Lynne Golodner stood at a career crossroads nearly five years ago. The funny thing is, she knew exactly where she was going. The freelance journalist decided to start her own public relations and marketing business, Your People.
What makes it unusual is not that a woman was becoming her own boss, or taking the first steps to do so when the economy was showing signs of a slowdown. Golodner, then Lynne Schreiber, was doing it as a newly divorced mother of three young children. She didn’t listen to the naysayers then, and she doesn’t have time for them now. Today Your People employs three workers full-time, four part-timers (all 1099 employees), and plans to bring on interns this summer.
“I am very proud of the fact that when I was getting my life in order I was starting this business,” Golodner says.
This isn’t exactly how Golodner saw her career playing out when she graduated from the University of Michigan in 1993. Then she wanted to be published by a national magazine and write a book before thirty. She did that and became a freelance journalist in 1998. Today the newly remarried mother of four runs Your People from her Southfield home office.
“I wanted to build something bigger than pitching a story here or pitching a story there,” Golodner says. “I had great success as a freelancer, but I got a little tired. I wanted to do something else.”
Golodner saw the news media industry changing. Her point of view showed people hungry for connection, and her firm would help other businesses make those connections in an authentic way. So with the guidance of Zingerman’s co-founder Paul Saginaw, she began building a PR agency based on building real relationships and communities so businesses could better tell their stories.
“Trusting your instincts is very important,” Golodner says. “My instincts were people could build a business by building relationships, and creating that definition of community is essential. That has proven to be totally right and a very valuable path for my business.”
Golodner recently invited Metromode’s Jon Zemke into her home office to talk about public relations, Metro Detroit’s growing craft food businesses, and how being a mom is one of the best ways to prep for a career as an entrepreneur.
Do people perceive that, as a journalist who went into PR, you’ve crossed over to the dark side?
I never really understood how hard publicists work and how important it is that every business needs and deserves PR. Everybody needs to get their message out there. There are tried-and-true ways to do it. When people have that skill and talent and have those relationships with media, it makes it a lot easier.
Which is harder: dealing with the client’s personality or a reporter’s personality?
Depends on which day it is. I always approach each situation with an attitude of ‘I am here to serve.’ My whole focus on both sides is to be of service. If I achieve that then I am successful.
You went from employee to business owner. Now that you have made that transition, could you ever see yourself going back?
I have thought about it a lot. There have been times when I thought it would be easier to just collect a paycheck. But then we saw the recession hit in 2008 and tons of people lost their jobs and were out of work for a year or two at a time. Even then I had those conversations with myself late at night, but then I said, ‘No.’ If I lose a client, well, clients come and clients go. I am not beholden to any one client. I like that I can take my son to a zoo trip on Thursday and then work all day on Saturday and get it all done.
Tracking a story down is similar to what entrepreneurs have to do start and run a business. Are you ever surprised that more reporters don’t become their own bosses?
No. It’s really hard to work for yourself. You need to be very disciplined and organized. (She pulls out a small packet of paper.) This is my to-do list. It’s six pages long. I review it and check things off of it all the time. I am very, very organized. I will work at 5 a.m. and I will work at midnight.
Working from home is a comfortable proposition for the workers and a cost saver for employers. But home has a lot of distractions.
Yes, it does.
How do you make sure your workforce gets the job done in a timely manner?
My full-timers work here from my kitchen table and my laptop if need be. I went through a lot of full-timers before I found my team because it just wasn’t a fit, and I didn’t know [whether] things were getting done. It takes a special person to work on a team like this. It took building to get here.
A good bit of trial and error.
Yes. If I am having someone make calls for me and I can’t hear them make a pitch, it’s a risk for me. My No. 2 (Sari Cicurel) is fantastic at that, but she has done it a lot in front of me in the beginning. I know she is probably better on the phone than I am.
You use a lot of mothers who are re-entering the workforce to staff Your People. This is a demographic that is often overlooked by employers. Why should they pay more attention it?
Mothers have an incredible resume of skills. Multi-tasking, getting the job done, responding under pressure, and being able to change with the wind are some of those skills. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to raise a business.
Women who are re-entering the workforce, or are working part-time and putting their kids first, they have their priorities straight. You’re not a good worker if all you think about is the work. If you look at the whole picture of life and look at every person you work for and with as a human being with a family, then you’re more compassionate, and you care more about what you’re doing.
How does that translate to what you’re doing?
I have found that with all of my clients, at different points, I have had to become a therapist. If somebody comes to you and says ‘I need help building my business,’ there could be a feeling of vulnerability or desperation. They are entrusting their business to you. Their business is their baby. So having that caring and compassion is essential.
Are those demographics –people whose lives don’t fit neatly into the 40-hour work week– more likely to fit into the growing 1099 workforce?
Yes. A lot of people fit into that. All but one of my employees are women with kids. Some have full-time jobs and work on the side for me. Some work for me part-time because their kids take up the other part of their time. That’s a very talented and motivated group of people. This is a very vibrant part of the workforce.
You have a masters in poetry, a degree that doesn’t necessarily garner a lot of respect in the job market.
My parents told me they would pay for law school. I am 40 and they still tell me that. Hello, I have a business. I am not going to law school. (Laughs.)
Make an argument for why people with liberal arts degrees make good employees?
They’re creative. They have a way with communication. They can see the world in detail. That’s huge. Everything is in the details. If you can focus on the details of one moment, you can come up with new ways of doing things. Somebody who majors in poetry is not going to follow the herd.
Entrepreneurs are stereotypically seen as men. Has this conventional wisdom ever impacted your career as a small business owner?
Women can be more entrepreneurial because some take a break from the work place and come back. They had to be scrappy and think outside the box. There are tons of moms who have run side businesses out of their homes for decades. My grandmother, when she was in her 50s, decided to become a court reporter. That’s highly entrepreneurial. She could have done anything. That’s what an entrepreneur is. Someone who believes they can do anything. Women have always done that. Just not in the traditional “Forbes 500” ways.
Which is more of a full-time job, running a business as its owner or running a family as its mother?
That’s a tough question. Having a family is more of a full-time job. I keep looking for more work time. I do get up at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. to get more work done because I don’t want to shortchange my kids.
It’s almost like being a mother is a good primer to becoming a small business owner.
Absolutely. That’s a brilliant way to put it.
You’re a foodie. What do you think about Metro Detroit’s emerging craft-food scene where companies like McClure’s Pickles, Garden Fresh Salsa and Zingerman’s are becoming increasingly prominent businesses?
I love the talent that is coming out of Detroit. I cringe when people bash us because [they think] we [don’t] have a lot of talent. I wrote about McClure’s Pickles before they were on store shelves. I got to see them in their first little factory. I got up early to see them make pickles. It was very cool. I love that. In fact my next career will be opening a cafe.
Jon Zemke is the Innovation & Jobs News Editor for Metromode and the Managing Editor for SEMichiganStartup.com. He conducted and condensed this interview. His last feature was What Does It Mean To Be Business Friendly? A Conversation with Valentine Vodka’s Rifino Valentine .