Art & Commerce: Bringing Up Baby

An entrepreneur shares her secrets for creating a startup
I’m often asked how I came to
the decision to start The Kaplan Thaler Group after many successful years at large, dynamic agencies. Well, I’m not actually asked that often, but for those who are interested, here are some guidelines to help you decide whether to begin your own company.
First, understand what your motivation is for giving birth to this alien being that will one day take on a life of its own and never let you sleep. If it’s to walk away from all the stress and heartache of a large corporate agency, fugheddaboudit!
At least at a big agency, someone else is paying for the car service and your Visa only gets you so far. But on the positive side, the decisions you make are yours and yours alone. You may screw up, but it’s your mistake. Still, I sometimes miss the days of finding someone important to blame when you have the meeting from hell.
If you’re doing it for financial reasons alone, think again. With your business, you’ll discover expenses in places you didn’t know existed. Suddenly, that special elite “must have” paper stock for your business cards takes a backseat to buying a chair for, well, your back seat.
Where do you start? Create a vision of who you are and what you want your company to be. You can devise a strategic business plan illustrated with multicolored charts. Or you can just look at your rent bill and pitch like hell for whatever you can. We did the latter, and it worked.
Once the company is up and running, the challenges are constant. There’s the time struggle between servicing clients and pitching new ones. There’s the business of just being in business (furniture, working A/C, computers, etc.). But true success, we realized early on, rests with one person–the person who can keep the lines of communication open, who can push the buttons and keep business ringing off the hook. That person is the Bell Atlantic phone guy. He’s booked weeks and weeks in advance. If you’re thinking of starting an agency in the fall of 2003, call now for an appointment.
Another crossroads for an independent agency is whether you will want an extended family. As The Kaplan Thaler Group became a fast-growing creative shop, we had several suitors. After weighing many factors, we were happily acquired last year by the MacManus Group, which in turn merged with Leo Burnett, which merged with Dentsu to become b/com3. This means I have one very large parent right now and a lot of new stationery to reorder on a monthly basis.
Seriously, the union has been extraordinarily fortuitous, since we can now pitch business previously unavailable to us. It has also added resources to our entertainment division, which focuses on developing and producing TV specials.
Finally, remind yourself you can do anything as long as you accept the possibility you may fail. My advice: If it’s in your heart, go for it. Look in the mirror, take a flying leap and remember to laugh. That will
be easy to do when you look in the mirror as you take a flying leap. K