Living Out My Dreams: One Year As a Female Business Owner
As a little girl, I wanted to be a princess.
Then I wanted to be a certified diabetes educator.
I always liked the idea of teaching.
Then I grew into wanting to be an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine.
The backup plan was always to open a coffee shop, bar, and/or become a wedding planner.
Nowhere along the lines did I dream of being a small business owner of a marketing agency.
When asked what I wanted to do in my senior year of college, I was one of the few who answered with wanting to go work in an in-house PR department. But, as graduation approached, I opted to take an unpaid internship in a full-service agency.
End of my internship, while standing with my peers — all of them still having at least a year of college left to change their mind on things, yet me there ‘ready’ by our academic system to enter the real-world — answered the question, ‘now that the internship is done, do you still want to be on the path you are?’ I was the only one to answer no. I had realized that summer, I loved account services.
The next seven years continued on this trend, me realizing maybe my path was going a different direction than what I thought I wanted. I landed in an amazing, small digital marketing agency that became my family. A place where I combined my love of PR and being a princess, with account services.
Now here we are, and I am a female business owner.
I am in an ‘agency.’
As I pause to recall all I learned in the first year of a fully female owned and operated company, the question that keeps coming to mind is ‘why did it end up not being what I wanted… Yet, feeling like it’s exactly what I did want?’
No one taught girls in my generation to want to be a small business owner. No one showed us in the early years to surround ourselves with amazing working moms. We helped teach ourselves that. It’s a lesson I still am figuring out with my team here at RSM as we hit this huge one-year milestone.
Here’s what the past year has brought to light:
1. Gut instincts are good instincts, even when they’re not your own.
I found out that the company I had grown with for over seven years was shutting down with about five days’ notice of my last day. The owner (also a female business owner), my colleagues — we never called each other such titles — we were family. We were a team. We lived and stressfully died by such loyalty.
But it was time.
I found out we were done and called a close soccer friend (I love coaching and being involved in the beautiful game) forming a quick plan to shift into coaching for the summer to cover my rent. Though my mind swirling in a million directions (admittedly, I called him before my mom even), he asked me to pause. Take a deep breath. He said ‘you have all the opportunity right now.’ I was frantic at that moment. I hurriedly said I know, but my mind kept running. What next?
A few days later, I called my most favorite clients. The first one was to be the hardest. I always called this account my baby as I was early in my career and had the opportunity to ‘launch’ it to the world. Had worked closely with the CEO for years as he grew his business and gave me the authority to be an expert and do what I loved with my team. Very quickly into the conversation telling him that our journey was ending, he asked where I was going and what I was doing next. The million-dollar question.
While my answer was surely very optimistic on ‘I don’t know exactly,’ he spiraled into a number of ideas that all resulted in me staying around. In ME owning my own agency. In ME keeping doing what I love in the lifestyle I love (working remotely). In ME being able to keep (parts) of my team together!
The call ended with my sails filling (all pun intended) as I called another client. And the humbling response was similar. After a few more calls, the sails were starting to open. Was my next dream to be a small business owner of a marketing agency?
Within five days, the whole ship was getting assembled. Within 20 days, the ship had been named and the LLC was filed.
My gut wasn’t sure what to do in the first 24 hours. This wasn’t in the cards, but when you have quality people around you, their guts step in when yours can’t. And when yours comes back to functioning, it’s super easy to follow it.
2. Always surround yourself with amazing people.
I admittedly knew this before year one in business. When I started on this journey, I was lucky enough to bring two members of my previous team along from the start. Within one month, another joined. Within a few more weeks, another from the previous company was collaborating on a shared freelance project. In the course of one year, I have worked with seven different former teammates from the previous company.
I’ve talked with every single member of my former team at some point.
These people each bring a skill set that’s unique from my own.
I had a friend once ask me about my business and couldn’t I land X client and just do it all my own — take higher profit. Theoretically, I told him, yes, but then I explained I just wouldn’t do that. I can do all the roles and functions that we provide at Ride the Sail Marketing. Crystal and Kayla (the other two maiden-voyagers-crazy-women that started from day-one with me) could as well. BUT we all bring a different skill set that’s our passion.
Kayla is an amazing wordsmith. I can write, but I ramble (seriously, you’ve already read 1,000 words in this article!). I love the creative freedom of writing, but I don’t love doing it all day every day. Ideas: I can build on, but the origination of them just comes so naturally to Kayla. I can share three strung together words and say ‘but I’m not sure what to do with this.’ And in moments, Kayla will provide a full idea that is brilliant. She’s the creative organization to my disorganized creative side.
Crystal — she’s the missing part of my brain. We aren’t really sure what our Mom (yes, we’re sisters) did to make this the case. We’re five years apart. But she completes and balances everything I lack. Where I can be logical and analytical and overly critical, she is creative and thoughtful and detailed. She can write words, design images, complete thoughts. She can challenge and clean up all of the nonsense I try and dream of! She makes it work. And she makes it beautifully done.
