Main and Mulberry: Grindstone – Susan Ewing, Ewing Marketing Partners

Susan Ewing has proven to be a detailed, organized, and effective marketing partner for many. And now, at Ewing Marketing Partners, she works hard to connect clients with key partners of their own. On this episode of the Grindstone, listen to Susan explain about how she got her start and how she helps clients succeed in today’s complex business environemtn


Keith Essary:
You’re listening to Main and Mulberry, the Grindstone. Main and Mulberry gives voice to local leaders in small towns, telling big stories. This series, the Grindstone, focuses on a backbone of the U S economy, the small businesses who are creating new jobs and driving innovation with hard work and determination. We’ll hear from business operators about everything from success stories to what it really needs to keep your nose to the grindstone. If you operate a business, are considering starting one, or just want to hear some amazing stories, you’re going to love Main and Mulberry the Grindstone.

Welcome to this episode of Main and Mulberry, the Grindstone. I’m Keith Essary, and I’ll be your host today. And I have been a small business operator for over 20 years. So I know firsthand what it’s like to be in the grind. And today we have with this Susan Ewing of Ewing Marketing Partners. How are you, Susan?
Susan Ewing:
I’m wonderful, Keith. Thank you. How are you?

I’m good. I’m good. I’d say it’s a good afternoon here. And so I’m I’m glad to have you with this and Ewing Marketing Partners. Tell us, tell, start off by telling us what that is. What, what do you do?

So I am a marketing consultant, and I work with small to medium sized businesses who typically wouldn’t have a marketing department or possibly a marketing department of one. These businesses typically are managing the day to day operations of their business, and then also trying to do marketing on the side. And so I’m able to come in and help support and guide their marketing efforts to help them focus on really helping to grow, grow the business and drive revenue.

Okay, well, those are good things, growth and driving revenue. So I like both of those. Tell me the name, the Marketing Partners. Is it, so is this business yours or do you have partners?

SE (01:57):
Yeah, so I started the business I’m Founder and Chief Navigator. And the reason I have it as Marketing Partners is that instead of being like a typical advertising agency that has a full staff, I bring in strategic partners to help clients based on their needs. So depending on what if the client needs a new website, if they’re focused on digital marketing efforts, instead of working with whoever I would have on staff, I’m able to bring in the right strategic partner for their needs and this way, you’re always getting the A players and your A-team working on your business for the client.

KE (02:46):
Okay. So you go in and you’re talking to one of your clients and you find out what their needs are and you all work, you work together to see what they’re trying to achieve and then say, okay, well for this, you really need digital media. And instead of being a traditional agency saying, Hey, let’s bring in my digital media department, you go and say, okay, based on this client, I’ve got associations with other businesses or other independents that I think would be a perfect fit to do your digital media or to do your website or to do your print design or whatever it is. And so you’re bringing those in and partnering with them to help provide the solution is, have I got that right?

SE (03:21):
Yeah. Yeah, you summed it up really well. And I managed the whole process. So, you know, with a lot of small business owners, again, they’re focused on running the business. They’re not really marketing experts. And so you know, someone might come in and try to tell them they need to do certain things without really understanding the full scope of the business. And I’m able to work with a business owner, understand what they need and then identify who are the appropriate resources to bring in. And I manage the entire process, from the strategy, planning, and execution.

KE (03:56):
Yeah, it’s cool. You know, I, I see a lot of small businesses, obviously talk with a lot of small businesses, and their marketing consultants end up if they don’t have a marketing. And so as their marketing consultants end up kind of being the media outlets, sales reps. So if I’m coming to you from a, from a print magazine and I’m trying to sell you on print, if I’m coming to you from digital, I’m trying to sell you on digital. And you’re getting all this conflicting advice from so-called experts, but you don’t really know if you haven’t centered yourself and said, this is, these are my goals. These are what all of these things mean. So it sounds like you’re kind of the glue so that they’re not just depending on whoever’s making a sales pitch to make a determination.

