Today’s female feature is on Dyan Dolfi-Offutt – the founder of Soda Pop Public Relations (SPPR). Soda Pop is a Los Angeles-based PR firm that works primarily with food clients! Dyan started the firm eight years ago and is thriving. The firm is one of the hubs for LA-based food bloggers!
It’s no surprise how I connected with Dyan being in the foodie world here in LA. I’ve been working with ladies from Soda Pop for nearly five years and I’ve watched the firm grow in number of employees and clients! I actually didn’t meet Dyan for a year or two maybe, but every one of her employees that I worked with soon became a friend of mine. So it was certainly no surprise that she and I got along so well! Opening your own business is always a daunting task, but trying to get a foothold on the PR scene in Los Angeles has to be next level. So here’s Dyan’s story of how she’s done it, including some valuable words of wisdom for self-care and building a great work community along the way…
1. What was your background before starting your own PR firm?
Originally, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. After about 6 years of hitting dead ends (fun fact: my biggest role was a two-day arc on Young & the Restless playing someone who looked like “Cassie” who went missing. The best/most hysterical part was I looked NOTHING like Cassie!) and experiencing a pivotal personal loss, I craved stability and took the leap into public relations.
PR was my minor in college, and I had a couple of buddies who worked in advertising. One of them took a chance and hired me for a two-week project, which turned into a 6-month gig and more importantly, an impressive resume line that helped land interviews and my first full-time PR job. I was fortunate to hone my publicity & leadership skills and build my network at two notable local hospitality firms before starting SPPR.
2. What led you to opening your own firm?
This might sound blunt but want to paint an honest picture of the journey…I worked my ass off, over-delivered, said yes (a lot), sacrificed my mental and physical health and the result of those efforts was a client taking notice and presenting me with a once in a career opportunity.
At first, I didn’t want the responsibility of opening my own shop because I was burnt out. The client wanted me to take on the business immediately so there was no time for a vacation. I had what felt like 10,000 conversations with my husband and father “Holy, BLEEP! What should I do?!”. Ultimately, it came down to trusting my gut and realizing the worst thing that could happen wasn’t that bad.
Looking back, I’m so glad my short-term exhaustion and fear didn’t win. That leap resulted in the most rewarding job and experiences of my life.
3. What were the early on struggles of starting your own firm (personal and professional)?
The beginning was fun because there wasn’t time to overthink and the opportunities were endless. Brainstorming company names, building a website, looking for office space, securing my LLC, setting up bank accounts/credit, etc. were all so exciting! I also got extremely lucky with my first hires which was such a blessing.
Building up my confidence took time, but since I didn’t have anyone more experienced to make the big calls, have the tough conversations, lead the big meetings, manage the team, there were many “make it work” moments in the early days.
Looking back, my personal life took the biggest hit. When I was working at an agency, I had more time to nurture my friendships. Starting a business is all-consuming and for me it required traveling a few times a month.
Self-care is much more mainstream now, but back in 2011, there were not a lot of people talking about it and I neglected my health, which I’m still working on getting to a more functional place. I share this because if your goal/dream is to open a business, please learn from my struggles and build time for self-care into your business plan (oh, and it’s okay not to have a business plan, I didn’t and have been in a thriving business for over 8 years!)
4. What was the first big moment where you felt as though things were heading in the right direction?
I have two! SPPR was founded on two key principles 1) focus on culture 2) work with good people doing good things. When I started seeing my team grow, build friendships, work hard for the greater good of the company and we started to bring on some amazingly cool and innovative clients, I knew we had something special.
I can’t stress enough how important focusing on culture is for the health and longevity of your business. The old saying is that people don’t leave jobs they leave bad managers. I knew early on that what SPPR lacked in fancy perks we could make up for by building a community that team members would want to be a part of and stay a while. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, please reach out to me…happy to share my learnings to foster more healthy work cultures.
5. If you could change one thing you did early on in building your business, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change a thing. Why? Because all the imperfect moments, breakdowns and challenges, were invaluable teachers. Personally, I like to learn the hard way sometimes and it builds grit. That said, if you want to build confidence with your clients or customers, don’t make the same mistake twice. Own your mistakes, learn from them and move on!