May means it’s MCG’s anniversary, and this year celebrates 14 years in business. We thought what better way to celebrate than to learn from our leader, Kris Martinez. We interviewed Kris to understand why she started the business 14 years ago, what she enjoys most about being an entrepreneur, and all about how the business started out and has grown. Read on to learn more about Martinez Creative Group!
What made you want to start MCG?
I first thought about starting my own business when I was expecting my second child. I thought it would be a way to work from home and attempt to have more work / life balance. I still took my children to daycare so I could work, but working for myself gave me the more flexibility than I would have working for someone else.
I had no idea the business would expand as much as it has over the past 14 years. I was almost entirely a print designer when I started my business, and now we mostly do web, video, animation, and mobile apps. Many of these things barely existed in 2004.
What have been some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
Any time we can help our clients reach their goals is a huge accomplishment, and I’m happy to say we’ve had many such successes over the years. Winning awards is nice, but the effect the work has on our clients is what matters most.
When I thought about going off on my own, I knew I was a good designer and could do the work, but I had no idea how to find new clients or go after new business. In fact, I was really intimidated by that whole concept. So it really took me a while to identify good business opportunities and then have the guts to go after it. Now, I really enjoy connecting the dots on new opportunities. I still love design, but I get so much enjoyment out of all the other aspects of the business. Design and storytelling are easy for me; building new business is hard. It’s a challenge, but I love it.
I consider it an accomplishment that I was able to learn (and am still learning!) the business side, because that wasn’t something that came naturally to me. MCG has never borrowed money and has always paid our vendors, employees, and subcontractors. I’ve worked for employers who weren’t always able to pay their employees, and it’s stressful!
What are some of the projects that you’re most proud of?
Any time we’ve done anything for the first time really stands out: our first video project for Elburn Cooperative. The first mobile app we designed for Great Lakes Hybrids. The first animated video we did for Pearson Fuels. Working with Stanley Security for the first time.
I recently read an article about why it is that time seems to drag on forever when you’re a kid, and why the years seem to fly by when you get older. The writer’s theory was that when you’re young, you’re always experiencing things for the first time and that makes everything so much more memorable and exciting. As we get older, we tend to stop doing things for the first time – the first day of school, a first dance, a first kiss – and we settle into routines.
It’s important to keep having those new experiences and to keep challenging yourself. What I love about our business is all of the different projects and clients we work with. It makes every day different and exciting in its own way.
What do you like most about your job?
I love that every day is really different. I work on so many different things in a day that require different areas of thinking, so I try to be very mindful of whatever I’m working on and focus on the task at hand. Some days are very creative with working on a website design, writing a script, brainstorming, or developing marketing concepts. Other days are for client meetings, events, project proposals, or accounting.
I’m also so thankful for the relationships we have with our team. I trust Adam and the development team with all of our backend work and I’m incredibly thankful for the guidance they give us on all things web and mobile. Olivia and our other writers help in so many different ways with different clients, in both big picture concepts and the many details. And I trust Ryan, Angelo, and our video teams to produce very high quality work on a consistent basis.
What’s something people would be surprised to hear about entrepreneurship?
When you run your own business, you are almost always working – including nights, weekends, and holidays. It’s very hard to turn it off. If you’re going to do it, you’d better be all in, because there are stretches of time when your business is all you’ll think about.
But passion will only get you so far. You also need to be making money. If you’re not, then you’re not running a business – you have a hobby.
Running a business also includes a million little details to manage, such as different taxes, accounting, and legal issues. If you have employees, you’ll deal with things like healthcare, vacation days, and 401k. Learn to work with good partners to outsource this type of work. Don’t try to do it all yourself.
What’s the single biggest lesson you’ve learned in the last 14 years of running your own business?
Balance. I think that’s something that everyone strives for. Running a business takes so many more hours than working as an employee for someone else. It can be very demanding.
When you have employees, you have an obligation to them. When you have clients, you have agreements and expectations to fulfill. These are things that can keep you up at night, if you let them. And for me at many times, they have.
In 2016, I needed to take a hard look at MCG and I decided I really needed to scale back and refocus to get some balance back in my life. I changed a number of things in my business and in my personal life so that I now work smarter and am more focused than ever before.
How do you start and end your day in order to be the most productive you can be?
I usually start my day pretty early – around 4:30 or 5:00. I like to work immediately when my brain is clear and I have more energy.
I make time for exercise and yoga almost every day, and I tend to go to sleep pretty early. Time with my family is extremely important – they are the most important part of my life, so when we’re together, I try to be very conscious of not checking email and just be with them.
Who was your first client and how did you find them?
The first client we had was Elburn Cooperative, a farmer-owned company based in Sycamore, IL. That first logo project led to a twelve year business relationship that I still consider once of the best we’ve had, because it was built on trust and mutual respect. I learned everything I could about their business and we went on to develop every piece of marketing communications possible for them: websites, a mobile app, newsletters, annual reports, media communications, video, radio, and TV. The company was acquired by CHS, Inc. in 2016, but the Elburn Cooperative logo is still one of my favorite logos I’ve ever designed. Which is good, because it was on quite a bit of material!
How do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere – billboards, radio and tv ads, articles, conversations. I usually get most of my inspiration when I’m out for a walk or a bike ride, so I’ll write down my ideas as soon as I can. I always have a notebook with me.
What do you see for the future of MCG?
At one point not too long ago, I would have said mobile apps, but that trend is fading. Mobile responsive websites are now the digital forerunner in communications. In fact, Google gives priority ranking to mobile sites, so it’s critical to make sure your business site is where people can find you – and that’s on mobile.
Videos have gotten much shorter over the years, and with social media, everything needs to be said much more succinctly. There’s so much content being created every second and you’re constantly competing with so many other channels – you need to make sure your message stands out in a compelling way. I see these cycles only getting shorter.
I’m really looking forward to the opportunities we’re seeing as a WBENC-certified business, and I’m excited about the things that are happening in the digital space. Digital marketing moves so quickly – it’s an exciting place to be!