Tunnel vision, a messy desk, an overbooked schedule… Does that sound familiar as a business owner? Since starting my business, I’ve found that I rarely have time to reflect on the whole journey. Because if I’m not working, I’m not making money, right?
But we all know the importance of reflection. So when 2nd Brain Collective reached out and asked if they could interview me on my experiences as a business owner and the world of marketing, I eagerly agreed. There have been many highs and lows throughout our short history, and I figured there wasn't a better time than now to take stock of the last two years. This new podcast is all about business and marketing in the digital age. Thanks 2BC for having me!
I highly encourage you to listen to the podcast (and all of the other interesting 2BC interviews!). I promise you'll learn something new about RDS and may even laugh. ;) Keep reading to get a brief recap of our interview!
What do you mean when you say you help businesses challenge the status quo?
When I say we “challenge the status quo” I am referring to the way we approach marketing and communication. With traditional marketing, the main goal is for businesses to talk about themselves, sell, and be persuasive. Companies tell their clients, “Buy us; don’t buy our competition.”
Instead, at RDS, we push businesses to think more about the value and the solutions they can provide. We want to educate our clients to step away from the normal marketing practices and focus on solving problems for their customers. One of the best ways to provide those solutions is by creating valuable, engaging, and authentic content. In technical terms, this is called content marketing. This strategy creates more opportunities for businesses to build connections and relationships with their customers.
Was writing always your passion? How did your writing translate over to a marketing interest?
I have enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. That doesn't mean I have good handwriting, though! (Much to my mothers chagrin!) My Dad was an English major, and he always edited my work with a bright, red pen. He taught me at a young age to take critique and gave me the ability to edit other people’s work. There were times when I thought he was too brutal but in reality, he was pushing me to be a better writer. I will always credit my dad for my love for writing and my mad-editing skills.
So how did I go from loving writing to a communication degree to starting a content marketing company? In one of my first jobs after college, I discovered that there were a significant number of small and medium businesses that didn’t have a marketing department. These companies either didn’t know they needed help or didn’t have the resources to hire someone. It was then that I realized that there is a gap between the large companies who have full-fledged marketing departments and the smaller businesses who are doing amazing work but don’t know how to tell their stories. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could be the one to help them tell their stories?! And thus, the idea was born.
Ever since realizing there was a real need for value-focused consultants and content marketing in small businesses, I knew that I would have a business someday. I just didn’t think it would be this early in my career! At the start of 2014, I was miserable enough that I decided to quit my job and start this crazy adventure. And let me tell you, that was the best decision ever.
You’ve grown a team, worked with amazing clients and worked on awesome projects. How has your role changed from its inception to where you are now?
I started RDS in March 2014, so RDS is still a young business. March 2014 to December 2014 was definitely a growing period for me. I’m not originally from Michigan, so I did not have a business network in the Lansing and Jackson areas. I started from scratch. The slate was as blank as could be! Not only did I have to tell people that I had a business, I had to tell them who I was! And of course, earn their trust. So, I went to chamber events, local events, and joined CaerusNet to get my name out there and tried to build some credibility. The first year, my focus was on networking and trying to get a few clients. We made a little money and learned a lot, but we really were just laying the foundation for 2015.
January 2015 things finally started to click. Work kept coming in, and I kept meeting people that needed help with communication and needed more content. In the spring, enough business was lining up for the summer that I knew I couldn't do it on my own (or at least that I would lose my mind if I tried.). I brought on two interns-turned-team members; Emily is a professional writer and Tracey is a social media/creative strategist. Let me tell you, having a team to collaborate with was life changing. So. Much. Fun.
I was really happy to have a team to bounce ideas off of and to have a support system to get all of the work done! Emily and Tracey have taken on more of an involved role since the summer, and they are still on my team – adding value every day! It’s such a dynamic working experience, and we can take on a lot more clients. Hopefully, it will continue to grow!
By growing your team, were you able to add more to the table or delegate more so you could work on the business instead of in it?
I’ve definitely had the chance to delegate more, but we also added more to our offerings and our internal to-do lists. We’ve become much more focused on our social media strategy and have finally become consistent with blogging. It was hard because I preach to my customers, “You need to post to your blog at least once a week.” And then I wouldn’t do it myself! I felt like I was too busy on client work to fit in writing for RDS. Thankfully, since bringing in the team, we’ve been blogging on a consistent basis every week!
But the other part of delegation is giving up something that you may like to do. For me, it’s writing. I am still of course writing for my clients but I am not writing as much for RDS as I would like to. Finding a way to balance it all and still be able to do the things that I love, while continuing to grow the business is a challenge.
Earlier you said, “January 2015 things just started to click.” What do you think that click was?
Two things: I raised my prices, and I put a strategic plan in place. Those two things are absolutely what changed 2015 for me. I did not have a strategic plan in the first year of business. I thought I would figure everything out as I went along, but it was hard without having the focus of a concrete plan. I worked with Tom Hamp, a business coach with Advicoach, and he helped me become focused and determine my goals. I thought my goals were lofty for 2015, but we actually blew them out of the water. Again, so fun!
The power of planning, having goals, and having something on paper makes the biggest difference. Even if you don’t think you can reach your objectives, just to be able to say to yourself, “Every month and every quarter I’m going to look, and I’m going to measure because if I’m not making progress something is not working here.” I had to do that because I had given up a traditional salary to run the business, so I needed to make sure it was profitable.
As an entrepreneur, you are your team’s main leader. Looking back on your past and your early career, what would you say is the best thing you learned from your best and worst boss on team leading?
There is so much power in appreciating your team and giving positive feedback. I've worked in places where you were not appreciated, and you felt like you were doing a terrible job even though you knew you weren’t. No one wants to come to work when they feel like that. I have experienced incredible joy and gained significant value by having a team and being able to cultivate their strengths and help them strengthen their weaknesses. I always try to say “Thank you for your work, I appreciate it,” and “You’re doing an awesome job.” I learned this by not receiving that positive feedback.
From my best boss, I learned that the biggest thing is to set clear expectations and to communicate clearly. I worked for someone who had a business similar to mine that I interned for in college. She gave me clear expectations, but she also let me run with the project. To feel like my boss was interested in my perspective and what I was going to do was really helpful for me. It pushed my boundaries and made me say “Hey I can actually do this!” I’m definitely trying to cultivate those kinds of strengths as a leader and boss.
Whewfda, that was a lot! Hope you enjoyed it and learned something new about me and Rough Draft Solutions. But, now it’s your turn! Take the time to reflect on the passion you have for your business and your experiences so far-- the struggles, triumphs, and everything in between! Feel free to share them with us – we love to be inspired by fellow business owners!
We're always looking to connect with inspiring business owners, if you love creative solutions, brainstorming, and want to improve your communication efforts, reach out!