My Entrepreneurial Journey
Starting you own business can be a daunting task. At some point in your career, you may have thought about “going-it-alone” but the fear of transition, or the lack of the “security” that being an entreprenuer provides, can be considered too risky, so you stick with what you know. But really, what is the true value of the security that your job provides. Yes, maybe it’s the medical benefits (those are true benefits for sure), or maybe it’s the pension (if you have one), or the RRSP matching (that only some companies provide, and that only some employees actually take advantage of). But all of these benefits and security can sometimes be more of a ball-and-chain that are holding you back from your true potential and happiness. They were for me.
Before I set out on my own, I had a great job. I travelled a lot for business (which is also often thought of as a perk…more on this later), was paid well, had a great medical plan with extended benefits, had a comfortable car allowance and gas card, earned some nice bonuses every year, and had a good RRSP matching program and was afforded the flexibility of working from home, with my boss over 3,000 miles away. I often said that I had the best of both worlds….the security of being employed, with the autonomy and flexibility of working my own territory, from home….which was somewhat like running your own show.
Well….let me tell you how that security went. The year was 2008, and if you remember, that was the year of the big crash. At the time, I had been 9 years working for this large multi-national consumer goods company, and I was 44 years old. I was comfortable and well-paid and figured that I could work another 15 or so years and then retire with a handsome nest egg and enjoy my retirement years bouncing back between someplace warm for the winter and Vancouver in warmer months.
With the economy crashing down around us all, each morning I would get up and log-in my email to begin the day. And each day, there would be more notifications from Corporate about the most recent layoffs. This had been going on for months now, but I wasn’t too concerned. You see, there were just 2 of us in Western Canada that managed the entire west, all channels and all product lines. It was a lot of work for 2 people, so in my mind, I figured there was no way they’d be paying off either of us. How could they cut the resources for the sales team? Marketing maybe, or maybe some HR or accounting personnel, but not from sales. Much of our product lines were not considered luxury items, in fact, they were more staple like items and during the slow-down in the economy, our sales were not suffering…so ya, I figured I’d be safe. In the very least, if they were to layoff either of us, I figured it would be the other guy. He was 10 years older and in my mind, they could more easily package him off than me. Well…I was wrong…very wrong!
On a Tuesday AM, 6-months into the corporate re-structuring and layoff efforts, my boss from Toronto called me on the phone. He said:
“Rob, I guess you’ve heard about the latest round of layoffs coming? Well…you’ve been a great employee these past 9 years, but we need to let you go. Thank you for your time, and now I’ll put you over to the HR department and they let you know the next steps.”
That was it! Nine years of my life put into this company and a lousy 50 words is all my boss could conjure up to say thanks. And he did it over the phone…he didn’t have the decency to fly out to Vancouver and do it in person. I was shocked, but I was also mad, really mad. And not to mention…..devastated. What would I do now? I was in my mid 40’s and now without a job. I had a mortgage, kids in elementary school, and ex-wife and just into a new relationship and supporting her too while was attending post-secondary trying to improve her employability. My bills were large and only going to get larger as the kids grew and attended university.
I must mention that I did get a severance package, which was a blessing and of course, required by law, so this did provide me with some income for the next 9 months. But I knew the next 9 months would go by fast so I had to act fast and figure out what I was going to do next. At the time, I didn’t think about starting my own business. I had never been self-employed, and didn’t figure I really had that entreneurial spirit. So I updated my resume and jumped into the painful tasks of searching for another job. I attended some career placement courses, contacted many head-hunters, local and distant and started to apply to any job that was remotely in my wheel house for experience and remuneration. Well…the shock had only began. My old employer wasn’t the only company in layoff mode, so was just about every other company out there. No one was hiring…and if they were, it was only for positions far junior to what I was last doing and at far less pay. Talk about depressing. I knew this 9 months would slide by quickly, so the pressure started to mount quickly: I’d better find a job…. fast!
