Originally from Sierra Vista, Ariz., Tiffany Cox grew up about a half hour from the Mexican border.
Cox, who turned 26 last month, began her own full-service marketing and website design agency, Tiffany Cox Design, when she got to the Springs in October 2016.
A graduate of the Art Institute in Tucson, Cox married a soldier and lived briefly in North Carolina before moving to Phoenix.
“I worked for a couple companies — one a technology marketing company and the other was [a marketing company] really focused on small business. That really resonated with me. I really like small business and helping them grow. That’s kind of what prompted me to start my own business.
“For some reason, all my sisters moved from Arizona to Colorado,” Cox said. “I just kind of followed suit and decided not to get a job when I got here. I started my business instead.”
Cox spoke with the Business Journal this week about the challenges of setting out on your own, especially when you’re still in your 20s, and learning while you go.
Why the Springs?
I was looking at other places in Colorado too, but I looked at the growth factor here. Denver is already set and it’s really expensive. Colorado Springs was more affordable and growing and so I can grow with it. We moved here in October 2016.
Talk about the process of starting your business.
That was scary. I had a couple clients in Phoenix already so I had some side freelance stuff going on. But I mainly focused on meeting people — going to all of the networking groups, that kind of thing.
The group that really helped me take off and meet the right people was the Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce. I got really close with [Women’s Chamber President ] Lola [Woloch]. I actually do their website and all their email marketing.
How did you connect with the Women’s Chamber?
I met Robin Depies at a networking event and connected with her on Facebook. She posted there that the chamber was looking for someone to do their website. Nobody responded, for some reason. I was like, ‘Pick me.’ Robin told me to email Lola and gave me her address.
My business has really grown from making that connection and also connecting with the other really important people in town.
Referral is my best advertiser.
What other groups did you get involved with when you first got here?
I went to a couple of the regular [Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC] networking events. There was a group called Visionary Women’s Alliance. That’s where I met Robin. I’d done random ones. I met some good people but I think most of the business owners I’m looking for are hanging out at the chambers of commerce rather than the free networking events because I need someone who is a little more established.
Do you still focus on small businesses?
Yes, I’m still focused on the small business owner. They’re kind of left out I think. They’ll go to a bigger agency and it will be sticker shock because they won’t be able to afford the bigger advertising agencies. The other option is [hiring] someone fresh out of school who is kind of doing it on the side and won’t provide the quality they’re looking for, so I kind of meet them right in the middle where the pricing matters but the quality matters too.
I think the hardest challenge was getting my name out there. For the first year most of my business was still in Arizona.
Once I got connected with the Women’s Chamber, I started meeting the right people who could connect me with the people who needed help. Getting people to trust me was a challenge too. I was this new person in town and Colorado Springs is a big city, but a small town at the same time. People want to get to know you before they do business with you. The trust factor was a big challenge.
How has your business grown?
In the last year it’s doubled in clients and I attribute it to making the right connections and focusing on the networking events that work for me.
Do you consider yourself a natural networker?
No, the first networking event I went to was awful. I’m actually really introverted and shy. I walked in and was like, ‘How do I say ‘Hi’ to people?’ It was really about getting over that shyness and stepping up and saying, ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so.’ That was really hard for me. I’m an artist, a graphic designer. When I was working at agencies I didn’t really talk to any of the clients. I just did the work. I was at my little computer all day and didn’t have to have those social skills. That was a learning curve.
You had a design background, not business. Were there any challenges there?
I think the biggest challenge was understanding the mechanics of the business — how to price your work and how to file taxes, knowing how to run the financial side of things. The pricing was the hardest part for me. I wanted to make a certain amount per hour but really, when you’re running a business, you have extra expenses you wouldn’t normally have, taxes you wouldn’t normally have. All of those things factor in and of course you learn the hard way — like by filing your taxes.
The tax bill was double what I thought it was going to be.
So yeah, the business operations side I had to pick up and learn — the invoicing and billing. But I had some good mentors. My tax lady is good and I had financial advisers who said, ‘Hey, you really need to increase your prices because you’re not thinking of all the extra expenses you have.’
Did you seek mentorship when you decided to start a business?
Yes and no. I did meet some people at networking events where I thought I needed to have a conversation with them. That was something I’d been struggling with. So that’s how I met Robin and connected with her. She’s a financial adviser so I figured I could learn from her. She’s helped me with pricing and the numbers game.
When I met Lola, she could have just had me do the website, but she’s kind of become a mentor too.
Do you think being a young female business owner is different from being young and male?
I think it might be a niche. A lot of women business owners want to work with other women business owners. … When I go to the Women’s Chamber, I fit well because lots of women-owned businesses are looking for women-owned marketers.
How do you differentiate yourself from other design firms?
I think what differentiates me is because I’m just me; you’re working directly with me, you’re not getting pushed around to 10 different people at the same business to try and get your message across. They’re talking directly with the designer.
When I worked at agencies, it’s like a game of ‘telephone.’ You talk to the project manager who talked to the client and then they came back and relayed it to me. And of course the message changed. You kind of do a lot of redoing. I think it’s helpful to talk directly with the designer who will work on their project.
I think marketing companies compete, but not too much. A lot of us get super busy and pass work on to each other, so it’s kind of a weird industry in that way — competitive but collaborative.
If you’ve doubled business in a year, how long can you stay solo?
I’ve already noticed that problem. I’ve pulled on an intern who works on a contract basis. I’m slowly pushing more things to her. I can see, as I grow, giving her a lot more things to do. That’s kind of my solution — starting to pull on another person but everything still runs through me. That way I quality-check everything and make sure it’s the same standard if I were doing it for them.
What are your plans to grow?
I’d like to keep growing at the same pace I am. I do want to keep an intern and maybe pull another person on and grow it into a small agency.
I don’t want it to get too big. I still want the quality and care I put into it now. I’m really careful about who I bring on and how fast I grow.
Have you discovered any challenges in hiring?
I’ve already discovered the managerial side of things through the internship — learning to give more instruction than I get. I don’t get a lot of instruction from my clients. They just say, ‘Do it.’
It’s kind of teaching [new hires] to be a professional mind reader. That’s one of the hardest things about marketing: Your clients don’t know what they want. You have to figure it out for them and give them that strategy. It’s kind of teaching another person how to come up with that strategy on their own without me holding their hand through the process.
What do you wish someone had told you two years ago?
Take your time and learn everything you can from the people around you who are smarter than you.