As Co-Principal and Director of Insight at Burnaby-based Shervin Communications, Sherrin Western has seen her business grow in recent years with the help of insights from like-minded female entrepreneurs. Started 20 years ago as a home-based business, Shervin Communications has evolved to a team of seven, and built upon the services it offers to take advantage of the web-based world.
Earlier this month, Western won the Women’s Presidents’ Organization’s (WPO) Next Generation Award, recognizing the recent growth of her business and its potential to grow further, at the Celebrating Women in Business Awards, presented by BMO Bank of Montreal. We spoke to Western to learn her strategies to growing her business, and the importance of relationships to succeeding in the long-term.
What has been your biggest challenge in growing your business?
I think when you get really involved in the day-to-day, you can forget to lift your head up to do the strategic thinking. And I know that’s a common problem for business owners, but that’s the reality. That’s where my affiliation with the different organizations I belong to is helpful. With both GroYourBiz and the WPO, the focus is really strategic. It involves talking about issues and having the great minds of other business owners to bounce ideas off of.
For a business owner who isn’t involved with business organizations or networks, how would you recommend they get started?
The advice I always give to anyone I’m mentoring is to check out a few organizations and look for like-minded people. I like to go and get a feel for the pulse of the room, and ask myself ‘Is this a place I’m going to make time for every month?’ Doing something because you should do it is different than actively attending. And I’m only going to actively engage when I’m with people I enjoy.
As an entrepreneur, how important is relationship-building with your clients to help grow your business?
That’s our advantage as entrepreneurs. We can create much more personalized and intimate relationships with our clients than any large company can. For example, a large corporation might be able to send out automated birthday cards, but the consumer will get that and think ‘Well there’s a computer programmed to make sure that happened.’ But if I get a personalized happy birthday card from a supplier that I work with, right away I think ‘Wow, they took the time to do that themselves, and that’s really cool.’ As a small business, you have relatability that bigger corporations don’t. So the more we can do to build relationship with the clients, the more our clients will remember us.
How do you ensure that you also maintain strong relationships internally?
My partner Kevin and I have learned over the years that bringing on a new team member should be taken very seriously. We know the makeup of our team, so we always look at the style and expertise of the candidate, and how that will fit in our team. We have met people who might be incredibly talented, but just aren’t the right fit. As a team we are so protective of our workplace culture. And I think if we made a poor hiring decision our team would let us know. As a result, all of our employees have been here more than five years and one of our employees has been here 11.
What role does your business have in your local community, and what effects has that had?
Our goal is really to mold the community in which we work. We are located in Burnaby, so our goal is to be the premiere graphic design and web firm in Burnaby. That dictates a lot of our behaviours. If there are events that are very strong in the community, we need to be involved in them in some way. We give to charity, we give to schools, and we also get involved with other local organizations. My belief is that you only get back what you put in. Selfishly, I know the more people that know me the better chance our business has of growing. Once you decided to get involved in things that you want to make an effort in, your time spent away from the office becomes that much more valuable.
Is it difficult to maintain these relationships and community efforts, as the business continues to grow?
It could become more challenging. But our mantra is ‘relationships by design,’ and everything that we do everyday has to live up to that. If it doesn’t then we know we’re doing something wrong. We have no difficulty knowing what our modus operandi is, and the part we love the most is relationship building. Now there are lots of others things that are less glamorous, and so the challenge is to ensure processes are in place to make sure things happen regularly. We have all sorts of reminders, even to help manage our relationships, and our desire to continue tweaking that and fine-tuning these processes is where we will continue to succeed.