As our savvy followers and fans know, here at Powerhouse (PH) we like to highlight different aspects of business life every month. For the month of April, we’ve been all about Insider Tips, aka all those ways to make your business the best it can be. As always, we are brutally honest about what works, what doesn’t, why, and where to go from here; and we’re not afraid to use PH as our primary example! Recently, I had the distinct honor to sit down with our president, Jessica Bertsch, and chat about all things Powerhouse. What she’s learned from her five years at the helm of PH, what she thinks are the biggest lessons learned, and what advice she has for anyone considering or in the process of starting a small business. Plus, she may have revealed some secrets she hasn’t shared before, so grab a cup of coffee and let’s chat!
HA: Why did you start PH as opposed to some other home business?
JB: For me, the number one consideration was I wanted to create my own environment. A true work/life balance with none of the micromanaging you see in the corporate world. That type of environment just wasn’t for me, and I realized there were so many others who felt the same way. Plus, I wanted to tap into a segment of the population I feel is the most overly qualified yet underused around: our military spouses and veterans. So I took something I was passionate about and combined it with a breadth of talent that I felt was being wasted, and here we are.
HA: What makes PH successful?
JB: I think it’s all in how I define success. I get more excited when we re-contract a client than when we get a new contract. I know we’re doing things right when that happens. I think in five years we’ve had maybe one client who hasn’t re-contracted. My goal is for our clients to realize through their interactions with us that we know what we’re doing, we’re doing it well, and we’re doing it quickly!
HA: In getting to where you are today, what is the biggest or most important lesson you’ve learned?
JB: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to hire the right people. I know that sounds so simple and basic, but it is the key to our success. I can’t do everything we do. For example, I can’t build a website, and you wouldn’t want me to. If I hire the right people, together we make a difference. That’s where the Powerhouse name came from. If I hire the right people, I can ensure our clients get the best service possible. In addition, I want our freelancers to be able to come and go as needed (more of that anti-corporate culture), but know they can live up to high expectations as well.
I know this answer is getting long, but I just have to add that another important lesson I’ve learned is to make sure my contracts with clients are tightly written and have addressed as many potential problems as possible. My contracts weren’t tight enough in the beginning, and I didn’t include verbiage that would allow me and my team members to walk away from a client, or for a client to exit our contract, if necessary. At one point I had to buy my way out of a contract, which was a costly financial lesson to learn!
HA: What advice would you give someone starting his/her own business?
JB: Go for it, but prepare! There will be a lot of ups and downs. Have a legit marketing and business plan. The more you prepare, the more successful you will be. It sounds simple, but the fast-paced culture we live in makes us think, “Hey, it can happen tomorrow!” It’s not true, and you have to plan and prepare for your success. For example, it took me a couple of years to realize that I do all this great marketing for other people; maybe I should do it for myself!
HA: Going back to PH and what you’ve learned, describe the biggest failure you’ve had and what you’ve learned from it.
JB: There were two: I did not pay myself the first year. I would never, ever encourage an entrepreneur to do that. You need to put monetary value on yourself so that you remember that you can do it and that you have value. It was a rough, rough first year getting PH off the ground, and if I’d paid myself I think I would have had an easier time reminding myself that I was working on something great. The other failure I mentioned in a previous answer—it’s key to write tight contracts.
HA: What are your favorite and least favorite things about PH?
JB: My favorite is definitely our clients and team. I love our clients because they provide the work that creates our team, and I love our team because without them PH cannot be successful. Our team does the work, especially the parts I can’t do! I never look at success as a personal thing, but as a team victory. On top of that, we provide a team-type of dynamic freelance service. We’re different and unique because while there are a lot of us, our clients see a one-stop shop that gives them a consortium of talent for a fraction of what they’d have to pay if they hired our freelancers as full-time employees in their own companies.
My least favorite thing is absolutely dealing with finances. I hate it. I really, really do. I like to deal with people and projects, but invoicing makes me cringe. It’s not fun, even though I like getting paid. I also dislike doing contracts, but that’s why I have awesome freelancers who help me, too, so I can focus on the things I love!
HA: Tell us PH’s best-kept secret.
JB: Gosh, I don’t know! We’re pretty straightforward. I guess maybe some people still think I do everything, but I don’t. I use a freelance PH team for everything PH. My hands are involved in it all, but it works just like it does for our other clients. I guess something not many know is that I have an internal goal to give back to our community at least as much I as take in in revenue. At least in the sense that if we grow 200% in one year (which we’ve done every year since we started, by the way, thanks to our clients), I want to give back an equal amount. I believe we should be contributing to the community at the same rate we’re growing in revenue. My personal motto is “Be the good and do goodness in the world.” So I try to give 10% of whatever is left in the bank each month to the community.
HA: In keeping with the secret theme, tell us something about you that no one has heard before.
JB: Well, I guess there are two things I can share. First, I started PH with the finances from a separate dog-boarding business I had started. I used that business to raise the start-up funds I needed for PH. The other is that after the first year I was literally ready to close the doors on PH because it was so hard and I had so many lessons learned that I thought I couldn’t handle it. I was talking to my husband about shutting down, and he asked me if that was what I really wanted to do or if I was just super frustrated. That made me realize that I needed to focus on what made me happy about PH, and I started paying myself so that I could remember my value. After that, I never looked back, and here we are.
HA: Is there anything else you want to add about PH, lessons learned, etc.?
JB: I think that at the end of the day we do really great work and we give back. That just sounds beautiful to me. Recently we were on a long car ride and my husband asked me, “If you could have any job in the world besides being a mom, what would it be?” All I could think was, I’m already in my dream job. This is exactly where I want to be, and I’m so excited about the future.
Thanks for joining us as we reflected on the first five years of Powerhouse Planning, what worked, what didn’t, and why we are, well, a powerhouse. For more insider information, straight from Jessica’s mouth, click on the following hyperlinks. She has tons of information she’d love to share about being a small business owner, advice and tips for success, and ways she has found a balance between being a career and a family woman. If you are a small business owner, or thinking of becoming one, sign up for our Powerhouse newsletter, which always has great information, tips, and trade secrets. As always, best of luck in your endeavors and know that PH is here to help.