Is starting a business during a recession a good idea? For Ellen Graf-Martin, it was. In 2008 her employer declared bankruptcy. Two of the clients she worked with asked her to continue working with them, and one asked if she would start her own agency. She decided to go for it and Graf-Martin Communications Inc. was born.
Graf-Martin Communications Inc. has helped dozens of local, national, and international non-profit organizations with their integrated marketing, brand development, and publicity; they have launched more than 25 inspirational films, including “I Still Believe” featuring K.J. Apa, Gary Sinese, and Shania Twain, and at least 1,000 books over the course of the agency’s life. Most of their clients come to them via word of mouth. Their very first client is still a client today. She pays a living wage, and, although not profit-driven, the profit earned allows her to give back to her community and invest in her team. This is paying off during the pandemic – it has allowed her to be flexible and adjust during this challenging time.
The pandemic has made it harder to be creative since the team is working apart from each other in their own homes. The organization’s proprietary branding process for non-profit organizations relied on in-person sessions. Scheduled spring sessions with organizations from across the US and from BC had to pivot to virtual sessions. Processes had to be adjusted to include different ways of collecting information and getting to know people. So far, they have done this with four different organizations and learning about how to make it work for everyone, and to get the right results at the end of the process, is ongoing.
She has a deep understanding and appreciation for the work of non-profits, having worked with one, as an unpaid, support-raising volunteer, for five years immediately after university. Understanding the depth of mission-driven commitment, as well as the challenges of fundraising and using donor funds well, has well-equipped her to come alongside small and medium-sized non-profit organizations with empathy, insight, and experience. As a trained, inspirational speaker, Graf-Martin has shared her personal story and encouragement with thousands of women from across Canada. Her personal, entrepreneurial and leadership journey has been featured on the national television programs 100 Huntley St., See Hear Love, and 700 Club Canada.
When Graf-Martin started out in her sector she was young, enthusiastic, and often the only woman at the table in meetings, and the only person under 40 years old. This is changing, but slowly. She is thankful to the men who helped her to succeed, and now that she is more established, she has a deep desire to be a mentor to the next generation of mission-driven, diverse, skilled marketers who can provide excellent support to non-profit organizations. 20 years ago, there were very few opportunities for mentorship, learning, and basic business learnings – especially for women entrepreneurs. The WES Ecosystem Program offers comprehensive tools and a strong overview of all the elements of a healthy, sustainable business. The program is allowing her the opportunity to accelerate the growth of not just her business, but also who she is as an entrepreneur – and to own the “title” entrepreneur.
Glodeane Brown is the Founder and Editor of the Culture Fancier blog where she regularly writes about arts and culture events, and interviews creative professionals. She is an arts management professional living and working in Kitchener, Ontario.
The Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC), as part of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs of every age, stage and culture to achieve their business dreams. We believe in fostering leadership. We believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We believe in connecting you with the right people, skills and support to make it happen.
We see you are accessing our website on IE8. We recommend you view in Chrome, Safari, Firefox or IE9+ instead.×