|Focus on: Empower Employees, Optimize Operations
“You know, this is a sign. If I’m ever going to try entrepreneurship and launch this business, then it’s now or never.”
When Ashley Poulin first settled on this decision, she was working as a marketing executive at a major computer company that had just gone through a leverage buyout. The buyout resulted in Poulin’s stocks being liquidated, offering an unexpected and unique opportunity. Poulin had always kept the idea of starting her own business in the back of her mind, but it didn’t seem like a realistic transition—until that moment.
Poulin left her corporate job a few months later, and in January of 2014, officially launched her business. With Poulin at the helm and a small group of team members, SharpHeels has since transformed into a leading career and lifestyle brand for professional women, gaining nearly 100,000 newsletter subscribers around the country in just four years.
Building a successful business from the ground up
Using her own marketing expertise, Poulin decided to keep SharpHeels’ message as straightforward as possible: engage, educate, and empower. With these three guiding principles in mind, SharpHeels acts as a resource for career and lifestyle advice from industry experts and fresh tips on fashion, travel, and more. Poulin keeps SharpHeels focused on promoting a positive and engaging voice, ensuring that all of their published content and every aspect of the business is educational and empowering to their growing audience of professionally-minded women.
“Every piece of content, every event, everything that happens at SharpHeels is focused on our audience, and providing them with something meaningful to walk away with,” Poulin said.
Poulin and her 12 part-time team members work with more than 500 guest contributors—all female executives and business owners—to write, edit, publish, and socialize blog content online from their own mobile workplace. The business also organizes and hosts dozens of live events and serves as a media partner for major conferences throughout the U.S., like SXSW, Dreamforce, Oracle OpenWorld, along with several others around the world. Digital innovation plays a crucial role in Poulin’s ability to grow her business, empowering the committed team to enhance their mobile workplace and keep SharpHeels running smoothly.
Empowering an on-the-go small business owner with Surface Pro
Before exploring the possibility of digital transformation, Poulin’s home office technology consisted of a laptop and a desktop. Her laptop was clunky, difficult to transport, and didn’t offer enough processing power to support Adobe Creative Suite. In comparison, Poulin’s desktop could easily manage Adobe’s technology requirements, along with powering several other programs and Poulin’s habit of multitasking with 30 different open windows. But, for a small business owner who quit her corporate job hoping for an alternative to a stationary office environment, she wanted a device that would enable a more mobile experience.
To Poulin’s surprise, Surface Pro offered that and more. She fell in love with the device after borrowing one from a friend and soon had her own. Since transitioning her files and programs from her desktop to her Surface Pro, she has begun to use her desktop as a hard drive. In fact, according to Poulin, she hasn’t used her desktop at all in more than a year. With her Surface, traveling nearly every week for work is as easy as sliding her device into her purse and setting it up in whatever location she chooses—whether she’s in a hotel bar on the west coast, a communal workspace in the Midwest, or seated comfortably in an airplane thousands of feet in the air.
“It’s exactly like I’m working from home. Surface Pro has changed my business, and it’s exactly what I wanted when I left my corporate job—to be remote and to work anywhere at any time,” Poulin explained.
With a team that’s entirely freelance and remote, this kind of mobility and reliable connectivity is exactly what SharpHeels needs. The device’s flexibility and cloud technology empowers Poulin to realize the kind of work environment she has always envisioned. After enjoying a successful career working in an office every day, Poulin says it’s important to her to create something different for herself and for her employees with SharpHeels.
“If I’m going to run my own business, then I want to be able to work from anywhere in the world,” she said. “I want to be able to work from home, I want to be able to travel, I want to be able to be in Greece for a month and still complete all of my responsibilities.”
Enhancing SharpHeels’ vision with user-friendly Office Suite
An essential part of SharpHeels’ overall strategy is its commitment to quality, adhering to a very specific editorial style and offering every guest contributor with a one-on-one editorial experience. To support this, SharpHeels’ team needed an innovative, user-friendly digital solution with intuitive editing capabilities. Impressed by Microsoft’s Surface device, Poulin decided to improve her team’s mobile workplace by leveraging Microsoft’s Office Suite. As a result, the business uses Microsoft Word for all their content editing and requires their contributors to submit drafts as Word documents. With the program’s “Track Changes” features, contributors can easily follow the editorial process and collaborate with SharpHeels’ copy editors to produce professional, engaging content.
While exploring Office Suite, Poulin also stumbled onto an additional surprise: PowerPoint’s image and design features offered the same capabilities as Adobe Creative Suite—but required far less time and expertise. Previously, SharpHeels either hired a graphic designer to build out marketing materials or Poulin spent hours trying to navigate the program herself. With PowerPoint’s user-friendly tools, Poulin and the rest of her team can easily design graphics for website content, Instagram posts, and more, and immediately upload them to their respective platforms. No longer in need of a graphic designer, SharpHeels now saves time and money by producing their design work in-house.
“Instead of spending five to six hours in Adobe trying to figure out the Creative Suite, I could do it in 30 minutes to an hour in PowerPoint,” said Poulin. “I could do the same exact thing, and it was easier, and everyone can use it.”
Enabling small business growth with no restrictions
As a small business owner with limited funds and a limited staff, relying on innovative technology plays a key role in improving efficiency and productivity. Surface’s cloud technology also provides a level of connectivity and reliability Poulin has always wanted for the SharpHeels team, ultimately improving their digital workplace. Now, no matter her location, workload, or digital needs, Poulin has the technology she needs to keep the quality of her team’s work up to the SharpHeels standard.
“Regardless of if I’m in my home office or at a hotel—even if I’m at a restaurant in San Diego or Pittsburgh or Denver—my articles are still published, I still have access on the plane to email, and my staff can still reach me,” emphasized Poulin. “Nothing is disrupted.”
Partnering with Microsoft also aligns with SharpHeels’ company vision of supporting and empowering women. As a business, SharpHeels strives to keep that mission at the forefront of every decision, making a commitment to only work with, promote, and partner with other organizations that model that same pro-women sentiment. According to Poulin, Microsoft is a perfect fit. With cutting-edge technology, SharpHeels can now leverage a digital environment that effortlessly supports business growth while complementing their inspiring vision.
“We’re always thinking about technology partners that empower and support women, so we’re happy to work with Microsoft.”
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