Ann Smith | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ann Smith


Founded in 2009 and based in Portland, A. Wordsmith is a boutique communications firm, specializing in thought leadership PR and writing for leading business-to-business and consumer organizations. 

The Mistake: 

Failing to recognize the value of a full-time staff versus part-time.

The business was just me at the beginning, and it grew to a point where I started bringing on additional people, first on a contract basis and then on a part-time basis. It was a natural evolution, and we didn’t have to deal with benefits and other issues that come with full-time employees.

That was great, and worked well for a while. But as we took on more clients and got busier, it became more difficult for the people we had hired who wanted a strict part-time schedule. That’s just not the nature of this business, where things happen on our time off that must be addressed quickly.

We also found that many people are kind of like children; they need a schedule. What we learned over time is that work-life balance is something we are comfortable placing a big emphasis on, but there also are positives to process and structure.

We also found that many people are kind of like children; they need a schedule.

The Lesson: 

When we started out, I hired folks who had been in the business as long as me. We were more senior-level. As we grew, we started to bring on more junior-level staff. They weren’t at the point in the lives where they were juggling their career and a family. Their career was their focus, and they wanted full-time work.

In the past two to three years, we’ve completely shifted to mostly full-time employees. I wish I would’ve made this transition sooner. In the beginning, I didn’t realize the importance, but we lost some good people because we focused too much on part-time work.

And now that we are mostly a full-time team, with just one part-time employee, we are much more cohesive as a team. Previously, we had some people in the office Monday-Wednesday-Friday and others working Tuesday-Thursday. They might not ever cross paths, and it was harder to foster a sense of camaraderie or even structure client teams.

Our mindset has changed internally, too. We’re able to go after bigger and better clients because we know we have a full-time staff to support them.

But we’re a team of all women, and we continue to place a ton of value on work-life balance. Most of us are juggling families. We’re not sticklers that you can’t leave the office at 3; we structure work days according to what works best for people. People can work from home as they need to. My hope is that we’re definitely fostering work-life balance all the time.

Follow A. Wordsmith on Twitter at @Awordsmith.

Pictured: Ann Smith. | Photo courtesy of Ann Smith.

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