Feb 14

10 Lessons of Love: Growing a Small Business

This year Whitestone is celebrating a decade in business. Building this company has been the most rewarding journey and experience. I’ve grown in so many ways and if you would have asked me when I started this business where I thought we would be after ten years, I couldn't have imagined we would be where we are today.

I thought it would be beneficial to document what I’ve loved most about the journey so far and what I've learned about myself and the company along the way. I’m committed to this company's growth for many more years to come. I hope that these lessons can be something that will help other entrepreneurs on their path to success and be a reference that everyone involved in Whitestone can look back on after the next decade in business.

Here are my 10 Lessons of Love for Growing A Small Business:

1. Embody Your Ethos 
2. Obsess Over The Customer Experience 
3. Always Be Authentic
4. Evolve your Brand 
5. Level Up 
6. Delegation is Key 
7. Hire Character, Train Skills 
8. Never Stop Networking 
9. Invest in People 
10. Keep Your Head In The Game
1. Embody Your Ethos 

I believe that our ethos are a reflection of our company’s character and represents our commitment to a particular set of values, beliefs and principles. They are a guide for our behavior and since writing them, we’ve embodied them every single day.

We had eight core values which were long, run on sentences. They were hard to communicate, memorize and often were forgotten about.  To simplify these, about five years ago at a team off-site, we did a group exercise aimed at boiling those eight sentences down to just a handful of words.


What we were left with was five words that made up our ethos which have now shaped who we are as a culture. The five words that make up our ethos are; Human, Reliable, Original, Contemporary, Collaborative.


These words are everything you need to know about our company and they are what I love so much about Whitestone. We’ve embedded our ethos into so many elements of the business. They act as guides for helping attract and retain employees, help us craft processes and policies, and are used to help inform many of our decisions, actions and interactions with employees and customers. Having these to identify with and guide behavior is something that I’m very proud of and is what truly makes Whitestone, Whitestone!


My favorite of all of them is Human. We are a business that services people, creating products made by people for people. We care for our employees and clients and our vendors with respect, compassion, gratitude and kindness.


If you know one thing about Whitestone, it’s that we truly are a human company, which is what I love most about this business.

2. Obsess Over the Customer Experience 

Since day one, delivering an outstanding customer experience has been at the forefront of everything that we do.  It’s our true north star, that guides and aligns the decisions and actions of everything we do within the organization.

I wanted to be a chef growing up and thought my career would be as a successful restaurateur. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University, which is predominantly a culinary and hospitality university. I learned so many lessons from the hospitality industry that we have worked hard to incorporate into Whitestone. We’ve recognized, like most all great restaurants and hotel chains, that we are in the service business and creating a warm and welcoming experience, one thats highly personalized with an emphasis on the details, is paramount for our success. 

Our industry has low barriers to entry and we compete daily with twenty-five thousand other businesses. This is similar to the hospitality industry, where consumers have many options for their next meal or where to lay their head down at night when traveling. We knew that on top of delivering creatively designed quality merchandise, in order to win and be competitive, we would need to make the customer experience the highest priority.  

I think the only way you can truly compete, as a bootstrapped business, is to always obsess over perfecting the customer experience. When you have fun at work, love what you do, and always do what’s right for the customer, you have a recipe for success. That’s what we’ve always done and will always continue to do. 

3. Always Be Authentic

When I started Whitestone, I very much identified as a suit and tie professional. That was all I really knew! I saw my dad leave the house every morning wearing a suit and tie and my first few mentors in business wore the same outfits. I wanted so badly to be a polished, well respected professional and I carried myself in a very buttoned up way because that’s how I thought I had to show up for work everyday. 


Going to work shouldn’t feel like a chore, and this style started to weigh on me for more reasons than the chore of going to the dry cleaners each and every week. It just wasn’t me.  It wasn’t until I made a few hires and started to see people for who they really were, that I started to loosen up and take the corporate jacket off for myself, so to speak. 


I’ve found that being authentic to yourself in business is so important for personal strong relationships with colleagues, customers, and suppliers.  It has allowed me to communicate more openly and honestly, because I’m more true to myself.  I let my natural personality shine through all my interactions, without fear of judgment or feeling like an imposter. 


