I Left a Corporate Career Behind and Grew a Million-Dollar Agency

I Left a Corporate Career Behind and Grew a Million-Dollar Agency

Heather Lawson – Bradfield started The Clover Collective after experiencing significant and long-lasting burnout from her corporate career. Things haven’t always been easy, but today she runs a thriving million-dollar agency.

In this interview, Heather shares how and why she started the business, and the challenges she and her team have overcome.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • Heather escaped corporate life after 5 years of burnout by starting The Clover Collective
  • The COVID-19 pandemic forced strategic pivot after a nearly complete loss of revenue
  • How Heather uses the “DoorDash experience” to provide excellent service to clients
  • Heather advises others to never compromise on their dreams, values, or sanity

Overview

Business Name: The Clover Collective
Website URL: https://www.theclovercollective.co
Founders: Heather Lawson – Bradfield
Business Location: United States
Year Started: 2018
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 22

How much revenue and profit does the business generate?

Currently, we’re a million-dollar agency and manage around $15 million in client portfolios. 

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I’m Heather Lawson – Bradfield.  I’m a corporate escapee with a decade and a half of operations experience in Fortune 5 companies. I specialize in top-tier business management services for the most creative and forward-thinking creatives and entrepreneurs. My journey into this fascinating industry began with a deep-seated passion for helping creatives and marketing agencies streamline their day-to-day operations with the knowledge I gained in my corporate life. 

At The Clover Collective, we guide our clients through the headaches that pop up when trying to scale their businesses through digital operations. My team and I are the wizards behind the scenes supporting neurodivergent entrepreneurs and members of marginalized communities, womxn, and the LGBTQ+ community. We’re all about nurturing people, optimizing processes, and mastering the tech that powers operations.

I’ve also recently launched The Agency Blueprint, a mentorship program to help entrepreneurs on their path to scaling, and co-host The Imperfect Founder podcast with Jupiter F. Stone, documenting a mentor/mentee relationship through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. These are passion projects of mine that I can now pursue because the Clover Collective is thriving. 

Clover Collective Website

How does your business make money?

Our core service is business management, with three different tiers to meet clients where they are in their business journey. We have also expanded and added The Agency Blueprint mentorship for solopreneurs looking to build an agency and a few digital resources, including our business audit and bundle that includes my business audit workbook and four recorded videos covering the four main pillars of business: Marketing, People, Processes, and Tech. The meat of our business is our ability to provide a pop-up infrastructure for any client endeavors. 

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

My escape from corporate has a lot to do with it. It took a long time to decondition, am probably still in the process of deconditioning if I’m honest. Here’s a little more backstory for context – I had climbed the corporate ladder for 15 years. Corporate life, for me, was nothing but enduring bureaucracy and mind-numbing politics. This experience unfortunately left me in deep burnout – burnout that lasted over five years. 

So, I walked away from it all. I left behind the safety of a high-paying job to hopefully pave my own way and build something better. Fast forward to today, and The Clover Collective is a testament to the rebellion against corporate values. We’ve crafted a haven where humanity takes precedence over profits, where we’re unapologetically diverse and driven by impact.

The Clover Collective Team

How and when did you launch the business?

I started a business offering Virtual Assistance and quickly learned that was not for me. From there, I pivoted into business strategy & development, where my true talents are. Once that decision was made, the work began and never stopped.

The business was launched in 2018. Once the pandemic hit in 2020, we experienced a catastrophic loss of 100% of our client base overnight. This resulted in tabling the business for about ten months while we focused on mainstream marketing services to just survive.

In 2021, I pulled the plug on everything and reset to my roots – I re-launched as a VA service in 2021. Three clients in and I’d re-established as an authority in business management and process improvements. I started drawing in clients who’d scaled and hit their wall of being able to expand. And this is where we found our niche for the last three years. 

How much money did you invest to start the business?

Besides an inhuman amount of hours and overnighters, no financial assistance was taken. This is entirely self-funded. 

