"Nothing happens in my world until there's coffee. Nothing."
Marlane Vaicius and Chris Rumage head up Studio Vertu, a local fine marble giftware company. They are best known for handmade Italian marble tiles and coasters, although they also make wall art, magnets, ornaments, wine stoppers and hooks. Although not true freelancers, Marlane and Chris definitely approach their work with an entrepreneurial mindset, always looking for ways to grow their small business.
What's a typical day like for you?
Chris: I have a very traditional schedule. Since I run the production team that actually makes the marble tiles by hand, I like to be on-site as much as possible. I wake up around 7am and am in the office by 8:00. Then it's all hands on deck, designing coasters, supervising the production, making tweaks as we go, updating the website, etc.
Marlane: I also wake up around 7am, usually by two dogs breathing on me to take them outside. From 8–10am, I get ready for work and take care of other projects I have going on. When I get to the studio, I want to be able to focus on that work, so I take care of everything else before I go in. While at the studio, I do sales, legal, finance, strategy, design trends, plus some administration and PR.
Honestly, we're a very collaborative company. So we all just do whatever is needed—on any given day, you might see anyone cleaning the bathroom, restocking shelves, ordering glue and tape, putting on packing slips, bringing in pizza.
This stuffed horse is a mascot of sorts for Studio Vertu. Secretariat was a famous, award-winning racehorse, but didn't follow the expected path to get there. Studio Vertu uses this as a reminder that they can be successful without doing the same thing as everyone else.
What has been the most difficult part of running your own business?
Marlane: Before I took over Studio Vertu (from founder Mark Schmidt), I worked for a lot of huge businesses (Dow Chemical, Bemis, etc.). So when I started running my own company, one of the most surprising things for me was that nothing matters if you can't manage cash flow and make payroll. It was a huge blind spot for me because I never had to do that at the larger companies. It is a valuable thing for any entrepreneur to learn—that you are the lowest rung on the payroll ladder even though you own the whole thing. If you can't make payroll, you have to take the hit so everyone else can get paid.
Chris: When I became production manager, most of the people on the team had been at the company longer than me. So I didn't feel like I could (or should) tell them how to do their job. I really try hard to come in every day and lead by example and with a humble heart. So far it's worked out really well, and I feel lucky to lead such a great team.
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs or freelancers?
Chris: Don't be afraid to ask questions. And don't be afraid to try things and fail. That's the only way to learn. Plus it shows initiative and ownership, helping you and the business to grow.
Marlane: Keep your eyes on the long term. Too many people start their own business or go out on their own and expect to make a lot of money right away. That might happen for a few lucky ones, but for most people, it takes years of hard work. It will pay off, but you have to have the patience to get good, to sustain your business, to build the brand.
Awesome advice! Thanks so much to both of you for sharing your story!