by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion
Sharon McRill earned a degree in General Studies, but had no idea what she wanted to do. She took a lot of English and Film/Video and Women’s Studies credits while in school, then decided she wanted to work at Borders Books’ headquarters. “I banged on the door every week until they hired me,” she says. At Borders, Sharon was hired to be a Vendor Liaison and helped buyers track shipments and purchase orders, handled special deals, and managed corporate accounts. She also was in charge of new media, CDs, video, and DVDs.
Borders as a chain got into financial trouble, and Sharon was downsized. By that point, she had been part of Borders’ dot com group, which grew from five people to seventy in the time she worked for them. After being let go, she discovered the company had sold the site, which was a complete surprise to the employees. Although Sharon got a buy-out package and severance, she was very bitter for a while as she looked for a new job.
At first, Sharon wasn’t interested in being an entrepreneur because she had seen her parents and grandparents run businesses and thought being self-employed seemed hard. She landed another corporate job but it didn’t last. At that point, she sat down and made a list of what she knew how to do and was good at, what she trained to do, what she didn’t want to do. She liked project management, working with people, and simplifying things, so that was where she put her focus as she decided to create a company of personal organizers, which is now The Betty Brigade.
Sharon’s company was a hit, helping people clean out their homes, pack up to move, and generally clear out clutter and organize their lives. She hired her first employee after eleven months in business, but really wasn’t sure what came next. “I had no idea how to grow my company,” Sharon admits. “My parents and grandparents had bought existing companies, so I didn’t know how to do that part.”
She went looking for resources, and received coaching from local entrepreneur groups. Then she created a volunteer board of directors as advisors. She bought them dinner on a quarterly basis, and talked candidly with them about the business’s numbers and the issues she faced. That’s when she realized her company’s growth was being slowed by her own difficulty letting go and delegating. “I didn’t trust my staff to do it as well as I did, but they could actually do it better. Now I delegate like crazy,” Sharon says.
Most of Sharon’s family was very supportive of her shift to self-employment. She gave herself a year to make it work, using her unemployment benefits and severance. “I think my family initially underestimated the size of what I was doing,” she reflects with a laugh. Other business owners were very supportive, and she found her tribe of like-minded entrepreneurs.
Sharon’s work and planning paid off, and she broke even her first year. “That was shocking because of how much I didn’t know,” she admits. “We have a goal of thirty percent growth every year, and so far it has been reachable. Everything still goes back into the business because it’s still growing. The big thing I’m working on is how to get new employees up to speed faster. I want to get them in gear in thirty days instead of ninety so we hit profitability faster. Eventually, I’d like to license the business,” Sharon adds.
Along the way, Sharon learned what was really important in her Fresh Start Success. “It has to do with who you are as a person,” she says. “I wanted the company culture to reflect who I was as a person of service. I wanted to create a community of family, co-workers, and vendors. Every person you contact, you can be of service. Bring that commitment into your business and hire people who share it,” she advises.
In 2013, Sharon was very proud that The Betty Brigade was able to donate more than $31,000 from unwanted items from clients. To put that in perspective, their donations included recycling forty-seven cubic yards (almost eight forty-yard dumpsters) of glass, plastic, metal, and paper. They also recycled household toxic waste like paint, cleaners, and unwanted medicine. Sharon enjoys finding unusual ways to recycle. For example, her people often find old fur coats that are un-wearable because they were not stored properly. Sharon discovered a “Coats for Cubs” program that makes fur beds for rescued wild animal babies, which recover faster when nestled in real fur. Unwanted wigs are recycled for cancer patients.
“What can you do that helps the community at large?” Sharon asks. “She encourages the staff to take part in volunteer activities every week. At the end of the month, the staff member with the most volunteer time gets a small prize like movie tickets or candy.
As Sharon’s vision has grown and she’s become attuned to meeting customer needs, The Betty Brigade has grown, too. Her vision has expanded to include not only organizing and de-cluttering services, but also specialized corporate relocation assistance and other niche services.