I remember the first time I met Jaleesa McDowell, the CEO of McDowell Branding LLC. We were in New Orleans having a meeting about my upcoming book, The Single Woman’s Plug. Jaleesa instantly inspired me because she was one of them: a woman who designed her own path and worked hard to build the empire she has today. Jaleesa talks about obstacles faced in her business, her strong faith, and how working at Essence Festival changed her life.
What obstacles do/did you face when you started McDowell Branding? Was starting a business hard for you?
JM: ” Starting my company was not hard, but it took me a few months to finally allow the fear to fade and the excitement to step in that God was finally saying it was time to start my company full time.
Around July 2016, I was fired from my 9-5 job-simply because my boss could tell that my passion was not there for the insurance world. It wasn’t until December 2016 that I finally filed for my LLC and got the ball rolling. It wasn’t hard getting everything started because I had already built my personal brand without even knowing it at the time. I was known as the girl behind the scenes making it all happen, I was the girl that could get you on the news, or the go to girl for events. So, I was able to utilize my background, experience, and relationships to get the ball rolling. I still to this day haven’t had to advertise my business, and I’m so grateful to God that when I first started, all of my clients came directly to me.
My journey hasn’t been easy. It’s been the sum of almost 10 years of working towards finally owning my own company full time. I’ve put in countless hours of volunteering, helping others with their dreams, working behind the scenes, and living so uncomfortable to get to the point of owning my own company. I’ve fallen so many times, learned so many lessons, God had to shut so many doors, test my relationships, my dreams have been crushed by others, I’ve had my family worried about me and so much more. Starting the business was not the difficult part but it’s how can I continuously say yes to God every day because he told me to start this PR company. I was fired from my insurance job a few months before God told me to start McDowell’s Branding Group in August 2016. It wasn’t until I could get past the fear and actually file for my LLC. Once I got the business started I was able to utilize my relationships, experience, and the fact that people knew me from a lot of the work I did over the years was enough for potential clients to start contacting me for my services, and most importantly for others to refer my services.
One of my first clients I was able to travel to New York with for a huge film festival, and with another, I was able to travel and work in Las Vegas during the Stellar Awards. I’m grateful that I still haven’t had to do any major advertisement for my business.So, starting isn’t the tough part at all, but it’s the part when God tells you to take even more leaps of faith. No one sees that particular moment when God told me in His most gentle voice to move to New Orleans. I kept saying Lord that ain’t your voice, then He kept giving me confirmation after confirmation over the next few weeks. At the time I had a client in New York and I flew out there to do one of our promotional events and once I came back to Shreveport I couldn’t second-guess God’s voice anymore I knew it was time to leave.
I already knew I wanted to go down to visit my sister during All-Star/Mardi Gras Weekend in New Orleans. So, I saw it as the perfect moment to leave my hometown for good. The night before I told my mom and brother and said, “I’m going to NOLA, but I’m not coming back. I’m going down there to stay and live there!” My mom was in complete shock and my brother as always shook his head like “Here she goes doing that Jaleesa stuff”. He said this in the sense that I’ve always been optimistic, full of faith, and not afraid to jump because I know God is going to catch me at all times. So, yes, I was doing a real “Jaleesa” thing, but honestly, it was an obedience thing for God! I knew that if he told me to move to New Orleans that I couldn’t have a few months to sleep on it, save up for it, I just have to jump and do this!
At the time I finally received my check from Live Nation for the Mary J. Blige/Maxwell Tour stop I handled PR for at the time. It wasn’t a huge check and I had already spent quite a bit in New York on my trip for my client’s project. I got my biggest suitcase and piled my clothes in it and hopped on a Greyhound Bus the next day headed to New Orleans! So, has it been hard starting my business absolutely because no one sees the months you sleep on an air mattress in living rooms, broke months, the second-guessing of your purpose, and the times you’re down and disappointed. It’s been hard, but no one says going after what God has called you to do will be easy, instead, it’s painful, but it’s your journey to pouring out God-given gifts. How many times you get back up is the real part of growth and my faith is in God so no matter how hard it is I will have faith. Because if God is at the center of it all and in my life, I can’t fail, and I won’t quit!
My journey is still unfolding, but one of the things I’m most thankful for is the support of my family, especially, my mom, brother, and sister. They’ve always been there to support me no matter what, even when I was jumping on buses for hours to go after my dreams. I’m grateful for their unwavering love and support.
