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I turned away a quarter of my annual revenue, and I’ve never felt freer

Mercedes Austin, the founder of Mercury Mosaics, details her breakup with a client that brought in a half-million dollars annually.

I turned away a quarter of my annual revenue, and I’ve never felt freer
[Photo: Patchakorn Phom-in/iStock; Svetlana Borovkova/iStock]

“There ain’t no future in yo frontin’.” MC Breed rolls it out with such swagger and conviction. That was the absolute opposite of how I felt busting through the barriers of the boy’s distribution club.

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I’ll never forget that day. I had to make the gut-wrenching decision to cease working with a client that made up about 25% of our business. It was hours after a life-changing procedure to remove a uterine fibroid tumor. Although it was an outpatient, nonsurgical procedure, the doctors told me it was the toughest case and one of the largest they’d dealt with, which didn’t make the same-day release part easy. I had something the size of a grapefruit in me.

During this time of recovery and self-care, this toxic executive from our mammoth client was blowing up my cell. After taking one of his calls and gracefully guiding him to my team, who were empowered to help him, he continued calling me directly and delivered an ultimatum. My short patience might have been due to refusing medication, but the choice was easy. I believed in my team’s ability to take care of the situation. I backed up how they were handling this isolated carnival and shut it down.

I’m aware that I’m a woman and I own and run a business, but it doesn’t define me. However, in the case of this particular half-million-dollar breakup, I’m certain that status may have had a little something to do with it.

After a good run, one of our largest distribution channels was gone, just like that. We made some pretty epic custom mosaics in this club, but rather than spend countless more months of being bullied, witnessing my staff getting continuously disrespected, navigating through a sea of endless email chains with 20 people copied, tracking their corporate turnover to figure out who was the decision-maker that month, and watching their reputation take a hit in the press, I walked away from that sizable annual revenue. I had also just committed to a lease for space three times larger than the last one.

“Nothing like a challenge,” I thought to myself.

When you’re building an organization, it’s important to empower your team to own their work. If I’m attempting to do everything, I’m undermining my people, and it’s a recipe for burnout and disaster. That’s not me despite the fact that casual connections tell me that I work too much and should slow down and take care of myself.

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I firmly believe that had I continued business with this client whose culture promoted the ill treatment of long-term vendor partner-relationships, it would be like advocating modern-day slavery. The healing and change I felt after making this decision were like removing rusty chains.

After my recovery, I returned to the office with a plan for the future that we’d only nurture relationships that would support what we are building: a business model that empowers skilled craftspeople making something by hand in the U.S.

This decision set back my ability to provide healthcare, but I refuses to grow this company shackled with my head in shame. Luckily, my company’s back tax debt was cleared the same year I shed this distribution channel. We had ample space to operate and put a system in place to give regular raises.

This year, we were able to offer healthcare to our employees. We also made the Inc. 5000 list of Most Successful Companies in America. And we achieved triple-digit revenue growth while letting go of over 40% of our existing wholesale business.

Tear a woman down, and she’ll get back up. You can measure the importance of what you’re doing by the number of instances you’re attacked. It can fuel you if don’t let it diminish nor define you. Success through integrity and dignity are the best retaliation.


Mercedes Austin is the founder of Mercury Mosaics.

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