Birth of a Company: The Story of Red Sage, Chapter 1
Once upon a time, a beautiful little business was born and its name was Red Sage…
Well, actually the story began several years before that. I had been working at a small marketing company and was looking toward the next step of my career. Not having a degree at the time (I studied architecture for three years at Carnegie Mellon University), I had gone back to school for a business administration degree. I was not really planning on starting my own business, but recognized the importance of needing a degree if I looked for a marketing management job in Huntsville, as finding one in Decatur would be unlikely.
In January of 2006, I was ready to leave my current position. I really did not like the idea of driving 30 minutes to Huntsville with my two daughters being so young, Emily was six and Rachel was 12, and I wanted the flexibility of being there for school events. Talking over my options with my always supportive husband, Dan, the idea of starting a small freelancing business working from home was discussed.
I quit my job and I wrote a business plan over the next couple of weeks. My business plan projected having three employees at the end of three years but I wasn’t sure how likely this was. My plan was heavily based on using website development as a differentiator, being the one of the first firms in North Alabama to invest in an early content management system for website development. Other agencies at the time were still using Dreamweaver software to build websites, and I predicted the end of the road for this software within a couple of years, and this was one prediction that turned out to be correct. This was my largest start up expense, at $30,000, and I would end up discontinuing use of this software three years later when open source solutions such as WordPress and Joomla were gaining prominence, again being one of the first in North Alabama to adopt the new software.
My memories of my first year in business are a little bit hazy, mainly because I was still trying to be a good mom and wife while continuing to finish my degree, which I finally finished in 2008. Additionally, we decided to move to a new house in Decatur in late 2006. As any woman business owner knows, an awful lot of juggling goes on to achieve success, and juggling schoolwork and moving certainly added to the load I was carrying that year. I remember there were a lot of little details to chase down getting a business license, insurance, PO Box, and all of the other myriad details necessary to getting a business up and running. I tend to block stuff like that out of my mind.
The memories that really stick out the most for my first year in business were the very first phone call and ultimately first job I did, which was to design a brochure for Eddie Allen at Office Interiors by OSCO. I remember the first phone call from Ed Nichols, then assistant superintendent at Decatur City Schools, asking us to do some work for the school system. Our very first websites, after our own, were built for SpineCare, a chiropractic practice in Madison, and PACT Family Resource Center, a wonderful nonprofit located in Decatur that we still work with today.
I remember my friend Teresa who ended up leaving her job several months after I left mine and joining me on a part-time basis to just help me do whatever needed done the first year in business. Teresa did market research for me and then she started helping me with building websites. I don’t know if either of us could have predicted what an amazing web programmer she would turn out to be and how instrumental she would be to the success of Red Sage through the years. I know we both knew that we liked working together and had a very strong friendship that could stand just about everything including starting up a new business and dealing with the uncertainties inherent with that. I could write an entire blog about all of the funny things that Teresa and I experienced in the early days as we learned how to be good web developers and find good hosting vendors. Teresa has a knack of calming me down and of making me belly laugh regularly with her wry interpretations and reactions to challenges and uncertainties.
I remember the importance of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce with the networking opportunities it allowed and the meeting spaces provided so I wouldn’t have to meet clients in my home. In my experience, the Chamber of Commerce was my sales team for the first couple of years in business and I don’t know if I could have succeeded without the networking and relationship building opportunities they provided me.
It amazed me, when we completed our first year in business, to see that Red Sage had come in nearly exactly financially where projected in the original business plan and remarkably this really held true the next couple of years.
My role the first year included all sales, graphic design, web development, and business management. In addition to his full-time job as program manager at GE, Dan managed all financial, payroll and tax activities for Red Sage, while providing invaluable advice in other areas. Teresa plugged in where needed, and started to migrate more to the website side of things toward the end of our first year.
As I look back after our first 10 years of business, I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to take this journey and for the people that have contributed to the success of Red Sage along the way including employees, past and present, clients, friends, advisors, and above all, my husband Dan who has provided patience, wise counsel, encouragement, and attention to all of the details that I never wanted to deal with!
I am very much looking forward to sharing other memories from our first 10 years in business in this special monthly blog series.