Names: Lis Martin and Jen Depakakibo
Business: Statement Communications
Location: Oak Park, IL
Lis Martin and Jen Depakakibo are co-founders of Statement Communications in Oak Park, IL. The pair founded the communications firm after years of agency work, believing they could provide a more "nimble and collaborative" relationship for clients.
After freelancing for several years following the births of their children, Lis and Jen joined forces to create Statement. By combining their talents, they believe they are able to offer a greater range of services to clients.
The Business Details
Tell me about Statement Communications. What do you do?
Lis (Owner of Statement + Content Strategist): I’m a writer by trade, so I manage the content side of our creative execution. That includes producing content myself and directing our contractors’ work. I also work with Jen on overall marketing strategy and planning for our clients, ensuring the content and graphics mesh well, client services and new business development. As owner, I run the day-to-day operations of the business, which includes contractor management, legal and accounting (although my husband is the main point person for this!).
Jen (Co-founder of Statement + Creative Director): I help our clients shape their branding in visually compelling ways, work on new business development, overall management of the business along with Lis.
Do you employ a team? Tell me about the business structure.
From a day-to-day perspective, Jen and Lis are equal partners—we make decisions together about client management, new business development, pricing and the overall direction of the company. We also have a profit-sharing structure that we participate in equally. Lis’ husband runs our finances, including invoicing and vendor payments. We also have a team of contractors (writing, design, animation, etc.) that we pull in on a freelance basis for additional help.
What in your background(s) prepared you for this business?
Lis: Writing has been in my blood my whole life, but our work at Statement requires skills beyond what I ever imagined (negotiating, analytics, HR management, etc.) Education-wise, I have a journalism degree and worked as a reporter for several years before transitioning into marketing. That experience helped me learn many of the skills I still use today, from interviewing to using proof points to make your messaging compelling. Working at an agency for several years helped me learn the basics of that environment, including client and project management, collaboration with designers and other creative staff, and drafting proposals. It was a leap of faith to create our own agency and I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I constantly learn through experience on the job and use those lessons to make the business better.
Jen: I created the proper building blocks over time. From the start of my career in the design field, working at agencies and in-house environments, I consider myself grateful to have worn many hats…not only was I doing creative execution, I was project managing, meeting with clients, helping draft and estimate proposals. This has helped tremendously in bringing the right skills in order to thrive as a solopreneur and now in an agency partnership.
What’s the vision for your business? Where have you been and how does your vision guide where you’re going?
Our goal for Statement is to offer our clients creative marketing services that rival what they’d receive at a big agency, but with a hands-on, consultative approach. We both bring years of expertise working with brands of all sizes, but we take the time to truly understand our clients’ businesses and counsel them through how marketing can help them reach their goals. It’s not unusual to spend an hour on the phone with a prospect reviewing their website and batting around ideas for improvement, or to deliver more logos and taglines than we scoped out in a proposal because we had an additional vision for where the brand could go. We want to continue to grow our client base, service offerings and team, but that growth is constrained by our ability to find people who can maintain our level of quality. We’re maniacal about that and not willing to compromise for the sake of growth.
So, how’s your business doing?
Business continues to grow more quickly than we had imagined. We had always assumed that developing new business would be the biggest challenge, but that’s not the case. The biggest challenge has been putting a structure in place to support that growth, including establishing a team of contractors who can handle some of the junior-to-mid-level creative work. It’s a work in progress, but we’re both thrilled and proud of the success we’ve had so far.
What’s one detail you’d like to change about your business?
Getting a solid structure in place that can help ease the multiple duties we handle. Right now, we both jump in to do whatever’s needed, which is not always the most efficient.
We’ve all seen the memes: real life vs. Pinterest life. What’s one “Pinterest idea” or false impression others have about your work/life/business experience?
Lis: Sometimes I think people hear, “Oh, two moms who started a marketing business. How cute.” As if you couldn’t possibly working as as hard or be as successful as someone who’s climbing the corporate ladder. Since forming the business, I’ve worked harder than I ever have before, and had greater success, too.
What are some financial lessons learned that you’d offer up to other mompreneurs?
Know your value, stand up for it. People that are worth your time will see it.
The Mom Details
Tell me about your mom life.
Lis: My daughters are 5 and 3.5 (they’re 18 months apart). Having two so close in age was really tough at first, but now they are best friends and playmates.
Jen: I have two young boys, ages 5 and 3. They make sure that I never have a boring day!
Did you have children when you started Statement?
Lis: I was full-time at an agency before I had my older daughter. After Lucy was born, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to that lifestyle, and ultimately chose to stay home with her and take on a minimal amount of freelance. My workload grew gradually as Lucy got older and I had my second daughter. One of those freelance opportunities evolved into the beginning of Statement.
Jen: After 14 years in-house at various agencies, I branched off on my own in 2012, after the birth of my first son. I continued to work remotely for the agency I was at, while at the same time, picking up several more steady clients. Not long after my second son was born in 2015, the partnership with Lis and Statement happened.
How does being a mom impact your vision for Statement?
Lis: Balance is hard; I think that’s true for any working mom and even more so for mom business owners. Compartmentalization helps. When I’m working, I try to block out everything else. When I’m with my kids, I put the phone down and get on my hands and knees to play dolls or do a puzzle together. Even if it’s just for half an hour, having my complete focus goes a long way for them. I also try to take the long view and remember that I’m working toward a bigger goal of building a successful business that will sustain my family and others. I want to show my daughters that moms can accomplish anything. This is tough sometimes, but my husband is a great support. He often tells me, “The kids won’t remember that you didn’t give them a bath, but when they’re older, they’ll see that you were able to build something really special.”
