Birds of a Feather: Brass Tacks

MAY 2014


Brass Tacks is a full-service lifestyle management company out of Minneapolis, run by Perris Deppa. Her goal with Brass Tacks is to bring simplicity to the lives of others, helping people with the little things they don’t have time for, freeing their lives for what is most important to them. Brass Tacks meets at the crossroads of personal assistance, travel planning, and concierge services, with the overarching aim of fostering personal relationships. And that’s no surprise, considering the moment you meet Perris, you are struck by her warmth, having one of those personalities that draws you in and puts you at ease. She’s a joy to chat with, and we’re so excited to feature an interview with her today!

Brass Tacks launched in January 2013 and has been growing ever since, largely through word-of-mouth. At any given time, Perris has several daily or weekly personal assistant clients and around three larger projects that involve greater planning and coordination. In the past year and a half, Perris has learned a lot about running a small business, and has some great wisdom to share. Read our full interview with her below!

White Peacock: Where did the idea for Brass Tacks come from, and how did you get started?

Perris: I started Brass Tacks out of a need I saw. I was working in advertising and I realized there are a lot of people in the world who don’t have time to manage their lives. I wanted to create a company that could fill that gap when someone doesn’t have time for something but doesn’t know who to call for help. But I wanted to make a business that was based on personal relationships. There are other concierge businesses out there that, when you’re in a pinch you call them, they do something and you never talk to them again. I wanted to make a business based on personal relationships so you have a relationship with me. I know my clients and I can basically help them with anything. I do a mix of personal assistance, travel planning, errand assistance, wrapping, and kind of everything in between. My tagline is “Bringing Simplicity to Your Life,” but it’s really just about freeing up time in your life. I think everybody has their own definition of what they don’t have time for, so it definitely varies by client. All of my clients, at the end of the day, are people who are willing to pay someone else to get time back into their lives and are usually people who appreciate having an assistant of sorts.

Starting Brass Tacks was a little unique in that I didn’t start it while doing something else. I left my job, took the risk, and spent probably three months setting it all up. The first stage of that was developing a business plan. I created about a 20-page business plan and that included doing competitive analysis, research about other concierge companies, research about rates, and really narrowing in on my target demographic. I figured out liability coverage–I go into people’s houses and deal with confidential information, so I wanted to have liability coverage. I worked with an attorney to set up my LLC. I spent a good two weeks just on my name alone. And then I spent probably a month developing my logo. I worked in partnership with a great designer out of Charleston, Hanna Seabrook. And that was really fun. I had a very specific vision for what I wanted it to look like. So I basically did everything up front before launching after the first of the year.

WP: Where does the name Brass Tacks come from?

P: I spent a very long time thinking about names. I wanted it to symbolize simplifying your life, reducing time, those sorts of things. And there’s a saying, “Let’s get down to brass tacks,” which basically means getting back to the basics. And I really liked the history of the saying and also what it meant. And it seemed like a perfect fit, because at the end of the day, what I’m doing is handling people’s things that they have to do, the basics of their life that they just don’t have time for or giving them time for those things they care most about, that they choose to focus on. So it kind of came to me and I liked that it had a double meaning. {Read more about the history of the saying on the Brass Tacks blog!}

WP: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of running your own business?

P: The biggest rewards are just hearing happy clients after a project. I think often when you’re self-employed and running your own business, you get kind of caught up in not knowing if you’re doing a good job. So it’s really rewarding when people come to me and love my business and love the work I do. That’s also the challenge though. I am my own business, so I don’t get paid if I’m not billing hours. And I think the hardest thing for me to balance is, I put a lot of time into the behind-the-scenes stuff, but even if I feel like I’m working all day, if I’m not billing someone, I’m not getting paid. So I think it’s just the balance of billable hours versus time in the business. And then it’s the feeling that you could always be doing more. And it goes back to, you’re not on a salary, so there’s always something you can be doing to gain momentum, to get more clients, to spread the word. So those are the biggest challenges. My other challenge is also learning to say no to people. I’m getting better about it, but my best advice I can offer to anybody is that if something doesn’t fit your business plan and your vision, don’t do it. I think in the end, that kills you. But it’s hard to learn to say no to people, because naturally, I’m in a business where I want to help people.

WP: What is your favorite aspect of the work you do?

P: I love travel planning. I also really love the miscellaneous, random requests. I have a specific client who I do everything for, and I really enjoy knowing the whole picture of someone’s life and having the relationships with the vendors, with the people in their lives. But I do enjoy the glamorous aspects, like booking private jets and luxury rental homes in Nantucket. I enjoy the luxurious things. Also, living in Minnesota in the winter, it’s really awesome to plan trips for people. Because I spend all this time looking at all these sunny places while it’s 50 below zero, and that’s kind of enjoyable that I can live vicariously through them.

WP: What does a typical day look like for you?

P: I get up, I try and post on my blog a couple times a week, so I usually get the post ready in the evening and first thing in the morning will post it to my blog. I check my email. Many of my clients are on the West Coast, so I like to get an early start, contacting them before they’re up. But I usually have to wait until the afternoon to take care of a lot of their business because of the time difference. So I usually spend the middle of the day running errands for people, running errands for myself and Brass Tacks, and then from the afternoon into the evening is usually when I take care of business on the West Coast. But every day is so different, depending on my projects. I often have to call Europe if I’m planning trips, and then I need to do that in the morning. So, it depends on time zones.

WP: How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance when running your own business?

P: It’s hard. That’s another challenge. I try to just be present in whatever I’m doing, and sometimes that means not worrying about my phone. I mean, with running your own business you’re kind of always working, so I do respond to client emails at any time of the day, night, or weekends. But, I think the biggest thing I do to keep balance for myself, is I just set really clear expectations with my clients. So, when I have requests come in, I under-promise from a timing perspective and then try to over-deliver and get things done earlier. So I say, you know, “I’ll have this to you by the end of next week,” and then usually have it in a couple of days, but I give myself that room so that I’m not killing myself. But it is hard when you don’t have hours.