What are some ways you avoid distractions when you have to work?
JM: “Some ways I avoid distraction with work and life, is to always remember the end goal. To always remember I have other people depending on me and that we’re all in control of setting our own atmospheres. “
In your opinion, what are the qualities a business needs to run successfully?
JM: ” I believe knowing your strengths and weakness and being able to outsource and ask for help. Time management and discipline is key, and making sure you’re standing out in your industry. You need to have confidence and most importantly strong faith in God is number one.”
What is a typical day for you at McDowell Branding?
JM: ” I get up every morning at 6:30am for prayer/worship/listen to my favorite Pastors on their Podcasts, work out, by 10am/11am I’m at one of my favorite coffee shops mapping out and executing the plan for projects and clients. PR is all about research, pitching, and mapping out a strategy for clients and projects. A lot of time is spent on research and planning.”
You started off as an intern at Essence to becoming a sponsor! What was that transition like?
JM: “Yes, I love the ESSENCE Festival! It’s such a huge part of my journey. It was the first place where I realized I could do anything. It was the first place where I saw black women running everything, and the first place I’ve ever seen 100 thousands of black people enjoying themselves! My first trip to ESSENCE Festival was literally a “Girl’s Trip”. It wasn’t really planned, we just knew if we volunteered we would get free tickets to the concert. I clearly took my volunteer role serious because for the next 9 years I would keep coming back! (lol)
After my first year I stayed in contact with the volunteer coordinator and each year I came down never had enough money to get a hotel because I didn’t have a job at the time, and I hopped on the Greyhound Bus to get to New Orleans each year. That part didn’t bother me at all, because I was so hungry for the opportunity and knew that the hard work would pay off. I’ve been able to work with some of the biggest brands and celebrities. The 2018 Festival was my first year not working the festival in my normal capacity, instead I was blessed to book clients this year. Definitely an amazing full circle moment for me, and I’m very grateful for my ESSENCE Festival family for their support and love. “
Jaleesa at Essence 2018
Who would you like to work with in the future?
JM: “I would love for my company to work with large brands on large scale projects rather it’s handling the PR and/or event activation. My number one goal is for God to use me and send blessings through me to help others with their purpose/goals. “
Elevation is a big responsibility in every aspect! What are some tips for ones who might not know how to reach the next level?
JM: “I’m a huge advocate for writing down everything! Write your goals down, research, find mentors, don’t be afraid to create your own opportunity, but most importantly believe in yourself! Often times we feel like everyone else deserves to shine and succeed, but we all deserve to shine. I often say at some point you have to be willing to give yourself 100% and not just to everyone else. As it relates to your brand, I always believe if you’re not sure about things don’t be afraid to outsource and ask for help.”
What is your most memorable experience so far with McDowell Branding?
JM: “One of my most memorable experiences so far is definitely working with Big Freedia and FUSE TV. I was brought on the project by one of my former ESSENCE Festival’s managers Christian Mitchell. Along with another colleague, Ceja Springer, we curated an amazing Private VIP Viewing Premier Party for Big Freedia Bounces Back. The evening included a second line entrance from Freedia and the cast, video premiere, celeb guests, live stream on Facebook, cocktail hour, media, and more. We had a great time working with the FUSE Tv team, Big Freedia and his team on this project. One of my favorite projects to date. “
Jalessa and Big Freedia at VIP Premiere Party for Big Freedia Bounces Back
What is the bible scripture that gets you through anything?
JM: “I love Hebrews 11:1
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I stand on this particular scripture because, God is giving us the power to have faith right now in the moment, it’s nothing we have to wait for but to believe right now that He will show up no matter what, and what we hope for will come to pass. “
What is success to you? What is happiness to you?
JM: “Success is truly about having a peace of mind but most importantly giving your God given gifts back to God and to world to help others in some way. Happiness to me is peace, it’s allowing God to fill you up and giving that peace and love to others. Everything for me no matter if it’s personal or business, I look at my life from a vertical place then a horizontal place. The vertical place represents my relationship with God, and understanding no matter what is happening in my life that it’s where love begins, it’s where my heart resides. The horizontal represents everything else in my life including my relationship with others. The vertical has to be fulfilled in order for the horizontal to work well. “
McDowell’s Branding Group LLC
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