This morning while driving to a meeting with a client, I had an epiphany. But let me provide a little bit of context, so this light bulb moment will make more sense.
There is someone in my business (online marketing), who I have known — and admired — for several years now. In the space of less than three years, I have watched her take her company from 15 employees in one city to more than 30 employees in three cities. During that time, she has also expanded her business offerings. Obviously, she is very good at building a company.
Being only human, I could not help comparing myself to her. Yes, my organization has grown over the past three years, but not nearly at the rate exemplified by her meteoric rise. Is there something lacking in my skills as a leader?
Answer: I don’t think so. And the reason is fairly straightforward.
She is building a company. I am building a family. What does that mean? Read on.
Meet the family / team members
First, is the obvious fact that many of the members of my talented team literally are my family. My middle sister Christine, my youngest sister Jacqui, and my aunt Lisa (chronologically more like a sister, as she is just four years my senior), form 75% of our copywriting cadre. The squad is rounded out by Meredith, a talented and highly-motivated young woman who works with my sister Christine as a teacher.
By the way, this did not happen immediately. I had been in business for more than 15 years, searching without success for people besides myself who were competent, engaging writers. It is the height of irony that the people I was finally lucky enough to find were related to me!
They each have their own unique styles, but all four are highly skilled, productive, creative writers who can research and generate copy on virtually any subject. I am lucky to have them; so are my clients.
Our company controller, who keeps all the finances in line, allowing me to concentrate on doing work and running the business, is one of my longest-term and best friends: Greg Elowe.
Heading up our programming staff, without which our company would be completely lost, is Darren O’Loughlin. He and I met nearly 10 years ago in a networking group. Not only have we become compadres, but I am continually amazed and impressed by the various challenges he is able to master. In particular, he has been instrumental in maintaining our leading edge at creating fully responsive — what we call liquid — websites.
Several years ago I ran into a programmer online who was interested in doing work for us. He is certainly a competent technician, and Darren has mentored and guided him in how to code to match the style that we have developed over the years for our websites. Shane has much more contact with Darren than with I, and I suspect that they talk about me behind my back, much like family members do with each other. At least I hope so! 😉
Darren was also my connection to Tara: his sister, and a phenomenal project manager. She has systematized our operation into a state of vastly improved efficiency, which has been critical as we have grown. In addition, she is adept at researching and picking up new technologies and platforms; with her at the helm, we have been much better able to manage our SEO-centric social media posting operation and manage client data.
Heading up our PPC and SEO operations is Craig: a very young (barely over 30) web marketing Guru. His expertise and instinct for marketing, both from technical and a user-experience perspective, are awesome. Craig and I first met more than 15 years ago when he was working for one of my clients. After a hiatus of several years during which he had struck out on his own and we had no contact, we reconnected. I am eternally grateful for that!
While I still handle all of our website design, LeeAnn Nelson produces any print pieces we do for our clients. (Print design is not something we focus on or promote, but lots of our clients need business cards, brochures, and the like, so we offer it as an adjunct.) In addition, whenever I require specific elements designed, such as infographics, LeeAnn delivers. LeeAnn has been a colleague — and a very good friend — for more than 25 years. She was the talented designer responsible for the last four years of Frontline magazine: the publication I produced for Fender guitars.
More than eight years ago, our controller, Greg, knew my band was looking for a replacement lead singer. He suggested I check out his cousin: Steven. It was a good call! Not only is Steven the best lead singer the band has ever had, but he is also a dynamite print and website producer. I know that when I give a project to Steven, it will be on time and on budget.
Cori Nichols and I met at a local networking group 6 or seven years ago. Cori is a fantastic photographer, as well as a fitness nut, like me! We generally see each other at the gym several times a week.
How the family structure of our company benefits our clients
Like a family, we have our issues. There are times when we annoy and frustrate each other, and bicker like siblings (which some of us are)! By the same token, however, we support each other in a way that employees at a company generally do not. When it comes down to it, we have each others’ backs.
This means that we are all invested in the work we do, and the services we provide for our clients. For all of our clients, I am the initial contact, and continue to be a contact throughout the relationship. But most clients also interact with at least two or three other members of our team.
This decentralized structure means that a number of our teammates know what is going on with any client at any one time. Not only can they step in and address any needs or issues that arise, but often times they become aware of these items before the clients do!
Why our company is built on this principle
Creating this type of organization was not something I did consciously; it is just the way I am built. I have never been comfortable in the large corporate environment, in great part because of the personal distance that must exist within that framework.
As I was developing Caroff Communications, I naturally gravitated toward people with whom I had a connection beyond the business. Whether genetic family members or good friends, I have always tried to work with people I like talking to. It is pure dumb luck that so many of the people I enjoy happen to be so damn talented. Sometimes, things just work!