Employee to Entrepreneur Transition Stories

How Melissa Cassera Went From Ad Sales Rep to Starting a Publicity Firm

Melissa Cassera left her job as an advertising sales rep to start her own business. She now owns and runs a publicity firm that is focused on helping entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Like many people who work for somebody else, Melissa Cassera preferred to be in control of her own destiny.

She left a good job to become an entrepreneur, and she was nice enough to tell us about the transition and offer some great advice for aspiring business owners.

What type of firm were you working at before starting a company of your own and why did you leave?

I worked for a medical publishing company as an advertising sales representative for several years before taking the leap to start my own business.

I made the decision on my own to leave the position. I had worked there for four years before deciding to leave in 2006.

It was a great job, but I knew I wanted to be in control of my destiny, and I felt I would be more in control if I owned my own company.

You've got your own company now, right? What is it and what do you do there?

My company is Cassera Communications, a publicity firm. I am the owner and sole publicist, meaning I handle everything in the creative direction of a client's campaign. I also perform a number of workshops teaching marketing and publicity strategies to small business owners.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur instead of simply looking for another job?

I had a great job, but ultimately I feel if you work for someone else you are at the mercy of their business decisions and goals.

If you work for yourself, you are in control of what happens to your business. You decide who to hire, how many people to hire, how much money to invest in different areas of your business, etc.

If you make a poor business decision, it's your own responsibility. But if you make great business decisions, you were in control of those decisions and are reaping the benefits.

Did you buy a business or start a business from scratch? Why did you do one instead of the other? Which do you think is the best approach?

I started my business from scratch. I was contacted by a few owners in the advertising and marketing industry to buy their businesses, but when I looked into the books, the current clients, and the profits - it didn't make sense. I also had a very clear vision of where I wanted to be. I think the best approach is really an individual choice.

Before making the decision to purchase a business, I would caution prospective buyers to research, research, research. Ask to see client contracts, sales receipts, backlogs, income statements. Don't take anyone's word for it. I found that really diving into these things painted a much different picture than what was originally offered.

How did you decide what kind of business to go into?

I have a Communications and Public Relations degree. I originally worked in the PR department of a large, international company and felt it wasn't where I wanted to be.

There's something exciting about getting a small, unknown company national exposure. I feel like I'm always on the ground floor of something great and am partly responsible for helping it grow.

Owning a business is very different from working as an employee. What are some of the biggest differences you've noticed? What do you miss? What don't you miss?

Having to make every decision yourself. I was a one-woman shop when I started, so I managed all the operations, finances, sales, marketing, publicity and took care of my clients. I put in a lot more hours (and still do). I also still sometimes miss the camaraderie of co-workers, but with the many social networking sites today, it's much easier to network with peers.

It also took some time to get past not having the security of a paycheck, 401k, and health insurance.

I don't miss having to adhere to strict rules and guidelines, even if I disagreed with them. I love having the freedom to make my own decisions. Sure we all make mistakes in the beginning, but I've found success in trusting my instincts. I also love having control over my brand and my image. I put thought into everything from my online presence, to workshops to high-touch client interaction.

What advice would you give to somebody who is leaving the life of working for a company to go out on their own?

Get used to living without the security of the 'paycheck.' You have to be diligent to leave money aside for taxes through the year.

Shop around for health insurance rates and providers.

There's a lot more responsibility that comes with being an entrepreneur that you can either embrace, or let it stress you out. Try maintaining a positive attitude at all times.

If sales are down write down five things you can do to market yourself. Always think of new things you can do to spread the word about your business.

Open your eyes to new possibilities and opportunities, look for joint ventures, non-profit partnerships or investors.

If you love your business, this will come naturally. If you don't, you may need to tweak your focus to fit what makes you happy.

Anything else you'd care to share with us regarding the transition from being an employee to being an entrepreneur?

Plan as much as possible. Have a goal of where you want to be and then brainstorm the steps needed to get you there. It takes time and patience and tons of effort, but the payoff is worth every ounce you put in!

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We hope you enjoyed this interview on what it takes to go from employee to entrepreneur. What's your take on the advice Melissa has offered to new and aspiring entrepreneurs? We welcome your comments, tips and advice below. Thanks!

  • Peter Ubriaco posted on 9/5/2011
    Peter Ubriaco
    Original interviewee here - reporting in just shy of NYISI's 3 year anniversary. First, thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story with other entrepreneurs. The first 2 years were a struggle, but things are really starting to come together. There were many times along the way I thought I wouldn't make it, but I stuck with it. With hard work and determination, almost anything is possible. Thank you again for posting this, good luck to all entrepreneurs.

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