The start-up story for so many entrepreneurs and business owners begins with: I just started and figured it out as I went. Though starting a business can be scary, this truth is also liberating and encouraging, and certainly proved to be for Adrienne Arieff, whose business launched out of many late-night Craigslist searches, backed by pure determination. Adrienne is the Managing Director and Founder of Arieff Communications, a PR, marketing and social media firm which has been transforming lifestyle brands into household names for decades. In addition to running a successful company with offices in New York and San Francisco, she has also penned three books, runs a business mentor program for 20-somethings and teens, and is an Advisor to UniversalGiving® and Accountability Council. Though her path to self-employment wasn’t a straight one (before AC, she worked as an Editor for Vogue, in-house at Burberry and at UNICEF), she attributes the sum of all of her life’s experiences to her continued success. Today, we’re thrilled to have Adrienne share some of her background, insight and wisdom into the world of business and self-employment. –Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
The very first step in my entrepreneurial journey was simply making the decision to start my own business, which began with getting my first client. I searched Craigslist every day and found a “PR Spa gig”—I PR’d my heart out and that successful local campaign led to many successful global campaigns. I had no business plan or even a well-formed idea at that point. I just decided that I wanted to do it and was going to do whatever it took to make it happen. And I did.
Making the decision is such an important first step. I have had my business for 13 years – it is my baby, yet I now feel like it is grown up and becoming a new being.
I love working for myself, but having said that, I often miss having a boss that I can really rely on for senior-level feedback (though, I get that to a certain degree with my senior-level colleagues). If I ever went back to work for someone else, I would handpick a pretty special person with a great sense of humor and big brain for creative to lead me.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?
When I was in college I had to create a PR campaign for an new airline company (it was a similar Virgin-type brand) and I fell in love with the different components of the campaign. From establishing the creative concept to event ideation and figuring out the target audience — I was hooked! It was exciting to really feel like I was developing a brand and distributing that news.
Since then, I have been an editor for Vogue, I have written three books, I have worked in economics at UNICEF and worked as an educational coordinator for a university global exchange; I have definitely had varied interests, but always come back to communications.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Focus! You can offer several services, but keeping your business focused to one area is important. We started with heavy roots in fashion and beauty (I was in-house at Burberry and worked with LUSH), but being located in San Francisco, I had to switch that focus a bit due to consumer demand. We became known for turning products into a lifestyle and it has been my sweet spot for the past 10 years – from Ted Baker to Method, Adidas and Tiny Prints. We have launched almost 40 brands in 13 years.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
In the beginning it was definitely cash flow. Be prepared to expect payment terms of anything between 30-90 days depending on the company. This was tough in the beginning. When I started out I didn’t have any savings and I hadn’t planned forward. Now, it is a bit easier with crowd-funding opportunities and female-specific venture groups, but at the end of the day, numbers do not lie. Pay attention.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Welcome detours and failures and be okay with them. You will learn from your greatest failures.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Everyone looks at failure as such a bad thing – but it is not. Once upon a time you had nothing; no data, no clue. Then you got up and moved forward. I’ve had failures along the way and also many successes. I once tried to take on a piece of business that we were not interested in but that paid very well and in the end, we did poor quality work and the client was not happy. If you are not interested in the product, service, or brand, it just won’t work. Why fake it? I guess my point is don’t take the money and run — always!
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Read more. Seriously, what a better way to stay informed and relax your brain!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Personal time. I have had to give up a lot for the sacrifice of my business. I have mixed feelings, but I have had so many moments of absolute satisfaction and glee from my work that I am generally fine with the sacrifices. As time goes on, I do a lot more to just enjoy little moments with family and friends. I don’t believe in balance, but I do believe that you cannot sacrifice it all, or you may be left with nothing.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
I am most proud of the books I have written and the business I have created. I have a small team and we have worked with the most coveted brands on the planet from Adidas to Method. It has been an honor and privilege.
My biggest career moment was winning the Adidas Neo label business. Launching their teen line into America was fast, complicated, creative, and wonderful. I loved every second.
Also, we do a lot of work in sustainability and social responsibility, so working with Colorhouse Paint, Ecojot, Method, Credo (a new organic beauty chain), Makers Market, WE’VE built and several others has been wonderful. I have had the chance to create many advocacy groups for consumer brands as well as blogger programs on giving back. It is important to think about the storytelling for every brand. Without a story, a brand is flat, no matter how cool it is.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
Well, this is easy for me: My book, Fairytale Success: A Guide to Entrepreneurial Magic.
Has failing at something or quitting ever lead to success for you? Walk us through that.
Quitting something that is not right is always a good move. You feel trapped and you suffer from not doing your best work.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. The idea. Has it been done? If it has been done, has it been done well? Are you trying to disrupt a brand category or start a new one?
2. Do you have the experience to execute?
3. You cannot do it all! If your business is successful, it will grow. This means letting go of a lot. You have to consider this from day #1.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
I love BuzzFeed and NY Times news.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Staying on top of new hires, contracts, mentoring, growth adjustments, and financials…I probably need to hire a COO at this stage!