designing a business with intention

Good morning. Today I’d like to start a new mini-series called Designing a Business with Intention as a riff on both the purpose of MML, designing a life with intention, and taking into account the business side of Jess LC. Though I don’t have any grand scheme for this series, I plan to share the intentions I have for the company and how that relates to my business strategy.

Lesson: Just because you can grow your business in one way, doesn’t mean that you should.

I’d like to start by jumping into a very important turning point for my company.

Summer 2008: During the closing ceremonies for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, I lay sobbing on a bed in at the Palms in Las Vegas at the end of my first day debuting my Soc Chic collection at Magic, a fashion trade show. That August marked the first year anniversary of working Jess LC full-time. Up to that point in my life, everyone who knew about my company in high school and college thought the story was inspiring and what I had done was commendable for someone so young. Though the first year of business was certainly no cake walk, I was still accustomed to compliments and sometimes astonishment from friends and customers.

Until the first day of Magic.

The shoe designer who generously allowed me to share his booth space at the trade show was a veteran in the shoe industry. His decades of experience made him a wealth of information and advice. But I didn’t expect his (mildly) critical feedback. Rather than tell me how amazing it was that I was self-employed at 23, he looked at my company and told me how I should improve and expand.

In retrospect, the event itself wasn’t that negative. But in that moment I felt scared, uncertain, and overwhelmed. I was just 23! Didn’t he know that all I had accomplished to that point was pretty dang impressive?

So after crying and having a pity party for myself that evening, I was able to recognize that he didn’t mean to point out all I was doing wrong, he meant to show me how to do the right things going forward.

Among his advice was to do trade shows to get more store wholesale accounts and gain industry recognition. This is a standard way to grow a business, especially in fashion, and many well-established brands have taken this route with success. So I convinced myself that I should do trade shows for Jess LC. All the while ignoring the fact that having done Style Max in Chicago twice with my sales reps, participated at Magic with the shoe designer, and visited NYC’s shows – I knew I hated doing trade shows.

For me, the costs, set up, long show hours, and tear down were tedious and unpleasant. Besides talking to buyers about my jewelry, there wasn’t much that I actually enjoyed about the process. But by the end of the trade show three days later, I talked myself into thinking that I might actually like trade shows if I had the ability to decorate the booth with lots of white marble tables, gray walls, and cute lamps.

This (almost) was the end of the story.

Spring 2009: After starting MML and experimenting with online advertising for a few months, I took a moment to reflect and seriously ask myself what I wanted my life to look like. Did I want to be doing trade shows for the rest of my life? The answer, white marble tables or not, was “no.”

What did I really, really want my life to look like?

I wanted to help people through sharing my message of making under. I wanted to have a Westie puppy named Elsie who hung out with me all day while I worked. I wanted an assistant to come in half a day and fill an average of eight online orders and ship them. I wanted to write gift messages for online Jess LC customers. I wanted to work with store buyers directly. And so, for the past year and a half I have done everything I can to make that vision a reality.

And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.* Each day I know that I’m on a path that comes from a deep place within myself. I could have easily settled for the shoe designer’s vision for my company, but by asking myself what I really wanted to do, I realized that just because you can grow a business in one way, doesn’t mean you have to. Furthermore, I cannot deny that in the future I might decide to do trade shows again, but this time that decision will come from my heart, not from others’ expectations.

* Note: My life is far from perfect, and I’m certainly not happy all the time, but I do feel peaceful and purposeful overall.

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  1. I love this series, too and loved hearing your story. That is so true – being mindful of what you want and not what other’s want for you or what has worked for them!

  2. Leigh

    I love trade shows, but then again I’ve always been on the other side of the aisle – trending and buying. I’ll have my first taste of being behind the table next year – perhaps my attitude will change!

  3. Brooke


    I love your blog and so excited about this new series. I too own my own company and growing my company in the direction of my personal goals is key to overall success. Look forward to taking insight from your series and applying it to my own company/life.


  4. megan

    Jess – thanks for sharing this! I came to a similar realization about my business. I always thought that doing the retail craft fair circuit was the way I wanted to run my jewelry business, but after doing shows in the rain every other weekend in 2008, I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted! Ironically, I’ve found that trade shows are the way to go for me. Even though it’s incredibly stressful, I like focusing on one or two big shows each season so that I can spend the rest of the year working in my studio, packing up orders, and designing new products.

    I think it’s important for everyone to realize there isn’t a single solution for running your business, and it’s ok to go after the solutions that fit your dream lifestyle.

    thanks for the great post!

  5. Thanks Jess for this post as well – I really like, that you write honestly about plans, dreams, success, problems, thoughts, doubts – this is more encouraging for me, than the full-of-success posts you can mostly read in the indie “field”.
    Eagerly waiting for this new series!

