Welp, if you predicted a pandemic virus to hault the global economy and all but straight up shut down America, you win! My baby turns four on September 7, 2020 and this year has been one for the books. One that taught us a lot, gave us a lot to be grateful for and provided a more clear perspective on life, business, and next steps. But before we dive into what's next, check out what we've been up to for the last year!
How we grew in our fourth year:
- We invested in leadership. Last year, we talked about how we brought on Bonnie as our Director of Operations. Well guess what folks? We stepped it up and brought her on full-time as my partner in crime, our COO. Additionally, we also made the exciting investment in a full-time Account and Business Development Director, Lindsay Atkinson. (No, they're not related – we just got lucky having TWO Atkinsons on our leadership team!) This is a big move for a small business. But after, literally years, of careful consideration, I knew these two roles were the next necessary steps for us as a business. I'm so proud to work alongside these two day-in and day-out leading our amazing team.
- We were awarded numerous accolades. 2019 was a really big year for us. We were acknowledged as a trailblazer by 414digital. TEMPO awarded our CEO with a Continuing Leadership Grant. We were named one of Wisconsin Inno's 50 on Fire. BizStarts named our CEO an Inspiring Entrepreneur. We were named one of the Top 100 Small Businesses in the country. MMAC just announced we are also one of the Focus on the Future Honorees!
- We gained international recognition. This was wild. We applied for the International Women in Business Stevie Awards last July. We applied for four categories. We found out in October that we were finalists in all four categories (aka we swept The Stevies). Bonnie and I flew to New York for the awards ceremony and we WON the Business Services Company of the Year for a company with ten or fewer employees. That night was insane. It's still insane.
- We launched a nonprofit initiative. We figured we should walk the walk. So we partnered with WWBIC as our nonprofit fiscal sponsor and launched The Brainchild Fund in February of 2020 to support women and girls in business and entrepreneurship. This pic is from our kickoff party co-hosted by Kendra Scott!
- We launched a DNC marketing initiative. Before we knew COVID-19 would take over the world and squash Milwaukee's shot at the DNC Spotlight, we rallied a kickass team of strategic women and LGBTQ owned creative partners to serve brands looking to market themselves during the DNC. Welp, that didn't quite work out as we had hoped, but it was a great learning process!
- We launched a COVID-19 initiative to support local businesses. When we realized that COVID-19 was taking over the world and making the already difficult life of a business owner hard than it already is, we decided to do something about it. Within two weeks, we created a logo, minor branding, an Instagram account, and launched MKEFund.org to support local Milwaukee businesses. We loaded 134 businesses to the website and gained over 500 followers on our Instagram account. We got a little press for it too, which was cool. But the bottom line was that we wanted to help. Our friends' businesses were hurting and we tried to help in the way we knew how.
- We expanded our global footprint. At the end of 2019, we were fortunate to lock down website redesigns for the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) and AnitaB.org. GHC launched in July and AnitaB.org is launching at the beginning of September, so keep your eyes peeled! AnitaB.org is a global nonprofit supporting women in tech and we couldn't be more aligned. It's been so fun working on these websites with this team. It's been pretty awesome.
- National speaking (KP)
Lessons learned running a virtual business:
- The future is virtual. I knew since day one that I wanted to start a virtual business. I knew all we needed was a wifi connection, laptop, and a rock-solid team to do the work. But MAN, never did I ever anticipate a pandemic virus would sweep through the world and rock this country, the economy, and eliminate so many people's livelihoods demanding a more virtual workplace. Having a virtual operating structure has saved us from having extensive overhead and has allowed us greater flexibility to pivot and adjust to this new reality and focus on protecting our people as much as possible.
- Investing in people is the greatest investment. If you lead with an open heart, investment in people is never a wasted investment. Regardless if they work out the way you had hoped/planned/plotted/schemed, an investment of time, education, advice — you name it — in people who care at all, is always a solid investment.
- Managing people is hard. As the owner/founder/leader of your organization, it's your job to steer your ship through choppy waters – not to be everyone's best friend. My friend and mentor, Drew McLellan, called this out numerous times during these last few months and it's hard to swallow, but it's so true. In order to best lead your team, you have to have a company to support them. And therefore, your job is to make the best decisions for your business. Because if you sink your company, you have nothing to offer anyone. But this is hard. Sometimes it means having to let clients go. Sometimes it means having to say no to revenue. Sometimes it means having to cut your pay. Sometimes it means having to find the truths that must be shared and harbor those that shouldn't be in order to be honest but not unnecessarily burden your team. Sometimes this means having to let people go.
- Letting people go is hard. Let's be clear – it is NEVER fun to let someone go. It ALWAYS sucks. While we haven't had extensive experience in this, we have had to go through it. I cried so much and felt so sick to my stomach for weeks. I delayed it. I tried to figure out how to not have to do it. It sucks. But, as the owner/leader of your company, it's your job to steer your ship to calm waters. And if you're carrying weight that could sink the ship, you're letting down the rest of your team by not making these hard decisions. But yeah, it sucks.
- It's still all about people. I have a feeling that this will always be my closing note here because it just continues to be truer and truer year over year. This year has been really hard. But the single thing I'm most proud of is our team at Brainchild Studios. These people care so much about one another, our clients, doing their best work, and going above and beyond to take care of our communities. I am so humbled every day by their talent, determination, grit, thoughtfulness, and kindness. I'm grateful to have had the insight that people are always what matter most from the inception of this company because it's so fricking true. They are the rock, the anchor, and the north star of everything in life.
To all the people who have helped us make it through our fourth year in business, thank you so much. You'll never quite understand how grateful I am to each and every one of you. This year has been a doozy. It's been a challenge. But hey, everyone would do it if it were easy, right?
We are so excited for the new ideas we're cooking up to share with you. We're about to expand Brainchild in a few new ways and can't wait to bring you along with us for the ride!