You Don’t Have to Know Everything. There is a misconception that you have to be an expert to start a business. I have first-hand seen this mentality get in the way of success.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Devon White.
Devon White is the Founder and Owner of The Confidant Collective, offering affordable content marketing services to businesses across the U.S. She began her marketing journey while working in the fashion industry and living in Southern California. In 2019, she launched The Confidant Collective with a desire to meet the marketing needs of business owners in a cost-effective manner. Devon specializes in website design and SEO, copywriting, social media management, PR and press, graphic design, email marketing and much more. It is her mission to help business owners reach their goals by offering a comprehensive, personalized marketing approach that has meaningful impact.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in sunny, Southern California, Huntington Beach to be exact. I was raised by parents who grew up on the East Coast and we split our time between California and Maine. It instilled in me a love of travel, the ocean, and reading. Long plane rides give you plenty of time for reading and writing. I grew up with some traditional values and hobbies. Throughout my childhood, I was taught lessons about faith, character and service. I attended private school where I was taught to write in cursive in first grade and still do today. I love hand writing letters to friends and family as it seems it is becoming a lost art. My family values and faith shaped each chapter of my life and set me on the path I am walking to this day.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Without a doubt, the book Goals by Brian Tracy helped me get to where I am today and completely revolutionized my life. It was gifted to me as a graduation gift by my Business Management professor at Westmont College. It was just what I needed to help me open my eyes to what was possible as a young adult and a soon-to-be entrepreneur. His entire philosophy on setting goals and taking the risks necessary to bring those dreams to fruition is inspiring. I dog-eared and highlighted that book until I was able to accomplish everything that I thought would take me 10 years, but in reality, it took me just three. I continue to recommend this book to anyone who is looking to make a big change in their life, even if they don’t know what that change should look like.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think there is something inherently selfish about the belief that making a difference has to be some huge world-changing thing with national recognition. Making a difference is something you can do every single day in your immediate community. Once you have that realization, it doesn’t matter what your career looks like. All that matters is how you make people feel.
Prior to launching The Confidant Collective, I was on the path to become an occupational therapist. I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others and at the time, the only way I knew how was to physically help those who were physically in need. I hadn’t taken into account that my skill set didn’t exactly line up with this kind of work. Over time, I began to understand that making a difference can be done in any line of work. It can be done every single day in the little decisions we make. At The Confidant Collective, my goal is to make a difference in the lives of my clients by supporting their vision for their business and helping them bring those goals to life.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I own and operate The Confidant Collective. We offer affordable marketing solutions for businesses across the U.S. The biggest thing I am striving to change is the unethical treatment of small businesses by large-scale marketing agencies. While not all marketing agencies are unethical, I’ve seen firsthand how many of my clients were taken advantage of and it breaks my heart. Business and entrepreneurship is at an all time high, which is incredible. There is so much opportunity and businesses will always need marketing support, but it shouldn’t break the bank. I don’t care if you are a multi-million dollar business, or just launching a startup from your basement. The price of digital marketing should not be inflated based on the client. Fair is fair. Your worth is your worth. I aim to provide personal marketing management that is high-quality, yet still affordable and fair.
Large scale marketing agencies often have low retention rates. Clients leave because they don’t feel the value of the services offered reflect the price tag. At The Confidant Collective, we build lasting relationships with our clients and welcome the opportunity to form personal relationships and build comprehensive, affordable marketing strategies. I don’t believe in high-cost, monthly retainers that leave clients wondering what they are even paying for. Our clients pay for the work that we do. It’s that simple.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Before I started my own business, I had been working as a Creative Director for a company who had contracted a marketing agency to handle web development and SEO on their behalf. I was responsible for managing that relationship. It wasn’t long before I realized that this agency was severely overcharging and under delivering. They nickel and dimed the client for every little thing, racking up a hefty invoice month after month. It was ridiculous! It wasn’t long before I started seeing this happen with web developers, SEO specialists and full-scale marketing agencies across the U.S. It came to a point where I couldn’t sit quietly anymore and watch it happen.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
When I was in college, I had people who encouraged me to take the creative route, to go into writing, photography, and design. I would always push those recommendations aside and keep my head down as I worked toward my degree in the sciences. It came to a point where it felt like I was getting a comment like this almost daily. Finally I threw in the towel. In my senior year of college, I applied for an internship with a fashion magazine in Los Angeles. I told myself if I got the job, I would go the creative route until I couldn’t ride that wave any longer. I was, in my eyes, severely underqualified for the position. Clearly, the magazine thought differently. I was accepted!
