Who are you and what business did you start?
Marie Swift is President and CEO of Impact Communications, a full-service marketing communications firm serving a select group of independent financial advisors and allied institutions. Established in 1993, Impact Communications works solely within the financial services industry. The firm has two service lines – one for highly successful independent advisors and one for the institutions that support independent advisors.
Prior to establishing her own marketing communications firm in 1993, Marie served as Director of Corporate Communications for Worldwide Investment Network in Irvine, California. She managed a staff of twenty that supported two-dozen successful registered representatives, estate planners and wealth managers.
A former caterer and gourmet cook, Marie studied the culinary arts while living in Colorado. She enjoys fine dining and rustic meals, family outings, traveling to new places, and long walks with her husband and kids in beautiful Leawood, Kansas.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
It was 1993 and I knew something had to give. I’d been working as Director of Corporate Communications for a wealth management firm based in Irvine, California, for about 5 years and, while things we generally good for me, the long hours and stressful commute from the office to pick up my then toddler son at daycare was getting to me. My husband was always on the road for his job as a management consultant so weekdays were always tough for me as I’d be managing the morning rush to get Jonny to daycare and the evening rush to pick him up without incurring late fees at the daycare facility.
One evening as I was rushing to get Jonny from daycare, I came around the bend in the freeway going my usual 70 mph and, gulp, the traffic had just stopped — all 5 lanes. Dead stopped as I came flying around the curve while frantically trying to decide how I could avoid an accident. I didn’t. I heard the sickening sound of my tires skidding on the pavement as the airbag hit me full force in the face. I woke up to that I’d rear-ended a big utility truck. The man driving the truck walked back to check on me and help me out of my totaled Nissan sedan.
While recouperating at home with a broken knee, a banged up body, and significant neck injuries, I had time to think about my life and what mattered most to me. I mustered up the courage to resign from my job. My stunned boss, picked his jaw up off of his chest and what he said next surprised me: “Why don’t you work for us from home? We’ll compensate you on a 1099 basis. You can set your own hours. You can help us train someone as a full-time replacement to fill the job you’re leaving behind.”
And thus, Impact Communications was born. My former boss became my first client. He told a few other financial advisors in his study group that I was available to help with marketing initiatives. They told a few more who told a few more. Pretty soon I started looking around for other talented individuals who could help me meet deadlines and market demand.
We started expanding our service line and grew our collective capabilities. And while we now have full-time employees and a formal business structure, we still use a number of 1099 subcontractors who want the same flexibility that I had way back when.
There were challenges, of course. In the early days, computers were as big as a carry on suitcase and dial-up modems were slow to connect to this new thing called the Internet. My husband still traveled extensively for work, but we found that Jonny and I could either hunker down in a rented apartment in a city where we had family support or that Jonny and I could sometimes move in on an itinerant basis with husband Bill since he typically had a furnished apartment provided by his employer in the city where he’d be stationed for several months at a time.
Fast forward 28 years, from 1993 to 2021, and Impact Communications is nationally-known for our work. In 2021 alone, we have received numerous awards for our marketing campaigns, content creation. PR plans, thought leadership, and overall contributions to the financial services industry and the financial planning profession.
I am truly an accidental entrepreneur. The freeway accident that fateful day turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Impact Communications is, of course, dedicated to impacting our client’s bottom lines. But Impact Communications is also set up to impact the lives of our W2 employees, internal stakeholders, and 1099 partners.
As I worked through various evolutionary stages as an entrepreneur, I found more gumption, strength, and tenacity than I knew I really had. Today the biggest challenge for me is grooming the next generation so that they can keep the wheels on the road, so to speak, if I ever step aside or take a slower track.
What a privilege it has been for me to work with some of the best minds and companies in the business all these years. But, as I keep telling my team, that old Steve Miller song rings daily in my head: You ain’t seen nothing yet. The best is yet to come.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In 1993, all I needed was a telephone, a fax machine, a computer, a FedEx account and a credit card. I bootstrapped everything and built up the company based on word-of-mouth.
Eventually, we decided to incorporate and create a more formal business structure. But in the early years, I just filed a Schedule C and paid quarterly self-employment taxes.
I set up a web page for the company as soon as it became an early idea that companies would do well to have an “electronic business card” for their firm. Today, we are in the business of helping our clients build their online footprint and amplify their reputations through publicity and thought leadership. I found I had a knack for channeling other people’s voices but did go back to school to study and learn business writing, content creation, and management skills. But mainly I am self-taught or I find other people who are skilled at doing something I’m not and then create the opportunity to cross-train and mentor each other (and now we do that in teams).
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
A core principle as a leadership team is to always under-promised and over-delivered. We walk our talk by being seen in the publications and circles that matter to our current and prospective clients. We create our own thought leadership, appear at conferences, speak and write, maintain an active presence on social media, and are truly nice people who care about our clients. We keep our word and own up to any mistakes. We treat others as we would like to be treated. And we get by with a little help from our friends. It’s all about friend-raising, really. Never underestimate the power of being genuine and kind. But make stuff happen. Those are the keys to attracting and retaining clients.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
2020 was a rough year for almost every business owner I know. Even though 2020 was, ultimately, good for us financially, it was exhausting dealing with the array of personal and professional demands. 2021 was less draining in many ways, but we found we needed to focus on keeping people from a new term that’s been making its way into news stories: languishing. The ongoing uncertainties continue to cause stress for clients, strategic partners, and staff. Still, we soldier on and try to stay focused on the good, serve our clients, and take care of our families and ourselves.
As we turn the corner into 2022, the prospects look good. Our pipeline has never been so full of promise and opportunity. Keeping up with all the RFPs, contract negotiations, and subsequent client onboarding is important. Making sure that individual team members feel appreciated and have the flexibility to balance their family and business commitments is equally important. A good friend once told me, “slow down to get more done.” That has certainly helped me as a business leader through these unprecedented times.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
You don’t need to have a grand vision to get started. Just get started with something you know (or something you know is needed) and find your footing. Keep walking in the direction that feels right. Adjust as you go. Enroll other people in your vision as it becomes more clear. Trust your gut.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use the Google Enterprise platform for shared calendaring, email system, and digital vault. We like using Weebly for our four websites because just about anybody with some basic training can go in and make simple updates or post blog content. We are active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for business purposes. MailChimp is our preferred e-newsletter program. We use the Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office applications coupled with Canva and Descript for content creation. We own two big suitcases full of video equipment and like Vimeo for video storage and showcase creation. We use FreeConferenceCall.com for bridge lines and GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar and Google Meets for virtual meetings with screen sharing and video chat options. Most of us are MacBook Pro aficionados with a second screen.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I listen to and watch a wide array of podcasts and webinars, mostly one-off in order to absorb a smattering of fresh ideas and information. Helpful books include Platform by Michael Hyatt, and Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. Networking at industry conferences and sitting in on sessions that are not typically of interest to me (e.g., cryptocurrency and NFTs) keep me connected and challenged.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
When it comes to building a team, finding a diamond in the rough is better than finding a fully polished diamond. Cross-mentoring and being teamly will help you develop a more resilient organization. Find your voice, then help others find theirs.