Anita Brattina wasnt yet 27 years old when she put a desk in the spare bedroom of her apartment, recruited her sister-in-law as a secretary/bookkeeper and set out to build a multimillion-dollar international marketing consulting business. A brash dream, even for 1984.
Today, Brattina is president and CEO of Direct Response Marketing Inc., a full-service telemarketing and telephone research organization providing business-to-business and consumer capabilities to clients around the world. The firm, now based in Forest Hills, provides everything from buyer preference profiling, direct mail follow-up, customer research, appointment setting and telefundraising to market research, opinion polls, seminar and focus group recruitment and database enhancement and verification.
At the outset, Brattinas resources were scant a journalism degree from Duquesne University, seven years experience in corporate marketing, and a little cash from an employment separation package she had received.
But she had two secret ingredients that give this story a positive twist persistence and a willingness to learn.
As I got into it, I was totally unprepared to realize how little I knew about business, even after years as head of a corporate marketing department, says Brattina, looking back on 15 years of progress. I was naive. I knew how to do the business, but I didnt know how to run it. So I was forced to learn, somewhat painfully at times, that knowing your craft doesnt make you a CEO.
I didnt know about business plans, financing, hiring, delegating the skills it takes to keep all the plates spinning.
Chronicling the journey
That Brattina learned both quickly and well is evident from the success of DRM. In the process, she documented her struggles and the lessons learned, producing one of the most popular small business books in recent years, Diary of a Small Business Owner: A Personal Account of How I Built a Profitable Business (AMACOM, 1996, $21.95, available from the National Education Center for Women in Business, (724) 830-4615, and in bookstores).
The challenges, obstacles, strategies and ultimately the triumphs she describes are invaluable reading for those who would be entrepreneurs.
Brattina reports, for instance, that despite her enthusiasm for the new enterprise, she experienced an unexpected and painful sense of isolation when she stepped out on her own.
Moving from the connectedness of a thriving corporation to the isolation of working in the apartment was severe a culture shock, she wrote. No secretary, no phones ringing with incoming business, no using solid years of business to justify constant name recognition, no flood of mail from professional organizations, no phone calls from colleagues sharing ideas.
Even five years into the venture, Brattina still was learning basic skills, she wrote.
In some ways, I had been running two businesses concurrently ... my business and the business my employees saw, she noted. My personal vision wasnt focused enough. I saw possibility in every idea. That meandering of vision dragged me through more trouble than I needed to endure.
Turning the corner
Brattinas open-mindedness and willingness to learn eventually carried the day. By 1992, the company was doing annual business of $250,000; by 1994, it generated more than $1 million in revenues.
During those two years, Brattina got help from Powerlink and other women-owned business consultants who provided her expert advisory boards and taught her to delegate responsibilities, focus on the CEO role, develop business plans and attract and optimize financing.
Through the learning process, Brattina says, she managed to hang onto her core values. She wanted to operate a professional and expert service based on customer and employee loyalty sore points in the teleservice industry at large. And she wanted to establish a work environment that fostered employee involvement and ownership.
Everything else was open to revision for this married mother of four, who came to Pittsburgh from her native Philadelphia to attend Duquesne. Today, five years after the intensive CEO training, she finds herself re-energized and refocused.
Our growth has been strong and steady, she says. Personally, Im enamored of the entrepreneur role again. Im getting the fulfillment I sought when I started.
And her plans for the future?
Were for poised for the next step, she says. It was a gradual and painstaking process to grow from a local company to a regional company, then from regional to national and international. Now we intend to become a truly global enterprise and open offices in other parts of the United States, and eventually, in key locations around the world.
Whether we grow our own or expand through acquisition thats something I cant say today. But we have the vision and the skills. So its not a matter of how just when.
How to reach: Anita Brattina at Direct Response Marketing Inc., (412) 242-6200, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
William McCloskey is a Pittsburgh-based free-lance writer.
About this series...
The SBN/PNC Women in Business Series is a new monthly series sponsored by PNC Bank showcasing the achievements of some of the regions top women business owners and the obstacles they have overcome.
PNC Bank continues to expand its commitment to women business owners. In its latest initiative, the PNC Bank Foundation offered a $250,000 grant to Seton Hill Colleges National Education Center for Women in Business to create a Web site resource for women business owners. Its Web address: e-magnify.com.