Yes, I love my kids. Yes, the rewards of being home with them are great. And, yes, not having to beg them to please find their socks because we're late for daycare and I have a conference call 9:30...is life-changing.
But there are toys. And fights. And what the heck am I supposed to do with them ALL DAY, EVERY DAY?
When I was let go from my agency after almost 20 years in the business, I was shocked. Open-mouthed, completely speechless shocked.
Huh? You guys don’t need to me to come here anymore? I walked out of the building in a daze.
But fine. Life happens, and you move on. And I still had a month of my kids being in daycare to find something else. No problem! But a month became three weeks. And then two and then one little week separated me from all the days with two toddlers.
I accepted my new life with zeal at the beginning. After all, we’re in Chicago! There are zoos and play spaces and Meetups. It was the beginning of October, so there were costumes to think about and the holidays would take up all sorts of time. And they did.
But a couple of days before Christmas, my best friend came over and asked: "How are you?"
I had my answer all ready about how magical it all was to have time with my boys I’d never get back. That I was thankful to have a break from the grind and all those things you say when you just want the subject changed.
But as soon as I opened my mouth…I started crying. So hard and so, so ugly.
"I love them, they are so amazing, and I feel like a terrible person and a terrible mom, but I'm so sad. I can't find anything else even though I'm sending my book out like a crazy person and all I keep thinking is ‘Is this it? Am I retired now?’”
She listened. And let me cry. And listened some more. And when I was out of tears, she looked at me and said “Ok Fergs, you done? Go wash your face and let’s figure out where we go from here.”
And that’s how on December 31st, 2017, Ferguson Branding Group was born. It was a pretty ugly baby in the beginning. A few blog posts and an about page.
But having an outlet that could potentially grow into something much more allowed me to focus on taking care of my boys. And so while we played and puzzled and napped and snuggled, I’d steal moments here and there to turn an idea into a business.
And I started to realize that my kids were two pretty savvy little businessmen. So, I began to take notes.
Lesson #1: Do what you want to do
Like most little boys, my sons do what they feel like doing. And as long as it's not punching each other in the face…that's mostly fine. My oldest is not going to play with blocks if he’s in a dinosaur headspace and my little guy is not going to take a nap if he’s not tired. There seems to be a lot of freedom in this.
For most of my agency career, my work was on the “outskirts” of what I really wanted to do. Which was work on consumer-packaged goods in the food and lifestyle space. So, when it came time to pitch clients, I said, “You know what? No…I haven’t worked a ton in this area. But I really freaking enjoy it. Let’s see what they say.” And they said yes. Several of them. And it’s because for once I didn’t get wrapped up in what I was “qualified” to do. I went after what I wanted to work on. And that confidence convinced people that I could communicate on behalf of their brands.
Lesson #2: Keep asking for what you want
My boys are completely obsessed with what they love. Whether it’s Dino Dan, milk or each other. They ask for it. Constantly. And if I’m making dinner, and they haven’t gotten what they’ve been asking for yet, they keep asking.
And you know what? I started to admire the hustle! Because it was never off my radar that someone was passionate about getting my attention.
And so, when I sent cold emails to companies asking if they needed help, I didn’t expect a response on the first “Can I have that work, please?” I followed up (hopefully a bit less annoyingly than my boys do) with engaging, information-rich tidbits designed to make potential clients want to know more.
And it worked. I’ve gotten many notes back saying “I don’t usually respond to sales emails, but…”
Persistence is everything.
Lesson #3: Try the scary stuff
While my oldest son has always been risk-averse, my little guy sees a jungle gym and thinks “How can I give my mom a heart attack today?” I’ve said “Be careful!” so many times, I’ve lost count. But we’ve never had a single broken bone, sprain, or really even a nasty fall. He trusts himself, and that seems to significantly limit the risk of something terrible happening on the playground.
Recently, I pitched Erika Szychowski, founder and CEO of Good Zebra and, as I came to find out, a woman ready to set the world on fire. While she was good on copy and content for her company, she wondered if I’d be interested in helping her out with The F Project, the world’s first collaborative network focused on raising awareness of female founders.
My heart screamed “Yes!” But my head needed time to catch up. Could I swing the time commitment? Did I have what it took to bring to life such an important project? Would she like what I can up with?
I threw caution to the wind, emailed back a hearty yes and have been happily swept up in what could possibly be THE most important project of my career. I guess you could say I’m dangling from the jungle gym of life and loving every second.
I used to think learning from your kids was something that only happened in half-hour sitcoms. But sitting here a year later, living a life I barely recognize, I have two little boys to thank for a lot of it.
Which I’ll do after I get them both more milk.