“It’s easy for any business owner to get caught up in every aspect of the business, and there have been times when the goal of growing Approach Marketing has taken over every aspect of my life. To help me stay balanced, I’ve learned that growing my business means narrowing my focus so I can contribute the very best of myself to the agency and my family.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Shroy, president and founder of Approach Marketing, a virtual public relations and marketing firm based in Columbus, Ohio that has nearly doubled in size every year since its founding in 2010.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
My public relations career is rooted in big agency — I started in Chicago working for a global PR firm and then transferred to a mid-sized agency in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio. We were in the heart of the recession and I watched as a number of clients walked away, not because they no longer needed the outsourced agency support, but because million-dollar marketing budgets were the first to be cut. At the same time, I watched the growing trend of experienced freelance talent pour into the marketplace. The reality was that agencies were shrinking, and that agency life is an unsustainable grind for people like me who knew that one day they wanted to start a family or build a life outside of billing 70 hours a week. I knew there had to be a better way.
So in 2010, when the recession really started to take a toll, I seized an opportunity to go out on my own with a two-fold mission: provide “big agency” best-in-class marketing support to clients that still needed the help without all the overhead, and provide a model for experienced PR and marketing consultants to work virtually, with the opportunity to excel in their careers while enjoying the work-life balance they crave.
As a result, Approach Marketing was born, and today we have 20 consultants working throughout the country in a virtual model.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Every spring, our agency holds a two-day, in-person retreat for agency-wide planning, professional development, team-building and celebrating our success. Because we are a virtual company, I’ve found this annual meeting to be essential, and our whole team looks forward to the time we get to spend face-to-face.
In the spring of 2016, I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with my second child and had the idea to schedule the annual meeting in the middle of my maternity leave. On paper, this seemed like a great idea. Since I was out on maternity leave it would be much easier to schedule since my calendar was already clear of client meetings and other work obligations. Plus, it would give me the opportunity to reconnect with my team and catch up on things before I officially came back to work full time.
Well, what seemed like a great idea on paper didn’t work out exactly as planned. I underestimated how much time I needed to adjust physically and mentally to becoming a mom for the second time. I was an emotional wreck, and by the middle of the first day our retreat had turned into a crazy, cathartic therapy session with tears from everyone on the team. We all laugh about it now, but it was definitely a lesson in having realistic expectations for my own work-life balance. I’ve never pushed myself past my breaking point since then!
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
I would say rapid growth has been one of my biggest successes and challenges — the agency has actually doubled in growth nearly every year since we opened our (virtual) doors in 2010. In in the early days, I was signing new clients at a steady but sustainable rate and hand-selecting consultants I knew personally to help execute the work. We were a tight-knit team, keeping our heads down and getting the work done with little structure or process necessary.
But as the agency model really took off, new clients started to take notice. We grew fast but I was doing it all — serving as president, heading up new business development, acting as an account manager, HR director, CFO, and even my own admin! It was the wild west. Fast forward to 2017, I took a step back to think about where I could really add value for the agency and what roles I could (and should) pass on to others. We brought on a Head of Accounts, Head of Talent, CFO and Executive Assistant. We developed robust, scalable processes behind the scenes to keep the agency running smoothly as it grew. And we implemented advanced technology solutions like Office 365, SharePoint, Zoom and Slack to make our workflow more efficient and to keep us connected in real time. Implementing change on that scale was a huge lift for me and for our team. The process wasn’t easy or pretty, but it was a total game-changer and we’re all better off for it.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
To me, leadership is about creating a vision for your organization and then inspiring your team to join you in working towards that vision. At Approach, I’ve always tried to communicate my vision and our business plan to the entire team and find ways to integrate them into the process. You can do this by asking for feedback on goals, inspiring the team to work towards a common vision, or just making sure we’re all on the same page when it comes to the growth of the agency and the strategy that gets us there. The inspiration comes not from telling people what to do or how to do it. Instead it’s about getting your team involved from the onset and looking for opportunities to let them join you in the implementation process.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My dad has always acted as a mentor to me in business. He’s taught me about the importance of relationship building, taking calculated risks and how it’s okay to be aggressive from time to time. More than anything, he’s always willing to listen, talk me through challenges, teach or simply root me on — such great qualities in a mentor.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
This business model was born with work/life balance in mind. That said, at Approach, I am probably the worst offender. The ‘hustle culture’ really resonates with me and it’s truly because I love this agency and I love what I do. I strive to set parameters that create balance, including signing off at 5:30 p.m. each day to spend time with my three kiddos, taking extended breaks from social media to be more present and scheduling time in my calendar to take care of me (workout, decompress, etc.).
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
It’s easy for any business owner to get caught up in every aspect of the business, and there have been times when the goal of growing Approach Marketing has taken over every aspect of my life. To help me stay balanced, I’ve learned that growing my business means narrowing my focus so I can contribute the very best of myself to the agency and my family. When I’m about to start a new task at work, I’m constantly asking myself:
- Is this generating revenue for the business?
- Are my clients better off with me involved in this project?
- Is my team benefiting from my participation here?
- Is this contributing to the overall growth of Approach Marketing?
Asking these questions helps me stay focused on the strengths I bring to the team and delegate other tasks to team members. Sharing the workload allows other talented teammates to contribute to the prosperity of the business while advancing their own careers. In this scenario, everyone wins.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- Prioritize! Set daily, measurable goals
- Narrow your focus to where you can make the biggest impact.
- Surround yourself with smart people, and empower them do their jobs
- Be present in what you’re doing. If you’re at work, be fully immersed. If you’re with your family, let all the distractions go and focus on what’s in front of you.
- Don’t be too busy making a living that you forget to make a life
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.
I am proud to be a woman business owner providing opportunities for experienced professionals to continue to excel in their careers — where having a fulfilling career and advancing as a professional doesn’t mean sacrificing time with kids or completely giving up outside interests. I’ve spent the last decade trying to prove that having a big job and being a good mom at the same time is possible! And I have a team of consultants who can say the same about their own careers and personal lives. I’m proud that I stayed true to my original vision to serve clients well while providing true work-life balance for myself and my team. And I’m proud that no matter how big this agency gets, I will always fiercely protect that vision because I firmly believe that when you love your job, you go the extra mile and the client wins every time.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I fully believe that when you hire smart people and give them the independence and freedom to work in a way that meets their professional and personal needs, they will give 110%. When I first started Approach, virtual working was relatively unknown. And while great strides have been made, I’m still amazed at how many companies offer so little when it comes to workplace flexibility.
I’ve seen firsthand how offering this work/life balance benefits both team members and companies. Parents can be there when kids get off the bus at the end of the day. People can take care of their health, travel and pursue outside interests, while not only getting their work done but delivering results with high accountability. While I know this arrangement doesn’t work for all types of businesses, I’d love to see more companies think creatively about how they can help their employees achieve balance between their work and personal lives.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
You can follow our team at Approach Marketing on Facebook (@approachmarketingpr), Instagram (@approachmarketing), Twitter (@approach) and LinkedIn (@approachmarketing).
You can also find me on Facebook and LinkedIn @MeganShroy.
About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Authority magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live