Debra Goldblatt-Sadowski, founder of Rock-It Promotions and No. 85 on the 2016 W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs, explains her approach to managing the risks of expanding a business empire.

Photo: Nikki Ormerod

Photo: Nikki Ormerod

I started my company because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a degree in creative writing, and had aspirations of being a poet. In my last year of school I was taught by a well-known Canadian poet, and he said to me ‘you know, kid, you’re a good writer, but I think you like shoes too much. I don’t think you’ll be able to cut it.’ I said, ‘I’m tough, I can do it.’ He said ‘I don’t know if you want to live in the dirt and the shit that comes with being an artist.’

“I said, ‘OK.’ I was young. I moved back in with my parents, because my mom was sick; she was dying of cancer. I was worked in marketing for a while, doing odd jobs. But I was still writing, trying to find my way. One day I met this publicist. I heard a bit of what she did, and I thought ‘Isn’t this neat! I could write and represent artists, but be on the business side of things.’ That appealed to me. I worked in an agent’s office for a few months over the summer and I got a bit of sense of what that would be like. I did a short stint at a now-defunct agency. My mom was getting sicker, so I made the decision to leave the agency and spend time with her. It was Christmas. And January 1, 2000 I launched Rock-It, and my mom was around to see it. That was pretty special.

“I had no business degree; I had no business starting a business. And my mom just said ‘Follow your dreams, work hard and go for it.’ She had bigger worries and just wanted to see her kids happy. That was the greatest gift she gave me—she just supported me. She didn’t tell me not to do it. I carry that with me.

“My first year running the company I made more money than I did in my previous job. It wasn’t a lot of money, but I wasn’t losing any. I took that as a sign that it was going to be OK. And I’ve not had a single year in business that we’ve lost money since I started.

“In my earlier years, I was much more cautious. But in the past few years I’ve expanded quite a bit. In 2010 I moved the company, which had until then been home based, to an office. By 2014 we were up to 17 people. We moved again into a new space and are now up to 26.

“With that expansion came some education for me. I had to learn a lot about managing such a large staff and about the expenses that come with growth. It can be really stressful. You have to find love, peace and balance elsewhere, because while a lot of the time those things will come from your clients or bank account or staff, they won’t always.

“I’ve learned that you have to build it carefully and you have to build it slowly. But if you do that, the business will come.”

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