Alumni Advice: What I’ve Learned From Running My Own Business

By Amy Shackelford (’14), Founder/Lead Planner at Modern Rebel & Co. in New York City

Amy Shackelford head shot photo

Amy Shackelford (’14)

When I was fresh out of Wake Forest undergrad, I decided to move to Philadelphia, PA to work on a three-person team, in a non-salaried position for a start-up company. My boss (another twenty-something) moved out of his apartment to give me his room (for free) while he paid the rent from his parent’s place 45 minutes away. This was after I turned down a salaried position at a public relations company in New York. You can understand why my family and friends had concern. My choices didn’t line-up or make anyone feel really comfortable to discuss around family holiday dinner tables. I never made good money off the gig, but it, like everything I’ve done post-college, taught me to truly hustle, which proved especially important when I decided to start my own business.

Now, three years into a successful alternative event planning business (Modern Rebel & Co.) that’s turning a profit and launching in another city in 2018 – I still don’t feel like I’ve made it (do you ever?). But I’ve learned a lot about the first three years of entrepreneurship and what it takes to navigate them. Here are some helpful tips, particularly if you are thinking about launching your own business:

  1. Experience is overrated. When I first wanted to “try out” the event planning field, I called and emailed people about shadowing, getting an assistant gig, etc. I even contacted an agency who told me it was impossible to break into the field. So, she nudged me to go back to public relations. I left the meeting determined to start my own company. I had zero experience. I just knew I had a good idea that I believed in. With my first client (my roommate’s cousin), I worked for free for an entire year and a half. Having zero experience allowed me to bring a fresh perspective to the event planning industry. My company is now a leader in the field because we have a totally unique approach. So, maybe it’s not that experience is overrated – maybe it’s misguided. Experience doesn’t need to look one way.
  2. A career path is a privilege. Through my company, Modern Rebel, we give back to local NYC non-profits, and we’re changing the event industry by supporting couples that don’t buy into the “wedding industrial complex.” I truly wake-up invigorated. It’s a privilege to have a career path and I don’t take it for granted. Too many people are just trying to get food on the table. I know many of those people from years working in the service industry while I was hustling doing my business on the side. Be grateful and tip generously.
  3. Mindfully network. I was very careful not to meet everyone and their brother for coffee or wine at the beginning. In fact, there are a few key people I did not meet until a few years in (purposefully) so they wouldn’t feel I was just schmoozing them for my own gain. Those people are colleagues and friends now, and they say they respect me more because when I did finally reach out, I brought something to the table, too.
  4. Don’t spend money on branding until you’re solid on the direction of your brand! I wasted so much money buying business cards and on website design before Modern Rebel’s voice was fully developed. Go the squarespace route and design it yourself the first time around — once the company’s brand is more set in stone, THEN spend the real dollars on custom designs. Trust me on this one.
  5. No matter what industry, your reputation precedes you. Be kind to everyone. Someone is always watching and taking notes. If you’re an entrepreneur, during your first three years, it will likely be mostly YOU working for the company without employees. That means that you are the brand in many ways. Remember that and don’t cut corners with folks.

Entrepreneurship is exhausting. Your work will follow you everywhere, and it’s almost impossible not to feel there isn’t always something you can do. You must decide if you’re up to this task. If you are up for it, take the leap – and recognize that even with all the preparation in the world, there will still be surprises because everyone’s entrepreneurship journey is uniquely his/her own. Dig deep!