Channing Muller has gone from journalism, to advertising, to PR – taking lessons and skill sets with her each step of the way. Though she has already started her Marketing and PR firm, DCM Communications, it was not until she was laid off by her day time job that the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based entrepreneur decided to dive in full time. Today the marketing expert serves her clients by combining her diverse skill sets into tangible market growth, and is enjoying watching her own company grow too.
Muller’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
Since I was 15 years old I had my mind set on being a journalist. As someone with a unique name, I loved seeing mine in print and writing had always been a passion of mine. With my mind set, I pursued that with a dogged enthusiasm throughout college with internships at any publication I could get who would give me a byline. Journalists are not known for making a lot of money though so I knew I needed to round out my education in communications so I understood the business side of things too.
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As I worked my way through the various areas of the communications world from journalism to advertising to PR, I found myself keeping parts of each previous position with me on a freelance basis as I moved onto the next one full time. I knew there was a future business in all that freelance work but didn’t have a clear picture of it yet. I grew up with a father who worked from home most of the time and I loved being able to get picked up from school when I was little by him or my grandparents. Those car rides mean so much now as an adult that I wanted to be able to provide that attention and schedule flexibility to my future family one day. I started to accumulate more freelance writing and advertising design work while I stayed in-house with a big corporate company working in marketing and learning from some of the best sales executives I’ve ever met. Everything I had been working on fell under the umbrella of communications, so I branded it as such and DCM Communications was born. It would be another 2 years of building business on the site while staying full time in the corporate world before getting laid off gave me the push I needed to take DCM full time.
Success looks different to everyone, that is for sure. To me it’s about doing meaningful work that benefits others, allows me the time and financial resources to give back to the causes that matter most to me, and keeps me in a lifestyle to which I have become accustomed. I like nice things. I like to travel. I like not worrying about whether I can afford a certain restaurant my friends want to go to. I want the experiences that life has to offer and financial freedom provides that to me. It may not be the same financial freedom others experience, but as long as I have enough money in the bank for my current lifestyle, savings for the future and can give back to my community and nonprofit causes that matter most, like the American Heart Association, then I very much consider myself successful. Marketing and PR do not have to be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done or insanely overwhelming. It’s just a matter of doing the right thing for your business model and not what someone else thinks your business should be. Helping my clients realize that and then run with it means I’ve had a very successful day.
One of my clients in Baltimore, Revolution Event Design & Production, created this really cool new product, a bumper table, that would allow people to safely move around in a space (restaurant, event etc) while maintaining social distance. Their reveal of the product on Facebook Live went viral and within 24 hours we had TMZ, CNN, the Today show and many others reaching out for interviews. It was insane! I spent hours on the phone with more than 50+ outlets at a time coordinating interviews, answering followup questions and prepping my client for what to expect on each interview. Within a week we had more than 60 stories and 5 million media hits around the world! That never could have happened if I hadn’t already figured out my press management processes and documentation strategy. You never know when something will go viral so being prepared matters so much. The press hits are unbelievable and I am so grateful for the new connection I made through that experience, but the real success of this to me is the fact that I could handle it all as a one-woman shop and no one felt abandoned or overlooked.
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When I first started I had the idea that I wanted to have a 10 person agency with in-house graphic designers, website developers and additional consultants who I trained in my methods. That was going to be the way I scaled. Then as I started talking to other small business owners about how they grew to the size I had in mind, I realized I didn’t want the pressure that came with delivering enough sales each month in order to keep everyone employed and happily working – not to mention the management aspect of a full team. So I had to rethink. I looked into the high-ticket coaching model so many people love these days. I even paid a business coach to teach me his amazing ways. While I learned some great sales tactics from him, I also learned that I didn’t want that type of business either. I didn’t want to have 400 people on a group call at a time. The financial aspect was attractive, sure, but that wasn’t how I wanted to help and provide value. So I had to go back to the drawing board again.
Now I find myself with what I think is the ideal model for me, at least for now. I have a team of reliable contractors who I can bring on any given project when it fits their skillset and passion. This allows me to have my agency take on more clients, which is good for PR and helping more people, without me having to do all the work personally. I took the lessons from those coaches and business owners and used them as a guide to find what I really wanted. This evolving clarity has allowed me to both try new things when I get inspired (benefit of no full-time staff means more money to invest into the business with less risk) and continue to help more businesses without losing the work-life balance I want. It may not work forever, but for now I’m growing at a 10% rate YoY and I don’t hate that.
In terms of challenges on the personal level – I began last year in an amazing relationship talking about marriage, children and all the things. Then a few months down the road, I got blindsided when it ended. It hit me hard. Forget “take it one day at a time,” I was more “one HOUR at a time” as I tried to find a way to navigate my heartbroken grief and keep my business alive. It didn’t work so well. In theory work should have been the perfect distraction from my personal woes but I could not get my head in the game. I couldn’t focus on anything, which meant my normally creative and refined marketing brain was not working as it should. This trickled into marketing campaigns that fell flat. It would take a ton of self work and new routines to help me rewire my brain for happiness, which would prove to translate into business success. Whether it’s a personal or professional road block, if your mindset is not aligned with your business goals in all ways, the deals won’t close, the creativity won’t come and success will be stalled. You have to work on yourself first and continue to put mindset work into every single day of your life and business. It was a very hard lesson to learn and months of work to get out of the hole I found myself in. but I did learn it and I am now happier than I’ve been with continued business growth month over month. And on the bright side, it proved to be great subject matter for my very first book coming out soon!
Everyone who has ever owned a business is my role model, simple as that. There is much I can learn from their successes and their failures and I am constantly seeking information from all so I can see where I want my business to fall among them.
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