From time to time, I run across people who are curious about how I got to where I am today. I think it’s partly because I work in an industry that is heavily filled with 20-30 somethings. And some just wonder how I landed there.
So I decided to do this post. Beware, it’s a long one.
That’s not saying that I don’t have colleagues who are 40+, or around my age (57), or older than me. It’s just that odds are I end up talking—and relating— to a lot of people who could be my own kids, or yes, my grandkids.
Where do I start? I would like to say, “I was born a “poor black child,” but I’d be stealing a line from one of my favorite Steve Martin movies. So let’s not start there.
The whole computer thing caught my attention in the early 80’s, when I was living on the east side of Washington state. I decided to go to a local college and learn computer programming.
My first computer I touched in college was the Radio Shack TRS 80. What a beauty!
That didn’t last long.
Learning Basic, COBOL, Pascal, Assembly Language and others was boring to me. And when one of my instructors warned us that everything we learned would be obsolete by the time we graduated, that took any incentive to learn programming away.
But this first experience with computers laid the foundation for becoming comfortable using them.
I’m fast forwarding through all the other weird things I tried in college. In 1983, Judy and I got married. In 1988, we decided to move from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California, where I got the creative bug. It was in those heady days of “desktop publishing” that I decided to teach myself graphic design. I got some freelance gigs between my bar tending shifts. After almost five years, we tired of the sameness of So Cal weather and came back up to Washington, landing in Ocean Shores.
And that is where it all started.
The Cat’s Eye Years
Judy and I opened up our first business, Cat’s Eye Graphic Design, in 1992.
The interesting thing about our business name is that the very next day after we had decided on the name, in the middle of a crazy ocean storm, a tiny shivering kitten appeared on our patio deck, almost at death’s door. He was pure white, with one green eye, one blue eye. It was a sign. Cat’s Eye was a lucky name. And Nuz became part of our lives for almost twenty years, even appearing in some of our advertising materials.
I ran our little design shop for three years in Ocean Shores. But it was a laid back beach town, with mainly seasonal (summer) shops whose owners didn’t have big marketing budgets. Many, like the local realtors, were happy with the cheesy, homemade fliers they had been using for years.
After that we moved to Renton, WA, a suburb of Seattle, and it was there where we really grew our business. Judy was doing part-time grant writing for a local school district and all of the copywriting for our business clients. When I started doing photo shoots, Cat’s Eye morphed into Cat’s Eye Design and Photography. Then, when we became a full-service agency, we became Cat’s Eye Marketing. And finally Cat’s Eye Group. But through it all, the constant was Cat’s Eye. It was what everyone knew us as.
We built up our reputation with clients in both the retail/service realms and the nonprofit world, from solo businesses to large hospitals and shopping malls. And during those years I belonged to a lot of Chambers of Commerce. Have sat on their boards as well as boards for nonprofits. Been there, done that.
During that time we also won a few business awards. One year, at the Renton Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence awards, we were surprised at winning two, beating IKEA for one of them.
Enter the web era
In the early 90’s, the whole internet thing was beginning to explode and print marketing had a competitor. I realized that, to adapt, I would need to learn how to build websites. Having heavily invested in print design, this frightened me. I looked at what others were doing, and the whole “HTML” thing boggled my mind. I decided to leave web design in the hands of the daring.
But by 1999, there was no other choice for me. I grabbed my first copy of Adobe GoLive, version 4.0 and started creating what I think of now as “crappy looking little HTML sites.” That experience not only challenged me, but made me more inspired to never become a developer.
Over the years, I did what I could do. But knowing that the internet was becoming a huge part of the marketing/design/advertising world, I knew I would need to change.
Then in 2007, around the same time I discovered social media, I happened upon WordPress.
The rest, as they say, is history.
In 2008, when the economy tanked, I decided that I would do no more print design work. Businesses were doing less of it, and I was finding it harder to feel good about convincing clients into invest in expensive, short life promotional materials.
It would be all WordPress all the time. And I designed my first WordPress website for a client.
While I was still mostly designing sites, I started presenting local workshops on blogging and WordPress. From there I went to speaking at WordCamps and national conferences.
I am an introvert by nature. But somehow I went from being deathly afraid to introduce myself to a small table of business people to speaking in front of hundreds of people.
Most importantly I found that I loved teaching people more than I did designing stuff for them. And that is where I am today.
So with close to 25 years of business management experience, this is what have I learned.
- Be flexible. Keep an open mind. Things change, stuff happens.
- Bring what you can to the table. Take all that experience you have and leverage it in the next steps you take.
- Never screw up your business relationships. Even the smallest and most insignificant one can come back and bite you in the butt.
- Listen a lot.
- Don’t judge anyone on their age, gender or background.
- We have all been there. It’s so important to never forget what that felt like.
- Never stop networking. I don’t mean selling. I mean connecting and making strong relationships in person.
- Laugh. Always laugh.
And that’s my story.