Debra Cortese is an avid nature lover, gardener, and tree-hugger who loves to create and share art. Read on to see how this artist’s entrepreneurial journey began.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.
My entrepreneurial journey started by accident in 1980. I had been employed for several years as an assistant art director for a major industrial corporation in Vermont and in July of that year, I gave birth to my first daughter. During my maternity leave I was told that my position was no longer needed, but, would I consider freelancing? I did and that turned out to be one of the best turning points in my career!
The freelance business took off and within two years, I had become a full-service advertising and design agency employing a staff of five; plus I contracted with dozens of specialists for product and location photography, videographers, trainers, copywriters, models, voice-over artists, and so on. Our clients were the top businesses in Vermont’s northeast kingdom: banks, hospitals, manufacturers, car dealerships, travel agencies, TV stations, schools and the Department of Agriculture.
Along the way, my lifelong loves of nature and art returned and I began to paint and shoot photos in my spare time. Being a business-minded, Aries type, I decided to step into the art business world and to open a gallery along with the agency. I had the building and the space so it wasn’t stretching too far.
My plan was to represent myself and other artists and eventually join the potentially lucrative field of art licensing. However, the Universe had other plans. My personal life was not in alignment with my career and after a couple of years of struggling to make it all run smoothly, my marriage ended and I had to downsize the agency, close the gallery and learn how to live with joint custody of our daughter.
Nature and art became my therapy and my constant true joy. There are many other chapters including a remarriage, birth of my second daughter, the death of my husband, moving and rebuilding again, and again. Since the late 90’s I have been blessed to be able to focus on creating art that shares the magic that I feel from nature. I’ve developed a style that represents this ‘nature’s energy’ and everything I create resonates with some element of a powerful vibration from nature.
My latest entrepreneurial journey took about 25 years and I’m now back on track with the art licensing business. Nature’s Energy Cortese Designs is the culmination of many chapters of my business and personal stories. I thoroughly enjoy creating custom bag designs that not only represent the message and brand of a business or organization but also share the magical power of nature.
How did you fund your business?
I cashed in my 401k retirement fund for my first business and the agency maintained a steady cash flow throughout the years. Equipment expenses required short-term financing and I was always able to manage using my credit rating and property for collateral. Times have changed and I’m committed to living within my means which is both challenging and very rewarding. Bootstrapping and bartering are two of my favorite ‘funding’ options. I’ve learned that I cannot do everything alone and that there are great advantages in collaborating with other businesses and organizations. I am always open to new joint ventures where everyone has something to share and something to gain.
What did you do before launching your own art and design business?
In addition to the corporate art director position that I mentioned in the beginning of this interview, these are several other positions I’ve held:
- newspaper ad design, production, and outside ad sales
- ad agency creative assistant
- specialty yellow page ad sales
- custom illustrations for wig manufacturer
- private high school library and media assistant
- commercial print shop graphic artist, typographer, and finisher
How many hours do you work a week and how much is spent in your home office?
I average at least a 40 hour week and all of it is in my home office. On top of that, I attend as many networking and business meetings as I can handle, plus, I belong to several art and meetup groups. Miami is a very stimulating place to live and there is always something going on that interests me.
How would you rate your success?
I am enjoying my work more than ever and am embracing the principles of “Do what you love and the money will follow” combined with a solid business plan and a determination to stay focused.
What has been your biggest struggle as an entrepreneur?
Attempting to do everything myself. Once I realized the level of accomplishment that I wanted would not be possible without expansion, partnerships, and collaborations, my mindset changed and doors began opening. Opportunities present themselves, and my story and the business continues to evolve.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Have a written business plan, get very focused. Research, read, learn, attend workshops, work with a business coach, join or create a mastermind group. Follow your passion. Do what you love, but do it with the power of research, information and a solid support system of family, friends, and business partners.
How do you manage all of your personal and business activities?
I have everything on a master calendar, prioritized by deadlines and the degree of alignment with my business and personal goals. I check the calendar daily, weekly and review it often to be sure I am on track. Sorting email is a daily challenge that I will gladly turn over as soon as possible. A personal assistant is high on my list!
Thanks Debra for sharing your story!
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