A decade is a lifetime in entrepreneurship. Back when I started my company, I was a bright-eyed recently graduated 24-year-old, engaged to my college boyfriend, brimming with optimism and unyielding determination. 10 years on and I'm still resolute in my pursuit, despite many unexpected pivots along the way. It's been the best journey yet and the thing I'm most proud of. My only regret is not having had the humility to ask for help–a coach, a mentor, a business role model–until a few years in.
As such, I'm sharing the 10 lessons I've learned through the years as atonement for my less-savvy twenty-something self. I hope it helps, and if you still have questions, let's talk online.
1.Prioritize Your Own Health and Happiness.
I always believed that entrepreneurship would be my vehicle to freedom. Executed thoughtfully and with care, it can and should reinforce your lifestyle, ideals, and how you want to contribute to the world. When I speak of freedom, I'm not referring to the version glorified on social media. I'll be the first to admit that much of my day-to-day activity includes fulfilling requests made by our clients and my team. So, the social media version of being your own "boss" is a false narrative. Instead, seek the type of freedom that creates a space for you to always work from a place of authenticity, and allow that work to act as an extension of how you see yourself in the world.
2.Create Your Own Definition of Success.
For years, growth looked like a beautiful office with chandeliers, high ceilings and a chalk wall (because...millennials, duh). I made it my reality and delighted in it for a bit. But once I "had it all", I realized I was chasing society's standards of what an established agency should look like. I had grown attached to superficial definitions of success by watching my competitors–without having any clue what they were bringing in monthly or what kept them up at night. I lacked meaningful measurements to draw comparisons from – the Internet will do that. Once I spent some time introspecting about my business, it became crystal clear that my utmost desire in life is to contribute meaningful work to the world and to create opportunities for others. Since then, I wake up every morning full of disbelief and amazement at the stories we get to tell each day.
3.Seek Mentors and Always Know the Ask.
One day, you'll look up and realize that it's up to you to seek and find inspiration and to hold yourself to your promises to others. This can be problematic because there's always a new way to be more efficient and there are constantly new ways to innovate. A mentor should hold you accountable and ensure you're always refining your skills. But the relationship should be mutually beneficial. Be thoughtful about how you add value to the life of your mentor and always be prepared prior to meeting with them. Know what the asks are and what you hope to gain during each encounter.
4.Continue Developing, Growing, and Learning.
In addition to mentors, I've enrolled in business development programs (Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses was one). If you skipped business school and went right into entrepreneurship, I can't stress enough how important this is. The truth is, some of your competitors may not offer an exceptional product or service, but have the advantage of a greater business acumen. Developing your business skills helps you to scale up or down based on business performance, not emotions. For example, I've had up to six full-time employees, down to two and back up again to six. I've realized that growth doesn't always have to be linear. It can look like expanding on your existing services and offerings. You can increase your monthly fee or add additional services to existing accounts. Ultimately, growth requires investment, which can feel risky, however worthwhile.
5.Be Ready to Sacrifice.
By 30, I was on my way to divorce while being forced to face some hard truths about my personal finances. I had neither traveled much nor cultivated new friendships beyond my college peers. I'd put everything into my company and I had missed out on many adventures and personal growth opportunities as a result. What's still true is that entrepreneurship can be lonely, so be ready to commit to radical self-care. So many of your personal and professional highs and lows will be determined by you, you alone and (if you believe) the God or Goddess you serve. The upside is that sacrifice can yield a life from which an abundance of joy, balance, and options flow.
6.Ask for What You’re Worth.
Through the years I've received some pretty amazing offers for full-time employment on political campaigns and within corporate organizations. In order to say "no" with confidence, I had to increase our rates so I'd sleep well at night feeling valued. However, it wasn't until year five that I added myself to our payroll. Again...nothing worth having is without sacrifice. I wish the 25-year-old version of myself had the confidence that I do in my 30's to fight for me, my team and my contractors the way I do now. Don't get me wrong, the pay gap still exists. I'm constantly reassessing our value proposition and trying to set a new standard for women who look like me. Frankly, we're taken advantage of the most in business. But it's a wonderful time to be alive. We have access to thousands of data points and digital content to allow our work to speak for itself.
7.Make Mistakes. Revel in Them.
It wasn't until year five that I enrolled in a business development program and acquired many of the tools and resources I needed to structure my back office in a meaningful way. As you can probably imagine, mistakes tied to finances, operations and administration are often the most costly. However, if you asked me today to get a business up and running within 48 hours, I'd gladly accept the challenge. The mistakes I've made through the years forced me to sit down, analyze, and ultimately continue to develop better ways to do business. I am grateful for that.
When we initially launched, our team committed to three networking events per week. Yes, it was exhausting. Yes, it paid off. Most of the contacts I have now are people I met in those early years. I never tire of picking up the phone and hearing, "I met you many years ago…" There is so much power in putting yourself out there. Stay open to the possibilities of budding relationships–they can flower and bear fruit.
9.Lead with your Heart, and the Money will Follow.
I kid you not, for every phase I've gone through in life personally, there's been a campaign or client I was able to channel that energy into in a positive way. In recent years, we've been able to shape dozens of stories around women, health, equity, access, community development and more. This isn't always easy when you're just coming out the gate. Once you become confident in your ability and certain in your values, you won't even blink at the opportunities that aren't aligned with you. I firmly believe in the law of attraction and Medley is proof.
