and how it was necessary to maintain the USP of their agency. They stuck to their USP throughout which is- providing A to Z quality Digital Marketing solutions to offline businesses at a very nominal price and delivering on the same beyond expectations. Mr Choudhury emphasizes going a notch above the competitors so as to make a mark amongst a hundred other businesses of his kind, as the competition in the digital marketing space has intensified since the lockdown. Finally, we get to know how the festive season has offered him a chance to explore industries that used to primarily operate offline such as handicrafts and precious stones. He is actively looking to expand his business and being a business owner he plans to particularly hire those skilled individuals who have lost their jobs during the lockdown and are in urgent need of jobs.
What do you do as a business, Mr Choudhury? Please tell us about it.
Shounak: I own a digital marketing agency- VertiCo Media. It’s based in Delhi NCR. We provide digital marketing services to all those involved in online business.
So, when did you start your digital marketing business?
Shounak: I started this business right at the peak of the lockdown. One could say that work had begun on it by the end of July or the start of August, but the official launch — GST documents and such — happened in September.
You mentioned that your business started during the lockdown. We’d like to know, how did it impact your business?
Shounak: Though lockdown had negative effects on a lot many businesses, it gave rise to many new opportunities as well at the same time and I can count my business in the latter one. I left my corporate job just before the onset of lockdown; job interviews declined accordingly with the imposition of lockdown. It struck me as a great opportunity because many businesses weren’t able to operate offline so they shifted online. When any business goes online, it needs professionals who can help manage the same or assist in the process.
I saw a great deal of opportunity in this scenario and also felt that it’s one of the subjects that I’ve been associated with since my college days. Since I already had expertise and experience in this field, so I thought to myself why not start a business of my own. The best thing about starting one’s own business is that we can provide employment opportunities to 2 or 3 more people in turn. I’d say lockdown only opened up new doors for me, which I’ve been able to cash in on quite successfully.
Please tell us about the challenges you faced while starting your business if any and how did you overcome those challenges.
Shounak: While starting out the biggest challenge that every business is faced with, is customer acquisition. And naturally the same goes for me. But the mass online exodus of businesses during the lockdown prepared plenty of opportunities for us. If we look at the data then the growth in digital marketing agencies has been apropos to the rate of online shift of businesses. Lots of new digital marketing agencies have opened up recently. Initially, customer acquisition was a roadblock for me, but somehow I managed to get a few clients through reference. No one could call it either God’s grace or the good work that those clients are still working with me and are really happy with my work also. Rest, because businesses had gone online already as it’s and were in need of professionals, so I didn’t face any other problems as such.
What efforts did you make to attract customers from your end?
Shounak: As I discussed earlier, attracting customers takes a lot of efforts. Even more so while starting out because nobody knows you then, so why would they put their trust in you. At that point, we started using our references and from there on we got our first clients. It’s one of the ways using which any new business acquires customers; we’ve also deployed the same. I wouldn’t call it something new. It’s an age-old practice to first find work from around you and thereafter look further. This is exactly what we did- gradually we moved further and started generating leads online. Word of mouth comes into play as well, for instance, if we have served a client then we request them to recommend us to other businesses. This is how we’ve expanded our customer base and others can too.
People can reach us through our Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn pages with the same username @VerticoMedia. We’re present on all three platforms.
We would like to hear about how your business can help our viewers.
Shounak: The greatest need of any online business is visibility. Suppose there’s an offline business- say a shop, so a shop focuses primarily on the nearby locality in which it’s based. But with an online business, the focus is centred on catering to a wider geographical area. And brand awareness is very crucial for doing so. We by and large work upon brand awareness, so that people get to know of the existence of a business and its respective services.
Besides, if there’s a business that directly sells through its already existing website — called ‘direct to customer’ in our field — but has been facing issues in getting its products sold out because of lack of expertise, then we assist them in developing e-commerce platforms. Or if they already have an e-commerce platform then we step up to help them increase their sales.
Social media marketing is in trend these days. People are very active on social media as it is. Showcasing a business or a product on a platform with a maximum user base not only enhances brand awareness but also increases the likelihood of people buying your products. Yeah, so we assist people in social media marketing as well as graphic designing; story-telling and search engine optimisation. For instance, somebody comes up with their own website, but it doesn’t show up in google results upon searching. Then there exists a proper procedure to bring it in the google search results which is known as search engine optimisation and we help our clients with it.
Basically, VertiCo Media is an A-Z digital marketing solutions agency for taking any business online and then making it profitable by all means. We can look after this whole process and provide all the required services for the same.
How are your customers and competitors faring right now?
