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April Blog: Classic Advice Every Entrepreneur Should Know
Guest Blog Featuring MaryAnn Taylor Crate, Principal and Owner of Added Dimension, LLC
As St. Charles-based Added Dimension LLC celebrates its 18th year in business this month, we caught up with Principal and Owner MaryAnn Taylor Crate. Here she shares part of her entrepreneurship journey and classic advice every business owner should know.
When asked what inspired her to form her own business, MaryAnn cites the changing business cycles and a passion to continue to get ordinary people involved in decision-making process.
“My experience is in community outreach, marketing, and public relations – areas which are always the first areas to get cut when there are financial challenges in a company,” she says. “After years of being caught up in ‘right-sizing,’ I decided to ‘hang my own shingle.’”
Added Dimension LLC is a marketing communications firm that specializes in the design and implementation of community engagement and outreach programs on infrastructure projects such as transportation, roadways, and bridges.
“My company’s primary goal is to bring a variety of voices around the table, to connect them with what is happening in their backyard and shape what their future would look like,” she says. “I saw that infrastructure projects with grassroots community support were more successful. Having the people who lived and worked there be part of the decision-making instead of having it imposed upon them helped with overall success.”
Her company tagline, which reflects this, is “Engaging Ordinary People, Achieving Extraordinary Results.”
“I’ve worked on a variety of projects in the St. Louis region. I spent 10 years on the Stan Musial Memorial Bridge (formerly called the New Mississippi Bridge Project), mostly on the east side of the river in Illinois,” says MaryAnn. “That is the project I am most proud of. When I drive across it, I feel a part of it,” she smiles. “I remember when it was just lines on paper, and I was mobilizing the surrounding communities, working with the engineers and transportation professionals. It was a new connection – literally and figuratively – that we needed across the river.”
While that was a considerable win, there were challenges along the way. She shares her learnings in the advice below:
Get Serious About Business Formation And Planning.
MaryAnn enrolled in the Women’s Entrepreneur Program at UMSL. “Write a business plan – it’s your vision. When you’ve been in business for a while, take a hard look at what worked and didn’t work. You may need to update the plan with new sectors to focus on, or diversify your offerings. As the saying goes, ‘It’s important to be working ON your business and not just working IN your business.’ I didn’t do that and paid for it. I have learned not to depend on one or two clients. Instead, I have a public/private mix. I anticipate which new contracts I am going after (and when) for a stable workflow.”
Invest In Relationships And Follow Through.
When MaryAnn told her former boss she was thinking of starting her own business, he said, “If you do that, I will help you get started.” He gave her a list of people to contact. “I did; one woman in Illinois gave me my first contract. Then, I called two women who had an engineering firm, and we really connected. They mentored me and they passed my name on. I went from having zero projects to having six. They saw something in me, enough to stick their neck out to recommend me to others. It was up to me to deliver from there.”
Do What You’re Best At, And Farm Out The Rest.
As her business grew, she realized, “The work never ends. Some women try to do it all themselves. I learned it’s OK not to. Know your limitations and lean on experts to do what is hard for you.”
Realize You’ll Have To Make Sacrifices To Make Your Business Successful
During the Recession, her business “went on life support,” as she calls it. “I had to pivot. I worked part-time for my business and worked full-time for someone else to keep my employees until they found new jobs. Their livelihood depended on me,” noting that her husband has continued to support her vision.
Her business is growing again. MaryAnn is slowly hiring people when she has work for them, and is careful about who she brings on her team. “This business is my baby; Blood, sweat, and tears have gone into it. In a small business, everyone is ‘all-hands-on-deck’ every day, all day. You work together closely,” she explains. “Finding employees that are as passionate as you and trustworthy – not looking for their own angle or agenda, but to learn and grow with you – that’s hard. My motto is ‘We can eat steak together or eat beans together.’ I’d rather we eat steak. People who work with me need a commitment to be delivering excellence.”
Help Others Who Want To Start Their Own Businesses – Even In Your Same Industry.
Because MaryAnn is involved with a number of initiatives, she is often approached for advice. “When I’m asked, I’ll meet them for lunch and share my knowledge. I don’t think that they would be one of my competitors. I’ve built my brand; my work speaks for itself. I look at it as an opportunity to grow my network. We may work together someday, or they may refer me.”
As she looks to celebrate her company’s anniversary, MaryAnn feels appreciation for those that have helped her along the way. “I’m extremely grateful for them,” she says. “It has been tough at times, but I would not trade it for anything. I have learned a lot. I’m happy about working for myself, being part of the solution instead of watching from the sidelines.”
If you’re interested in starting a business or growing your business, try using the tips MaryAnn suggests – or reach out to her at MTaylorCrate@Added-Dimension.com .