What do you need to start your own successful business?
A dedication to your core values, and the ability to cultivate business relationships that push you forward.
That’s what I learned from sitting down with March’s amazing #LadyBoss of the month, Julia Bonner, founder of Pierce Public Relations. With every question I asked her, from overcoming challenges to building your personal brand, her message always came back to those central points. It was refreshing and inspiring to see how fluid her advice really was. It was as though every step of her journey and every strategy she champions centers around them.
Values and relationships.
Often in business, we see these two elements as softer tools for success. But they have far more of an impact than you may think, especially for someone seeking a career in Public Relations, but also for all entrepreneurs and young professionals.
Julia shares her journey, her obstacles and her advice on the relationship-building and value-setting we could all use a little wisdom on.
Here is what our Lady Boss of Month for March had to say:
1. For starters, can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey to founding Pierce Public Relations?
My first internship was at the DIY network where I was exposed to entertainment PR. From that internship, I landed my first career job at an agency in NYC that was entirely focused on television PR. That was really where I launched my career in Public Relations. Following that, one of my professors from NYU asked if I would come join his B2B PR firm.
Then I hit a turning point and wanted to move back to Nashville from New York City, and when I told them I was leaving they wanted me to instead start an office for them in Nashville. So I built that office there for a while too before branching out on my own and forming Pierce Public Relations.
This is why it’s SO important to care for the relationships you have before you go out to start your own business. The firm that I was at first was what gave me the start and support needed to eventually build my own firm. If you can build and maintain great relationships those people will help you succeed and not hold you back.
2. What inspired you to found a company and become an entrepreneur?
You have to be able to ask yourself this: In 3 years, in 5 years, could I see myself doing what I am doing right now? And if that doesn’t excite you then you have to start thinking about what to do next. There was no stake in the ground moment for me, I just knew there was something else out there. SO many entrepreneurs are problem solvers, so we are all eager to do things differently and find how to do it better. I also had a general passion for the kinds of clients we have now. I love what I do.
3. At Her Track, we write a lot about overcoming obstacles and “girl power” type of moments. Have you had any obstacles in your career that you think have defined you down the line?
I’ve definitely had to overcome doubt from others at different stages of my career. Everyone does.
When I decided to start my own firm I was leaving behind a really great position where I was before. So, when I first started telling people that this was my plan and this was what I’m going to do, one of my close family members was like “Why would you do that? How are you going to do that?” And that doubt hit me hard, even if it came from a good place. I started the company when I was 27, so as a young entrepreneur and a woman, sometimes the more established men I was meeting with would also instill some doubt. But it’s important to use doubt to fuel to your fire and know what you are capable of.
4. In your bio, you state that you’re passionate about working with philosophy-driven individuals and brands. Could you expand on that? What makes you gravitate towards those kinds of business relationships and why?
What we do is build brands for companies and people, and allow them to accelerate their goals. So when I first started the business I always knew that I liked people that have a value they care about and a message they’re trying to promote. There’s more to their platform. There’s a depth, a reason why they do what they do.
There have been business opportunities that have come our way that ultimately didn’t make sense for this reason, and we turned them down. We didn’t feel as excited about them as we do about brands and businesses that want to positively impact the world. We try to remain really true to working with clients that share those values, even if it means turning down certain opportunities.
But eventually, it works out better if you’re working with people that share your values. You know the reason why you’re doing it. It’s beyond traditional metrics. We are doing what we are doing because it matters.
5. What’s the greatest lesson you have learned from working with your clients and being “The Boss” whenever you need to be?
From a practical standpoint, as the boss, even if it’s just the team of one person, it’s so important to set standards for yourself and your team. If you are sacrificing the quality and the abilities of your team, you can really do yourself a major disservice by creating distractions and holding yourself back. You HAVE to determine the practical needs and expectations.
When it comes to clients, I’ve found it’s critical to push back. It’s ok to say hold on, let’s think about this to a client when you believe they aren’t taking the right approach that will really benefit them in the long run. It’s important to recognize your responsibility to present all approaches to clients and be confident enough to work in the best interest of your client. Respectfully say no. If you say yes to everything, your value greatly diminishes.
6. We have a lot of other young aspiring entrepreneurs in this audience, what advice would you offer them about starting a company and achieving success?
