Posts in Category: Entrepreneur

ADG Celebrates 8 Years in Business

It’s hard to believe that Allison Development Group has been in business for eight years. It’s not that you don’t think your business will make it when you first start, you just don’t think about the actual number of years and what each one will feel like. Trust me, they’re each different and I can usually relate back to each one with a certain account, personal life occurrence (think baby #2 here), or periods of growth. Each one is a milestone and I’m happy to have eight under my belt now.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Tell us about what ADG was like when you first started.

It was as if someone fired a gun and said “go!” When you start off by yourself and you’re trying to take on as much work as possible to build your business, you’re going to be busy. It was fabulous, but a hard pace to keep up.

Why did you decide to start this business?

I have always been fiercely independent. I have worked for other people throughout my life. However, if you asked the people closest to me, I’m sure they would agree: I’m one of those people who enjoy being in charge and making things happen.

I also really enjoyed helping my clients bring their projects to life. At first, ADG was primarily focused on real estate development. In 2007, who wasn’t? I helped my clients evaluate their properties, create marketing concepts, and develop materials to sell those projects. It was an exciting time to be in that business – if you were in it, you were potentially helping shape the future of towns and communities by the developments that were to go in them.

Stipe Design Joins Forces with Allison Development Group


We’re thrilled to announce that Derek Stipe, of Stipe Design, has officially joined Allison Development Group as our Creative Director and key member of the leadership team. Working alongside Erica, these two will be charting a course for future growth, and delivering more awesome to more people.

Many of you already know Derek Stipe (as accurately represented in the photo). He’s an amazing graphic designer, musician, dad to two cool boys, and husband to a most amazing woman. 🙂

Derek has been serving up creative design to clients since 2009. We’ve been lucky enough to have him as our designer extraordinaire for almost two years, but not as an official ADG staffer.

Trust us, we secretly had plans to make him “one of us” one day. That day has come! To learn more about Derek, visit Our Team page, and stay tuned for more exciting updates to come!

How To Make Stress Your Friend

This video couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. ADG is still recovering from our biggest event to date – the Speak Out live & virtual conference that culminated in a live event this past Saturday. For the past few months it seemed like this was the event that would never end, or at least the one that would do me in. When you’re in the midst of stress and deadlines, it’s easy to succumb to the desire for it all to end, to crave those times of peace and ease.

This video gave me a new thought –  what if, instead of looking at stress like a disease that needs to cured, we embraced it as a tool for making ourselves, stronger, sharper and better? Given that our schedule at ADG shows no signs of slowing down, I’m going to choose the latter outlook.

This post was written by Caroline Livengood, Digital Accounts Manager here at ADG. She can be found on Twitter @carolivengood.

Big Growth, Wearable Tech, and Customer-Centric Marketing

2013 has been a big year for Allison Development Group! With January 1st just days away, we asked Erica to reflect and comment on the big moments from this past year, and what she expects to see in 2014.

What were the biggest changes for ADG this year?

Growth!! We experienced tremendous growth this year at ADG: in accounts, revenue, and staff. That’s a lot to handle for any small business; it was even more of a big deal when it was condensed into a six month span.

Thankfully, I had been hard at work on business planning for six months prior and had started to put systems into place and clarify roles. Understanding how to forecast flow was critical to keeping our heads above water. We use Basecamp for our project management tool. I can’t imagine working without it now.

What was the #1 lesson you learned in 2013?

The perfect storm of under staffing and a lack of systems hit me mid-year and reminded me that in order to grow this business to a sustainable level, I was going to need to put the right people in positions that encouraged personal and professional development. Together, we would have to start the arduous task of creating processes to make the business run more smoothly.

As a business owner, you simply can’t do it all. Find the best and the brightest, stretch yourself to make it work, and then get out of the way. Oh, and stop being so fluid; systems and processes really are your friend.

Is there any one campaign that you are particularly proud of?

We are blessed to have had so many wonderful clients to work with this year. It’s hard to pinpoint one over another, but I can point to moments when I just knew that the outcome was going to be outstanding.

  • The branding process for MountainWise
  • The first note I heard from Mac Arnold + Plate Full ‘O Blues at Thrive’s annual Bids & Blues event
  • The moment that the entire ADG team knew that Speak Out for Kids  could be more than just a one day event and instead become something truly innovative and special for an entire community.

