This is Mary Kay Williams.
Hey girl, hey.
Mary Kay is a misfit and I love her.
Guys, I meet a lot of interesting people. I’m drawn to them. So it didn’t surprise me when I sat down with my wife, Michel, at our local Cherry Blossom Festival and felt an instant connection with the woman fated to draw my ugly mug. Reading this back to myself, it sounds like ours was a chance meeting.
Except I don’t believe in chance.
So let’s get to know this woman a bit and I’ll tell ya’ what she taught me about being an entrepreneur with a killer personal brand.
Okay, Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s exactly what you’re imagining; funnel cakes, games, food, rides, food, craft stalls, porta potties, food. Pretty standard stuff. Dunno’ why I love these money-sucking traps but a sucker’s born every minute so they say.
I’m not sure how I was talked into getting a caricature done. In my years going to festivals, fairs and carnivals there’s literally never been any interest in the things. Not even a spark.
But there I was, sitting down in a black, plastic folding chair next to Michel. I think I was grinning like an idiot. The woman who sat across from us, low-key studying our faces, had a comfortable, infectious smile. She spoke quickly at times, but her pleasantness ruled our little corner.
Me being me, I had to ask questions. We started with introductions.
She said her name was Mary Kay.
She travelled with the festival circuits.
She’s been a fulltime caricature artist for ten years (I’m going by memory, so I might be a little bit off). She loves what she does.
Thing about me is, once introductions end, I move instantly into ‘known you for years’ mode. It’s a habit. I used to think it was bad, but boy does it give me great stories to tell.
That said, it wasn’t until I asked how she got started with caricatures that our relationship went from ‘let me slip outside to pass gas’ new to ‘let loose with the windows rolled up’ status. So I asked and Mary Kay dropped this truth bomb.
“I found out pretty early on I’m unemployable.”
Her honesty struck me. Not just her honesty, but her acceptance of the truth. It was the first lesson she taught me.
1) Know Who You Are
As entrepreneurs, especially military spouse bosses, it’s easy to get caught up in how other’s define you. Some people may look at you and see the wife or husband of a military member. Others may define you as an undesirable employee because you’ll move in a few years. Still others might see you as a stay-at-home parent that doesn’t ‘work’. There’s no limit to the amount of definitions surrounding you. Know what though?
None of it matters.
The only person that knows who you are and what’s right for you is…you. When you set career goals for yourself and your business, it’s got to be truthful to who you are. Otherwise your audience will notice. Not only will they notice, but they’ll likely move on. Fakeness is a big turn-off.
Mary Kay explained that being fired from multiple jobs years ago had taught her that she wasn’t suited for the corporate grind. The boredom of routine was enough to crush her soul.
I know the feeling, and so we bonded over our shared fear of the corporate box. It wasn’t for quite some time that the next hidden lesson of her story surfaced for me.
2) Failing Is Not The Same As Failure
I think it boils down to the casualness of how Mary Kay describes her firings that made me miss this gem of a life lesson.
Because she knew herself, Mary Kay was able to take being let go as a stepping stone to fulfillment. While many others would find devastation in getting the axe, this woman saw it as a perfect fit. Now, truthfully, I don’t know whether she spent a month or two (or a year or ten) eating ice cream and not showering before she got her groove back. All I know for certain is that failing happened some time in her past and I was in her present hearing all about it. She’d obviously pushed through. She didn’t give up.
Failing did not make her a failure.
See failing is active. It requires movement, decisions, action. Failing can be overcome. Being a failure is concrete. There’s no motion. Mary Kay showed me that as long as you keep moving, you can’t be a failure. That’s an absolutely essential mindset for milspouse entrepreneurs to have.
You may not get that job. You may PCS to a location where you can’t quite reach past levels of success. You may have periods where you question yourself.
It’s all good. Keep going.
3) Build A Misfit Business
There’s something inspiring about misfits. They make people uncomfortable in a good way. With Mary Kay, she was completely comfortable in who she was, why her business existed and how people looked at it all. And why shouldn’t she be? I mean she literally banned the 9-5 grind from her life. How many people have the courage to do that?
Her quirky nature sits just to the left of ‘normal’. Instead of hiding it, she has allowed it to fuel her artistry and her customer engagement. How many people are intelligent enough to embrace fully themselves and their journey as a competitive advantage?
I’m not even sure she knows it’s happening all the time. It’s just instinctual to be unique and authentic. But that’s the exact formula for a misfit business. Authenticity. Keeping it real.
When you brand yourself truthfully, you never have to worry about standing out from the crowd. There’s only one of you in the world. You’ll shine like a diamond because most portray themselves as just another stone on the ground.
4) Know Your Business
This one is especially true for the creative entrepreneurs. We like the fun stuff. The drawing, painting, crafting, sculpting or writing. Many of us would do it in our spare time. Awesome. Great. You want that fyah.
But what’s the point of having fyah if you’re so hungry your stomach is eating your back?
Creating must be balanced with making a living. And making a living requires business skills. From bookkeeping to scheduling to contracts and beyond, entrepreneurs need to have a firm handle on the nitty gritty of running a business.
“I had to work really hard on organizing. Mostly because I’m…not organized. I think most creatives are hard-wired for being entrepreneurs. We’re flexible, problem-solvers. But we need help with details. The rest falls into place once we have those skills.”
5) Have Fun Being Exceptional
Mastery takes time. It also takes dedication and resilience. So when you find that thing…the thing that makes you go crazy but you can’t walk away from it, you master the crap out of it. Then you let the world know they need you.
Mary Kay has spent a lifetime honing her skills. She’s not perfect, but she’s damn good at what she does. It’s because of this that she can have fun with her work. She has a system to produce quickly. Interestingly this gives her an ability to engage with customers on a personal level many only hope to achieve.
Her artistry has become second nature. When she can touch the hearts of her subjects, get to know something about them and them her, I have no doubt her pieces gain a touch more life to them. They become intimate. Memorable. Valuable beyond money.
A sheet of A4 paper, covered in ink and color, becomes a connection. A cherished, lightweight memory people admire long after Mary herself would fade away.
That’s good branding.
So again, this is Mary Kay. The World’s Greatest Caricature Artist and a boss entrepreneur. Check her out at Marykayarts.com.
Ha. Love it.
Do you have any more ideas on how to be a misfit entrepreneur? Drop me a comment below. Thanks guys!