Anne Staines didn’t start out with dreams of owning her own business. In fact, her parents were business owners and Anne often watched them struggle—forced to borrow against their home to make payroll or to pay taxes.
“I thought I didn’t want to live that way,” she shares, “so I went to college and then to work for a big advertising agency where I set out to learn as much as I could to get my career off to a good start.”
Five years in, however, Anne had her first child, a daughter, and began feeling overwhelmed. She wasn’t sure she could be both a mom and an agency executive. When Anne’s infant niece and nephew came to live with them too, it became clear she needed a change and for the next nine years, she enjoyed more flexibility working as a consultant.
When Anne was ready to return to Corporate America full-time, she looked to combine two passions: working for an ad agency and doing social impact work that makes a difference, which she had done as a college student and as a consultant.
“I went back to work for an ad agency and for seven years, developed their social impact marketing program,” Anne shares. “It felt like the right mix of using my skills and satisfying my need to give back.” Still, something was missing. “I was trying to compete for agency resources against more profitable work. I thought there has to be a better way to do this.”
Around that time, Anne and her husband took a money management course and were asked to write about what they would do if they could not fail. Anne wrote about starting her own business that specialized in socially beneficial marketing. The business’ name even came to her in a dream. She purchased the website URL and got a business license…just in case. A decade later, Anne and her team rebranded the firm to its current name—Sagent—reinforcing the focus on health and wisdom that Sage brings, and marrying that with the concept of being Change Agents
Anne really wanted to take the leap, but still had “what ifs” running through her mind. What if she failed? What if she couldn’t feed her family? Then, Anne’s beloved grandmother passed away and left her and her sisters each $30,000. “I thought about what to do with the money for months and then it hit me to use it as seed money to start my own business,” she recalls. “My grandmother had been a real estate broker so I felt like it was a good way to honor her as a business owner, and to continue her legacy.”
With that, Anne’s dream that may have been slow to form was quick to take off. She didn’t touch her grandmother’s money for her first four years in business until the recession hit in 2008 and by then, she already had employees. She’s borrowed from it several times since, but always pays the money back “so I feel like her legacy is still alive in the company,” says Anne.
During Anne’s 17 years in business, she’s learned some incredibly valuable lessons as president of this woman-owned B Corporation that works with other B Corporations, public agencies, nonprofit organizations and purpose-driven companies to create and manage campaigns that inspire positive behavior change to protect the environment and enhance people’s health, safety and wellbeing. Here are just a few of those:
Lessons in Hiring…
One of Anne’s greatest milestones was hiring a woman named Shelley who she thought was overqualified and that she couldn’t afford. “She spent her career doing social impact work and was my first real professional hire,” Anne says. “That was 11 years ago and she’s my right hand.” Shelley serves as vice president of client services and media. Anne has also since brought on another professional, Lynn, as vice president of integrated marketing. “This level of professional expertise really helped to move us forward. I had previously been trying to hire ‘just good enough that I could afford’ and never found anyone who was strong enough to help me grow the company.”
Lessons in Connecting…
Another milestone for Anne and her business is when she went to her first NAWBO National Women’s Business Conference (WBC) with a group of NAWBO sisters. Anne’s bank had told her about a NAWBO Sacramento Valley awards program and she knew she had a shot. She began attending meetings, joined the chapter and attended her first WBC. “What I realized from all the speakers there is I had a lot to learn if I was going to have a successful company,” Anne shares. “Most people were there to network. I knew I wouldn’t find my clients there, but that was freeing. I could go there and talk about my challenges and not have to pretend that I had everything together. The conference is where I saw what a professional approach to leadership can create and first heard the term ‘working on your business, not in it.” Anne went on to be president of NAWBO Sacramento Valley and of NAWBO California, and currently is a board member of NAWBO San Francisco Bay Area and the NAWBO California education board.
Lessons in Growth…
Today, Sagent Marketing is a $10 million agency with a team of 24. At one point in Anne’s entrepreneurial journey, the company grew 670 percent in just three years and it was named the second fastest-growing business in the region by the Sacramento Business Journal. But such rapid growth was painful. “It almost shook the wheels off,” shares Anne. Since then, she and her team have focused on building systems and processes so that the company can run more efficiently and grow at a more sustainable pace. “Where we’re headed now is we’re expanding our business focus beyond just public agency and non-profit clients to serve for-profit clients with a positive social or environmental impact,” she adds. “We’ve been taking these clients as one-offs for a while now through relationships and connections, but now we’re creating the systems to actively grow in that direction.”
Lessons in COVID…
Anne is no stranger to working from home—after all, she started her business in her 500-square-foot poolhouse and at one point, had seven people working there until she purchased a building downtown and moved her business there. Over the years, several team members expressed interest in working from home, but Anne wasn’t sure how to make it happen since she needed her leaders in the office if her team was there. Prior to COVID, she got the entire company on Office 365 and began exploring how to best do it. “We had that remote capability but I just couldn’t figure out how to push that button,” says Anne. “Then COVID hit and we all went home.” While the transition was smooth with the software already in place, remote onboarding has been a challenge since the company puts a lot of energy into its culture (with lunches, happy hours and fun Friday activities), and that’s hard to replicate virtually. “That’s been a huge learning curve,” she adds, “and we’re still very much learning how to do this well.” Now, however, Anne has three employees living and working out of state—COVID took the geographic definition of her company and threw it to the wind!
Her Best NAWBO Advice…
Anne says that she gets out of NAWBO what she puts in. “I’ve found that being in leadership on the board is where I’ve made my deepest relationships with other business owners,” she explains. “Relationships can really grow when you’re not just showing up for meetings and expecting to receive.” In addition to board leadership, Anne has been part of NAWBO’s Circle program for businesses with $1 million and up in revenue. She was also introduced to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program through NAWBO, applied and was accepted. “Thanks to NAWBO, I’ve learned so much through programs, masterminds, mentoring and especially the opportunity to find my tribe whom I can call any time I have a business challenge,” adds Anne. “There is always someone I can learn from who has been there ahead of me.”