Jennifer Bourn, Bourn Creative
Jennifer Bourn has been self-employed for 17 years. She started her creative services agency, Bourn Creative, in 2005 and added on a side hustle, teaching courses and workshops in 2017. When Jennifer’s best friend offered her a full-time job, Jennifer was intrigued but also had conditions. She would accept the job, but her side hustle had to stay up and running. A compromise was reached, and now Jennifer has the best of both worlds.
Episode 04 – Jennifer Bourn, Bourn Creative
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Jennifer Bourn leverages her graphic design, web design, and copywriting background in both her full time business and in her side hustle. She started her primary business, a creative service agency, 17 years ago and she began her side hustle, running courses and workshops, five years ago. Here today to talk side hustles, small businesses, family, and actually a little bit of interesting stuff now that’s happening, is Jennifer Bourn. Jennifer, welcome to the show!
[00:01:24] Jennifer Bourn: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:26] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. There's a lot of fascinating stuff that's happening with you that I think is super unusual for any guest that we've ever had on the show. But before we get into that, why don't you give us just like a minute or so about your background and what got you to the point that you're at now.
[00:01:43] Jennifer Bourn: I grew up thinking I wanted to be a teacher, but I had parents that said, teachers don't make enough money. So, then I decided I was going to be just like my dad and go into electrical engineering. But then I found that was really boring and changed my major to graphic design, and I fell in love with the creative industry.
So, I've always been a designer my entire career. I was in-house when I first got started at a publishing company and then a PR firm, and then I started my own design agency. I freelanced; I hired my husband full-time. We grew a team. We went back to me freelancing and it's been a wild journey to have my business support every stage of life that my family has been in. Because I did start my business pregnant, with a two-year-old and now I have a junior in high school and a sophomore in college.
But along the way, I always went back to wishing that I had gone into teaching. And going into courses and memberships as a side hustle to my service business allowed me to do that, but also share everything I learned in my business along the way and help people build better businesses that support the kind of life they want to live.
[00:02:58] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Couple of clarifying things. First, I'm very disappointed that you said electrical engineering was boring because I'm an electrical engineer.
[00:03:06] Jennifer Bourn: I'm going to tell you, the boys weren't nice to me. Because my grades were better. And when you're 17 or 18 and the people in your classes aren't nice to you because you're smarter, I'm like, I'm good.
[00:03:22] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. I clearly that's why they weren't nice to you, because you were way smarter than them. So, I think they had a little bit of reflection they needed to do. The other thing you just said is you were pregnant with a two-year-old. I want to make sure I clarify that. You weren't pregnant with a two-year-old, you were pregnant with your second child.
[00:03:40] Jennifer Bourn: And had a two-year-old.
[00:03:44] Sanjay Parekh: And had a two-year old. Okay. That's what it was, pregnant and with a two-year-old. Just starting your business. Okay. So, I’ve got to ask, so you launched into this thing, you've been doing it for quite some time. Was this your first time doing an entrepreneurial thing or did you do anything entrepreneurial as a kid? Or were there entrepreneurs in the family?
[00:04:01] Jennifer Bourn: I don't know if you could have made it through the eighties and nineties in school without having some kind of side hustle, selling candy at school. Who didn't do that, right? Everybody I know has that story. But from lemonade stands to hitting the little liquor store on the corner to buy candy on the way to school, to sell it at school. That was my only real foray.
I didn't know anybody that owned a business. I didn't know anybody that freelanced even. Even getting my degree in design, everybody I knew took jobs. And it wasn't until I was pregnant with my second child that my husband, who was in the fire department at the time and was doing the primary childcare had said, don't people that do what you do, do it for themselves or work at home? Can't you do that too? I think maybe we should look at doing that. And I thought, oh, I think I could do that. And he went and got my business license, and he named my business. And he was like, you're doing this, Jen.
[00:05:08] Sanjay Parekh: He kind of forced the issue, right? Even if you don't want to do it, you're doing it because I got it all set up for you. So, what's interesting is so many entrepreneurs on this podcast I've talked to about this, the candy bar arbitrage, growing up, when in school. There's like a very high correlation between folks that did that and become entrepreneurs later in life. So, how is it that you ran that? How did you avoid getting squashed by teachers? Because I think almost all of us had to avoid the gaze of teachers because this wasn't really entirely allowed in most schools.