This has always been my Achilles heel, but I’d say be patient. Even though you may know your vision for your business and your life, it really takes the time to walk that journey every day and get there. It doesn’t happen overnight. Patience is really important, you know you’re capable and you can do it, but it takes time.
The challenge of comparison is so difficult for everything too. With social media, the ability to quickly access everyone else’s best moments can be really discouraging. Try not to compare yourself. I know it’s easier said than done, but every person has their own unique power and potential. So the more you try to mirror someone else’s journey you limit yourself. Your value is different than the person sitting next to you, and that’s a great thing.
7. As with founding any company, I’m sure you’ve experienced a TON of growth from the ground up. Are there any “growth hacks” you’d recommend for other small businesses or firms trying to take their company to the next level.
It’s important to ask questions and engage the people around you. There’s a really good chance that someone in your circle or connections has been through a similar hurdle. There’s no need to always try to reinvent the wheel. You can learn from others. It’s ok to ask questions. People who are invested in your success will want to share that advice and help you. Reaching out and getting their wisdom can really help.
Also, try to invest in opportunities that will help you build the right relationships with your business. Coming back to Nashville all of my connections were in New York City so I really had to build my business community from the ground up. Early on, I approached the Nashville film festival and asked how I could get involved and add value. I ended up volunteering with them doing PR and consulting. After a year of that, they asked our firm to oversee the PR for the whole festival. Even at first there wasn’t an immediate payoff, but in terms of relationships, it’s been an incredible organization to grow with.
Be willing to step into those opportunities to build long-term relationships.
8. As an expert in championing thought leadership and branding for your clients, how do you recommend other female professionals and bloggers share their voices and get their personal brands on the map?
From a starting place, set a strategy, vision, and goals for yourself. If you don’t know where you’re going it’s hard to get there. Create a roadmap right off the bat. There are so many ways to start building your brand, even beyond social media. Find other aspirational people that you look up to and share your vision. Learn from what they’re doing. It’s good to have other writers and bloggers in your network to cross-share and support each other. You can leverage each other’s platforms to build your audience and the visibility of your brand. There are so many events, conferences, and micro-communities online for specific passions. So if there is some kind of event you can go to for learnings and community building. Be visible and active, and build relationships.
9. Lastly, because I have to ask, what is your #1 personal branding tip for young professionals?!
It’s hard to build a personal brand, but it’s so important. It matters so much because having a strong personal brand allows you to unlock so many opportunities. People need to understand you and your values. If you’re starting out and trying to really determine what composes your personal brand, the first start is asking the people around you, “What are the words you think about when you think about me?” “What do people come to me for?”
Does it match up with what you want your personal brand to be? If it doesn’t you may have to make some adjustments. If it does, then you know where you’re headed. You just have to determine what your personal brand means and where you want to go from the ground up.
That’s what I would encourage people to start with, because you always have to start somewhere.
Success stems from knowing who you are, what you want and the kind of people you want to grow with.
Many of us with the entrepreneur mindset (myself included) are guilty of bypassing some of these super important steps. We think we can do it all ourselves without a community. We jump ahead. We speed up the clock. We skip into the logistics before we take the time to consider our values and personal goals. And the only person it’s hurting is ourselves.
Julia’s advice immediately made me take a step back and consciously make sure I wasn’t missing those steps myself because they’re SO important. The benefits are overwhelming, and Julia’s successful career journey is such a clear and shining example of that.
Defining our values and building our support system are things we dedicate so much time to doing in our personal lives, so why not do it in our professional lives as well?
Stew on that one for a second. And then make it happen.
Julia Bonner – March’s Lady Boss of the Month
BIO: Julia Bonner founded Pierce Public Relations with a passion for working with philosophy-driven individuals and brands. Over the course of her career, she has created and executed successful public relations, branding and social media campaigns for clients across the entertainment, health and lifestyle industries. She is a recipient of the Nashville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Nashville Emerging Leader Award and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s 30 Under 30 Award. She currently serves on the boards of the Nashville Film Festival and Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee. Julia holds a M.S. in Public Relations & Corporate Communication from New York University and a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Tennessee.
Follow Julia on Twitter: @juliabonner