Melissa Alam is an idea machine. Although she started her career in an agency setting after graduating with a degree in Marketing from Temple University, she soon discovered that a 9-5 life didn’t work for her.
“I started to feel drained of my creativity and wasn’t connecting to the brands I was working with, so I decided to quit,” says Melissa. “I’ve always been that person who jumps into a leadership role and I love using my creativity and energy to bring people together. That’s what all of my businesses are about.”
Although she didn’t have a plan, the week Melissa quit she ended up getting hired by a friend of a friend to redesign their website and agreed. She admits now that she really had no idea what she was doing, but trusted that she would figure it out, depending on trial and error to help her move forward.
Six years later, her web design and branding business, Melissa Alam, is thriving and she’s gone on to launch four other businesses since. Although not all of them have been successes, Melissa is proud of all of her endeavors, as they serve as a tribute to her hard work and determination. In fact, Melissa doesn’t really consider anything she’s done as a failure, instead choosing to see everything as part of the natural evolution of her own life.
“The failures are all just stepping stones to another success or idea,” says Melissa. “Some people experience a failure and just shut down and don’t try again, but I don’t think that’s the healthiest thing to do. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy and you have to learn to take the failures with the success.”
Role Models: You were just 22 when you decided to go out on your own with your own business. Did you feel prepared to navigate the business world or were you teaching yourself on the fly?
Melissa Alam: They don’t teach you how to launch a business when you’re in college, that’s for sure! Everything has really been trial and error for me. My rates were really low at first, but I knew I had to do that in order to get my foot in the door and build my profile. And since I had worked in account management, I knew how to set up structure and deadlines, which I have continued to tweak and perfect over time. I also went to a ton of networking events, which was really invaluable to me.
RM: That is pretty impressive! Although it must not have been easy. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in launching that first business?
MA: I am pretty open about the fact that I have struggled financially at times. I had trouble paying my rent, or buying food--I had to pawn jewelry once to cover some of these expenses earlier in my freelance career. But I made a promise to myself to never get into that pickle again.
RM: How did you manage to solve that problem?
MA: Changing my mindset about a lot of things helped. I restructured how clients pay me, making sure I always got a deposit up front rather than waiting for the full payment at the end of the project. I also invest back into the business when I can. And I’m big on manifesting my dreams and goals--it really works!
RM: Tell us a little bit about your other businesses.
MA: I launched Femme & Fortune in 2013, to fill a void for multicultural and ambitious women that I saw in the networking community at the time. Then I opened The Hive, a coworking space exclusively for women, in 2015. I opened it, in part, to create more networking opportunities and also as a space to host events. It was really great at the time, but it proved to be too much for me to manage and I closed it after 18 months. I also launched FearlessCon in 2015, which is an annual women’s conference here in Philly that’s geared towards creative and ambitious women. H$TL House is an intimate private event and work space--it’s actually my apartment. I’ve hosted everything from intimate chats, to dinner parties, to brainstorming sessions. It’s great and an extra source of revenue for me! I also have a new business idea in the works, which I am hoping to launch in the next month or so. That one is going to be travel-related and really fun. Stay tuned!
RM: Wow, that is incredible! You seem to have a lot of balls up in the air at all times. What’s the most challenging aspect of managing it all?
MA: It is a lot. I am really trying to give myself a break and to take a chance to actually relax a little. It’s tough to focus on so many things at once, so I am starting to say no to client work that doesn’t appeal to me and am instead focusing more on building up my personal brand. It really comes down to asking myself, “What is most important to me right now? What makes me the happiest?” I know it sounds cheesy, but happiness has really become my religion and it’s my main motivator now.
RM: How have you handled some of the failure you’ve experienced in the past? Closing The Hive, must not have been easy for you…
MA: I traveled a lot to help reset myself and see what else is out there. Failure is not the end of the world and traveling can help put that in perspective. Instead of acting on every idea that pops into my head, I’ve decided that I want to launch businesses that ebb & flow with my personal life and don’t necessarily anchor me to one place.
RM: Does your ambition and energy affect your work/life balance? How are you managing that?
MA: I realized recently that I overwork myself, which affected my last relationship. So now I make an effort to put the phone down and connect with friends and family when I have face time with them. Sometimes the best work ideas can spring out of experiences and conversations within my personal relationships.
RM: What advice do you have for other women who are thinking about launching their own business?
MA: Just do it! Just launch and grow and build from that. The only way you’ll know if you’ll succeed is to just go for it and learn through trial and error. Also, network a lot! Go to events that speak to you and make sure that you always leave your contact info with someone. Don’t be afraid to follow up and always be your best advocate.