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The allure of the entrepreneur.

The Allure of the Entrepreneur

Should a corporate communicator itching to go it alone take the advice of Mick Jagger and Peter Tosh, to "Walk and don't look back?" Seven successful entrepreneurs answer with a resounding "yes." They are a highly diverse group, but all agree on a key point: the single most important ingredient for success in a small business is clients, followed by perseverance and a service-oriented attitude. A well-developed sense of humor won't hurt, either.

The communicators who shared their stories for this article range from Calgary, Alberta-based Gail Hill, who began her solo climb in the summer of 1988...to Roger Haywood, ABC, who launched Roger Haywood Associates Limited in London in 1982, and today employs 15 people. In between these two extremes lie The Corporate Storyteller Pty. Ltd., a Sydney, Australia media relations/project management firm founded by partners Tim Griggs and John Sexton in 1985; K.J. Lee and Associates Inc., a public relations consultancy operated by Karen Lee from Vancouver, British Columbia, and a Chicago-based husband and wife team, Salyers Carman and Associates. David Salyers and Sandy Carman offer a broad array of marketing communication and public relations services to Chicago area clients. And in New York, Lee Hornick, after eight years with J.C. Penney Company, joined forces with two hightech graphic arts companies and built a full-service corporate communication company called The Corporate Edge, Inc.

Each entrepreneur left corporate life in search of greater freedom whether from internal politicking, constraints on creativity and personal growth, inflexible hours, or some combination of the above. The common cry echoed in corporate corridors around the globe--"my contributions are not recognized and rewarded!" --is woven into their career histories as well.

Karen Lee says she became an entrepreneur "by virtue of being a mother first," During the '70s, while raising their three children, Lee enrolled in arts classes "to save my sanity." A Canadian literature instructor recognized an innate writing talent and encouraged Lee to take creative writing courses. She began to write articles for local newspapers on speculation. As her self-confidence grew, she scripted and produced television shows on the Canadian educational system, drawing on her years as a volunteer/activist in her children's school district; wrote syndicated columns and newsletters, and led seminars. In 1983, she signed on as a public relations officer with a real estate company and discovered that "the work world is not so different from the PTA. The budget numbers simply have more zeroes."

Disenchanted after two years, Lee took inventory and realized she a) knew her craft; b) was exceptionally productive; c) wasn't afraid to make decisions and d) had above average organizational skills, all of which were being "used but not rewarded." She resigned her corporate post, interviewed for a half-time PR position at a local hospital, and emerged instead with her first consulting contract. "I then drove straight to a local bookstore and bought a book called "How To Start Your Own Business." I also bought an answering machine, briefcase and computer, and launched my business as sole proprietor from home, full-time."

Like Karen Lee, fellow Canadian communicator Gail Hail sets store by business guides. Before leaving her job as director of public affairs with the Calgary Convention Centre, Hill studied "What Color Is Your Parachute?," attended seminars and interviewed everyone she could find on the topic of career change and development. To help sort through what she terms "a confusion of interests," Hill also tried various solo opportunities on for size. She did communication consulting on weekends, took correspondence courses in graphoanalysis (handwriting analysis) and, while on maternity leave, was an independent agent for a training and development firm.

Last June, Hill parlayed her considerable research and broad-based communication expertise into three separate, but related, business ventures. Her communication consulting practice includes strategic marketing, special events planning and media relations. She represents Priority Management, a training and development company that specializes in time management consulting-- "a perfect tool for communicators," Hill says.

And she is completing her Masters in graphoanalysis, a personnel assessment vehicle that is useful in employee recruitment and promotion, team development and career critiques. In fact, when she designed her own promotion, from communication manager to director of public affairs at the Convention Centre, Hill analyzed her boss' handwriting to help determine his "hot buttons."

By contrast, Roger Haywood and Sandy Carman became entrepreneurs less by design than by accident. Haywood had wanted to be a writer from the age 14, but took a circuitous route to get there. A panoply of jobs, from factory worker to teacher to chauffeur to interpreter preceded his entry into the field of advertising, and later, into PR. BY early '80s, he was managing director of a well-established communication group--and becoming increasingly frustrated by the corporate infighting that prevented him from handling the PR function the way he believed it should be handled.

