My Entrepreneurial Journey
I never planned on becoming an entrepreneur but now, I can't imagine doing anything else. This is my story...
How did I get to where I am now – an entrepreneur who has run my own business for the past 7 years? Good question. I’ve tried to distill the major elements of my life into the story you’ll find on this page. I hope you’ll enjoy it and be inspired to uncover the important moments in your own entrepreneurial journey.
Ever since I was little, I have been creating businesses or thinking up ideas for ones. And I don’t mean the standard summer lemonade stand, because a) I don’t like lemonade and b) you don’t go outside for prolonged periods of time during an Arizona summer unless you want to willfully die by melting.
The businesses I started as a youngin were very creative and very air-conditioned.
It started with small enterprises. Like the time I sold a handmade 5-foot beaded lizard to a neighborhood boy for a whopping $20. I expanded my line to include other little beady animals and negotiated sidewalk deals for $2 here and $5 there. Talk about living a #girlbosslife… I thought I had made it big time with that moolah in my (cough cough) fanny pack.
I also experienced early business failures. Like the time I created an at-home library in front of our unused and perplexing fireplace (see: note about death by melting in Arizona). My business model was to fine my family members when they didn’t turn in their borrowed books on time. After 20+ years, I’m still waiting for those fees. Serves me right for lending out books that weren’t mine!
Once the internet came along, my business horizons opened up. Near the end of high school, I got hardcore into sewing – if that’s even something you can get ‘hardcore’ into – and built a website to sell my garments. I would stay up until 2am every night deconstructing clothing (or sheets… yes, sheets) that I found for $1 at Goodwill, only to humpty-dumpty them back together again as a cute shrug, skirt, or top. I named my little business Quinntessential Clothing. Note the double “n” in the name. My 17-year-old self would want to make sure you noticed that.
Ultimately, my childhood foray into business planted the seeds for becoming an entrepreneur years later. Like all good things in life, that seed started with a feeling.
A feeling of excitement and empowerment when people actually wanted what I had created with my own two hands. Better yet, they WANTED to pay me! Whether it was $20 or $200, every cent that I earned was because of my creativity, my ability to turn nothing into something, my skills at communicating value to others (e.g. clothing made from sheets), and my focus on building something that was meaningful to me.
That feeling would be my motivation when I was older and decided to try my hand at being my own boss, but we have to take a few detours before we get there…
To Be or Not to Be (An Actress?)
Growing up, I always had a clear sense of purpose for who I wanted to be: a successful actress. I just knew that I was going to walk red carpets and make people cry because of my powerful performances. Yes – you read that right: wearing fancy gowns and making people cry were my life goals. #priorities
In all seriousness though, acting just made sense for me: I loved stories, I loved characters, and most of all, I loved attention. Shine that spotlight on me, puh-leaze!
Bolstered by the belief that acting was my true north, I did what any sane, naive, idealistic young girl would do: I packed my bags and hightailed it straight to Los Angeles. The City of Angels. The City of Stars. The City of I’d-prefer-death-by-melting-in-the-Arizona-heat-than-sit-in-any-more-traffic.
I majored in Theatre Arts at Loyola Marymount University, a lovely liberal arts college situated on a bluff in West L.A., offering a glimpse of the ocean on one side and the Hollywood sign on the other – or at least it did when the pollution cleared. I found my tribe in the colorful, flamboyant, and kooky Theatre Majors and immersed myself in the art of The The-ay-ter (say it like that and you sound smart).
Acting and theatre became my life – I thought about it, read about it, saw it, performed it, and loved every second of it. I even traveled across the pond to foggy ol’ London town to study at an acting conservatory there, seeing 2-3 plays a week and coming to realize that my real place in the world of acting was on stage, not the screen.
Now, if you were worried about me giving up my red carpet dreams, don’t be, being on the stage still gave me the I-make-people-cry thing, so I was doing okay. What I discovered that was much more fulfilling in theatre vs. film was that it was about total transformation – using the voice, breath, and physicality. It required full embodiment of a character, not just an eyebrow raise or a carefully placed tear in a film close-up.
When It All Falls Down
Let’s jump forward 5 years, when I took my very last bow as an actress. I had just given the best performance of my life but I was done. I had come to realize that I had no desire to do that for a living, nor live the life of an aspiring actress in L.A..
If I was sitting with you in a dark lounge with a bottle (or two) of wine, I’d be happy to tell you the full story of how I came to this realization, but I’ll spare you the details and let you fill in the gaps as you may.
