From Avocation To Vocation: “How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career”, With Tre’elle Tolbert of Tag It Brand It, LLC

Have a solid plan: Having a strategic plan before launching a business is important. Without a strategy, you will invest in things that you may not need, you’ll spend unnecessary money and you can make a small decision that could impact you significantly. A plan is also an accountability partner. To have a plan and […]

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Have a solid plan: Having a strategic plan before launching a business is important. Without a strategy, you will invest in things that you may not need, you’ll spend unnecessary money and you can make a small decision that could impact you significantly. A plan is also an accountability partner. To have a plan and use is right, you’ll have the opportunity to track progress, monitor and analyze results.

I had the pleasure to interview Tre’elle Tolbert. Tre’elle is the owner and creator of Tag It Brand It, LLC, a branding and graphic design company. Prior to starting her business, she served in the United States Navy for 7.5 years as an Interior Communications Electrician, with the ranking of Petty Officer Second Class. Tre’elle is also a wife, mom and now a graduate student at Arizona State University in digital audience strategy. At Tag It Brand It, Tre’elle oversees services such as web design, music production and photography. However, the primary focus of the company is to provide resources to help future entrepreneurs successfully launch their small business.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

My pleasure! I’m Tre’elle Tolbert, I’m from a small town in Beaufort, SC. Ever since I was a child, and I always had a great imagination and big dreams. My parents and my older brother can attest to that. Growing up, I loved to read, write, and sing. A part of this is because my entire family sings. I remember as a child listening to my grandmother, mom, aunties, and cousins at our family reunions coming together to sing songs until the end of the night.

Growing up in South Carolina, there wasn’t much for me to do other than go to school, play with my family members, or work in my mom’s hair salon. I had major chores, but once they were completed I would sketch, play my keyboard, write a song, or read a book to keep me occupied. It wasn’t until high school where I discovered my love for painting and photography. All of my electives catered to the arts. I felt like I was at home when I could use my imagination to bring my thoughts and sounds to life. I played the clarinet in every type of band. I participated in many extracurricular activities such as basketball and other high school clubs. I taught myself how to play the piano and I would sing with my mom in church and community choirs.

I had an equal amount of love for all things creative but I thought it could only be a hobby. I didn’t think I would be able to create a career in it. So, I joined the military right after high school. It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

I can recall being in the military speaking with one of my LPOs (Leading Petty Officer). We had a dialogue about my dreams and passions. I expressed how much I loved music and the arts. I talked fervently about my goals and how I could achieve them, only to be shot down with words that can really destroy a dream. My LPO told me that it was impossible and that I should stay with the security that I have while serving in the Navy. That moment changed my life! It became the additional fuel that I needed to prove myself right. I knew that it was possible and I couldn’t let the fear of the unknown hold me back.

Leaving the military was a challenge but I challenged myself to achieve my bachelor’s degree in less than two years. I knew there had to be more than this but I was really afraid of what was next. I recognized I wanted a business, but what type? I battled with the thoughts of being qualified or skilled enough to create something from “nothing.” That’s when I reached out to a veteran mentorship program known as the American Corporate Partners (ACP) where I was connected with my mentor Sara Mocabee, a Financial Manager at Wells Fargo. That moment changed the trajectory of my life. ACP connects veterans with corporate professionals for customized mentorships to support vets on their path towards fulfilling, long-term careers.

In our first meeting, she asked all the right questions. Questions, no one has ever asked me before. She asked me things like who are you? What do you like to do? What is something that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life? She found out quickly that I was talented and had a lot of skills. She began to shoot me emails and some of her recommendations based off of everything we’ve discussed. With Sara’s help and guidance, I enrolled into grad school and started my first company Tag It Brand It. She poured into me all she’s learned while working with Wells Fargo and I was able to have a clear road map and guide to follow my dream.

Meeting Sara gave me that “ah ha” moment! She gave me another challenge that I pursued with all of me and now I’m here sharing my story.

