Valerie Jimenez, Founder and CEO, Bold Entity
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
I grew up in France, Mexico, and the US, and studied fine arts in college. Prior to starting Bold Entity I worked as the Creative Director for a massive global plastic manufacturing company. I’m also a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10KSB program, which helps small business owners advocate for policy changes.
Early on, I knew I wanted to make my name in the marketing world, so I made the boldest move of my career and quit my job to start Bold Entity at the age of 24. Working with small and mid-size businesses seemed like the ideal way to apply my skills and refine my own marketing strategies….and I’ve never looked back. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with dozens of wonderful businesses – many of whom are minority or women-owned – and really make a difference in their profitability. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure, and I’m looking forward to the next 20 years!
Was any one person who was instrumental in helping you get from where you started out, to where you are now?
Honestly, it took a village to get me where I am today but two people were incredibly helpful in the early years: Lin O’Neill and Tanis Cornell. Though they come from different industries, both saw something that inspired them to take me under their wing and open up their networks. Their generosity with their time – and with introductions to the vast professional network they developed over a lifetime here in the Dallas area – put me on the path to success that I enjoy today. Whenever I think of how helpful they were, it makes me redouble my efforts to “pay it forward” by helping the next generation of business owners get a foothold for the future.
Is there a particular piece of advice you were given in the early days of your business journey that you still benefit from today?
I know it’s a cliché, but it also happens to be true: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. While my “hard” skills were excellent, if nobody knew about me, they had zero value! One of my mentors explained that the best way to integrate into a new community is to make yourself useful. Volunteer with established organizations. Offer to lend a hand to individuals, and do your best to get to know them. This is how I grew my network, and many of my business contacts have also become dear friends. A perfect example of this was one of my first clients: I delivered services that were well beyond the scope of our contract, and because she appreciated the extra effort, she told all of her friends and colleagues about me. I still get business from it, over a decade later.
What is the most important lesson you've learned about leadership in your business journey so far?
As a leader, you can’t always insure a win/win outcome. Sometimes you have to be the bigger person and allow a subordinate or client to claim the “win.” This can be difficult, but leaders have to play the long game. I used to be daunted by the hard choices, but now I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to make them.
What are the top three things you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?
From a practical point-of-view, I wish I’d know exactly how much money I should have in my bank account before starting out on my own! By the way, I’ve never met an entrepreneur who doesn’t say this.
Embrace the fact that you don’t know what you don’t know. This may be a strength. Why? Sometimes this leads to approaching things from a different perspective. You may discover that the “known way” was not the best way to do things, but it keeps occurring because people are often following a beaten path, instead of asking questions and approaching things with curiosity.
Lots of us think bigger is better, but that’s rarely always the case. Profitable is better, no matter how small the profit is.
In your experience, what is the most effective way to build a strong network of mentors and advisors to guide you in your business endeavors?
Make yourself helpful. Provide value to people before they provide value to you. When I was starting out, I was often the youngest person in the room so people constantly asked for advice on technology and troubleshooting on their equipment. I provided assistance without expecting anything in return, but was almost always "repaid" with introductions.
Ask lots of questions – again, people love to talk about their business, so they're quite likely to answer, often in excruciating detail!
Mentors will be drawn to you if you seem genuinely receptive to the wisdom they have to offer. If you remember that you don’t know what you don’t know, and are authentic in your desire to learn, you will always find your guides.
How do you determine when it's time to pivot, and what factors should you consider in making that decision?
This has been one of my biggest challenges. In my career as a business owner, I believe the saying “where there is a will, there is a way.” When something isn’t working, I tend to make changes to what I’m already doing, rather than start over completely. I usually start by trying to determine exactly why something isn’t working, then go through a mental checklist of “what ifs.”
Now I’m ready to iterate. I start with small adjustments and expand from there. For example, in the early years, I took all sorts of clients, but found my best success – and greatest personal satisfaction – with work in the B2B lane. After doing a competitive analysis of the sector I realized it offered tremendous opportunity, so I put my chips into this type of work and now exclusively handle B2B clients.
How do you stay motivated and inspired during the business cycle of ups and downs?
I get motivated by the people around me; nurturing close, authentic relationships isn’t only important in my personal life, it is the engine that powers my professional life. Not only are my close friends a sounding board for my own challenges and ideas, but helping them always opens new avenues for thought, and provides the “juice” that keeps me going. It’s also important to remember that the grass on the other side of the fence might not be the same shade green as mine…but it is still grass. Every business owner has opportunities and challenges – the key is to keep your eyes lifted to the horizon, vs. down on the ground, following a line that was painted on by someone else. That’s how you play the long game.
Maintaining a routine that incorporates self-care, like working out and healthy eating, is really important, too. On the flip side, I allow myself to be spontaneous and chuck the schedule out the window once in a while! Sometimes, just mixing things up gives me the fresh perspective I need to tackle the inevitable challenges that come my way.
Looking back, what one thing would you do differently if you could start your journey over again?
I would have started by building my network before I headed out on my own! I didn’t really know anyone in Dallas, and while it seems like a big city, it’s really an overgrown town, where who you know is the currency in trade. Looking back, I wish I had laid the groundwork by finding groups that I want to join, by volunteering, and by listening, listening, listening. Finally, I wish I understood then that technical expertise is not enough to create a business. You also need soft skills….and a lot of money in your savings account!!!