[00:05:44] Jennifer Bourn: Oh, and I had to walk way out of the way before school to go to that liquor store to get that candy, which crossed streets I was definitely not allowed to cross. So, I had a friend that I walked to school with, and we would just tell my mom, oh, we just like to get to school early so we can hang out with our friends before school. And sometimes we would see our parents driving down the street that we were walking on to go to that liquor store and we'd dive in the bushes and hide. But we just focused on, our friends knew we had candy available, and we would only sell it before school or during break or during lunch. And we are so sly about it. I'm sure we weren't, but we totally thought we were.
[00:06:29] Sanjay Parekh: And all the revenue, all the money that you made on the candy bar sales, what did you use it for? Do you remember?
[00:06:35] Jennifer Bourn: Buying more candy to eat ourselves, I don't know. Buying junk, hiding junk food for sleepovers and just being silly kids.
[00:06:44] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That's not a bad spending. My personal splurge was comic books. I was a comic book nerd. So yeah, that was and the comic bookstore, and the candy shop were all like right there by the school. So, I always said oh, I'm going, there was a public library there too. Oh, mom and dad, I got to go. You need to pick me up at the public library. I need to do some studying and some research and stuff. Along the path to the public library, there were some stops along the way that I didn't necessarily need to share and be public about.
So, when you were starting the business, or when the business was forced upon you, let's say, by your husband, was there something, was there anything that scared you about doing it? And what were those fears and how did you overcome them?
[00:07:32] Jennifer Bourn: I think saying goodbye to a full-time income, a stable salary. And launching into something on your own is always a little bit scary. And we actually made the transition to leave full-time income in our family, twice. We did it when I quit my job to start my business and we also went through that when my husband quit his cushy fire department job with his pension and everything else, to come work with me full time. And we were going to lose all of that. So, we navigated this on more than one occasion, and it was really nerve-wracking. But you're able to get rid of some of that by planning in advance, right? So, knowing that you're going to make that exit and saving some, so you have some cushion. But we also practiced living on a smaller budget.
So, we said, hey, what is the lowest amount of money we need to exist? People call it your ramen budget. What's the lowest amount that you can earn and still continue to pay your bills? So, we would practice. We're like, let's look at our budget. If we're spending $1,200 a month on groceries and eating out, could we dial it back to $800 a month? Could we dial it down to six? Could we dial it to five? We got to a point where we were feeding our entire family for a month on $400. And we didn't stop eating out, but we got more strategic about our spending. And we practiced that for several months first and figured it out and we're like, okay, this is the lowest that we can go and still pay all our bills and be fine. And that reduced the burden on what I knew I had to produce. And anything above that, we're like, we are doing great. And so, when you're getting started, anything you can do to reduce that burden and to reduce the stress and the pressure of having to make tons of sales immediately is a really good thing.
[00:09:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, what kind of ties into that fear, I think is, am I going to be able to find clients? Am I going to be able to find them? So how did you deal with that? And how did you solve it for yourself?
[00:09:47] Jennifer Bourn: I was really lucky in the fact that I was working at a PR firm and when I left that PR firm, they're like, but we still need you. So, I got to keep working with them and they became my first client, but also in the PR, the advertising, the marketing industry at the time, back in 2005, most people didn't have in-house creatives, only the big guns had in-house. So, I called every person I knew and I'm like, I'm going into business for myself, and I need clients. You work somewhere that hires freelancers. How do I get on that list? Can you get me on that list? Can you introduce me to the person on that list? Like I called every single person I know. I'm like, let me take you to coffee. Let me take you to lunch. Let me tell you what I'm doing. I need to get on that list of people that hire freelancers. Do you have any business? Do you know anybody that has business? Like you can't, if you are going to put your stake in the sand and say, I'm going to do this, you can't be afraid to tell people what you're doing and ask for business.
[00:10:50] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. And that I think is a challenge a lot of time for entrepreneurs that might be introverted or might be embarrassed. Think they're not ready. And I think, if you're starting something, then you're already ready, right?
[00:11:07] Jennifer Bourn: Yeah. And I think you can't, there's no shame in how you make it work for you. Some people think, oh, I quit my job and I have to do it a hundred percent and all me, and if I work a little side job on the side, then I'm not really doing it. Or that's something to be ashamed of. And it's like, that is something to be proud of. You're doing whatever it takes to make your dreams come true, and the path is different for every person.
So, while I was navigating that transition and figuring out how do I replace my full-time salary, I had a neighbor that was like, oh, my husband runs a business, and he needs help with this area. It's not really what you're doing. But it might help bridge the gap while you're trying to find clients. And I'm like, yes. So, for three months I did insurance paperwork for a neighbor to just fill that gap while I was hustling and getting new contracts. And then once I had some clients in to hit my minimum, I'm like, okay, thanks. That was awesome. Now I'm done.
