Move to Zeal builds momentum for marketing firm

When the real estate bubble burst in 2008, a business was born for Jake Peterson.

He had been working in marketing for a mortgage company that offered to keep him on as an independent contractor and became the first client for Five J Marketing + Design LLC.

One decade later, and thanks to a recent move to the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship, business has picked up significantly.

“I did a lot of slow growth for about the first five years and then hired my first employee,” Peterson said. “Over the last two and a half years, I’ve been in growth mode, and I really have been ramping it up the last six months.”

A Sioux Falls native and graduate of the University of Sioux Falls, he first put his art degree to work at Western Commercial Printing and then went into marketing at a mortgage company, producing newsletters, websites and direct mail.

“When the chaos of 2008 hit, I got an opportunity to get a retainer for the work I’d been doing,” he said. “But there’s a lot of fear of the unknown. I experimented with freelancing and had OK experiences. I was kind of paying my bills.”

But with a baby on the way and a growing family to support, he decided to go all in on his business. A resume came in “randomly out of thin air” that led him to his first employee, Zach Bauer. He signed an office lease for a space on Minnesota Avenue the day after his first child, a daughter, was born.

“The last five years have been a blur,” he said.

One moment that stands out clearly, though, was his move to Zeal last summer.

“We needed to get out of a garden-level office that was too small and let people know we’re here,” Peterson said. “We had a good track record and reputation, but we were hiding in the basement.”

At Zeal, his office now holds seven people, including two interns, with room to expand.

The business has shifted in the past couple of years from being project-based to working with clients on retainers and a focus on inbound marketing.

“We still do project-based work, so we haven’t quit those services, but they’ve become more of a support to the content and marketing and more active digital presence,” he said.

Five J also is a partner of HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales software tool, and is part of the Shopify expert program, helping guide businesses in e-commerce.

Many of the firm’s clients are in manufacturing, agriculture and transportation.

“Most of our clients are local small businesses. We worked with a lot of nonprofits and church websites in the past, and we love working with startups,” Peterson said.

That makes the community of businesses at Zeal an especially good fit.

“As an entrepreneur and leader, Jake is facing some important decisions in regards to which direction to take his company,” Zeal executive director Michelle Gjerde said.

“The value of being surrounded by peers, investors and others gives him access to like-minded people that can weigh in and guide his growth path.  Also he is part of a community that will contribute to increased awareness, interest and participation in Five J’s business – as supporters, referral sources and/or future customers.

Gjerde, who has run her own marketing firm and worked in marketing leadership for several other organizations, said Five J has a collaborative and professional team that is laser-focused on strategy, content, delivery and measurement.

“As Jake continues to see increased demand for his varying levels of marketing services, he has great potential to take Five J to the next level by developing a powerful and distinct brand, setting himself apart from a crowded and confusing set of competitors,” she said. “With a proven track record, a unique market niche and a roster of satisfied customers, Jake and his team have all the ingredients they need to carve out a leadership position in this arena.”

That kind of advice has been helpful for Peterson.

“I’m really happy with Michelle being here,” he said. “I’ve connected with her quite a bit with her marketing background, and it’s fun to talk shop.”

He’s also quickly established other valuable connections at Zeal, even chatting with Gov. Dennis Daugaard and leaders of large Sioux Falls marketing firms in the common area.

“All these people who are movers and shakers have some sort of connection at Zeal,” he said. “It’s really neat to have that access to people and that networking​ that happens over warming up your lunch in a microwave. I don’t know that you can get that anywhere else in Sioux Falls in a casual way.”

Gjerde agreed.

“Zeal is the ideal starter scenario for somebody like Jake who finds real value in collaboration, ideas and community,” she said. “Especially when it comes to the ever-changing world of understanding how consumers buy and how organizations need to appeal to their specific target audience with relevant content, the Five J team is able to more quickly prepare for what’s next by leveraging relationships, programs and people within the Zeal community.”

After making some promising strategic connections, Peterson hopes to add two or three full-time employees this year as he grows his client base and solidifies his presence in key industries he serves.

“And we’re really pushing on e-commerce,” he said. “We love small business. We love startups. We’re accessible and we want to serve the entrepreneurial startup culture being curated in Sioux Falls right now.”

Five J will be the featured presenter at a free workshop hosted by Zeal at 4 p.m. Thursday as part of a new series called The Entrepreneurs Playbook. The Five J workshop is aimed at business owners who want to learn more about:

  • Using analytics to understand how consumers are interacting with your brand.
  • Understanding your target audience and what they want to hear from you.
  • Creating engaging and educational content that pulls leads deeper into the buyer journey.
  • Producing a list of highly qualified leads that are ready to interact with your sales team.
  • Retaining and delighting current customers, making them brand loyalists and advocates.
  • Telling compelling and engaging stories with your content by thinking outside the box.
  • Sharing your company culture in a way that feels natural and lighthearted.

Tickets are limited. To register, click here.


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