Archive for the ‘Planting Kudzu: How I started my own business’ Category

Steady growth requires solid roots.

Steady growth requires solid roots.

Mother Nature didn’t get the memo. We all know that she either didn’t hear, or didn’t care that the calendar announced Spring was here, as she casually displayed her power and dumped snow and cold upon us right through Easter.  The fact that March 21 was the date that we all awaited with visions of tulip buds, birdsong and allergy fits did not alter the path of cold fronts, high winds and wet, wet, wet, nasty  snow and slush.  Whether Mother was angry at our careless assumptions that warm weather fun was upon us or she was simply showing off did not really matter, because Spring is only a calendar season, while the weather is subject to conditions.

I can relate to this, I am a control freak. An impatient one. And I do not work according to another’s demand either. Ask my husband. He too is a control freak who can’t help but to “remind” me to do my chores. Sadly, I am also a procrastinator who tends to the squeaky wheel first. This increases David’s need to “remind” me of things. Some might call this nagging, but I prefer to see it as his subconscious need to take care of me and assist me in my short-comings. He doesn’t mean to nag, he just reminds. Right?

Unfortunately, my instinct is to avoid the task I have been “reminded” to do, obstinately feeling that I will only do it when it becomes my “idea” to do so. Much like Mother Nature snickering at the West Virginians wearing their down coats to the store…in April. I know I did, when I pictured the guys at the golf course tee-ing off to chattering teeth.

But in my business, I have realized that I have no control over the speed in which it blossoms.  I have finally relaxed into acceptance that progress will be slow, but will eventually build into my vision of success. This thing will not sprout according to my

I should pay more attention to my own advice.

I should pay more attention to my own advice.

anxious demand, but will steadily grow as it should, when it should.  Sigh.

While it is still a daily struggle to temper the desire to lunge into additional client projects with the frustration of setting up the millions of business-y details, I have at least regained some confidence. I am adjusting to the ebb and flow of work demands that make some days manic while others are relaxed, work-in-my-pj’s-all-day days. It’s hard to picture that kind of schedule as routine, but in its own way it is…for a one-woman-show PR biz it is anyway.

Passion Comes from Pride

Henry-Ford

I woke this past Monday in better health, with an excitement about possibilities again…and I haven’t been to sleep since. This week has been an adrenaline-infused blitz of project development, research, statistics, file organization, design application and MY FAVORITE task: The Pitch. See, Friday was the deadline for my first large PR campaign, and while it was exhausting, stressful, tedious, and demanding to create a campaign surrounding the client’s unique communication issues and geographic challenges, it was also my comfort zone. The Pitch is my specialty, combining persuasion, creativity, instinct, a little theater and pure knowledge. It is fun. It is a challenge. And I am good at it.

Henry Ford is my father’s hero. An icon, Ford was a master at The Pitch. And his vision that “..with God in charge, everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about?” has brought me back from the land of fear and doubt, back to my vision. I did not panic or wonder where to begin. I did not fret over details or freak out as I put business tools into place for the first time (Quickbooks is an amazing product), screwed together my new office chair, or educated myself about state tax rates. And while I worked into the wee hours, only to “work” while I lie in bed restlessly, I felt driven and…well, happy.

While I continued to work on current client projects, I gradually noticed something really important. The industries my company represents are vastly different: a writer, a sports retailer, a non-profit, and a healthcare pitch. But two things united all these projects:

First, every time I blocked time to work on them, I got lost in the enjoyment of the individual project. No matter the subject matter or the tool I was using, I LOVE what I do and the endless creative direction of PR methods. My husband brought me food that I would otherwise be to focused to stop and consume, and I don’t have to make myself tend to any task. Yep, that WVU tuition will be a lot less difficult to pay back for the privilege of enjoying my profession!

The ability to be passionate about your work makes it feel more like play.

The ability to be passionate about your work makes it feel more like play.

Second, I love my clients. I realized, when I looked at the few initial professionals that I represimages (9)ent, that I work for outstanding people who do extraordinary work. I have (as scarce as it is in the beginning) a Quality Client List. This ignites the passion that drives my energy, sparks my creativity, and makes me want to promote them! It’s one thing to say in the beginning that I wish to represent only good people and businesses…but as I reflect on the pride that I have in my clients’ characters, I have become absolutely committed to establishing a mission to limit my client list to the kind of remarkable qualities that my current ones possess, even if it costs me campaigns in the future. I promote my clients, but they also reflect my company, their success is my success.

I am still taking one step forward and two steps back in terms of structure, certifications, and paperwork dilemmas, but the work is rewarding and moving forward of its own accord, just as my campaigns did in college. I got the big account, and I am feeling more secure every day. I already know I am great at what I do, it’s wonderful when someone buys into me as much as I believe in them!

