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Success Is Not a Destination, It's a Trip
Cycle 4: Pearly Gates (6 0f 6)

There was a creative community taking shape in an old warehouse about eight blocks from the square. I signed a lease on 700 squeare feet in that building, which was owned by a graphic arts company, Hyperion Studio, a business that included pre-press services, and a photo lab, services I use.

At that point I moved into heaven. I discovered Steve, the owner of Hyperion, working every Saturday like I did, and we fell into hanging out over coffee on Saturday mornings. He had artsy friends who hung around too, friends who came in to use the photo darkroom, and it became quite the little art salon. Great wide-ranging conversations, art and the meaning of life, just like college.

He became a really good friend, and we shared everything, grousing about our employees, collaborating on graphic projects together.

It was a good time, but something felt a little different. I wasn't thinking too much about "FAMP" any more. I had basically figured out how to run my business, and how to do the creative work, and the challenge and risk of the early years was now more of a memory.
And then one day, the phone rang. A voice said, "I hear you could write a book on advertising." I laughed, and said "I probably could, who is this?" No, really, he was an acquisitions editor representing an east coast publisher, and he was looking for a manuscript on advertising. He'd gotten my name from an ex-employee.

Because of the writing I'd been doing since Italy, it felt like something I could try.

That phone call resulted in a contract, and through the next year and a half I worked on a manuscript nights and weekends, and it was a good thing. I wasn't sure I could do it, and the sense of risk and challenge was there for me again. In many ways it was the equivalent of going to grad school, in the things I learned and the ways it organized for me things I already knew.

And that led to a second book, and that felt even better. My confidence in my writing grew. But my interest in my advertising and design work waned.

Meanwhile the rise and fall of accounts in my business was going on, and of all things, I picked up sort of a partner. He was a friend who was suddenly fired from his ad agency job for free-lancing, and he rented my conference room and set up his own ad agency, and I did all his design and production work for him. Now you would think this was finally the partnership I'd always wanted. But I found I wasn't very interested in coaching someone through the beginning stages of entrepreneurship, and we agreed to just buy and sell services from each other.

It pumped money into my business in a way I hadn't seen before. Suddenly I was facing pressure to add more staff, more equipment, maybe more space to accommodate them, to keep up with the volume of work this guy was generating.

I could have signed on for that trip, and joined the rise of the Berry Group as an ad agency, but I just didn't want to. I'd lost my taste for risk.

I was experiencing some recognition, some success, for the books, and I began to understand that maybe not my whole life, not everything I ever did or accomplished, would be through White Space.

This time of indecision went on for months, and I was very overworked during that time, really tortured. And one night, as I was driving home from the studio thinking, “am I going to add employees? I don't want to grow again. But am I going to kick out this client? I don't want to be poor again." Same ground I'd been going over for months.

And as I was driving home that night, the streetlights were just coming on over Johnson Street, and they seemed to speak to me. Shimmering voices, like twinkling lights. Now I listen to my dreams, but I'm not accustomed to hearing voices. This was like something out of Ally McBeal.

"The answer is right under your nose," the voices said.

The problem was, I didn't know what that meant. And I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and then it came to me. Who was right under my nose? Steve, at Hyperion, my Saturday morning buddy.

I would sell my business to Hyperion. He was poised for growth–he could serve the Berry Group, and I could be part of it, but I'd no longer have the risk. The best of both worlds.
So I went to Steve and said, "I want to sell you my business." And he said, "My production manager just quit. Would you like the job? " The timing was incredible.
Well, this was a marriage made in heaven, and it happened very quickly. I swapped the value of my business for some stock in his, and moved in and got to work on a Friday afternoon. He hired my staff, took possession of my furniture and fixtures, and that was the end of White Space.

Conclusion

My family and friends were shocked. "How could you sell your business? It was all you ever cared about." Well the answer is it was a child that had grown, and it needed to leave home. My home, anyway.

I'm very happy to have had the experience, and very happy to have ended it in the way that I did. I was lucky that I found someone for whom what I had, had value. With service businesses, especially those based essentially on the talents of the principal, that's not something you can take for granted.

I was able to come home from my trip, come to rest after all those years.
Despite what the Rotarian asked me when I told him I'd sold my business, "was it successful", I find in the end that's not an important question. Failed or successful, I'm grateful for the experience.

While speaking to all those Italian banquets, I found one thing I could say that was not a lie, or too ungrateful. "Grazie per l'opportunita di essere qui." Thank you for the opportunity to be here.

As I said at the start, a good trip is one that's filled with unexpected surprises. Without a few narrow escapes, it's not an adventure. I'm grateful for the adventure of entrepreneurship. The experiences encountered, and the friendships made, in the course of guiding a business, are priceless. They give even the proprietor of a business that has gone belly-up, an experiment gone bad, a reason to feel successful about the effort invested.

I wish similar opportunities, and adventures, for you as well.

go home...

My life stories

Road Map

Cycle 1: Exploring Partnership

Cycle 2: Destination Sole Proprietor. 1987 - 1990

Cycle 3: Destination Lean and Mean, 1990-1993

Cycle 4: Pearly Gates, 1993-1996

 

© 2009 Sarah White. Contact me with comments or questions. Home.