Title: CEO

Age: 33

Careful planning and calculated risks have helped Melissa Harrison guide Allée, her small but rapidly growing branding and marketing firm, to its sixth anniversary.

For Harrison, the balancing act also has included raising four children, ages 2, 4, 5 and 8, and serving temporarily as the family's sole breadwinner after her husband lost his job in the recession.

"It was trying when the economy was starting to go down and it's nerve-racking to think as a small business owner that I have to make this work," Harrison said. "My business was the business, it had to bring in the income."

While other firms downsized or closed as clients cut back, Harrison invested thousands of dollars in redesigning her website. "We needed to get our name and content out there and showcase our expertise," Harrison said. "It was scary but it needed to be done."

Harrison was in position to take the risk because she had set business and revenue goals, closely tracked her progress and made revisions when necessary. 

She sees the results in revenue that has more than doubled over the last year, a staff that has grown from one to five since she started and the recent signing of new client, Roger Fazendin Realtors in Wayzata, which bills itself as the state's largest family-owned independent real estate company. Allée operates virtually, with Harrison based in Albertville and staffers working from home and meeting weekly to discuss assignments

Before launching her firm, Harrison worked in communications at Dunwoody College of Technology. She had previously worked in retail management and was managing editor of print publications. In addition to her business and family commitments, Harrison also is a certified group exercise instructor who teaches classes that include kickboxing.

QHow did you keep Allée on track during the downturn?

AI think the success is driven from the fact that I know the importance of working on my business as well as in my business. I don't think a lot of small business owners focus on that. They get so caught up in client work and projects. I made it a point when things started to get scary to amp out my goals and how I was going to get there. It's up on a huge white board in my office.

QWhat core services does your firm offer?

AWe do a lot of marketing and brand strategy, content management and content marketing. We also do the strategy piece, which I think really sets us apart. We're not just a graphic design firm, we're not just a strategy firm, we're not just a social media content firm -- we're really a full-service firm.

QWhat does Allée mean and why did you choose that name? AAllée is French and it means a path between trees or shrubs. We use that as a metaphor for us being the path of expertise that we give to our clients, to move them forward on their communications, marketing and branding needs.