My Story: The Intersectionof Business and Design
Hi, I'm Teri Ambrose. Welcome to my website and blog.
I remember the first time I got excited about entrepreneurship. I had no idea about business, heck I had very little idea about life—I was only 12 years old. But one day I got an idea to create recipes and sell them through the classified ads section of the newspaper. My business plan? Five delicious recipes for only $3. My plan involved customers mailing me their money, and me mailing them the recipes. I don’t know how or where I got this idea, but I remember laying awake at night making detailed plans of exactly how I was going to make this happen and—most importantly to my young mind—exactly how much money I was going to make! But alas, the business was a bust, it never really even got off the ground, but my dream of entrepreneurship remained and grew.
At 21 I started a jewelry design company. I crafted semi-precious stone necklaces, earrings and bracelets, spending evening hours in my small workroom building up inventory. I sold my creations to family, friends, coworkers and even occasional strangers who liked the jewelry I was wearing and wanted me to make something similar for them. My business was tiny, but it taught me about accounting, inventory control, cash flow, and even importing since some of the gemstones I purchased were from far-away countries. Gradually my jewelry-making interest waned and I focused more on building my career.
I got lucky in my career early on and at 25 I was the business manager of a revenue-producing research facility within the University of Arizona. I learned in-depth how to run a business, albeit one with funding from state government to makeup for times when revenue was lacking. Eventually my husband’s job transferred and we moved to Mesa, Arizona. I decided I wanted to do something more creative so I went back to college and got a degree in graphic design. After graduation I again found myself in a great job, making good money, with nice benefits too. But despite what it seemed, my life satisfaction was low. I had two young children and found myself yearning to be more present for them. I wanted to be there after school, be with them if they were sick, and be able to go to school events whenever I wanted to without having to ask “permission” from someone. I still had career aspirations, but feeling like I was failing my children was heart-wrenching. I knew I had to make a change.
I started to daydream about the possibility of going freelance with my own graphic design business. Problem was, I had no idea how I was going to get clients. I remember being so torn about which path I should take. Should I keep the job I enjoyed and made good money at, or should I jump into a freelancing business where I had exactly zero clients and no idea how to get more? One evening the decision became much easier. Earlier that day, feeling frustrated and indecisive, I asked God/the Universe/whatever powers-that-be for a sign—a clear direction on what I should do. Should I stay in my job or try to build an income from freelance graphic design? That night I attended a networking event where they did an ice-breaker to help us get to know each other better. We were asked to write on a card something interesting about ourself then pass the card to the person directly across from us. Without putting much thought into it I simply wrote “I’m a graphic designer.” When the woman across from me gave me her card I knew I had my sign. The card read “I have a dream of starting a businesswoman’s newsletter, I just need to find a graphic designer.” We both laughed at the irony and a few weeks later she became my first client.
I eventually learned how to get more clients the old-fashioned way, attending networking meetings, making cold-calls and asking for referrals from past clients. There was no such thing as the internet back then, at least not in the readily available way it is now. My business eventually grew to the point where I hired an assistant, and even expanded to using other freelancers to fill-in if jobs started to pile up. But more importantly I was living the dream. I had replaced my previous income, had a business I was proud of, and was working from a home-office so I could be there for my kids.
I ran my business, Graphic Design Group inc., for about 10 years then started to get a bit restless. My children were teenagers when an opportunity came up to purchase the rights to a magazine I had developed for a client five years previous. It was another tough decision. The client’s business was on the verge of failing, yet the purchase price was still significant for me. Should I play it safe or take the leap? I went back and forth for days. Finally I decided to go for it and in June 2009 I became the owner and publisher of Arizona’s Finest Wedding magazine. I’m not going to kid you, it was really hard. The magazine was a mess and many advertisers were used to getting their ads for free or highly discounted. Fortunately, however, things all worked out well. One by one, I hired an exceptional team to help me and we built the magazine into a beautiful, effective publication we all poured our hearts into. As much as I was delighted with the magazine, I was even more delighted—honored in fact—to work with this amazing team of dedicated young women who helped make it happen.
Seven years after purchasing the magazine, we’d significantly grown our revenues, page-count, and advertisers, and created a highly successful lead-generating website as well. But despite these successes, plus earning more money than I’d ever made previously, I knew I was ready to move on. In June 2016 I sold the magazine business to a publishing company for almost 10 times the purchase price.
Enjoying the Benefits
After selling the magazine business I took a couple years off to travel, enjoy family and check off some adventure items on my bucket list. Soon the entrepreneurial urge came back and ideas wouldn’t stop coming. But entrepreneurship isn’t just about great ideas. In fact, that’s a very small part of what it takes to make a successful business. I hesitated to jump into anything too time-consuming or client-demanding, so I did something even better—I started volunteering with SCORE, a national non-profit organization funded by the SBA with volunteer mentors who provide free consultation to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. I had the opportunity to mentor dozens of business owners and upstarts. My first year with the organization I mentored clients in all areas of business, but later moved into a Subject Matter Expert role to help with the high demand for Digital Marketing expertise.
I still volunteer for SCORE and now, through my personal blog, I aim to help even more people. The freedom, passion and enjoyment one can have by owning their own business and being in control of their income, time, and life decisions is something I hope to bridge for all aspiring entrepreneurs.
Thank you for reading my story and I hope you enjoy my blog. I wish you all the best as you travel down your own road of entrepreneurial adventures!