We’ve been wanting for a while now to carve out some time to profile the marvelous women whose wisdom graces the pages of The Boss of You. We interviewed eighteen entrepreneurs whose businesses inspired — and continue to inspire — us, and who had taken the road less traveled in the business world, carving out niches for themselves that in some way sets them apart.
With all that’s been going on in the flurry of book promotions, we’ve only had time to write a couple of profiles to date: Smoking Lily and Lunapads. That means there are sixteen profiles yet to be written, which sounds like a good summertime project.
Today I want to tell you a bit about Beardwood & Co., LLC, a brand consultancy in New York. Named after its founder, Julia Beardwood, the company has five full-time employees as well as a wide network of freelancers who are brought in for specialized services. Julia has an impressive resume; she worked for many years at a large ad agency, and prior to that for P&G. But she left the big corporate job behind when she determined that it wasn’t compatible with parenthood the way she wanted to experience it. The long, long days weren’t leaving her with time for her family, and she was craving something different. A few years before she headed out on her own, her husband had started his own business, and she kept her corporate job so they’d have one steady paycheque in the family — but once they were sure his business was on solid footing, she decided it was her turn.
Initially, she quit her job and took some time off to be with her kids, but eventually she was asked to bid on a project that was too tempting to resist. She called together a few freelance colleagues and hammered out a proposal, then paused as she was putting the final touches on it, feeling something was missing. She needed a name — a name that would clearly indicate she was the project lead, but also conveyed she wouldn’t be working alone. Short on time, she typed in “Beardwood & Co.,” without thinking the name might stick. Four years and five employees later, it’s still Beardwood & Co., and they’ve created a pretty killer portfolio.
There are two things that stood out strongly for me when I interviewed Julia: Her passion for fostering a positive work environment, and her commitment to giving back to the community. With her big-agency years behind her, her voice became enthusiastic and animated when she talked about how much she loves their office space, the clients they work with, the work they do. She has an obvious love of collaboration and teamwork, and it was clear to me that strong relationships — with her employees, with her clients, and ultimately, with the audience for whom Beardwood & Co. develops brands — are her primary motivation.
She was equally eloquent in talking about Beardwood & Co.’s community involvement, telling me about an organic fertilizer company for whom the small agency had donated their branding and design services. She told me she had seen the products on television and knew they could expand their reach with a stronger visual identity — but guessed correctly they couldn’t afford her services. So she called them up and offered them a discounted rate, which resulted in a project her team could get excited about, even if it wasn’t financially lucrative. Julia explained that one of the secrets to retaining great staff is to give them a chance, once in a while, to work on projects where they can express their passion & creativity without worrying about profitability.
I loved talking with Julia. Her years of experience with large corporations set her apart from many of the other women we spoke to (although there were a couple of others who left big office towers behind when they became their own bosses), and that background gives her a unique perspective on building a small business that can compete with the big fish. She told me she was convinced that being a small, nimble studio gives Beardwood & Co. a competitive edge, and that although there may be some big clients that stick with big agencies for the comfort of the familiar, that there’s always room for smaller players at the table.
I’d say that with clients like Real Simple, Carol’s Daughter, the NBA, and Bath & Body Works, they’re doing pretty well.