But, I also think it’s important to surround yourself with amazing people not in your workspace. My previous boss (always such a title we felt was so stuffy) has been an amazing reconnection to chat with. She’s a working business-women. She’s a mom. She’s as busy and in hyper-overdrive as I am. So to have that friendship to connect with another female business professional — it does wonders on saving on therapy!
In my soccer community — one I spend a great deal of my days. I’m surrounded by coaches that are far better than me on the pitch. I learn from them. We share ideas. We build administrative spreadsheets. We organize small humans into (hopefully) impactful experiences that will help mold them into future amazing humans and keep the cycle going.
In the past year, this support system of humans around me… it’s the only reason I can note this milestone as a business.
3. Plan. Throw it out. Make another. Repeat.
I have always been a planner. A few years ago, it became a greater con than pro. You plan it all out, then it doesn’t go as planned… well, it becomes a much greater upset to rebound from.
I learned this before starting into RSM, but it’s been fine-tuned. Having a business, I need to create a plan. But now I know you can throw the plan out and make a new one whenever you want. Have something to aim for, but you don’t need to paint the picket fence and finish off the landscaping just yet.
Before starting RSM, I mapped out year one. I also set five-year goals. Year one, I tried to tear apart before we opened our doors. I had a great friend that’s super analytical and business-savvy try to tear apart the plan. We had it set. It was surely possible to achieve.
January 2019 (four months after RSM launched), the plan got thrown out. Some of the pieces were happening, but the growth just wasn’t what we aspired for at that moment.
Sure, more clients meant greater pay increases. An increase in staff then meant more clients. But, to do that meant we wanted to work over 40+ hour weeks for the next 6 months. And frankly, I was already working over that just not all with RSM. And Crystal and Kayla, they’re both working moms and kicking @$$ at showing their kids what it means to be a working mom. It’s not even a tradeoff to discuss — missing bedtime stories to make money you have no time to spend while you blink and those toddlers turn to 16-year-old, car-driving ‘adults.’ So we discussed, is the timing right for this plan?
And, we decided it wasn’t. That plan got thrown out, a new one set in place. And here we are at one year, happily growing. Happily having landed new clients. Happily spending time with our families and going to the gym and taking some ‘me’ time. We’re stressed beyond belief. (It’s in our blood). We’re crunched to meet deadlines. We work those 40+ hours for sure. But, it’s in a system we thrive on. It’s in one that probably turns our hair gray prematurely and kills our livers. But, the plan is right for us right now.
4. Be honest with me.
I have fatally been a people-pleaser much of my life. Not in the sense ever of nodding my head and going along with the flow. But in the ‘say yes, figure out how later.’ I take on too much. I forget about myself. I THRIVE on being busy. I LOVE seeing people happy and satisfied. To the extent, I forget what it’s like to sleep in PM hours. Cooking is a ‘hobby’ that I cheer for when it happens once a month.
I am an extrovert. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten wiser. I’m an introverted extrovert. I like to make magical things happen for groups and be around people, but like to stand back and watch. I like to be alone. I like to push myself and compete to make something better for me.
I like to read. And watch Grey’s Anatomy and The Blacklist. I like long dog walks. I like to visit with a friend over happy hour. And go to the gym. All of those things just as much as I love making spreadsheets and organizing and making sure other people are enjoying X experience.
The past year, I’ve been honest with me to make time for those things. I’ve stopped and recognized, I’m burnt out (or near it). I’ve turned off work apps on my phone if I’m away from work. I’ve joined a gym to be held accountable and make the time to go for myself. I schedule a weekly happy hour just because. I started staying ‘no.’
And in turn, the hours I’m working. When it’s a 60 hour week, I feel better than I ever did before. The time I’m working is more productive. My clients get more of me when I’m working, instead of a drained me always thinking to the next to-do.
5. Inspire maybe someone.
I didn’t want to be a business owner. Women in power weren’t something we even acknowledged growing up. The first group of women that made me stop and go ‘wow, that’s super cool,’ was the Women’s World Cup team from 1999.
Mia Hamm, I still recognize as my favorite soccer player. When she was pulled from the field to jump into the net during the 1995 World Cup match vs Denmark… wow, I still smile excitedly thinking of it! She was such a team player. Such an athlete of an exceptional caliber that Coach DiCicco put faith in her. And at that moment, and the next 4 years to come, Hamm maybe didn’t know just how much she was inspiring girls everywhere to be fearless.
I don’t expect to reach even a fraction of what impact Hamm and the World Cup team of ‘99 had on my life. But to have the ability, in our world of ‘internet at your fingertips’, to show just one little girl, you can be a female business owner, working every day with best friends, while doing all the things you wanted — be a princess, a teacher (coach), plans some weddings, share your diabetes story, and always strive to be Dr. Torres putting those bone pieces back together. Well, I hope modern-day little girls have just one more ‘I want to be when I grow up…’ than I ever dreamed of.