Nav is committed to helping business owners succeed, and women business owners are an important and growing part of that group. Throughout October, we are celebrating National Women’s Small Business Month — commending both the vast contributions of women-owned businesses and women who are just now taking the plunge into business ownership.
Sandi Webster and her business partner Peggy McHale started Consultants 2 Go 13 years ago to address a need they saw in their jobs as corporate marketing managers. Both wanted consultants who could come in to help with projects and hit the ground running. Other consulting firms were providing them with junior-level people who had little experience or training. Webster and McHale decided to take action and fill the need for veteran marketing and analytics consultants by opening their business, which has been going strong ever since.
Why did you start your business?
My background is marketing and analytics. My business partner was in marketing. We both worked in large corporations for most of our careers. We managed large teams and launched new products. We were in a great position to utilize consultants because we were the ones who held the budgets and understood the resourcing needs.
A problem I had when I was in corporate was that the companies I worked for tended to use these big consulting corporations that would give you very young and junior people right out of college. These were people who didn’t know a lot about our product, so I’d have to train them. I’d end up paying a premium for these people and then have to train them on my own product. I thought, “Gee, I know 10 people who I could call to do this who I wouldn’t have to train.” Most of them were women who had left the company because they had children and the corporation did not offer a flexible work arrangement.
We started utilizing these women instead of the junior people from the consulting firms, and it was amazing. They could do something in three days that would take a junior person five or six. They would do it correctly and they already knew the politics within the company. We thought, “Why doesn’t someone open a company to have all these women work for them?” So, we had the idea for our business when we were in the corporate world, and executed on it once we had left those jobs.
How did you get the funds to get going?
This business did not need a lot of financing, since we’re dealing with intellectual capital. We started it with $2,000 of our own money. We used that to update our computers and buy a printer and a fax machine, which was critical at the time. We also set up our telephone lines and made sure we had a speaker with a mute button. That’s all we needed since we were working from home at the time.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. We did not have business credit when we started out because we didn’t really need any credit. When it got to the point when we needed some credit, we decided on a small line of business credit. We did not want a loan, because we weren’t sure when we would need access to the money.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
The most challenging thing, by far, is having employees, because there are so many regulations and policies and procedures to follow. We started out as a 1099 company using contractors. That was a piece of cake, because there aren’t all these stipulations. Now, we’ve moved to a W2 organization.
The people management and all the different personalities are hard. The HR aspect is challenging for me. Even though I thrive on new and different things, no two people are alike, so you have to treat each person differently, but equal.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
We started off taking our profits and putting them back into the business, even if it meant forgoing a paycheck.
As we’ve grown, our CFO recommended taking out a line of credit. We didn’t need it, but we followed the old adage, “Borrow money when you don’t need it.” We knew there would be a time when we might run into some cash flow problems because we were staffing up quite a bit. We’ve drawn on the line once or twice a year just to make sure we’re using it, even though we haven’t really needed to.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
We’ve made a lot of mistakes. The biggest mistake was not estimating our taxes properly. We wound up with a tax bill that almost put us out of business one year. We had phenomenal growth, so our revenues grew. Then, when the tax bill came, we were in shock.
At the time, we did not have all the right financial people in place to advise us. Since then, we’ve hired a CFO who overlooks everything, and we have a bookkeeper and an accountant. We’ve made sure that those mistakes will never happen again.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
We had a business plan and a marketing plan and all the strategy that goes along with that set before we started our business. Peggy and I had all of our agreements in place well beforehand. Then, we sat down and really strategized ahead of our launch. We had a very good idea of the customers we wanted and our pricing.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
The most rewarding thing is learning something new every single day. I get to talk to a lot of new people who I normally would not meet if I was working in a corporation. I get to work in different industries and with different brands.
What does the future look like for your business?
This year, we made the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies for the fourth time, so that was a big milestone for us. We’ve launched a pharma practice, so that’s going to be a growth area for us next year.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Do your research, not just on all the good things about having a business, but also on all the challenges. For example, at one point I was thinking of starting a franchise before I opened this business. I went to franchisers who were having great success, and I went to ones who had failed. I wanted to know what I should look out for. As a result, I decided that I did not want to start a franchise, because the cons outweighed the pros.