We recently chatted with Michelle McCullough, entrepreneur owner of Doodads Promotional Products, Startup Princess partner and business development director, wife and mother of two children (ages 3 and 1). We discussed what Michelle loves about her work at Startup Princess, how she thinks work/life balance is a “pile of crap” (her mantra is work/life prioritization) and believes authenticity and passion are two keys to success. See the complete interview below for details.
How did you get involved with Startup Princess?
I discovered Startup Princess in the summer of 2008 through an article in a local business publication called the Utah Valley BusinessQ. I was looking for networking groups to promote my business and thought we could partner up on some upcoming events. So I reached out to the founder, Kelly Anderson, and she asked me to come on board as an event planner for Startup Princess’ Touchpoint conference. After that, Kelly asked me to join Startup Princess full time as the Business Development Director.
What’s your favorite Startup Princess success story?
Sarah Jane Wright of Sarah Jane Studios. She attended a Startup Princess event in September 2007 looking for tips and tricks to make money doing what she loved. Kelly began working with her one-on-one and introduced her to Esty. Her shop became an overnight success and served as a launching pad for her illustration business. Sarah recently finished illustrating her first children's book and her studio has become a national business.
How to you achieve work/life balance as an entrepreneur, wife and mother – plus the time you devote to StartUp Princess?
I’m not very good at work/life balance. Sometimes I really wish I had the structure of a 9-to-5 job. And actually, I think work/life balance is a pile of crap. A fellow entrepreneur and friend said it’s not about balance, it’s about prioritization, and that totally resonated with me. One of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is that I can step back from work when I need to. Every week I ask myself, “What’s the most important thing that needs to happen this week?” and make it happen. If I need to spend more time with my husband or take a “mom day,” I do it, then devote the next day to my business. This creates focus for me, though it can be tiring.
What's the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs making?
I think there are two big mistakes entrepreneurs often make. The first is lack of planning – I know most people hate hearing this but planning is key to success. Startup Princess encourages putting together a long-term business plan, even if just for personal or internal use. Some entrepreneurs are really good planners, so we recommend they complete a full business plan. Other entrepreneurs are daunted by the planning process, so we suggest starting with a simple Sticky Note Business Plan.
Another mistake is not involving other people/professionals to do things they don't have the time or expertise to do. For example, creative business starters often don't have the financial background to handle invoices, taxes and balance sheets. If that’s you, hire someone who knows what they’re doing, even if it’s just part time. It’ll save you headaches, give you peace of mind and free up time to do things only you can do. Personally, I realized that I was spending a lot of time putting stickers on catalogs and mailing them out, so now I hire out neighborhood kids to do that for me. They’re excited about earning money and I'm excited about spending my creative/business building time on other projects.
On top of your work at Startup Princess, you also are the founder of a promotional company, Doodads. What was the biggest challenge launching your company? What are the everyday challenges of maintaining it?
Marketing was, and probably always will be, my biggest challenge. In the beginning it was about getting the word out, letting people know Doodads was an option in a really crowded market. I spent thousands of dollars advertising in different trade show dailies and local papers, trying to find the right mix. I also tried online marketing, which is expensive and didn’t move the needle for me. Today, I spend 90 percent of my advertising budget on events for networking groups, business organizations and chamber of commerce offices. The remaining 10 percent is spent on promotions.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you’d approach or handle differently during Doodad’s early years?
I would be really clear about who my target audience is – at first, I tried to cater to everyone when I should have focused on finding my niche. Entrepreneurs need to find that one area that they can focus on and excel in. Personally, I’m B2B not B2C.
How do you leverage technology for your business?
I think e-mail is my biggest technology implementation. My entire workflow – including proof approval and invoicing – revolves around e-mail and the ability to communicate with customers wherever I am. Together, my laptop and cell phone are a portable business.
Any other advice you’d like to share with our readers?
Find your passion and do what works for you. That’s part of the entrepreneurial mindset – finding your own way. There’s no point in comparing yourself to others even if they seem to have it all. Their work style, personal commitments and goals may be completely different that yours, so focus on what you’ve achieved and where you’re headed. If you’re authentic and driven, everything else will fall into place.