You are what I would describe as a local powerhouse. A girlboss. Tell me how you got here.
It’s been messy.
The best stories are.
I was born in Laramie, WY in 1989. However, I grew up with my parents and sister, who is 5 years younger than me, in Casper WY. My parents had an edge to them, they didn’t fit the mold. My mom was creative and had an eclectic taste in art and music. My dad was very technical, an engineer, but still very independent and strong in his resolve, regardless of it is was the popular opinion. He encouraged my sister and I to trust that we could do whatever we wanted. He has been, and still is, my biggest cheerleader.
Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. Or a published author of some kind. In high school I was part of a journalism club, and became the co-editor of the school paper. That’s when I realized that what I really wanted was to be a journalist! I joined the University of Wyoming (UW) as a journalism student. I wrote for UW’s paper, The Branding Iron, and I was very passionate about it. I was also taking anthropology classes as electives, and I loved learning about other cultures. In 2009 I went to Malta as part of the summer abroad program, and that experience was transformative. I took an Anthropology of Food class, and I got to meet farmers and people who were harvesting salt from the Mediterranean… I thought “I want to write about food! Forever”. But, I came back to Laramie. Through a series of events, and some stupid decisions during those formative years… (smiles) I somehow grew up and realized it was time for me to get out of Wyoming. So I moved to San Diego and enrolled in culinary school. I had started dating my long-time friend Jon, who lived in Charleston, SC, and I ended up moving there. We got engaged and I finished culinary school in SC. In 2011 we decided we were going to come back to Laramie, and I went back to school to get my journalism degree. It was a matter of pride at the time, you know? I had approximately a year and a half left, and I started baking cakes and selling them from my house at the same time that I finished school. I would go to bridal shows and book clients that way.
Two thousand and thirteen was a big year. Jon and I got married in January, and I graduated in May. In October, I opened “Sweets”, the downtown bakery. I owned it for two years; it was hard work, and a lot of it was finding out what owning a business is all about. I fell in love with the details of running a business, and being part of a community of business owners. I started volunteering with Laramie Main Street, helping Trey (Sherwood*) with the organization and marketing of events. In 2015 I went with her to my first National Main Street Conference, and that is where, as I like to say, in jest, I “drunk the Kool-Aid”. I became totally excited about the idea of working with businesses, helping them create a brand and find out what excites them, building partnerships, and creating a place in the community that can be a part of people’s memories while they are in town.
I was at a juncture, and I knew that I was not going to have the bakery forever. Sweets was at a point where I was either going to have to hire and train more people or I was going to have to let it go. My body was capped, and my heart was not in it anymore. Jon told me that the daughter of a co-worker was looking to buy a food business, so I approached her with the offer to sell her the bakery. It was the fall of 2015 and, within 6 months, Cody would become the owner.
For the last year and a half I have been wearing many hats and I am not clear on what my title is, what my job is. I am still exploring that. I have been contracting with Laramie Main Street as their Marketing Director, and worked on several projects on my own, including Marketing with The Curiosity Shoppe and The Local Crowd, and as a business coach with other organizations.
What is a Business Coach? Is marketing a part of it?
It may mean something very different for different people. For me, it is coming together with business owners who are stuck, or confused, and are trying to find their identity. Yes, marketing is a big hurdle for some business owners, and I help them create campaigns based on their needs and goals, and then let them run with it and execute the campaigns themselves. In most cases though, what business owners need is help figuring out what’s the next step: do they need to “clean up” their social media, hone in on what services to offer, get their personality into their business, define their audience...? The core of my work with them is answering that question and putting together strategies to take that next step. Whatever that means for them. It is pretty easy from there. I help them find what excites them, how to monetize it and turn it into a business.
I noticed that you surround yourself mainly by female figures and business owners. Have you always?
Not at all. I was always more like one of the guys, actually. Growing up, I used to hang out with my dad and my uncles. My husband was attending WyoTech when we met, and I would regularly find myself surrounded by a bunch of greasy mechanic guys… and I was totally content with that. Looking back, I think what happened to me is that I always felt very judged and insecure around women, and it was only as an adult, building connections, that I started to feel drawn towards women. But I also realize that it is not just any kind of women. I feel drawn to very strong, driven women. If you are a woman who sits around, who is only interested in being pretty or having a pretty Instagram account, and who doesn’t have big, crazy goals in life, I will probably feel quite uninterested, or I would even feel a weird, 13-year-old kind of insecurity. Women who are passionate about what they are doing in life, and men who support those women, those are my people. I want to be with them, they make me feel excited to be alive and be part of the community.