Jen: Finding balance is an ongoing challenge. I think accepting a bit of compromise on both sides is the only way the career/family relationship can work. I’ve learned to brush aside the guilt if the TV babysits my kids because I need to attend to a deadline off hours. Along the same lines, I try to completely shut down work when the necessary tasks are complete, so I can focus my full attention on the kids and family life.
How has your work habits changed after you had kids, as your kids grow, or both?
Lis: Efficiency is key now that my kids are in the picture. Every time of the day has a purpose, whether that’s finishing a case study or reading “Fancy Nancy.” During the week, I generally work from the time the sitter arrives at 8 a.m. until dinner at 6 p.m. Dinner time until kids’ bedtime is family-focused, and then I catch up on work or household stuff after 8 p.m. The workweeks are exhausting, so I try to minimize work on the weekends whenever possible. My family has started forced relaxation by going away for short weekend trips once every couple of months—no household chores or social commitments staring you in the face. Having that time to recharge as a family helps to rejuvenate me for the week ahead.
Jen: I actually thank my kids for boosting my efficiency with work. Because my time is compartmentalized into sections throughout the day, I really try to set time solely for work and time solely for kids and family.
When people ask you, “how do you do it all?” what do you say?
Lis: I’m not sure anyone really “does it all.” There’s a lot I don’t do—I don’t clean my house. I don’t throw Pinterest-worthy birthday parties for my kids. I don’t exercise that much these days. I think what’s important is determining what absolutely has to be done by you, and either outsourcing the other stuff or letting it fall by the wayside. For me, those essentials are spending quality time with my family and running a successful business (with time with friends and self-care squeezed in where I can).
Jen: You can do it all if you just change what your definition of balance is. Sometimes the scale is tipped heavier in one direction vs. another, but overall it all balances out.
Tell me about your childcare arrangements? How do you balance work and mom life? Who helps you out?
Lis: My daughters are with a full-time nanny. My husband is a trader and works early hours, so he often handles getting dinner on the table. We both pitch in to do whatever we can, whether it’s watching the kids while the other works, emptying the dishwasher, etc. Somehow it all gets done (sometimes miraculously!).
Jen: My 5 year old is in school full-time. My 3 year old is in a morning school program, then spends a portion of the day with nannies. Without this help, I could never do what I love to do. Also, my husband helps out a lot. He is very supportive of my passions, building the business and is always there to help out in whatever way he can.
Bringing it All Together
If you could go back and talk to yourself the month before you became pregnant with your first child, what would you tell yourself about how “things” would turn out?
Lis: I would say to stay open to the possibilities. When my daughter was born, I decided I didn’t want to go back to work full-time. Freelancing was a nice way to stay involved, and my workload grew organically. I never had a concrete plan for when or if I would go back full-time, and I certainly didn’t expect to be running a business five years later. All the decisions I’ve made about balancing work and family have been based on what felt right at the time (and taking the occasional leap of faith).
Jen:I would say that you think you might want one thing, but realize you don’t when you’re in it. When I was pregnant, I told myself and everyone around me I wanted to take a work break after the birth and spend a few years with my son raising him as a stay at home mom. Many influences around me said, “If you can afford to stay at home and survive off one income, why wouldn’t you take that time to enjoy your kids?” “They grow so fast, you need to savor these early years!” After he was born, I suffered from pretty bad postpartum baby blues and I think a good part of that stemmed from me missing the creative buzz I get from working and staying current in the ever evolving design world. So jumping back into work came much more quickly than I originally anticipated and that was a good thing for my overall well-being.
What do you know now as a mompreneur that you wish you’d known way back when?
Lis: That everyone is learning as they go along. Becoming a mom and becoming a business owner both require a leap of faith. You don’t have to have it all figured out beforehand; you’re going to make mistakes. That’s OK, you still have value to offer. Just go for it.
Jen: Talking with other like-minded, similar work/life balance women really helps keep you grounded and motivated. Maintain those relationships and make time to connect with people—chat over coffee, go out for dinner or drinks.
How do you recharge and keep your personal energy up when you’re running a business and raising little ones?
Lis: My family tries to protect weekends as family time whenever possible, and to get away for the weekend when we can so we don’t spend the whole weekend in household drudgery. I fit in self-care whenever I can, whether it’s a run at the Y or a dinner out with girlfriends. Those things don’t happen as often as they used to, but recognizing that they’re important, too, and giving yourself permission to take those breaks is important.
Jen: I try to savor the small things. A break for a latte, re-centering with a 5 minute meditation, exercise and spending time with good friends. My husband and I love to travel…for us, it’s a form of re-charging (although with kids we’ve come to find that’s not always the case, haha) but we prioritize it to make sure we squeeze in those little getaways and always at least one big trip a year … somewhere we’ve never been to before.
What advice would you give to fellow mompreneurs or moms who are thinking about jumping into entrepreneurial territory?
Lis: I believe in you, and so do other mompreneurs. There is no group out there more excited and motivated to support their community than mompreneurs. Also, being a mom is a great training ground for running a business—you learn time management, negotiation skills, etc.
Jen: Do it! The world needs more mompreneurs. Help others by connecting others.