I’m lucky to have had lot of those types of moments and they never cease to inspire and amaze me, always reaffirming that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing at this point in my life. That feels pretty awesome.

Any insights on marketing trends for 2014?

ff_wearables2_largeI have two trends that I’ll be paying attention to this year. The first is wearable technology. It’s seriously everywhere and will become a huge part of how all of us interpret our personal outputs: how much we sleep and eat or how much energy we expend. I’m not talking Google Glass here, I’m talking about functional technology that people are already using or wearing.

For marketers like me, I’ve long been in love with data and how to use it to produce measurable outcomes. Now, we’re all mining data; only this time, it’s from our bodies. If I eat peanut butter 10 minutes before my run, can I go longer? Faster? If I eat a banana instead, what does that do to my pace? If do none of the above and get more sleep, what can I expect then? The options for exploration are endless.

So goes the marketing ramifications. Privacy issues notwithstanding, the actual mindset or physical status of a person could now be available. Going beyond mere psychographics to actual personal profiles, marketers will be challenged to forgo the push notification and broad brush approach and instead recognize context.

That brings me to my second trend: contextual, customer-centric marketing. Read: not the lazy path marketing. Even though wearable technology may be WAY out there for a lot of folks, it represents that once more, the customer is in charge in this relationship. Until we truly understand what they want, how they want it, and when they want it, our marketing will not be as effective as it could be.

The shift in Google to secure search this year really did a number on a lot of us who relied on their Google Analytics to show keyword search. It shouldn’t have. The same goes for this month’s latest change at Facebook: a new Algorithm that made many a news feed take a deep swan dive in reach. Again, not a call to panic, but rather a call to marketers and businesses to constantly evaluate goals, understand their customers, and adjust accordingly. We have to be in tune and responsive to whims, trends, and human behavior, and adjust our marketing accordingly. Today’s marketing isn’t for the faint of heart or those looking for the easy way out. Marketing in 2014 is active, focused marketing. You better charge up that Fitbit now.

Is there a trend from 2013 that you’re ready to be over and done with?

Selfies. Stop the madness, people.

Do you have any resolutions for 2014?

To stop taking selfies.
To practice being in the moment.

What do you hope to see for ADG in 2014?

Continued growth, but not so much that we overextend or drop the ball on client projects. I hope to see my fairly new staff feel like they’ve been here forever and take on more and more leadership roles as we grow this business together.

Welcome to the New ADG Website

ADGIconFBWell, things certainly look a little different around here, don’t they? Welcome to the new ADG website, we hope you enjoy our new look as much as we do! With all the work we’ve been doing lately, it took us a while to finally put ourselves on the priority list, but we’re glad we did. Let’s take a look around at some of the changes:

New Faces

As some of you may know already, ADG has grown quite a bit this year. We’ve added new team members to better serve our clients. Please take a few moments to get to know the folks on Our Team, and learn about what they do here at Allison Development Group. I have to say that without a doubt, we have a fabulous group of people here. Our mission is to do meaningful work for our clients; these folks definitely get that. I know our clients would agree.

New Work

We’ve been so busy here at ADG that we’ve barely had time to catch our breath, and it shows in the impressive results we’ve been delivering for our clients. This year has truly been a record year, with an almost 140% increase in sales over last year. No wonder I’m tired! I’m also energized by the innovative projects that we have been able to work on and the new partners we’ve had the pleasure of working with along the way. If you’ve talked to me, you’ve likely heard about a few of these awesome projects, but if you haven’t yet heard, feel free to browse Our Work to see what we’ve been doing with Websites, Branding, and Media Campaigns.

Same Great Service

You know the saying about the cobbler and their shoes? Well, that’s what keeps us so busy. We help other cobblers not only cobble their shoes, but market them and sell them. Turns out, we’ve not always done a great job of marketing ourselves and the work we do. Being an integrated marketing and Public Relations firm is quite comfortable for us, but it’s not always something the public at large “gets.” In fact, they usually try to put us in one of several boxes: ad agency, PR firm, social media group, or marketing shop. What I realized is that I need to do a better job of telling people that we really do all of the above and if we can’t do something you ask of us, we’ll definitely let you know. First and foremost, we want to be your partner and provide comprehensive, strategic marketing and PR services.

