“Being a mother kind of makes you adept at juggling things. A lot of our clients are parents and are also in the situation where they’re juggling everything. So, it’s been, ‘oh you’re juggling? I’m juggling too. Alright, let’s juggle together,’” said Quiana Agbai former corporate marketer, turned Entrepreneur, Activist and Social Connector.
We had to fight to grow our careers long before the pandemic. Now, school, work and meals have tumbled into our homes without the supports that made it doable. Which makes the wealth and wage gaps that much harder to close. Professional flexibility, once a luxury, has become critical in quarantine. Millions have lost jobs and everything about how work gets done is shifting. But change, even when it’s crisis-driven, creates new opportunities. It may not follow the plan but it’s possible to build a meaningful work life that leaves space for our families.
The Gift of Flexibility
Quiana’s passion for human behavior led her to marketing, “I knew I was interested in advertising. Even as a kid, I loved television commercials and magazines. When I moved to New York I was so excited to be in that arena,” she said. Quiana loved agency work until she was ready for motherhood. She explained, “The type of family life I wanted wasn’t conducive with the hours and the travel.” When her husband’s job moved the family to New Hampshire, she began to explore options. “I thought I could do some consulting work and my dad suggested ‘why don’t you form a company?’ One sister is a publicist and one is a graphic designer. With my background in marketing and media, we thought we’d provide those services to small business owners,” Quiana said. Brilliant!
Almost Everyone Has to Pivot
Pivots, a quick change in direction, are common in business. But the pandemic has forced change on an unprecedented scale. Quiana said, “With the coronavirus, I’m having paid speaking engagements cancel or postpone. It’s making me realize how powerful multiple profit centers is. So, I’m kind of adjusting my pie. I might have to take on more clients to make up for the income.” She also runs a successful blog and manages marketing campaigns for clients. Like many multipreneurs, at times, she’s conflicted about which income streams to prioritize. “It was starting to feel like all these wild things are happening in the world and here I am doing a sponsored post for a grocery store. After some reflection, I thought, what a powerful opportunity to talk about a brand that I used even before I had a blog!” Exactly. Brands are seeking authentic ways to connect. And, she’s providing value to all parties, so why do we second guess ourselves?
Embrace Your Inner ‘Boldness’
As Reshma Saujani shared in her book, Brave Not Perfect, “The desire to be perfect holds us back in so many ways. …We obsessively analyze, consider, discuss, and weigh every angle before making a decision, no matter how small.” Social media’s visibility exacerbates how vulnerable we feel. Quiana said, “There’s a lot of mental Olympics.” Yes! Everything from imposter syndrome to fear of judgement can impede our growth. She added, “I don’t see men doing this or maybe they are and they’re not saying it. But I’m like, oh I’ve got to justify this and what are the optics.” Indeed, a common dilemma faced by female founders. Quiana added, “It’s important you know your ‘why.’ And to be transparent and authentic. I see social media kind of like a living room. I’ll tell my followers ‘hey I need to lay low right now I have a lot going on.’.” Yes! Many of her followers have been with her for ten years.
Make Space to Stay Nimble
Even the most seasoned remote workers need to adjust for quarantine. Working surrounded by family has its gifts but for most, there’s less quiet time for deep work. Quiana said, “Right now I’m deliberately creating margin so, I’m not filling in every minute like I used to. I’m the type of person who would RSVP to three things and then, just see what happens.” She’s also creating infrastructure to grow, “I’m at the point right now where I need a virtual assistant. It’s managing the different roles I play in-between kid appointments!” I laughed because it’s still so intense even with everything on Zoom.
Balance Is Self-Care
We discussed the mental load of keeping our children’s calendars straight. Quiana said, “It’s absolutely dizzying! I think activities outside of school make your kid well rounded. But I don’t want my children to be overwhelmed because of the spillover of me feeling overwhelmed. So, I do a lot of gut checking with my kids and ask, ‘are you absolutely sure you want to do that?’ After three years, my daughter opted out of dance and she was very clear, ‘Mommy I don’t want to do that anymore. Sometimes they want to stay in their pajama pants, like all day on like a Sunday, whereas I’m like, ‘the museum is having this exhibit let’s go!’ We’re balancing each other.” It’s so important to recognize and accept those differences. Quiana also wants to return to meditating and ‘brain dumping.’ She said, “There was a period a few years ago when I was having a lot of trouble sleeping at night. I saw somewhere to keep a little notebook by your bed to take it all out! I was doing that before I went to bed, emptying out my brain and I could sleep the whole night.” Halleluiah!
Plan for Growth
Quiana remains optimistic and focused on her businesses. When I asked what’s next, she said, “I own Quiana.com! My husband a while back said, ‘What do you want for your birthday? I said, I do not like stuff, just buy the domain.’ So now I own it! The goal is to have a landing page that shows I’m a connector, I’m a communicator and I’m a consultant. Now that I’m grounded, I can do it.” She’s using this time without travel to reinvest in strategy. She added, “I pitched in the Roxbury Innovation Center contest and got second place. So, with that funding, we can start to do some talent acquisition and pull in others. The essence of our brand is to champion small businesses. If we partner with others, who can work under our umbrella, we can grow our business without becoming the (traditional) agency experience.” Exciting and necessary as businesses need expertise and support to reestablish themselves post-lockdown.
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Quiana Agbai resides in Boston with her husband and two children ages 5 and 9. She has been covering urban family life on her blog Harlem Lovebirds since 2009. Quiana launched Trifecta Media Group, a marketing, public relations, and graphic design firm with her sisters in 2014, catering to start-up companies spanning industries such as health and wellness, entertainment, and technology. Additionally, through Quiana’s blog and experience as an entrepreneur she has spoken at social media conferences such as BlogHer, Blogalicious, Mom 2.0, and Altitude Summit covering topics including privacy, using social media for social change, and using one’s blog to pivot to other business opportunities. Quiana is a Toastmaster, the Community Outreach Lead for the Boston chapter of Moms Demand Action and is involved with several other community organizations as well.