The guys who wrote my favorite business book of the moment, ReWork, don’t believe in the word entrepreneur. “It’s outdated and loaded with baggage,” they write. They say (rightly so) that there are many people starting businesses who do it because they love it. These people don’t see what they are doing as a business, and they might not see themselves as entrepreneurs. They have a replacement term, but I think I’d have a hard time making anyone understand what I mean if I say someone is a “creative starter.”
So for argument’s sake, let’s stick with creative entrepreneur and instead change the way we define someone who goes out on their own as someone who is excited by what they are doing, inspired by possibilities and willing to work long hours to bring the dream to life.
That defines Ashley Allen, a friend, colleague and owner of Bionic Media, a two-year-old digital marketing company she began upon graduation from the USC marketing program. Not long after starting Bionic, she began another project. Like many millennials, she has a drive to make a difference in the world. World I Want is an online publication devoted to inspiring and supporting conscious entrepreneurship.
Last week Ashley and I sat down in the second of my Business Lunch series to talk about why she chose to go out on her own right from college. And of course, we talked about the world she wants, both personally, professionally.
What attracted you to going out on your own?
I was feeling a lack of purpose. I finished up grad school and held a couple internships at larger advertising agencies like Davis Elen. As cool as it was to see the “behind the scenes” of large-scale marketing campaigns for companies like McDonald’s, Toyota, and the Los Angeles County Waterworks I didn’t feel like I was really contributing to my community in any purposeful way. I started my consulting business with the intent of having it help fund my socially conscious endeavor down the line.
World I Want had been in the back of my mind since my second year of grad school, and I already had a good idea about how digital marketing worked from consulting work I had done for a couple years. In 2016, I took the plunge and started it.
My goal is to see the next generation of business owners find innovative solutions to community problems — like TOM’s shoes or Homeboy Industries. If politics has taught us anything it’s that corporations hold a ton of power, so I want to help businesses find ways that they’re able to give back while still building their businesses successfully.
What was the most surprising thing about being a creative entrepreneur?
The most surprising thing about entrepreneurship is how closely it’s tied to personal growth. You have to constantly be looking at yourself and your insecurities so you can keep pushing yourself, learning, and growing your business.
For example — if you lack confidence and don’t want your picture everywhere, you’ll struggle with online marketing where everyone wants to engage and interact with personal brands. I’m still struggling with this one myself!
Another example is setting strong boundaries with clients. I remember when I first started my consulting gig I was so scared to lose out on money that I hadn’t set any boundaries and would literally have clients texting me at 11pm on a Friday night to fix something.
What lessons have you learned?
The first lesson I learned, and that stays with me, is to get over my fear of each new obstacle and just get through it. Not that I’m constantly putting out fires; it’s just that I’m regularly looking for ways to push myself to the next level.
Other lessons: Don’t get emotional about business decisions. Get comfortable with uncertainty (you never really know what will happen in your business). And don’t just think about NOW but think in terms of six months, a year, and five years from now.
What are three things you want to accomplish this year?
My big priority starting second quarter is to create a larger platform for World I Want. My goals are to (1) develop stronger relationships with guest contributors, (2) inspire entrepreneurs with interviews with founders or social enterprises, and (3) build our followings and email lists so that moving forward we can get into events, workshops, etc.
My long term goal is to host weekend-long conferences at which entrepreneurs will learn about how to build a business and take care of themselves so they can show up fully in that business. On the last day of the conference there would be a competition where everyone would be given a social cause like homelessness or water scarcity and create a business plan that helps solves the problem. The winner would win something — possibly a year-long mentorship to get the support they need to turn that plan into reality.
Advice for others?
Don’t give up. People won’t understand what it is you’re trying to do and can’t always see the big picture. Surround yourself with people who get it and inspire you and if people don’t get excited about your dreams, you don’t have to share it with them. Just keep believing and creating. Persistence is key. When you have that, you’ll get there.
What is the passion that continues to drive you?
If I know that I’ve inspired just one business owner to do things differently – perhaps start to donate part of their proceeds or initiate an employee volunteer program — then I’ll have accomplished my goal. In the World I Want – more people will understand that there’s a way to make money, and turn a profit, while doing things that move our community forward in a healthy and positive way.
Thank you to Joanne Purnell and Pauline Parry for the use of the Good Gracious! Events conference room
…and for those amazing Pecan Shortbread cookies!