We’re launching Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at the Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, innovative, successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: Gini Dietrich, the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communication firm. She’s also an award-winning writer, co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR, a weekly podcast about communications and social media. Gini is smart, kind of sassy and, like me, loves Dairy Queen.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Gini Dietrich: I always wanted to get a law degree so I could negotiate contracts for athletes. Because of family issues when I graduated from college, I had to get a full-time job instead of going on to law school.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Dietrich: The truth of the matter is I have a problem with authority. I don’t do well when people supervise me who I perceive are not as smart as me. It’s a bit narcissistic and immature. I’ve grown out of it some, but when I started the business, it was because I knew there was a better way to do communications and to measure it and I didn’t have anyone above me telling me it couldn’t be done.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Dietrich: I never really set out to build a big business. I was happy to do project work for clients and have one or two people helping me. I always figured, if I couldn’t make a go of it, I could always go back and get a big, fancy job at a PR agency. But, after the economy tanked and we worked as hard as we did to survive, I knew it was time to take it seriously and I set to work to grow something that will be here for generations.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Dietrich: Cash is king. You really don’t understand what that means until you don’t have cash. In 2011, when the first debt ceiling debate happened [in Washington, DC], most clients slammed on the brakes in terms of paying their invoices. We were just coming out of the recession and no one knew what was going to happen so everyone hoarded their cash. I didn’t take a paycheck that year and I remember one payroll coming up that I had no idea how I was going to pay. Since then, I’ve learned how to create cash flow and not overspend based on accounts receivables.
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Dietrich: I’m a communications professional by trade so it makes sense that I would recommend this, but it’s something I didn’t do in the beginning. Marketing your organization is so important. I remember a managing director we had on our team who kept pushing me to do our own marketing and PR. I kept pushing back by saying clients wanted us to work for them, not to see how well we do it for ourselves. But it turns out she was right. You can’t grow or build a reputation without focusing some time and money on those things.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Dietrich: I’m intrigued about brand journalism and newsrooms for organizations. There are companies doing it really well right now—GE, The LEGO Group, American Express, Zingerman’s—and it’s going to hit more business-to-business and smaller organizations soon.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Dietrich: That’s like asking me to name my favorite child! Right now, it’s Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I read all the criticism before I read the book and I was shocked to find most of it unfounded. The book isn’t written just for career-minded women, but for all women. It’s a look at how much things have changed, but also stayed the same. There is a chapter in it where she talks about the art of negotiation and I realized that it doesn’t matter if you work inside the home, serve on boards, work with charities, run a small business, or work for a giant corporation, we can all be better at negotiation. It is inspiring and motivating.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Dietrich: I’m paraphrasing, but it’s, “It doesn’t matter if you fall, but how quickly you get up when you do.”