This blog entry first appeared on openforum.com, American Express OPEN's award-winning site providing insights, advice and connections for small business owners. You can find more articles and updates at http://www.openforum.com/
You can also follow me on Twitter at @jasonrudman, or follow OPEN Forum @openforum. This post was written in collaboration with Courtney Colwell at Federated Media.
The “business” of starting a business is not for the faint of heart, and my recent discussion with Melody Medina illustrates both the challenges – and the payoff – to be had from bringing your entrepreneurial aspirations to life.
Melody’s first comment to me was, “Do a gut check.” This piece of start-up advice embodies her story. Having contemplated starting her own business for years, Melody left an executive position with a prominent advertising firm in 2008 to found Direct Channels Group, or “Channels”. Immediately the rollercoaster ride of owning a business began: on her last day with her previous employer, she learned her first client – the one that was, in many ways, giving her the confidence to start her business – announced they were on the verge of bankruptcy.
Her boss said she could stay, but Melody turned down the offer. She told me, “I always think about the story I’d tell. If I let that be the ending, that would be a lame story. However, if I still started my own company, that story would be a better one– even if I failed.”
It was her passion for storytelling and communications that fueled the idea for Channels – that plus a bad customer service experience with a wireless carrier. She created Channels to address “dialogue” as both an issue and area of differentiation for companies. Channels seeks to find a unique voice for its clients, especially in one to one conversations with customers.
“It’s about creating the conversation, whether it’s through customer service, sales, or other channels. Ultimately, it all impacts the bottom line, and companies are losing sight of that. I realized how terrible some customer experiences have gotten, as the company representative leads you through a script. You don’t need to have a longer conversation; you need to have a more relevant conversation.”
Not surprisingly, Channels specializes in owning end to end experiences with call centers, which spans the creation and delivery of signature training programs for representatives, to vendor selection and management.
And instead of failure, Channels has far exceeded her initial expectations. “I was shooting for $1 million in revenue in my first year, and I’ve tripled that.” She’s also gone from one freelance consultant to a team of fifteen. “I intended to keep my company small, but my clients need more, so I’ve made changes.”
Flexibility is something she emphasized among her recommendations to anyone just starting a new business:
- Be malleable. “It doesn’t mean not having direction, it means adjusting your expectations and ideas as you learn.” Not only has Melody brought on more people than she had initially planned, she’s also looking at opening up subsidiary businesses.
- Focus on what’s important. “For the first 6 months, I didn’t have a day off, and every bump in the road felt like a huge obstacle. It’s so easy to get caught up in every little issue; you have to be able to anchor yourself.”
- Do a gut check. “There are things you know going into the business; then there are things you don’t. And the sheer capacity of what you don’t know will knock you back. You just need to absorb as it comes.”
- Focus on your strengths and invest in people who fill the gaps. “I personally recommend having someone smarter than you manage the financials. Understand what they’re doing and maintain control, but accept that you can’t know and do everything.”
With a successful first year behind her, Melody looks to continue growing her business and helping clients do the same. I thank Melody for sharing her story and insights and believe that her tips can be helpful reminders on the importance of focus and flexibility – regardless of how long you’ve been in business.
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