Today I, We, Us, celebrate a milestone moment for myself and my Creative Agency, The BluPen, having one year of full-time employees. Although I began my company in North Carolina in 2008, I would contract creatives based on project needs, not continuous work. Having dedicated creatives on my team that I am responsible for every day financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally hits different with enormous boss energy, survival, and worry. The journey and decision to move my company to Los Angeles came with many challenges and torturous nights of finite choices, many of which I didn’t plan. My move was about a personal career change in writing for film/television; however, being open to God’s plans manifested into three years of an upward trend in doing business exclusively with Black Businesses and women. If you’re wondering what’s so special about it and thinking people start businesses every day, you’re right, but I am not an everyday person.
I didn’t foresee the joy I felt waking up today because getting here mentally and financially was so hard. Yet, I’m grateful for every step taken and the many more ahead. This journey began in the wake of a tragedy in March 2021 in which I had a mental health disconnect after losing my baby brother. I wanted to give up and walk away, but so many people were willing to wait for me to get my life together. It took months for me to get myself together, and to have no help became an imminent threat to my ability to excel and produce at my best. My creativity stagnated and locked me up silently for months, even while working publically. I was not Chelaé, but my instinct to survive kicked in. I made personal sacrifices of having no car, not paying myself, reducing my outgoing expenses, staying in and not getting social in LA, and picking up extra projects, jobs, and gigs to make sure my team got paid. We are still climbing!
On May 17, 2021, I hired my first employee, Janet, as a Jr. Graphic Designer. She has been an integral key to the success of growing our business and creating the magic behind what we do. She’s taught me the meaning of leadership from the perspective that allowing a team to voice their ideas with passion is a huge step in trust and creates employee happiness and loyalty, which I’m grateful to have learned. Thank you, Janet, for all your hard work, creativity, and understanding as we grew together over this last year. I could not do this without you, and Happy 1st Anniversary!
In June, I hired Jade as a Jr. Motion/Web Designer. Our start was slow and arduous. She challenged me to learn more ways of communication and to inquire before I fire to understand employee motivation and how it connects to productivity. We worked through our challenges to create a harmonious relationship and positive workspace. She became the person I needed and depended on when I had no creativity; she represents my personal growth as a leader to listen, change and make decisions based on employees’ needs, not my own.
Having Janet and Jade forced my inspiration to return as I had no choice but to guide them in the needs of our clients. They learned from each other and worked together as a team. As a result, our triangle of creativity, inspiration, love, and support made days brighter for us all. Recently, we had tears in our eyes as she had to return to Johannesburg, South Africa, in April, but she remains with us in spirit and on project payroll.
I remember meeting with a bank for seed money. They said, “Your resume, business plan, background, and documents are superb, and you qualify; however, have you considered removing the word “minority” because your target audience has no money. We don’t see how you will successfully sustain your business or create revenue. We cannot give you a loan for your business in this market.” I responded with an unconvincing voice-shaking “No” as my gut punched me and my mind said, ” Don’t be stupid; it’s just a word change.” But it was more than that, so I walked away. I felt heartache as a black, creative, small business owner hearing quote-on-quote ALLY funders tell me I will not thrive or find value in my community’s need to build, brand, and market their business or write books that people would read. Being the only black girl in the room most often, the decision to specialize and focus on minority or black business development didn’t come from a place of exclusion towards other cultures and ethnicities. It came from the need to have someone like me with my background and skillset serve a community of people who deserve the best strategy, design, and investment of their money can buy and not feel ashamed at their starting point or lack of knowledge. After that meeting, the need to be intentional and clear about my direction became even more evident. Not knowing the sacrifices to come, the disappointments I’d feel, the projects I’d have to decline, the barriers and stigmas I’d have to break to get people who look like me to do business with me. Whew, my God! It’s all been worth it for the happiness to create and serve from a place of gratitude to work with Black Businesses, and this is why we share our story to encourage other entrepreneurs and celebrate us all today.
Thank you to all of our wonderful clients who made it possible for me to employ a staff for a year. Thank you to all the people who pray, refer, and support my team and me financially and with feedback, encouragement, and trust. I love what I do, how we serve, and the future we have as more people choose to work with us as we’ve already decided to work with them.
Wishing you all courage to Ink. Create. Love.,