"In 1982, I made my decision over the Christmas holiday, and can remember the moment precisely. At three o'clock in the afternoon, surrounded by my family, it became crystal clear to me that the way to win the internal political battles with my colleagues was simply to get rid of my colleagues. As they were all unlikely to want to depart voluntarily, it was clear I would have to set up shop on my own. I resigned within a minute of returning to work after Christmas break."

Haywood located a tiny office, offered his secretary a job, and hung out his shingle. "From the first day, it was full-time (about 16 hours a day) and within six months we had six major clients and a team of six people."

Partnerships Work Well Lee Hornick, president of The Corporate Edge, New York, started his career as a communicator for the J. C. Penney Company in New York City, but when the company asked him to relocate out of New York, he decided to find a way to stay in the city.

"After nine months of planning and negotiating with two high-tech graphic arts companies, Pubset, Inc. and Jersey Printing Company, we agreed to combine forces and build a full-service corporate communication company, merging their craftsmanship with my abilities as a corporate communicator," says Hornick, "My title changed from senior programs manager to president and chief operating officer. On February 29, 1988, I left J. C. Penney and on March 1, 1988, The Corporate Edge, Inc. was born," Hornick adds.

After nine months in business, Hornick says they served 15 major corporations with revenues escalating each month. "Projections are on target. First year revenues will be US $500,000. We currently are picking up on the average of one new client each week," he adds. "The five-year plan is a $7 million dollar company. Within two years we will open satellite offices in Boston and Washington D.C."

Hornick says as the company has developed, they find themselves becoming consultants in several departments of a single company. "We consult in training and development; benefits administration and other needs throughout the company." As to the printer-communicator relationship, Hornick says the marriage allows the company to offer a wide range of complete services. "However, most clients would rather work with a communicator than a printer's representative. Reps are technically good at knowing what presses to run on, for example, but they know nothing about the problems communicators face."

A different kind of partnership involves the daughter of a newspaperman, Sandy Carman, who is in business with her husband. After earning a journalism degree, she entered the corporate environment as direct mail copywriter, moving on to account executive for a small communication firm and finally, to a series of increasingly responsible corporate communication posts with American Hospital Supply Corporation.

When AHS merged with Baxter Labs early in 1986, Carman elected not to work for the new firm. She considered writing a book about the merger, but "before I could even organize my material, I began getting calls from people who'd heard I'd left Baxter/American and wanted my help on projects. I was happy to oblige. A few weeks later, my husband, David Salyers, director of PR for Playboy magazine, pointed out, 'Sandy, this is a business.'"

Carman had already set up an office at home, so "as soon as I had letterhead and business cards printed, I was off and running." Ten months later, Salyers left his job at Playboy, moved into office space downtown, and the pair became business partners.

Partnership also works well for Sydney-based Tim Griggs and John Sexton. Griggs wrote for a series of British dailies and weeklies before switching to corporate life in the mid-'70s. Most recently, he was head of information services at the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan.

Griggs launched a solo specialist writing agency in Sydney in 1983, after determining that "I was not a corporate animal by nature: Unlike John, I am skills-based rather than management-based, and wanted to do more of what I was good at--have more control than was possible in the corporate environment." He began his business from home, moving into a small office a few months later.

Irish-born John Sexton began his career as an accountant in the mid-'60s, working for several years in Bermuda and in Uganda before settling in Canada in 1970. Once there, he says, "I recycled myself," acquiring a degree in English and launching a specialist executive search firm in Montreal. Along the way, he became a Canadian citizen, and also fluent in French. In 1983 he relocated once again, this time to Australia, with the aim of "exploring ways of blending my business, management and communication skills." Then he met Tim Griggs.

Sexton and Griggs joined forces in 1985, and The Corporate Storyteller was born. The pair hired their first PR consultant/writer late in '85, followed by a secretary the next year, and then a junior consultant. Today, the staff consists of Griggs, Sexton, one senior consultant and two junior consultants, and "frequent part-timers" for writing and secretarial support.

Caveat Entrepreneur Sketching out success stories makes them sound easily achieved. It doesn't happen quite so smoothly.

Even though she says she is "right on track to my original game plan," Gail Hill admits to feeling "like an imposter" at times. She measures herself against other entrepreneurs in a continuing effort to expand her areas of expertise. "You need a burning desire, a plan, a belief in yourself. Sometimes it seems almost impossible," she says.

