ASTORIA — When Tiffany Butler started Whole Brain Creative she worked at nights and on weekends, fitting in clients around her full-time job. Now she’s grown the strategic marketing business enough that she rents office space and an apartment in not one city, but two.
Butler divides her time between Astoria and Portland. After three years of making the multi-hour commute, it’s become just another part of the job. This job is communications strategy, content and design — from presentations and speeches to print design, web design and article writing.
“I like having the two places, it gives me a footprint in both places and I like being able to go back and forth and maintain those relationships in both cities. It’s manageable,” she said.
Maintaining client relationships was the main drive behind having multiple business locations, she said. Her business originated in Hillsboro, just outside Portland but, when she moved to Astoria, she stopped seeing her Portland clients regularly and business from them started dropping off.
“What I realized is they would essentially forget about me if I wasn’t in front of them on a regular basis,” she said. “They would feel guilty, I think, to ask me for a meeting because they knew I was driving two hours to get to them.”
That was around 2011, which was the year the recession started to catch up with her business, she said. Before then, work had been going well. When things started slowing down, she realized she needed to facilitate the face-to-face time her clients were looking for, she said.
So she rented a co-work space in Portland and made it part of her schedule to be in the city two days a week. When that proved successful, after six months she rented a Portland apartment and, for the last three years has made the commute regularly.
Paying for two offices and two apartments comes with a price tag, though, and Butler needed to be sure she would have the revenue to support having both locations. She’s done that by securing clients on retainer, guaranteeing at least half her time in the month will be filled, she said.
“My goal was to get half of [the necessary income] secured in retainers and I’ve been able to do that,” she said. “I’m happy right there — if I had any more I’d have to start turning things away and I’d hate to do that.”
Splitting her time between two locales, however, doesn’t mean she approaches clients differently. In both Astoria and Portland she finds clients in large corporations and mom-and-pop businesses, she said. For Butler, it’s less about the size of the business and more about the people running it.
Butler works with clients according to their needs. For smaller business she acts as a one-woman marketing department. For larger ones she takes on projects that the existing marketing team doesn’t have time for. That means everything from designing wine labels to writing newsletters to developing a website for a client.
Within a few interactions with a client she has an idea of whether or not they’re going to work well together, and she’s learned to trust her gut for the most part she said.
“I’ve been doing this full time for almost 14 years. I’ve learned, to me, it doesn’t matter how big the company is, it doesn’t matter what business they’re in,” she said. “It’s ‘Do we have trust,’ ‘Do they value the expertise I bring to the table,’ ‘Can I understand what they’re explaining when I ask questions about their business?’”
Understanding those issues is key, she said, because without that understanding, she can’t do her job properly.
Business may be going well, but she’s not planning to expand any time soon. That would mean hiring employees and, while she’s managed people in the past, it’s not what she wants to do, she said.
“I’m OK with where I am on revenue and so why do I want to mess with that?” she said. “It’s working, I don’t want to break it.”