Do you mean that being pretty and having a pretty Instagram account is not compatible with being driven and having crazy goals? Because it seems to me like all of those apply to you…
I want to be powerful and successful, and go after my big goals. But I want to be able to dress however I want and do it in whatever way I want. The how is not relevant. If you can do something, then do it. If you want to get something done, you figure out a way, and it is nobody’s business. I, for example, don’t like being the loudest voice at the table. I don’t like being the center of attention (and I got that from my dad). But I will get the job done. And if I don’t want to do something, I won’t do it.
Talk to me about the man vs woman role, especially as business owners. Do you believe that men and women are capable of the same things, that they can both do the same things, each in their own way? It almost seems like, in this society, women have to become men to accomplish anything.
I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to be one of the guys anymore, like when I was 18 years old. I am a woman and I don’t see that as a problem. I see that this conversation is necessary because of where our society is, especially with what the current situation is, but I just wish gender wouldn’t be a conversation we have to have. Women approach business differently than men, as in we are not as aggressive in asserting our ideas. We don’t ask for things in the same way. That shouldn’t matter, but the reality is that it does, it matters, and when we bring the female persona, the wife, the mother to the table, it doesn’t get things done the same way. And if we don’t bring it, we are the “bi@#*h in the office”. Gentleness is not getting us anywhere, and it’s time we start charging what we are worth, asserting what we need, and finding ways to be effective managers outside of that gentle self. I am not saying we need to become bad people, but we continue to do this to ourselves...
When I had the bakery, I found that some people didn’t care about my gender. Others put me on a pedestal of sorts, but then you have to wonder, was it because they saw the value in what I do, or is it because I am a woman doing it? But then there were others who didn’t take me seriously because I was a woman; they would refer to me owning a business as “cute”, although I was lifting 50-lb bags of flour and working long hours… as if they thought I was baking in heels and a dress. And that I was young didn’t help. They would also ask irrelevant questions, like things regarding kids. They would never ask a man that. My husband doesn’t discuss those things with his coworkers or clients. Most pastry chefs in the world are men, and I bet that not a single one of them has to hear questions, in the form of a guilt trip, about the decisions they have made regarding their families. I am sure not a single one of them has had to hear “oh, that’s cute” when they say they are pastry chefs. Because at the end of the day, it is none of your business. That double standard is very real, and I wish it wasn’t. It is so frustrating.
Your current, newest project is something you’ve created together with Rachel LeBeau*, from A Heart-Led Life. Tell me about how the project came to be and what it is.
I believe you are going to be featuring it next week, so I will give you the general scoop.
Rachel and I both came out of the wedding industry, and we wanted to do something more powerful for women. We wanted to create something to fuel the fire that so many women have; an avenue for those on the edge of something big. So many women have big ideas, talent, passions, but they don’t materialize it or fully realize it. They feel they don’t have any support, that they don’t know how, that they can’t… We want to help them go from there to “I am going to do that, I can do that, I have confidence in myself”.
So… we just launched a workbook and class, which will include 1-on-1 coaching, access to a closed Facebook group and other treats, to help business women jump into their next great idea.
You never stop surprising me, Jess…
You know, it is all part of the same thing. That is why the title you give me doesn’t even matter that much. Not that I don’t take my work seriously, but what matters most to me is being a part of a community that creates a space for women, and men, and any creative person… or anybody with a passion, really, where they can do what they want to do. Where they can feel excited and lifted up and invigorated about their ideas. A space where to have that feeling you get when your heart raises because you realize that “Oh my god I’m doing it!”, which to me is the best feeling in the world. I want to create something that brings somebody else joy, and makes me feel lifted up at the same time. I want to constantly be a part of this ecosystem, where awesome stuff is being built and sustained, where people are building each other, not knocking each other down, not being cruel. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter if you are swinging 50-lb bags of flour or wearing high heels in the office. IT DOES. NOT. MATTER. What you are doing is awesome. You deserve to know that what you are doing is awesome. And you deserve to keep doing it and to feel comfortable, wherever you are in the process.
I don’t know how to turn that into a title, but that’s what I want, what I hope for Laramie. And for everywhere else too.
Pretty powerful. Where do we start?
This is the one thing you need to know: If you are struggling to take the next step, know that everybody is fighting the same battle, and nobody is talking about it. Especially if you are a business owner. I want people to start talking about it. You are not the only one who feels like you are doing it wrong. And I want to start that conversation.
*Lightfolly will be interviewing and featuring Trey and Rachel in future posts. Stay tuned!