[00:12:09] Sanjay Parekh: Right, right. So, the other part then, that's interesting. And by the way, we've had so many people on the podcast that their main hustle knows about the fact that they're doing a side hustle and they appreciate the fact, it makes them better employees. Because they get this bigger breadth of experience and knowledge. More than they could get by just having the main job. But you're doing something interesting now, whereas your small business has become a side hustle, which is the reverse. So, tell us about what's going on.
[00:12:43] Jennifer Bourn: I ran a services agency. I started my agency in 2005, so I ran full services until about 2017. In 2017 I launched my first course and now I have several, so my business is part client services and part courses. And I teach people how to run client services businesses and I still do client services because I believe you should still do the thing that you're teaching. I'm just saying. But over time, if you had asked me even a few months ago, would you ever go work for somebody? My answer would be no. I fielded a lot of job requests over the last few years, and every single one I've turned down. I think I'm unemployable. I think at this point my business makes so much money, I don't think you can afford me. And I take so much time off, I don't think you can give me that kind of vacation.
But I got an offer at the end of 2022 from my best. And I had the opportunity to, not give up my business, to go work somewhere else, not give up my courses, to go work somewhere else, to learn something new and be challenged and to work with my best friend. And it was an offer that I could not say no to. So, I, the unemployable Jennifer, who said I would never, ever go work for somebody else, is now CMO of a company called Motivations AI. And my business, which was my full-time thing, is now my side hustle. So, all of the systems I built to run my business, and all of the systems I teach in my courses are now going to be put to the test even more, to see, can I continue to run this business with me taking an even bigger step back. Because part of taking a job is the job becomes your primary, and your side hustle is the side hustle.
So, I've been telling people for years, I've built these systems in my business to save me time and to be able to take more vacation and not work as much and to run the business without me. And now we're going to push those systems to the extreme and see how they hold up. But I'm really excited about the shift and excited to have an opportunity, to work with an amazing team of talented people and truly make my business a side hustle and not have to give up something that I love.
[00:15:16] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, so what's interesting is, a lot of people are working jobs and they want to start up side hustles and their current employer may or may not be understanding of that fact. Now you're going into a job saying look, I already have this thing and I'm going to keep it running. How was that conversation and was it like, just assume that was going to be the case from the get-go? Or did you have to have a discussion about the fact that you're going to keep running the side hustle on the side?
[00:15:45] Jennifer Bourn: I think I'm lucky in the fact that it's my friend hiring me. And this is the same friend that pushed me into doing courses when I resisted doing courses. Of any person other than myself or my husband, he probably knows the absolute most about the inner workings of my business itself and how much I love my courses and the people in them, and helping coach business owners to make more money and be more profitable and have sustainable results over time. And he's watched me turn down all of these jobs that said, we want you to come work with us, but you have to shut down your whole business and all your courses. And I'm like, no. So, I think he knew if I was ever going to say yes, I had to be able to still do it as a side hustle.
[00:16:38] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Okay, so you've been doing this now for quite some time and now I think like you, I am also unemployable. But maybe you're giving me hope that maybe someday somebody might want to employ me. But through all of this, when you started, you had a young two-year-old and then almost having a kid there and then had the kid. How did you balance the demands of what you were doing and the stress of all of that, giving birth and those early days? You and I both well know that the early days of having kids is, there's a lot there and a lot of demands. How did you balance all of those things for yourself?
[00:17:23] Jennifer Bourn: Not well. I did not do a good job. The way that I did it is not anything you should ever model. I got really lucky in that, at the time my husband worked in the fire department, and he was a captain in the fire department. So, he worked a 48-hour shift, and then was home for four days straight. So, when he was home for those four days, I worked around the clock for those four days. I pulled probably two all-nighters a week, and then worked sometimes 16-hour days, sometimes longer, and it was very challenging. And I was crabby and cranky and sleep deprived. I have memory loss from that time. I did permanent damage to my vision, right? It's terrible.
But here's the thing. At the time, I loved it. I was eating up every minute of it. I'm like, I started my own business. I'm doing my own thing. I make my own schedule — a terrible schedule, but I'm in control. We tell ourselves all these things. And I loved my clients, and I loved the work I was doing, and I was proud of the work that I was doing. And in the moment, I never thought that it was a bad way to live life. I was home with both my kids. Carter spent probably the entire first two years of his life laying on the Boppy in my lap while I worked over him like this all day long, and all night long because he was a terrible sleeper. So, I would just get up and work all night because he only slept if I held him, and he only slept 45 minutes at a time. So, I just worked all day and all night, and I ate up every second of it.