There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I’d like to give you a few ways I overcame this challenge. This may sound a little cliché but I listened to my heart first and followed my passion. I conducted an inward inventory of myself. I figured out who I was by highlighting all of the skills and gifts I possessed. I canceled out any unnecessary noise that did not compliment my goals. This was hard, but I also had a very supportive husband who cultivated my thoughts. Next, I had a mentor that processed my ideas and turned them into solutions. I’d say finding a great mentor is one of the most important things you’d need to overcome this challenge. I learned that I had to be confident. I learned how to look in the mirror and accept the fact that what I have is enough. I also had accountability partners that kept me on my toes.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Use what you have in your hands, heart, mind, and ability. There is a market for what you have! All you have to do is believe in it and take the risk. It will go against the grain but that isn’t a bad thing. Do your research, connect with a business strategist or mentor. Nothing is impossible! Embrace the fact that your past time could be the last time you ever worked again. Meaning because you love what you do, you’ll never have to work again. You’ll be doing what you love while earning additional income.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Tag It Brand It is a branding and marketing company, which is everything that I love to do and everything that I am in one company. What keeps things fresh and enjoyable is the opportunity to meet new clients and build new relationships. I count it a privilege to have that ability to bring someone dreams into a reality. Each client cultivates a different element of my creativity, which requires me to stay current in design, trends, typography, and more. The refreshing part of all is the response of seeing their brand go from a place of idea to an actual design, sound, or art piece. This is satisfaction within itself and it is what keeps me going. When my clients win, so do I! This is why dreading what I love to do is not an option.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

What I enjoy most about my running my own business is networking and being on the go. Yes, I have an office that I work out of, but being able to go to the library or a coffee shop gives me a different scene. I’m not bound by the four walls or a cubical. I can create a flexible schedule that will fit the demands of my life without missing a beat. The downsides for me of running my own business learning how to shut down. I’m always on my computer or phone. Because I have a family with four small children, I have to remember to power down and be a mom and wife.

To deal with this, I gave myself realistic business hours. I also purchased a business phone that I power up and power down after the start and close of business. I removed anything business off of my personal phone such as unlinking my Gmail accounts and removing apps like Trello and other ways that I communicate with clients. That way I’m not compelled to check it during family time or let it interfere with my personal life.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I thought I’d be able to start a company and partner with others to get it done. I’m still in graduate school to obtain my Master’s in Digital Audience Strategies from Arizona State University. I was hoping that I’d have a graphic designer and photographers that would assist me with work, but as of right now I’m on my own. I have to be a designer, video editor, and all the other services I offer. Which will happen in time, but for right now, everything is weighing on me. I look forward to distributing the load in the future.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

There are many moments where getting overwhelmed seems natural but it’s my faith that keeps me strong and rooted. It’s my family that keeps me going and it’s opportunities like this that allows me to share my story that reaffirms that I am doing the right thing. I’ve made it too far to turn back! I’m not a quitter and I refuse to give up. I’ve made so much progress and I can’t discredit that because I’m not where I want to be. I also know that other people hopes and dreams are depending on my success. So, the way I overcome my thoughts to quit is by reminding myself that this is bigger than me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started, I didn’t know my value, so I would allow people to set my value by telling me my worth. I remember building my website and pushing a light launch on Facebook. I had a potential client message me and asked to make this very complex flyer. I asked about the budget and it was $35! I laughed out loud literally! I couldn’t believe that this individual thought I’d accept that rate. So, in that lesson, I learned not to allow anyone to set your pricelist, but to create a set pricelist. This eliminates the feeling of being devalued and shows your clients what you feel your work is worth. This gives them the opportunity to accept or decline before inquiring.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

Two people in my life deserve credit for this answer. First, it would be my husband. He has sacrificed so much for me to be in the position that I’m in right now. He has left his career to pursue Tag It Brand It, full-time. He’s a musician and covers the Music Production services. I get to watch him lead and direct bands and other musicians to create sounds and tracks. His confidence in his craft is inspiring. He teaches me how to be bold and confident in my company.