Leigh Brill, Author and Kudzu Communications Klient

Leigh Brill, Author and Kudzu Communications Klient

…and Now the Fear

March 7, 1998

March 7, 1998

The anniversary of my wedding day is approaching this Thursday, March 7.  This huge commitment to each other, our children, our God, and our unlimited future has not for one day been unappreciated, or underestimated, though I recall my day as a bride as one I spent in calm happiness. I wasn’t what I would call a blushing bride…more of a confident one. I loved planning the wedding-every step of the way, but mostly I knew without a doubt that I was marrying the very best man in the world, so there was no nervous color change in my cheeks. In fact, I recall enjoying watching my bridal party go down the isle and ooh-ing and aah-ing over them so much, that when my dad took my hand to go I was startled that I even got to participate in such a grand event. Maybe I was grateful for my family and friends who came to witness, or maybe I was grateful that this wonderful man waited for me at the end, but I did not once falter, cry, or shake with insecurity. With that much intense confidence I strode into my biggest blessing, and by far greatest commitment.

Another Ring Day-WVU Class Ring Ceremony

Another Ring Day-WVU Class Ring Ceremony

And much the same, I entered ownership of my own business, only this time I already had my husband on my side. Calm and confident, my husband provides the support and I provide the work that I love to do.  I have focused on creativity,passion and the knowledge that I can surpass expectations. Until this weekend I did, anyway.

Nothing really happened, other than the hostile takeover of my lungs by the pathogenic intruders which left me weak and longing for that sick day my boss would not supply. Eventually the diagnosis of pneumonia popped up, and even though I mournfully postponed a business trip, I still worked through a medicated stupor and violent coughing fits until the antibiotics kicked in.

But, somehow, through the bacterial weakening of my system, my confidence also took a hit. I woke up Thursday morning in a state of sheer terror brought on by a singe thought that passed my radar: Can I really make this work?  Suddenly doubt creeped in every thought and action and shaky breath making me wonder what the heck I signed up for by starting my own business. Will I let my husband down after years of supporting me through college? Will I ever have a steady income? Will I ever be able to replace my aging car? Can I deliver what I know I can do so that others can believe in it too?

Every night has been sleepless since that one demon-thought cracked the surface. My seven-day work week includes 16 hour days filled with research, tech articles, small business advice, mentor-seeking, and financial anaylysis.  Wishing for a telescopic view to the 6 and 12 month marks, I try to predict success without the necessary building blocks that lead up to it.

Maybe that’s the problem, I am reaching for the future before I have attended to mpowerthe present. I am overworking a problem that has not yet presented itself. And I am facing the equivalent of a dieter’s plateau…the groundwork is laid, the process has started, now I want to see the needle move!

I found a great resource for every step of my journey into self-employment. It’s by far my favorite, as it covers every topic imaginable for the long road ahead…including staying sane on the trip. http://www.entrepreneur.com/ and  http://www.entrepreneur.com/blog/index.html

Now, if I could only know on exactly which day I will STOP feeling the fear…

Why I am the toughest boss I have ever had!

No sympathy here.

No sympathy here.

It didn’t take long for the first pitfall of owning my own business to rear it’s ugly pathological head. Bacterium never pick a Friday to invade the body, as all parents already know, so naturally on the third Sunday of my blissful self-employment venture my daughter finishes victorious on her basketball team’s tournament championship debut, chows down victory dinner, showers on cloud-9, snuggles into bed dreaming of the WNBA…and immediately begins to cough. Uncontrollably. For 14 hours.

While my husband and I had discussed all the pros and cons to owning a home-based business such as strict documentation, tax breaks and tax takes, dedication, licensing, logistics, office space, equipment, and flexibility, we had NOT considered sick days. Sure, flexibility covered dentist appointments, track meets and vacations but professionalism, as it turns out, rules supreme over runny noses, body aches, upset tummies, fever, and yes, wicked-nasty coughing fits.

Contrary to popular, and my husband’s, belief, my time is not all about “playing” on the computer. Though I admit that I love getting lost for hours designing a new web page, applying branding techniques, tweeting promos and editing photos, I also have much serious time invested in research, analysis, client recruitment, relationship-building, and personally meeting with clients. I made a commitment at the beginning to be as available to my clients as reasonably possible, returning calls ASAP, replying to all communications immediately, and meeting in person whenever possible. So, the viral villain that attacked my daughter on Sunday, also invaded my own chest on Monday, the day that I had scheduled three meetings with potential clients and a financial advisor-friend.

Priorities, priorities...