All you really need to know is that it involved an ornery British director, a play that probed the mysteries of existence, a grueling rehearsal period, too many Camel Crush cigarettes, and a fiery demon character that I played named Lilith. Look her up, she’s a hoot.
Now you’re probably wondering – “Really, one bad experience that led to your best performance and you just gave up that easily?! You had great things ahead of you!”
Well, first – thank you for your concern.
And second, let me explain…
My director had a knack for going after me during rehearsal. He would constantly stop me mid-line, tell me I was doing it wrong, and make me repeat it until I got it “right.”
I would have never said it back then, but I was grateful for him at the same time that I hated him with a passion. He forced me to get out of my head and learn what real acting was. One night I remember in particular, when he got so fed up with me that he stopped and pointedly asked:
“Quinn, what do you think acting is?”
My all-girls-Catholic-high-school education meant that I presented a perfectly polite answer, something along the lines of acting as “embodiment,” with “storytelling” and “emotion” thrown in for extra credit.
“Showing the truth about humanity,” I threw out there with increasing politeness which grew parallel with my anxiety.
After a good 10 minutes of back and forth, he finally yelled at me and said “It’s so simple and you’re missing it. Acting is being real. And you aren’t being real up there. You’re not reacting in the moment, you’re reacting in your head and performing that reaction. You’re just full of bullshit.”
But, he was right. He saw deep into my core and expose an element of who I was that felt like a fraud, a fake, a performer. I didn’t know how to be real or raw, in fact, that scared me more than anything else – on stage and off. Although I was able to tap into real moments on stage, this experience went way beyond acting for me.
It drew me deeper into myself, asking big questions about who I was, what I truly wanted to do, and how I wanted to live in the world.
Living the Sweet Life
For the next 2 years, I utterly failed at answering those questions in the slightest. My identity had been so tied up in acting and theatre, and I suddenly was thrust into the real world without that anchor and without much forethought of what else I could or wanted to do with my life.
So naturally, I got a job doing the next best thing to acting: marketing.
I figured it was pretty similar to theatre. After all, they both ask the same question: How do you tell a story authentically in order to move people? In theatre, you move them to tears or laughter, in marketing – you move them to take action.
I took an intern position with an all-female promotional staffing agency called Sweet Deal. It had initially started as a female casino dealing company (hence the name) and had expanded into staffing for events and experiential marketing programs for consumer products.
I did a little bit of everything. Graphic design, cold calling, managing events, admin work, and even dealing craps, poker, and blackjack. I had a lot of fun with it at first. We got to interview and ‘cast’ spokesmodels for different brands, attend crazy parties around Hollywood (yes, I’ve been to the Playboy Mansion…thrice), and try all kinds of cool products.
I can honestly say that I learned all the fundamentals (and more) about marketing and sales in this job and I’m forever grateful because I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business without the experience.
When Sweet Goes Sour
I quickly became an integral part of the company. The problem was that I was always “on call.” The more my role grew, the more I was managing and the more moving parts there were.
I remember clients calling me at 1am, screaming at me that their spokesmodels were late and other things like “where is the vodka!?”
I remember setting up business meetings with prospective clients, only to find out they were sleazy men who just wanted to grab a drink with a young girl and try to lure her to his private SuperBowl suite across the country that weekend (all while his female assistant watched).
I remember not knowing how to have boundaries between my work life and my personal life. In fact, any semblance of a personal life disappeared as I poured myself into my role.
My relationships suffered, my health suffered, my mind suffered, and ultimately, I landed in the hospital with a severe case of mono.
Now, if you jumped to conclusions that I must have been kissing a lot of boys to get mono that bad, then – my dear reader – you would be spot on.
But moreso than that – I was extremely stressed, constantly on edge, barely sleeping, and not taking care of myself in the least. So it wasn’t a surprise when the doctors told me only 3% of adults get mono as severe as I did, and that what I needed was REST.
Two Roads Diverged
REST?! Not me! I don’t need it! Instead, how about I take a full-time employee position at my company less than a month after getting out of the hospital? That sounds perfect!
After all, I had gotten so good at playing a part again. The play was my life and I was the leading lady. Except this time, I had no idea what my lines were. I sashayed my way through a fake performance, never knowing the deep scars I was cutting.
It’s weird how the most mundane of moments get seared into your brain forever. I will always remember the feeling of the bristly carpet under my bare feet, me sitting on the edge of my four-poster bed in the middle of my teal-painted bedroom. I was talking to my mom about my decision to become an employee, and although I don’t remember what words were said, I do vividly remember how I felt.