I’ve loved building a company that allows people to be themselves. We’ve created a company of people that are supportive and without any pressure of having to be something we’re not.  

4. Evolve Your Brand

Starting a company for any individual is a proud moment! Whether you’re a five year old kid selling lemonade on the street or, like myself, a hungry and ambitious young professional launching their first company. There is a level of excitement that comes with starting any endeavor. 


When I started Whitestone, I let that excitement and eagerness come out of the gates fast, getting in the way of properly thinking through our branding. I put a lot of care and thought into the name, but barely any into the logo or overall branding. Frankly speaking, I didn’t understand the importance of a company logo and the symbolism and messaging that’s often behind it.  I neglected to think about our brand’s positioning in the market and the story that we would want to tell the world. The only thing on my mind at the time was making sales so I could pay my rent! 


We’ve had three iterations of the logo, and I can confidently say, this version is here to stay.  When we created this most recent version of the logo, we spent six months internally on the project thinking through every detail.  How would we show up on social media and what would our iconography be for marketing collateral? What would our secondary colors be and where would they be used? We determined how our symbolic stone would evolve, change color, and take shape with every new customer that we boarded. No stone went unturned and it is a brand that I am immensely proud of. 


While going through two rebrands was energy spent away from our customers, when you have a logo that does not accurately portray who you are, it must be changed! And so we did. 

Fun Fact: Whitestone was named after a small town in rural Virginia where my parents planned to retire.  I wanted to tie the name of the company back to my family, and this is what stuck!  The name sounded more mature than childhood nicknames. Could you imagine if we were named Beezer Promotions?! 

5. Level Up

Whitestone struggled to grow in the early days. I think in large part that was due to a lack of capital, me wearing too many hats and an overall lack of experience in every department. I personally hit a ceiling after a few years in business and knew that if we were ever going to scale, I would need to learn new skills, invest in new technologies and expand my base of knowledge. While I wore many hats the first few years, I was predominantly a salesperson.  Sales were what paid the bills and allowed me to eventually hire my first employee. I knew that if we were to ever reach our full potential, I would need to transition out of day-to-day sales and develop into a well rounded business leader. 


Whitestone is the largest company I have ever worked in, and prior to starting the company, I had no management experience. In order for the company to grow to what it has become today, I had to level myself up. 


I embraced the mentality of becoming a lifelong learner, recognizing that my degree in Business Management would only take me so far. I began to educate myself through books, Youtube and online classes on the topics of leadership, management, business operations, and sales psychology. I studied and implemented eos. I developed the attitude that if I could be a little bit better everyday, then we would be okay.

I fell in love with the journey of personal and professional development and can’t imagine where we may have been had I not embraced a growth mindset. This shift in mentality and role function has paid massive dividends for both myself and Whitestone. As a company, you’ll never hear us say internally, “we’ve always done it this way” because I believe we need to be constantly evolving and growing. It’s this mindset that will carry us forward for many years to come.

6. Delegation is Key

In the early days, I wore so many hats! I was the salesperson, the bookkeeper, the marketing manager, and the production specialist. I had to perform each job function to the best of my ability, with or without prior experience in the role.  We were a completely bootstrapped startup and for the first two years, I was the only person actively working in the business full time. 


As the business grew and hires were made, I learned that I needed to delegate tasks to the individuals I had hired. Delegation is a skill you have to practice before getting good at. In the beginning, I was not good at delegating. The fear of letting go, my lack of trust, and an inability to communicate properly, created a struggle when handing tasks to others. 


If I look back at the last ten years, I can identify that our revenue really started to grow as I began to let go of many tasks within the business. I learned to trust my team and became effective with my delegation and communication. This allowed me to focus on other tasks, and overtime, allowed me more time to work on the business, rather than working in the business. 


To use a sports analogy, I saw my role shift to that of a coach. I was no longer on the field, executing the plays, but was on the sidelines calling the plays and helping my teammates master the game. While I didn’t jump full time into coaching, that is effectively what my role has widely become within the company today.  It’s my job to coach and lead the team. I work closely, day in and day out with our directors setting the annual and quarterly direction for the company, and I lay out the strategy for how we’ll reach our goals. 


I’ve fallen in love with this new role and base my success and growth as an entrepreneur off the health, growth and development of our team collectively. 

