First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand/company.
Originally from Virginia Beach, VA, I graduated from Texas A&M University in 2009 with a Masters Degree in Architecture. I married my husband within months of graduating, and found myself with a professional degree that did not work with military life. So, I decided to start using the resources around me to find a career that meshed with my design background, no matter if I was stationed in New Orleans, Germany, or North Carolina. In my seven plus years as an Army spouse, I’ve worked in fashion, marketing, public affairs, web design, and most recently, branding, picking up unique skills at each duty station. I co-founded the non-profit InDependent in 2013 with fellow military spouses, and currently serve as the Creative Director. For that job, I had to give myself crash courses in branding and social media marketing in order to give our non-profit an online presence that matched our mission. Founding my own branding company, Leslie Brians Design, in 2016 was only the natural next step in my professional journey.
Why did you choose entrepreneurship?
I am a third generation entrepreneur - it runs in my blood! I always admired the freedom this life allowed both my parents and grandparents. I also saw firsthand the struggles and the victories they went through, knowing the pros always outweighed the cons.
How has being a military spouse affected your journey and your business?
Being a military spouse has forced me to be creative and define an unconventional professional path. While all of my close non-military spouse friends are pursuing amazing careers that correlated with what they got their degrees in, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I knew I had to do something different.
What were some of the big challenges you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
My biggest challenge was the inability to pursue my initial dream of being a preservation architect, so I had to figure out a plan B that matched my skill set. On top of that, two years after marrying the military, we moved to Germany, where being an entrepreneur/working off-post isn’t much of an option due to regulations and restrictions. So, I had to figure out not only how to tailor my skills for mobile military life, but also find something available on our little Army base that I could do. I became a volunteer for the MWR marketing department on our base, and that lead to becoming the Webmaster for the garrison. I overcame all of these challenges because I was able to see opportunity at each stage and capitalize on it.
What was the defining moment that made you start your own brand/company?
I became part of the Southern Pines Chapter of The MilSpo Project in 2015, which was one of the biggest catalysts for starting my own company. InDependent was about two and half years old at that point, and it had become its own animal - I found myself spending less time being creative and more time running operations. While it was fine at the time, I knew I desperately needed to flex my creative muscles in a new way. At the same time, I was surrounded by a group of amazing, inspiring military spouse entrepreneurs that were turning passions into professions. While I was doing that in a way with InDependent, it wasn’t 100% mine. All of this led me to branch out on my own, and that's when Leslie Brians Design was born.
Do you ever get stuck creatively? What do you do when that happens?
All. The. Time. I’m also my own worst critic, which can lead to burnout quickly. When I’m in a rut, I do what I did back in graduate school - I take a break. I go for a run, walk the dog, or even just go grocery shopping. I need mental breaks in order to be productive. That’s usually when inspiration come.
As we all know, starting a business takes a lot of time and dedication. What drives you to keep going? What inspires you about the work that you do?
I struggle with motivation often. Activator is one of my top strengths: I love to get projects started, but it’s very hard for me to keep the enthusiasm up because I put so much energy and emotion into each one. So I pull a lot of my encouragement from my core group of military spouses, most of whom are also in creative professions. They “get it” and always offer needed encouragement.
What are some pieces of advice you can share with other women entrepreneurs?
Find a tribe. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, even if you have employees; even then, its hard to express your struggles with those who haven't been in the shoes of a business owner. Find the people you can lean on and get advice from. Additionally, don’t cut corners when setting up your business. Dot the “i”s, cross the “t”s. Get a good accountant. Set things up properly. It will help you sleep better at night.
Who are some of your entrepreneurial heroes?
First and foremost my parents and grandparents, as both ran successful small businesses for over 30 years.
I also love what fellow Virginia Beach native Grace Bonney has done with Design*Sponge and her Biz Ladies series. She’s stripping down entrepreneurship in a new way, exposing the awesome highs and the really low lows that are a reality of being a small business owner. Its practical and pretty at the same time. If you haven’t picked up her book In The Company of Women yet, do yourself a favor and grab it. I have felt like taking on the world after reading just a few of the women entrepreneurs she features in that book.
What is one of the most proud achievements of your career this far?
Taking the leap and establishing my business. As I mentioned before, Activator is one of my top five strengths, and so I get the ball rolling, but finishing up is hard for me (I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner). So the fact that I actually jumped through the hoops to make my company the real deal is still shocking to me in some ways.
How do you want to be remembered?
Personally: A fiercely loyal, passionate, dedicated friend, wife, and daughter.
Professionally: A hard worker, always striving to make my little corner of the world just a bit prettier. Also, someone always connecting people, whether to another organization, company, or person, both in person and through my design work.
The wonderful Abi Ray has asked me to join the Legacy Magazine team as Director of Design. I was humbled when asked to join the team, and (I won’t lie) I was also a little terrified because I’ve never taken on a project as big as a magazine before. However, I’m definitely up for the challenge and am excited about how it will share the immense talent, grace, and knowledge in the military spouse community to a broader audience in a new manner.