  6. Natalie

    This post is so inspiring to me! I actually just had a similar thing happen to me at my current job, where a co-worker suggested I open up more to the rest of the department, that it would be in my best interest. I had already had a long and exhausting day, so I was already crying my eyes out in the car on the way home! It wasn’t because I can’t take some constructive criticism, it was because I really don’t like my job, and I’ve been just trying to “get through it” until I can quit! So somebody telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing was not what I needed.

    I think I’ve also started to realize something about myself that reminds me of your feeling towards trade shows. So often, I try to convince myself I like something, or that I can learn to like something, that I really don’t like! I see other people making money from something that I know I could be capable of doing, and that makes me want to do it. But the only reason they can make money from that thing is because they enjoy it enough to do it all the time! Too often I end up stuck in projects that I don’ want to finish because I tried to force myself to enjoy something.

    I really love the last two paragraphs you wrote. It’s really all about making the life you want for yourself! Sometimes you have to do hard things, or things you don’t like, sure. But it’s best to try and avoid things you know you don’t like, that aren’t completely necessary! =)

  7. sandyb

    Jess, I had no clue you were… 25 now? Impressive girl, most definitely. But your story also brings up a great point – there is no age limit (or minimum) on success (as personally defined, of course) or happiness. I love, love your message here: what life do you want to live? Perfectly said.

    I ask myself that often, especially lately, since quitting my job to pursue goals, and think it’s the BEST piece of life and business advice to ask for.

    Great post.

  8. Thanks for sharing this with us, Jess. It can be really difficult to know how to grow your business and a lot of times it seems like it’s trial and error. I’m still in the process of figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t work and I will definitely revert back to your series when I need some advice or inspiration.

  9. I love this advice. We’d be much happier if we filled our lives with fewer “shoulds” and more passions. You’re a true success story — no matter where life takes you.

  10. Katrina

    Thank you for this post. It’s nice to hear how things develop and change, both the good and the not so good, when someone is growing their business. I look forward to reading more of this mini-series!

  11. Helena

    Very inspiring Jess, you work is really pretty and I love the approach you took for your business! Thanks for sharing

  12. Jadyn

    I loved reading this! It is very interesting to hear about a key decision you made for your business and your thoughts behind it. I look forward to hearing more!

  13. Emma Jo

    I really like this post. Contrary to you I’ve decided to focus on bringing in some money first (working at a company with finances..) before I start my business. But your vision is almost exactly like mine.
    I want to have a puppy who hangs out with me all day while I work. I want to fill an average of eight online orders per day and ship them. I want to write personal messages for online customers. I want a small shop in the same place as my office. I want to work with store buyers directly and I want to be my own boss.

    Keep up the superb work with this blog, I am now a regular!

  14. Emma Jo

    (and I want to be able to play whatever music I want at whatever level I want while working!!)

  15. Thanks so much for this post and your whole website. I really, really struggle with the best way to market my business. I also am not a huge fan of shows, they are grueling and stressful. I think that I should look at other ways to grow my business, so thanks for the advice.

  16. I love this post, it is so inspiring. Even if I am not looking into owning my own business, I do “own” my life. I really loved this quote, “What did I really, really want my life to look like?” It is so relateable and perfect for everyone.


  17. Good for you! I think it’s always important to remember that there is never just one right path. Just because someone else found success in one way, doesn’t mean that will be the way you’ll find your own success. I have a dream of owning a brick & mortar boutique for handmade goods – I’ve encountered a lot of naysayers, because the overhead is so high, but I’m still continuing towards that goal, because in my heart it just feels right. And whenever people see all of the great handmade goods I’m carrying in person, they respond really positively. I think all you can do sometimes is take advice with a grain of salt, evaluate it for your own business against your own goals and values, and then pick and choose what will work for you.

    Best of luck, I think you’re on your way!

  18. Patricia

    Thank you so much for this post. I just discovered your blog and have been sifting through all of your good posts. I love this because I feel like I am in such a similar place right now. I started my own business about a year ago (at 22) and it has been a rough year. I feel like the whole time I have been trying to follow someone else’s vision of success for my business. So today, I am committing to finding a vision for myself. No more banking on someone else to tell me how to be successful. And just to make you happy, I am currently sitting next to my ten month old Westie puppy. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, you should. She makes me smile 100+ times a day. Thanks again.

  19. Waltraud Saurez

    The beauty with internet marketing is that you can sometimes turn something of no cost at all into gold. However, we should never ignore the fact that the more money wisely invested, of course the greater the ROI and the better the possibility of you getting rich.

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