Vanessa Schaefer is a seasoned creative designer and marketing expert, with more than 35 years of advertising agency and in-house marketing experience. She co-founded Clockwork Design Group in 1994, and is the creative lead on all projects.

At Clockwork, Vanessa helps professional service firms bring their brands to life. A results-driven marketer, Vanessa works directly with clients as a team player, thinking strategically and acting tactically. She takes a seat at the table with key firm leadership and guides them through complex projects and difficult decisions. Clients include large engineering firms, architecture and construction firms, law firms, accounting, financial advisory, technology companies and others.

Vanessa especially enjoys rebranding companies, creating powerful brands, websites, and cohesive marketing collateral. When not in her office, she loves working in her garden, cooking, traveling, decorating and restoring her 1800s Colonial home in Weston, MA.

Learn more about Vanessa in this Women Who Wow profile.

Why did you choose your profession?

Since I could hold a crayon, I have loved to draw, paint, doodle, sew, craft …create stuff. In college, I minored in creative writing and majored in fine art where I discovered a love for printmaking. My inner entrepreneur loved printmaking because it was immediately marketable. It wasn’t a single piece of art, it was multiple copies. My mom, her mother and her grandmother have all been creative entrepreneurs. My mom was a music and piano teacher, my grandmother was a chef, and my great-grandmother handpainted greeting cards that were then reproduced. The day after I graduated college, I started working at an ad agency in New York and fell in love with the profession. I’ve never left creative marketing.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love so much about what I do, but if I have to pick just one thing, I’d say it’s creating brands. Creating a brand is thrilling because a brand is not just something pretty to look at, if it’s done right, it’s effective. It sets the firm apart and resonates with the people at the firm and clients of the firm. It makes prospects and recruits reach out to the firm. A strong brand makes everyone feel more confident.  

How has social media helped you build your business/brand?

Seven or so years ago, our site had about 1,000 visitors per month. We decided, as a small agency, to make a commitment: Post an educational article weekly to our blog and promote it via our social platforms. We’ve been pretty good about keeping up with this plan and now, seven years later, we have over 7,000 site visitors each month. Combined with our monthly email newsletter and involvement in LMA and other professional service associations, social media has helped us build our brand and reach a wider geographic audience.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

It’s OK to say “I don’t know.” 

How do you achieve work/life balance?

As a business owner, I work constantly, but it’s what I love to do so I’m very happy doing it. I set aside time on my calendar to do things that bring me added joy. Some of my friends think I’m weird for sending them calendar invites for dinner, but my close friends get it.  😉 

What do you think is the key for success in a role like yours?

Several things:

  • Hire exceptional employees who are better than me at what they do.
  • Partner with experienced specialists to bring in the skill sets that we don’t have in-house.
  • Provide BOTH outstanding creative as well as professional, responsive service (most agencies do one, but not both well).
  • Always over-deliver to clients.

What advice would you give to women in your field?

I started my business at age 31 with my business partner. I remember describing the feeling like stepping off a cliff. I’m generally a risk-averse person, so I was pretty terrified. I knew how to design and market, but I had no formal business training, so there was a lot to learn. I love talking with women who want to start their own businesses and helping them in any way I can. If you are looking to start out on your own, my advice is to talk to women who have been doing it. Most women love to talk! 

How has the pandemic changed you?

My employees are all working remotely now. As much as I miss having them in the office with me, I think it’s made me a better boss in that I’m less of a micromanager. My team is extraordinary and nothing makes me more proud than when clients tell me how amazing they are.

What is a surprising/fun fact about you?

  1. I can say all 50 states in alphabetical order in under a minute.
  2. I had a mohawk briefly in the mid ’80s.
  3. In college, I used to hang out and drink beer with Jeff Bezos. He was supposed to be a groomsman at my wedding but bailed two weeks before because he had a job interview or some lame excuse. Jeff, if you are reading this, you still owe me.