Tempest celebrates 25th anniversary (1990-2015)
Just like the 90’s show, ‘Thirty Something’, winning clients and doing creative work was fun and exciting. Don Astras had long gained experience and prepared for striking out on his own. After a year, Don had incorporated, hired staff and moved into an office downtown. He also found experienced contractors for design, photography and printing. However, as many startups will learn, attitudes toward risk, reward and work ethic differ between founders and employees.
How to prepare to launch a startup
Well, it wasn’t the first attempt. Originally, Don had started Tempest in 1983, but took a job with his largest client in 1985. There he mastered Desktop Publishing (DTP) in 1986, when hundreds of executives from West Michigan’s premier corporations and agencies had clamored to learn about it during a snowstorm. Later Don won design awards for the customer newsletter and Hewlett-Packard (HP) print ad. That was the ‘aha’ moment. He found that he could design as well as the best of them. So, he built relationships in the graphics industry by teaching DTP, saved for equipment and taught courses at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) to keep his skills sharp and find young talent. He also remained active in the West Michigan American Marketing Association (WMAMA) to keep up with his contemporaries and learn of opportunities. By August 1990, Don was ready to relaunch Tempest.
Agency offers training, design, consulting and direct marketing
Starting out, Tempest’s goal was to make clients self-sufficient by offering Marketing, Presentation and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) workshops along with DTP consulting. Most clients chose Tempest as their outsourced marketing department for corporate identities, brochures, surveys, newsletters and direct mail (predecessor of digital marketing services). However in 1993, Tempest became an Authorized ACT! Training Center, started a users’ group and developed training videos with Cynthia Kay to help clients follow through better on their marketing campaigns and events. If you want to double your response rate, you must follow-up.
Attracts clients from hi-tech and service industries
Tempest acquired major clients in the hi-tech and service industries: Applied Imaging, Crowe Horwath, Exhibit Design Consultants, Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Priority Health and Trivalent (formerly Remex).
Tempest specialized in creating a uniform look and feel for all marketing and sales tools and communications, as well as featuring client and vendor testimonials in brochures, presentations, newsletters and proposals for differentiation from competitors. Tempest’s branding efforts helped clients grow and continue to win industry awards for their marketing campaigns. Even back then, Tempest’s best practice was to use demographics in marketing and CRM databases for segmentation. Don wanted clients to succeed and raised the bar for performance by giving away these tips in Tempest’s workshops and consulting.
Debt and personnel challenge firm’s survival
However, running the business was different than working in it. Overconfident, Don made grave mistakes by not following the advice of his accountant with:
- Using a bank loan for payroll instead of working capital
- Not managing cash flow to pay taxes on time (Fyi: the government was relentless collecting and adding penalties)
- Taking on partners with notes for capital, who left before making promised payments (underestimated the amounts needed and should have required payments up-front)
Not paying enough attention to the situation and economy, Don ended up with more debt and no partners. Immediate action was needed. Don sold unneeded computer equipment, sublet office space to a contractor and arranged for payment plans with vendors. Eventually, Don sold the Mac-based DTP business to a contractor, took up ACT! CRM on the Mac and PC and moved out of the downtown office to work from home.
Learn from Tempest’s experience
If you are a startup, experiencing growth pains or need a business mentor – then Tempest can help to ensure that your objectives and procedures are clear, follow best practices and are assigned to the right individuals, as well as monitor and analyze performance. Should you need help improving the effectiveness of your business development efforts by getting customers and vendors involved in promoting how well your products or services meet their needs, contact us or find out how in our Marketing Planning and Marketing Communication Workshops.
In our next article, we’ll discuss how Tempest recovered from debt and positioned for growth.