We’ve always known what we are capable of, now we’re happy to say more people will too! Explore What We Do and learn more about our approaches to Brand Development, Marketing and PR/Media Relations. Once you do, let us know what ADG can do for you!

Tales from the Field: Raising an Entrepreneur

Join me in welcoming our very own Autumn Thompson, Online Account Manager and all around chaos tamer at ADG. She has a very special story to tell about her daughter that I for one think is just awesome. I’m sure you will, too!


My daughter is quickly approaching the eight year mark.  As I look back at those fast fleeing years, I’ve always encouraged her to feel like she can do or become anything she wants.  Sometimes it doesn’t come naturally, like sports, but with hard work and practice, you can get there.   I try to indulge her creativity even when it is a struggle for me.  I tell her she can be the president, an astronaut, a teacher, yes, even a horse trainer.  But, I always wonder if she actually gets what I’m saying.  I encourage her to visit me at work.  It’s more than sitting at a desk.  I encourage her and her scout troop to talk to women business owners like Erica Allison, who graciously endured an afternoon of 20 brownies asking her about her business.  I encourage her to be inspired.  I’ve seen a spark lately that tells me she does get it.

They Really Do Listen After All

I have been invited to Africa this summer on a mission trip with Compassion International.  Before I committed to such a large undertaking, I had to talk to my family. They are more than supportive of my trip. My daughter wanted to make sure I brought her something back and of course, take lots of pictures! This sort of trip requires us to do some fundraising because of the expense involved.

The Spark that Sticks

My daughter decided she was going to start her own business. Her proceeds would go to help fund my trip.  We had many discussions about starting a business. What type of product would you sell?  Who is your audience? What costs are involved?  After much thought and a morning art class, she found her passion for duct tape wallets.  She recruited six of her friends to help her sell her wares. After a few days, she learned a valuable lesson on competition as the six friends decide to start their own businesses. They didn’t venture into duct tape but they are competing for the allowances of the other children.

As she gets more creative, she has evolved her line into pencil holders, tote bags, pens and hair bows. We have spent numerous hours together finding the right tape, contemplating on what will hold up and what will sell.  I encouraged her to name her business. After several days of brain storming, she thought of it: Sticky Fingers. She said “that’s because that’s what you have after dealing with duct tape.”


We’ve spent a few hours making signs and yes, a Facebook page. (I figure I might as well teach her about social media!) Granted, as the sole investor, I’m in the hole. But the life lesson my daughter is learning on how running a business isn’t always easy or glamorous is all the return I need on my investment.

Who knows, the seeds we are planting today might blossom into a world famous designer. I can’t wait to find out!


Autumn ThompsonAutumn can be found online via Twitter, LinkedIn, and the ADG Facebook page. She’s one tough “mudder,’ having killed it on the USMC Mud Run, crushed up some color on a Color Run, and pretty much killing it 5 days a week doing Cross Fit, running, or keeping up with her active daughter and husband. We’re lucky to have her here at ADG!


Let’s Gather Round the Business Roundtable

Creating Jobs

Recently, I was selected to attend and participate in a regional business roundtable discussion sponsored by the White House Business Council.  There were about 15 of us in attendance at the “Winning the Future” discussion, representing a cross section of what small business and local government looks like in Western NC.  For about an hour and a half, a Federal Co-Chairman, representing the Appalachian Regional Commission facilitated a discussion that, as he put it, would tell the Federal Government “what we think they are doing wrong” and “what we see that they’re doing right.”  We were, in effect, sending a message back to the White House.

Gathered ‘round the table were leaders and innovators: a regional not for profit hospital administrator, a community manager for a national energy provider, a Redeveloper/General Contractor working in four states, a representative from our US Congressman’s office, a handful of public officials, a hotel owner, and me.  Still trying to figure that one out, but I decided not to question and just go with it.

Perhaps therein lays the most obvious contrast: bigger manufacturers, high level managers and decision makers of 50-500 person companies sitting with me, the Business of one.  However, I think that’s what was most important about this discussion and that’s the smallest of the small businesses and the role both large and small business play in our economy.

