07 Oct Celebrating 15 years of Crystalclear℠ Communication
From Solopreneur to Guiding a Small Team through the Pandemic: My 15-year Ride as a Small Business Owner
As one of the few small businesses that have survived the first 10 years, and maybe more importantly, survived a pandemic we never saw coming, Writing by Design is celebrating its 15-year anniversary with much to be thankful for.
2006: In the Beginning
When I hung the proverbial shingle virtually over my tiny home office back in 2006 while juggling 4- and 5-year-old boys, I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined what the next 15 years would bring. It started out as a way to do what I loved most—writing—to maintain my sanity in a world of trucks, dinosaurs, sippy cups and Dr. Seuss books. I loved my boys and yet still yearned for the thrill I got in analyzing business challenges and the subsequent writing it generally took to solve most of them.
It started with a few concept writing “gigs” as I called them back then. They were few and far between in the beginning as I built the business, allowing me to wholly balance motherhood and my professional passions. As the kids grew, so did the business, and by 2015, my boys were teenagers and I was working nearly part-time, still doing what I loved. After many conversations with the Chairman of the Board (aka, my husband, Dave!), I decided to take the plunge and begin to scale the business by teaching my new employees to do exactly what I had done for the past nine years.
2015: Welcoming the First Writing by Design Employees
I still remember the day I made that decision. I was at a local restaurant with some girlfriends and proudly announced that I was going to hire employees and scale the business. The reactions ranged from congratulations to “why would you ever do that,” but I was committed to making it work. I proceeded to hire “Employee No. 1” in 2015 and added to our staff as new business allowed. We set infrastructure with technology, processes and project management. I hired business coaches and learned about all sorts of things I didn’t know about. And I began to try to develop a new culture for our organization that would set us apart. We were a small-but-mighty team who prided itself on transparency and honesty in an agency world where not a lot of that existed, and it paid off.
What I’ve Learned Since Then
Fifteen years in business is a long time to own your own business! Ask my employees, who treated me to a plaque to celebrate the milestone, showing it represented 179 months, 5,475 days, 131,400 hours and 7,884,000 minutes. There are only two things I’ve done longer: being married to my husband and being a mother to two extraordinary boys. It’s truly a lifetime and a commitment to doing something you’re passionate about and being able to employ others to do the same. Of course, in that time, I’ve learned a lot.
1. Being an expert is why you start a business. Being a generalist is how you grow it. Simply being good at something isn’t enough to enable most people to succeed in business. Once you start to scale a business, you have to know a little about a lot of things, like hiring, firing, job descriptions, policies and procedures and cash flow. If you can prepare yourself for these things BEFORE going into business, that’s helpful. Otherwise, be prepared to feel overwhelmed as you learn to do these things while leading and managing your new company as you will wear many hats.
2. Cash flow is king. You are its servant. You might start your business and think that revenue or sales is all you need to run a successful business. But think again. This thing called cash flow takes up most of a small business’ time and worries and revolves around your ability to do things like, oh, pay the bills—and the salaries. Ensure you understand cash flow and why it’s important before you start a business of your own.
3. HR is hard. When I was clinking that glass with my girlfriends at lunch in 2015 proudly announcing my future staffing plans, little did I know how hard that would actually be. I fancy myself a good person: kind, fair and a good leader, too. How hard could it be? Turns out that there is oh so much more to managing people than I ever thought. Back to point No. 1. You will learn a little about a lot of things. Be prepared for how hard it is to “do” HR and do it well.
4. You can’t scale without repeatable processes. If everything you do is custom, everything from sales to estimating to project planning becomes more difficult. Find the things you do well, set them up (i.e., create “infrastructure”) and lather, rinse and repeat until you are profitable.
5. You are worth more than you think. After nine years of doing this as a solopreneur, my mind had been wrapped around solopreneur (read, cheap) pricing. After adding more employees to the Writing by Design family in 2015, these prices no longer covered our margins or were profitable. Don’t make excuses for your prices if you are doing good work. Set your prices to make a profit (it’s why we’re in business, after all!) and sell your value and prove your worth with every touch and transaction. It will be worth its weight in gold by way of referrals and repeat business.
6. Leadership is a 24/7 job. When you own a company, of course you need to be a leader at work. But in your community, people will also expect you to be a leader outside of work. Your personal brand is something people see both inside your organization and outside, and quite honestly, can lead to new business opportunities as people see how you think, talk and act outside of the work world. Always remember that as a small business owner, you are always, always representing your business whether you’re at work or not.
7. You will never see a pandemic coming, but you should always have a plan for one. Like other small businesses, I was caught off guard by the pandemic. Writing by Design was riding a wave of success and ready to reach the next level during 2020. The lesson I learned was that I should have taken time to have an emergency plan in place that would have helped with having a playbook for what to do when it did. Without that, I spent a lot of time figuring out how to navigate the COVID-19 economy and fallout and felt a victim of something I could have prepared for. Despite that, we made it through and are still making it through the pandemic economy and figuring things out. We are grateful to have found a way to do that despite the lack of an emergency preparedness plan.
Fifteen years as a female small business owner has taught me so much. I’m grateful to live in a country where I could take the plunge, hang the shingle, hire employees and give them some of the freedom I longed for in balancing work and home life. It’s risky, it’s scary and some days it’s just plain overwhelming. But in the end, it’s so rewarding to look back and know I did something good for our clients, my employees and my family for the last 7,884,000 minutes of my life.
Look back at Writing by Design’s 15 years in business
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 Crystal Clear℠ thought and execution into all projects supporting clients large and small.