Smart Ideas to Grow Your Business

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Gail Pittman


Twenty-nine years ago, I was
looking for a creative outlet as a stay-at-home mom. Since then God has
turned my hobby into a thriving enterprise.

I was in high school, I thought I was going to be a rock star, but in
1968 God revealed to me that He had other plans. After graduating from
the University of Mississippi, I taught school for a while and then
stayed home after my second child was born.

was happy and fulfilled with my family, but there was something
missing—something I longed to do—something creative. I began to look for
an outlet.

My search led me
to begin “fooling around” with ceramics at my kitchen table. Soon my
experimenting became an adventure, and I now have a company that
manufactures hand-painted dinnerware and accessories in Ridgeland,
Miss.—with hundreds of employees!

was 1979 when I began pursuing my new career. In the 1980s I took a
leap of faith and displayed my pottery at the Flea Market in Canton,
Miss. Going into this experience, I reflected on Proverbs 3:5-6 and
applied this passage to my situation, trusting in the Lord with all my
heart and not relying on my own understanding. The result—success—and
Gail Pittman, Inc. was born.

1986 I had outgrown my work space at home, and my husband encouraged me
to purchase an 1,800-square-foot building in Ridgeland as a studio. I
read the book of Jeremiah for inspiration, memorizing Jeremiah 33:3,
“‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty
things, which you do not know.'” After only three months, our building
was too small, and in February of 1988, we moved into a
7,800-square-foot studio.

Lord continued to bless me and my small staff, and in 1992 we moved
into a new 26,000-square-foot factory in Ridgeland with an increased
staff of 80 artisans. In 1994, Gail Pittman, Inc. had the privilege of
being named one of INC. magazine’s 500 fastest growing private
companies. This year, we expanded for the 5th time and now have over
50,000 square feet in our factory.

did we grow so quickly? What is the secret to our success? The “secret”
is not really a secret at all: We submit everything to God. Every time
we have to make a decision, whether it is related to design, personnel
or a pending expansion, we pray about it as a company—and whatever God
tells us to do, we do.

I depend on God continually for wisdom to determine what is important
and what isn’t. I want to keep my priorities straight, making certain my
husband and children come before my work responsibilities.

addition, I invest spiritually in my employees. I believe it is my
Christian responsibility to afford them the very best possible
opportunity to grow in their faith. For this reason, every Wednesday
morning employees have the opportunity to attend a company Bible study
that is led by Jim Doremus, one of the ministers from First Baptist
Church of Jackson, Mississippi.

involved in our company is invited to attend, and for many, this Bible
study is the highlight of their week. We sing, share joys, hurts, and
prayer concerns, and go to God together.

the community is also important to me and the employees at Gail
Pittman, Inc. We helped build a Habitat for Humanity House in Jackson
and participated in the Salvation Army’s “Souper Sunday,” for which we
donated soup bowls. We also helped raise funds for the Salvation Army
and its local ministries.

than listening to God, following His directives, and caring for my
family, employees and community, there are a few guidelines I’ve learned
to follow through the years to help my business grow. These are the
guidelines, or tips, I give others when they ask how I did it:

Define success.
First of all, define what success is for you. Decide what you value,
and set your goals accordingly. Keep in mind that the meaning of success
is different for different people. You can’t set your business
objectives by what others consider success.

can be defined in a variety of ways—from sales growth to employee
retention to having a strong corporate culture. But don’t let money be
your only measure of success. Many people who make a lot of money never
feel satisfied with their professions.

Be true to yourself. Be true to what you really believe. Pray about decisions, and ask God to help you make the right ones.

I am facing a particularly difficult decision, I depend on my deepest
held beliefs to guide me in my choice. I know I cannot compromise on
certain principles, and that makes a lot of decisions easier.

Keep your passion. Keep the passion alive that got you started in business. This will help you stay focused.

my case, when I’m stretched too thin or feel down from the weight of
running a business, I experiment with new patterns. Since designing is
my passion, it renews my love for what I’m doing and reminds me why I’m
in business.

Stay focused. As
you grow, stay focused on the dream set before you. Instead of
competing with other people, compete with yourself to be better than
yesterday. Keeping my mind on what I do best rather than on how many
people are trying to copy my patterns gives me the energy and the
impetus to improve on everything I create.

Be ready for the next step. If your business isn’t growing, it’s dying; it’s that simple. You must always be prepared to take the next step.

years ago we had an opportunity to create a private label pattern for a
restaurant, something we had never before even contemplated. But we
took the risk, and it turned out to be a wonderful growth opportunity
for the company.

As your
business grows, you will need to add people to help you. Wise people
know where their ability ends and someone else’s begins.

Recognize that the hardest place to stay is at the top. Awards
and achievements are great scorecards, but don’t dwell on them. It’s
healthy to enjoy them and feel proud of them, but then put them up on a
shelf and move on. If winning an award becomes the most important thing,
then there is nothing to achieve once the award is won. Besides, next
year someone else may be winning it.

Build a support network. Surround
yourself with a support network of people who truly believe in you.
Even when I was selling my pieces just to friends and relatives, my
husband always believed in me and never once laughed at my desire to
have my own pottery business, although I had never taken an art or
business class. Your support network can be anyone who believes in you
and your dream and who will encourage you to reach your potential in
spite of the obstacles others see.

Set your priorities. One lesson I learned early is that you can have it all, as long as you remem ber you don’t have to do it all.

my children were young, I decided we would always have dinner together
as a family. Many nights we had take-out or went out. Buying dinner cost
a little more, but it allowed me to keep my family first.

Now, even though my youngest child is an adult, I still make sure I’m there when one of my children needs me. My daughter was once
in a contest at college, and I left a trade show to fly to see her and
then flew back to the show when the contest was over. It was hectic, but
being there for my daughter was very important to me.

You don’t have to choose between family and career, but sometimes you have to be creative in how you balance them.

Maintain balance. Balance your life and your business. It’s often hard, but it can be done so you succeed in both.

my children were small, I stayed home and started my business slowly,
designing pottery at my kitchen table. It gave me time to enjoy my
children and my pottery. As my children grew, so did my business.

my children are grown and on their own so I’ve got more time to devote
to my business. The result is that my business is taking off at a time
when I am able to keep up with its growth.

Have fun. Whatever
you decide to do with your business, make sure it stays fun. I often
hear women make comments such as, “I work in insurance, but I love to
throw dinner parties.” If this is your situation, then become a caterer
or an event planner!

that you can make money doing what you love. And if you do what you
love, then you’re going to love what you do every day.

remember to have a life outside your business, with family first and
then friends. It takes a lifetime to cultivate friendships, and you
could lose them if you don’t make time to enjoy them. You may also lose
your perspective!

The Lord
continues to bless me and my company. We now have showrooms in Atlanta
and Dallas and a display at the New York Gift Fair in the Javits Center.
I am privileged that my love for painting and pottery has transformed
into a flourishing regional business.

don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know who holds tomorrow, and I
trust Him to do with my business as He sees fit—and to work in me as He
works in it. May He do the same for you.

Read a companion devotional.

Gail Pittman is an artist who turned a love for painting and pottery into a flourishing corporation, Gail Pittman, Inc. Her dinnerware, home accessories and collectibles are sold in specialty gift stores throughout the United States and Canada.

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