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Fight On

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  • | 6:10 p.m. December 18, 2009
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Imagine losing a significant amount of work from your three biggest clients in the span of a month. What would you do?

It's exactly the decision Michael Westafer faced at the beginning of this year. For many small businesses, the circumstances could be paralyzing.

But Westafer, president of Roger West Creative & Code, immediately realized that inaction would get him nowhere.

When the worst happens, Westafer ponders, “Are you going to crawl in a hole and hide? What are you going to do?”

Since he could not hide, Westafer acted. He accepted that the first quarter of 2009 would only produce minimal revenues for his integrated marketing agency, and focused on internal development to better position himself for the later part of the year.

Westafer's own expertise in graphic design motivates the company's larger mission: starting with creative branding and web design techniques, and complementing that work with data tracking and web analytics.

Roger West caters to each client's marketing needs. “We walk into a room and listen,” Westafer says. While website design appears to be the company's specialty, they can also help develop materials for trade shows, designs for business cards — thus, an integrated marketing agency.

While Westafer did bring an extensive background in design to his company, he did not have an extensive sales background at his company's inception. Because of that, one of the things he took time to improve were those skills, which increased his ability to acquire clients.

He even hired an additional employee to handle his company's marketing.

Did the strategy work? For Westafer, 60% growth in revenue year-over-year counts as a success. (Westafer chose not to discuss previous annual revenues.)

Furthermore, he's ready to hire four new employees. That's substantial growth for a small business owner who made his first hire at the start of 2008.

A former technology freelancer who dabbled in a variety of e-commerce platforms (including work with Gulfstream Aerospace, the company that sold Mark Cuban a plane over the internet), Westafer says he's predisposed to entrepreneurship.

In his words, “It's just the way I'm wired.”

From the moment he hit the working world after studying graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he preferred working on his own terms, doing things his way.

It's one of the challenges he faces presently as a business owner, one that many entrepreneurs face: delegation while growing.
“You don't want to give things away,” Westafer says, referring to the core components of running his business. At the same time, he realizes he can help his business grow by working with the right people to distribute responsibility.

One key relationship: working with Brooke Evans, owner of CFO Alliance. Evans supports Roger West on the accounting side of its business, allowing Westafer to focus on his own strengths. “It's easy to get overwhelmed with day-to-day activities,” she allows.

With her variety of financial experience, she can help develop specific parts of Roger West's financial model to improve the business. One example: as Roger West is a project-based company, Evans studies the business' utilization of its employees on each job.

Perhaps it's Westafer's ability to focus on design specifics that makes him so selective about hiring additional employees on that front.
“I think the talent pool is thin,” Westafer says about hiring designers. “One in twenty are hire-able.”

He did manage to find two worthy candidates within that pool, but the circumstances were unique — both members of Westafer's design staff studied under him in his time teaching art classes at the Art Institute of Tampa.

Beyond his willingness to act and to delegate, Westafer attributes much of his professional success to one other key strategy that may separate him from his entrepreneurial peers: a focus on balancing his professional and personal life.

Westafer recognizes the potential gain that could be realized from working 80 hours a week on developing his business. But he thinks those gains are outweighed by the effect his positive attitude has on his employees.

“When things are good at home,” he says, “things run smoothly at the office. And I couldn't run this company without my family's support.”

His views on the importance of balance reflect his approach to growing Roger West. Rather than go all out for rapid growth, Westafer uses a more calculated strategy. “I'm trying to build a business that is structurally sound,” he says.

Doing so will help him achieve his next target: doubling Roger West's revenue in 2010.

Presuming lightning doesn't strike twice, starting next year with a solid stream of revenue will help propel him to that goal.

— Alex Walsh


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