Jessica Valis with arms crossed blog cover

From unfulfilled employee to thriving entrepreneur: my journey to success

My journey to entrepreneurship started with an overwhelmingly large business book of all the million things I needed to do to start a business and a family who advised that I stick to my day job. It wasn’t a glamorous beginning.

Same sh*t, different day

For nearly a decade, I had worked in the same design and publishing role with zero lateral opportunities within 3,000 miles. Seriously, it would have taken a transfer from Baltimore to San Francisco to work my way up the corporate ladder.

Working for a Fortune 100 company was not everything its cracked up to be.

Within the first couple of years as Publishing Coordinator, I refined processes that took my predecessor 3 hours to complete to 30 minutes to an hour max. I introduced modern design styles to financial reports and documents, conference books, and invitations and helped the department through 2 corporate rebrands.

While my role was undeniably significant, I was bored and felt undervalued.

Every morning I drove into the office, listening to podcasts, considering my impact on the world.

What was I doing with my life?

Who was I helping?

I recognized that I was toiling away for “The Man” and my contribution to small businesses, local communities, and social justice was nil.

I knew what I had to do and tried to plan my move to entrepreneurship and agency owner carefully:

  • Keep my day job and be discrete about my intentions,
  • Build a client list by attending networking events before and after business hours,
  • Make enough money to feel confident enough to leave my day job.

Fate beat me to the punch on the last one.

jessica valis 4x4 2021 mobile

Sink and surrender, or succeed?

One warm summer day in 2019, I was at one of my weekly networking events when I received a call from my boss. I was on PTO and assumed the call was work related—to locate a design file or something. 

It was not.

I was laid off.

And I was 6 months pregnant with baby #2.

As much as society claims to fight for equal women’s rights in the workforce, the reality of the situation is simple: No one was going to hire a very pregnant woman for 2 months (leave 1 month for interviewing and onboarding) and then let her go on maternity leave.

It was a now-or-never moment.

And I took hold of it!

I was signing small business clients and building my empire!

That was until Covid-19 sent the world into lockdown, and my clients (all of which were solopreneurs) financially buckled down!

Instead of panicking, I persevered, and by the end of 2020, I had earned only $10,000 less than my salary at corporate.

I turned out more determined in 2021, establishing partnerships that allowed me to offload the non-essentials, mentoring interns, signing my highest-paying clients to date, retaining those clients, and crossing the six-figure mark!

Oh, happy days!

The big hiccups

There were definitely hurdles that needed to be overcome.

The biggest obstacle to getting started was that my former employer did not allow me to use former design work in my portfolio as they were confidential. Despite my seven years as a designer, this meant I had nothing to show except graduate school mock-ups.

To bring in any type of revenue, I lowballed my prices to rates I’m too embarrassed to discuss.

It didn’t take me long to recognize that this wasn’t sustainable and, as a result, my proposals and contracts became more thorough and outlined limitations and concessions.

In fact, this process is ongoing and continues to improve with every client I serve, podcast I listen to, and book I read.

What the influencers don’t tell you…

The entrepreneurial dream doesn’t come easy, especially when caring for a family.

My two gorgeous blonde-haired haired boys are George & Finn. And in the beginning, both were 100% dependent on me—primarily because they are both mama’s boys and were in their baby and early toddler years.

little valis boys at work

My husband is a city police officer and, at the start of my journey, regularly worked the night shift. I would frequently go into single-mom mode.

The ugly truth: I am not mentally equipped to be a stay-at-home mom.

Running a start-up business is hard when your income barely covers the cost of childcare.

And, naturally, caring for a sick child always occurs on days that have the most meetings or deadlines.

It took a total and mental breakdown… but after a lifetime of fighting my battles alone, I was eventually treated for my depression.

I am now a defender of women and openly discuss post-partum depression with all my mommy-friend to fight the stigma that keeps these women from living their best lives with their new and beautiful families.

valis family 2022

What the future lies…

It is so incredibly gratifying to be one’s own boss! Even with the ups and downs, I don’t regret my decision for a second!

There are still so many things on the horizon for me: creating courses, hosting a podcast, and ongoing mentorship.

Every moment of this crazy ride of owning a business is worthwhile and wonderful. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me and to meet the people whose lives I can touch!

By sharing my journey, I hope you find inspiration to carve out your path, learn from all the curveballs life throws, and discover happiness in your career! Your life is what you make of it!

Go conquer!

– Jessica

PS: The imposter syndrome never goes away! Check out my podcast to learn about my journey and how you can become a better business owner and designer!

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