Donna Jacobson is a formidable entrepreneur. Her business, based in Baltimore services a variety of industries. Donna’s business is also National, the busy business owner says “I actually work with clients all over the country, this is a service oriented business – built on relationships, just because my customers move – doesn’t mean I can’t help them where ever they are?”.
When it comes to being tops in the awards and premium business, regionally Donna takes the prize! Her company – Third Floor Productions does many of the region’s most visible and celebrated awards series including:
Maryland Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards
Better Business Bureau Torch Awards
CCBC Board of Trustees
as well as many more.
Donna recently added the title of “Member at Large” on the NAWBO BRC Regional board to the multiple feathers in her cap. This avid golfer, newlywed and all around woman in business mover and shaker took some time to share some thoughts about entrepreneurship, her thoughts about being in business and had the following to share with our audience…
Why did you decide to become a business owner?
The company I worked for went out of business and I couldn’t stand the thought of looking for a job so I just continued what I was doing as my own business, keeping my same clients and vendors.
What in hindsight would you say you underestimated about your industry or business and why?
In hindsight I underestimated what my cash flow needs would be as I had never bought and sold products on my own. When I started my business I gave all my clients thirty day terms because that is what the company I had worked for had done, not realizing that my pockets were not as deep. In the last couple of years I have revised my terms and it has made my life a lot easier.
What is the best business related advice you have ever been given?
The best business advice came from a friendly competitor who told me that if I hired someone that I should put them on payroll and not pay them as a contractor, especially if they worked out of my office. It turns out that he had a disgruntled employee turn him in to the labor board after just such a situation and was penalized significantly. I took his advice and have always done proper reporting and tax paying.
What does you love most about what you do and why?
I love the opportunity to help businesses promote themselves with fun and useful products. The depth of product offerings always amazes me and I love the new products and inventions that people come up with. I like the ability to be creative with projects and come up with ideas that make sense for each client.
What if you knew then what you know now – would you do differently and why?
Now that I have been in business for 9 years there are a couple things I would have done differently but the most important is that I would have started getting out and networking sooner. The first two years in business I didn’t do any networking and I could have built more business sooner if I had done that. I also would have structured my payment terms differently as I referenced in the hindsight question.
When you’re not working how do you like to spend your time?
When I am not working I like to play in the garden, play golf, or do anything outdoors. I love walking on the NCR trail and accompanying my husband flying small planes but only as a passenger.
Why do you think awards are such a viable, popular business?
People are motivated by recognition and awards are a great way to recognize people for a variety of reasons from winning events such as golf tournaments and triathlons, recognizing years of service or outstanding contributions to companies or communities, and just as a thank you.
What is the biggest mistakes people make when choosing premium items with their logo and why?
The top 3 mistakes are: 1. Ordering at the last minute and hand in hand with that, not having a plan. When you have no idea what you want but you need it tomorrow you will pay more for whatever you choose in rush charges and shipping costs, the items that can be produced quickly are much more limited, and you reduce any possible reaction time if a mistake is made not to mention the added stress. 2. Choosing cost over quality. The goal is to have your audience use a product and if it is cheaply made no one will wear or use it which just defeats the purpose and makes your company look bad. 3. Choosing an item that doesn’t tie in with the company image or theme. The best items are those that are related to your industry and will make the customer think of your service such as a car repair company giving away tire gauges or a computer company giving a mousepad.
What are some of the hottest trends in premium items and why? The hottest trend now is anything technology related from cell phone holders, usb drives, pens with stylus ends, and cases for ipads and phones. Everything is about gadgets and everyone has some of them, especially cell phones so any product that is useful for those items will be a hit.
If someone only has…$1 to spend on a premium – what do you think will deliver the most bang for their buck and why?
Pens are still the number one promotional item and there are a wide variety of choices under $1. It is an item that everyone uses and even if it is lost someone else will use it and see your message. It would be an appropriate giveaway for any company, no matter what it does or sells.
How do you define success?
My business is small by design so making millions of dollars is not my measure of success but rather that my clients think of me as a professional in the industry who is not only creative but ethical as well and have their trust and confidence.
If you had to share one final thought with our audience of thousands of women in business – what would it be?
The one thought that I would share with other women is to take risks, step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to make decisions.
About Donna Jacobson: Donna Jacobson is a Baltimore native, went to Archbishop Keough High School, Catonsville Community College and University of Maryland graduating with a degree in English. She has worked in several fields including teaching , management, manufacturing and sales. Her current industry is promotional products and advertising specialties with 15 plus years of professional experience in this field. She is the owner of Third Floor Promotions, LLC.