Tim Griggs: "Personally, I believe that good ideas are ten a penny. What in needed is a constant and painstaking attention to end game, and--in our case, at least-- an unwavering commitment to quality and to clients able to appreciate it.

"A real risk is that you can become obsessed with work, and you have to protect your health and insure against some unforeseen incapacity. The reward is that being in business for yourself is more interesting, and you do get a greater opportunity to organize your work around your lifestyle."

Roger Haywood concurs. "I would go mad as a corporate advisor in an in-house position, but I love being an external consultant. For other people it is very different. Friday night I had an important meeting with a government minister that did not finish until half past ten. Between now and Monday evening I will have driven some 400 miles and, if I am lucky, I'll get half of Sunday off. It is not work for the weak or the woolly--but if you have what it takes, it is tremendous fun."

Don't Take a Bath in Your Liquid Assets

Though each entrepreneur wisely started with some sort of financial cushion, either from savings and investments or from a corporate severance package, the realization that one will no longer be receiving a monthly paycheck can occasionally give one pause.

"The first time I really understood cash flow, I realized it was another way of saying, 'total panic!'" Karen Lee offers with a laugh. Her best advice: understand that you are a business person first, and a communicator second.

Carman reports that in their first year in business, she and Salyers grossed "slightly less than one of our previous salaries. Once we're at a point where we can live comfortably off the cash flow from our business, we'll begin to draw regular salaries. For now, we just take money out as we need it. If the money isn't in our pockets, we're less likely to spend it."

Salyers adds, "Consider the absolute worst case--that you are a crashing failure in your own business. What happens? You eat a few months of office rent, use your letterhead to line the parakeet's cage, put the office computers in every room in your house and go out and find another job with an agency or company. No one brands you with a scarlet 'F' for failing."

Growing Pains Small businesses also can overdose on success. Expanding too quickly can sound the death knell for an entrepreneur as surely as a dearth of clients.

The Corporate Storyteller initially planned to remain fairly small--up to six people, total. Tim Griggs believes "there is a dangerous middle ground, perhaps between 12 and 20 people, when overheads approach those of large organizations, without profits necessarily keeping pace. We always have been selective in choosing clients, and did not wish to get into a position where we lost direct personal touch, or where we were under constant pressure to keep clients or find new ones to keep pace with costs. We're currently at a crossroads, having achieved this early goal, but we're in no hurry to revise our original plan until our position in the Australian marketplace is fully consolidated."

Haywood, perhaps because of his tenure as an entrepreneur, harbors few qualms about expansion. His staff presently numbers 15, and he would like to see it grow to 25, which he feels is "a good operating size." His philosophy: "Corporate bureaucracy springs from attitudes of management and not from size alone. We are keeping to our game plan to grow and have a very ambitious development target at present."

He echoes Griggs' sentiments about pacing, however. "Our strategy has been revised, as we went through a period a year or two back when we had perhaps over-grown, and the business was not fully under management control."

If I Could Do It All Again... They might change the methods, but not the outcome, all eight entrepreneurs agree. Gail Hill notes that, "Everything I've done or tried has paid off in some way. I've had a few disappointments, revelations, and fantastic opportunities. One of the things I've learned is how to roll with the punches a little better." She suggests that aspiring entrepreneurs: "Associate with people who are doing well; have a realistic, workable plan of action; listen to lots of motivational tapes, and wherever you are, BE THERE!"

Tim Griggs: "Assess whether you are likely to be able to handle the loneliness and the feeling that, at least at first, you have to kickstart yourself every day, and front up to each new potential client with the same level of confidence and originality, no matter how many knock-backs you've had. Always act and dress as if you're already earning what you would like to earn. And it's certainly okay to be scared stupid!"

Karen Lee sums it up: "There is stress all the time--either because you are too busy or because you're not busy enough. You have to like stress to survive. There are screw-ups, and the potential for them increases as you expand and start to delegate. There are clients who are a pleasure and clients who make you scream. There are tremendous highs and the lows are equally impressive. But there is never boredom. And the sheer joy of doing it well can't be beat!"
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Pear, Marcia
Publication:Communication World
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Words:2647
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