“I can’t believe that I have this business and I get paid to do what I love!” Durée Ross is the founder of Durée & Company, a 16-year-old business that specializes in public relations, marketing, and special events. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Durée & Company helps clients across industries create positive impressions through media coverage, partner relationships, and public outreach.
Why did you start your business?
I started in PR when I was 19. I was fortunate enough while I was at the University of Miami to find a part-time job that was also an internship in PR. From that moment on, I fell in love with PR. The rest was history, in that I knew it was my calling. I had a little bit of sales experience, I was really friendly, and I knew how to sell things without really selling them. It was at the core of my being, and it was very easy for me to pick up.
I was full time at a national agency based in Miami Beach before I graduated. Since I did all these internships and other PR jobs before I graduated, I started getting calls from a bunch of different people I had worked with asking me to help with projects. At that point, I was 23 years old. Even though I was very young, I had significant experience. I was living at home at the time, and this little business was born.
I incorporated in 1999. The business has changed as my life has changed. I became engaged, got married, and had children. Over that time, the business has changed at my choice. I was always swamped busy, so then I built a great virtual agency that allowed me to ebb and flow and work from home while I was having kids.
About five years ago, I maxed out all my virtual staff and felt that I had done all that I could do to grow the business. A lot of the companies reaching out wanted to visit an office and see the team, so the virtual agency really wasn’t working for us anymore. We were at a fork in the road. Three years ago, I decided to purchase office space. Renting didn’t make sense at the time, given what I could buy a unit for. The business has grown exponentially from there. We had to double our office space two years later.
How did you get the funds to get going?
Because I lived at home when I first started, I was able to make the business happen, because I didn’t have as many expenses as I would have had otherwise.
When we decided to buy the office space, because of the success of my business, I more than qualified for an SBA loan. There are a lot of hurdles and requirements and paperwork, but it was very advantageous to invest in the business that way. After we built it out, we ended up purchasing the unit next door and combining them. We more than doubled our space in two years. That was also funded by an additional SBA loan. Being my own landlord is certainly great, except for when we have to figure out why something’s leaking!
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. Right after I incorporated, I opened up a company bank account, applied for a credit card, and started trying to lay the groundwork for business credit. Fortunately, I had really good credit on my own. I had built it on my own by getting my first credit card – a gas credit card – when I was 19 at the University of Miami. I was very responsible with it, so I had my own good credit that I could rely on.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
Finding and managing employees. Finding people who want to work, have a good work ethic, and will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
It’s always a struggle. In the last year, I’ve opened my thinking to accepting credit card payments. There have been instances where a person can’t get a check cut or whatever and has asked to just put it on a credit card. It has saved some grief and aggravation. I don’t charge an extra percent, because I’d rather lose $70 or $100 in credit card fees and actually get my money. It’s been very helpful with cash flow, as has using direct deposit with certain clients.
To this day, I have an accountant and a bookkeeper, but I’m the person who does the invoicing. I know off the top of my head what’s open and what’s due to me. I have gotten better at stopping service if we’re not paid a certain amount by a certain time.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
Yes. Everybody who we work with a lot, we ask for at least 30 days. Some are 60 days. I don’t lay out a lot, because we are in a service industry. Whenever a client can pay directly, I try to do that because it helps me with cash flow.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
I let receivables go too long. You’ve got to stay on top of them. One of the things I can’t stand doing is asking people for money. I should have stayed ahead of them and been able to speak up when I needed to.
Another thing is learning to fire clients. If it’s not the right fit, sometimes you just have to walk away. Sometimes, making those tough decisions is hard in the short term, but better in the long term.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
I’ve been a person of my word and always done what I said I was going to do. Being honest and ethical, especially in my field, is unique. I try to keep my head high and my standards high and not get caught up in what other people might be doing. I want to be proud of what I say and what I do. I am very particular about my word, my name, and being as good a person as I can be without letting outside influences bring me down to be somebody that I’m not.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
Making your own schedule. When I had my kids, I was able to flip-flop and work at night a little bit more. If I needed to run to my daughter’s school performance or be the room mom, even to this day I can schedule to pop in to class for a half hour if I have enough notice. Just freedom across the board: with schedule, with vacation, with not having to ask anybody for approval.
What does the future look like for your business?
Every year, we continue to greatly increase our business, so that’s very exciting. We’re getting ready to celebrate 1 year in our double space. I love new business, it’s great, but we have so many clients who continue to work with us and expand their scope of work. Growing accounts and growing staff are things I’m very proud of.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Do your homework and do your research to be sure it’s a viable business. Think about what the future holds for that business, because a lot of companies have gone out of business because the world has changed.
If you’re going out on your own, have your nest egg or six months of expenses in the bank. Plan it out and don’t just walk out the door and decide to go out on your own.
Find a mentor or two. I love to mentor other women, because it’s tough to start a business and have enough patience to go through the ebbs and flows of it. If you can have a mentor who can give you some insight in your industry and guide you, it will help. You also need to have advice from other professionals, like an accountant who can help you set things up the right way the first go around.
With a true passion and a “get it done” kind of attitude, the sky is the limit for anyone who really wants it.