The story below ran in yesterday’s Charleston Daily Mail. Progressity Inc. is a success story from the Charleston Area Alliance’s Small Business Incubator.
By George Hohmann
Daily Mail Business Editor
She is amazed at how far Progressity Inc., her marketing business, has come in 10 years.
“I grew up on the West Side,” she said. “I was the chief fundraiser for West Virginia University’s College of Engineering, working with entrepreneurial alumni every day. One of the alumni said, ‘You ought to start your own business.’ That conversation was in September 2001. I incorporated on Oct. 5, 2001, and left a wonderful job. I thought I needed to do this totally full-on.
“It was a jumping-off-a-diving-board leap of faith,” she said. “The day I left I landed a client. That was a sign to me I had made the right decision.
“We were getting hired to do marketing strategy, marketing plans,” she said. “Clients also wanted creative work. That’s where Michael Teel comes in. He started working part-time weeks after I started the firm. He’s a native of the Elkview area. He’s my brother-in-law. He was working in D.C., doing creative work for a global company, and he was our graphic designer on nights and weekends. Our creative business grew and his employment situation there was changing. He and his family packed up in 2005 and came here so he could work on site.
“We have changed and evolved so much in 10 years,” she said.
The company now has three employees at One Bridge Place – DuBois, Teel and Director of Operations Liz Hereford. Communications Strategist Melissa Macki works remotely from Virginia. The firm hires others, from videographers and photographers to direct-mail specialists, as needed.
“We do our own creative work,” DuBois said. “We developed a new website for our firm last September (it’s at www.progressity.com). We’ve evolved so much this year we will roll out another site in July. That’s two new websites in one year. We know our website needs to convey our abilities. It has to be fresh content. It has to be leading edge. We’re constantly looking at the landscape of the market. We have to change and adjust accordingly or we’re not going to be in business.
“From the beginning, somebody said, ‘Do you want to be a sole practitioner or a company?’ I was working out of my spare bedroom in Morgantown with particleboard office furniture. I said, ‘I want to be a company one day.’ It’s pretty surreal for me to walk in here and see what we’ve grown into.”
Progressity first set up shop in the Charleston Area Alliance’s business incubator on Smith Street. Then it built space on the Alliance’s fourth floor. “Then we needed more space and decided to shake things up and move to a new location,” DuBois said.
Last May 30, Progressity moved from 1,100 square feet of space at the Alliance to 2,300 square feet at One Bridge Place. “This is a lovely space,” DuBois said. “We love being here, in this part of town. It’s cool, creative and classy.”
DuBois said she “likes to work with clients who do good work in the world,” so her company does a lot of work for nonprofits such as schools, hospitals and social service agencies. “But I’m so passionate about entrepreneurism, creating our own destiny in life, we also work with businesses led by an entrepreneur.”
It therefore should be no surprise that when former Marshall University and University of Charleston head basketball coach Greg White decided to launch a motivational speaking business, Progressity helped him do it.
“One of the areas we work with clients on is helping them dream big and set goals,” DuBois said. “I’ve been a dreamer since I was a little girl. Four or five years ago we only had clients in West Virginia and surrounding states. We were doing an annual visioning session. I said, ‘Within a year I want to have clients in five states.’ It happened that at the same time I went through training to become a leadership coach.
“The training company is a global organization. They really connected with my energy and spirit and hired me to do some consulting work with them. Through that connection I immediately had global contacts and did business coaching for entrepreneurs over a period of two years in 12 countries.
“One challenge for many entrepreneurs is they know what they want to do, they just don’t know how to run a business,” DuBois said. “I worked with clients in New Zealand, England, Dubai, Belgium. It was fascinating. That connection helped us land clients in the states, from California to Florida.
“The part of our service delivery that is easiest to do remotely is our creative work. We’re doing websites for clients all over the country. Websites have become dynamic, an integral part of a company’s marketing strategy. Now there’s an infusion of social media. So we have a full-service suite of products to provide clients, whether they’re here in West Virginia or across the world.
“We’ve worked really hard to infuse technology in the way we’re doing business. We do drive and fly to visit clients. Once we have that connection, with the Internet and telephone we can deliver our service. That’s intellectual capital we’re sharing – we can share that through the phone lines and over the Internet.”
DuBois loves New York City. A while back she found herself going there more and more. Then, “two or three summers ago I rented an apartment in the Upper East Side for five weeks and landed three clients – a physicians’ office; the Guardian Angels (an unarmed citizens group that guards the subway); and a nonprofit called Sports Angels that raises money and distributes it to inner-city schools. It’s thrilling. It gives me a reason I have to go to New York City multiple times a year.
“That’s part of the whole ‘anything is possible,’ ” she said. “When we’re limited we’re only limiting ourselves. Our opportunities are as big as we can dream and we can’t just dream, we have to do something about it.
“I came home from New York City and spent a year or two debating, ‘Should I move to New York City and fly back here?’ I made the decision to stay in Charleston. I got on a plane and flew into Charley West. I thought, ‘I need to plant my roots here permanently. We can build our business in West Virginia but work beyond our borders.’ I signed a contract two months later to build a house, so I’m not going anywhere.”
DuBois is bubbling with plans. There’s a book, based on “Monday Motivation” columns she e-mails weekly. “It will be our first product,” she said. “We’re on a path of packaging our knowledge that’s valuable to other people, that we can sell to other people all over the world.”
And then there’s the children’s clothing line. But that’s another, future chapter.