A visceral, physical feeling of NO, as if I had done an intense upper-body workout the day before and someone was pulling back on those sore, tired arms while I struggled to pull myself forward and away from the grasp.
I didn’t know at the time that my body could say no without me thinking it.
I didn’t know that this visceral wrestling match should have been a warning sign from the start. I didn’t know what I didn’t know I should know.
I just kept pushing without realizing how far gone I really was.
Looking back, I clearly see how a different path could have formed in that moment of dread. How I could have started painting the dots that would have connected me to where I am now just a little bit sooner, starting right there with that carpet kissing my soles.
But, just as we can’t connect the dots of our lives looking forward, I couldn’t see clearly where my path would go, so I soldiered on. After all, I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet. Maybe I was curious what I would find there.
Why is there a Rock at the Bottom?
Nearly a year later, I was in a car with my parents and a trunk full of my possessions, heading back to my hometown of Phoenix.
If rock bottom is supposed to be a good, long cry on the bathroom floor, praying for a voice from the heavens to tell you what to do – well, that ain’t my rock bottom.
My rock bottom was taking a hard fall off my bike and feeling no pain, no adrenaline rush, nothing except the warm drip of blood down my leg.
My rock bottom was the stress you might get when stumbling upon a wild lion with its teeth bared – except the lion was the buzz of my phone and my body was conditioned to fear it.
My rock bottom was watching the barren landscape between L.A. and Phoenix fly by as I left the life I knew for the life I wasn’t sure I wanted to arrive at.
My rock bottom was a minefield of black holes and implosions.
There’s a Light
If I were to throw a theme party for what happened next in my life, I would make everyone dress in white and pretend to be onions. And because that’s NOT a real-world party people would actually attend (or would they?) and a weird analogy to begin with, let me clarify: the theme of the next stage of my live was peeling away the layers of trauma, of numbness, of lethargy, of illness and of ambivalence.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had left behind the career I thought I’d always have, I failed at the career I tried to have, and I was left with a shell of my former energetic, creative self.
I had been exposed to deeper questions about life and meaning through my last real acting role, but I had pushed away searching for the answers away for years.
The bad thing was: I was starting from scratch.
The good thing was: I was starting from scratch.
In my attempt to start over, I did two things that made all the difference.
First, I started a blog called Urban Soul Retrieval, designing it from scratch and teaching myself web design in the process. I wrote about my experience in depth, connected with like-minded strangers on the web, and made sense of the decisions that led me to despair. My blog showed me that I could shape my story and reclaim it as my own instead of letting it write me.
The second thing I did was lots and lots of YOGA.
I had practiced yoga and off for a few years in L.A., as one does when you live in L.A..
It was the one thing in my life that made me feel really good. After a nice long stretch, I could suddenly feel a lightness that I hadn’t been able to access in so long. With a glimmer of hope coming back into my life, I followed my curiosity and enrolled in a year-long yoga teacher training.
It became the most transformative experience of my life.
At Yoga Pura (it translates to yoga “home”), everything was an experiment. It was about posing a question – who am I? – and using our minds and bodies to find clarity. My buttons were pushed, my body was stretched, and my mind was completely transformed.
It wasn’t the slightest bit fluffy or woo-woo either, in case you were wondering.
I’ve experienced the gamut of yoga studios across the country – from New Age to hardcore physical to cultish – and this one was unique. The studio owner and my main teacher was an army veteran, goatee-wearing, motorcycle-riding, chihuahua-owning man. He was blunt, extremely logical and smart, sometimes harsh, and totally empowering.
He led us to explore big things – existence itself – and small things – how to align your foot in Warrior II (and why that might help you with the big things). Through the physical practice, I built back the strength I had lost from my illness and neglect. Through the mental practice, I started to feel less like I was outside of myself.
And through it all, I was forced to face my truth for maybe the first time ever. I became intimately familiar with the swirling madness of my mind – and learned to identify thoughts and beliefs that had shaped who I had become, both the good and the bad.
We don’t often get the chance to sit and face our humanity head-on. To look at the dots that brought us to this moment we are in right now, and to draw the dots that lead us into the future we envision.
But, I’m forever grateful that I did face it – however gut-wrenching and hard it was – because what it led to was more than I could have asked for.
