Business Is Unbelievable: Reflect, Restore,Take Flight – Meet People: Wendy Coulter

I started my business when I was 24 years old. It’s 25 years later and we’re still at it. It’s super exciting to see what happens over 25 years in a business. There are ups and downs and it’s been amazing. That was really what I wanted to talk about today, what I’ve learned over those 25 years: the good and the bad, mostly the good. I mean it’s just amazing to be in business for this amount of time.

This year, I came up with a mantra for Hummingbird for our 25th anniversary. It is reflect, restore, take flight, and it has to do with reflecting on 25 years. We have been looking back at old work, and it’s so funny how even the processes of design have changed. Tools available to us have changed so much, also just the people that I have come across over the years, many of whom I still talk to like you and so many amazing people I’ve met over the years. I am currently on the board of the Cary Chamber of Commerce, and the Cary Chamber is where I started. I walked into you in a Chamber meeting because I didn’t have work. I was looking for a job, I walked into a Chamber meeting. I wandered around. I met three amazing men: Mike Anderson with Advent Screen Printing, Michael Curran with Greenscape and Franklin Hill Farms, and Kim Pasfil with Carolina Job Finder. Those three guys helped me and gave me work. I got my business started, and I was in an industry I had not worked in before. I still am, so I really didn’t have a big background in the industry that I’m in when I started my business. I had no idea what I was doing with my business.

My father owned a shoe store, and I was working in the shoe store when I was four years old. I was riding an elephant as a promotion for the shoe store when I was six years old, so I had a little touch of marketing there. I have a sales and marketing background, but I hadn’t worked in it. I didn’t have a business background, even though my dad ran a business. I did not understand finance. I did not understand what I needed to do to really run a business, and so it’s been quite a time of reflection just to think about all the things I’ve learned. It is amazing to think about the tough time that I’ve been through.

It’s amazing you had Martin Brossman on a couple of shows ago. Martin, I think he introduced us, right. He’s a great friend to us, and Martin talked about life being a roller coaster. I remember I don’t know what year it was. Probably 2002 or 2003, I was at a networking event. It was a NAWBO networking event. That’s the National Associations of Women Business Owners, which I’m on the board of that organization, and I’ve been in it for 25 years. It’s an amazing organization. This year it was Christmas time, and I walked into a party. There was a woman there who was sitting next to me on the couch who I highly admire. Her name is Starling Jones, and she’s another long-time woman business owner who I have known since I started my business. She said, “How are you doing Wendy”, and I said, “Oh my gosh, running a business is like a roller coaster”. I remember a woman who’s in my industry jumping all over me, and she was like “Oh, you don’t say that. You need to put up a better front than that that. Everything is wonderful, and you never admit that you are having problems in public.” You know what David, I had a moment right then and there when I realized that I’m transparent and that’s who I am. You can’t always pretend like everything is always going to be perfect, because it’s not, and if you’re telling people that, then you’re kind of tricking yourself. You might not really have the right outlook on life.

As I reflect on 25 years, the adversities are there. I mean, when I started my business, I had nothing. I was 24 years old, and I couldn’t even afford to buy a meal. I was straight out of college. I’d have a job for a little over a year that didn’t work out well for me, and I walked away from it. I went to a Chamber event, because I needed lunch that day. It turned out it was a great expo, and I met some great people. They really helped me, but that was the reality of it. I’ve been through you know.

In 2001, it was really a tough time, and I got to a place where the word bankruptcy entered the conversations with my family. I had to make some really tough decisions. I had a champion. I had an advocate that I met in 2001, and I was in really just like a really, really low place. He was just amazing. He was a CPA. He helped me look at my finances. He helped me learn things that I needed to learn to run a good business. I learned how to look at the balance sheet and understand what the banks were looking for. I learned what PNL meant to my cash flow. I think so many business owners never learned that. They never learned how to look at their finances. You didn’t learn to really be able to predict cash flow, and I was taught that, you know. I was taught that at a time when you are in your 20s a six-digit mountain of debt seems really big. I’d never owned a house before. I’d never had that kind of debt in my world, and it was really scary, one super problem for me. By the end of 2002, I had paid down all the debt, and it really was from the grace of meeting the CPA who helped me put together a plan, didn’t charge for it, was an advocate for me, and just was there to help. That was amazing.

Again in 2008, I had my daughter in August of 2008. In 2007, I got a loan to buy an office condo. I bought real estate that year. It was an amazing year. In 2008, I had my daughter. Three weeks later, I came back and had to do layoffs. You know, it was up and down and up and down. When we say rollercoaster, I mean the rollercoaster ride, it can happen fast in business. My husband says the only reason I have survived out of business is because I’m just super. I have a lot of grit. I won’t give up. I thrive on it. In some ways, I think Martin mentioned that the rollercoaster ride is fun, and it is fun, but it can really get you down. You have to keep that positive mindset at all times, because whether it is financial times or whether it is having issues with employees, which I can tell millions of stories. I can talk about employees that have thrown chairs across the room. I can tell you about employees who have stopped me at the park and tried to chase me down. I can talk about the wonderful employees who have come back multiple times. It’s all a rollercoaster. It’s all positives and negatives. It’s about that balance of life that really isn’t a balance. It’s up and down. I mean as I reflect that’s what I think about, and it’s amazing to get through it and learn from it and come to the top and come to the bottom of the rollercoaster and start back up and having to change. I think embracing change is such a big part of success in business. I would say the fact that I enjoy the change, and I embrace the change. I learn from the change each time so that I can do it all over again. That’s been super amazing. Those are my reflections over 25 years. Those stories can run really deep and really long, but I think, at the end of the day, embracing the change and understanding that it’s okay. I don’t have to say everything is great all the time. I might say it’s unbelievable. I mean you have heard me say that right. Unbelievable can mean a lot of things.

