My story is not unlike a number of entrepreneurs: it starts with an entry-level job and entry-level pay, a sea of 8’x10’ cubicles and—most importantly—a breaking point. But what truly sets me apart is my journey from then to now. It’s made up of desperation, determination and a few essential mistakes that were instrumental in my success as an entrepreneur.
My career began at the bottom. At my first job, I was treated like a cog in the average corporate machine. I worked as a designer at a large agency with priorities that were not aligned with my own and leadership tactics rooted in fear instead of integrity. On top of it all, I hated that I could never share ideas directly with clients. I was always one step removed, which stunted both my personal and professional growth. I couldn’t help but think there must be a better way.
Driven by those ideals, I started to pound the pavement in 2005 and pick up freelance work. I had one goal in mind: to be the exact opposite of the uptight agency I was working so hard to escape. After grueling workdays, I cold called businesses around the Valley. I started with small projects for local landscaping companies and salons, helping them discover their identity and make names for themselves. My workload grew steadily through word of mouth and I immediately saw the benefits of working for myself, but only got a small taste of life as a business owner.
Just when things started to look their brightest, life threw me a curve ball. I had to deal with an unraveling marriage and a financial disaster, both on levels that are normally reserved for daytime dramas. I was left without a car, without a home and a saddled with the responsibility of cleaning up a mess made by someone I thought was trustworthy. But when one door closes, another one opens.
With newfound clarity and a boot-strap mentality, I started to make big changes in my life. I took the leap of faith and quit my job. The next day I woke up, walked across the hall and sat down at my computer. I began working at 9am just as I had for years, only this time it was for myself. In a matter of months, business was booming. But it didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t keep up with all the incoming work. I needed people. Fast.
In 2007, my next chapter started with a cramped office and three freelance designers. Through hard work and determination, those meager beginnings have transformed into the current iteration of The James Agency: a bustling creative space filled by 30+ big thinkers and a roster of satisfied clients. Along the way, I discovered that success comes with its own weight and I was carrying it all.
I couldn’t find the time and energy to work on myself. A good friend suggested that I join Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). At first, the idea seemed out of the question. How could I add another thing to my already-insane schedule? He smiled and responded, “That’s exactly why you need to join!”
He was right. EO has been my saving grace. It is a global network that brings business owners together, rallying them around inspirational ideas and activities that push entrepreneurs out of their comfort zones. As a member, I’m able to empathize and learn from others who share the same struggles and constant drive to conquer new challenges. After a few months, I understood that EO did more than guide my leadership skills. It also helped shape my business from the ground up and balance my personal life with my work life.
Today I’m the mother of a growing family, CEO and founder of a thriving business and the President of EO Arizona. By coupling my diverse experiences with the leadership skills gained from EO, I’ve created a community and culture centered on one unshakable ideal: hire people you can believe in, and believe in the people you hire.
It’s also helped me realize that I can help others in a very direct way. My team members are starting families, buying houses and securing their futures. It’s immensely satisfying to end each day with the knowledge that my business is helping people succeed, both in their careers and at home. It’s another reason I can say with certainty that bringing good people together is the recipe for a happy business.
For those looking at all the “what-ifs” and uncertainties of the future, I will share one of my core beliefs. If you don’t feel uncomfortable at least once a day, you’re doing something wrong. Adversity leads to growth and struggles to conquer your hardships will always make you a better you. I never thought the mistakes of my past would lead to the life I have today—but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.