SE (04:35):
Right. You’re absolutely right. I was actually talking to someone today about this specifically, because what happens is the sales person’s interested in selling you whatever product or service they have to offer, whether it fits into what your goals are and what you’re trying to accomplish. So I can look at this from a 30,000 foot level being more strategic and say OK, we’re trying to grow this by X, what are the things that we need to do to help us accomplish that and then determine what are the right things, because typically, you know radio rep might come in and try to sell you the on a radio station. Well, that by itself may not have the impact that you need. So really looking at how does this fit into our overall strategy? How much should we be investing? Which vehicles should we be using? How do we allocate our marketing dollars to be effective and efficient?

KE (05:35):
Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. To me. Sounds, sounds cool. So let’s talk about a little bit about you and what, what were you doing before you started this business? Kind of what’s your background and what made you decide to go out on your own?

SE (05:49):
Well, born and raised here in Memphis and getting a degree in risk management, insurance, and sales and marketing. Had a double major at the University of Memphis. I was selling insurance. And when I was young, trying to sell insurance in a male dominated industry, it was very tough. Ended up with my marketing back, marketing education, got a job at an advertising agency, and that really began my career over 20 years ago. And I worked at different agencies in town, small agencies to large agencies, and really got heavily involved with and focused on the strategy and helping guide their marketing efforts and managing the, all the media that they were using and execution as well as tracking and managing the results. So I’ve always been doing this, but I’ve just worked at other agencies. And it was about little over five years ago, of course I’ve been in Collierville now for eight years, and I was working downtown and people said, you get used to the drive. I never got used to the driving downtown. I’d drive downtown early in the morning. My kids were playing competitive soccer, so I’d stop at Mike Rose Soccer Field, and then come home late at night and start that day after day. And I was just missing out on so much of my kids. I was working a lot of hours, have a lot of stress and, you know, just kind thought, money isn’t everything. How can I keep doing this? And so a lot of prayer, taking a leap of faith kind of got to the point, I said, Hey, let me see if I can running and managing most of these agencies training their staff and managing their largest clients. Maybe I could just go do this. And I think there’s a void in the market because a lot of agencies do work with the larger businesses and companies like your Autozone and FedEx and Hilton’s of the world. And there’s not as much attention to the small, to mid sized business that really needs that help. So I felt like they would be this niche. And I found out there is, and it’s been very rewarding. And I don’t really compete with the large agencies. I’m offering something really, I act more like a virtual marketing person for my clients. So, it’s really kind of took that leap of faith and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. So I’m really happy that I did it.

KE (08:34):
Okay. Well, yeah. And you said a lot there. So some of what I heard and, and for our listeners that may not be in the, in the Memphis area where Susan is from, Collierville is, is a town outside of Memphis. And the commute can be anywhere from 30 minutes when there’s no traffic to an hour and a half when there’s tons of traffic. So one of the things I heard say is that you know, just that lifestyle, just that, that lifestyle of getting up and going to an employer in the downtown area, and those types of things is something that you were looking to change. And so that was kind of, some of the motivation is to live more of the small business lifestyle, but and I totally get that. And the other thing I think was really cool about what you said was that the advertising agencies that you were working on were working with bigger businesses and you wanted to, and saw an opportunity to work with smaller businesses. Obviously at Main and Mulberry, we’re all about smaller businesses. And so one thing there, I think I’ll ask is smaller businesses typically don’t have a lot of dollars to allocate towards marketing where big, bigger businesses do. How have you found that niche where you can survive off of, off of the marketing from the small businesses? How’s that working out for you, I guess is the question?

SE (09:48):
Well, I mean, really just because a business in the small to mid size doesn’t mean they don’t have the dollars to invest in marketing. So for most of them, they’re looking to grow their business. So but marketing is critical for any size business. And I think really the value I have to offer is that because I’m smaller and I bring in the strategic partners, I don’t have the additional overhead, and we can get things done more efficiently. So it actually can cost less than working with a large agency. So we’re actually able to offer a efficient solution for businesses. In addition by looking at Ewing Marketing Partners as a consultant and a virtual marketing officer, they don’t have to be focused on a employee salary, full time salary to get help with the marketing efforts. So again, it makes it a very cost efficient solution is that they bring in the support based on what their needs are.

KE (11:03):
Gotcha. I gotcha. That makes sense. So on you back a little bit, so you started this thing five years ago, you decided to step out, was it, was it scary? Were you nervous?