The Pen that Began it All
If you’ve made it this far, dear reader, you may be wondering where the entrepreneur part comes in? This is my entrepreneurial journey story after all! So, here we are at the very beginning…
During my year in yoga teacher training, I am at a coffee shop in North Phoenix and a man sitting at a nearby table is on the phone. He stands up looking for a pen to jot something down that the person on the other end is saying, so I gladly offer him mine. His call ends and he thanks me, returning my pen. We get to talking and he points at my computer and asks, “What are you working on today?” And I tell him “Just working on a graphic design for my blog.” He says “Oh, well perfect – I’m looking for a graphic designer! What’s your hourly rate?”
I threw out a number that I heard from someone once, and right there and then, he became my first client for a business I didn’t even have, but I sure as hell was going to figure out! The conversation was all-in-all maybe 5 minutes long, but it is the foundation of the business I have ran for 7 years now.
I didn’t have a plan to become an entrepreneur, but now that I am one, I know that it’s what I was always meant to be.
Fun fact: I met my husband a few years later the same way. This time, I was the one that needed a pen and he was the one to lend it to me. We’ve been together ever since, but that’s a story for another time…
We’re Back in Business
I continued to build a nice little roster of clients that kept me busy while finishing up my yoga program. I had always been a self-taught designer, so I continued to refine my skills and enrolled in a few online courses to learn the basics of two new design programs. By the time I graduated, I had enough work to go full-time with my business.
I moved into my own little studio apartment in Central Phoenix and felt a whole new me emerging – a creative, empowered freelancer who could pay my own bills through a business I had built! I felt the same rush when I signed a new client that I did when I sold my $20 beaded snake to the neighborhood boy or a handmade clothing piece from my high school website.
I started integrating my marketing experience into my design services, and soon after signed on a big retainer client. I became their Marketing Manager, leading their digital marketing program – creating content, managing social media, and developing strategies for big corporate clients. The CEO (and one of my favorite people) thought I would be a good speaker with my theatre background (and natural flair for the dramatic), so I began teaching content marketing workshops around the country.
I also continued to work with small business owners and entrepreneurs on their creative projects. From yoga teachers to artists, adventure coaches to creative, I took their ideas and brought them to life.
I observed what made entrepreneurs tick, what drove them to start their business, who they wanted to serve, and what impact they wanted to make in the world. And then I got to take all of that goodness from inside their heads and use my skillset to transform it into a platform – a brand, a website, a digital strategy – that would help them realize the deeper vision they held for themselves.
I noticed that the entrepreneurs who found the most success were the ones that were laser-focused on that deeper vision – on their purpose. They were more empowered, more assured of the value of their work, and more able to make an impact to those they wanted to serve.
I got a tingly magical feeling whenever I worked with entrepreneurs who were purpose-driven, because it was that much easier and fulfilling for me to help them bring their ideas to life. I knew I had latched onto something good…
The Big Leap
After 5 years with my biggest client, I made a big decision to move on.
I had become their Director of Marketing, was traveling to speak regularly and had built up a reputation as a content marketing expert. I had always been able to do everything as a contractor, so I could continue my creative work with entrepreneurs that I was so passionate about. But the amount of mental and physical energy it took had finally brought me place where I had a choice: go full-time and commit myself more fully or move on.
I chose to move on. I will forever be grateful for the experience because of the expertise I built in digital marketing and for the fact that I learned what it meant to bring ideas to life at a huge scale.
But, I had an itch to build something of my own, and for the first time, I had the confidence and know-how to create it for myself.
I wanted to write in my own voice about things I felt were important in today’s world.
To speak to women and work with entrepreneurs who want to build a business and a life they have always envisioned but for whatever reason have been held back.
I wanted to inspire people to uncover their purpose and bring it to life through their business.
To heal the parts of themselves they have ignored for so long.
To be aware of the traps that hide along their journey and know how to NOT fall into them
To integrate their life and business and become fully embodied and EMPOWERED
To create a platform for like-minded people across the world to share, connect, and learn from each other what it means to live and breathe their purpose daily.
That brings me to this paragraph in this very first blog post on my new website. This site is the manifestation of a lifelong journey. It feels like an accomplishment in itself, yet I know that it’s also only the beginning of my journey, and hopefully yours alongside me.
If I’ve come to learn anything through writing and reclaiming my own narrative, it’s that living life with purpose is the key to empowerment. Our purpose is shaped by our experiences. It’s chiseled by pain. Informed by joy. And brought to life through intention.
Our business can be the channel to bring our purpose to life and make an impact on the world in a way it needs it most and the way we uniquely can.
So thank you for being here and reading my story. Together, let’s create a life of meaning and significance. On purpose.