Q: Tell us a little bit about the beginning of Sterling Ideas. What made you decide to start your own company, and what were some of the challenges at the very beginning?
Charles: “I had been working in IT and IT support for quite a few years, and I had gotten to the point where I was doing consulting work for national and even international companies, which is very interesting work, but it does tend to necessitate travel. And I had reached a point where I didn’t want to be away from home that much, so we (JoAnn and I) decided to start our own company and work with local small businesses. We’ve always believed that small businesses are the backbone of the community, having come from a background of small business and also with my experience with working side jobs for small businesses early on in my career. I find that working with local small businesses is extremely rewarding, so that’s where we started. I had a background in doing largescale support for companies that spanned the country, so I brought much of that understanding and scaled it down to implement in smaller businesses to give them a much more robust IT system. And we found that our clients really appreciated that. We saw a lot of success, and most of those clients are still clients today, over 20 years later.
As with any new business, just getting your feet underneath you and understanding how to run the business is hard. I knew IT support, but I didn’t have experience at all of the other things that have to be done on the business side of things. But we were blessed to be able to weather those first few years and come out the other side understanding that side of the business better.”
Q: You operated Sterling Ideas by yourself for many, many years. How did support from JoAnn and Todd play into the success of the business, way back when it was just you?
Charles: “While I might have been the only one typing on the keyboard each day, it’s very hard to run a business like this truly alone. And luckily, I didn’t have to. Without having the support of JoAnn being a partial owner and being a sounding board for strategic business decisions, I probably couldn’t have done it. And for the better part of 20 years, Todd was my closest colleague. We would run technical issues by each other and think through problems that we needed help with. When either one of us wanted to go out of town, the other would keep an eye on their clients in case of emergency. And people may not realize this, but in this line of business, you can’t just up and go out of town because if you have an emergency, you must be there for your clients. So without support from Todd, I would have never had the ability to leave town with my family. So, even though it was informal, we had a team.”
Q: When you look back at the beginning of Sterling Ideas and you look at where we’re at now, what do you think the most exciting thing that has happened was?
Charles: “I think the most exciting thing is waking up and going to work and being a part of a vibrant team that is truly making a positive difference for our clients—helping them work better so that they can serve the people they serve better. We really are making a difference, for good, in our community.”
Q: Was there a turning point when you knew the company was going to grow, or did it just happen gradually?
Charles: “At first, it was just gradual growth, and much of that growth was because our established clients’ businesses were growing and becoming more successful—and they were growing so much that I really couldn’t keep up. But knowing that Sterling was going to soon join the company, I kind of barely held it together just long enough to get him working. And that’s when we started to see the power of two people working together, and then a third, and now an entire team. It became obvious that we could be a much more robust company when we were working as a whole team.”
Q: Knowing how important your company would end up being to so many people, if you could go back 23 years and give your past self some encouragement, what would you say?
Charles: “I think I would actually go back and tell myself to not be afraid to try to grow. I held off, purposefully, for a lot of years. It took a few years to understand how to really run the business, but then there came a point quite a few years ago, when we could have started to really grow the business and could have been successful at it. So, if I could say anything, I’d probably tell myself to not be so afraid to dive into this phase sooner.”