Priorities, priorities…

This is when I decided my boss is a bitch. There is no one to cover for me. No one to stay up late to post at the most opportune times the promotions that my company and my clients’ pay me to do. No one to do the research and develop surveys that mean life or death to the success of my next proposal, regardless of the life or death fever and chills that caused me shiver endlessly and to mis-hit keys repeatedly. Okay, so it wasn’t that morbid, but the decision to work through my pain and concern over my daughter did cause me to realize how dedicated I am to making this company work. And it made me just a little homesick for the guilt-ridden call-off and early morning grouching from stressed-out supervisors.

Two days and endless nights later, we are recovering. While I am still excited about upcoming projects, I am now more leery of my boss, who has shown she can be as hard-headed about attendance as she is about perfection.

If only she slept this peacefully during the week. A sick child can throw off the best-laid plans...

If only she slept this peacefully during the week. A sick child can throw off the best-laid plans…

Week One and RUN!

The 7 day, 77 fan statistics for my new company, Kudzu Communications surprised even me!

The 7 day, 77 fan statistics for my new company, Kudzu Communications, surprised even me!

Okay, so I borrowed a LOT of money to go to get my degree, and I worked extra hard at WVU to graduate as the Top Scholar of my class, and I broke several communications barriers with WVU Athletics while I did it, setting promotional records and high standards for classes following my own. So why, after all this dedication, does it still surprise me that my own promotional efforts exceed expectations?

Probably for one very simple reason: I LOVE WHAT I DO! That small five-word phrase makes such an amazing difference in how I feel every day, when I wake up and can’t wait to get to work! Sure the commute is better than the 90-min-each-way drive that I made to Morgantown for two and a half years! The trip to my own basement is 89 and a half minutes faster, no gas expenses, no Sheetz card required prior to leaving, and no additional parking money to scrounge from my empty change holder. Perk enough, right? But the best thing about this project is feeling that the “work” isn’t work. It’s a passion.

Already I have plans to do my thing in Wheeling, W.Va. and Roanoke, Va. for new clients. I get to meet challenges and solve problems by applying my natural instincts, skills, and the incredible knowledge base that I got from West Virginia University. I get to meet awesome people who are relieved I am there to help.

Spring '12 Campaign for Morgantown RDVIC. Nominated for WVU Service Excellence Award

Spring ’12 Campaign for Morgantown RDVIC. Nominated for WVU Service Excellence Award

I get to travel, design, create, read, examine, play, evaluate, invent, and implement. Some of these things I have done as a hobby for free over many years, just because I love to do it. And while my husband (my biggest fan) and I know I love what I do, we also know that I am goooood at it! The proof is in the stats. It’s in the references. It’s in the relationships I have build in the past with clients, celebrities, athletes, professors, and friends. All reminders that the messages I create are effective.

So the reason I am gushing, is that I am a very happy small business owner, with a complicated but exciting future on the horizon. My most precious advice to my children has always been to find what you LOVE to do, and make it your career. I hope they listened. I am living my dream because I set the goals for myself that I hope we instilled in them.

Such a child of the '80's! My future's so bright...

Such a child of the ’80’s! My future’s so bright…

Yep, I’ll never have a garden. Never, ever.

Ready or not, here comes Kudzu

Ready or not, here comes Kudzu

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”~ Rudyard Kipling

The soil has been turned, the seeds have been sown, the water and sunlight added…now the real work begins. Thinking back to my grandmother’s garden in Luray, I remember watching her bend and dig every summer morning to empty her plants of the grass and weeds that were a constant threat to the vegetables from which she created magical suppers. She would again enter her garden in the evening to reap the products of her labor, and then proceed to wash, cut, cook, and share them. As a child, I only saw the bugs, the heat, the prickly leaves and vines, and the fact that she chose to subject herself to the itchy, sticky, sweaty toil. I swore I would never, ever, ever have a garden. Right.

Like many, my husband and I have decided to pursue the American dream and start a home-based business. I filled out all the proper paperwork, answered all the necessary questions, reviewed start-up costs, did a financial analysis, obtained licenses, jumped through hoops, stood on my head, rubbed my nose while patting my belly, gave blood…you get the idea. Then I got to attack the FUN part…branding, designing a logo, debating names, building a web presence, ordering business cards, creating print ads, networking and launching my new company; the stuff everyone does…in the beginning.

