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Jennifer Moxley: “Prioritizing your calling is not easy”

Many, many entrepreneurs probably had to learn this lesson and I’m glad I did: put your phone and email down. Establish boundaries with clients and with your business. From the news life, I was chained to my phone for last minute work bookings, but also chained to breaking news so I could be prepared for […]


Many, many entrepreneurs probably had to learn this lesson and I’m glad I did: put your phone and email down. Establish boundaries with clients and with your business. From the news life, I was chained to my phone for last minute work bookings, but also chained to breaking news so I could be prepared for jobs that would come. It was unhealthy, it was damaging to me mentally and my relationships. Looking back, it also looks desperate and small time when you’re replying to emails at 10 p.m. I do still have moments where I am bursting with ideas and composing emails and texts at 4 a.m. (on scheduled timers for 9 a.m.) but that’s the part I love. Every season is different, every client is different, I can’t imagine an entrepreneur getting bored.


As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Moxley, founder of Sunshine Media Network . Jennifer was writing news stories with her weekly vocabulary word list in 5th grade imitating the sketch comedy show, “Not Necessarily The News.” Before graduating college, she began her first newspaper reporting job and quickly climbed the ranks as the media industry shifted through buyouts and downsizing budgets. When she was out-hired by younger, cheaper talent, she knew it was time to leave traditional media behind and she jumped into the world of national freelance news. Time and time again, Moxley saw not-so-expert experts in the interview chair so she started working on the side to build up experts in Charlotte who deserved to weigh in on national stories. Her clients are women, minorities, and the underrepresented in their field. For a variety of reasons, they don’t have a seat at the table so she works with them to build their own table. Sunshine Media Network helps experts develop their story, trains them media skills, and pitches their story to outlets and writers who appreciate their value.


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

It’s hard to tell my childhood backstory without describing the dark clouds that hung over me. While I was outwardly a happy child, at home I was in constant stress and fear. My imagination, movies, music videos and books became an escape for the trauma I faced in real life. Over the course of my education, I attended 15 different schools across the US. Always the new kid, I adapt quickly, am friends with all types of people from all walks of life, and if I really like someone, I mimic their mannerisms and dialect within days. What were once seen as bad experiences created a person who was perfect for journalism. I’ve always fought for the underdog and when I reached the highest level of media and started seeing a lot of faces and stories were missing, I took it upon myself to become a cheerleader of sorts for experts who belonged at the center national interviews.

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?

Most every success I’ve had has been on the other side of necessity. When enough was enough and I am stretched as far as I can stretch, I make a drastic, yet calculated change. I worked freelance for seven years under the leadership of a man who I met a decade prior. I thrived tremendously under his leadership. But we had different business philosophies and ethics, so when I was faced a pretty serious moral dilemma with him, I chose to take the risk and work on my own. For a few years on the side, I worked with women and minorities who I saw had a story burning in their belly but didn’t know how to break through the media. The experts who quietly watch others the story, yet are better equipped to do the interviews are who I want to empower to do interviews.

Sucharita Kodali, an analyst with Forrester, did an interview in my studio for a national network and afterwards she and I talked about how hard it was to be a woman and a minority and an expert in her field. To hear someone so significantly qualified speak about the barriers, led me to laser focus on helping others break through. If I can remove a barrier for someone and create quality journalism, I’ll move mountains.

There are 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?

Prioritizing your calling is not easy. Add in children, relationship, friends, student debt, self-care, damaging narrative from childhood, the social paradigm that we should work for someone day in and day out, and it’s no wonder we struggle making a business out of what we are called to do. What pushed me to follow this business was that I vividly recall scrolling through LinkedIn and seeing all these faces, the jobs, the descriptions, how they were all entrepreneurs and they were making it happen. Rarely has someone charged me with a task I couldn’t figure out, so I decided I could figure it out. Lastly, I drew a line of how poor I was at one time in my life. Then I drew a line at where I was currently, funny enough it was only about 40K dollars a year. I had a long way to fall before I ever got that low. There were many safety nets between me and what I knew was the worst I’d experienced. Sure, one of those safety nets was get a job as a barista, but I felt I had room to take risks.

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?

In the book, “Originals” Adam Grant explains how the greats didn’t leap. We’re always told if you don’t leap, you don’t love it, you don’t believe in yourself. It comforted me in knowing that I was right to test the waters with a low-paying client first, then grow and try something bigger before jumping full-time. I worked a side project for about two years before I fully left freelance work and focused on Storymaking. And even now, in this economy, it’s not fiscally smart to be a one-trick pony. I still do freelance producing and video project management for corporations, but all of those jobs are only to fuel my work with entrepreneurs.

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?

