I started writing this blog post back in June, but just now discovered that I never finished it. adWhite plans to really celebrate our 11th anniversary even more, because, as we all learned in Spinal Tap, 11 is MUCH greater than 10.
After a few recent discussions with some friends and clients, I think it’s still relevant to post this even though our birthday was seven months ago.
I deal with new businesses all the time. People who are buying or have bought franchises or just people starting their own businesses from scratch. Some of these people have realistic expectations for business success and some don’t. Occasionally I have to recount my own story to help people understand that success isn’t a given, sales aren’t a given and profitability is most certainly not a given. It takes a lot of hard work, mostly. But it also takes some luck, being in the right place at the right time, hiring the right people and giving them the tools they need to succeed and help your business succeed (and help your client’s businesses succeed), as well as having the right product or service and the right market. So this post is a little about my own story, since that coincides with the start of adWhite and about adWhite being 10!
March 1, 2013 was the official 10-year anniversary of adWhite. This is a milestone I’m extremely proud of, but not one I’ve talked too much about (too much self-promotion is a turn-off, am I right?). I have had the rare opportunity lately to mention adWhite’s age in some new business pitches and this info is always received positively and warmly, so I appreciate that.
I started out working with a few clients in late 2002, but adWhite as an official company and as my full-time job (when I was not getting money from anyone else) started for real on March 1, 2003.
For the first year and half it was really just me and my wife. My wife helped me with all the administrative and accounting stuff so I could focus on closing whatever business possible and then figuring out how I’d get the work done. Since I’m a business person and don’t actually create the designs I had to outsource this work. I developed a network of high-quality, trustworthy freelancers that I could farm out work to. In January of 2005 I hired my first full-time employee. My second full-time employee joined the team before the end of that year. So by the end of 2005 we had four people total and two freelance designers that we relied heavily on.
We worked out of a 400 sq. ft. apartment above my garage. It was separate from my house, and it had it’s own entrance and a full bathroom. There was a couch in the office (along with three desks) and I would sleep on that couch several times a week. I’d work almost all night, then fall asleep on the couch. I’d turn up the volume on my computer as loud as it would go so my incoming emails in the morning would wake me up. I’d get up, handle the first wave of emails from clients, then I’d go downstairs and eat with my family and shower while my two employees would show up to work. Then I’d repeat the same thing almost every night. It’s funny, I don’t remember ever being tired…but now I’m tired all the time.
We busted our butts every day. We did anything we could to get new business and then figure out how we’d deliver on what we sold. We forged relationships with vendors and suppliers, we took on work that was well beyond our capabilities and our comfort zone because we had to in order to get our foot in the door with a new client. We begged for payment terms, we drove to FedEx late at night to make last minute deliveries, we did whatever it took to make it work. Most importantly though, we did what we said we’d do. If we sold something to a client, we made sure they were 100% satisfied. If we had to give someone their money back, we did. And by “we” I mean me and my wife AND my initial employees (William and Michele) as well as our freelance partners. It was a team effort all the way.
I don’t want to make this about numbers, but sometimes you need to share a few numbers in order to get the point across. My first two months in business I did a total of $500 in REVENUE (not profit). In month four I won a major piece of business with an aviation client (that I still work with to this very day) that generated $5,000 a month in revenue. I thought I had hit the jackpot and I had! We ended 2003 with $77K in revenue, in 2004 we had $213K in revenue and in 2005 we had $437K. I’ll stop there, but the point is that we grew fast and we knew we had something.
When I started adWhite I had a 16-month old son and the only income for me and my wife was the business – we had to make it work. When my daughter was born in 2004, we had no maternity coverage with our insurance, so we paid cash for her birth – talk about being nervous. I include this information because some new business owners think they are supposed to be comfortable all the time. I actually believe you need to be uncomfortable all the time – or at least for a while (different time periods for different businesses). The good news is that I worked so much, I literally had no time to spend money. Which worked out, because I had no money.
Looking back at the past 10 years, adWhite has accomplished a lot. We have and have had great employees, great clients and great partners – bankers, suppliers of different kinds, etc.. We only have seven employees now (we need an eighth though), but we’ve been as big as 11 employees at one point. We service 200 clients annually and that includes clients in Europe and Asia. We’ve designed and built more than 300 websites. We’ve worked with hundreds of start-ups.
I’m not sure what is next, but we are excited to celebrate our 11th year soon and we are excited to be busy and to have work.
Both my dad and my father-in-law are small business owners, so I did and continue to learn much from both of them. My father-in-law once said that if your business makes it past the three-year mark, that means you’ve made it. Well, I don’t remember feeling that way. I think it was about the seven or eight year mark when I knew I was safe, but far from “making it.”
Here’s to 10 more. And for you other small business owners out there, put your head down and work extremely hard. Be smart and be efficient and fight for it, it will happen.