If you ever feel the need to be inspired by a group of fearless, smart, motivated and accomplished women take a quick stroll up Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, New Jersey. There you will find nestled away in a vibrant burnt orange and brown decorated office the ladies of BLEND Marketing Group. Eileen Cruz, Frances Queen, and Joanna Pomponio are the masterminds behind this innovative creative marketing powerhouse. The founders of BLEND could not have found a more befitting moniker for the company. Their personalities, talent, skills, and personality BLEND effortlessly! It was definitely more divine intervention than coincidence that they each landed in Suite 3.
As a new entrepreneur myself, it was certainly a pleasure to not only learn about the history and future of BLEND, but to also laugh over shared experiences, remember why so many of us transition to entrepreneurship (Good Riddance Corporate!), and chat like old friends discussing how to sustain your sanity via the work/life balance tango that so many of us find ourselves engaged in.
Take a short journey with the BLEND trio… you are bound to leave with a nugget or two.
TJ: What professional experience did you have prior to founding BLEND? How did you make the decision to become a full-time entrepreneur?
FQ: I was working as a Sales and Marketing Director. I decided to go out on my own because as a woman in corporate, although there have been many advances, there was little I could do to have a real impact helping others; especially in marketing. I really wanted to help people with their branding and strategy. You feel empowered as a Director, but there is nothing more empowering than to take control of your own destiny. You can take real control over what you want to do with your life.
JP: I have been a graphic designer for about 17 years, and I eventually hit a ceiling with how much I could grow within the company. After seeing several co-workers leave to begin businesses, I realized that “Hey, I can do this too.” Eventually I decided to spread my wings and leave the company. I took a chance and got an office, started from scratch, and things took off from there. Do I struggle sometimes? Yes, but I don’t think for a second that I would ever go back to working for someone else. I like the freedom to call the shots, and that is something you wouldn’t find in a corporate job. It is very rewarding for me.
EC: I worked at a graphic design company with Joanna. I worked there for 10 years as an Operations/Production Manager. I took on a leadership role there and figured if I was going to take on the stress of this role then I can do this for myself. It has been a little less than a year since I left the last company. In each job I have worked since I was 19, I have taken a leadership role. Leadership comes naturally to me which lends well to being an entrepreneur.
FQ: The biggest thing is to have patience and practice perseverance. Most people think it is hard to work for someone, but that is probably the easier thing to do. If you work for yourself ,you have to buy into your business every single day, and you have to commit to your business. There will be a lot of things to challenge you. You have to really rely on your skill set.
JP: I agree with Frances about trusting your skill set. In the beginning, it is difficult, and it can be very discouraging. You think, “Hey, I can’t do this, this isn’t going to work. How can I make a living off of this? Where is my next dollar coming from?” You have to trust in yourself and know you can achieve your goals. Working for yourself comes with responsibilities you don’t have when you work for someone else, but at the same time, it is also very rewarding.
EC: Take what you learn in corporate and apply it to the new business you are forming. I was able to adjust easily, but having a corporate background helped me become who I am today.
TJ: How was BLEND formed? How did you make the decision to come together?
FQ: Joanna and I both had our own companies and were working in an office as a shared space. We were both graphic artists, but had different skill sets. Sometimes there were clients that were a better fit for Joanna, and some of her clients were a better for me. So we would refer clients to each other. We both wanted to expand our services to offer a better range for our clients. I really felt we needed to have an Operations Manager.
JP: What is funny is as Frances was mentioning the need for an Operations Manager, Eileen was talking to me on the other end about wanting to start her own business working with graphic designers.
EC: When I was with my last company, I started thinking about going out on my own. I would outsource some of our work to Joanna; she was great designer. So I reached out to her and told her I was ready to start my own business, and she soon set up a meeting for the three of us.
TJ: So this is no coincidence. This was meant to happen.
FQ: Right! When I met Eileen for the first time, I gravitated towards her. I loved her business acumen. We had so much in common; it was like we spoke the same language. It was like someone was looking out for us.
EC: And everyone has a role. As a creative, you need to focus on that side of the business. While you may want to run the business, you may not have the time to.
JP: Well, Frances and I had this name and idea for awhile. But Eileen is really the one that pushed us to go ahead and take the leap.
FQ: We worked together on the logo, and we each really had a hand in getting everything started. It was great when Eileen came into the picture, because she was able to focus on the logistics while we focused on the creative. Sometimes with creatives, you need someone to reel you in, and that is what Eileen does. It just made everything so much easier. Our individual skill sets blend well together for our customers, and we are able to offer them a variety of services. We strive to be a one-stop shop. When people would come to us they would say, “I was working with someone else, and they just didn’t get it, but you understand exactly what I need.” This is actually how we developed the tagline “End Your Search for Creative Marketing.”
TJ: With so many other graphic design companies out there, how does BLEND set itself apart?
JP: We talk about this a lot. A lot of our clients share they have worked with graphic designers that just disappeared…possibly because it is only a side job for them. That will never happen here; we do this full-time and are dedicated to our work.
FQ: I think what separates us is accountability. We are accountable to our clients and each other. We want to make sure when our clients come here that they don’t go anywhere else. As women, we are also nurturers; so naturally we nurture our client’s business.
TJ: What does the future hold for BLEND?
FQ: We are actually starting to develop a social media management business line. We are now assisting clients with the development of social media marketing strategies and creating content. Our goal is to be a one-stop shop from developing marketing strategies and graphic designs to printing promotional materials.
EC: We are going to keep learning and applying what we learn. We always want to make sure we are up to date.
TJ: Let’s switch gears a little from BLEND to you individually and collectively as entrepreneurs. As women business owners, have you endured any negative client experiences due to your gender? How did you handle them?
JP: I have had some negative experiences. Some men try to talk to me to a certain way, and I have to be more assertive and remind them that just because I am a woman doesn’t mean you can’t take me seriously.
FQ: For the most part, times have changed, but every now and then you get a setback, but you have to still get the work done.
EC: You have to sometimes show men what you are capable of. Sometimes as a woman, you have to show you have the capacity to really get the job done.
FQ: Sometimes being women is advantageous. We have had male clients that believe we know what they need for their businesses because we are women. So it goes both ways.
TJ: How do you balance BLEND with your personal lives?
EC: A lot of our work is online-based, so we have the ability to work from home if necessary. We are all accountable, so we make sure the work gets done. We also try to take time during the slower periods.
JP: I agree. We are virtual, so we can work from anywhere. For example, we just traveled recently and worked from the hotel. It is definitely a luxury.
FQ: Sometimes I feel like I work more now than I did when I was in corporate America. I think Kevin Hart said it “Everyone wants to be a boss, but no one wants to do the work that comes with it.” I might be my own boss, but I am here longer and have to come in on weekends.
JP: Sometimes it can be difficult with family who just don’t get that just because you are an entrepreneur doesn’t mean your schedule is always flexible. You still have work that needs to be completed.
EC: People are always saying “you have freedom”. But, you are working 80 hours a week for yourself, so you don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else!
TJ: Very true statement. This has been a pleasure ladies. Before we conclude, do you have any final words of wisdom for fellow Passionistas?
EC: Keep your eyes on the prize. Don’t let fear stop you.
JP: Growth is outside of your comfort zone. You have to be uncomfortable to grow.
FQ: There will always be uncertain times. There is greatness in uncertainty. Don’t take your eyes off the goal, it doesn’t matter how you get there. It is important to commit to your goals every single day.