3. Jennefer Witter
The Boreland Group, New York City and Washington, D.C.
Lesson: Be tenacious.
After Jennefer Witter's mother died in late 2000, Witter decided to quit her job as a corporate public relations manager at Ketchum to recharge her life, including a reassessment of her career.
It is Witter's tenacity that has helped it succeed. "When I was starting my company, I sent about 200 emails to everyone I knew. Out of that 200, I got one response," she says, but that led to her first client -- a real estate broker in New York City.
Witter's success work representing that client raised her business' profile, and she started to get calls and referrals. But she doesn't rely solely on her clients putting in a good word for her. Witter works constantly to keep the visibility of her company high, she says, by going to as many events as possible (even if she knows not a soul there) to network, regularly appearing and writing for the media and keeping up with social media.
"Within the black community we are always told by our parents that we have to work harder, we have to achieve higher, because either the expectations for us are so low or so tainted by stereotypes or muted prejudice we almost go through the door and start with a negative. That is a challenge throughout the career," she says. "A lot of times I'm the only black or black professional in the room. You never know what assumptions are made because of the color of your skin."
It inspires Witter to push herself even harder to succeed.
"Every event I go to I create three specific objectives that I need to achieve at each event in order for me to make this a successful event," she says.
Over the past eight years, even with the downturn in the economy, the company has been able to "not only maintain [revenue], but also increase revenue each year. We are known for getting results on what we promise to the clients and the accounts. We work hard to achieve that," she says.
One way Witter has been able to keep her costs down is by working with independent contractors as opposed to full-time staff. Witter also focuses typically on retainer accounts, although to get through the rough economy she began taking on project-based accounts as well.
Witter's clients tend to be in real estate, other small businesses and nonprofits. She is looking to expand the agency's reach into Washington, D.C., where she says there is huge opportunity for public relations. She also aims to get certified as a small-business federal contractor that is both minority- and woman-owned, so she can start bidding on U.S. government projects as they come up.
"We are thriving," Witter says.