While marketing plans can be daunting, and advertising budgets overwhelming for others, they are the foundation for Kudzu’s mission: To provide quality, professional public relations and marketing services to private citizens and small businesses at an affordable price, in order to make a huge impact and provide measurable results. In other words, I can do for other small businesses what I do for my own, and have a blast doing it.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy, though. Days on end spent in front of my laptop designing, drafting, editing, correcting, connecting and posting are evidence that this tedious work is the reason why too many small businesses neglect to attend these tools. Websites are out-of-date, if they exist at all, Facebook pages are boring or unattended, there aren’t enough local businesses profiled on LinkedIn, Twitter, or FourScore, forget about mobile apps. Busy office managers can barely throw a block ad at the newspaper for a once-a-week run, much less tweet about it or run a contest on Facebook. What’s a QR code, and how does it make life easier for an overbooked doctor or burnt-out office staff? Blogging, that’s for stay-at-home moms and cute, perky little women who don’t have to support themselves, right? Wrong. These tools are the poster campaigns of the ’70’s, the news ads of the ’50’s, and the Joe Camel t-shirts of the ’80’s.  They are necessary, and they are time consuming…IF they are done right.

This is the kind of tending I will do with enthusiastic determination and a guilty joy at being paid to do what I love, through Kudzu. This is what drives me to proceed with a company named after a weed, in a small community on a tight budget. The challenge of fixing a marketing problem lures me in, like the promise of a fresh supper made from homegrown veggies. The joy is in the creative application of design elements, and the reward is the knowledge that I know how to tailor a plan to tweak out just the right results.

My dad, waving in front of my grandmother's flower bed, to the right of her vegetable garden.

My dad, waving in front of my grandmother’s flower bed, to the right of her vegetable garden.

Planting Kudzu may not make me financially wealthy, but it is definately going to make me rich with satisfaction, enjoyment, experience and exhausting fun. I get my grandmother’s dogged determination to endure summer atrocities now, she reaped many rewards from for her efforts…and even more important she found joy in the planting.

What the heck is Kudzu anyway?

kudzu stockTHE VINE THAT ATE THE SOUTH

Like me, Kudzu has a southern heritage and an indestructible determination.

Kudzu is probably best known as “the vine that ate the South.”  It grows so fast, and so durably that even its strong reputation can’t precede it, but this plant is like the urban legend of the southern states. While it was originally brought to North America by the Japanese to Philadelphia during the centennial celebration, this aromatic, edible ornament became the favorite of Florida florists and gardeners who touted its versatility.  The vine gained its reputation, though, during the Great Depression, when government programs like the CCC took advantage of kudzu’s growth rate of almost 60 feet per year to strategically place it in the ground for erosion control. 

The application of kudzu was appropriate, it certainly stopped the treacherous fall of rocks and rubble onto the path of oncoming automobiles, but the results were more than they bargained for along the slanted shoulders of southern highways!  Kudzu’s tenacity is legendary, growing so well in southern climates that local governments soon found themselves in a battle to get rid of the vine that consumed mountainsides, covering everything in its path including entire forests, power poles and lines, houses, barns, automobiles…anything that did not move fast enough to get out of its way. 

kudzu imagekudzu covers

Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, I often crossed the New Market gap on the way to my grandparents’ home in Luray, Va.  My grandmother spent car rides singing, telling me stories, and educating me about my home and heritage.  Kudzu was a frequent topic…as it covered the mountainsides along the familiar windy roads.  As the years passed, I continued to be fascinated at the new structures that would become covered by the “mile-a-minute vine.”  Kudzu encroached on parking lots, hung from towering power lines, and eventually absorbed homes and businesses, showing no mercy or favor toward anything on the Page County mountainside. 

Mostly, my adolescent self thought of kudzu as a sort of “serves them right” lesson for the bureaucratic adults who added the foreign plant to the sacred Shenandoah soil, and I have never lost my admiration for the thriving vine. To me it is a symbol of the dogged rebel attitude of the South, a graceful lady that smells wonderful, blooms beautiful and belies its tenacity and strength with the same feminine charisma of a dixie debutante. Kudzu also gently reminds me of my grandmother’s strength and intelligence, calling to mind her core beliefs in higher education, family values, women’s ability to lead, proper grammatical use, and invaluable sense of always doing the right thing no matter how difficult.

When beginning the daunting task of starting my own business, the first task I tackled was picking a name. As a marketing professional and lover of all things creative and unique, I did NOT want MY business to be lost in the sea of boring company names laden with initials, owner surnames, and complicated vocabulary that leaves an audience wondering “what exactly does a communications consultant and public relations subsidiary do, anyway?” I know the value of branding, and I wanted the name to represent ME, its potential to make clients goals GROW without restraint, and to have a design aspect that is fun and visually identifiable. Sure, Kudzu is a sentimental symbol of my home and childhood, but it not only makes me smile in reminiscence, but it also represents the exact message that I want to send about my company, my abilities, my creativity, and all the possibilities it can make for my clients.

kudzu sunsetTHIS my friends, is Kudzu.