And this is where things started to take shape. Once the shock wore off and the depression became manageable, I started to give it some serious thought about HOW I could turn my 22+ years of Consumer Package Goods industry experience into a some consulting work. I had worked for some of the biggest companies and brands in the industry over the years…Coca-Cola, PowerAde, Kraft, Nabisco, General Foods, Maxwell House, Kleenex, Huggies, Coleman, Sunbeam, Oster, so I knew a thing or two about what makes great brands great. I possessed a wealth of knowledge about the power of retail packaging, product placement at retail, sales and marketing strategy, managing large corporate accounts, budgeting and developing annual sales plans, was comfortable giving presentations to C-level executives and was always great at listening…..the most important skill for any great salesman. But I didn’t really think of myself as a salesman..I was much more, and I knew that I could help other brands and companies with their marketing efforts at retail. This is where my entreprenuerial journey began. So I began to reach out to many of the contacts I had in the field to offer my skills and experience to help them build their sales and marketing strategies and to get their products placed at retail. I also started to go attend many trade shows in the area to meet with smaller companies and brands that were looking to make the jump from local selling efforts to more regional, national and multi-national. If you’ve ever attended a food and beverage trade show or even a local farmers market, there are always hundreds of local producers, with some very amazing products. But as far as branding and marketing goes, well, that’s not their specialty….so this is where I saw an opportunity. I’d be their consultant or agent and be their ticket to the big time.
My partner at the time was just finishing up her graphic design schooling so I had her design a business card for me and that’s where Straydog started. I started out as Straydog Marketing, as my initial focus was in helping companies and brands build marketing plans and get listed at the major channel and retailers such as; Costco, London Drugs, Westfair, WalMart, Shoppers Drug Mark etc. I had contacts and knowledge at all of these retailers.
This journey lasted about a year. But it wasn’t long before I realized that the companies and brands that I was working with, needed help before the marketing stage. They may have had great products, but their branding and packaging sucked! Most had begun on a shoe-string budget, spent little effort and money on their branding, business or product name and their packaging was generally just terrible. Despite many of my efforts to help in the marketing side, they would always be handicapped by poor branding, messaging, positioning, packaging and often, an uninspiring, boring name. They were trying to compete against companies and brands that get it, that understand the value of branding and great design.
This is where the journey took a slight turn and my company became Straydog Branding. Why the name? How did the name come about? That’s a question I get asked often. And when your mission is to help companies and brands with their name, brand and messaging, it sure helps when your company has a great name, story and branding.
You see……many of the companies I was working were reminded me of a straydog. They were wandering the streets looking for a good home, for someone to love them. And that’s what I was going to do. We would take these companies, give them a great name, brand them well and turn them into something people could easily love.
Straydog Branding…finding good homes for your ideas.
and the rest is history!
Well…not exactly. You can read more here;
PS: Remember I was going to get back to the topic the benefit of corporate travel! At the time, I really thought it was great. I’d get to travel to all of these wonderful places in Canada and beyond, on someone else’s bill, stay in nice hotels, eat great meals, entertain clients, see sporting events & concerts, go fishing, skeet shooting, skiing…you name it. Well, ya, maybe those were fun, but the costs were great too. I was spending days and weeks away from family and friends, missed many of my kids events, worked long hours while away (weekends and evenings) without getting paid anymore, and had to go to some very cold places in the winter in Canada. Nothing against Winnipeg or Saskatoon, but I’d rather not be there in January. Vancouver was much preferable in January than many other places in Canada .
Oh and how about the security that a full-time, well paying job provides? I thought my job was secure…I’d be there until retirement. Well ,any job is about as secure as the company and the people you’re working for. You’re secure until someone else decides you’re not. When you’re self-employed…your security depends on you and no one else. The more you put in, the more you get out, it’s as simple as that. I still have the flexibility of working from home, but now I’m the boss, I have no one else that is deciding to send me to Winnipeg in December. If I travel now, it’s purely for pleasure and if it’s in the winter, it’s to someplace warm and tropical!! I’d say that’s a whole heck of a lot better than my previous life. Yes, being self-employed can be a bit scary, but I’d take this over the alternative.