Sometimes staying engaged is as simple as meeting new people or learning how someone else approaches their work. With that in mind, from time to time we will profile inspiring professionals to learn more about their approach to work each day. Enjoy!
Lisa Graham founded Graham Media Partners in 2014 to fulfill her lifelong dream of having her own company. With 10 years of experience, Lisa is well versed in a wide range of disciplines, including marketing, communications, social media, and public relations. She has a strong track record of success, from developing messaging for startups, to executing large conferences for public companies, to launching new products and services that stand apart from the competition.
Steve Graham learned the value of entrepreneurship at a young age by working in his father’s local restaurants. Upon graduating from Cornell University in 2007, Steve spent five years running high-end restaurants and nightlife venues in New York City and Philadelphia. In addition, Steve has over three years of experience working with technology companies where he was responsible for business development, streamlining sales processes, integrating sales and marketing programs, and other operational duties.
What do you do?
Graham Media Partners provides marketing, communications, social media, and web design and development services to small and midsize businesses. While our clients are varied, most of them are in the professional services industry. We are a nimble marketing firm, led by motivated co-founders who are hungry to add value to our clients’ marketing efforts. We help companies stay relevant by embracing new marketing channels such as blogs, social media, e-newsletters, and more.
What are you most proud of so far?
Steve: Not just starting our own business, but seeing it grow. My father has owned many successful small businesses and he always instilled in me that if you really want to be happy you have to do it your own way and be your own boss. He would say, “If you want a beach house, you have to own your own business.” I remember on my 30th birthday earlier this year, while pitching our business idea to friends and family, exclaiming that this was the time to jump in and do it. I believe passion is equally important as skill.
Lisa: For sure, starting our own business. I was more apprehensive about it at first than Steve. He was ready to jump right in. Before I left my cushy corporate job, I needed things lined up. I’m more of a planner in that way, he’s more spontaneous. So far, it’s been the best move we could have made. It is very fulfilling to own your own business and work for yourself, and we’ve been really excited about how quickly things are taking off.
What has been your biggest hurdle so far?
Lisa: Same answer! The emotional part of starting my own business. Taking the leap. Making the decision was the hurdle – after the decision was made, most of the apprehension turned to excitement.
Steve: Getting Lisa to leave the safety of her full-time job.
How do you stay on top of things day-to-day?
Lisa: Every morning I make a list. I group tasks by client, then star the items that are most important. “Most important” to me may mean a deadline is coming up – or it could be the task that adds the most value. Even though it feels great to cross things off the list, there are only so many hours in the day, so I focus on what will make the greatest impact.
Steve: I keep Post-It notes with my daily to-do’s, but I also look to Lisa for direction. We are a good team that way.
How do you keep your eye on the big picture?
Lisa: By making a conscious effort to take a step back and think about the big picture. I also think it’s important to examine what’s going on *today* as well, rather than just flowing through the motions. A lot of this reflection happens when we’re driving, or when I’m out for a walk. It’s easier to have these conversations when we’re not staring at our computers.
Steve: I think it is good practice to have meetings outside of the office space so you don’t get bored and stuck in the now. We talk a lot about the future during our weekly Sunday brunch “meeting.” I find it hard to have new ideas staring at my computer screen, and with so much going on in a restaurant, the different setting helps inspire creativity. Lisa will always ask, “so who is our next client?” and then we will both sit quietly thinking about it. It is good to ask yourself “what’s next?” And rather than taking every piece of business that presents itself, we think about whether or not the opportunity makes sense in the long run.
Besides that, it is also important to divide and conquer. There needs to be someone who worries about today and someone else to think about next week. Lisa spends most of her time taking care of our clients, where my role is to figure out how to grow the company and all the details that go along with that, such as hiring, office space, employee benefits, and partnerships.
On your worst day in the office, what do you do to cheer yourself up?
Lisa: Laugh. Steve can usually make me laugh.
Steve: If things don’t go our way, I take a step back. The bid we lost may not have been the right fit for us to begin with – in which case, it is a blessing in disguise.
When our first real proposal was declined, Lisa was upset and tried to figure out why, but in reality it wasn’t a good fit. We were hungry for that first win, so we refocused and each sales pitch has gotten progressively better ever since. Had we won those early proposals, I don’t think we would be where we are today.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone starting out in your career path, what would it be?
Steve: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Do it while you can and don’t wait until you are 50 with three kids. The younger you are, the easier it is to bounce back – so if you have an idea, don’t wait! Follow your instincts, but also be prepared and do your homework before you take the leap!
Lisa: Mentors are important – your mentor could be someone in a different department, a client – it doesn’t have to be someone you report directly to in the traditional sense. A current client of ours is constantly sharing books with us and speaking about his personal business standards. We have learned a lot from him.
Another tip is to embrace things that could be seen as obstacles. Earlier in my career, when I was a younger woman at a finance company dominated by men, I presented at every single All Hands company meeting while employed there. Standing out can be a good thing – find out how to use it to your advantage!
How do you stay engaged with your work?
Lisa: Surrounding ourselves with a great, fun team is vital. Working with people who you not only email about serious topics, but also movie and wine recommendations – that makes everything better.
Steve: Staying engaged was a huge problem when I worked for other people. I kept getting discouraged because I couldn’t do it my way and then ultimately I would get bored. I find it is easy to stay engaged when I can see our ideas and our efforts stacking up in our bank account.
Additionally, we like to be very hands on and engage our clients in-person as often as possible. Growing up in the restaurant business, I think human interaction is fascinating and it is much easier to read our clients when I can see their facial expressions.
I hope to do many more profiles like this one in the future. Any recommendations? Please DM or tweet me @RachelLColello or comment below!