Last year, when the recession put many retailers, restaurants and individuals out of business, two stay-at-home moms seeking flexible schedules, brain stimulation and a bit of extra income saw an opportunity to start a new business.
Freelance writer Kelly Yale, 36, of south Charlotte and public relations professional Shannon Hawk, 34, of Waxhaw started Paper Blossom Marketing, a social and digital media agency, because the two realized surviving businesses would need to stretch limited marketing and advertising dollars farther than ever.
Hawk says the name evokes the idea that business is evolving away from paper and blossoming into the digital world of marketing.
"I was looking at going back to a corporate position and was noticing the increase in social media positions being advertised," said Hawk. "I decided to start my own marketing company and asked Kelly if she wanted to do it with me. Her background is in writing while mine is in an agency, so we were perfect counterparts."
Hawk and Yale sold their social media expertise - they met in a moms chat room - to companies desperate for inexpensive ways to grow their business by leveraging the increasing power of online outlets including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
"We knew so much about how social media worked that we were able to assist companies with making sure that all of their marketing efforts showcased their business and reached out to their fans," said Yale.
What started as a small home business managed between trips to the preschool carpool line quickly grew. In 12 months, Paper Blossom went from representing a handful of clients to a full-time, office-based agency with seven employees.
"We had no idea when we started this company that it would take off the way that it did," said Yale, who recently won the distinction of being named by the Mecklenburg Times one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Charlotte.
Paper Blossom Marketing now manages more than 50 Charlotte-based businesses' digital strategies.
Hawk also explained some of the keys to their success. "First and foremost, it's us," she said. "We don't take ourselves too seriously, but we take our clients seriously. Above all we have a good time.
"We have over 20 years of combined experience (and) we are always taking in our surroundings and looking out for different ways our clients can gain exposure. We network and talk and talk and network. It's amazing the kind of people you can run in to if you just strike up a conversation."
Helping small- to medium-size businesses has been the crux of the company. In addition to constantly networking, Hawk and Yale's clients also act as an outside sales force for them.
Nidhie Dhiman, owner of Belly Elan at Blakeney, said, "I cannot say enough about how amazing Kelly and Shannon are to work with. They have made all the difference in my business."
When asked how they manage their relationship with each other, given the demands of the schedule, Hawk said, "It's our respect for each other that gets us through the sticky times. I know she would never do anything purposeful to hurt me or the company, and she knows the same for me.
"With knowing that, you can get through anything. That and large amounts of vodka help."