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Creating a small town buzz in the Big City

by Maja Rehou, commissioned by Just Business People Magazine (British Columbia)

It’s easy to connect with others in a close knit community like the Sunshine Coast where everybody knows each other and small businesses thrive on word of mouth referrals. However, building rapport in a big cosmopolitan city is a much harder task. But that is exactly what a young graphic designer named Faith Seekings did. President and Creative Director of Rapport Communications & Design Inc., a boutique graphic design and communication firm in the heart of Toronto’s historic district, Seekings has created a buzz in the entrepreneurial community.

A graduate from George Brown College in 1997, Seekings first began her career as a graphic designer working for Market Partners.  After a couple years Seekings’ boss discovered that her black Lab Spaniel cross was left at home while she was at work and said “why don’t you just bring him in.” Seekings loved the idea and Buddy soon became a regular fixture in the office. Buddy passed away in 2004 but Faith continued the tradition with her new canine companion Candy who is often seen in the reception area of the firm on her back waiting for a tummy rub.

After outgrowing Market Partners, Seekings moved to a small start-up but was soon laid off. At the time she says, “I was totally devastated. All I knew was that I needed a full time gig. When people suggested I try freelancing I thought they were nuts.”  But she persevered and eventually met a fellow graphic designer named Neil. He needed someone to pick up his extra design work and in exchange would share his office space and equipment. From taking on freelance work Seekings eventually took over the whole space when Neil left. This is where Seekings says “I was eased into running my own business.”

Watching Neil try to make it on his own, Seekings learned what worked and what didn’t when it came to running a business. She says “I was very lucky to have Neil’s advice and guidance early on.” The biggest thing she learned she says, “was that I couldn’t just sit and wait for work to come to me. I had to go out there and find it myself.” Realizing that no one was going to find her hiding in her office, she looked for places to meet prospects. She discovered networking and joined CAWEE (The Canadian Association for Women Executives and Entrepreneurs). Seekings loves meeting people. “Networking and relationship-building are a natural for me,” she says.

Seekings says “running a business was an awakening for me. I discovered a whole other side to myself. It also made me realize I was completely addicted to being independent and in control.”

After being on her own and liking it, ambitious, Seekings wanted to grow her business. Her client list was getting bigger and her clients were looking for more than just graphic design services. Seekings understood that to grow, “Faith Seekings” could no longer be the brand because she says “it gave people the impression that I was small or on my own as a freelancer.”  The uniqueness of her name was also an obstacle because as Seekings jokes “prospects thought they were being recruited into some kind of cult”. So in 2007 she decided to rebrand her firm to a name that could be easily marketed by other members of her team. But finding the perfect name that truly represented her firm was difficult.  Seekings reminisces about how during a collaborative session her photographer Mondo “just threw the word rapport out there.” “It stuck,” she says and in 2007 Rapport Communications & Design Inc. was born.

The challenges she faces running a business Faith says, “are dealing with things outside my area of expertise such as cash flow and growth.” As more clients came on board she started hiring staff to take on the extra workload but she says she was “just winging it.” She says “it was all suddenly more complicated and I needed to learn how to make it all work.” She was referred to Judi and Nick Hughes founders of Your Planning Partners, a firm that provides workshops, tools and strategies to help small enterprises grow their businesses. It was through them that she was introduced to Bill Tibbles, the owner of a well established graphic design firm. Bill was succession planning and looking for a way to retire. Seekings was looking for a way to grow – a perfect match. Faith soon bought his business and with Bill on board for five years, they operate like partners.

Why has Seekings’ business done so well in an extremely competitive marketplace? Seekings says “my clients trust me and really appreciate the intuitive sense I have of their businesses.” They also like being greeted by a wag of the tail in a quaint little 175 year old building in the heart of the St. Lawrence Market. It’s like being a part of a small community. “Clients aren’t just numbers on invoices they are people I genuinely want to help succeed,” Seekings says.

Seekings not only has rapport with her clients, she also has a strong relationship with her staff. Every Friday they get together for drinks at a local pub to unwind. During the summer months they have also been known to set sail on the harbour on one of her client’s sailboats.

Seekings now has a staff of nine. When asked if she wants her business to continue growing she says “If I got too much bigger I would no longer be as close to my clients and staff. I would inevitably lose rapport.”

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