The Real Story of My Business: PART ONE

If you’ve been swirling in my world for a while, you probably know that I’m a Marketing/Business Strategist—15 years in total, 11 running my own biz—plus I work as a Screenwriter. My first movie, Girl Followed, recently debuted on the Lifetime Network, and I just sold my first original TV series to another network. I’m writing the entire first season right now! Eee!

I’ve definitely arrived at a point in my career where I have to pinch myself and go, “Is this seriously my real life?” I’ve got amazing clients, super-supportive friends, and colleagues who are so talented, it’s not even funny. Every single day, I get to do all my fave things: writing, chatting with clients, plus hiking, spinning, Netflix binging (ahem, for “research!”), and hanging out with my husband and our 3 dogs. Even when I’m feeling slightly stressed out, it’s still not *that* bad, because I love my work so much, and there’s always something to feel grateful about.

Life is good. Great, even. But things weren’t always like this, and I definitely didn’t build my career overnight. I get tons of questions about my professional journey, and I’ve told my story numerous times in numerous places, but never all in one place.

*Cue dramatic drumroll*

Until now.

This is Part One in a scandalous 6-part miniseries about how I created my career.

If you’ve ever wondered…

“Melissa, how did you build a successful business?”

“How did you find your first couple of clients, way back in the beginning?”

“How did you break into screenwriting—while juggling an entirely different career at the same time?”

“And seriously, what’s the deal with your coffee obsession?”

… this mini-series is for you!

I will release one new installment every week for six weeks, starting today.

I hope my story inspires you to pursue your dreams—even when cynical, snotty people tell you that your dreams are “totally unrealistic.” Ummm… they’re idiots. But you’re not. You can create your own reality, and nothing is unreachable. That’s what I’ve come to believe, and this is the story of how it all happened.

Let’s roll back 11 years ago.

In a TV show, this would be the flashback sequence. You know… fuzzy, grainy film and blurry lenses because ooh, we’re in the past!

At the time, I worked in pharmaceutical marketing and advertising. My life was one endless pantsuit—traveling to and from conferences, sleeping in hotel rooms, brokering deals with big pharmaceutical companies. It all seemed fancy on the surface—and the bonus checks were certainly a perk—but something didn’t feel quite right. OK, a LOT of things didn’t feel right.

Even though I was “excelling” in my career, I was constantly depressed working in a pretty seedy industry. I loved the steady paycheck and my boss was amazing. I liked being her right-hand woman—despite the toxic environment. But my husband Gary—a lifelong entrepreneur—could see that I was really unhappy, and he constantly encouraged me to get out and start my own business.

At first, I looked at him like he was bananas. Why would I give up a secure job and paycheck for something that may or may not work out? He told me that the only true “security” would come when I was in control of my future, running my own company. I fought with him for awhile, until one day I just couldn’t take my job anymore… and I put in my notice.

Quitting my job was a sudden, impulsive decision—and this is NOT something I would necessarily recommend. I was not a side hustler. I did not have any clients lined up. Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do next. I knew I wanted to be self-employed, and I knew I was good at marketing, advertising, and PR-related work. I had plenty of experience doing that. But I didn’t have a clear vision for my new business. Everything felt very floaty and foggy. I just prayed I’d figure things out, one step at a time.

I did some research and found a Small Business Development Center in my county. Apparently, you could pop by for a free consultation with a business mentor who could give you tons of great advice. I figured, “Well, it couldn’t hurt!”

I signed up and met with a guy who had worked in Yellow Pages advertising for years. (Um, I guess *technically* that meant he ran his own business? I’m still not sure.) He basically told me I should go back to my old job—immediately. According to him, I wasn’t cut out to be an entrepreneur.

I was crushed. I went home determined to beg for my old job back, but my saintly husband told me to stay the course. “Give it a shot,” he urged me.

I felt really scared, but I decided to stick with my entrepreneurial plan for a little while longer. I had some savings from my corporate job. My husband made a decent living as a tennis coach. He was self-employed and had plenty of clients, so he was doing fine. But we were both 26 years old, we had a mortgage and other typical expenses, and we didn’t live in the cheapest area. While we weren’t in a dire financial situation, we did need my business to turn a profit because… BILLS.

How did I get through that first year of self-employment? Ummmm… not so good.

: I spent $500 on a website that I couldn’t update myself. It had this huge rotating banner of a boardroom with way too much Pine Sol on the table. I worked from home, and didn’t even have an office, let alone a corporate boardroom, so the whole thing made no sense. I think this was my way of showing how “professional” I was. Oh, and my logo was a little flower that said: “We help you grow.” OMG. #Embarrassing

: I really hustled. I went to EVERY local networking event I could find. Chamber of Commerce. Rotary Club. Kiwanis. Women’s Groups. BNI. My endless networking—and business cards with the lame flower logo—did actually yield some clients. Except they weren’t necessarily the right clients for me, and things weren’t exactly running smoothly. I made all kinds of rookie mistakes, and I found myself in all kinds of embarrassing, awkward situations, like…

: There was this local business owner would rave about me at every networking event. He’d walk me up to people and say, “This is Melissa. She gives the BEST free marketing advice around. Pick her brain!” Uh, wow. Thanks. Cue: my sheepish groan and spilling tons of marketing advice… for free.

: I grossly mis-priced the printing cost on a big job I was doing for a few companies. (Print marketing was still big back then.) This was a $20,000 mistake. I decided to eat the cost—and pay for everything out of my own pocket—rather than charge my clients and risk ruining my reputation.

: During that first year, I sobbed almost every day. I daydreamed about going back to work for someone else. I stared at the bag checker at the grocery store, thinking how amazing and wonderful it would be to have a job like that—so peaceful! Maybe I’d be better off scanning barcodes and stacking egg cartons and cantaloupes! I’d spend hours online searching for jobs, refining my résumé for the inevitable “this biz thing just isn’t working out” moment.

: And then… things went from bad to horrific. I took on a shiny new client with a big budget. They wanted to hire me on a monthly retainer basis. Everything about this client raised red flags—but I ignored my intuition. I was just so grateful to have consistent income, at last.

Before long, a “silent partner”—who I’d been told nothing about—had a nasty split with the other business partners. This “partner” decided to enact revenge and sued everyone that was in any way aligned with the company—including consultants like me. In the lawsuit, he claimed all kinds of bizarre, untrue things. While I knew I was in no way responsible, the entire thing was incredibly stressful, and I landed in the hospital after suffering a huge panic attack. It took months for everything to dissipate—and months before I got paid for any of the work I’d done for this insane company.

You would think, at this point, that I would have gone running back to any company who would hire me for a full-time, salaried position with cushy benefits. But something about the nightmare lawsuit lit a fire inside of me. It was definitely a rock-bottom first year, and I was ANGRY. I felt like Liam Neeson in Taken, right after he discovers that his beloved daughter has been kidnapped and he’s like: “OH YOU MESSED WITH THE WRONG PERSON!”

By the end of that first year, despite all the awful things that had happened, I felt determined to succeed. Determined to prove all the naysayers wrong. More than anything, determined to prove to myself that I could really do this.

And that takes us to the next chapter of my saga… read it HERE