2007-2009: Learning to Walk The Story of Red Sage, Chapter 3
Moving into our first location and adding our first employees
In June of 2007, Red Sage graduated from a home-based business into a real company. (learn more about the birth of our company and our first year in business) We moved into our first location at 400 14th Street SE, Suite D, Decatur, which had four offices, a reception area, and a small conference room. Teresa joined the company full time at that point, and we added our first Marketing Coordinator, Heather Thompson. Business had continued to grow to the point that I needed someone to work directly with customers managing projects as well as provide writing services for web and print work.
I still consider one of my best days at Red Sage the day I pulled into the parking lot of our new location, saw my employees’ cars parked there, and realized work was being done and I wasn’t doing all of it. This was such a thrill!
Navigating a sudden spike in business
During our first couple of years in the office, the volume of graphic design had grown to the point that I could no longer do it all. We hired a series of short-term part time graphic artists during this time that could do basic design, make updates to my designs, and prepare web graphics, taking some of the load off of me.
In late 2008, our graphic design staffing approach was creaking under the weight of a huge spike of design business that had come our way. We were working with Cerro Wire and Cable Co. Inc. in Hartselle, and the work they were doing with us took a significant leap as they grew the retail side of their business which included greatly expanding their packaged building wire line of products and adding additional products to diversify their product line. At one time we were working on designing dozens of different product package designs for all of the SKUs and two different product brands. We had two freelance designers working nearly full time to manage the load.
I was finding it very difficult to manage and direct production of the volume we were handling, yet was afraid to add a full time designer because it was tough to determine whether or not this was a one time spike and whether or not we had enough other volume to make the cost of adding an employee sustainable once we got past this spike in business. I determined that I needed someone who had more experience managing creative projects who could take over management of the Cerro Wire work and who could then assist me with sales once we got past the spike in design business.
Learning how and when to add more staff
This led to one of my biggest mistakes in business early on. I had never added someone who was not a production person, and was overly swayed by extensive experience I saw outlined on a resume. I hired someone who was not a good fit. Though I gained short-term assistance for the spike we were going through, it didn’t take long to know that this position was not what we needed, and we parted ways after 10 months.
Luckily, business had continued to grow where I trusted the design load warranted adding a full time designer to our team. Mark Moore joined our team in 2009, and thankfully consistent growth in sales made this position sustainable long after the Cerro Wire packaging projects were completed.
Teresa, Heather and Mark formed Red Sage’s core team of employees and would be instrumental in working with Dan and I to navigate growth for the next several years.
Making the decision about whether or not we could afford to add another staff position full time was a continuing challenge in the early years, and I suspect most business startups struggle as they navigate this particular issue. Ultimately you have to decide whether or not you have enough current business to cover the cost of adding an employee, or whether adding another employee frees up enough capacity where you can push sales to the next level. You have to determine whether or not growth will be sustainable. This is a tough and scary analysis to perform and I know my fingers were crossed each time that we had made the right decision. You also have to accurately determine what skill set you need, find the person who is the best fit, and not be afraid to eliminate hires that prove to be a bad fit.
Developing target markets and diversifying our client base
Other key events that happened during these early years of business were developing our three target markets that continue to make up our mix of business today: small business, healthcare, and economic development/communities. Small businesses were our first customers. Parkway Medical Center became our first hospital customer in 2008, and we would continue to grow our relationship with hospitals and medical practices over time. In 2007, we built websites for Morgan County Economic Development Association and the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, followed in 2008 with projects for the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, Lawrence County Industrial Development Board, and the Economic Development Association of Alabama (EDAA).
Establishment of three target markets gave us a tremendously diversified customer base that would prove critical to our company’s successful navigation of the major economic crash our country experienced in 2009 and 2010.
Key lessons from 2007 – 2009
The early years in business were all about building a business model that was sustainable, figuring out how and when to safely add employees, developing target markets, and figuring out how to work as a team. So many decisions made during that time built a solid base that allowed survival and growth through the economic downturn and rapid industry change that was on the horizon.