Cheri Drake had been in broadcasting for more than 30 years when she lost her job during a round of “radio slayings.” As she wracked her brain to figure out her next move, a fellow announcer offered some advice: reinvent yourself. Those two words launched Cheri down a totally new career path as co-owner of Sisters Staging, a company that preps homes for sale or for rent in and around her North Atlanta community. Cheri would never have predicted she’d one day be running her own home design company. But like so many people who work for themselves, Cheri’s unexpected “reinvention” lets her turn a long-time side passion into a burgeoning business.
Cheri, how much home improvement experience did you have before it became your career?
I’ve always been interested in interior design, and I produced a radio show about home improvement for about 15 years. When friends had a house to sell, as a favor I’d help them “stage” their home. Those houses would always sell! People wanted to pay me, but I just thought of it as a hobby.
When I lost my job, I asked myself, “What am I good at?” Staging houses was something I really enjoyed. My sister is a licensed real estate appraiser, and she wanted to be able to work from home while raising her kids. We decided it was the right time to go into business together.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Oh, I’ve done a few bone-headed things! First, I bought a cute logo from a company with a network of freelancers offering web and graphic design, digital marketing services and more. I let myself get talked into them building my website … then upgrading to a mobile website … then buying the social media marketing package. In the end, I’d given them $2300 and had website content that seemed to be written by someone who didn’t speak English and had been dumped into Google Translate. It was a disaster.
Finally, I just had to cut my losses and find a new web designer. I admit I had a couple bad days because of this experience, but it was all part of the learning curve, right? I always own my mistakes, which makes it easier for me to move on.
Now you have a website you love. How does that tie into your marketing strategy?
I think of my website as my front door for customers. Come on in! On my blog, I write up all these crazy posts inspired by “The Grumpy Gardener” (a column in Southern Living). I’m trying to make boring questions interesting – and funny! The blog reflects who we are and what our company is all about. It helps set us apart from our competition.
I use Facebook and Instagram to get our name out into the local community. What’s been super effective is leaving our printed materials – postcards, brochures, business cards – at all the local real estate offices. I’ve paid to join a vendors’ program, too, which means I can attend regular meetings and network with agents and brokers. I’ll be presenting about our company at an upcoming event. It’s definitely worth the fee!
Any sage advice for budding entrepreneurs?
I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to have a signed contract and to get paid upfront. I work with many different real estate agents, and not everyone knows what they’re doing. I’ve rented furniture and then discovered the agent can’t pay me! Now I take my Square with me everywhere. I always ask for payment upfront.
What’s it like going into business with a family member?
My sister and I are very compatible, and we balance each other out. I focus on marketing and our digital strategy. She’s super organized and looks at all our numbers. If Nikki says the numbers won’t work, we won’t accept a client. I’m making it sound easy, but the most important thing is to be mature, take your ego out of the equation – and have fun working together!
What do you hope to get from being part of a community of people who work for themselves?
I love reading about other people’s entrepreneurial experiences. It’s so valuable, especially if you’re open to learning from what they’ve already tried and done. When you work for yourself, it’s exhilarating, but it’s all on you – the good, the bad and the ugly. Being part of a community helps me keep things in perspective.
Now it’s your turn!
QB Community members, have you invested precious dollars into something that should have been fabulous but was a total fail? You’re not alone (just ask Cheri!). Please share all the gory details …