7. Hire Character, Train Skills

When I first started Whitestone, my parents advised me not to hire any of my friends.  I didn’t listen! Dominique, our Executive Director of Enterprise Sales and longest tenured employee was one of my best friends before she joined the company seven years ago. Hiring her was one of the best decisions I ever made for the business. Jill, our Director of Production, who started two months after Dominique, was her childhood best friend. While hiring friends hasn’t always worked out, it has more often than it hasn’t. 


We’ve created a culture that feels like a community. It is a culture where people can be themselves and not have to pretend to be anything other than that. Good people attract good people. I’ve learned the expression, you can train skills, but you can’t train attitude or personality. This has led to creating a company with real gems of human beings.  We have an incredible company of people who care about their co-workers and the success of their peers. 

As we’ve grown, we’ve needed to hire more specialists and the skills needed for certain roles are paramount. But for sales positions and other roles in the company, we’ve looked at the individual's personality, intrinsic motivation, and overall character more than we have the skills they were previously trained with.

This has led to creating a company that I’ve loved coming to work for every day because I get to build it with my friends and people I care deeply about.

8. Never Stop Networking

It became apparent very quickly after starting Whitestone that the challenges and obstacles I was facing, whether it was trademarking a logo or considering which payroll company to move forward with, were things that no one in my immediate network had experience with. I recognized that I had to establish a network of like-minded people, who I could call on if needed to help offer advice, share perspectives, and help me find resources to help grow my business.

One of the best things I did for myself and the business was graduate from the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Businesses program in 2016. Not only did the six-month growth incubator teach me so much about how to operate and scale a small business, but through the program, I met thirty incredible entrepreneurs who were dealing with many of the same challenges. The program helped me establish a network of individuals who were equally passionate about their businesses and were willing to help me solve problems. I feel grateful that many people in my cohort went on to become dear friends.


I’m 33 years old now and most of my closest friends are entrepreneurs!  This is because of networking and intentionally surrounding myself with brilliant business owners. Many of whom are mavericks of their industry and are people I look at as role models to emulate and aspire to become.  I joined groups such as Entrepreneurs Organization and YPO where I’m rubbing shoulders with other entrepreneurs and business leaders willing to help by sharing resources and their experiences with me, which has helped in more ways than I can put into words.


We moved to a new city a few years ago and I knew that when I left New York, I would be able to find my tribe quickly through these incredible organizations.  Networking has helped me make lifelong friends, travel the world, and grow my business tenfold.

9. Invest in People

One question I ask myself often is: “Would I want to work for myself?”  I’m actively working daily on making that answer an emphatic yes.


I believe people need to know that they have a path to grow professionally and it’s the leader’s job to show them how the company can help them reach their goals. 


I have learned to love being an employer and feel a deep sense of pride having this responsibility on my shoulders. I think that if you want to own and operate a business, you need to recognize the responsibility that comes with being an employer. People’s livelihoods are on the line, and that’s a serious thing, and something I do not take lightly.


I’ve loved developing the culture alongside my amazing team. We’ve created a workplace that I’m immensely proud to be a part of and I think what drives our success is having the mindset that we’re a place where people come to grow a career, and at Whitestone, there are no jobs. 

10. Keep Your Head In The Game

The attitude of a company culture starts at the top. For Whitestone, we started setting goals for absolutely everything. In business, sales and new opportunities aren’t just handed to you. I’ve learned to love the game and believe that you have to show up for a fight, because if you don’t, you’ll get knocked out. 


Prior to becoming a very goal oriented company, we were stagnant and revenue really was slow for three years. We had to change the culture to one that is incredibly goal oriented and now we have monthly, quarterly and annual sales targets shared throughout the company. We have goals for how many people we want to hire a quarter, individual sales goals, and goals for the number of touch points we want to have with our customers. We measure these goals weekly and talk about them collectively as a team.  


Data drives decisions. Without goals and data to measure them, it’s hard to paint an accurate picture for what’s working and what’s not.  

I believe we have a best in class culture, and one that breeds excellence. This is credited to having clear and communicated goals throughout the company and for every individual.

Having goals helps people understand what’s really important and gives management the ability to help where individuals may need support. I’ve loved how we’ve transformed our company into a winning culture and I can directly link this back to creating a company that is incredibly driven and goal oriented.