Photography by Becca Lemire
As the Managing Director of one of Canada's fastest growing PR start-ups - The Colony Project, Amanda Shuchat has the confidence and independence to go after everything she’s wanted in life.
Where did she gain this confidence you might ask?
Living with her dad from the age of six, she very quickly developed a level of independence far beyond her years. Craving a change from her normality, she successfully pitched a year abroad in Israel to her father, complete with a PowerPoint deck. That year changed her life.
The Colony Project opened its doors in 2016 and doubled its business within two years. Success has been seen at an early age with the agency being named as 2018 strategy PR agency of the Year Gold; this is the second year in a row being recognized as the industry-leading integrated PR agency in Canada.
With 20 clients on their roster and more than 25 employees from coast-to-coast, a day in the life of Amanda is pretty full on. However this hasn’t stopped her from launching The Common Good Project; a passion project aimed to helping women-led start ups.
Keep reading to find out how Amanda is learning to celebrate success, her simple yet effective morning routine and what the future holds for The Common Good Project.
Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade?
I’ve been making lemonade – and sometimes lemon meringue pie - since my parents divorced when I was six years-old. I moved in with my dad and quickly gained household responsibilities beyond my years while he, the ultimate entrepreneur, worked to build his legacy. While I was always showered with love, I remember thinking to myself, “When I grow up, I’m gonna do things differently.” When I was 15, he was splitting up with his then-fiance who we lived with along with her two kids. That same voice came to me again, pleading for a change in scenery. I created a PowerPoint deck, filled out the paperwork and pitched my dad on sending me on a year abroad in Israel to complete high school. It worked. That year changed my life and gave me the confidence and independence to go after everything I’ve wanted since.
Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.
I need variety. For me, that means a bustling, open-concept environment – no offices – that promotes collaboration and creativity. I’m an extrovert who thrives off the energy of my team. But we all need time to put our heads down and get things done. That’s why Colony offers a work-from-anywhere policy every Friday. I’m able to run a load of laundry while building a strategic plan or hunker down in a local café to plan for the week ahead.
We focus on building a rich culture where everyone gets opportunities to stretch regardless of their levels.
After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?
The Colony Project opened its doors in 2016 with 3 clients and 3 employees. We doubled our business in year two and have grown to 20 clients and more than 25 employees from coast-to-coast. In the PR business, our product is our people. That means finding driven, like-minded talent is the only way to scale. We focus on building a rich culture where everyone gets opportunities to stretch regardless of their levels. We also built a robust network of partners and freelancers to help expand our team when needed. It might be cliché, but it’s a relationship-based business and we seek to go beyond for our clients and our teams.
How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?
As my dad likes to say, no one ever achieved greatness by playing it safe.
How do you measure success in your career?
This is a toughy. I want to say I measure success by simply waking up feeling as though I’m making a difference every day. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say financial success, recognition and client wins factor into it. I’ve made a bad habit of not celebrating my achievements enough – as soon as I reach a goal, I set my focus on the next. I’ve been learning to celebrate the small wins that paint the bigger picture and that’s lead to my true definition of success.
I’m proud to say we’re making an impact on the industry and getting noticed for it, but the real impact comes from the opportunities my team gets and the start-ups and other businesses we have the privilege of influencing.
You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?
I’m my best when I’m well prepared. Strategic presentation locked and loaded, and armed with essential knowledge. That means 30 minutes before all that’s left to do is have a positive pep talk with myself and my team, “We got this.” And a strong red lip doesn't hurt the ego.
What is something that you read, watch or listen to regularly?
I start every morning with Headspace. 10 minutes on the meditation app sets my mentality to tackle whatever the day brings. The app offers tailored meditations for every scenario – I’m a big fan of its stress and performance packs.
The first email I read each morning is Seth’s Godin’s daily blog. His analysis of the world around us challenges me to think critically and inspires creativity.
What impact are you making through your work?
The way people consume information isn’t what it used to be and Colony exists to be on the cutting edge of what’s new and next. We started out as a full-service PR agency, but have quickly morphed into an integrated communications firm serving clients who want to reach new audiences and be on the forefront of our rapidly evolving industry. I’m proud to say we’re making an impact on the industry and getting noticed for it, but the real impact comes from the opportunities my team gets and the start-ups and other businesses we have the privilege of influencing.
I believe we’re all better for the business if we take the time we’ve earned to recharge and reboot.
Finding time for yourself can be difficult as an entrepreneur. Do you have a self-care routine and what does that look like?
Self-care is what gets me from surviving to thriving. I eat clean during the week, splurge on weekends, exercise and meditate. And confession – I’d be nowhere without my weekly blowout. Taking time for you is essential, which is why I’ve instituted the “No vacation days left behind” policy at Colony. I believe we’re all better for the business if we take the time we’ve earned to recharge and reboot. I want to see my team achieving that balance, not burnt out requesting to carry over vacation days at the end of the year.
Remaining fresh and innovative as a business owner can be hard. How do you stay creative and where do you look for inspiration?
For me, creativity can’t be contained to a brainstorm in a boardroom or a marketing publication. I’m a staunch believer we are all as good as the people we surround ourselves with, which is why primary focus has been on building a diverse team hungry for a challenge. I’d argue I learn from them more than the other way around. Just the other day, our intern, Simi, shared insight into underground talent that resonates with the gen z demographic, inspiring us to come up with a big idea for an even bigger client. Inspiration comes from all levels, in all places, and often when you least expect it, even at a dinner party with friends.
Give us the play-by-play of your typical morning routine.
I’m a natural morning person so my routine helps set the tone for the entire day. Asides from my morning meditation, I recently started a gratitude practice. I write down 3 things I’m grateful for, 3 things that would make today great and 1 thing I could do to affect that outcome in my day. It takes less than two minutes and sets an intention for my day. Beyond that I often throw in a workout, make a smoothie and feed my pup.
What's next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about something exciting you're working on?
The Common Good Project is a passion project we started out of Colony and we’re currently in our second year. As a start-up that’s experienced rapid growth in a short time, we wanted to help like-minded companies tell their stories through marketing and PR. In year one, we partnered with five diverse start-ups, but realized quickly that none of the applications were from women-led businesses. Knowing Canadian women are starting businesses at a higher rate than women in all other G20 countries, we knew we had to tap into that market. So this year, we dedicated The Common Good Project specifically to that. We had an overwhelming response and will be offering six unique start-ups pro-bono workshops on how to take their brands to the next level.