What 14 Years and One Pandemic Have Taught Me About Running a Business

WBD Anniversary Blog Post Photo of Patti at the Writing by Design ribbon cutting ceremony in February 2020

What 14 Years and One Pandemic Have Taught Me About Running a Business

In October of 2006, I officially launched this company we call Writing by Design. I had two young boys who were then four and five and worked out of a kitchen home office in the new home we had just built in rural Neenah. Little did I know then that 14 years later I would return to working from home with teenagers and a husband all fighting for the Wi-Fi I had all to myself back then.

All joking aside, I’ve learned a lot leading a woman-owned business over the last 14 years, but especially over the last five years since adding employees. On this 14th anniversary of Writing by Design, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to launch a company, bring on employees, open a new office and even to run a small business in the midst of a pandemic. It’s because of these things that I have learned more about business than I ever could have in a textbook in school, and why I’m compelled to share them with you all today.

Five things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur:

1. Bigger is not always better.

I must have said 100 times during the first 10 years or so that I was ok with being a small company. Most business owners aspire to be double or triple the size, adding in business development specialists before the paint dries on a new location and seeking to add more clients and hire new people. At Writing by Design, we think that being “small-but-mighty” has value for our clients and keeps our overhead low so we can pass on great work that doesn’t break our client’s budgets. And this fall as I watched a 4-foot-9 high school female punter tackle a nearly 6-foot male football player as he attempted to run back her kickoff, I was reminded again that small-but-mighty still wins after 14 years. We may never be giant, but we’ll always do mighty good work in tackling some pretty large marketing communications and challenges.

2. Having employees isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding.

I could have easily remained a solopreneur in 2015 and not had to learn about payroll, benefits and all things human resources. Life would have been simpler for sure. But by adding employees and learning how to work and lead in a team structure, I’ve been forced to up my own game and have grown because of it. I’m not perfect, and I’ve made mistakes as a leader. Many times. But I know that my staff doesn’t expect perfectionism; they simply expect respect and open-mindedness and from me they can find that in spades every day. They know I’ll always share what’s in my heart and on my mind with them and that I expect them to do the same. It’s how we connect to do better work, with and for each other and for our clients. I wouldn’t trade my work family for the world, and even though the family has changed faces over the years, I’ve enjoyed working with and learning about every one of them in the process.

3. Never stop dreaming.

When I opened the doors to Writing by Design in 2006, I may have thought I’d accomplished my dream. I owned a company. But then in 2014 when I had reached my own capacity to provide services to my clients, I dreamed of adding employees and replicating what I had learned to do on my own. And so I did. And then after I added employees, I dreamed of moving into a space just for our work family to operate. And so we did. And then I dreamed of growing and thriving in the new workspace—and then a pandemic happened. Today I dream about the days when the pandemic is gone and work life with real people in a real office can occur again. I dream about what we will become in 2021 and I dream about the new people we will eventually add to our work family once that happens. I know now that dreaming about new things as a business owner occurs frequently and action follows the dreaming, so you should never stop dreaming.

4. You will never see a pandemic coming, but you should always be prepared.

The biggest learning in my lifetime has come from what has occurred in the U.S. since March. Maybe it was all that dreaming that was occurring in No. 3 above, but I NEVER saw a pandemic (or any other emergency for that matter) coming our way. My rose-colored glasses were so rosy that I wasn’t prepared for the “what-if” scenario that laid ahead of us when safer-at-home orders went into place. After working through it, I am now aware that I should have at least had some kind of disaster planning in place and have built a contingency plan of some sort. But I learned on the fly and adjusted on-the-go, and in true entrepreneurial fashion, have managed to keep operating and in business this year. But I’ve learned the lesson, and there’s not a hurdle we can’t overcome at this point.

5. Always love what you do.

Amidst the pandemic, there could have been 1,000 reasons why we could have closed up shop. It was a lot to go through. But at the end of the day, I absolutely love what we do for our clients. I love solving their marketing and communication problems and creating solutions that are strategically on point and effective. And I love to work side-by-side with my staff in coming up with those solutions and in watching them grow as they learn more each day from the sage (read: “old”) leader. If I didn’t love all of this, I surely would have closed up shop by now. But it’s in my blood. I love what I do, and plan to do it for a long time yet.

As we near the end of 2020, it’s hard not to reflect on where we’ve been, and where we’re going. I’m dreaming that our 15th year in business is pandemic-free and that we can get back to the business of our business soon because I have much more to learn and so much more to give to the clients who’ve kept us in business.

Headshot of Patti Purcell, Writing by Design president

Patti Purcell brings 25+ years of journalism and marketing skills together to provide national and international companies with outstanding concept writing and marketing communications services via the company she founded in 2006, Writing by Design LLC. She and her growing team, based in Wisconsin, tie strategic thinking, efficient processes and CrystalClear℠ thought and execution into all projects supporting clients large and small.