Hi, Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well.
Liselle Regueiro DeGrave, president of DeGrave Communications, Inc. We are a full-service public relations firm located in Southern California. We specialize in working with government agencies.
Approximately, 90% of our business is water-related, water districts, watershed protection, and wastewater.
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
I majored in public relations and minored in Spanish. Since graduating college all I have done is work in public relations, but providing public relations services and running a business are two very different things.
I am the first to admit that I have a learning curve when it comes to running a business, but I learn from those who have strengths were I know I am weak. As a business owner, I recognize that I can’t do it all.
Right out of college I went to work for a large international PR agency. I learned how to work in a fast-paced environment and worked a lot of hours for very little pay, but I was eager to learn and needed to pay my bills.
I actually worked multiple jobs on the weekends on top of my more-than-full-time agency job.
From there I went to work for a water district. I saw the opportunity to make more, work less and be closer to home. I thought I was leaving a glamorous job for a boring government job, but looking back it was the opportunity of a lifetime and it was how I started to build my network.
The seeds that I planted in my first government job created the foundation for the business that I have today. Never underestimate the connections that you make early in your business journey.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
We provided services for our clients. Some of what we create ends up as a tangible product (brochures, posters, videos, etc.), but a lot of what we develop includes communication pieces, such as talking points or secured media coverage.
We start all our projects by developing a plan. We use research to guide the strategies in the plans. We never want to develop a product with no strategic reasoning.
This is true in our own businesses. As a business owner, it can be easy to get distracted by shiny objects, but when you have a plan to go back to what our goals and objectives are. When we have a decision, does it tie back to what we are trying to achieve?
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
Technically, I opened my business 15 years ago, it was not an overnight decision. I started my business when I was still in college.
All I had was an idea; I wanted to freelance for extra money. I got online, at that time it was still called the World Wide Web and applied for an IRS EIN number. I did small projects initially and went on to take on full-time jobs, but always kept my side hustle going.
Over time, I built a network in water and government. I didn’t know it at the time, but having this specialized network and work experience in a particular sector can set you apart in businesses. Identify what your business does best and keep that in your overall vision.
Understand that businesses take time to grow. Never underestimate the small steps. The small steps add up over time into giant leaps. When launching my businesses I was always cautious about costs.
We have managed to sustain a growing business without taking out a loan. Use the resources you have to do what is absolutely necessary. Don’t spend money that you don’t need. At a minimum, every business needs a logo.
Our first logo was very homemade, I am embarrassed to admit it, but it was literally created on Word. The logo that we have now was actually purchased from Etsy. We love to shop small and support indie businesses so purchasing from Etsy was very much in line without a mission.
It fit our budget at the time and gave us what we needed. As we’ve grown, we are ready for a brand refresh, but not necessary. We continue to grow our business with our simple Etsy logo. People do business with people they like, keep that in mind.
Buying a fancy logo or things you can’t afford will not guarantee your business will thrive. Stay focussed on what needs to get done. Over time as you grow you can reinvest into your business, but when starting out, stay humble and use the resources available. Getting into debt is not a solid start to a new business.
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
Our clients continue to work with us even after one project is done and this says a lot about who we are. We keep an eye on our competitors, look for industry trends and pay attention to feedback.
We strive to exceed what other agencies provide, we meet deadlines and strive to go above and beyond.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
We continue to see growth quarter after quarter. We just hired another employee last month. We plan to continue to grow but have to bee cognizant of managing the growth.
We never want the quality to decrease as we increase volume. In the next 12-months we hope to move to office space, but currently, have a team that works remotely.
This business model works well for us and even when we do expand to an office, our team will continue to have the flexibility to work on their own if preferred.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
As a woman, wife, and mother. I see my business as third on the priority list. I am first a wife, then a mother and lastly a business owner.
It’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of overlap, but keeping my priorities in order to help me stay focused on why I do what I do. For me, owning my businesses is not solely about the financial opportunities, it’s also about the flexibility it provides me as a parent.
Financially my businesses help to support our family and it also provides us the resources to help others. Work does give me a sense of purpose outside of my personal life.
I believe that God has put me in my line of work for a purpose and I find this uplifting. Nothing happens by mistake. My team, my clients and vendors are all a part of the bigger picture that I have seen slowly fall into place over the years.
What tools or services did you use?
Tsheets and Quickbooks are two online platforms that are critical to how we bill. When we first got started we didn’t use Quickbooks; we used a less expensive program, but in the end, it was limited in functionality and we had to switch everything to Quickbooks.
The majority of our projects are billed at an hourly rate, similar to attorneys. We use a program called Tsheets to track staff time. Tsheets integrates with Quickbooks and our time is easily exported we can create invoices from our time.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
Key challenges are always the businesses side of things, such as accounting. Setting aside funds to prepay taxes, establishing a reasonable salary, invoicing, profit and loss statements and staffing are all details that I continue to learn about.
As a business owner, you need to know enough to continue to grow and see opportunities to improve, but we tackle these challenges with the help of a trust-worthy accountant team.
Having an accountant keep the books balanced has been one of my biggest reliefs as a business owner. I always look for people that are experts in areas that I am weak at. Reading, listening to podcasts and talking to people who are doing their work well are free ways to get valuable information.
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
I don’t feel like that generally speaking. Business opportunities are for everyone. Working in the water industry, I often have to work with boards or leadership that are all or mostly men because traditionally this has been a male-dominated field.
This can be a challenge, but the realization that I am there too shows that we are both at the table and opportunities are available to everyone who is willing to do solid work.
I am the child of Cuban refugees who truly struggled to create the American dream. I will never experience the adversary that my grandparents dealt with. My small set-backs will not define me as a victim because of my gender or other reason.
As women we are different than our male counterparts, I always want to celebrate those differences. Our differences are not obstacles, but opportunities.
Business is for women and men, if we get caught up on feeling victimized we are only hurting ourselves.
Looking to kick start your own venture?
Hi! This is Misha.
I interview women founders in building profitable businesses
My idea is for other women to get inspired by these actionable tell-all stories and start their own profitable enterprises.
I am hugely inspired by inspirational interview series starters like IndieHackers, StarterStory by Pat Walls, Failory, SpaceBandits and have put significant efforts in reaching out to women founders in order to get started.