SE (11:16):
Oh yeah. Yeah. And who walks away from a good paying job to go make nothing. However, I have a great support system, a lot of people that had confidence and believed in me. My husband had a job. He carried the insurance, so that made it easier. Cause I mean, that is a tough car and a lot of people don’t go out on their own because they need the insurance. So I figured, well, if it doesn’t work, I can always go get another job. And I really just started networking with the people that I knew and got referrals and, you know, just gradually started business and add more clients and it’s just continued to grow. And I’m at a point right now that I’m looking at, how can I even expand and bring in more partners that are actually part of the business to help manage this. So I mean, it’s been great because again, it’s, it’s just such a niche in the market. There are so many small and midsize businesses that need this help. And, you know, I know with COVID right now and marketing budgets getting cut, but marketing still being essential to their business, this is a good way for businesses to get the support they need. Cost-Effectively again.

KE (12:34):
Right. And COVID’s thrown everybody for a loop right now, you know? And so you’ve kinda got two perspectives on that I guess. One is, you’re a small business yourself and may have had to make some pivots due to COVID, and then you’re also consulting small businesses on how they can use their resources or what they can do to kind of get through this when they may be in a situation where they’re at reduced capacity or their services are not able to be provided. So I guess you’re kind of getting it from, from both sides there.

SE (13:03):
Right. Right. And I mean, but I’ve been fortunate with the clients that I have have been. And the thing about it is some businesses are doing really well and thriving and some aren’t. And so, yeah, I’ve been fortunate that several of my clients have been in the categories where the business is still doing well. And, and they do need that continued support. There’s been others that, you know, have take, had to take a little bit of a break, but then based on my consultation, we’ve talked through some things and said, okay. I mean, now’s the time to, you know, while things are slower, let’s get things ramped up so when things pick back up we’re ready for it. So it’s given us a little more time to be strategic in those things and think about what the future and what we should be doing when we kind of get past as 2020. Everybody’s hoping 2021 is going to be better. So

KE (14:00):
Yeah, no doubt, no doubt. I bet that certainly am. So being out small business, let me ask you, are you, do you work more now than you did when you then when you were with an agency or, you know, in a traditional job? Do you work more or less now from the small business? I know your schedule is different, but what is what, what’s the real deal on that?

SE (14:20):
I mean, the reality when you’re a business owner, you’re always thinking about your business and you’re always looking at opportunities. You know, and of course in the marketing and advertising world in, you’re always paying attention to what’s going on and, you know, TV spots and billboards and other signage things going on, but I’ve always been doing that. I do, I have can’t really say I have less stress because, you know, you get to always try to, you know, what’s next, what’s the next client, you know, and making sure that revenue streams coming. But maybe for the most part, I am working less. But you get to put that in comparison that I actually had typically the highest number of hours worked in all the agencies I worked at. So, you know, definitely not spending as much time. And then I’m also not commuting for, you know, an hour to an hour and a half every day.

KE (15:24):
Yeah. I hear that a lot that there’s the, the maximizing of the downtime. So not having to commute, you pick up an hour in productivity and then just the, the social things that come along with it and what it takes to, to get up and get ready and then the picking up of kids at school and all that kind of stuff is that, you know, you might work more from a small business standpoint or, but it’s really that you’re working more efficient, you know, depending on the type of business that it is, you’re working at different times and things like that. So. Talk a little bit to me about the, just the difference in working from your, for yourself and that in that kind of environment in terms of communicating with people is in as opposed to going in an office where there’s a whole bunch of where there’s a whole bunch of people in collaboration and those types of things, is that, how, how are you finding that, that part of it? Do you miss it?

SE (16:24):
Yeah, so it’s interesting because there’s a lot of people that can’t work on their own and need that environment. One of the things that I do love most is I got, you know, I climbed that corporate ladder, if you will. And when you get to the top who end up dealing more with the Maples and really doing the things that you really enjoy, which is the work and the strategy and, you know, the planning and execution. So I got so removed from that and the positions that I was in that now I’m able to kind of get back and to really be in the stuff that I am joy. And, you know, again, people can’t work on their own and feel like they need that interaction, but because I’m constantly meeting with my clients, I’m talking with them about strategy, getting involved in their business. And then the strategic partners I work with, I’m constantly meeting with them, talking and we’re collaborating and strategizing. So I get that same environment. And, but yeah, I have a little bit more flexibility with it. So it makes really, for me still the same. I’m just think, again, more efficient and productive. And, you know, I’m really dealing with the, the, the top players. Things are really, you know, they get it, they understand it and we can get things done quicker versus kind of going through layers of people and the internal processes that most agents, so I’m just doing it, but on a much smaller scale and we can get things done.

