It's taken Chris Reed less than two years to grow his company Black Marketing from a one-man operation in Singapore to a NASDAQ-traded company with more than 40 employees in dozens of countries.
His success is due to an unusual business model: it relies on the LinkedIn social media platform, where his profile is one of the most viewed on LinkedIn worldwide, earning him a coveted 'Power Profile' status.
And his success is in spite of (and in some cases, perhaps because of) adopting a hairstyle unusual in the business world: he sports a colourful mohawk. But Reed says that neither the edgy company name - Black Marketing - nor the Mohawk have alienated potential clients.
He admits that both his company name and personal image defy conformity, with “black marketing" hinting at the dark arts of marketing. The company sets a three-person team to manage each client account, and their priorities are all about helping others learn how to make a real splash on the LinkedIn platform.
“Our clients talk about us, we take over their LinkedIn profiles and we tell people how to do LinkedIn but most importantly, we implement LinkedIn strategies for CEOs, entrepreneurs and people that are too busy to do it themselves,” Reed explains.
Behind the scenes
The company name hints at an underground movement; that’s a deliberate strategy, he adds.
“It's the behind-the-scenes thing, we make people superstars on LinkedIn and hence the black marketing,” says Reed.
Put simply, they demonstrate how people stand out in LinkedIn; and Reed stands out with his varicoloured Mohawk. (It’s been blue in the past, but is currently red.)
“At a party in Singapore I was approached by a guy who said, 'You're the guy on LinkedIn.' He didn't know me but saw the blue mohawk and associated it with my LinkedIn branding," says Reed.
Despite the rebellious image, many of Black Marketing's clients are traditionally conservative
Moving to Singapore
Originally from the UK, Reed completed a marketing degree and worked in marketing for nearly two decades in publishing and hospitality companies before he moved to Singapore eight years ago.
That move to Singapore sparked Reed's interest in LinkedIn, which he saw as a useful networking tool. Reed landed his first marketing contract via a LinkedIn connection - and his profile rapidly gained influence.
Others started to approach him for advice on managing their LinkedIn profile – tipping Reed off to a potential business opportunity.
“Smart people will think about pitching their service to potential clients that are already out there. I was already winning LinkedIn Power Profile awards when I was working for other companies. If you do some research, you can judge pretty well whether it is going to work,” said Reed.
Pent-up demand was so strong that Reed says when he launched Black Marketing, he skipped the traditional start-up phase and within two years of launching, floated his fast-growing company on the NASDAQ exchange.
Reed says that he developed the plans for his new business out-of-hours while an employee - a strategy he recommends, noting that it's important to have an income while preparing to work for yourself.
By the end of his first year in business (2014) Black Marketing's daily operations were solely financed by clients. Reed then sold his house in the UK to help fund the growth of his company as he began employing people and expanding internationally.
Reed says that having a proven strategy for LinkedIn (demonstrated through his own profile) has secured him a diverse client base with 90 per cent from the SME space.
“SMEs are the best people to do LinkedIn as they know they need to use their personal brand to win business, clients, employees and investors,” he says.
“People buy into Black Marketing because of me and I must elevate my personal brand to maintain our LinkedIn presence. Multinationals can afford to wait for business to come to them but SMEs do not have that luxury,” said Reed.
“Believe in yourself and promote yourself, your awards and your achievements"
Being Singapore-based has given Reed insight into the cultural differences in personal branding in Asia.
Like the English, Asian entrepreneurs don't like promoting themselves, but US entrepreneurs find it quite straightforward, he says.
Reed says that when he talks to Asian and British clients, he points out ways to ensure that personal branding is highlighting their professional achievements and skills. He cites Richard Branson – a natural introvert - as an example of using personal branding to compete against established competitors.
“Believe in yourself and promote yourself, your awards and your achievements," Reed advises those considering personal branding; practicing what he preaches, he promotes his own achievement of being awarded a LinkedIn Power Profile Award for five years in a row.
Reed has drawn another benefit from his company's unusual branding: Black Marketing has become an attractive employment option for millennials, because he doesn’t impose a conservative dress code and clearly has a high tolerance for hair dyes, tattoos and piercings.
And finally, Reed says, the LinkedIn platform can offer SME's a level playing field where, with time and effort, SME founders can obtain the same traction as global multinationals.