“We don’t do mediocre.” said Creative Director and Founder of Studiothink Sherry Jacobi, “And not just in work. It goes beyond that.” Headquartered in Cloverdale, Jacobi and her business partner Chandra Blouin, director of strategy and founder, began their marketing agency 24 years ago in 1997 with no capital and only the small funds they had personally saved. Now they lead the largest female-led branding agency in BC and a team of 17.
The desire to start their own branding agency was rooted in their drive to step outside traditional boundaries and create great work. They wanted to be creative without somebody holding them back. Step out of the box. Something they could truly do to its fullest potential while working for someone else.
Although their roles in the company are different, they’re always working together. And after 25 years –as expected in any healthy partnership—they’ve had their ups, downs. “It’s definitely like a marriage. We joke around that we’ve been married to each other longer than our husbands.” Said Jacobi, “And if you want a partnership to work, like a marriage, you need to work at it every day. And if it gets really bad we just get drunk on wine together.”
They credit the real success of their business to a change in mindset a few years ago where they decided to let go and trust themselves to do it their way. And it worked. Business is buzzing. So we sat down with them to see what advice they have and the lessons they’ve learned from being in business for almost 25 years.
What general advice do you wish someone gave you when you were first starting?
Chandra: Pay a lawyer to draft up a proper employment contract. We learned that the hard way. And trust yourself and your decisions. Be authentic to yourself.
Sherry: If you are first starting, then start. Stop making excuses, or trying to create a backup plan. Don’t talk about it, stress about it, think about it, worry about it, or wonder about it. If it’s your passion, then get out there and make it happen.
What financial advice do you wish someone gave you when you were first starting?
Chandra: I wish we’d had more advisement on how to manage our bookkeeping so our company was more appealing to banks. There are key things that banks look for before giving a company a loan or mortgage and I feel like we were given this advice too late. Like other entrepreneurs, we will always prefer to spend our time doing what we love, and as little time as possible doing the “business” stuff like financials. Having a free or low-cost advisor that looked at our books for opportunities to improve our company financially would have been amazing and helped us be better prepared for opportunities like buying a building.
How is it working with a partner rather than as an individual business owner?
Chandra: Supportive. Collaborative. Fun. There have been many occasions over the years where individual business owners have come to Sherry and me just to bounce ideas off us. It makes us realize how valuable and lucky we are to have each other. Regardless of what obstacles we’ve faced over the years, including COVID-19, we know that together we can make it through. We’ve weathered start-up debt, the 2008 global financial crisis, a lawsuit and now the pandemic.
Sherry: I seriously can’t imagine not having a true partner in this business. Having someone who I can vent to, brainstorm with and share problems with has been instrumental in our success. We both have different skillsets and different personalities, which gives us the freedom to each pursue different avenues and roles within the company, and yet still have the support and advice of each other. Oh, and she makes a killer wine-drinking buddy. Everyone should have that.
How did you learn to work so well together?
Chandra: Red wine and a shared “go for it” attitude. We treat each other like family instead of business partners. We pay attention to each other’s needs. We always present a united front, even if we disagree. And we make up over a bottle of wine.
Sherry: From the beginning, we’ve had a mutual goal to succeed, and we both have an open mind towards each other’s opinions. We’ve been through a lot of difficult things together, both personally and professionally, and we have learned how rare it is to have someone that is so one hundred percent behind you. Valuing each other is crucial to working well together, and, to having great friendships. We are extremely lucky to have both.
Can you share about a circumstance or period in which you faced a particularly tough business challenge, and how you overcame it?
Chandra: I think our toughest decision was early on, a couple of years after we started. We had borrowed money from the BDC to publish a Fraser Valley business magazine so we could in-turn promote our marketing and design services. After 2 years of publishing, however, we had incurred large payables owed to prepress and printers due to unprofitable months of ad sales. Every month we published our deficit grew. But if we stopped publishing, there would be no ad revenue and we’d be reliant on whatever design and marketing business we could drum up. Plus our company would still need to pay off the BDC loan and our suppliers. It was a tough decision—so Sherry and I shut the company down and go get jobs to pay off the debt? Or do we just go for it and do everything we can to grow our design and marketing business. Obviously, we wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t go for it. Thankfully all of the effort we had put into getting our name out there with the magazine, along with some very understanding suppliers, and a unique way of packaging up our services worked!
Sherry: There was a period, years after we were successful when both of us were unhappy and considered shutting down the company. We didn’t enjoy coming to work, we didn’t enjoy the work we were doing, we didn’t enjoy the people we were doing it with. Instead of giving up, we decided to hire a business coach to walk us through weekly sessions of discovery, and this turned our whole business around. We went from being an unhealthy business focused on profits, to a healthy business focused on being authentic. Finding our groove as a business that was authentically us, without compromise, made all the difference in our lives. And, it has made all the difference in our company and our employees. We now stand by our core values, and fiercely defend our company from negativity and people who don’t believe in what we’ve built here. I can honestly say I am happy and excited to go to work every single day. I love the team and enjoy every minute with them. I can’t think of many other people who can say that.
To learn about financial options for your business, book an appointment with one of our business experts. Also, visit The Small Business Centre for more small business tips, funding options, and valuable insight.
The stuff we have to say.
While these suggestions are believed to be good practices, they are intended as general information only. Business owners should assess their own unique situation and may wish to seek professional advice to determine the right approach for them.