Our journey began more than nine years ago in San Antonio, Texas, when a new hire in IT, Harold, and a compensation-analyst-turned-employee-recognition-and-events-leader, Shannon, met up to figure out an online nomination process for the annual employee awards.
We were instant buddies. What was supposed to be a 30-minute meeting turned into a two-and-a-half-hour conversation covering everything from music to fashion to food, and the fact that Shannon was very close to having a baby (it happened the next day).
By the time Shannon returned from maternity leave, fate had intervened, and Harold had joined the department to lead internal digital and employee engagement. This was the beginning of a strong partnership that would last more than six years. During that time, the department would quadruple in size and achieve many firsts for the company.
Through information sharing with other companies and working with vendors, we noticed that we weren't playing catchup when it came to communication innovations; we were actually, most of the time, leading. There were several instances where vendors would tell us to do things one way and we pushed for another. Three months later, our recommendations became their best practices. And that got us thinking: we could do this on our own. The seed was planted.
Taking the leap
Shannon was the first to take the leap and start her own company, Hernandez Consulting, focusing on social media marketing and event planning for small businesses and nonprofits in San Antonio, Texas. This afforded her the flexibility to spend more time with her two young girls and continue to work on fulfilling projects, while also learning the ropes of successful small business ownership. From time to time, Harold would call her to consult on a project, and Shannon would always encourage him to join her on the other side.
In 2017, Harold was in a car accident and broke his arm. As he recovered from his injuries, he had time to reflect and realized that the one thing he would regret not doing in his life was "chasing the good" by taking a chance on himself and starting his own business. He took the wreck as life kicking him, encouraging him to follow in Shannon's footsteps, start his own business and get the dynamic duo together again.
Harold's research skills and technical know-how complement Shannon’s way with words and ability to lead the creative process. A 30-minute phone call and a few months later, Cardigan Communications Group was born.
Most entrepreneurs would tell you that taking the leap to start your own company is a little scary — because it is! There's the fear that maybe your idea is only compelling to you, of finding your first customer and then wondering whether or not you’ll be able to make enough money to support yourself and your family. All of these things were swirling around in our heads, but we're also believers in actions manifesting reality: We had to believe in us so that others would too.
The entrepreneurial journey
A quote we've used on our Instagram page says, "The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately," and it couldn't be truer. It's a reminder for us to keep grinding.
Opening Cardigan Communication Group was a definite shift for us both. Harold went from a team of 25 employees to a team of just two. There were (and still are) things he hadn't done for a while and had to pick up again, whereas Shannon had to get used to not flying solo anymore. This included learning to let go of some of the workload and come to terms with the complexities of a partnership, like operating agreements and the fact that we had to be in the same city to open a bank account (Shannon lives in San Antonio and Harold lives in Austin).
There are also new concerns, like business development, legal contracts, trademarks and working with the CPA, that can feel overwhelming at times. However, the hustle pushes us and helps us grow. Plus, we have each other for support.
Lessons learned along the way
There will always be new "lessons" just around the corner. For instance, we learned that we are better together. Though we are a lot alike, we have very different styles; and we’ve noticed that at times, one of us will have a better rapport with a given client than the other. Understanding this helps us better develop and manage our relationships.
Speaking of relationships, you never know where your next referral is going to come from. Managing our current and potential clients is just as important as managing their projects.
Finally, we realized how important it is to have a great team around you. We knew this, but now we've experienced firsthand how challenging it is to attract and find good, talented people with similar values who we can trust to represent our brand well – all without the resources of a larger company.
We consider our support network part of our team as well. As we manage and grow our company, it's important that we have strong partners and mentors who can offer us sound advice.
Where we are today
We recently celebrated our one-year anniversary, and the journey has been incredible. We are constantly inspired by the belief of our family and friends, the support from our vendors, and the faith our customers place in us. So, a huge shout-out to them!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Dr. Harold Hardaway is the principal consultant for Cardigan who shares his expertise as a speaker and writer on organizational development, organizational research and assessment, team building, corporate culture, professional development, and more. Harold is a Certified MBTI Practitioner and a Barrett Culture Transformation Tools (CTT) Certified Consultant.
Shannon Hernandez is a principal consultant for Cardigan who shares her expertise as a speaker and writer on personal branding and professional presence, HR communications, health and wellness promotion, social media strategy, and more. Additionally, she is a Certified Health Coach, specializing in both family and individual coaching.