Grow Girlpreneur, Grow!

The gender pay gap is pretty well known; that women make less than their male peers. But this also carries over to small business.  In fact women-owned businesses on average make just 25% of the revenue of their male counterparts (men-owned businesses $625k to women-owned at $155K*). Most female owned businesses have few if any employees. Often this is a personal choice because it’s what’s best for their work/life balance. But sometimes it’s because of fear of risk, lack of capital, and other issues.

I wanted to talk to a woman who had broken out and grown her business and staff, so I contacted Cassie Hughes co-founder of Grow Marketing, an engagement marketing agency. Cassie and her business partner Gabrey Means have built their agency to an impressive staff of seventy and recently purchased a four story building in the Jackson Square neighborhood of San Francisco.  Be sure to check out her three helpful morsels of advice for girlpreneurs!

BG: What did you envision for the agency when you started? Did you think that you wanted to build it to a certain size or did you have some other goals in mind?
We had specific goals that were about the kind of work we wanted to do and the type of clients we wanted to work with. Gabrey and I had done the corporate thing for a long time, we now longed for flexibility with our days and with the type of work we wanted to do. We envisioned building something that supported us as a mother and a mother-to- be. I also needed flexibility because I had an ill parent.
In addition to focusing our work on things we were super passionate about we had a clear idea of the type of organization we wanted to create. We developed a culture of collaboration and an office environment free of politics. The person you are at home is the person you are encouraged to be at work.

BG: Was it hard to stick to your goal of doing the type of work you were passionate about?
CH: One of our first client calls was for a million dollar plus project. This type of call is a dream for a new agency. But the core of the work didn’t support what we wanted to become. It was a very big public relations project that could have grown quickly but we knew this would define us as something different than we wanted to be.
When you’re a new agency you feel like you have to take what comes your way. But we said no, and once we were true to ourselves, the work that we wanted followed.

BG: Can you share a moment when you thought to yourself “Yes, this is good, this is going to grow.”
CH: An early project was for VISA, we did good work for them and the phone rang as other people heard about us. Then Pepsi-Cola called and asked us to participate in a pitch with multiple other agencies. They had heard raves about our sensibility and our unique perspective and wanted us to come to New York. We flew there and competed with the “big boys” (much larger agencies). We did it the Grow way emphasizing relationships between brands and people. We were chosen as a cornerstone agency from that meeting, one of two agencies that were selected. This was a pivotal moment as we realized that we were not only a presence in the Bay Area. That we could compete in a big environment and our offering was right.

BG: What are 3 pieces of advice you can share with other Girlpreneurs?
1. Organic Growth is sustainable. Keep your head down and do good work. Say yes to the projects and clients that feel good. Say no, when it seems right to say no.
2. Create a great culture and save, save, save – when the bottom fell out (during the recession), we didn’t need to let people go. Yes, some business went away but because of our culture we let the team choose how to navigate through it. The entire team took an equal pay cut to stretch the money out. Within a year, we were able to give record bonuses.
3. Life is long and work is hard. Find what you’re passionate about and be true to yourself.

Grow Marketing… could Cassie and Gabrey have picked a more perfect name for their agency 14 years ago? Grow Girlpreneurs, Grow!

*Source: The American Expresses 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report

Category: Business Ideas & Tips, Girlpreneurs

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