Many, many entrepreneurs probably had to learn this lesson and I’m glad I did: put your phone and email down. Establish boundaries with clients and with your business. From the news life, I was chained to my phone for last minute work bookings, but also chained to breaking news so I could be prepared for jobs that would come. It was unhealthy, it was damaging to me mentally and my relationships. Looking back, it also looks desperate and small time when you’re replying to emails at 10 p.m. I do still have moments where I am bursting with ideas and composing emails and texts at 4 a.m. (on scheduled timers for 9 a.m.) but that’s the part I love. Every season is different, every client is different, I can’t imagine an entrepreneur getting bored.

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?

When I left local news and became an entrepreneur, I immediately had more time for my children. At the time they were 13- and 15-years-old. I’d already missed so much of their childhood memories working sun up to sun down and could now dictate my own schedule. I wish someone told me sooner that sacrificing financial security blanket would be the trade off because it was definitely worth it. 
The biggest downside of entrepreneurship has been the regulations, taxes, forms, insurances and rules. Taking time to take advantage of free workshops to learn how to manage these tasks isn’t realistic. Many other business owners don’t talk about how they pay taxes (or pay late usually). The first few years, I had no idea I had to pay the Secretary of State every year, so I got behind and then had to write a several hundred-dollar check. Taxes are always the devil in the details.

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

There are more societal and historical issues to dissect and overcome with my experts than I realized. And honestly, it was naïve of me because I personally have some challenges of childhood trauma holding me back from being the best I can be when my resume supports my qualifications. I’ve learned so much about the oppression and societal constructs that damage someone and lead to them to feel safer in the backseat than driving the car they are well-equipped, or better equipped, to drive. There’s also a problem in the media structure as a whole. We’re just now seeing an evolution of varied voices in media and platforms to share experiences that don’t fit historical trends. It’s defeating to have a minority voice stifled because a freelance writer or outlet don’t see the value. That said, I take the narrow-minded rejections and keep forging ahead to the writers and mediums that “get it.”

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?

All the time the universe throws the “real job” challenge my way. It’s especially difficult when a company works to recruit you. They swoon your talents and may even offer more money than you’re making on your own, ohhhh with benefits. The beloved health insurance carrot may be the most difficult one to say ‘No’ to. Many times, I remind myself this is just a test. The universe wants to make sure I really want to be my own boss, that I really believe in my mission, that I really have what it takes to survive. And sure enough, those temptations pass and something greater and more rewarding is always on the other side.

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?

I can’t think of anything that is a good example. It seems, I only remember the huge mistakes that then became incredible lessons and not mistakes anymore.

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

Maya Angelou of all the people I know about and have worked with is leaps and bounds the greatest leader. I was fortunate enough to lead the videography team she used the last year of her life so she could continue doing speeches from her home. The first three or so times, I worked with my crew in her formal room and could hear her in her sitting room. She always had guests, either praying, singing or telling stories with them, usually all three. She was so dignified. She was so present. 
To think about where she came from, what she lived through and where she rose brings tears to my eyes. She had every right to ask the world for something in return for her hurt, but she only gave. She gave of herself, her soul, her wisdom and she did so until the very last moment she could. Hers is a legacy of leadership that will live forever and she’s created generations of leaders behind her.

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

In my own small circle of family, friends and colleagues, I have worked to be the best person and leader for them I can be. I’ve committed a significant amount of my income to non-profits and causes that empower children, women and disenfranchised. As my business resources and network grow, I have implemented drives to collect goods. Through my entire career, I’ve been a champion for telling the stories of nonprofits and their unsung heroes. I’m eager to see my income grow because I have so many plans for outreach, empowerment and support programs that would have drastically improved my childhood and experience and is so desperately needed to save others.

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.

One of the topics in my own life I’m juggling how to explore with my Storymaking skills, is the new science and data we have on ACEs and how these early childhood traumas affect us into adulthood.

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

Being a journalist can create a very fatalist outlook on life. Death is a part of many stories and conversations and is normalized more than in most careers. “Is anyone going to die,” is something I ask myself when deadlines and demands and problems start to become more important than they actually are in the grand scheme of things. Frequently, people who don’t have what’s important in life centered, they tend to make everything a big deal and as an entrepreneur that can become your problem if you don’t manage it properly. It’s easy for me to respond rather than reply, so I use that question in those moments of overwhelm to reset and focus on the big picture.

We are very blessed that 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.

Surely my answer is a common one but it’s my answer all the same. I have a manifesting success wall in my office where I have images of success that was written and came true. Oprah Winfrey has a journal entry from the day her show went national. Her story is also like mine which is likely why her journey is so inspirational. She is a trailblazer and I think having an opportunity to speak with her about the things she may not share publicly will help me shift in a way that will change the course of it all. 
I’ve met and interviewed so many people, and there are some incredible humans among us who time and time again prove resiliency is our greatest gift. Oprah Winfrey is someone who I haven’t had a chance to be in her presence and observe her essence. It’s something I have on my own vision board so it will happen in time.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


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