The best advice I ever got: Michelle Yates

Written by Susanne Baillie
Michelle Yates

MAD Creations Inc.

Xchange asks Canada’s top women entrepreneurs to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue we bring you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Michelle Yates is president of MAD Creations, Inc., a Winnipeg-based producer of “creative art solutions”, such as marker boards, signs, menus, and restaurant décor items for the food-service industry. Clients include Disney Corp., Zellers Canada, Kraft Foods and MGM Grand. Yates received a 2003 Manitoba Women Entrepreneur of the Year award for Overall Excellence and International Trade.

BEST ADVICE: “Avoid becoming a Jack of all trades, expert at none.”

When Michelle Yates was formulating her concept for Mad Creations four years ago, she sought feedback from classmates in a business-plan development course. “My idea was to become a one-stop-shop for restaurants; to create and sell anything that a restaurant would need, from logos to signs to interior décor,” Yates recalls. “I was all fired up and thought it was the most amazing idea in the world.” For the most part, her classmates responded enthusiastically — until a student who’d been listening quietly finally spoke up: “Michelle,” he said, “I think you run the risk of becoming a Jack of all trades and an expert at none.”

The idea of too many pots hadn’t occurred to Yates and, after mulling over his advice, she changed her company’s focus to mass production of a single product instead of custom designs for mom-and-pop clients (a model that would have limited Yates to what she alone could accomplish). “I focused 100% on my best item, restaurant marker boards. It’s what we’re known for, and it kicked us off,” she says. “Instead of becoming Jack of all trades in a local market, we became experts in one area and took it all across North America.”

Today, 80% of MAD Creations’ product is exported to the U.S., revenue is on track to reach $1 million this year (up from $285,000 last year. Next month, it will launch a new line of restaurant furniture in New York. “Start out by being specialists in one particular area, and once you’re established, then you can start broadening,” says Yates. “But become known for something first.”

Had Yates ignored her classmate’s advice she wouldn’t be where she is today: “I’d be dealing with Joe’s Fish and Chips down the street,” she says. “It’s a big difference.”

© 2004 Susanne Baillie

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com