We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Greg Corey a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Greg, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Talk to us about building your team? What was it like? What were some of the key challenges and what was your process like?
I started Porchlight as a freelancer but quickly became overloaded. I was lucky to have more work than I could do on my own, which meant that I needed help. But help and hiring are two different things. Case in point, of my first two employees, one is still here while the other is someone I no longer talk to.
Looking back, I see that there’s a difference between going into business in response to demand and starting a business with a vision. Any growing pains Porchlight has experienced over the years come back to that disparity. Until I was able to articulate what I wanted Porchlight to be, we couldn’t grow sustainably or hire the right people. Put another way, knowing where we’re going makes it easier to find the right people to fill the seats on the bus.
For me, hiring has always been a relationship-driven process. We’re a small team, which means that we need to get along, and we all need to be willing to pitch in to make great work. We need independent people who can also work together, people who can create and pitch, lead and follow. And we need people who like home improvement. When I meet people who I want to work with, I keep up with them and try to make a spot for them.
Greg, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I’m Greg Corey, the founder of Porchlight. We’re an Atlanta-based marketing and branding agency rooted in the home improvement industry. A graduate of the University of Central Florida, I migrated to Atlanta after college to work for The Home Depot as an art director. It was a job, an industry and a culture I loved. In fact, it’s a world I never really left. My old orange apron is framed in my office today. And there’s a good number of former Home Depot people who comprise Porchlight’s team, client and partner rosters today.
Working for The Home Depot, I developed an appreciation for the B2B2C complexity of the home improvement retail industry. My team hears me say over and over again, “Everything has to be sold twice.” On its own, this equation isn’t unique to home improvement retail, but the factors involved – namely, the retail environment and the nature of the industry – are indeed different. Which is why Porchlight is proud to say, “We know the home improvement industry.”
When Newell Rubbermaid almost relocated to Atlanta in 2002, I was recruited to lead their creative team. I accepted the job and left Home Depot, only to discover that I would need to relocate to another city. It was a deal breaker for me. By that time, I’d come to love Atlanta, and I wasn’t leaving. So, I set up shop in my dining room, started taking in freelance work for The Home Depot and in 2003, Porchlight was established.
From the beginning, Porchlight has always maintained two foundational characteristics: a love of home improvement and an unrelenting drive to deliver best-in-class solutions. That includes creative branding, strategy, implementation and execution. Our team handles everything from personas to packaging and from brand identity to digital media.
For a creative agency, the team at Porchlight is atypical, consisting of several employees who have been part of the agency for 10 years or more. If you include occasional contractors and operational staff, over half the team have been with me over that time period. This is unheard of in the creative industry. We’ve been together for weddings, babies and a whole lot of holiday parties.
My approach to hiring hasn’t been exactly deliberate. I’ve tried to surround myself with people who can do what I can’t, and who will challenge me. Hiring people to work for you and with you is hard. It’s like auditioning family! But I try to see people for who they are, and what they bring.
As a result, Porchlight has consistently hired people who bring a combination of initiative, ownership, talent, and creativity, and I do what it takes to keep them happy. That includes benefits, of course. It also includes building a roster of clients that value their expertise and output.
We’d love to hear the story of how you turned a side-hustle into a something much bigger.
I started Porchlight after leaving The Home Depot and taking a job with Newell Rubbermaid, only to find out that the job would require me to leave Atlanta, my chosen hometown. I started freelancing, doing work for The Home Depot, and quickly became overloaded. I was lucky to have more work than I could do on my own, which meant that I needed help. I hired a friend to help with creative and a proofreader to make sure neither of us misspelled anything.
Nineteen years later, that proofreader is still with me as are a dozen other members of the team. Porchlight has grown mostly through relationships and opportunities by way of client engagements that support new, full-time positions. When those growth spurts happen, I have been able to bring on folks I know and want to work with.
Some key milestones include moving from my dining room into an office space and moving from that space into a bigger space. When I was first getting started, it seemed that every year or two, Porchlight surpassed some small business lifespan estimation. But the real milestones are the work, the projects we’re all proud of.
Do you have any insights you can share related to maintaining high team morale?
The thing about most business owners and entrepreneurs is that they launched their business in pursuit of an idea or with a special talent. Most didn’t go into business to manage people. Unless it comes naturally, we’ve had to figure it out.
Needless to say, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep my team happy, and I’ve learned that morale is not necessarily connected to salary and benefits. My team is happiest when, in addition to compensation, they feel valued, challenged and part of something bigger. As an owner, that means defining Porchlight as more than me. Again, it goes back to vision and finding people who want to join you for the ride.