In her new book about the challenges facing the American middle class, Arianna profiles families struggling to recover from the recession. In this excerpt, she writes about Lesa Deason Crowe, an Oklahoma City mother, military wife, and small business owner who almost lost her advertising firm to the recession, but has begun to bounce back with the support of other local women.
Lesa Deason Crowe, a small business owner who lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, saw the financial crisis nearly destroy her twelve-person advertising firm. "It started in the news," she recalled. "Every night, there would be another story about the recession, depression. This was in fall 2008. Clients started to get jittery and began to proactively get ready for 'disaster.' Part of that planning was to get rid of all the 'fat' in their budgets, which in my case meant cutting all advertising, marketing, and public relations work. My lowest point was when three clients quit in one day. I walked in, prepared for a typical monthly meeting, and the next thing I knew I was fired on the spot. Three in a row. Our two largest clients and our fifth largest. Gone."
She tried to keep her prized employees busy, but she couldn't shield herself from worry, which kept her up nights. "My husband was in Iraq, my son would be asleep, the house was clean and I would lie there awake, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. Something like this haunts you. I worried about the people I work with, as well as my clients, because I care for them, they're friends. I worried about the bills, about my business, about absolutely everything."
Things finally started to take a turn for the better when Lesa got involved with the Rural Enterprises' Women's Business Center in Oklahoma City. "One of the ladies in my peer advisory group leaned over and handed me a business card. 'Here's a heck of a client for you,' she said. It turned out to be the biggest client I have." Soon after, her former clients began to trickle back. "It took about a year but every client but one has returned." Lesa credits the Women's Business Center and the women she met there with helping her keep both her business and her sanity.
Lesa draws inspiration from her mother, who divorced in 1964 with four daughters under the age of seven. "Every day I saw this magnificent woman with a college degree do everything from taking in sewing to working at a canning factory. She used to say: 'How do you clean up the house? Well, you pick up one thing and put it away. You pick up another thing and put it away. You do that again and again and soon your house is clean.' The same thing is true in business. We get so scared and we sit there, bummed out. You have to look up and say, even if I do something very, very small, I'm going to keep plugging along and accomplish something today!"
Editor's note: You can learn more about Itancan, Lesa's advertising agency, here.