This fall, a beautiful young woman said to me: Miss Amanda, when did you know you wanted to own a company? I looked at her for a short while, smiled and responded with: NEVER!
It’s the truth. Owning a company was never in my realm or thought process. I wanted to design. Change people’s lives. Push the limits in every possible way. Be weird. Make my family proud. Keep my parents guessing about what hair color would be next. And most importantly, teach my son the importance of following your passion, no matter what it may be.
What actually happened?
It was Fall 2015 and my yearly position perspective review was scheduled to take place that afternoon over lunch. Here we go again, talking about what I have been doing, what I need to be doing and what I want to be doing. Don’t deny it…we all dread these reviews. It’s a lot of small talk, someone tells me to keep up the hard work and I leave feeling the same way I did when we started: overworked and underpaid. There wasn’t anywhere else for me to grow within a company that had not shown growth in the seven years I had been there. I was designing, selling, developing and implementing processes, assisting with various management items when requested, etc. But what else? This certainly can’t be sustainable. It was stifling more days than not and to be honest, there was a large amount of overpromising and under delivering. Before my lunch even arrived that day, a question that carried the weight of a 2-ton boulder was asked of me and my life would forever change: I want you to buy the company.
Stay the course
Here’s the thing, that boulder in my lap, it’s still there and some days I feel like I have not managed to move it at all…in fact, there may be some new ones sitting on top of it. We all know you don’t just snap your fingers and take over a company; plus, I had no desire to buy something that was never my creation. If you are not an innovator, let me tell you something: We don’t do well working with other’s work; using it as inspiration is one thing but using a design or product that was never ours and calling it our own…NOPE, not going to happen. This was an opportunity to build something that was ours, something that we always wished we had as employees. I could buy the stuff I need, then build a company that reflects who we are and who we can always strive to be. Easy! So I thought…
For the next many months my brain was in overdrive mode. Who would have thought this crazy hair tattooed girl would be teaching herself, in expedited time, what a p&l statement, a balance sheet or a cash flow spreadsheet were and how important they are for a sound business. I was trying to analyze what we wanted to purchase, how we were going to purchase it, all while we continued to design and build projects so we could follow our passion and get on a track that led us into a better operational direction. The deeper we got into things it was quickly apparent that we had a lot of potential issues on our plate and we really needed to decide if we wanted to move forward.
Where are the front of house processes? Are the few that exist updated? Do we use them? Is anyone listening to the clients? Are we communicating at all? Why is everything we do reactive and not proactive? Are there department flow charts? Have you seriously been winging it like this for all these years? All the while there was my son, my family, my health and my personal life just sitting on a back burner waiting for me. I tried to tell them what we were up against on a filtered level but to be honest, I am not sure they truly understood. If I told them, they would tell me to RUN; as they should. But something existed I couldn’t leave behind: people.
What have we done?...you are not going to believe it!
So here I am…designer extraordinaire…with limited to no time to design lately. Talk about stifling! But the catch to all of this is: I really like a good challenge…and I mean really. Difficult clients, generally defeating the odds, designs that seem too impossible to figure out, fixing processes, etc. I like to put things in order and see the fruits of my labor; so that is exactly what we did, have been doing and will continue to always do. I say WE because I am blessed to have 30+ people believe in my ability to get us on a track and take us to the next level.
It is pretty remarkable how much one can accomplish when someone believes in them…now multiply that by 30+. Not many people receive messages in the wee hours of the night that simply say: I believe in you. That support did and continues to feed my drive. Regardless of the countless mistakes we made the last year, a team of powerful people that believed in each other accomplished more than I could have ever imagined and here are just a few:
We learned immediately from our mistakes and developed processes to alleviate an in the future. Developed an advisory board that meets quarterly to provide us with strategic advice. Developed a safety team and implemented a safety program. Marketing initiatives such as a new website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Hired our first intern. Hired a mechanic. Implemented and required better organization in the shop. Promoted 6 people. Installed 30+ learning gardens for IPS and other public schools so that children, particularly in troubled areas of the city, can understand the importance of real food. Listened to our clients and created new terms and conditions and proposal templates. Online payment portal. E-sign documents for contracts. Created construction and maintenance department flow charts for increased efficiency and customer service. ICPI certification for 5 new employees. Created maintenance sheets to help clients with new plant material, sod and seeded projects. Created the Top 50 Plants of 317grow. Increased the percentage of women working at 317grow from 8% in 2012 to 26% in 2017. Attended my first ASLA conference in California. Provided fellow co-workers a second chance at life and success.
Where do I stand now?
As I sit back and look at the amazing things we have done in such a short period of time, it’s hard not to be anxious to take the next steps towards being the best. I plan on always challenging my co-workers to get out of their comfort zone, refusing to accept the status quo. The accomplishments we have made strengthened our foundation and have displayed what dedicated teams and people who believe in one another are capable of. Over the last two years, the sleepless nights and endless tears on my pillow, in fear that my efforts would not be enough, have actually made me a better mother, daughter, sister, friend and woman.
I have gained a new confidence that has helped me acknowledge my strength while understanding that I have limits and there are certain characteristics and behaviors that I absolutely will not accept on my journey to greatness. I have learned the importance of being a confident woman with a strong voice and how to stand up for what is right and not being afraid to vocalize it. I value the strength of the people around me and I believe in us. And you should too.
Everything. As of lately, we live in a world where we are waiting for others to disappoint us, instead of supporting the mistakes and encouraging the learning process. We are kidding ourselves if we say we are through the hardest part of this transition, but at least we can begin to see the light. I’m still scared, but that fear motivates me to never give up; it’s healthy.
Moving forward, it is important that we are all vulnerable and honest in all of our business dealings, but headstrong in our progress to be the best. When you want to be better, you do not wait to improve, you start immediately. Perhaps the most exciting change will be new cloud-based software for 2018. The implementation has already started and will allow the staff to work from wherever, whenever. This will help improve customer service, provide better detail when estimating, have accurate job costing information, increase operational efficiencies, provide accountability to team members, allow them more time with their families and so much more.
Personally, it means I get to zoom out and get back to my love of DESIGN and being unique…maybe I will even have time to get another tattoo and we all know I always make time to change my hair. Beyond creating some amazing outdoor spaces, I look forward to working with staff to take our branding and marketing to the next level but more importantly provide them the confidence to be seen, heard and appreciated because they matter, especially to me.