It wasn't until I learned how to run my business better and how to accurately price my services, and I learned that I need to have a life outside my business, that I realized how damaging that hustle was. And so it's one of the things I advocate for really heavily in my programs and coaching and things now, is that you can't be all in on one thing without sacrificing the other. So, I look at your business and life as a teeter-totter, right? Your life is on one end and your business is on the other. If a mean guy gets on there and sticks you up in the air for too long and you're shaking your legs and you can't get down, it's terrible. And if it's flat, it's boring. So as long as life and business ebbs and flows, right? Sometimes family has to come first. Sometimes business has to come first. But as long as there's always that give and take, things seem to go pretty good for us.
[00:20:10] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, thinking back now and you've got this good run of time where you've started this and running it now, and now taking the job. What are the things, or one or a couple of things that looking back now you would've done differently, knowing what you know now?
[00:20:31] Jennifer Bourn: Oh, I would have tracked my time. Immediately, so I could understand just how long work actually takes. Because at first, I was only billing for the time to do the work and not all the time to manage the projects and the clients. So I would track my time earlier. I would build systems in earlier, so I wasn't flying by the seat of my pants and relying on memory and crossing my fingers I didn't forget something. I would hire help earlier. because there's no reward for trying to do everything yourself. There's just a ceiling, like you can only go so far by yourself. And I would build in recurring revenue sooner.
[00:21:13] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. So, that was your shift into the courses. That was the idea of getting recurring revenue. You're building it once and making money on it for a long time.
[00:21:23] Jennifer Bourn: Yes, that was part of it. Also, like the majority of my work, design work, especially with websites, I was like, gimme the client, we'll build the website, we're done, move on, next client. And I never sold maintenance plans, care plans, support plans, whatever it was. I loved to check it off my to-do list and move on. And then I had to go back and say, dang it. That was not a good decision. I lost so on so much potential recurring revenue that way, so I had to go then back and add it to my services business. And courses were definitely a way to build some more stability into the business because people can sign up for a monthly membership or there's an annual, or different courses or different ways, but it added a layer of stability and dependable revenue that makes planning and forecasting and hiring and growth, and reinvestment in your business so much easier.
[00:22:21] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. What was it that made you realize that maintenance plans and all of that was something where you were leaving a lot of money on the table. What made that click for you?
[00:22:34] Jennifer Bourn: In 2013, we started traveling really, really heavily with our kids. I realized if I'm not working, I'm not making money. My whole business model tied to one and done projects meant if I wasn't doing the work, I wasn't getting paid. So, every time I took vacation, I would have a gap in revenue. This is not a business; this is a job.
[00:23:04] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense.
[00:23:06] Jennifer Bourn: I'm like, if I want to run a true business and I want to have stability and get off that revenue roller coaster, right? Then recurring revenue is the answer for that.
[00:23:19] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, that's a really interesting insight because a lot of times people think of entrepreneurship as risky and hard to predict because, when you go to a job, like once a month or every two weeks, this paycheck comes in. You just showed up every day and like clockwork, the money just gets deposited in the bank account. But what you're alluding to here is that it is possible to be an entrepreneur and basically build the same kind of system.
[00:23:49] Jennifer Bourn: 100%.
[00:23:50] Sanjay Parekh: You just got to be smart about it. Yeah. I like that. I like that kind of way of looking at it and how it really de-risks being an entrepreneur and being a founder, because that's probably the biggest thing we hear.
[00:24:07] Jennifer Bourn: Let's face it, if you figure out, I need to make, let's say it's just, I need to make $5,000 a month, right? That's what I need to support my family, pay all my bills, right? Whatever it is. If everything relies on you making a sale, you going out and selling, the pressure is high and the risk is high. But let's say you've got $2,500 in recurring revenue. You just cut the pressure of you having to make sales in half. And that makes things so much better, right? Yeah. Less stress, more joy, less pressure and then you are happier with your business.
[00:24:49] Sanjay Parekh: And the other thing I think that also fixes is a lot of entrepreneurs, you start feeling that desperation because you need to get that deal in. So, then you're willing to start cutting your rates.
[00:25:00] Jennifer Bourn: And saying yes and things you shouldn't say yes to.
