Today, on August 1st, Plaid Swan celebrates their five year anniversary! Within five years, Plaid Swan has accomplished so much. Plaid Swan began as a startup created by two empowered female entrepreneurs, Betsy and Vicki. Now, Plaid Swan is a thriving integrated marketing communications firm.
Within five years, the Plaid Swan team has continued to grow and has been working in a multitude of industries. Plaid Swan looks forward to many more years of growth and innovation. Here is what founders Betsy and Vicki have to say about the past and future of Plaid Swan.
Brittani Wilson: So, let’s get started. Tell me why you both wanted to be entrepreneurs?
Vicki Dirksen: For me, it was all about the flexibility. I have two young daughters and I really wanted to be able to attend all the things they are involved in. At least as much as possible. A traditional job just wasn’t allowing me that flexibility.
Betsy McCloskey: I always knew I wanted to be self-employed, from a very young age. I have never liked my destiny to be in someone else’s hands. I like to drive the bus.
Brittani Wilson: Why did you jump off the bridge during such a slump in the economy? 2011 seems as though it would have been the worst year to open a business.
Betsy: I don’t remember even thinking about the economy, which is a big admission for a marketing person. I had just hit a cross road. I knew that I had no desire to stay where I was in my career. So, for me it was look for another traditional job or jump in to this. A lot of things weighed in to my decision. Did I want to move? My age (now or never and all that); friends telling me that it was time. A perfect storm really.
Vicki: My husband has a good job in Dubuque and he is happy. My kids like school also. But I wasn’t happy. I knew that unlike Betsy who can just up and move, my options were limited. If I wanted to work and have a career that I loved, I would have to build it here. We both also knew there was a better business model than the traditional ad agency and we wanted to see it come to life.
Brittani Wilson: Let’s discuss the business model. It is unique, but a lot of things about Plaid Swan are unusual. Somehow it all just works.
Betsy: Being marketers and following trends, we knew the up and coming Millennials had a different vision for work. And as families became busier with two working parents, flexibility was becoming more and more important for Gen X as well. The question had to be asked. “Why do we care where people work?”
Vicki: It all just evolved from there. Once we mapped out the flexible model, everything blew wide open. We were able to hire talent from across the country and let them live where they wanted. The caliber of people that came forward was just jaw dropping. Especially in the creative arena. We have been approached by, and work with some of the best designers in the country.
Betsy: I agree. They aren’t moving to the Midwest, and why did we need them to? That simply increases rent; capital expenses and all the other massive expenses that go with housing a core team. We have media buyers, public relations people and marketing/account management people in our office, but the designers, photographers, etc. live where they live.
Vicki: Add to that the Millennials who don’t want to work at 8AM and want freedom in their schedule and this simply works for everyone. Maggie Weldin, our Media Strategist came to Dubuque to go to school at Loras College. She wanted to move back home to Florida to be closer to family. We just said, “So? Just move!” It works great for all of us.
Betsy: We are very dependent on technology for meetings. We use a cloud based project management system, so as long as we have internet, all is good!
Brittani Wilson: So, it has been 5 years. Congratulations! What would you have done differently?
Vicki: Know how to open a business. (laughing) There were so many surprises. Taxes, insurance, partnership agreements and all that crazy stuff. No idea. Really, no idea..
Betsy: I would have hired support staff earlier. Vicki and I were working 80+ hours a week for over 2 years. We were writing marketing plans on Christmas Eve for two years in a row. So sad. (laughing)
Brittani Wilson: What is your favorite memory?
Betsy: The day, about 18 months in when I realized that people were calling us because they had heard we did good work from someone they knew. We were getting referrals! It was a Thursday and I suddenly realized that our last 4 clients called us, I didn’t hunt them. That left me a little emotional.
Vicki: Getting my first vacation in 3 years! No, not really. I think it is when we found our office. I thought “This place is in pretty rough shape.” and Betsy saying, “We can fix this.” I knew we were really in business then. Betsy kept me out until the remodel was finished. I walked in to beautiful wood floors, gorgeous walls and it was ours. Something about having your own space that you can call home. Plaid Swan became a living thing to me after that.
Brittani Wilson: What is your philosophy on building a team?
Betsy: Go slow! Pick the right people that you can work WITH. That means more to me that skill. Skill is something we can train.
Vicki: Finding people that are passionate about their field. People coming on board here just to get the flexibility or culture, won’t last. You have to love what you do because we work a lot of hours and we are very busy. You have to love this to do it.
Brittani Wilson: So, after 5 years, you two still seem like very good friends. Most business partnerships don’t make it.
Vicki: We care about very different things. We rarely tread on each other. We really split our skills sets down the middle and went our own way. We get together on decisions that effect the foundation of the company such as goals; staffing levels; budgets etc., but as for the work products, we really have our own clients.
Betsy: Agreed. I am very social. I am the networker, the marketer. Vicki loves data. She can crunch numbers and strategize media all day. We are relieved to have the other one do the part of the work we don’t enjoy as much.
Brittani Wilson: How did you come up with the name?
Vicki: That is the number one question we are asked! Plaid represents our business model. Marketing is the pulling together of many unique fabrics or skills to create something that when it comes together creates another unique, beautiful pattern, just like plaid fabrics. Swan represents that we are female owned and operated. We both love the feminine lines of that particular bird.
Brittani Wilson: I also love the logo.
Betsy: When you look at our logo, you see two things. A swan’s wing and a woman’s eye. Female consumers are the driving force in the USA today. We understand how to reach them.
Brittani Wilson: Well, the entire business model fascinates me. Job well done, ladies. Cheers to a very successful future as Plaid Swan continues to grow!
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