Put Two Birds On It or, You Only Turn Two Twice: An Anniversary Blog

An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
which can be made in a very narrow field.

--Niels Bohr

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.

--Martin Luther

Treebird’s second anniversary comes not with fanfare, but reflection—what a surprise. But here’s the thing. The cultural zeitgeist, the metanarrative, the hoi polloi is that small business ownership has a poorer success rate than Hannah Horvath keeping a job or Marnie being a decent human being. Ahem, Rand Paul. And while claiming 90% of business fail almost immediately is certainly hyperbole, the reality isn’t exactly a cozy picture filled with happy little trees, either. (The truth is that about half survive after four years).

We’re less interested in the real numbers, because, well, numbers do lie, and much more interested in how small businesses succeed when in fact they do. We’ve scratched out two pretty good years so far, and we are, in fact, wearing shades.


So on this, the day of our second anniversary, we don’t want to get all nostalgic or anything. And we don’t want to get all verbose either, though perhaps that ship has already sailed. Regardless, we present a series of anniversary lists—to recap, to inform, to celebrate in our own truncated way the agony and the ecstasy that has been two years of Treebird.

Top Ten Things We’ve Learned in our First Two Years

1)      Starting your own business requires a short burst of moxie and bravado. Growing your business requires daily doses of humility and the grit and perseverance gleaned from mistakes.

2)      What is a week-end? has a whole other meaning, Dowager.

3)      Your first impulse is to never, ever say “no” to new business. Then you realize that saying “no” at the right times saves you time, energy, and revenue. This lesson takes a while to sink in.

4)      The phrases “tax deductible” and “write-off” aren’t nearly as fun as they initially sound. When you’re playing by the rules, there’s really nothing much fun about the Taxman.

5)      The “soft skills”—listening, empathizing, counseling, having an open mind, being there for clients—trump theory and expertise nine out of ten times. Of course, it’s nice to have both.

6)      Starting a  company has given us a perspective that we were lacking before. Now that we’re agonizing over website edits of our own, we can empathize with clients that are having a hard time making a seemingly unimportant decision. Because that’s the thing. It’s all important.

7)      You get the most creative work done in the still and silent hours between six and ten a.m. After that, the emails, the phone calls, the meetings—it’s an onslaught.

8)      Diversification isn’t just good for your stock portfolio. We learn all manner of different things from our restaurant clients, our real estate clients, our start-up clients, our niche industry clients. And then we figure out how to cross-pollinate that knowledge so everyone benefits.

9)      Having employees is weird!  

10)  Office mascots seem like a great idea. Unless you have our dogs.

Five Easy Pieces of Advice for New Business Owners

1)      Don’t try to set up your own email (or, god forbid, use gmail!).
Hire a professional—it’s worth it.

2)      Also worth it—thick business cards. Your thick business card will immediately stand out in a crowd. Thin cards get thrown away.

3)      Learn how to say “no.” Your instinct will be to take on all comers, no matter what. But not every inquiry is going to be a good match. Trust your gut, and realize that sometimes saying “no” improves your bottom line.

4)      Understand that “word of mouth” is your primary source of advertising your first few years. So treat your existing clients exceedingly well—cultivating good relationships early on will repay your efforts ten-fold.

5)      Take your work seriously. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Treebird’s Favorite 10 Projects

1)      Designing and redesigning websites. Because they are the new way of perceiving information, for better or for worse.

2)      Designing menus. Because we get sneak-previews of some of the South's finest culinary establishments. Just don't do this if you've skipped lunch. 

3)      Making animated gifs. Because we are sort of childlike at times.

4)      Creating stationery suites. Because self-presentation should be as bespoke as a fine suit.

5)      Packaging on-the-cheap. Because sometimes all you need to do is put a sticker on it.

6)      Packaging on-the-not-so-cheap. Because other times, you need to put a terrarium in it.

7)      Designing logos. Because distilling an idea into an image is both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding, in equal measures.

8)      Creating large-scale projects (window graphics, murals, fence wraps). Because you can see them from the car—and feel important when pointing them out to your unsuspecting passengers.

9)      Designing invitations (weddings, events, soirees). Because Target exists for a lot of reasons, but stock cards shouldn’t be one of them.

10)  Answering emails. Just kidding. That’s the worst.

Two years, by the numbers

Six employees.
132 clients.
One ADDY (for Marty Mason Collected Home).
Two product launches (stationery and personal brand sets).
25 website launches.
40 logos created.
Zero dreams deferred.

Thank you all for being part of our Treebird adventure, which has always been part experiment, part passion project, all humanistic effort. And we’d have it no other way.

Patrick Kelly