WHO: Melanie Wilt
WHAT: Wilt Public Relations
WHERE: S. Charleston, Ohio
HOW: Melanie Wilt had spent most of her working years multi-tasking. Working in communications and media positions everywhere from the agriculture to technology firms, all while doing freelance PR and spokesperson consulting and training on the side, Wilt had a great deal of experience – but she also had an itch to venture out on her own. Having grown up on a farm in Ohio, her community focused on agriculture and horticulture, Wilt had seen the impact the industry had on rural communities like her own. She aspired to be involved with agricultural businesses that helped small communities – but didn’t exactly aspire to get her hands dirty. Her break into the agricultural communications industry was a big step in the right direction, but when she left the position after 10 years for one within a technology firm, she longed to get back to her roots.
In early 2008, before the real signs of an unstable economy began to appear, Wilt took the leap into entrepreneurship. With the blessing of her employer – and that employer’s agreement to be her first client – she left her job to launch a communication consulting firm out of her home. She invested $3,000 in new office equipment, and took out a $50,000 operating line of credit from her bank (which, Wilt says, was a “God-send”). Then, the recession hit, and Wilt started having major second thoughts. “I thought maybe I had made the worst decision of my life,” says Wilt, “but I soon found my services were needed for businesses trying to redefine themselves and build their reputations.”
Today, Wilt PR represents a wide range of industries, including the technology and healthcare sectors – but their primary focus is on agriculture and energy cooperatives and agricultural non-profits. This gives Wilt the blend she was looking for – the ability to represent small town businesses that have a big impact on their communities. Wilt was successful from the start – so much so that in the last year, the business moved into a corporate office, and hired two new employees to assist in account management. “We struggled a bit after the first hire,” she says, “but we’ve come out of that and are back on target.” The company’s profitable/not profitable/back to profitable curve was a challenge, but business is again booming. “We expect to do more than $200,000 in billing this year,” says Wilt, “and this year we’ll make payroll and come out ahead.”
One of the business’ strengths, says Wilt, is its ability to work around obstacles. “The gratifying part is seeing the Wilt PR team plan and execute a great campaign on a shoestring budget, with our strategy of leveraging partnerships and funding,” she says. In the future, she hopes to build upon that by building up a bigger team and adding more clients. “I want to keep a modest, low-overhead, high-quality business,” says Wilt, “and I’d love to get to the point where we could have a full-time designer plus freelancers.”
HER ADVICE: “You have to have a high tolerance for risk, thick skin and a long-term strategy,” says Wilt. “Very few businesses are overnight successes.”