After graduating from the University of North Florida in 2003 with a degree in Marketing and Public Relations, Matthew Brooks, Co-Owner of B4 Signs and Advertising, started his career as the Director of Marketing for a nonprofit in Charlotte, NC. That was his first real introduction to the ‘practical’ side of graphic design. In this role, he learned sign design and how to create various marketing collateral. After three years, he switched sides and worked for a sign company. In 2011, Brooks took advantage of an opportunity to move home and lay some roots.
“My goal, once I got married, was always to move back to Williston,” Brooks said. “I wanted to raise my kids and start a family in a small town. I spent a few years as a medical sales rep, while dabbling in signs and designs on the weekends. I was moonlighting for a couple years before I realized how great the demand was for my services.”
By 2013, Brooks made the decision to go full-time on his new business. As he shared, the decision was nerve racking, but it was the right decision and he couldn’t be happier he did it.
“I was very nervous,” he said. “I went from a nice salaried job with good benefits and opportunities for commission to taking a huge risk and going out on my own. However, it was a calculated risk. I did the market research and knew there was enough demand to support the business. Also, the great thing about being an entrepreneur is that it’s what you make of it. I was committed to building something great.”
Brooks acquired a building and purchased several printers and got to work. Since he grew up in Williston, he did have a built-in network to start reaching out to. By 2014, after spending a year as one man show and doing everything from start to finish, he was finally in a position to hire his first employee. Around this time, Brooks was given an opportunity to work on a big project wrapping semi-trailers – an opportunity that would lead to much more than just a new client.
“At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable taking on such a big project,” he said. “However, I knew of a competitor across the county that could probably help. We met for lunch and discussed a way to team up. After we successfully completed the project, and became friends in the process, we decided to merge our two businesses. Being in a rural county in a small market, we both agreed that rather than going head to head and fighting over customers, it made more sense to work together.”
Brooks and his new partner, Patrick Williams, made for a great match. While Williams excelled on the production side, Brooks handled sales and customers service. Each partner also had niche industries they were familiar with. Williams was big in the racing community, while Brooks had more experience with nonprofits, schools and family businesses. The partnership also allowed the new business to provide a more complete set of services including signs, vehicle wraps, apparel, screen printing and embroidery.
Brooks shared B4’s growth strategy along with what they both enjoy most about owning and operating a business in the sign and graphics industry.
“We’ve done a lot of digital advertising,” Brooks said. “We put money in Google Ads and expanded our marketing footprint to include the Ocala and Gainesville areas. We’re also pretty active on social media. When it comes to what we enjoy most, Patrick and I both agree that it’s the joy you get from seeing young people starting their own businesses and coming to us to develop their logos and designs. Watching them grow is very rewarding. We both also enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with being an entrepreneur.”
Looking ahead, Brooks and Williams plan to continue to focus on their current growth trajectory. They’re not interested in growing to a level they can’t effectively maintain with an eight to ten person crew. As Brooks candidly shared, “We want to grow and live comfortably, but we also want to minimize headaches, while still providing a great service.”
What advice does Brooks have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Don’t always make it about the money,” he said. “Find something you’re passionate about and dive into it. The money will come if it’s something you like. You just have to trust the process and keep digging. That’s how I’ve always seen it. Do the right thing in business and success will follow. Also, know what you’re good at and don’t let customers demand you into a project that stretches you beyond your capabilities. I’ve gone out of my scope of work and I regretted it. Do what you’re good at and don’t try to be all things to all people.”