10.Play to Your Strengths.
Recently, a friend encouraged me to slow down on acquiring new skills and focus on what's right in front of me. This became an opportunity to reflect on the past 10 years, while nurturing the best area to build upon over the next 10 years. What she was referring to was my need to cultivate my leadership skills. I'm grateful for having been able to steer this ship for so long, but my company only grows if I grow. As mentioned, I've always seen entrepreneurship and leadership as a path to freedom – I was being called "bossy" in kindergarten (before Beyonce and friends banned it). But good leaders grow both themselves and others and are constantly modifying their style of leadership.
Play to your strengths. That's how I plan to spend the next decade.
Did you know that xoNecole has a new podcast? Join founder Necole Kane, and co-hosts Sheriden Chanel and Amer Woods, for conversations over cocktails each and every week by subscribing to xoNecole Happy Hour podcast on Itunes and Spotify.
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There is a unique place where PR, technology and digital media overlap and in that place is where I thrive. In 2009, when social media was newly on the rise, I set out on a mission to marry traditional PR with the latest trends in technology. Since then, I've launched a boutique PR and digital marketing agency, Medley Inc. Through my work in the community, I have educated and trained more than 400 hundred girls and budding entrepreneurs in the areas of technology, social media and leadership development. I'm always eager to connect with others! Twitter: @AshleyRSmall.
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Many have wondered if one time is ever enough to see Queen Bey. Some argue yes. However, many of us on the opposite end of the spectrum, including myself, would disagree. Beyoncé's "Renaissance World Tour" is a universal yet varying experience for everyone who attends. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, the concert is "transcendent." For millennials, we have over two decades of her catalog that has served as the soundtrack for many of our lives and painted a personal portrait of our most coveted thoughts. Her music provides mental clarity and self-expression by serving as a universal language that has united fans from all walks of life through community, fashion, self-acceptance, and healing.
With a multi-layered approach to her artistry, just as she did on that winter day in December 2013 with the infamous digital drop of her self-titled album, she changed the game again on February 1, 2023, when she announced her world tour in support of Renaissance, her seventh studio album. Her cultural impact set the internet ablaze, with everyone trying to gather their coins, barter for presale codes, and figure out which cities to attend. The group chats were lit, and the Beyhive was stressed trying to get their hands on tickets.
Photo courtesy of Dontaira Terrell
Unfortunately, I was in that number. As the concert dates passed by and the one in my city drawing near all roads led to disappointment. With time ticking on the day of the Miami show and less than two hours to spare, my wallet bit the bullet, and I purchased three last-minute tickets, costing roughly $700.00 a piece (including fees) for me, my 9-year-old and 16-year-old nieces in Section 121 at the Hard Rock Stadium. With 10 minutes before showtime, we eagerly awaited the Queen to take the stage. A sea of metallic fringes, cowboy hats, disco fans, and western boots were in full effect and filled the entire stadium.
As the lights dimmed, a flood of emotions instantly overtook my body. It continued with each note she belted, along with nearly 50,000 roaring fans. The reverberating sound of the music through the stadium transported me from one era of my life to the next. As a teen girl in her bedroom daydreaming about her first love to blossoming into an unapologetic Black woman who is still on a road of self-discovery while learning to lean into the power anthem of "You won't break my soul." For over two hours, and with each set, I felt joy, love, peace, and a commanderie with fellow concertgoers. It was therapeutic as I danced like no one was watching and sang as if I were alone in my bathroom mirror.
There were no bars held, and I realized at that moment, "Nobody can judge me but me." The "Renaissance World Tour" proved to be so vast, and my Black girl joy was re-invigorated. It was magnetic and liberating, and I had to attend again, but this time, I needed to be up close and personal; I needed to be on the floor. In the days that passed, I watched more social media clips in different cities and asked myself if I would really splurge again to attend another Renaissance show.
Photo courtesy of Dontaira Terrell
After all, this would be my thirteenth time (maybe more because I lost count) seeing Beyoncé live, whether she was on tour with Destiny's Child, as a solo artist, or doing a live appearance. I contemplated for a while, but it worked itself out on its own. I was gifted two tickets and the next thing I knew, I was off to LA to attend another Renaissance show with floor seats at SoFi Stadium during Beyonce's 42nd birthday weekend! This time, things were different: no kids were allowed. It was adults only this go round.
Although the energy at the Miami and Los Angeles shows was empowering, infectious, and a celebration of life, happiness, and identity, they each provided their own unique experience. However, both concerts were what I needed for my well-being, leaving me with sore feet from dancing the night away, on vocal rest for the next few days from screaming at the top of my lungs, and on an indefinite high on life.
My introduction and love for Beyoncé began in 1996, while my older sister lived in Houston, TX, right before Bey hit the scene in 1998 with "No, No, No" as a budding R&B member. Her evolution twenty-seven years later as an international superstar and into womanhood has been an incredible journey to witness. As Mrs. Carter reminds each of us in the audience every night before the curtain closes, "I want you to remember this moment, where you're standing, who you came with, and take it with you. I hope you feel inspired."
I truly felt inspired, so thank you, Queen Bey. You awakened my inner child, and I will definitely remember these moments and take them with me.
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Feature image by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood