Leslye and I met close to three years ago at a Hurston/Wright Writers Retreat at Howard University. I was struck by her quiet confidence and ability to pursue her interests with success and commitment.
And I wanted to know more so I could learn from her.
Here is the world according to Leslye…
You are a multi-talent with various business pursuits. Tell Fabulous N’ Frugal about them and why each fills a need in the market.
reflection:digital is my main business – I do web development mostly for small to medium sized businesses and artists. I love working with creative people and helping them to put their work into the world.
The Quotable is the literary magazine that I co-founded, publish and edit. As a writer, it’s so important to have a venue for your work to be discovered and I love being able to help the voices of new writers be heard. The magazine is online and in print and each issue focuses on a theme and a quote.
My newest venture is Tapestry Writers Collective, an online community for diverse writers crafting characters of color. It’s another way to give back to the writing community by providing a place to help writers improve craft and find critique partners. Specifically, we wanted to create a space where writers of color can connect, since that experience is so often lacking in traditional writers workshops.
I know that you have told me that you had never wanted to be self-employed–it just happened. How did it “just happen”?
I had majored in Film with a minor in Computer Science and at my first job after college, working in video production, my boss asked if I knew how to make a website for the company. I said, “sure” and then went home to teach myself how to do it. I spent a few weeks on tutorial sites and by trial and error, made my first real website. After that, friends and family started asking me for websites and I charged them nominal rates until I felt comfortable enough charging more.
It soon became a legitimate side-hustle, so much so that I went from a full-time job to a part-time job so that I could focus more on my freelance work. Eventually, I had enough business where I felt comfortable going out completely on my own. The journey to entrepreneurship was definitely not anything I had planned. Some of it had to do with my father’s rather sudden passing – afterwards I just felt that life was far too unpredictable and short to spend it working for someone else and not being really fulfilled. As much as I had never seen myself owning my own business, the progression felt natural, like something I was meant to be doing.
What are some of the drawbacks and benefits of being an entrepreneur?
Independence is a huge benefit. I can work when I want and don’t feel the need to maintain a 40 hour work week if it’s not required. I have the flexibility to work with or not work with certain clients – and I have had to fire clients before, or not accept work from a difficult person.
Independence can also be a drawback though. I work from home and at times I do miss the office environment and having co-workers. I do have people with whom I partner online, designers and project managers whom I work with, and we have Skype chats and such, but it’s not the same. Also, time management can be an issue. I’m fairly self-motivated, though there are days when my motivation takes a vacation. The need to be organized and handle the more business-related aspects, such as taxes and accounting, are things that I usually put off for as long as humanly possible.
What advice would you give to those that want to break away from their current job and work for themselves?
Your early clients are your foundation. My web development business is entirely referral based. I do no advertising and have relied on happy customers for 10 years. Take good care of your early clients and not only may you keep them forever, but you create your biggest advocates and marketing engines. Don’t be afraid to ask them for referrals! Start strong and build until you feel comfortable making that leap!
Leslye PJ Reaves is a digital media specialist, consultant, writer and award-winning independent filmmaker. She is the president of reflection:digital, an interactive media studio, which she founded in 2003. Leslye is also the co-founder and editor of the literary journal, The Quotable; is the co-founder of Tapestry Writers Collective, an online community for diverse writers; and co-directed the documentary film, wtf: an okaymentary. She is a recipient of the 2012 Frank Lawlor Memorial Fiction Prize.
Leslye has a B.A. in Film from Howard University and a M.A. in Multimedia from California State University, East Bay. She speaks and teaches courses and workshops on topics ranging from computer art and digital video production, to web programming and design.
She lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband, Jared, their pit bulls, Sabyl & Sylas, and aspiring feral cat, Sterlyng.