The Business of Business with the Co-Owners of M&C

by | Apr 8, 2021

Patience Jones, Principal at Graphicmachine, sat down with Merritt and Monica (virtually!) to talk about the business of business at M&C. This post has been edited for length and clarity. Look for more from their conversation in the months ahead.

Patience: So, describe M&C, and each of your roles there.

Monica: We’re a marketing agency that specializes in communications and strategy for nonprofits. And that’s how we bill ourselves, because we aren’t an agency that specializes in one medium. We work with our clients to discover the best solutions to their communications challenges. Then we assemble a team and a strategy around that.

I am the creative director. I started out as a copywriter 15, 16 years ago at M&C. Now, I manage a team of writers. I do still write, obviously, but I’m more active in the concepting and strategic end of things these days.

Merritt: I think that pretty well covers what M&C is. My role in the business, well, Monica and I are sort of a yin and yang. I’m also a copywriter by trade, but I would say over the years, my specialization has moved more into the tech space. I help our clients come up with solutions to their technical challenges, and also help them use technology to get their message out better and more effectively.

Patience: M&C is based in Kansas City, but you are a national agency, right?

Monica: Right. We have clients all over the country, and we work with nonprofits of all sizes here in KC. So, we have clients that are explicitly our clients. But we also work with and through other groups that need copywriting services. We’re very nimble! Like I said, there’s not a one-size-fits-all. Our work has different permutations depending on the size and type of the organization we’re working with.

Patience: So for each of you, what’s your favorite part of your professional life?

Monica: I think my knee-jerk reaction is to say all the people I’ve met and how wide my circle has grown. When I was a kid, my parents weren’t in a white collar, professional kind of setting and I didn’t know that this kind of stuff even existed—like professional organizations or that my current career even existed as an option, really. But I think the true favorite part of my job and my professional life is—and this is going to sound so nerd—the learning.

As a person who loves to read and has always been super curious, and just doesn’t like stagnation, I love that everything is different all the time—and my circle gets wider and wider with knowledge and experiences the more people I meet and new opportunities that come our way. I don’t think I would have that if I didn’t own a business, and own the kind of business that we do. So, I would say that for me it’s the constant change and the constant learning.

Merritt: I think that’s right on, Monica. People ask me, “What’s your typical day?” There is no typical day. Every day is different. I love the learning aspect of it, too. I love that we aren’t marketing one product. I love that we’re marketing ideas, and that we’re helping nonprofits communicate more effectively. But for me, I think the thing I love the most are the relationships. I really have a passion for mentoring people who are coming up in the industry. I have a passion for helping people solve their problems. So, I get a great charge out of troubleshooting something, coming out on the other side of it, and witnessing that sense of relief and happiness from a client or a friend or a mentee. I just I love that piece of it.

Also, I love working with Monica. I love owning a business with her. We are very different in our skillsets, but when we come together, I think the product is made better, and I love watching that. We’re dear friends as well.

Patience: Both as a company and as individuals, you’ve made very intentional decisions to support women and encourage women in the workplace, and to develop sort of the next generation of women leaders. Will you talk about some of the specific ways you do that, and why you’ve made that an intentional focus?

Monica: Well, first of all, I think the industry that we’re in, some of it is the nature of the beast. I don’t know what the percentage is, but it’s probably what, like 85% women in the nonprofit sector? We hire the people most qualified for the job, and it has been women on our team. I think we started to see, having no hard and fast template for what a company needs to look like or how a company gets business done, we could be intentional about what our company looked like and how it was built. We could see there were things we could do as a small company that a lot of bigger organizations couldn’t do that would be especially meaningful to our team.

For example, flexible time is important to everybody, and our team is all very independent. There’s a lot of accountability. Even before the pandemic hit, people had flex schedules. People had time in the office and time they worked from home. We provide a health and wellness stipend they’re free to use however they want, whether that’s teletherapy, pilates or acupuncture or a Jiu-Jitsu class. Whatever it is you want to do, go for it.

Then I think one of the other things that has always been really important to us, and Bob Merrigan, the man we bought the company from instilled this, is we invest in our team’s professional development. And so, if they have a board meeting during the workday, they can leave, and go to that meeting. We pay for training and opportunities for them to get better at their jobs, and better at what they want to do in their career.

I think some people are like, oh, you’re going to do that, and then they’re going to leave. After you’ve trained them, and you’ve given them all these opportunities. But I think we would say, if you don’t do that, they’re going to be unsatisfied and they’re going to leave. We believe it’s better to keep our team satisfied and engaged, and proud to be part of a company that supports and encourages them.

Merritt, what would you add?

Merritt: Yes, Monica and I also provide a lot of continuing education and presentations in the industry, which I guess that applies to both, obviously men and women. I do a lot of mentoring personally with my students, and I teach in a nonprofit program at Rockhurst.

To Monica’s point, a majority of my students in those classes are women. We really feel like it’s important not only on our team, but in the community, and in the nonprofit community to lift other people up, and do things that help promote their voices and get their voices out there.

Patience: So, if a young woman came to you and said, “I want to start my own business,” or “I want to own my own business someday,” what one piece of advice would you give to her?

Monica: I would say they have to be comfortable with dichotomous thinking. You see all these aspirational websites and stuff like “be bold” and all these kind of really broad platitudes. While that is all true, and very necessary, I think you have to be really prepared if you’re going to start a business—put your time in, do your research. Figure out what niche are you filling. What doesn’t exist that you’re going to create? Why would anybody care? Why would anybody pay you? You have to ask yourself all these questions that have to be answered. And then that’s when you’re bold. When you take that leap, and you make choices, and you’re writing your own ticket. When you challenge yourself to not look at what’s been done before, to not say, “Oh, well, here’s the playbook.”

When you have your information and you feel like you’re prepared, then make choices, and do it the way you want to do it, the way that makes sense for you. That’s what I would say. It’s having a sense of pragmatism and fearlessness simultaneously and then going forward.

Merritt: I think a lot of business owners, more specifically, failed business owners, have a real sense of vanity around owning a business. And a point Monica just made is really about that. The fact is, you are providing a service. Our business is successful because our clients have a need and we provide a service. It’s not the vanity of Monica and me.

I’m proud to own a business. But I answer to everyone. I answer to Monica. I answer to our employees, our clients. It’s hard work. There’s something to that meme or whatever that says “Nobody cares. Work harder.” I think the biggest piece of advice I would give a young person is get good at your craft. Work hard for somebody else for a little bit. Learn as much as you possibly can.

I am very grateful I didn’t start my business in my 20s. I mean, there’s some gravitas and experience that Monica and I bring to the table. And again, back to that word humility… it’s knowing we’ve been employees for many years, and we’ve now been business owners for many years. So, we have the ability to take other perspectives to come up with the best solutions. It takes a lot of grit and hard work, but it’s a lot of fun, too.

Graphicmachine is a national marketing, SEO, and business development agency focused exclusively on helping professional firms grow.

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