“I just wasn’t getting it.” Flustered and tired, I met Kat at a pivotal moment in her business. On the outside her company appeared to have it all. Amazing clients, incredible press, a hard working team of employees. “We were rising stars”. But on the inside, Kat wasn’t bringing home enough to pay herself a wage worth the time she was investing running her business. In fact, her employees were making more than her …. Regularly.
How did she turn it all around? Press play on today’s Student Success Story!
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Hi, I’m Kat Aul Cervoni. I’m the founder and principal of Staghorn NYC, a landscape design company based both in New York City and now in Atlanta Georgia. We create residential outdoor spaces from scratch so that it feels like an extension of a family’s home. We want our clients to enjoy what nature has to offer and how that can be connected into the home.
I first worked with Shanna 1:1 because of the pace at which my company was growing and being really honest with myself about what some of my weaknesses were in growing the business. At the time, I was really struggling with how to make the company profitable. Since then, I enrolled in The Blueprint Model after a big transition in the business and becoming a mom. I worked through The Blueprint Model with Shanna to make this new season of life and phase of the business work exactly like I wanted it to.
If you looked at my business; the clientele we were getting, how booked we were, the quality of the work we were doing, the reviews we received, and the press recognition— the business was sky-rocketing. We were rising stars! But despite amazing growth on the outside, the truth internally looked much different.
I was hardly able to pay myself. My employees had great hourly rates and we stayed on top of our overhead, but had acquired some credit card debt due to poor estimating.
In fact, my employees were making more than I was. Regularly.
When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s not a 9-5. It’s an all day, everyday sometimes. I also had big ambitions for what kind of income I wanted to bring home, and I thought it was realistic given the industry. But I just couldn’t figure it out.
The overhead was just going up, up, up, up, up. I would try to figure out how to charge more but on a month-to-month, project to project basis, consistently … Make money AND stay out of debt AND save AND have a paycheck I could feel proud of.
I just wasn’t getting it.
We rewound to the beginning and looked at every single number. What is costing me money? Where am I not charging enough? Where am I underestimating and/or undervaluing my time?
And meticulously tracked my time!
I realized that so much of my “cost” was time, and I wasn’t accounting for my time in the business. That was a big aha moment for me. Essentially I was losing all this money because I was giving my time away for free.
When I started charging the right amount for my time, I finally started seeing profit. Consistently, on every job, month in and month out!
EVERYTHING has changed since I signed up for The Blueprint Model in early 2019. I finally really truly got to know the finances behind my business and took control of them. Instead of being reactive and trying to out-earn my mistakes, I bit the bullet and started tracking everything from the tiniest hardware to traffic tickets to labor/time on every aspect of our jobs. We were running as lean as we could, so I had to raise our prices despite my fear of losing out on valuable clients. It worked! Over the course of 12 months (from mid 2019 through mid 2020 – YES, even in the pandemic) we brought in enough net profit (over 100K) to pay off over 60K in debt while I also brought home a consistent monthly paycheck. That’s just the finance side of things.
2019 and 2020 were also hallmark years for me/my family (and the world) for some other huge reasons. In November 2019, we welcomed our son, Colton, into the world! The Blueprint Model gave me the tools to set the operations side of my business up so that I could take a real, proper maternity leave of 3 months. 1 week before my due date, I officially went on leave to give myself the time to finish preparing our home, and honestly just kick back and relax before my life was going to profoundly change. Over the course of my maternity leave, I was able to truly take a step back and let my company more or less run itself.
Fast forward to summer 2021. I’m pregnant with our second child (due November 16th, holy cow), I’ve successfully formulated a work schedule that allows me to work part-time, have our weekends free for family time, and take home a steady paycheck doing design work exclusively.
There are many things I love about Shanna’s philosophy and The Blueprint Model, but what stands out the most to me is that it’s about defining so much more than just the numbers behind your business. Sure, that part of the program was the big onus behind me signing up for this and it certainly is critical. But it’s taking the time to specifically define your ideal work AND life both now and for the future that sets this program apart and has also had such an enormous impact on me, my life and my business. Anytime someone asks me for business/career advice, I always try to hammer home how important it is to take the time to really get clear on that. Otherwise, it’s easy to find yourself years down the road making great money but potentially hating how you’re spending your time, or feeling stuck or uninspired.
Gosh, I am just so grateful for amazing clients/students like Kat! What an incredible success story! Want more inspiration? Plenty more stories that are sure to inspire you, Click Here for more Student Success Stories! If you’re feeling at all like Kat and just can’t seem to get a handle on your business finances, I’d love to work together either 1:1 or through my signature program, The Blueprint Model!
Spend a day working on your business with Shanna : CFO FOR A DAY!
Katherine “Kat” Aul Cervoni is the founder and principal of Staghorn as well as the blog, The Cultivation. Her passion for all things outdoor living is driven by her desire to help people reconnect to nature wherever they can.
Kat creates outdoor spaces that become natural extensions of a home’s interior. She champions low-maintenance plants, especially native species, that are known for their longevity and sustainability, and emphasizes the importance of marrying seasonal beauty with daily practicality. Her authentic, approachable spaces offer respite and inspiration year round — and for years to come.
Since starting Staghorn, Kat has built a company devoted to sustainable planting and building, local species, and ethical working conditions. A member of the Ecological Landscape Alliance and the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, she mentors young plant enthusiasts and upcoming designers.
In addition to obsessing over gardening, Kat loves spending time with her husband, two children, and their pets.
August 16, 2022
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Thank you for sharing my story, and much more so, thank you for sharing your knowledge, Shanna!
We’re so grateful you shared, Kat! It’s going to be encouraging to so many. -Jana from Team Skidmore