I remember sitting in the room on orientation day, feeling excited but terribly out of place as each new team member introduced themselves. I heard, “Hi, my name is ___, I am Styling Intern, majoring in Fashion Design” and “Hi, my name is ___, I am a Photography Intern, studying Photography.” I felt so wildly out of place when it was my turn. “Hi, my name is Devon. I am a Styling and Editorial Intern, majoring in Sports Medicine.” You should have seen the heads turn! I drove into LA from Santa Barbara three times a week my entire last semester of my senior year. It was about six hours of driving per trip with traffic, over 200 hours that semester just spent sitting in my car. The door opened to pursue the creative and I wasn’t about to miss my shot. The good news is, I never had to use my science degree as a “fallback” as I told myself I might have to do when I started this journey and I don’t intend to anytime soon.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
It doesn’t matter if you have an advanced degree in entrepreneurship or business. While that certainly can help, you would be amazed at what you can learn by self-teaching. The answer to a question you don’t know is out there. You just need to spend the time searching for it. You can build a network of trusted confidants to give you advice or provide support when needed. I highly recommend finding a mentor who can be your go-to person for questions as you are getting started. As long as you build a strong foundation of support for your business, you will be just fine.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I will lead in with this story by saying, don’t let people push you around or take advantage of you just because you are young and if people are threatened by your age, don’t take it personally. While I am based in New England, our clients are across the U.S. We have video conferences often, but I don’t always meet each client face to face right away. One of my clients was based in Southern California. We had been running a successful marketing campaign for months. I had helped her launch her startup, find a manufacturer for her designs and price her product both for retail and wholesale. We were in the midst of an incredible marketing campaign and she was happy with the progress we were making.
I happened to be in town after about a year of working together and we decided to meet for lunch. I had expected we would spend time chatting about business and getting to know each other face to face, but she just kept talking about my age, mentioning how young I was. While she was only about ten years older than me, it was clear that I had somehow upset the system once she met me. Within a week she cancelled services. Not only that, but she actually pulled her product and folded the business altogether. It was truly one of the strangest experiences I have had as a business owner. While I am sure there was more at play, I still feel there was something about my age that drove that insecurity so far as to completely uproot an incredible business model.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When I first launched my business, I quickly came to the conclusion that I needed a New England area code. My California area code was throwing people off, so I decided that I needed to make some changes. I wasn’t looking to change my phone number, but I decided I would get a landline. Laugh all you want, I still do. I spent more time than I’d like to admit attempting to hook up a landline phone in my home office. It isn’t as intuitive as you might think! It was honestly hilarious. Luckily, I knew there had to be a better way and after some research, I stumbled upon Google Voice and set it up in a quarter of the time it took to hardwire a landline. Not my proudest moment!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I would not be where I am today without my mentor, Amber Duncan. Amber has founded handfuls of successful businesses, including Jackie, a women’s subscription styling box, A New You, and so many more. Initially, Amber had hired me to handle content marketing for Jackie. Not long after I had been working with her in that capacity, she insisted I start my own business and offer similar services to clients across the U.S. Being an entrepreneur had never been on my radar, but with her encouragement, I took the leap, launched The Confidant Collective and never looked back.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
While many of the clients we work with are based in large, metropolitan areas, I have a passion for supporting small businesses in rural America. There are thousands of entrepreneurs with incredible ideas who have an even greater need for digital marketing. Without it, their product or service wouldn’t be easily found by the people who need it most. One of our clients is a maker here in Maine, specializing in detailed, gorgeous woodworking and stained glass creation. We built them a robust, yet affordable, e-commerce website and put in place a marketing plan that gets them noticed. If living in a rural environment brings you joy, there is absolutely no reason your business shouldn’t thrive exactly where you are. It pains me to see marketing agencies quote small businesses like these the same prices that they would a large corporate client. Digital marketing should be accessible to every business owner, regardless of how much revenue they bring in.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I believe the root of the unethical pricing structures I see lies in the education system. Students need to be taught the value of ethics and morality. That is so easily lost. We are raising a community of people who look out for nothing but their own self-interest. They are taught that they have to work for someone else and do what they are told. Thinking out of the box isn’t something that young people do well these days. They follow the leader even if the leader isn’t worth following. If students are taught at a young age to place a high value on having a positive impact by serving others, rather than serving themselves, we would see incrementally less corruption in the workplace.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- You Don’t Have to Know Everything. There is a misconception that you have to be an expert to start a business. I have first-hand seen this mentality get in the way of success. To be frank, this mindset is just an excuse spoken from a place of insecurity. Know what you are passionate about and let that guide you. Also, know when to ask for help. You really don’t have to have all of the answers to run a successful business. You just need to know how to problem solve.
