In my experience as a business owner, it can be an up and down roller coaster of what vs. why.
I’ve lived according to my inspirations and my personal values, but there are times where that mentality can dissipate and you get stuck in the what. So much BAD marketing is about the what. Just a business constantly telling you what product they have sitting on the shelf through their print advertising, their social media presence, and even their customer service attitude.
If I could define the change in marketing over the years, this would define it: People want to be a part of the why of your business, not just the what.
People often ask us what we do at alder|creative, and the answer is always vague. We do a lot of things! But why? I can’t speak for my whole team, but I’d like to share my experience and history, starting with this main point:
I’ve never wanted to do anything other than own a business.
Well maybe that’s not true – I think there was about 5 minutes when I was 6 or 7 years old that I thought I’d like to be a nurse, only because that’s what my older sister wanted to do.
But the rest of the time, I had plans to be an entrepreneur or at least a CEO of a place like Nordstrom (simple dreams). I started my first business in 2nd grade doing yard work for neighbors complete with flyers I designed on my word processor. I had a business partner. We actually made money.
I continued on to host many lemonade stands, garage sales, I sold gift wrap from magazines door to door, I opened a shop in my 5th grade classroom selling cute school supplies from my desk (and got in trouble). I was in a
beauty scholarship pageant when I was 5 and stated in my introduction that I’d like to be a business owner when I grow up.
By junior high, I did regular babysitting… even attempted to gather together a staff for my own babysitters club… I also learned that staffing is really difficult. In high school and college, I managed to fully fundraise through sales and projects all of what I needed to travel to New York City, Italy, and Germany.
I have a business degree, and specialized in Entrepreneurial Studies, a program that I’ve heard no longer exists at WWU. There were 7 people in my class where we spent an entire quarter working with actual businesses and met in the classroom exactly 3 times. It was amazing.
Ok, so I did all of that stuff, but why? I think there are parts of my personality that have given me the ability to gain skills that are particularly useful in business. I’m independent, I’m organized, I like helping people achieve more, I’m a good listener and analyzer, and I’m incredibly stubborn.
I’ve had regular jobs, a few anyway (21 to be exact, as many as 4 at once), but I can’t handle how inefficient my time feels working 9 to 5. I often felt like I wasn’t being valuable enough to the world while sitting at a desk, and I had ideas of how to make my workplace better, but often those ideas weren’t welcome because… this is just how we do things.
I wanted to realize my fullest potential in this short life and make as big of an impact as possible, so I made a decision to no longer work in the typical working world anymore. It just wasn’t for me and it was time to explore these talents I had accrued over the years and put them up against a real challenge. Surviving with uncertainty.
I’ve started 3 official businesses. The first, an online sewing service business, was a side gig that I ran for many years. I gained customers all around the US and learned a lot about production and manufacturing. I started a second business, a retail store in Hoquiam, because I always thought retail sounded dreamy… turns out it’s really hard and I learned about inventory, cash flow, marketing, customer service, cash flow, cash flow, and cash flow.
These hands-on small business experiences helped me realize my passion for general business and marketing and my desire to help other people who were in the same boat with me. Running a retail store, to me, meant that I wasn’t “independent” but instead I was part of a system with other businesses around me and we all needed to work together to succeed. Having an online service business was never enough, no matter how much money I could make through production, I wanted to be a part of the greater system.
Starting alder|creative snuck up on me, but was a no brainer. I liked helping people. I had all of this experience and the personality traits to back it up. I had too much to say, honestly, and I needed an outlet.
In the past 4 years of business, we’ve grown so much, not just in profits, but we’ve continually refined our work and our structure. We’ve helped a lot of people start and grow their own businesses, not just by what we do (like graphic or web design), but with the ideas and feedback we share with them.
I am a true business nerd and I rarely find anyone who spends as much time as I do studying business, communication, marketing, and economics. I live and breathe YouTube videos from my business idols. I spend my evenings analyzing businesses (my own or others) with my husband Eric FOR FUN. It gives me adrenaline.
I enjoy working for alder|creative clients because I get to share that obsession with them. I will happily give my honest and thoughtful advice to anyone who comes my way, not because I think I know better, but because I really care a lot about peoples’ success in business. I like solving problems and feel good when I can put my thinking cap on and actually come up with a useful solution. The what we do might change, but my why will never change because I’d do this for free if I could somehow also manage to have food to eat and a place to sleep.