By Katie McKee
When we think of freedom, we may envision American patriotism, endless vacation, or even the absence of obligation.
But for some, freedom means working day in day out.
It means late hours and early mornings. It means tirelessly striving to create, innovate and differentiate.
Because for these men and women, freedom is entrepreneurship. The Bureau of Labor Statistics last year reported that in 2015, 15 million people, or 10.1 percent of total U.S. employment, were self-employed.
We spoke with Alix Morrow, a WCA member and the founder of AlixCompany, LLC, an Austin-based strategic planning consultancy, about her journey as an entrepreneur, the freedom it brings to her life, and advice she has for others in the biz who want to gain their independence.
WCA: For our readers, would you briefly discuss your background and journey to entrepreneurship?
Morrow: I think there must be an entrepreneurial gene, plus environment also plays an equally important role. I grew up going to tradeshows, and even today we go to tradeshows as the center of (some) family trips. Growing up, my two sisters and I didn’t play house, we played office! Weekends were often spent in my parents’ warehouse doing things like playing with shipping boxes or rolling coins from the soda machine.
I found my career path very quickly with my first Advertising class with Dr. Murphy at The University of Texas at Austin (UT). Advertising and market research sparked both sides of my brain – it still does today.
After UT I was accepted into a post graduate degree program specifically for Account Planning, and after that I moved to New York City – not knowing anyone, without a job, and during a not-so-good economic time. I figured I would use my life savings to have some fun exploring NYC that summer and look for a job. After about two weeks of having a fun time, I decided it was time to find a job. I worked as a receptionist off Fashion Avenue and as a door girl, in charge of collecting the cover charge, at a bar for bands in Alphabet City on weekends. Lots of stories attached to both of those first NYC jobs that I’ve started to blog about at www.alixmorrow.com. In December after several months, I’d interview for the job of my life and in January I started that job at Young & Rubicam Brands off Madison Avenue.
From there I worked at a couple of well-known research firms in New York City to really hone my market research skills.
“People I admired started describing themselves as a “strategist that specializes in…” and I thought that was smart. It’s called the “T-Model” where the x axis is your area of general professional knowledge and the y axis is your specialization.”
I’m an account planner that specializes in market research.
I started my business about 10 years ago. I made business cards, a website, and started doing more networking than I’d ever done in my life. I started cold calling and had a direct mail campaign with catchy postcards. Within two weeks I had my first gig – working with MTV on a digital initiative. It was awesome and conversations with the client turned from completing the contract to taking on more of a permanent role. I was beyond flattered. However at that point, one of my written goals was to provide strategic planning, short-video, and market research services for two years – I opted to stay on that track.
Today, my primary business pillars with qualitative, quantitative, and creative communication strategic planning services haven’t changed. We continue to offer ‘just right customized’ strategic planning solutions for truly connecting with consumer’s in today’s marketplace.
What has changed is the depth of focus and the specificity on which we can deliver. Our tools, and the knowledge we have from the start has exploded- especially in the past 12 months, with social media and the amount of existing data we have access to. It’s an exciting time!
WCA: On your blog, you discuss your mantra — if you can’t outrun, learn to fly or swim as appropriate — and applying that to your business. How does having a mantra open up possibilities, and what advice do you have for communicators on finding theirs?
Morrow: You read my blog!
Mantras are great. The greatest value of having a mantra is the focus it brings in context.
“’If you can’t outrun, learn to fly or swim as appropriate’ is fitting on the surface for business because it’s about competition and then it gets kind of deep when you start to pull it apart.”
The thing I like the most about it is that depth and the inclusion of a dual perspective. First, the lens is from the inside out and connected to self (reflective), and then it talks to understanding your surroundings from the outside in (perspective). It also suggests movement and the ability to get things done.
There are likely a zillion different ways to find a mantra. I think you have to like it on the surface almost immediately and then you have to like it even more with time. I’d suggest start saving different potential mantras and then revisit those over the course of a few months. The one that is still sticky after a little bit of time is likely your mantra.
WCA: Many argue that entrepreneurship is now more about freedom and independence than capital gain. What’s your take on that statement? What advice can you offer communicators on finding their independence?
Morrow: I think, at the highest level, there are two sides to business in terms of attributes or qualities – hard and soft. The hard attributes are things like profits and margins and the softer attributes are things like freedom and independence.
The very essence of entrepreneurship is about of setting up a business and taking on financial risks in the hope of profit. In my opinion, if you are “more about” freedom and independence than profit, I’m not sure you are an entrepreneur by definition.
That said, I think it’s fair to say when you’re moving between start-up to scale-up phases, the consideration of freedom and independence is likely a common mind space. It goes back to reminding yourself of your professional (and personal) goals. And then, it also gets into where the stuff like mission, vision, and values become bigger or more important.
Independence seems so personal – like a feeling.
“I think if you want to feel like your life is in your own hands, then plow forward with discovering those things that you can truly own.”
This could be as simple and personal as a morning walk ritual, or more involved like initiating professional growth conversations with your superior. The phrase “huge baby steps” fits here; start by being independently actionable!
For more information about Alix, visit alixmorrow.com.