Billie and Kevin Gaura, the two principals of Rainmaker Creative, a Spokane-based full-service advertising agency says the name refers to making it rain customers for their clients.
“We had the name and the business plan done two years before we opened the business,” Billie Gaura says. “We knew that making it rain for our clients would be our job. We were excited that it just really fit.”
Billie Gauras say the name was planned long before the business opened in 2007. The couple moved from Las Vegas to Spokane, where they have friends and family, in 2004, and worked together selling real estate here before they opened the marketing business in 2007.
Rainmaker provides design elements for clients, including logos, brand elements and brochures, as well as strategic planning, marketing, and business plans, and interactive development such as for websites, mobile apps, and e-commerce.
With their main headquarters at 107 S. Cedar, Rainmaker has two satellite offices, one in Coeur d’Alene and one in Cupertino, Calif., small offices that are managed by one employee each, says Billie Gaura.
The main office occupies 2,600 square feet next to the Rocket Bakery at First Avenue and Cedar Street. The firm employs 11, including Billie and Kevin, a project coordinator, several designers, a creative director, a director of interactive development, a computer programmer and what Gaura calls a mistress of prose—aka a copy writer.
Gaura declines to disclose Rainmaker’s annual revenue, but says the company was in the black within the first two years they were in business.
Billie says she’s the creative side of the operations, and Kevin works more on day-to-day operations.
“Kevin does the entire company payroll and compliance and all that. He does everything … the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, scouts, piano practice, and cheerleading,” Gaura says. She adds that Kevin is in the office on most days.
The couple has two daughters, ages 8 and 12.
Originally, Billie Gaura says, she had an idea for a boutique design firm. “We had hired a few design firms to do projects for us, and we knew that things could be done better. There always seemed to be a breakdown between the artists and the salespeople,” she says.
In the beginning, the couple worked out of their home on the Spokane’s North Side, “and I met people at Starbucks,” she says, with a smile. “Then we got our first office and we had me, Kevin, and another designer working there.”
Gaura unequivocally loves Spokane.
“I feel like Spokane is the best of both the city and the country. Have you been to Greenbluff? We get to pick our own vegetables and fruits, and we get to live among the trees and the fresh air and yet, the grocery store is still right around the corner. I love that,” she says.
Gaura, who just turned 40, says she’s had a couple of college classes but has no degree. She says it hasn’t deterred her from building the company. “Even without formal training, I knew what I liked and I was tired of being frustrated,” she says.
Working with small businesses is her thing and Gaura knows enough to stay in her niche.
“I’ve always served small businesses. It’s always been our thing,” she says. “I liken it to real estate. There was bigger money in commercial deals but it wasn’t rewarding, and the same thing with design. I don’t like the layers and layers of corporate stuff, there’s way more profit in commercial, but … who cares? We really like working directly with the decision makers.”
“We love working with the small dogs, and making their visual communication strong enough to compete with the big dogs,” she adds.
Gaura says she feels that small business owners are fiercely passionate.
“They still have a high level of ‘give-a-rip,’” she says with a laugh. “They’re still very engaged and excited about their business. When someone is really excited about what they do, then we get really excited about it.”
While many advertising firms typically buy television and radio spots, Gaura says that’s not Rainmaker’s forte. “When we sell media, I insist on running a break-even analysis for the client, so nine times out of 10 we’ll go in a different direction,” she says. “When they want to place television or radio, we will typically talk them out of it if we can.”
If clients still want such a media buy, she moves forward with it and asserts that at least she knows the client has gone into it with eyes wide open. “I feel like the return on investment isn’t there,” she says.
Her philosophy is that anything can work if you throw enough money at it and put enough frequency behind it. “But at the end of that campaign, chances are we could have accomplished more results with less money. I like to be very strategic with the funds,” Gaura says.
She adds that some clients are too close to their product and brand, and they’re simultaneously caught between knowing their revenue is dying and needing to do something different, but believing they can do what they’ve always done. “They argue that what worked 15 years ago worked beautifully. And it did. But now there’s such an advertising deficit disorder,” she jokes.
What does she recommend?
Proper branding is the foundation of everything and branding goes far beyond a logo, Gaura says.
“Branding is the culture of the company, and the tone in their voice. We prefer to start with that foundation and then we teach relationship marketing,” she says. “We help them figure out what the lifetime value of a customer is, and we talk about how to keep retention high, and bring in referrals … so much of that stuff can be done by pushing out a really great brand.”
Relationship marketing or networking is the company’s favorite thing. But Gaura says the key is networking with the proper people. And finding the proper individuals is a far greater challenge than one would think, she says.
“We write strategic plans for our clients and help them identify who their customers are, where to find them, what to say to them, how to say it, where to say it, how often to say it and what mediums to say it on,” she says. After branding and targeting a specific audience, Gaura says they advise their clients on what it takes to close a sale.
“We really believe in cultivating relationships in person, on the phone, through email, but we’re much more about creating a targeted hit list of potential clients rather than casting a big net, and catching whatever’s out there. We like to be very targeted,” she adds.
“Today, you’ve got to be clean, impactful, and intentional,” Gaura advises. “We push niche.”
She says she’s learned many things over the eight years the company has been in business. “The power of your brand is inversely proportionate to its scope,” she says in a serious tone. “I don’t believe there are any exceptions to that rule and I think trying to be all things to all people is a disaster.”
She also believes having fun on the job is a prerequisite for business.
“I can’t believe we get paid to do what we do. I love it so much; it’s just a blast. I think everyone on my team would tell you that too, and that’s my favorite part,” she says. “My philosophy is that the product is 10 times better if everyone is having a blast.”
Gaura says she and her husband run an “ontological shop.” Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, of becoming. She says it’s mostly a different way of communicating.
“We don’t interpret each other very much. Our communication is very clear and intentional. We don’t assume things about the other person,” she says. “The study of essence is basically separating interpretations from reality. It’s very powerful.”
All 11 employees have taken a $600 course in ontology which is paid for by the company. “We go on vacation together once a year. And we have very low turnover now,” she asserts.
Gaura is president-elect of the Inland Northwest Chapter of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners).
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