One of the most commonly asked questions I get asked is, “why did you start a local business?” Just over twenty years ago, I was a well-paid, salaried consultant that traveled around the country managing large website projects. While the money was great, the travel was tiresome and I didn’t get to spend much time with my family.
Hello dear readers, I’m Joe Domaleski – husband to Mary Catherine and father of three grown children. It’s been my privilege to be a 25-year resident of Fayette County, 20 of those years as the owner of Country Fried Creative – a local digital marketing agency that employs 15 people. In the upcoming weeks and months, we’re going to explore a number of different topics from the perspective of a local, small business owner in this new column (thank you for the opportunity Cal Beverly).
Back to the topic, why did I start the business? Well, it sure wasn’t for the money. Frankly, I made more money 20 years ago than I do now – despite being my own boss. After I left the military in 1993, I went to graduate school to earn my MBA. Most of the course work focused on “maximizing profit”. In fact, after I earned that MBA and became a consultant, most of the measures of success were financially oriented – ROI, IRR, NPV, etc. There’s nothing wrong with money, it’s how we handle business transactions with an agreed-upon exchange of value. Back then in my late 20’s and early 30’s, it was my goal to be financially independent by age 55. I turn 55 next month and it’s not going to happen. Some of my peers are already retired and financially secure. I’m really happy for them. Am I unhappy about my own situation? Nope.
It seemed to me there had to be more to life than money. With some cashed-out retirement savings, I bootstrapped my start-up business in the early spring of 2003. In order to keep my expenses low, I worked from coffee shops (Wi-Fi was just becoming a “thing” back then) using my laptop computer. Without knowing it, many of you probably saw me hanging out at Starbucks, the library, or even outside in front of city hall. Instead of flying across the country, most of my business travel was around Fayette County. In the evenings, I was able to spend time with my wife and young children. When they went to bed, I clocked in for a second “night shift” working away on projects that I had sold. Days were spent networking and meeting with new clients, while nights were spent doing project work. It wasn’t easy, but there was great satisfaction in the work I was doing.
Other than wanting to be home more for my family, honestly, I didn’t really have a lofty vision for my start-up business – despite all of the formal business training I had received. Over time, that vision and purpose have become more clear. You can read about our company’s Mission, Vision, and Values on our website. But on a personal level, why would I willingly choose to leave financial safety to enter economic uncertainty?
For me, it’s all about priorities. Family means everything to me as I’m sure it does to each of you. Reducing my business travel allowed me to stay home to be able to enjoy family dinners (remember those?), attend school functions, cheer our kids at weekend sporting events, lend a hand to the PTSO, and help out with booster club activities. I even got to be one of the stadium announcers at Whitewater High School. None of that would have been possible had I kept up the business travel.
Our local community is also very important to me. Yes, what happens at the state and national level is important, but our local community is where I spend most of my time. It’s where I own a house, have friends, spend money, and explore new places. It’s very rewarding to be able to make a local impact by serving on boards, supporting non-profits, and patronizing local businesses. Supporting our local community is not something I would have time to do had I not started my business and spent more time locally.
Over time, I have come to realize that helping other people in a direct, personal way is very rewarding. Honestly, that wasn’t a business goal of mine twenty years ago. At start-up my main priority was survival. As my business grew I took on employees, vendors, and more clients. Having a personal connection with the people you do business with is very rewarding (and tough). During the Great Recession of 2009-2011, we almost lost everything including our house. Despite the challenges, I knew people were counting on me. It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve been able to create a work environment that provides local jobs and helps others reach their goals. Moreover, it’s been satisfying to watch key employees turn into managers and leaders. We’ve taken on interns who we’ve watched grow and blossom as they expand their career horizons. It’s been a pleasure to help many local businesses and non-profits start up, get through tough times like COVID, and even outgrow our services!
Money is important to keep the lights on, but spending time with family, supporting our local community, and helping others is why I started the business almost twenty years ago.
It may sound cliche but it’s all about the journey and not the destination. We’re looking forward to at least another twenty years.
[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year. Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran. He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]