D. Channing Muller, As Principal of DCM Communications, he serves as a marketing and sales coach working with event professionals and small business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing tactics that directly connect to their sales strategy. She has more than 20 years of experience in the communications industry serving in top roles within marketing, magazine & online editorial, advertising, and business development. Throughout her career, Channing has been recognized as a “The BizBash 500 Most Influential Event Pros”, “40 Under 40” by Connect, and “25 Young Event Pros to Watch” by Special Events magazine. She is an avid public speaker and regular contributing writer for multiple publications.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
The answer to that is threefold. I am originally from New Orleans, a city that holds a very large part of my heart to this day, then my step-mother’s job had my family transferred to Denver. We stayed just long enough to learn how to ski and realize that 10-year-old Channing did NOT like anything about Denver except skiing. Ha! I mean, come on now. We moved FAR away in the middle of the school year and I had to make all new friends. Do you know what that’s like for a 10-year-old? According to me at the time: traumatic! (Sorry Denver! I’m sure you are wonderful now.) Six months after we arrived, we got transferred again and landed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we remained for me to finish middle and high school in one place. Around this time my older brother and I got to the stages of life where we actually enjoyed spending time together, a fact that I am most grateful for to this day. Between an over-achieving older brother I looked up to and parents who had firm rules and talked about their days (and business) every night at dinner, the foundation for entrepreneurship had been laid for me much earlier than I originally realized.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I never saw myself as an entrepreneur until I actually became one. For all of high school and college, I had studied and trained to become a journalist. As someone with an unusual name, I liked it see it in black and white. Add that to talent and love for writing and journalism was a good fit. Plus, all of my school report cards as a child came back with “She asks a lot of questions.” But hey, how can you learn if you don’t ask? So I set out to be a journalist and became one. I reached Editor of a magazine LONG before I ever thought I would and found myself both wanting to leave Miami, where I lived at the time, and looking for a new challenge. I headed to DC in search of a job in any realm of communications. That pushed me to advertise, then advertising sales, then I moved into marketing. Over a few years I rounded out my experience in the world of communications and marketing and found that each time I left a full-time job, I got requests to do parts of that job (i.e. reporting or ad design) on a freelance basis. “Hmmmm, writing, ad design. there’s a business somewhere in there,” I’d think. I had come to realize that I wanted to have flexible work hours eventually so I could pick up my future children at school and still have the intellectual stimulation I knew I needed from work. So, I combined my freelance work under an umbrella and became: DCM Communications. I knew that eventually, I’d have to go all-in on DCM if I wanted to make it truly successful. “You have to take the leap if you want to really make it your full income,” I heard from friends who had started businesses. Well, forget a leap. I got pushed off a cliff. I.e. laid off. I hadn’t been happy in my last corporate role and knew something had to change. Sure enough, they made the decision and I figured, “Well if there was ever a sign to give this a go, this is it.” I haven’t looked back since and now thrive on being an entrepreneur and helping other entrepreneurs make their businesses successful by teaching them the marketing & sales tactics that took me years to learn.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
I can’t narrow it down to just one so I am going to go with three BIG ones: 1. Get it in writing. Whether you are doing work with a stranger or your best friend, get a contract together and have both parties sign it. This is your business, your livelihood. Don’t risk it (or your friendship) on a potential miscommunication among friends. 2. Be sure you know in your gut that what you are offering to your target clientele is both something they need AND something you can deliver really well. This core knowledge that you are providing something of value to the right person/group is what will help sustain you when sales are slow, partnerships take longer to come together, and/or various elements of business get hard. It is SO easy to doubt yourself and what you’re offering when the market doesn’t respond as fast as you want it to. Whether your timeline for that response is realistic or not, and it probably isn’t, you need to have that belief you ARE doing the right thing for your target clients as the touchstone to hold onto and keep you moving forward. 3. Trust your gut on the people you work with. If you get even an inkling that a prospective client or employee will be difficult or a challenge to work with, politely tell them you aren’t the right fit for what they need and walk away. Those “I had a bad feeling” clients/employees ALWAYS end up costing more than money than they bring in – not to mention your sanity!