Case

Ann Bevans & Ann Bevans Collective
Your business as a creative expression

 

Introduction 

Heads had been rolling for some time.

Ann Bevans was the overworked but generally appreciated marketing coordinator at a commercial construction company in Baltimore. At the age of 24, she’d been a marketing coordinator for five years.  A writer by training, Ann had become a Jill of All Trades, making herself indispensible by continually adding new skills to her repertoire.  Writing, designing, programming, managing vendors – she just figured it out as she went along.

In the midst of a serious downsizing, Ann thought she was untouchable. She was the hub of the wheel, and they couldn’t possibly get along without her.

She went right on thinking that until her number came up.

Ann walked out of the small conference room in stunned silence. She packed up her coffee mug and her family photos, drove home, cracked a beer, and looked around her $615 a month apartment. She thought for a moment, then said, “That’s never going to happen to me ever again.”

Ann Bevans Collective was born.

In the beginning, it was just another job.  Ann made websites, wrote technical proposals and ordered paperweights. If it paid and was tangentially related to marketing, she was all over it.

One day Ann realized that the Collective could be more than a way to pay the rent. It could be about something - a creative expression, a clear reflection of her deepest values.

That thought made all the difference.

Background

“Can I write your name right here next to Editor In Chief?”

“Well, yes sir, if you think I’m up to it.”

For the first time in years, a writer, not a visual artist, would be the Editor in Chief of the Colophon, Towson High School’s award-winning creative arts magazine. 

Ann had served on the staff of the magazine for two years.  She desperately wanted to be the Editor in Chief. She knew she could do it, but no one else knew.

That’s what happens when you’re nerdy and quiet, showing up at school day after day in not quite the right clothes. It’s a natural consequence of refusing to raise your hand because you know the teacher will never call on you. No one knows what you’re capable of when you’re invisible.

So Ann got an idea for a covert campaign. She made detailed plans, nominated her own editorial board, and developed a theme.  Then she presented all these ideas to the magazine’s advisor, with a big blank space next to “Editor in Chief.”

She left it up to him to make it official.

Invisibility can be a curse.  It can keep you meek, small, hidden. It can also be an advantage, particularly in that moment when you de-cloak and roar out of nowhere with your thoughtful, carefully vetted, indispensible solution.

You can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  And it’s awesome.

Professional issue

The day Ann got fired from her last job and vowed to take charge of her own destiny, the world looked very different from the way it looks today.

In 2000, plenty of people still thought the internet was just a fad. In the marketing space, big agencies held all the cards. Freelancing wasn’t considered a good career move, and those who dared to try spent a lot of time hiding out behind the corporate veil, trying to appear bigger than they were. It was the only way to make it back then.

There were a number of factors working against Ann as she set out on her entrepreneurial adventure. She was young, she was introverted, and she was a woman. In many ways, she was still invisible.

Nevertheless, Ann launched her company, (initially called the Bevans Group), and got to work. When she ran out of contacts, she stretched out of her comfort zone, joining a networking group and learning how to sell herself. When people asked who else was involved in the Bevans Group, she said, “I have a few designers I work with.”  And that was kind of true.

Eventually, Ann found herself falling further and further behind despite working harder than ever.  It turned out that doing it all was not scalable.

At first, Ann attempted to grow the company along the traditional path.  She leased office space and hired employees.  But Ann quickly discovered that the big agency model wasn’t for her.  The increased responsibility, high overhead, and office politics were exactly what she had sworn off years before. Ann didn’t want her business to become just like the companies that had disappointed her in the past.

Then, a few things happened:

1.     Technology made it possible – and widely accepted – to be a virtual company. Having an office and a big staff were no longer prerequisites to being taken seriously.

2.     Social media transformed the landscape.  The marketer’s responsibility evolved from broadcasting the company line to facilitating access. Authenticity and transparency were suddenly seen as vital to marketing success.

3.     Ann got really, really tired of men looking at her card, then asking, “Bevans Group, huh?  So you work with your husband?”

In 2009, in response to these market changes, Ann rebranded the company as Ann Bevans Collective. This change positioned Ann and her personality, her voice, at the center of the company’s marketing message.  As a introvert, Ann struggled with this decision, but ultimately decided that she and her clients would be best served by allowing the Collective to be an extension and reflection of her own values.

Along with this transition came an operational shift. Ann began focusing on the areas she most enjoyed, including marketing strategy and content development.  Simultaneously, she began working more and more with independent contractors who were the best in their fields. Ann Bevans Collective took on a decidedly global feel, with the addition of a UK-based creative director and programmers based in Europe, Australia and the United States 

Personal issue

Just as Ann was making the transition from the Bevans Group to Ann Bevans Collective, tragedy struck. At the age of 33, Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As is often the case when receiving a life-threatening diagnosis, Ann began to question the amount of energy that the Collective required, as well as the impact of her intense work schedule on her family, which included an energetic two-year-old. 

At the same time, Ann knew intuitively that work, and the wonderful relationships she had developed with her clients, would keep her sane. 

During her cancer treatment, setting boundaries between work and home became more important than ever. Ann leaned on her colleagues in the Collective to manage client relationships and counted on them to work even more independently.  When she felt well enough, Ann would return phone calls and emails, keeping the lines of communication open.

Ann completed six rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, and her prognosis is excellent. Throughout her ordeal, Ann reflected on the impact her story would have on her friends, family, colleagues and clients. As a survivor, Ann is proud to serve as an advocate for those who are affected by cancer.

Thanks to the hard work of her colleagues in the Collective and the patience and understanding of her clients, Ann and her company are continuing to grow and prosper despite personal challenges and difficult economic times.

Wrap Up

The Bevans Group, and later, Ann Bevans Collective, was a product of one woman’s experiences, as well as the times in which she lived and worked.

Which factors were most important in shaping the direction of this company, and what might the future hold?