Elizabeth Michael knows the world of small business well. Not only did she co-found Arkansas' first cannabis communications firm, Bud Agency, but she also runs her own media consulting practice, Marian Consulting, and co-owns Bark Bar, the state's first bar for humans and dogs alike.
We caught up with Michael, one of this year's Arkansas Business 40 Under 40 honorees, for the latest installment of our Small Business Talk series highlighting and demystifying the world of women in small business.
Elevator pitch time. Tell us about Bud Agency.
EM: Bud Agency is a full-service ad agency that focuses on the legal cannabis industry. Every state has complex rules and regulations that make compliance nuanced and difficult, especially with advertising, PR and marketing. The cannabis industry is new and watching it unfold and mature is humbling. It’s challenging and rewarding to develop compliant campaigns that actually work. We really get to flex our creative muscles. Bud isn’t the only thing that keeps me busy, though. I have a non-cannabis social media and digital consultancy, Marian, and I’m a co-owner of Bark Bar, Arkansas’ first dog bar and bar. My agencies operate out of the second floor of Bark Bar, making client meetings the cutest thing ever.
Did you have a lightbulb moment when you knew this was what you were supposed to do?
EM: I wouldn’t say there was an ah-ha moment, but I knew I would be in marketing when I worked for my family’s business Paul Michael Company. I started there after a short stint in ad sales at a magazine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My first job was running a register in the Lake Village store. I couldn’t believe we didn’t have a website, social media or any real, thought out marketing campaign. I went on to run our marketing department and spearhead store openings and expansions in Monroe and Lafayette, Louisiana and Canton, Texas. There was always so much to do, not just marketing. I even got my forklift operators license to help unload trucks. But, I always prioritized marketing. At its heart, marketing is storytelling, and I love crafting a narrative.
What was it like to go full time?
EM: I started Bark Bar while I was still the director of content and social strategy at CJRW. When I left there, I knew I wanted to work for myself and work in the cannabis industry. The year I left was also the year that Arkansas’ cannabis industry began to fire up. Several friends and family members worked in the cannabis industry, and I was getting a lot of referrals. I knew I needed to seize the opportunity, but I needed help. I was introduced to Martin Thoma and proposed the idea of Bud Agency to him, and he was game! Bud Agency has been going strong ever since!
What is something you wish you'd done differently when you launched?
EM: It may sound cliche, but for all of my businesses I would have invested more in marketing and advertising. Starting a business from scratch takes a lot of work, and a lot of that work is not what you are passionate about, but what you are required to do as a business owner. As an example, I had no clue before we opened Bark Bar that there were so many sales tax rates. Beer and wine, mixed drink, food...
Since then, what was a moment that felt huge to you, but might not look that way to others?
EM: Seriously, just accomplishing the little things — paying business licences, renewing partnership agreements and filing our taxes every year. It’s a reminder to believe in myself and it gives me the confidence to keep dreaming and growing.
How have your goals evolved since you first started?
EM: When I first started, I had no clue what to expect. My goals were mostly focused on sales growth. Now, my goals have shifted to team building. Without total team buy-in, I discovered my sales/client work always suffered.
What are the best and hardest parts about working for yourself?
EM: The best part is creating my own reality. The worst part is never being able to turn off. When you are working for someone else, it is easier to have the clocked-in-and-out mentality.
Does being a woman affect how you do business or the way people do business with you? If so, how?
EM: I remember early in my career when a coworker left and I was promoted to his position. He told me his salary and said not to accept anything lower than that. They, in fact, offered me about half of what he made. I protested and they rebuked, "He has a family to support." That shocking experience made me keenly focused on supporting women as they start their careers. It also strengthened my resolve to be who I am. I learned to not let being a woman affect how I do business.
I suspect that being a woman has affected the way people do business with me, especially with the ad agency. Historically, women took supporting roles in ad agencies, and while the industry has made big strides, some of that mentality still exists. Regardless of gender or anything else, I’ve always let someone’s work ethic and quality speak for itself and pay them accordingly, and I hope that others have that same approach.
What do you wish people knew about small business owners?
EM: Small business owners are some of the most courageous, resilient and positive people you will ever meet. We always find a way forward.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own business?
EM: Be open to new ideas. Take a 360 approach to feedback from internal and external stakeholders. Don’t underestimate the “paperwork,” and don’t let it crush your passion. Finally, stick with it!