Finally, Sara Mocabee, my mentor from Wells Fargo, made all the difference in the world for me. Since 2012, more than 260 Wells Fargo team members across the country have mentored 360 veterans with ACP, and Sara was one of the best. She has been my mentor during the start of my business and has been with me every step of the way. We met in the ACP veteran’s network. Meeting Sara allowed me to see my dream become a reality. She listened to me, poured out a wealth of knowledge and resources and we bonded over motherhood and career goals. She was a great listener and made great suggestions. Sara is the reason why I’m attending Arizona State University (ASU) to receive my Master’s in Digital Audience Strategy. I was originally going back to grad school to become a Clinical Psychologist, but she heard my passion and heart is something different and suggested that I took the time to research some schools out of my state. She asked me if she could find the school that suits my desires, would I be interested; and I told her, yes. That’s when I found out about ASU and now I’m only five classes away from receiving my master’s degree! She leads with love and passion and that’s the added accountability I needed to push me in this direction.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

The operation of Tag It Brand It and its success is due to the fact that with our services, we get to give back to the community by bringing awareness to non-profit organizations and small business who create job opportunities for those in the area. I’ve assisted non-profit organizations in branding for back to school drives, and others that raise awareness to creative arts in our youth. I’ve also used my success to help transform older ministries by incorporating digital marketing and branding, which will give them an opportunity to highlight upcoming community events such as coat drives, health and wellness resources, and clothing for the homeless. I know this may seem small, but Tag It Brand It is making a big impact in the lives of the clients and organizations that I work with.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Five Things I’ve wished someone told me before I started would be:

  1. Have a solid plan: Having a strategic plan before launching a business is important. Without a strategy, you will invest in things that you may not need, you’ll spend unnecessary money and you can make a small decision that could impact you significantly. A plan is also an accountability partner. To have a plan and use is right, you’ll have the opportunity to track progress, monitor and analyze results.
  2. Every idea isn’t a good idea: Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean it is good. You have to find what works for you. This is done by knowing who you are, what you want and knowing your target market.
  3. It’s okay to say no: Stay true to who you are and what you believe in. There will be many who will give you advice, but stay true to the vision. If you change your mind, it’s because you wanted to, not because you were persuaded to.
  4. Know your worth: Don’t allow anyone to devalue your brand and services.
  5. Trust is key: A business is no good if it doesn’t establish trust with their client and community. Great work and designs, does not equate to trust. It’s the character and voice of your brand. Are you consistent? What is the brand message and does it come across well? Trust will make or break you. Be honest, your business reputation depends on it.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love? You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire a creative movement that causes a great awakening in the creative arts. There is so much power in creativity and everyone has a dose of it. Our minds can think and dream; our hearts allows us to feel emotions that trigger passions and desires; and, our hands have the ability to build and create — all we need is the will! Creative arts is not limited to a song, painting, sculpture, dance, or poem; there is creativity all around us. Our doctors can create a cure that can save lives; our make-up artists have the ability to make people feel great about themselves; our songwriters and musicians can evoke a feeling that our words cannot express but our soul can identify with. Our mechanics can build an engine that causes our mode of transportation to change. Once we realize that everything began with a thought or dream, and was pursued by will and passion, everything else will come together. We are meant to create and multiply, and there are millions of people on this planet where we can see this actually happen. Find your purpose, find your passion and persevere!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Reach for the stars, so if you fall you land on a cloud,” by Kanye West. The more I aim for the sky, the higher things maybe but I’m not afraid of falling because I know that where ever I am, I will be caught and I won’t break nor shatter. My road to success may look different than my parents, or what my teachers may have perceived of me when I was in high school. It looks like me! I’m not afraid to be myself. I’m not afraid of authenticity. I embrace the unknown with faith to know that I may fail at a task, but I will learn and continue to grow. Falling is not a bad thing, it’s how you get up that matters.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

It would be such an honor to have a private breakfast or lunch with Phylicia Rashad! She is one of the biggest inspirations and influencers in my life. I admire her beauty, intellect, wisdom and creativity. When I was in middle school, I saw her on television playing Clair Huxtable. There was a moment she sang a song and I was captivated by her sound. The other was when I heard her sing and speak Spanish. So, I had to learn more. For Black History Month in seventh-grade, I portrayed Phylicia Rashad. She was just that monumental to me. She’s the reason why I wanted to go to college. She’s also part of the reason why I continued to pursue the arts. Who knew a few episodes would ignite an eternal flame inside of me. No kidding, I would get butterflies in my stomach when I watched her interviews on television, I would also wonder what I would say if I ever got a chance to speak to her. I don’t know but this question really brings joy to my heart because I can share with the world how I feel about someone who I’ve never met, but made a powerful impact in my adolescence.

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