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

I started talking to people. Bit by bit. Going to conferences and networking in online groups. Word of mouth is still the primary lead gen source for The Clover Collective. In fact, I had no digital presence (by choice) until very recently.

Once, I had a few clients on our rosters, word of mouth spread, and now we very carefully vet who we work with to ensure they match our values and the clients we want to serve. 

Tell us about your first year in business.

My first three years in business were stunning. I don’t know how I made it through, making the money I did. There was no strategy; I offered all kinds of services – literally, if someone wanted to pay me, I’d do it, even if it was work I hated. I made it through by pure grit.

There were times when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep my house or my car; it got so bad. But once I decided to just go after the basics and rebrand as a VA service in 2021, I figured out how to actually run a business. Not just freefall through it. So resetting was the best thing I could have done in my journey. 

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

First and foremost, our growth strategy has been excellence within our current clients. This means not only the product or the deliverable is the highest quality, but our client experience is airtight. Our work means little if the clients have no idea what is going on or what to expect. I call this the “Door Dash” experience.

When you get food delivery, the app tells you exactly what is happening at any given time. This reduces anxiety and displeasure about the process. Even if the food gets delayed, it results in fewer calls/outreaches into DoorDash’s customer service. To me, as a process and efficiency snob, my immediate question is: what can we learn from this? 

The answer is fairly straightforward and more of a psychological aspect than one would expect – it’s the knowledge of the process that’s most powerful, so that’s what we leverage at Clover. Communication is where it’s at.  

You might be asking – why and how is this a growth strategy? 

Well, have you ever had an experience that you just couldn’t shut up about? I know I have. And I tell everyone. For years and years. Now, multiply this across dozens of people. This is the most powerful networking machine I’ve found, and it has sustainability and cost containment to it. That’s why it’s our growth strategy.

When you work with clients who have a powerful amount of social capital, they talk about us incessantly. To work with us is to know excellence, and I’m proud to say that we’re the last stop for all of our clients – once they work with us, nothing else is going to compare. 

What are your future plans for the business?

We’re pivoting to a full suite offering, including a fully staffed marketing department, we’re splitting our tech team apart from our operations team, our operations team is shifting into more strategic oversight and consulting vs. implementation, and we’ve acquired a post-production media firm. To sum it up, by the end of 2024, we’ll be fully seated in marketing, tech, strategic growth consulting, and media. 

Heather and a team member

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time?

My story is unique in that there never was a “side hustle.” It was a make-or-break situation for me. I turned down a cushy salary job to go all in on something I wasn’t sure would even get off the ground. There was no plan B. There was no fallback; I couldn’t go back. It was a lot of pressure, but I wouldn’t change it. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve learned this: never compromise on your dreams, values, or sanity. My escape from corporate was anything but easy. It was about rediscovering my true self, discovering what I’m capable of, and building something extraordinary. 

At first, I thought it was about building something for me, something better than where I came from. Bringing over key players in my business so they could escape from corporate life also made me realize the ultimate gratification of creating an ethos and safe space for others to thrive and know they’re taken care of and taken seriously. 

Sometimes, business is about something other than what you can build or get out of it but watching what others put into it. Your business turns into something that may not be what you originally intended, but there is beauty in that unpredictability. 

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The biggest challenge my business has faced is losing a massive chunk of revenue over the span of just 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses hard, and mine was no exception. When I lost multiple sources of revenue on the same day, it became alarmingly clear how vulnerable my business was due to its heavy reliance on a single source of income. It was a near-death experience for my business.

The pivotal lesson I learned during this time was the necessity of diversifying my client base. Relying on one major client or a narrow set of clients left me feeling unstable. In response, I made it a top priority to broaden my client portfolio, seeking out diverse industries and businesses. This diversification helped secure my business for future unforeseen circumstances outside of my control. 

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is, “Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction,” which is why Jupiter and I started The Imperfect Founder Podcast

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