KE (18:11):
Yeah, that’s interesting that I haven’t really heard it put that way before. It’s interesting that, you know, you, when you work somewhere, there’s a certain level of administration that comes along with it, and the more successful you are, the more administration than there is. Right? So now you’re doing, spending your time doing employee reviews and you’re spending time sitting in meetings. And then you’re, you know, making sure that, you know, all of the type of things they come along with with the corporate type environment, and you end up doing less of what you got in the business to do, which was in your case strategy and helping marketing. So it gave you the ability, if I’m hearing you right, it gave you the ability to get back to what you really, what you’re really passionate about.

SE (18:53):
Right. Right. And that’s what, you know, for me, it’s all about. And my clients aren’t, you know, just as business that I’m working with and they’re paying me. I get truly invested. It’s a collaborative approach. I really worked to understand their business and become an extension of their team. So you really feel a part of it. And then it’s very rewarding when you’re thinking about here’s our situation, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. What do we need to do? And then strategizing, putting that together, implementing it, and then being able to track and measure the results and see that success. And so it’s, it’s just very rewarding. You know, I’m very fortunate to work with great clients, who appreciate the support, value my input. And it’s just been really rewarding and very collaborative to work with clients like this.

KE (19:50):
Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. And coming up on five years, that’s a big accomplishment. You know, the statistics on small businesses are not good, but once you get past that four year mark, they’re really good. You know, and so, you know, congratulations on that.

SE (20:05):
Like, wow, it’s already been five years and you know time’s flying by. And it’s, I mean, it’s really just been much more rewarding than I ever thought it would be.

KE (20:17):
That’s good. I mean, it sounds like it’s all a positive story and I, I can’t, I’m somewhat of a cynic. I can’t always believe the positive story, a hundred percent, right. Something had to suck, you know, what, what was the, what was the toughest part? What’s what what’s been, what, what was the biggest challenge?

SE (20:34):
Well you know, there’s always the ups and downs, and even the challenge of going out on your own is you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck anymore. So there would be points when some things were wrapping up and like, Oh, wow. I’m not so sure. But I mean really prayer and faith. You know, there were times when I was like, Oh, wow, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t have this other project and this client’s kind of wrapping up, what’s going to happen. And literally the next day I get a phone call, and there would be something else. So I mean, it’s just one of those things that you can’t worry about what tomorrow is gonna bring, and God will provide, and so it’s kept me at peace with what I’m doing. And so I really don’t worry about it and don’t let it get to me.

KE (21:24):
And I’ve heard, you mention that a couple of times, two or three times during the interview, you’ve mentioned prayer and faith. And so is that a, is that a big piece for you, of, of, of motivating and going, going through your life and, and having that faith in, in all aspects of your life, i- faith, a big role for you? I just, I say that because you’ve mentioned it a few times.

SE (21:44):
Right. Well, so had the saying that, and I don’t want to get too religious on people, but I don’t, if you have children I feel like you should have believe in God because otherwise, you know, you’d never let your children out of your sight and you’d worry about them all the time. So you’ve got to know that, you know, there’s a higher being out there that’s in control. And of course I just sent my firstborn off to college. So kind of have to get to that point where you know, that, you know, God’s got a plan and he’s in control. And so that’s really what I look at. And, you know, even when things get tough and, you know, with COVID hitting this year just keeping the faith and, you know, we all go through some troubling times, but staying strong and staying true to your faith, you’ll get through it.

KE (22:31):
That’s a great perspective, a great, great perspective. And I like to hear that towards the business and those types of things too, because it is, it is ups and downs, like you said, I know. And so well, Susan, I certainly appreciate you being on with us today again. Congratulations on the five years.

SE (22:46):
Appreciate you having me. This was great.

KE (22:48):
Yeah. So for all the listeners out there, you can hear more stories like Susan’s at This series is called the Grindstone. You can also find us on the Apple podcast and the Spotify podcast stores, and we will talk to you next time.

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