The Successful Woman Entrepreneurs Give Back article series focuses on women who have mastered the art of creating and maintaining a business that sustains and enriches every aspect of their lives. The fourth pillar of Arianna Huffington's Third Metric - Giving - figures prominently in their lives and is supported by their multi-million dollar businesses.
Bernadette Coleman is the founder and CEO of Advice Interactive Group, a company that helps small businesses rank higher in the search engines. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (McKinney, TX), it is a "bootstrapped start-up" organization with fewer than 35 employees. Under Bernadette's leadership, the company made the Inc. 500 List of Fastest Growing Private Companies in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Last year, she was the recipient of two silver Stevie awards: "Woman Executive of the Year 2013" and "Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2013."
Bernadette, her husband Tom (who is Chief Financial Officer of the company), and partner Randall Turner incorporated Advice Interactive Group in late 2009. Bernadette fondly recalls that the company's first client was a local plumbing company for which they built a $700 Web site in February 2010.
The first big surge of success - $2.4m in revenue and 2,174% growth over three years - was unexpected. Because they were clear about their market niche (local small businesses), built proprietary local search technology tools that enabled them to effectively and efficiently serve their market, and consistently delivered above and beyond what they promised, they became known as experts in their industry and rapidly developed a loyal following. They have grown to $5.9m in revenue and a client base of hundreds on the strength of referral business - they have never advertised.
On the question of life balance, Bernadette is one of the most poignant and powerful examples that you will encounter. At 6:30 AM on May 21, 2011 she and Tom received a call from south Florida informing them that their son Michael had been in a horrible car accident and that he was not likely to make it through the night. They flew to Florida that day to find Michael had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He lay in a coma with half of his skull removed. After a few days, the medical staff gently suggested that they consider removing him from life support. They refused.
For weeks, Tom flew back and forth between Dallas-Fort Worth and Orlando while Bernadette stayed by Michael's side. She worked from the hospital, responding to e-mails from Michael's room and placing calls in the stairwell a few feet from his room. The nurses soon set up a small table for her there so that she could work from a makeshift office during the critical days and weeks that unfolded for Michael.
When Michael was finally able to be flown to Texas, he was placed in an LTAC (long term acute care) facility and Bernadette went to the facility morning, noon, and night to care for him. The entire family (Tom and Bernadette have a "blended" family of five children, including Michael) worked as a team to keep things together.
It made me even a stronger person... I had to fight harder than I've ever had to fight in my life - for both my business and for my son... Having to learn to balance between the two so that I could help both at the same time just made me a stronger person...
In the midst of all of this heartache and turmoil, Bernadette managed to grow Advice Interactive Group to the level that earned the company's Inc. 500 listings. This is what her Stevie Awards acknowledge and celebrate.
When Michael was first injured, Bernadette and Tom put up a Facebook page to communicate with their family about his condition. People from around the world began to comment on the page and share stories of support. Later, when Michael was frustrated because he couldn't remember his accident and felt he wasn't recovering fast enough, Bernadette would show him the page to help him remember. Michael then came up with the idea to start a Facebook page dedicated to helping TBI victims.
Bernadette and Tom decided to take Michael's idea a step farther and they started TryMunity, an online platform that supports TBI, stroke, paralysis, and other victims of traumatic events, as well as their families and caregivers. Bernadette proudly reports that the community is now 10,000 members strong and Michael is fulfilling his mission to help others through the platform every day.
TryMunity is a small, grassroots organization with Michael, Bernadette, and operations manager Kim Russell being the only three principals involved. The staff at Advice Interactive Group manages the Web site. There is a donation button on the site, but Bernadette and Tom supply most of the working capital.
Advice Interactive Group holds an event called The Local Social once a year for people in the world of Internet marketing and TryMunity sponsors it so that any proceeds from the event go to the non-profit organization. This year's event was a smashing success - over 120 industry professionals came together for a day full of advice from companies like Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, Wordstream and Copyblogger. Speakers came in from California, New York, and Austin to share their expertise with attendees. And the event raised a few thousand dollars for TryMunity - enough to keep it going for the next few months.
Bernadette is pleased that the work that she does every day is also enabling Michael and others to help people around the world. She shared the following with the attendees at the October 2014 Local Social:
In our industry, with a click of a button, a share or a like, we can spread the word about any cause close to our hearts. It's really powerful and I hope we can spread the word throughout the search community that using our skills for advocacy is important.
Bernadette confesses that she sometimes feels swallowed up by all of the responsibility of her business and the rest of her life. She says she can become so exhausted that she can't sleep, and yet when the next day comes and presents its new challenges, she looks forward to it - each day is different, exciting, and fun!
Bernadette actively cares for herself and her relationship with Tom in several ways. They still have a date night once a week, often dining out and enjoying a glass of wine together. They may decide to have a massage, take a long walk, or go on a three-day trip together... She laughingly admits that even though there are 15,000 sq feet of office space at Advice Interactive Group, she and Tom still share an office - he's literally five feet away from her 24 hours a day / 7 days a week. She says people think they're crazy but they just think they're in love!
Advice Interactive Group is still in growth mode and Bernadette hopes that they'll double their revenue in 2014. They have released new technologies this year and are adding almost 300 new businesses to their client list every day using their local search tools. Yet Bernadette says that she's not striving for some long term goal in her life. She simply tries to stay in the moment, be a better person, and help people.
To her, that's satisfaction.