Shounak: My customers belong to both- the services industry as well as the manufacturing industry. I’d only say that they’re doing good as they have continued to work with us. Which is to say that if they have the means to pay an agency like us then they must be doing good business themselves- this is about what I feel. Secondly speaking about what the data says- we work with B2C platforms like pharmaceuticals and healthcare companies for one, their products are actually getting sold out and we also are assisting them in selling the products by doing marketing on their behalf. We know for a fact that their businesses are going well right now.
Talking about competitors on the other side, like I said earlier lockdown brought many opportunities alongside challenges with it. Now, a lot of marketing professionals turned freelancers to cash in upon the opportunity and started agencies of their own. This whole industry has become a big jungle hence there’s tough competition. Clients go searching for the differentiating factor; for a special reason to invest in a particular business amongst hundreds of its kind. I feel only that competitor or agency or service provider can survive currently who has an extra edge above the others.
Our USP for one is that we provide the best quality service at a very nominal price. Our service is not an expensive proposition for our clients, but we always strive to exceed their expectations in terms of quality of service. Say if they were expecting a 10% return then we aim for a 15% return instead. Again we count our efforts to deliver beyond expectations as one of our USP only.
So, how is your business doing right now?
Shounak: As you know that the festive season just passed recently. We had a fairly good festive season; we were able to deliver to the expectations of our existing clients and acquiring new clients in the current quarter, that too from the industries which we haven’t worked with before. A precious stone; jewellery industry and handicrafts industry for example are the ones which we hadn’t ever worked with but we’ve been able to convert them and bagged the contracts. It’s exciting for us that we’re getting to explore new industries. I hope that this quarter is better than the previous one too.
Talking about seasonality, the festive season is always the best season of any year simply because businesses are ready to spend more; demand is at its peak with respect to annual demand. The festive season starts with Pitru Paksh (Hindu festival for paying homage to ancestors) and lasts up to the new year, might as well include January for Makar Sankranti and 26th January till Baisakhi. A slowdown occurs after February, but online business is not as much affected as offline businesses because online business especially digital marketing is an ongoing process; it can’t happen that you invested money & time on it for 1 month and then forgot it for the next 11 months. Results can’t be reaped in this manner. One has to continually work on digital marketing for continuous results.
We are still observing this quarter and are yet to see how it goes. As of now, fingers are crossed. Being a new company which started during the lockdown last year, we’ve only seen 2 & a half quarters till now not even 4. So, we don’t have an idea or personal experience of seasonality as of yet. But we do know the industry trends and working accordingly.
Do you have any plans in place for the upcoming months to expand your business?
Shounak: This past festive season we did hiring. Two people joined us as consultants and they’ll be focusing on business development- working towards bringing more business, clients and closing new sales, etc. One of the major reasons behind hiring additional people was to mitigate the slump that occurs after the festive season gets over. Although there is a surge in workload during the festive season, just as it gets over many of the major industries get to see a slowdown. For e.g. in the automotive industry, a slump is observed from April onwards. Extra people are required to mitigate this slump who can look after-sales and business development. So far our plan has been to pump in more efforts in this department and we’ve begun working on the same. We’re generating leads and pushing our references for giving us an opportunity to prove ourselves based on our past performance of course. We’re trying to bring in more business on the basis of how we’ve performed for other clients and the quality of service we’ve rendered to them. All-in-all the plan is to prevent losses or complete shutdown of business during the slowdown period.
Any three things that you feel you need help with so as to give a boost to your business.
Shounak: See the kind of business I’m in or for that matter my own mentality says that I can’t wait around for a third person to come and help me, it doesn’t work that way. One has to step up to help himself. There is no use looking up to the government or authorities for coming to our rescue. Besides, the nature of my business isn’t such that I require a lot of systems from the government.
But yes if I look at this question in a different light- any two or three things that I’d like to apply myself then I’d say firstly I’m looking for expansion — I want to hire more — definitely, it’d be profitable for my business but at the same time it’ll open up opportunities for people who lost their jobs during the lockdown, are in urgent need of jobs and have their own skillset. The economy has started moving again; hirings are taking place but as a business owner, a job provider I feel obligated to do as much as I can. And it’s within my capacity to generate new businesses and hire more for running them. This is one thing I’d like to work upon, rest I don’t have any high expectations from anybody. I feel I’ve to take care of everything on my own, no third person can do that for me.
About the Guest
Shounak Choudhury is the Founder of VertiCo Media, a digital marketing agency based out of Delhi-NCR. A marketer by profession, Shounak started VertiCo Media at the height of lockdown. The start-up provides digital marketing services to businesses who are willing to go online or are already working online. The agency provides services like Social Media Marketing, Content Marketing, Influencer Marketing, Website Development, Graphic Designing, etc. Currently a team of three, the start-up is working towards hiring and working with more freelancers in the upcoming months.