Maria Shriver shares inspirational stories from business owners and featured our very own Dawn Wellington Psaromatis. Her original post can be found here.
From managing my cookie and lemonade stand at my parents’ garage sales to launching a t-shirt business that came and went quickly (many homeless people in Austin received new shirts), I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit.
After graduating from The University of Texas with a BS in Public Relations, I took a series of different PR and marketing jobs at some of the largest PR firms and some smaller companies in the city of Austin.
My love for PR and marketing was strong – the ability to produce innovative projects and campaigns that yield stellar results for clients has always been very rewarding for me.
However, I was pretty unconventional compared to the rest of the teams I worked with (mainly on the corporate side) – I loved to laugh and build team camaraderie, which the executives had a hard time understanding. I was an improv comic who loved bringing that sense of humor to my work – so I persevered and the laughs continued.
In 2006, I started working for a company where I reported directly to the co-founder, who was an entrepreneur and inventor. He would often share his knowledge with me, and I truly admired the company he built. However, even on my greatest work, I wasn’t fully supported by the entire executive team (mainly the CEO and VP).
It seemed like the more I succeeded, the more threatened they were of me. They weren’t quite sure what to do with my unconventional and quirky ways. When I landed a huge account with Mary Lou Retton, instead of congratulating me, the co-founder told me, “Corporate America doesn’t care about you and you can be fired at any moment.” He pushed me to a place he never dreamt he would.
With the anxiety building from constant reminders that I could lose my job at any moment, I started doing some self-evaluation and realized that I completely surrounded myself with entrepreneurs – the majority my friends, and even the men I dated, were running their own businesses.
That December, I was in the recording studio working with a producer and composer who were developing a musical score to promote a product that I represented. The three of us were in the studio for some long and very intense days. They were both entrepreneurs and, throughout the process, took the time to speak with me, in depth, about their journeys. I remember sitting with them one day – the room got quiet, and I finally said, “I think I’m going to start my own business.” My decision was made.
From that point forward, I began moonlighting as a freelancer (I always say that it felt like I was having an affair with another job). This was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I had to give up having a life for quite some time in order to support myself enough to step out as a completely self-supporting freelancer. In 2007, I finally had enough cash flow to support what I called my “cloffice” (closet-office),” which is when I officially established Wellington Group PR as an LLC.
Now, I never once wanted to start an agency. At least that’s what I always said. I had such a horrible association with agencies. However, my actions never matched my words. I kept moving forward with more work than I could physically handle.
After deciding to hire a couple of contractors to assist me in carrying out the workload, I moved the agency into my dining room, where we worked day-in and day-out.
By May 2011, we finally got our first “real” office space in central Austin – only 355 square feet, but it was such a dream. Now, only 2 years later, we have almost tripled it in size (and decked out with inspirational quotes, vibrant colors and branding throughout)! I now have a full-time team of five with two interns on board, working out of an office I never could have imagined would be mine only a number of years earlier.
We’ve landed some pretty incredible clients too – consumer products on the verge of national distribution, leading technology companies, restaurants and non-profits, you name it!
Here I am, an ex improv comic, who really fell into running my own agency by accident. That’s the way it feels, at least. And in my business, I’m proud to say that we welcome laughing hard AND working hard as one of our core values. We connect on a deeply personal level every day – the team is at the center of everything we do. At the end of the day, I have found success and acceptance doing it my way.
Along my journey, I’ve learned some things that other entrepreneurs or prospective business owners may find helpful:
Maintain a laugh hard, work hard attitude:
I’m a big believer if you have to be at work at least eight plus hours a day, then you should enjoy it the majority of the time. We work in a business that is results-driven. We constantly have to produce and deliver for our clients. I always remind my team that they are adults and it’s up to them to meet deadlines and expectations and wow our clients. Knowing this, allows the team to relax and laugh hard, work hard throughout the day. It’s also easy to maintain when you lead by example. As serious as I am about my business, I laugh a lot with the team. I still find time to pull practical jokes in the office and help the team know that having fun and working hard are both welcomed, and encouraged, in our workplace.
Learn to keep your sense of authenticity and self as you build your business:
A few years ago, I went through a program called MyEJ (My Entrepreneurial Journey) through Acton School of Business. We had many assignments that included writing our eulogy and epitaph and interviewing successful and more seasoned entrepreneurs that we admired. These assignments helped me put into perspective what was really important to my authentic self (who I was created to be). For me, it’s relationships – my relationship with God, my relationship with friends and family, my clients, etc. After learning this, I joined a business group that has an accountability component. My accountability group knows who I am and it’s important for me to maintain my sense of self – they always let me know when I’m on or could be veering off track.
Create a workplace culture that encourages people to be themselves:
Before I started Wellington Group, I had an employer who constantly told me that everyone he hired was unique and had his or her own special talents. He constantly reminded me that none of us were alike and that was good thing. That really stuck with me.
At Wellington Group, we have a dynamic team and everyone has their own unique talents and skills. The talents and skills they possess are complimentary to each other. I’m constantly reminding and showing them how being themselves, and coming to the table with a different set of complimentary skills, is beneficial to how we work together, service our clients and ultimately achieve great things.
Always work on your business, not just in it:
Reading E-Myth Revisted by Michael Gerber, really taught me the difference between working in my business and on my business. Most people start businesses because they are good at a trade – not because they are good at running a business (Michael Gerber refers to this as having an entrepreneurial seizure).
It’s a lot easier to spend time working on your business when you have a team in place that can actually work in the business. However, this sometimes takes a while for new business owners – especially those in the service industry. Even in the beginning stages of starting and growing a business, a business owner can and should carve out time daily to work on the business. It’s essential to the survival and growth of your company.
Enjoy the ride – every single moment of it:
It’s not always going to be easy (frankly, it can be darn right hard most of the time), but if you remember to enjoy the ride, the adventure is so, so sweet.