From Employee to Entrepreneur

It has always been your deepest desire to build your dream—own your own business—but you have a job. Maybe it’s not even just a job. Maybe it’s actually a successful career in which you’ve invested many years. However, there’s this gnawing feeling in your soul telling you that you aren’t where you truly really want to be, and you keep dismissing it because you consider yourself lucky to even have a job in today’s economy. Yet, the desire to build your own dream just won’t go away. So, where do you start? How do you transition into building your dream? Should you just walk into work tomorrow, and fire your boss?

Monique Greenwood was the Editor in Chief of Essence Magazine when she resigned, and took a chance on building her boutique Bed & Breakfast brand, Akwaaba, fulltime. However, she didn’t resign from Essence before getting started. As a matter of fact, she actually became a master of juggling her publishing career, entrepreneurship, marriage, and motherhood.

In 1995, while still an editor at Fairchild Publications, Monique and her husband purchased the Akwaaba Mansion property in Historic Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, as a second home, with their savings. They eventually moved into the mansion, and then rented out their first home, turning the property into a revenue stream. Since the mansion had also become their residence, they had very little start-up costs. However, in order to make it truly feel like home, for themselves and their guests, they invested over $500K in restoration, renovations, and interior decorating. The Akwaaba Mansion, now a fully restored, 1860s Italianate villa Bed & Breakfast, has been profitable from day one.

Monique didn’t embark on this transition alone, and stated, “It’s ok to ask for help when you need it, you do not have to wear the superhero ‘red cape’ all the time. It’s very critical that you have people who have your best interest at heart on board support you. Have a family meeting; get your family’s buy in, be specific about what you will need help with, and create a deadline for yourself and the people in your support system.”

Ironically, Monique opened the Brooklyn Akwaaba location on July 4, 1995 however; she didn’t strike her independence from her publishing career just yet. Six years after launching it, while at Fairchild, Monique became the Fashion Editor at Essence Magazine, and juggled both careers for six additional years. She remembers her biggest challenge, during this period of her life, was achieving personal balance, as she rarely had time for herself. She said, “I had to remember to give myself, to myself, before I give myself away to others. I had to really prioritize, and learned to say “no” to things that drained me, so that I can say “yes” to what matters most to me.”

On the weekend of her 40th birthday, the feeling of not having what mattered most to her came to a head one morning on the beach, in Cape May. She took stock of where she was in her life, and began crunching the numbers to identify how much money she needed to make in order to be “okay”, without her full time salary. That same weekend, Monique and her husband were looking for a home to retire in on the shore, and on the credit application she wrote down “Innkeeper”, rather than “Editor”, on the line that asked her occupation—in this moment she decided that she would resign from Essence when she returned to NY, and did so within one week. When asked what really inspired her to make that gutsy decision Monique asserted, “I had always considered it, and finally decided I needed to give just as much as I’ve always given to my employers, and even more, to my own vision. It was time to build a legacy that I can pass down to my daughter, to have and run, if she so chooses to run it when she gets older.”

This marked the beginning of a new chapter in her life, with new challenges to overcome. The first thing she did after she resigned was take a business course at the Brooklyn Economic Development Corporation, where she learned how to write a solid business plan—up until this time she’d been operating without one, and decided that it was time to really plan out her future properly.

Monique’s strongest recommendation to anyone who has a dream, works fulltime and is struggling to take action is, “Start tomorrow–do it on the side. Build it to a level you feel confident in stepping away from your current job, to do it full time.” It has been 10 years since Monique made the life changing decision to exchange her corporate job title, for ‘President & CEO’ of her own business—and she’s never looked back. The equity accumulated on her 1st Akwaaba location in Bedstuy helped her expand her portfolio of Bed & Breakfast ventures to now also having a location in her home town Washington DC, two locations in New Jersey, and another 25,000 square foot, boutique spa resort slated to open in Pennsylvania this summer.

Successfully transitioning from employee to entrepreneur takes careful calculation, research, and is a matter of courageously seeking ‘what matters most’ to you. Monique defines that as, “The confidence to define success on my own terms, and the nerve to pursue it.” She says, “Doing your own business is your measure of control over your life. You will work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and you probably won’t have any greater satisfaction.”

Christine M. Coley is a Brooklyn-based, multi-market business owner in the fields of Real Estate, Public Relations, and Direct Sales. Contact her at [email protected], or twitter @chrisintheapple

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