LANSING-Tucked away in a renovated farm house on Coy Ham Road, Jessica Stansberry’s home is probably closer to the Tennessee state line than West Jefferson.
And she’s fine with that. She’s the owner of Southtown Creative, a one-woman marketing, branding and website design business that allows her the freedom to own her own business and still make time for her husband and kids.
Since 2010, she’s designed more than 100 websites, many of them female entrepreneurs, and launched a podcast aimed at online business trailblazers, cheekily named All Up in Your Lady Business.
Here’s what she’s learned over the past six years.
Know what you want
And what you don’t. In Stansberry’s case, she spent much of college doodling designs and quickly scribbling business ideas in a notebook. When she graduated college, she said she knew almost right away a regular 9-to-5 wasn’t going to fit her goals, so she shifted her focus to getting her own business off the ground.
But it’s OK to start right where you are
Stansberry started doing freelance graphic design work in college as a way to turn a love of creation into a little extra money. She started with business cards and flyers before transitioning into blog and web design and upping her fees along the way. “You don’t have to start at the very top,” Stansberry said. “But be willing to simply start.”
Carve out your niche
For Stansberry, that’s meant focusing her web design business mainly for the needs of female entrepreneurs, nearly the entirety who live away from Ashe County or rural Appalachia. By focusing her design – but more importantly her marketing – efforts on a very specific kind of client, Stansberry is able to cut through the noise and attract valuable customers.
There is no perfect time – so get started
A mother of two, Stansberry said she’s constantly falling behind somewhere in her life. A project might slip behind schedule because she’s dealing with her kids or a last minute errand pops up. “For me, I want my business and my family to always be at the forefront,” Stansberry said. “If the house looks like a tornado, or the dog is freaking out – oh well. I’m not saying you always have to focus on your priorities to the exclusion of everything else, but you should prepare yourself for a little bit of chaos everyday. That’s just part of it.”
Your business means your schedule
So don’t be afraid to work odd hours if that’s your thing. Stansberry is upfront that she’s not much of an early riser, so when she first started her business and when her sons were younger, she scheduled nearly the entirety of her workday after the sun went down. “Now I’m able to work in blocks of time during the day depending on what’s going on and what I’ve got planned,” Stansberry said. “The point is take advantage of what works for you. If you like to get started early, do that, but don’t feel like you have to work a “normal” schedule just because that’s what you’ve always done.”
Fail fast. Fail smart.
Stansberry said you can’t fake the way you feel, so don’t even try. If you feel like you have a good idea, try it on for size. The trick is to test your ideas as quickly and as cheaply as possible, with the realization that not everything is going to work. “Your job is to find that place where what you love meets the point where people will pay you,” Stansberry said. “So go try something.”
Crazy doesn’t necessarily mean stupid
If you have a great idea, there’s a market for your work and you’ve got a solid strategy, push forward with the project, Stansberry said. “The Internet has opened up an entire world where you’re competing for attention,” Stansberry said. “But the flip side is that there are probably other people that love what you love. Like homemade perfume. I’m not going to buy it – but I’ve seen plenty of people who will and who are vocal about it. Anything that you want to do you can reach somebody with that idea now. That’s pretty powerful.”
You just might be undercharging
Or missing a critical opportunity because you’re not looking in the right place. As she’s refined her skills and her marketing message, Stansberry said she’s been able to raise her rates more than 500 percent above the level she started at. She’s better at what she does than when she started, sure, but that bump in price has come largely from the fact that she no longer focuses on work for local clients. “And that’s not saying anything bad about living where we do,” Stansberry said. “But you can find higher paying for whatever it is you do, maybe by looking outside where you currently live. If you can, take advantage of that.”
Position yourself as an expert
If you have skills other people are willing to pay for – but more importantly have the ability to get other people to share their expertise – you can position yourself as an expert to your advantage, Stansberry said. That was at least part of the idea behind the creation of All Up in Your Lady Business, a podcast Stansberry created with fellow online entrepreneur Jaclyn Mellone. The duo dish on revealing bits like what they wanted to be as kids all while interviewing other online business experts. “Everybody has dreams of doing something,” Stansberry said. “Everybody. If you can help somebody else reach those goals you’re going to help yourself, too, along the way.”
Check out Stansberry at southtowncreative.co or her podcast at allupinyourladybusiness.com.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-846-7164 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.