Easing up on the pressure helps small business owner chart way ahead - Albuquerque Journal

Easing up on the pressure helps small business owner chart way ahead

Emily K. Howard, founder/president of Cheetah Strategy. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

There was much for Emily K. Howard to learn when she started her business consulting firm last year.

But the main lesson, much to her surprise, was that she didn’t have to know everything, and she didn’t have to be perfect.

“When I was working for other people, I put this pressure on myself,” says Howard, owner of Cheetah Strategy. “I could never say, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I can’t do that.’

“But with my own business, I don’t have to be that way. I can say, ‘I don’t really know, but I’ll help you figure it out.’ Or, ‘I’m not the best person for that, but let me refer you to so-and-so.’ It’s so freeing.”

Howard, an Albuquerque native, has spent her career in the world of marketing and advertising. She joined DDB Worldwide in Dallas, one of the nation’s first internet marketing agencies, in 1999.

After she moved back to Albuquerque in 2005, her employers included two longtime marketing firms and, most recently, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. Howard also is a vocal cheerleader for her hometown. She is a co-founder of the “Start Bragging ABQ” initiative and co-hosts its podcast, with the mission of encouraging residents to speak with pride about the city.

Howard’s decision to break off onto her own in the business world was not without hiccups. She initially started a marketing company in 2013, but her children were young and “it was just too much.”

The current iteration, Cheetah Strategy, is building its client network, and Howard is pleased with its success so far. Among her clients are the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and Jemez Pueblo.

But why the name “Cheetah?”

“I read a book somewhere that said if you give your family a name that it brings them together, like a sports team name,” Howard says. “So my daughters and I became Team Cheetah. When I came up with having a strategic planning business, it kind of dawned of me that the way a cheetah hunts is very similar to strategic planning. They kind of plan out their approach before they spring.

“I feel like marketing is a lot about unification and bringing people together.”

What’s it like to have your own business?

“I just love meeting all these new people and learning about different businesses — really getting in there and understanding what’s going on and how I can help them. It’s invigorating.”

Why did you decide to try again after your first effort was unsuccessful?

“Lots of reasons. I think one of them was having a better schedule with my kids and having a little bit more control of my schedule. Another reason, really, was I just wanted to help more businesses. I love the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, but for me, it was more of a challenge to work with different types of companies. More people and just more variety.”

What’s been harder than you thought?

“Accounting. And I think the sales piece is tough. I don’t like a lot of attention, so it’s a little hard for me to put myself out there. I feel like I’m getting more relaxed about it and just getting more conversational and not putting so much pressure on myself. I think all the stuff besides the strategic planning (and) marketing is hard. Accounting, sales, keeping track of mileage, all those little things.”

What’s been a difficult time for you?

“I got divorced when my kids were pretty young from my first husband, and that was pretty tough, even though it was pretty amicable. That’s also when I was doing my (first) consulting business. So it was a lot, but my family, my parents, my brother, they’re amazing. My friends were great. Having a support system was huge during that time. I think that was probably the toughest thing I’ve had to go through.”

What’s a splurge for you?

“Clothes that aren’t on sale. I got bargain-hunting from my mother.”

Do you have any hidden talents?

“Maybe tennis? I played until I was 12, and then I quit. I tried out for the team in college (Texas Christian University) and made the team. I still play pretty competitive tennis. The U.S. Tennis Association has teams, and I play on the leagues for them. It’s probably more competitive than people think.”

What are you proud of?

“I think I’m most proud of raising my girls to be kind people. We talk a lot about that — how to treat their friends at school and each other to be welcoming to all different kinds of people. I feel like they … notice a lot of things maybe other kids wouldn’t notice, and they want to help others. I hope I can take a little credit for that.”

Please reveal your most embarrassing moment.

“Oh, where should I start? I am a huge klutz, so it’s going to involve falling down or something. A few times, more than once, I have spilled my tea in a client meeting — like all over the table. In high school, I tripped on the bleachers and rolled onto the volleyball court. That’s a good story for my daughters. I tell them, ‘This happened to your mom, so you’ll survive whatever.’ ”

What’s your advice for new business owners?

“Ask for help. I think the key to success the second time around for me was knowing what to do in what order. Do you talk to an accountant first, or do you talk to a lawyer first or do you get your LLC set up? How does all that come together? So I think asking for help early before you make any major decisions is really helpful. And make sure you understand what’s involved with doing it, because there are a lot of things to think about.”

What are your goals?

“I want to continue to help as many companies as I can, and I think I have to figure out if I can do that by myself forever or do I need to bring in help. The mission of my company is to provide accessible strategic thinking. Accessible to me is a big deal. That means that it’s affordable (and) I’m around when they call me. So I want to continue to stick to that mission. For the next few years, I’m happy with the way it is.”

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