Let’s Start from the Top

There were three, medium to large scale manufacturers in the room, all of whom export roughly 30% of their product overseas. They kicked off the discussion by saying that they have plenty of jobs, but lack skilled workers to do them.  They are ready to expand, based on demand, but lack the proper access to capital.  They fight fiercely to keep their businesses here, and by ‘here’ I mean the USA.

A fourth manufacturer in the room is currently ranked 46 on the Inc. Magazine 500/5000 list of fastest growing companies in 2011.  That’s in the top 50.  That’s pretty impressive.  This Asheville based innovator provides solar engineering, installation and financing for solar energy. They embody “local” but they can’t always buy it.  They want a level playing field in the energy sector.

The hotel owner was concerned that our President was unaware that our country is actually fighting three wars: Afghanistan, Iraq and a war on JOBS.  As he put it, “jobs are the currency in a global market.” If we don’t have them, we can’t compete.

The contractor shared her concerns regarding overly regulated processes and reporting tied to the Stimulus package and projects meant to get people back to work. The paperwork and qualifications process was so laborious that it immediately counted at smaller businesses that simply didn’t have the staff or resources to dedicate to that level of reporting.

She and the manufacturers in the room shared concerns about how we’re preparing our students and youth for the jobs of tomorrow.  Rather than encouraging technical skills and vocational education, we have college counselors encouraging general liberal arts degrees that will not be a match for the jobs that are currently available or that should be available in order to compete on a global scale.

We, the collective we, simply can’t compete.

These are innovative, smart business owners gathered around the table, with a full understanding of a global economy, energy concerns, the education, and sustainable practices necessary to make us competitive on a global level.  Their overall message to the White House:

Free up the capital, provide a skilled work force, then get out of the way and let us do our jobs and build our businesses.

The View from Where I Sit 

I hear a LOT about how small business is the backbone of America  (video) and to some degree, I embrace that wholeheartedly.  However, I don’t want the small business to be the “flavor of the month” when it comes to fixing the economy.

“Small businesses, entrepreneurs are the corporate equivalent of dolphins. Everybody likes dolphins … It’s a good group to associate with,” said Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.  

We simply aren’t enough. There must be attention paid to both large and small. As I shared with the group, if the larger businesses don’t do well; I don’t do well.  Many of my clients are directly impacted by how successful the larger corporations are. They may buy their products from them or sell to them; if the cash flow stops or even slows down, there goes my account.

I appreciate the spotlight on small business and entrepreneurs, but I’m not going to hire this year. I probably won’t even hire next year. Long term, I will likely hire a max of five, maybe 10 people (and I’m talking very long term here). Five to 10 jobs over a 10 year period is not going to fix this economy.

Twenty million jobs over a 10 year period might…by focusing on not just the small business and entrepreneurs, but on the larger corporations and the multitude of jobs that they already have and will create if we give them the right tools to do it.

We all have strengths and weaknesses. Please, play to our strengths.

Ok, let’s have it! Consider this your roundtable opportunity…share your thoughts. Just remember: do it nicely!

Image found via Flickr


Allison Development Group Gets Smart

stack of books for gina

I’ve been blessed with really awesome clients in 2010 and 2011, a few of whom have been with me for a full year now! Happy Anniversary!  Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two, and not from that stack of books up there, but from my clients.  In fact, I’ve picked up incredibly valuable business lessons that I thought I’d share with you.  

In Business, Expect the Unexpected & Deal With It!

If I have learned anything since my time as a business owner (and parent), it’s to “expect the unexpected.”  Embracing the mindset that anything can and does happen is a critical first step to remaining nimble and flexible to the changes that come your way.  Dealing with those changes is your next step.

I’ve long thought I was ready for the unexpected changes in life.  Truth be told, I think I prefer making changes happen, but very rarely enjoy the ones that come at me from nowhere.  Those stink; no matter how adventurous I think I am.  

Sundays are for Sharing: Meet Al Smith & The CARE Movement

I know, I know. You thought I retired the series, right? Well, I thought I had because I was out of ‘stories’; however, I am happy to report that it’s BACK!  Yes, by popular demand, I’m opening up the Sundays are for Sharing series again, only this time, the stories will be shared as they come in.

That means, if there’s a long period in between posts, it’s because I’ve not had any new stories pop up on my radar.  If I suddenly have a flurry, then you’ll see more posts.

In other words, as you need to share your story with the world, I will post it for you! Case in point: Al Smith.