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LEADING QUESTIONS: Startup a study in quick growth

March 23, 2011

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.

This week, longtime local public relations professional Vicki Bohlsen provides an example of a startup firm that braved the weak economy and experienced strong growth.

With $25,000 in seed money loaned from her in-laws, Bohlsen founded the eponymous public relations firm BohlsenPR on Feb. 12, 2010, with herself as the sole staff member and plans to hire a couple independent contractors for support. Today, the firm counts 13 full-time employees (including Bohlsen, who draws a salary), one part-timer, and three interns. In its first full year of operation, the company posted about $780,000 in revenue, Bohlsen said.



“It’s been a really crazy year,” said Bohlsen, 45. “I had a business plan, but I really took it day by day, and it just took off.”

BohlsenPR was able to vault out of the gate with a considerable spring in its step. Bohlsen brought with her a stable of clients from TrendyMinds PR, a firm she co-founded in 2008 with Trevor Yager, CEO and founder of the separate marketing firm TrendyMinds. Yager left the PR firm in early 2010 (TrendyMinds went on to develop its own PR services), and Bohlsen renamed it BohlsenPR as she essentially was starting over.

“Some of those existing client relationships grew, and there was more work, and of course I took it,” Bohlsen said. “That meant I had to react to that and hire more people. …  It just morphed.”

In May, the three-person firm moved into 2,000 square feet of office space on the fourth floor of the Morrison Opera Place building at 47 S. Meridian St., setting up card tables as desks.  The seed money from Bohlsen’s in-laws helped the firm cover initial costs. As revenue began rolling in, Bohlsen started fleshing out the staff and refurbishing the space (which eventually grew to 4,000 square feet).

Taking stock of the major startup costs from the first year, Bohlsen listed $30,000 for computers, $35,000 for software and $35,000 for a custom buildout that finally wrapped up in January. Other pricey items included $18,500 for development of the company’s website. Bohlsen estimated total startup-related costs (excluding ongoing expenses) since February 2010 at $172,000.

“Personally, it’s just a great feeling to know that other than the small investment from my in-laws, everything is paid for,” Bohlsen said.

In the video at top, Bohlsen provides a peek inside the firm’s rapid evolution and discusses issues such as avoiding debt, outsourcing some vital functions, and initially embracing the firm’s card-table aesthetic as a kind of corporate identity.
 

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