[00:25:05] Sanjay Parekh: Right, exactly. And then honestly, people can sense the desperation. People often don't want to work with people that are desperate. Because then you start worrying about what is wrong in this situation. And are you actually going to be able to deliver what I need you to deliver?
[00:25:22] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox, committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:25:40] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. One more question for you. So, thinking about everything that you've done now, how do you think about working in things that are important in life, like exercise and time with friends and all of that stuff? How do you think about that? Is it strict boundaries or is it like, hey, if I can get to it, like how do you think about those things?
[00:26:05] Jennifer Bourn: Schedule it ruthlessly like you schedule your business. That is the secret. We are so focused as business owners on project managing the crap out of everything in our business, and we got our calendars all dialed in. Why don't we do this for our personal lives? When you do that for your personal life, guess what? You do more fun things. When you put the fun things on the calendar, the fun things actually happen. And when you leave it up to chance, that's how you end up sitting on the couch saying, oh, I thought we were going to go to this thing tonight, but it's already six and I'm cozy and under my blanket, and let's just not do it.
So, one of the things I figured out, especially when I was starting to do my side hustle with courses, was if I saved the work on my own business and my own goals for the end of the day, it was really easy for me to say, I don't have time for that. I haven't finished this client thing yet, or I'm so tired today has been really hard. I'll do it next week. I'll do it this weekend. I'll do it next month and put it off. And put it off and put it off. Because there's always going to be fires and unexpected things that happen during the day.
But when I started putting me first, and doing my goals first, I made progress on my business and my goals every day, no matter what my day of client work looked like. So, instead of saving my work for the end of the day, I started getting up an hour earlier and I would dedicate that hour to working on moving my stuff forward. So, now I get up, I work out, I work on my business while I have a shake and I stop sweating. I work on my business, and I get an hour or hour and a half or so on my own stuff every day. And then I take a shower and get my mind in the head space of client work, and I come back to work. And then I'm focused on client work every day. And I feel great about it because I know I've already moved my goals forward.
Because what used to happen when I was doing it at the end of the day, and I never would get to it, because you're always the person on the back burner, and I would almost resent client work. And I remember telling my husband, I spend every day building everybody else's dreams and all I want is some time to build my own. So, putting my own stuff first made a huge difference.
And that's what I'm talking about when I say schedule fun. Put it on your calendar, block out that concert you want to go to, block out the little festival that you want to go to, block out fun things with your kids and if you find it hard to not work or you're always pulled in, leave the house. When I was slowly making my transition from working all the time to like not working all the time, it was really hard for me because I worked at home to leave work behind. So, my husband's like, we're instituting a rule. We are never going to be home on a Saturday. And for two years we were never home on a Saturday, we would leave the house because I can't work if I'm not near my office and I don't have a computer. So, we would go do fun things and sometimes it was a hike or a walk or a picnic or whatever, but we would never be home on a Saturday.
And so, we would plan and book every Saturday and soon our family and friends were like, the Bourns are never available on Saturdays. And then eventually that went to getting, now we look on Facebook and we find, when are our local bands playing? When are the things that we like put that local band playing at the bar by your house on the calendar. Schedule it, so you don't miss it. And then you have as much dedication to fun as you have to work.
[00:29:43] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Okay. Last question for you. I think I said the last one was the last question, but I have actually one last question for you. What would you tell somebody that's thinking of taking the leap and turning their side hustle into a full-time business or now maybe the alternate too, a full-time business into a side hustle? What would you tell them?
[00:30:03] Jennifer Bourn: One, don't let people talk you out of it. Because they get nervous and scared for you, and they'll try. Two, there are going to be hard days, but you will get through it. Everybody has hard days, no matter what they say publicly, right? And three, save. Save, save, save, save. Save before so you have a little bit of cushion. And when you get paid, when you get paid from your project, whatever you're selling, some of it's going to pay your bills. Some of it's going to pay you. It's going to pay your salary and your earnings. Some of it needs to stay in your business for reinvestment so you can grow. But some of it needs to go into savings to build up that emergency fund. So, you have that as a cushion.
[00:30:48] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Jennifer, where can our listeners find and connect with you?
[00:30:54] Jennifer Bourn: Jenniferbourn.com. That is the easiest place you can find all my socials and everything else.
[00:31:01] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Thanks for coming on.
[00:31:03] Jennifer Bourn: Thank you.
[00:31:06] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit www.hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter @sanjay or on my website at www.sanjayparekh.com.