When we launched Live Creative Studio, in early 2018, I was thrilled to finally be able to dedicate my time and talent to helping purpose-driven companies and organizations grow through strategic marketing and branding, web design, graphic design, SEO and digital marketing, I’m drawn to companies that have a strong life force —that draw you in because the company reflects shared values. But, what exactly is a purpose-driven company? Often purpose-driven companies have a clear environmental or social cause tied to their mission and vision. Yet, there are many examples (Apple, for example) that are less obvious about what drives them, yet their brand and culture are expressed in everything they do—and it is contagious.
We have a question at Live Creative Studio that helps our clients identify their purpose: What does your company or brand live for? It is generally easy for entrepreneurs or start-ups to answer this question, however, more established companies often have lost their sense of why they do what they do, and more importantly, why it matters.
I had the wonderful opportunity to share lunch with Bryan Dear, founder of the Payroll Department in Durango, Colorado in early November. I requested a meeting with Bryan to learn if and how ‘purpose’ played a role in shaping the first 25 years of The Payroll Department.
Origin stories are captivating and telling about a leader and their sense of purpose. The origins of the Payroll Department are no different. Over a small table in a historic school building turned Durango community business hub for artists and other creatives and millennials, Bryan shared his story. In 1993 Bryan was working for $5/hr at a local natural foods coop and later tried his hand at launching his own fresh juicing company. When neither of these efforts could pay the bills, Bryan refocused his attention and set about answering a question his dad posed to him: “How can you make a strong living in this beautiful town of Durango and raise your family here?” Bryan took this question to heart, drew on his professional CPA degree, and discovered that a service oriented payroll support agency was just what small town Durango needed. Thus, The Payroll Department was born.
“It took 6 years to turn a profit, “ said Bryan. I asked Bryan what he thought the secret to their growth and success was and he shared that a “focus on building relationships and providing a human touch in the accounting space was key.”
Purpose-driven brands understand competitive difference
In branding speak we call this focus a core differentiator for the Payroll Department’s brand. Further, Bryan created a meaningful difference for his brand not only by focusing on the human piece for his clients but for his employees as well. “It’s rewarding to know we are supporting 14 families in our small, rural mountain town.” As a business leader, Bryan expands the purpose of his company beyond making money just for the company and includes the goal of helping his employees be financially successful too. Employees are offered a living wage (which is set at $20/hr after 6 months). Bryan’s business model is built around both people (clients and employees) and profitability. His “sense of responsibility to place (Durango)”, is a key driver of the culture at The Payroll Department.
Purpose-driven brands behave differently
“Most view labor as a cost center, we view our people as a revenue center. Our people are what we are about,” Bryan states. In addition to paying well above minimum wage, the Payroll Department offers a generous benefits package, including annual bonuses (20% of pre-tax profits are spread out among the staff), and a 3-month sabbatical at 10 years of employment. The result: very little turnover for those that stay on past the first year.
Purpose-driven brands engage their employees
The Payroll Department strives to create an inclusive and collaborative office environment. “We listen to our employees and work hard to find solutions that work for them and the business,” says Bryan. Plus, staff decides by vote which 2 local non-profits to give $12,000 to each year. This way, everyone is engaged in giving back to the community.
Purpose-driven brands bring unprecedented optimism to a sector
After my hour with Bryan I was left with a feeling of possibility and hope for small businesses in rural America. Bryan has a wry smile, a can do attitude, and a sense of optimism (grounded in real experience, grit, and hard work) that permeates the culture of The Payroll Department and its brand, and drives the human interactions they are well-known for with clients.
The Payroll Department seems well positioned as they celebrate their 25th year milestone in 2018. How they build upon and deepen their purpose-driven brand will determine their future. I look forward to seeing their brand evolve and mature. For now, they remain a beacon for other rural, small businesses.
If you are interested in learning more about how purpose can drive your business and increase your bottom line, contact Claire Attkisson of Live Creative Studio | 970.903.3241