Lisanne McNew had early aspirations of entrepreneurship. When she was growing up in Colorado Springs, both her parents decided to return to school after losing their jobs at the same time. Each eventually opened their own business, unknowingly planting a seed in their daughter’s mind.
In 2007, Lisanne and husband Michael started McNew & Associates, a government contracting consultant firm with the tagline “Taking the stress out of doing business with the government.” Michael, a former Department of Defense auditor, is the subject matter expert, while Lisanne, the president and chief operating officer, is responsible for daily operations, business development and client relations.
“Small businesses have the opportunity to do business with the government, and it’s scary, so we wanted to help,” Lisanne said. “With him as the expert and me on the business side, we were able to do that.”
Lisanne has a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, sports science and exercise physiology from the University of Northern Colorado, and a master’s degree in leadership and education from UCCS. She and Michael live in Monument with their two sons.
How did your parents’ experience influence you to start your own business?
Growing up, we had no money, and I didn’t necessarily know it until I got older. Seeing them really pull themselves up from the situation that they were in — and really start a business and get up every day and say, ‘No, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to make it better for my kids than I had it’ — gave me that drive to do the same thing, to say, ‘You know, we can do this, and we can even make it better than how we had it.’ My husband’s grandfather was an entrepreneur as well, so he had that drive too. … You want to be able to provide for your family and help provide for other families.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m not a micromanager — I always say, ‘If I have to micromanage you, then I don’t need you anymore,’ which is kind of true, because I’m doing your job. … I like to collaborate. … Whenever we have somebody new come on the job it’s like, ‘Welcome to the family.’ We’re a family here and so we need everybody’s input, because whatever happens in the small business, it affects everyone. … That doesn’t mean that’s what’s going to happen all the time, but we like to have everyone’s input.
… I want people to be able to be honest with me, as I would with them. If you ask any of my employees, they always know where they stand. I’m not going to let things fester — let’s just be open and honest.
What do you think sets McNew & Associates apart from other small businesses?
A couple years ago, we changed our [paid time off]policy to have open PTO, so that just means that you can basically take as much paid time off as you would like — obviously it still has to be approved, but you can take as much as you want. … Another thing is that we’re very flexible. Everybody has a laptop so … I don’t care if they work from home. My biggest thing is just to get your work done — if it takes you 10 hours a week or 80 hours a week, just get the work done.
… We like to have fun. You spend so much time in the office and at work that you might as well enjoy it. … We love to have group potlucks whenever we have a new employee come in. Everybody gets their own wine glass, their own coffee cup. … All of our employees get to have a retirement fund. Everybody gets to have a gym membership. We have a sports massage therapist and everybody gets to go to him once a month. … Because we are a small business, we might not pay as much as some of the larger ones, but you get the benefit of being able to go pick up your kid when you want, or work from home.
Talk about some challenges of being a small business owner.
I think the weight of it is that you are responsible for your employees and for their families, and if you can’t pay them, then you’re not only letting down yourself, but you’re letting down your employees and their families. There were many times in the past — not recently — where you don’t have that money. What I think people who don’t own a business don’t understand is that you don’t take a paycheck, because you have to make sure that your employees are taken care of first. So there is quite a bit of sacrifice when it when it comes to that. … At the same time, though, that’s the best part as well — that you can be a part of that.
What about the rewards?
For us, it’s helping small businesses. That’s one of the biggest rewards. The second thing, for sure, is being able to help support your employees … and honestly, as we’ve gotten older and as our kids have gotten older, it’s the flexibility. It wasn’t like that in the beginning — you’re working 24 hours a day, you don’t have any money, everything is going back into the business — but now that we’re 13 years in, it’s the flexibility of it. It’s being able to be there for family events. My son plays varsity soccer, and being able to be there for him and having that flexibility has been amazing, because I didn’t get to do that when they were younger, and not everybody has that [opportunity].
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?
I think one piece of advice would be to find a mentor. … It doesn’t have to be in the same line of business — just find somebody who has been through it and really pick their brain and talk to them about it, because I think that you’ll be able to navigate some of those pitfalls that they’ve already gone through and maybe not go through them yourself. … There’s a lot of great free resources locally that you don’t have to pay for, and they can help you navigate some of that as well.
Join Phil Long Dealerships and the Colorado Springs Business Journal for the 2020 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Lisanne McNew, 4:30-6 p.m., Feb. 12, at The Pinery at the Hill, 775 W. Bijou St. A portion of the proceeds go to the 2020 Give! Campaign. Sponsors also include Amnet and Stockman Kast Ryan + Co.