Starting a business is not easy. Maintaining it for over nine years (gasp!) can be downright unbelievable. People always ask me, “How did you start?”
Recently, I cleared out some old folders and came across every yearly plan from 2008 on. As one does when decluttering, I got lost in nostalgia, chuckling to myself about all the things I thought I knew – and how far I’d come.
Inspired, I decided to share with you a three-part look at THE RED SLICE ORIGIN STORY and the valuable lessons that can also help your business grow. Full credit for this idea goes to my friend, Melissa Cassera, who recently published a spine-tingling blog mini-series about her business start.
Please sit back, grab some popcorn (or a lovely Cabernet) and learn from my entrepreneurial adventure!
THE SEEDS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP ARE SOWN
2006. Newly married, I was living in San Francisco and directing global marketing campaigns for a billion-dollar software company. Corporate life was all I’d ever known, working at a big consulting firm, a small ad agency, and a multinational entertainment powerhouse. In 1999, I’d come to SF to chase the dot.com dream and did my first stint at a (failed) startup, which was the riskiest thing I’d ever done. But I was still working for someone else for a steady paycheck and full benefits and had never known life without such security.
My creative urges had led me back into acting and writing, alongside my day job. I landed (unpaid) gigs writing food and wine articles (yum) for local magazines and websites, and soon began my own blog. I wanted to write about many things: theatre, business, culture, marketing, wine, food, film…there were so many facets to my personality. I named this personal blog Red Slice, to represent this redhead’s many “slices” of interest. It was liberating to express my creativity again. Like I had come home to myself.
Right before I got married, I left my big global firm to be a marketing director for a smaller software company. My amazing team and I remain great friends to this day. But the company itself left a bit to be desired. I was restless.
In 2007, we moved to Seattle for my husband’s job. By then, you must understand, I had lived through three layoffs during the tech bust. I no longer viewed “working for someone else” as the secure proposition I once did. Rocked by my experiences, I expanded my career thinking. I was also getting older and really fed up with corporate political B.S. Most of my time and energy was spent on bureaucratic B.S, rather than doing actual good work.
I flirted with consulting and daydreamed about working with clients I liked, doing work I loved. While I’d done freelance consulting between layoffs, permanent entrepreneurship was not in my blood. My two grandfathers, both Italian immigrants, had owned businesses at one stage or another, but my dad had sailed steady, loving his decades-long engineering career with the same firm. Stability was everything to me.
Luckily, my small software company kindly allowed me to work from Seattle. As this extrovert adjusted to working on my own, setting (mostly) my own hours, an addiction formed. A freedom addiction.
LESSON #1: Leading a life where you call the shots and every ounce of work you do benefits YOU is positively addictive. There is no freedom quite like entrepreneurial freedom, even though you’re working harder than you ever have in your life. (TWEET!)
For fun in my off-hours, I built a crappy little consulting website in GoDaddy and, naturally, called it Red Slice. I liked the name: It stood out from the crowd, intrigued people and also had a double meaning of helping my clients’ brands stand out, like anything “red” often does. I would offer clients “slices” of services to fit their needs.
Then, fate gave me a big push. In early 2008, my company laid off the entire marketing department in prep for a sale. The day we got the final notice, I flipped the switch on the crappy website and sent an email to everyone I knew: Red Slice, the marketing and brand consultancy was born!
NAILING MY BRAND, FINDING MY VOICE
While the visuals were horrendous, I focused more on the brand strategy and the messaging, naturally! I wanted a fresh, focused, innovative brand and to offer my full breadth of skills earned from many years in communications, branding and marketing. I got to say what I wanted to say, in my own sassy voice, without corporate jargon. #Freedom.
A treasured agency contact from my corporate days offered to design me a better website for free, and his team came up with the fruit imagery you see today. While my website has evolved since then, they nailed it on their very first design because I had done a great job of articulating my brand strategy, value and vibe before they even got started. Some old corporate colleagues scoffed that clients “wouldn’t take me seriously” if I mentioned my writing and acting on my business website. I doubted myself, but bravely stood my ground: I wanted my brand to showcase my unique blend of practical business savvy and playful creativity.
LESSON #2: Nail down your brand strategy before you even think about a logo, website or marketing tactics – unless you like wasting hours of time, burning piles of money (TWEET!)
NETWORKING PAYS OFF
Lacking any sort of professional Seattle network, I joined a Ladies Who Launch incubator. There, I met a ton of cool, smart women, including Melody, the woman who’d become a dear friend, brainstorming partner and personal escort into the world of independent business owners – a client base I’d never even considered. She got me my very first small client!
I asked friends to introduce me to folks they knew in Seattle and met them on coffee blind dates. I networked like crazy with the few other contacts I DID have, and it got me into meetings to eventually become a subcontractor for a consulting firm doing work at Microsoft. So two months into my new venture, I had a super fun small business client and a large, well-paying corporate client.
LESSON #3: Networking is your biggest business booster and it doesn’t have to be icky. It should be part of any marketing plan. Network with people you genuinely like and who knows what doors will open (TWEET!)
I quickly realized that the large project put me right back into corporate bureaucracy again so I began exploring the small business community. It was like discovering this wonderful subculture I never knew existed when I was in my corporate bubble.
But that exploration came to a screeching halt when, just eight months into my new business, crisis struck.
Nothing would ever be the same…