- It is Going to Be Fine. The initial phases of launching a business can be terrifying. There is an endless list of unknowns, questions and “what ifs” that cross your mind. There isn’t the same sense of job security that comes with a shiny new job title in a corporate setting. It can be hard to get perspective and remind yourself that it will all work out. It doesn’t always feel that way, especially when you have bills to pay! Try to tell yourself that it will be okay and don’t waste too much time with a back up plan. Focus your time and energy on creating exactly what you want. You can’t build a successful anything when you are too busy making a plan B. Take smart, educated risks to bring your dream to life.
- Expect Unwanted Advice. When you opt to do things in a way that others view as unconventional, they will tell you that you are doing it wrong. You have to stick with your gut and with words of wisdom from trusted mentors. You can’t allow yourself to be distracted by unwanted advice. I don’t even want to try and count the number of times I have been told that I undervalue my services and that I should double my prices. Nobody knows your business better than you. Stay true to that.
- Your Network Will Grow Authentically. There is a lot of pressure put on networking and while it absolutely has its value, if you are good at what you do and you develop lasting relationships with a small circle, even from the beginning, your network will grow tenfold. Let your quality customer service and dedication to your clients grow your network for you. It will save you a lot of time and energy, trust me.
- Just. Keep. Going. No matter how you feel called to make a difference, you have to constantly remind yourself why this issue matters to you. Let that drive you, especially on the days when it seems impossible to take another step forward. You will undoubtedly be faced with small moments of gratitude that you stayed the course. Remember that every day can’t be more glamorous than the one prior.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can’t make a difference, or that you don’t have the skills, or a loud enough voice to have an impact. You do. You can make an incredible impact within your own circle of influence. It is all about small, meaningful actions, not always leading a revolution. Although, you might just be leading one yourself without even knowing. Keep thinking outside the box. Refuse to follow the pack. It’s too easy.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
David Brooks from The New York Times. He is someone who truly inspired me to go after my dreams and take big risks. I attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California and every year, they hosted a Lead Where You Stand Conference, both for alumni, students, and the business community. After I had graduated, I wasn’t quite sure what next steps looked like, so I decided to stay put. That summer, I kept my job as a Marketing Assistant on campus and took a few days to attend the conference.
David Brooks is a key member of the conference each year, speaking on leadership, character and entrepreneurship. If you haven’t read his work or heard him speak, I highly encourage it, especially for young people with a desire to make a difference. At the end of his talk, there was a Q&A session where we could drop a question in a box and he would choose his favorites. I asked, “What one piece of advice would you offer to someone who just graduated from college?” It was a question I had been desperately seeking an answer to since graduation and I wasn’t about to miss my opportunity to ask “THE David Brooks” about his take on the subject.
I was over the moon when my question was chosen! He told the entire audience that the amount of risk that students choose to take right after they graduate determines their threshold for risk for the rest of their lives. It both terrified and excited me. It answered the question that I was waiting around Santa Barbara hoping to have answered. I had always dreamed of moving to the East Coast and working in a creative environment, where I could write, design and photograph. I wanted to pack up and move without a plan, but I was seeing peers stay put, move back home and choose very predictable next steps. Within a month, I had packed up my life in California and booked a one way ticket to New England. David Brooks spoke truth into my life that day that started me down a path that I never knew I was capable of. I am unbelievably thankful that I pushed myself into the deep end and took big risks right out of the gate. Who knows where I would be if I hadn’t?
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!