October recognizes the accomplishments and successes of female entrepreneurs and business owners, and we’re proud to say we fall into that category! Clarity was founded in 2000 by Kelly Swanson and Anne Schlussler. Both women worked for the same recruiting agency before pairing off and starting their own. Since then, Clarity has expanded all across the country- from California to Richmond, Virginia! As we continuously grow and recruit top notch employees for our Clients, Kelly and Anne look back on the past 11 years of memories and offer up some advice.
When and why did you first have the idea to start your own business?
Kelly: We were both working at another company and I thought I could do it better. Apparently, Anne was thinking the same thing and after each of us had left we joined forces to build Clarity. Great minds!
How did you two get started?
Anne: We left our employer and then started meeting – at an Italian restaurant on the UES – to make a plan. We literally ate pasta, drank wine and mapped out the company plan.
What did you learn from your previous job that helped you start up your own recruiting firm?
Kelly: I learned a lot from my previous manager and team about riding the waves and doing your best to have a positive attitude when things did not turn out the way you had imagined. Staffing can have its ups and downs…we are in the business of managing people. It is a challenging business but also extremely rewarding.
There are a lot of agencies out there. How did you know yours would be successful?
Anne: I knew that Kelly and I had something special – mutual trust and a need for humor in the office. Staffing is a great career and can be very lucrative but you have to make sure you create the right environment. As partners, we believe in an honest, open approach, and that also applies to our clients and candidates, alike. We did not set out to build a super selling machine – we wanted a full service, direct and hard-working culture while also having fun. This turned out to be true and still is 11 years later. I am very, very lucky to have this kind of partnership and friendship with Kelly as well as Moira Donahue (our other partner).
Were there any obstacles along the way? Tell us about one.
Kelly: Lots of obstacles mixed with success. Our biggest was most likely getting through this last recession. It was difficult because it was the first time Anne and I had not been sitting next to one another. We knew that Moira Donahue (Managing Partner of the New York office) was more than capable of running the show without us there. We were communicating cross country about how to keep everyone motivated and pushing forward. It was tough but with a great team and core leadership you can do it.
What are some of the best and worst aspects about owning your own business?
Anne: The best aspect for me is working with people I trust and respect. If something is not going well, we just change it. Controlling your own destiny is the best part. That can be the worst too! You are always thinking about work, you are always worried about someone or something at work – it never leaves you. When I had jobs, I left them and went home and did not always stress out about every little thing. When you own your own business you are not just responsible for your livelihood but every single person in that office. That is a big weight and one that we take very seriously. This can be hard over time – you cannot fix everything no matter how hard you try.
How long did it take before Clarity became profitable?
Kelly: We were profitable within the first year. It was not easy! We ran very lean and continued to grow.
When did you know it was time to hire your first employee?
K&A: We started looking into hiring right away. We knew that we could not do it all. After all, that is what we do for a living is build strong teams for our clients. We hired the first person within a few months.
How do you juggle being a mother and business woman every day?
Kelly: I think having kids actually made me a better manager; we had three kids in four years and in order to pull that off I needed three things: 1) great support both at home and at work. I was forced to delegate certain responsibilities to people I could trust to get it done. 2) Organize. Organize. Organize. Respond to emails ASAP and focus on the important stuff. I live and breathe by my Google calendar! 3) Expect the unexpected. Kids are pretty unpredictable. Being ready for any given scenario is a real asset. Just like in business, knowing that things don’t always go as planned makes it much easier when they actually don’t go as planned. A friend once said to me “you are going to drop balls, just make sure it is not a major one!” I took that advice very seriously. We are human… we can only do our best!
Any advice for women with a passion to own their own business?
Anne: Do something that you can love and stay committed to for a very long time. It is very hard and you have to make some big sacrifices, but make sure you are doing it with someone you trust (if you have a partner or partners) and have a plan. These things don’t just come together – they take time and blood, sweat and tears. That is not just a saying – it is true. You have to have tough skin for the game for it to be fruitful and that takes guts and perseverance. But if you find the right niche for you and you believe in yourself and your product, you will do great!
note: This picture was taken in 2005. The baby in this picture is now 7.