Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. It’s important to realize that not everything is going to be a win. There will be some losses along the way. A bad day, a bad month, or even a bad year doesn’t define you. So when failure happens — a client dropping off, staffing issues, partner disagreements, shake it off. It’s not worth dwelling on, and it takes away from the big picture. You have to be able to separate who you are as a person from the business you created, which is hard to do. Most entrepreneurs end up giving up, so if you are one of the few that stick it out, it’s something to be proud of. Don’t let failures fog your vision.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Grennan.
Kim Grennan is fortunate that her passion is her “job.” She’s the Founder of Axle Eight, a boutique digital marketing agency with a no B.S. attitude. Kim has helped hundreds of companies grow and break the status quo of their respective industries through out-of-the-box marketing approaches.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I originally started in investment banking and M&A. While getting my MBA at Loyola, I worked for an investment bank out of Chicago at night. I was offered a position to work for Verizon’s Innovation Incubator on their Global Strategy team in Boston after graduating. I was responsible for helping chart the organization-wide strategic road maps for non-core B2B markets such as healthcare, IoT, Digital Media, education, and transportation. Eventually, my husband and I wanted to make our way back to our home state of Arizona after being in Boston for a few years. I found an opportunity working for a start-up consulting firm, Tallwave, and we moved back to AZ in May of 2015. After a year there I started full-time freelancing from my home office with a goal to achieve financial freedom at a young age. Most of my clients ultimately needed marketing, and I started seeing really great traction and success.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I would say through gaining success and leads through word of mouth for my freelance business and learning how to reach out and sell myself, it clicked that I could really scale this out as a full-blown agency on my own terms.
The catalyst to how I got to where I am today as the Founder & CEO of Axle Eight was being laid off years ago and not having a backup plan in place. This experience really accentuated my desire to earn money on my own terms, instead of relying on a salary from a business where I didn’t have control over my own destiny.
In your opinion, were you a natural-born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I pride myself on pushing the limits and taking risks. I have definitely always had this entrepreneurial spirit in me, and the desire to earn money on my own, but I think certain events in my life gave me the push to start. Right after I was let go was really where my motivation and drive kicked in to do better for myself and my future.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
When I started Axle Eight, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to work with companies that aren’t afraid to be bold and shake up the status quo within their industries, because that’s exactly what I am doing with Axle Eight. Throughout my career, at other agencies, there were all these strict guidelines around the type of annual contracts we were in with clients, and absolutely no room for flexibility, and lack of real relationship building and I saw how that negatively impacted the entire account. Now, we’re a bunch of young millennial women working with many industries that are typically not so fun or sexy. We come in with a fresh new perspective on how to do things completely differently than what their old-school industries are used to so they can stand out and gain new traction in the market.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Not afraid to take risks — Obviously when you start a business there are risks involved, but I would say at Axle Eight I take it a step further. Myself and the rest of the team are constantly challenging our clients to think outside the box of their industries. I am a firm believer that you attract what you put out there, and I love to work with small, fast-growing brands that want to be bold in their marketing approach. I think the only way to see success is to be a risk-taker.
I love the hustle — Being a go-getter is just who I am. I graduated from Loyola and was the first in school history to complete an MBA in just 8 months, let alone at age 22, so balancing a bunch of responsibilities and moving at a fast pace has definitely contributed to my success.
Ability to connect — At the end of the day marketing is all about connecting to human beings. I know my ability to connect with others has gotten me leads but has also allowed me to find and hire a team of people who are so much more talented than I will ever be. And it’s my belief that keeping those relationships going and close to my heart is so important any success i will have in the present AND future.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
When people ask me now whether or not they think they should get a masters degree I always say hell no. I got my MBA, and I would not have had the same career journey that I’ve had so far without it. But I only say that because I got a job with Verizon because of my MBA program and met one of my greatest mentors through that job. However, in terms of education itself, I don’t think any college degree will give you what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. I don’t regret it in my particular case solely because of that, but I do regret the money I spent on it! If I have kids one day any and all college will be completely optional for them. I think so much more can be learned by going out there and giving things a try instead of learning about it from a textbook. College is becoming obsolete in my opinion where experience far surmounts it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
The culture at Axle Eight is something that I am incredibly proud of. We’ve created a very communication-focused work environment, and have had to work hard on that throughout the pandemic and working from home. I really wanted to emphasize the fact that it’s so much more than just work. We all genuinely care about each other. For example, our Marketing Director just got married and we put together a video for her to wish her well as she left for vacation. Little things like that where we show that we truly care about the milestones each and every member of our team experiences.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Authenticity sells. The more you can bring out the human element in everything you do, the more you’ll attract.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
I think if 2020 and the pandemic taught us anything it’s that relatability matters. Establishing your brand as not only professional but also approachable is a huge way to differentiate yourself.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Oftentimes we don’t realize that your job description can change as you grow. At first, you might be the sole “do-er” but that’s not scalable. So many founders can be so hands-on to a fault, even after you may have people underneath you that can take stuff off your plate. Trust in the people that you hire because you hired them for a reason! This brings me to another one that I have seen and have also been a victim of; rushing into hiring because there is a sudden need and not properly vetting candidates. This one can be tough but also completely taxing to you and your business! If possible try and hire early ahead of your actual needs. Hire on anticipation of growth and the need for that role. It gives you ample time to train-up that employee to be an all-star instead of feeling rushed.
Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
When you make a decision as an entrepreneur, you could potentially change the entire trajectory of your business, and that can impact every single person involved. You don’t necessarily have that kind of pressure when you work a “regular job.” So when you make a great decision, it’s worth celebrating, and the success impacts your entire business, not just one part. However, when you make the wrong decision, you might end up being harder on yourself than you would in a regular job. Or it could even put you in a position where you need to let people go due to financial instability. This is something I don’t take lightly!
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I remember when I was first starting out freelancing and everyone was asking what it was that I did and no one took what I did seriously. Anyone I told they would say, oh well if you want a real full-time job I have a great opportunity for you! Little did they know that even as a freelance business I was still pulling in 2–3X more than what I could probably expect to earn in a role at another company. So seeing my month-over-month growth made me so excited to get out of bed each morning and get more clients and deliver outstanding results. Almost to prove a point — to myself, and others!
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
There was a stint when COVID first hit hard in 2020 where I truly was not sure if we were going to be able to support keeping everyone on the payroll. All of our clients were hurting as well, so I extended 90-day payment terms to many, discounted retainers, and renegotiated contracts just to keep them around. As the Founder, I felt I was the first person that needed to cut their salary, so I had to do that for 6 months just to make sure cash flow-wise we could ensure all employees were always paid. But now that we are back to being cash flow positive, I am so excited about the future year. It’s going to be one of the best ones yet.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Cut my salary out, cut any and all expenses I could, and went to work on sales!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be Ok With Wearing Multiple Hats
To me, being an entrepreneur means wearing many hats to benefit my company, employees, and my clients. If I need to step in and help the paid media team, I do it. If I need to assist my bookkeeper, I’m there. If the office needs some tidying up, that’s on me. It’s not the most glamorous part of the journey, but it’s absolutely rewarding, especially when you are building something great from the ground up.
2. Surround Yourself with Smarties
One of my biggest focuses is on our team–the people who make up our family. I believe that the key to any successful business is hiring people who are far smarter than you, then figuring out how to keep them happy so they stick around. And when they do, it’s a great feeling. With the right team, your job becomes so much easier, and your company is much stronger. It also puts you in a better headspace knowing you can fully trust the team you’ve built.
3. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
It’s important to realize that not everything is going to be a win. There will be some losses along the way. A bad day, a bad month, or even a bad year doesn’t define you. So when failure happens — a client dropping off, staffing issues, partner disagreements, shake it off. It’s not worth dwelling on, and it takes away from the big picture. You have to be able to separate who you are as a person from the business you created, which is hard to do. Most entrepreneurs end up giving up, so if you are one of the few that stick it out, it’s something to be proud of. Don’t let failures fog your vision.
4. Take Care Of Yourself
Selfcare is so important and most entrepreneurs are so busy that they neglect this. But how are you supposed to make an impact if you aren’t the best version of yourself? This means prioritizing your physical and mental health — eating enough, exercising, and taking time for self-care. This powerful combo will help make you an effective leader when push comes to shove.
5. Connect With Like-Minded People
It’s easy as an entrepreneur to isolate yourself as we are busy with the daily grind. I’ve found that connecting with other entrepreneurs through various groups is a great way to gain ideas on how to be more efficient, get inspired, and remind yourself why you became an entrepreneur in the first place. It’s nice to know people are out there who can relate to the successes and struggles of being on an entrepreneurial journey. I’m a part of a group called growth10 that does all this and more for me. I’m so thankful for my peers over there!
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Being adaptable to change is the only way of survival. Knowing that your audience today is going to have different needs even a year from now is a great mentality to have. Entrepreneurs that are flexible, adaptable, and know how to respond to change are the ones who prove to be the most resilient.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I just have never been one who sits well with the status quo and particular rules or norms that I feel hold people back. I’ve always been obsessed with businesses and investing. And most of the time for my ventures, I completely failed. When I was 9 years old my dad gave me $200 to invest in a stock of my choosing so long as I did my research and told him why I thought this stock would be a good investment. I chose Disney, and when I was 18 I took that investment that had at that point exponentially grown and I took that money and established one of my first businesses called “Risky Business”. I bought alcohol breathalyzer vending machines and pitched a bunch of local bars and clubs to allow me to install them on-premise. Well, once I had them installed let’s just say the sales didn’t quite take off as intended. I had several other misses before landing on Axle Eight as the one that immediately saw success. But hey, we all have to kiss a few frogs to get to where we are in the present day. I think resilience is something I have always had in me as a mindset because there was never a question of whether or not I would be successful. I knew I would be. I just had to find what “stuck” for me!
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Externally for the most part, yes. My family and friends would likely agree with the fact that I tend to internalize things A TON. So I may seem completely fine and well but on this inside but my mind could be going 1,000 miles per hour trying to figure out how to get out of a situation — i’ll run scenario after scenario or financial model after model trying to figure out what to do. And for some reason, running these scenarios helps me feel a bit more organized and prepared for things that may or may not be in my control.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Everyone wants a positive work environment and a fun one! I try to be transparent with my team about what’s going on but I don’t want them worrying about things that they can’t personally control. So I choose what I feel is a “need to know” to share, then overshare on the random more team-bonding things. We also love to celebrate the wins together! WE focus a lot on team cohesion. We always try and start each day off on a positive note for our internal team meetings where they are mostly for all of us connecting on a fun, relaxed, friend level. This makes for a positive environment for our culture where we get to laugh a whole lot and that transcends into positive vibes with our clients as well. It comes full circle!
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Two of my favorite quotes that I’ve always like are short and simple but I feel like they are personal mantras of mine: “You make your own luck” — Neale Donald Walsch and “Don’t be like the rest of them darling” — Coco Chanel
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!