MOM-E of the Month (September 2011): JEN BARTH
Owner, Big Small Brands
Marley and Spencer, my identical (yet nothing alike!) 4 and “almost-a-half” year old daughters
Brief biz description:
Big Small Brands is a small business branding and marketing firm. I coach and consult clients on brand and communications development, marketing, and revenue generation.
Early-stage, or evolving, businesses who need to better understand target audiences, define or re-position their brand, or launch a new product or service. I also recently also launched a new service to help recruit and train part-time Marketing interns and assistants, so I’m also starting to work with businesses who have these areas covered, and just need some help with brand management and marketing support.
Job held before you started this biz:
EVP, Marketing, Business Development, and Client Services for Kelton Research, and VP Business Development for Siegel + Gale, a global strategic branding firm
Initial Start-Up Costs:
Very minimal! I’m pretty scrappy and wanted to grow into my business, and my brand voice, first before investing a ton of resources. I spent $100 to register my business, $40 on a WordPress theme, and a bit more than I care to admit at Storables on fun, punchy office supplies- I’m firmly opposed to plain, dull folders! Since then I’ve invested slowly in other areas, such as my new creative identity, and a part-time assistant who has truly become a lifesaver over the summer over the summer, when I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids, while still supporting my ongoing client work.
Initial Funding Source(s):
A small commission check I had gotten from my former job. It was significant to me to spend it in this way because while the amount of money wasn’t huge, I had to travel away from my family a few times to close the deal. I liked the idea of spending this money to invest in a new career direction that would not force me to make that choice again. I officially launched my business on February 28, 2010 — my birthday. Best gift ever!
First “woohoo!” business moment:
Realizing that I genuinely like and respect each of my clients, both professionally and personally. This may sound simple — and hokey — but it’s taken awhile to get back to this place in my career. Early on, I worked with incredible people who I loved as colleagues, and as friends. One of them ended up being my husband, in fact! But, as I got into more senior leadership roles in my corporate sales & marketing roles, that wasn’t as realistic. And while dealing with difficult (and sometimes downright awful) personalities is one of my strong suits, I’m thrilled to report I haven’t really had to use these skills since I became an entrepreneur!
I made a rookie move of printing too many business cards — with an identity I hadn’t thought through — before I’d given much thought to how I would be positioning my brand and service offerings. It took me forever to use them up, and I hated them! I see many new businesses make this mistake too. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a small run of simple, un “designed” cards to give you a chance to think about, and experiment with different ways to communicate who you are and what you offer. You can tell pretty quickly if you’ve gotten it right, or if it needs to evolve. I transitioned to my current identity a few months ago and love it!
Like so many solo-preneurs, I also resisted outsourcing anything at all for a bit too long. I got to a period last year where I was completely drained, and my work quality — and my health — were beginning to suffer. When I finally began seeking support from a few outside resources, my productivity — and passion for taking on new challenges — soared. I realize now the importance of focusing on what i’m great at, and getting help in the areas I’m not!
How you feel about competition in your industry:
I say Bring it on: businesses today need all the help they can get, and we all bring something different to the table and there’s room for us all! I think if you focus on being true to who you are what you offer, do great work, and continue to challenge yourself and grow your skills, the idea of competition is not a huge issue. I know and respect several fellow marketing consultants who I would happily refer business to if a project wasn’t a fit for me, or if I didn’t have the bandwidth. In a town like ours, that’s pretty common, I think. I did have a competitor attend one of my workshops recently and blatantly announce to everyone that he was there to steal my ideas and take my prospects. I think he was trying to be funny- but I saw him actually do it at the end, and it didn’t come off very well. Being genuine matters.
Greatest source of clients for your biz:
Relationships, relationships, relationships. Luckily, I’ve been a strong networker throughout my career so I had many to draw from early on. But, since I was a newcomer to Portland when I started my business, I had to work harder than most to build my local network in the initial months of launching my business. Even though it means missing a few breakfasts and dinners with my kids every now and then, I know it’s important to do, and I genuinely love connecting with new people.
That said, networking isn’t something you can expect to get immediate business from; one of my first bosses used to tell me “that’s why it’s called net-working!” it’s about creating genuine and long-term relationships and building trust, which takes time on both sides. We live in a great community for doing this!
Fellow mom entrepreneurs- I love my time with fellow PowerMOB-ers, and attending last year’s conferences was a serious game-changer for me in how I approach my business and in many of the relationships I made on that one day. I have many friends who are amazing career women, and many who are incredible moms. But it takes a rare breed to do it both well. I love knowing so many women who do! Time spent with fellow PowerMOB-ers is always an inspiration!
#1 piece of business advice everyone should follow:
Trust your instincts; find your voice and use it clearly. I recently had to talk 2 clients out of going in a direction they felt quite strongly about, but I know in my heart, and in my professional opinion, wasn’t the right one for them. I took a risk in confronting it both times, and got pushback from them both a few times. But I had to remind myself that they hired me for my expertise, not to “yes” them to death. They both expressed gratitude when they recognized that we made the right decision — together — and I know if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be doing my job. But it can be tricky; it’s way easier to be the “yes”-woman!
#1 sanity-saving tip for work/life balance:
The idea of balance is one I’ve had to re-define since becoming an entrepreneur; for me, it works best to focus on whatever I’m doing at the moment, versus trying to multi-task like crazy, which never ends up feeling very balanced. I love this line from a recent interview I read with fellow working mom Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook: “Don’t worry so much about balance. Work hard, Stick with what you like, and don’t let go.”
Thank you to the PowerMOB for giving me such a great community of women who feel the same way!