Like I said, I came up with this mantra: reflect, restore, take flight. I think for the points about going forward, I think the restore and take flight are the pieces that you know everyone needs to really think about. Restore is about looking at things through a lens and saying: How can I tweak it? What do I need to do that is new? Do I have new ideas that maybe I’ve tried to get off the ground but I haven’t had time? When you get a chance to take a breather, these are the times. What are the new ideas or what are the things you’ve always wanted? How do you rework the things that worked for you before? Sometimes, we do things that are amazing that we forget like 3 or 4 years later. It’s like, “Wow, remember when we did that; Oh, we need to do that again.” We did that this year. Years ago, I did Valentine’s, like the heart candy. I delivered it to customers with a thing about how we like their brand. Irie did that idea, this year, because it was such a neat idea. You come up with ideas and you execute them, and you forget about them. We all need to remember that rituals are important to people. So just like you get up every morning and you get yourself ready and you go to your run or whatever you do on a regular basis, we need rituals and business too. I think a lot of business owners are doing all this stuff. They keep moving, and they keep going. They forget, “Oh, that was amazing. Let me do that again and again and again.” That’s part of marketing. That’s part of what I do. Make that part of restoring. Think about new ideas and think about how to expand on things that have worked before. Do some strategy and really take some time to think about it. Give yourself a purpose in what it is you are doing and that way you can take flight. That’s about just doing all those wonderful things that you’ve created for it in your world. That will help your business take flight, whether it is understanding your finances more, whether it is that great social media activity of creating a video podcast kind of situation and starting to put content out. Whatever those ideas are that you want to jumpstart, just reflect on them, and think about how that needs to work so you have purpose.

That’s something I’m trying to work on personally right now. I’ve always been known as a creative person, and there’s perceptions around that. I’m also part of Hummingbird, and so I think people think I’m very flighty because I talk fast, or I have a lot of ideas and all of that. How do we take a step back and say what is the purpose of what it is that we’re doing and make sure that we communicate that to everyone around us? I think that’s super important to growing a business. I think it’s super important to people understanding it’s all about great communication. Always being able to explain you’re purpose in what you do, that’s something I’ve working on right now. It’s been 25 years, and I’m in marketing. I’m still trying to figure out how to communicate really well about how I can help people about strategy and what my purpose is in helping people, which is really to build their value at the end of the day. That’s what Hummingbird is there to help them do. I have to remember to let them know that on a regular basis. We hear purpose all the time now. It’s a buzzword. You know that’s your why. I think there’s a reason that’s become a buzzword is that it’s important to know that and to communicate that really well. I always have purpose, but I don’t communicate it well. I think, as business owners, we have to learn how to do that. We can be the personality types that most business owners are. We’re quick starters. We’re with the entrepreneurial spirit. We kind of run with things. We make things happen, but everyone around us doesn’t understand why so with your team, with your clients, with your advocates that love you making sure that they understand why you do the things that you do really helps cement your reputation. It just helps you communicate your why, and that’s unbelievable.


Wendy Coulter Bio:

Before she could even read, Wendy Coulter was helping her dad sell shoes in his shoe store. Back then, promotions and marketing meant going on the radio to play guitar or riding an elephant in the town parade.

A lot’s changed, but entrepreneurship certainly runs in the family. After graduating from the School of Design at N.C. State University with degrees in Architecture and Industrial Design and a minor in Communications, Coulter entered the workforce for a bit. But in 1995, she founded the business with a desire to put her own ideas to work, creatively solving problems for small businesses.

For Wendy, the hummingbird symbolized what she wanted to do: fly. Hummingbirds can fly forwards, backwards, sideways and upside down. Over two decades later, Hummingbird Creative Group is doing it, thanks to a diverse and dedicated staff. And, Wendy is still intent on sitting down personally with each client to understand the essence of their brand.

With over 25 years of sales and marketing experience and over 20 years of design and branding experience, Wendy Coulter’s passion is to help businesses more effectively communicate their positioning, differentiate their brands and grow revenue. She has grown Hummingbird with a commitment to move marketing initiatives forward for clients in a way that profoundly and positively impacts all areas of their business, and she encourages her team to exchange egos for listening, connecting and driving engagement to help clients live the brand as much as communicate the brand.

Hummingbird Creative Group is an award-winning full-service branding agency that helps companies define brand strategy, develop sustainable brand messaging and implement marketing tactics through advertising, graphic design, sales enablement, public relations and online marketing services. Under Wendy’s leadership, the company has won the “Pinnacle Business Award” from the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, as well as “Business of the Year”, “Employer of the Year” and “Successful Achievement” awards from the Cary Chamber of Commerce.

Wendy’s team at Hummingbird has also won numerous design awards including two Davey Awards in 2015, two Marcom Awards and two Davey Awards in 2014, two Mature Media Awards in 2013, an RBMA Quest Award in 2010, two MAME Raleigh Awards in 2009, two American Corporate Identity Awards in 2007, two American Corporate Identity awards in 2007, three American Corporate Identity awards in 2006, Triangle ADDY Awards in 2004 and 2005, and silver and bronze international Summit Awards in 1999, 2000 and 2008.

Wendy has won numerous awards for her civic work in the local business community including the “Top 50 Entrepreneur”, “Women in Business”, “Woman Extraordinaire”, “Movers and Shakers” and the “40 Under 40 Leadership Award”, just to name a few. She is actively involved in a variety of community and civic endeavors, and frequently presents on topics such as branding, marketing, advertising and design.