January 16, 2011
John and Stephanie Harmon knew that if they didn't make changes to their business, Market Direct, during the recession in 2009, their small firm would not make it through the year.
The couple was forced to re-evaluate every aspect of their business which offers marketing, design, printing and promotions services to small and medium firms. Although the process was a struggle, their business has come out stronger and was even recognized by the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce as a 2010 Small Business of the Year, reports Cincinnati.com
"Giving up wasn't an option," Stephanie says to the source. "We knew we had to make it work."
The couple bought Market Direct in 2004 after John left a job with the international construction and management firm Bechtel. Together they pooled their limited experience with marketing to undertake the challenge of running their own small business.
"I have to say I was pretty cocky when I started this," John says to the source. "I had managed multimillion-dollar budgets, and I thought this would be nothing. Running a small business is pretty humbling.
"In a big corporation you have all the support you need ... administration, accounting. In a small business it's all you."
Despite the new challenge, the Harmons were able to add clientele steadily for the first few years. But then the recession hit, and it got harder.
Stephanie joined her husband at Market Direct after she lost her job at Fidelity Investments in 2009.
The Harmons cut back employee hours, and knew they needed to take immediate action if Market Direct was going to survive the year.
"We knew we couldn't do this on our own," says John, so he sought help through the African American Chamber.
The chamber connected them with Sheila Mixon, director of the Small Business Development Center, a public/private cooperative that assists small business owners. Mixon offered advice on how to cut costs and to focus on core clientele to improve their bottom line.
"We worked on a strategic plan that focused on the types of clients they wanted to go after," Mixon says to Cincinnati.com. "There were also gaps in their operation, and we worked through those to close them and improve their cost structure.
"Making hard business decisions is part of the process. It wasn't easy, but they're on the right path now," Mixon says.
Market Direct moved to a more affordable location, cut staff, renegotiated contracts with vendors to secure better prices and streamlined delivery to clients to cut storage costs.
"After the streamlining process, our bottom line improved by 165 percent," John says.
With their new plan in place, the Harmons are optimistic about 2011 and are now also looking for business alliances that can offer complementary services, such as public relations and electronic marketing.
Despite the changes, service to their 100 or so clients has and will continue to be their first priority.
One client Krutarth Jain, president of the Hindu Society of Greater Cincinnati, says his group has done business with Market Direct for years.
"We've been approached by bigger guys, but we wouldn't switch," Jain says to the source. "They (Market Direct) work at a personal level. That's the kind of service we like. We publish 1,600 newsletters each month, and our editor is always running behind. But Stephanie always makes it work."