Jennah Synnestvedt: Graphic Designer and Intuitive Reader/Teacher

Small Business Champion Interview

By Kirsten Blake, Chapter Be

"You have to live into the answers and they will appear. If you seek out the answer then you find someone else's answer, apply it to your thing and it doesn't work for you."

Jennah Synnestvedt only took one art class in high school before applying and being accepted to Pratt Institute. She packed her bags, moved to New York City and earned a degree in Communications Design with a major in graphic design. Jennah stayed in New York after graduating and decided to focus on being a freelancer – so her experiences have always included working for herself. She was doing typical graphic design work, as well as book and magazine design, but was also trying to be very conscious about not working for companies that might be harming the planet.

She wanted to work on projects and campaigns that reached masses of people, but were also helping the planet. So, she was elated when she started working for an agency that was doing a national campaign for Burt's Bees. This was at the beginning of the green movement, and she felt as though her personal and professional ideals were aligned in this work. Then, in 2008, her sister became pregnant and was going to be a single mom. Jennah made the decision to move to Santa Fe for eight months to be with her sister and help her with the birth of her son.  

Jennah took spiritual classes during this time, which helped her learn about her own intuition and energy. She had a major awakening, in that she realized that she could not fix what's wrong with the planet until she fixed herself first. Her time in Santa Fe taught her to approach things from a place of wholeness, and for a while she thought about exploring being a psychic reader. Ultimately, she made the decision to move back to her home state of Colorado, and that journey helped her realize that there was a space to help guide the soul back into business.

Currently a majority of Jennah's work is in website design, where she stresses the importance of visual branding – helping small businesses think about their logos, colors and images that capture people's attention and express the brand. She believes that it is the visual part of the brand that really resonates with others on an emotional level, which she then works into that business's website.

Another major part of Jennah's work includes Aspen Oracle Publishing, which publishes a few oracle decks: Tough Shit Tarot, SynchroniCITY Cards and Aspen Oracle Angel Cards. These card decks are for the individual to help them live their magic, and they also serve as a reminder to connect to your internal guidance and GPS. The oracle cards were a natural way to combine both her skill set in design and her interest in spirituality.

There is a lot that goes on internally when you start a business, and Jennah loves pointing people to their own power, truth and freedom. She approaches her work through collaboration instead of competition and lives by the mantra that you cannot get attached to one person, client or project. If you do, it just causes fear as you look to them as your source.

She warns to be careful about taking work just because you are afraid nothing else will come.  Instead, she advises to take action from the place of trust. If you are too busy trying to force something, you could miss other opportunities that are appearing because you are blind to them. Instead give yourself permission to experiment and try new things in order to see where it leads and what you learn about yourself in the process. Let go of perfectionism and the idea that everything has to be perfect in order to start. Because, as Jennah points out, "There is no such thing as failure – it all is just a process of discovery."

How do you measure success?
I measure success by a feeling of being at peace and being at peace with myself. The more I am at peace with myself and the choices I've made and the past, the future the present – that's success to me.

What is the biggest happy accident you have had in starting or conducting your business?
The Tough Shit Tarot cards. My friend, Nami, came to me about creating an oracle card deck. She originally thought it would be a "next step" deck. I wasn't sure what I could do with that, so I told her to go ahead and write it and then come back to me. I figured that would help me with design ideas. She came back to me about 8 months or a year later and told me that the deck she ended up writing was Tough Shit Tarot: A Deck of Rude Awakenings. I thought it was hilarious and knew immediately it was something I wanted to be involved in – and it was the easiest thing I ever designed. That's what led to this awakening that I wanted to focus on Aspen Oracle Publishing. It connected me back to my idea of the Synchronicity cards, which I had wanted to do for over five years. It helped that become more and more defined. It was a big motivator for me to remember that dream and realign with it.

When are you the most satisfied in your life?
I'm the most satisfied when I can wake up whenever I want to in the morning – which doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping-in. It could mean that I feel like waking up at 7am, so I am going to wake up at 7am – or it might be 11am. It's just when I can wake up and not feel like I have to be somewhere at a certain time and wake up being in-tune with my body's natural rhythm. I'd work when I am inspired and feel like I want to work on it, not when there is a deadline looming over me. When clients want timelines and estimates – that kind of kills my soul. It all depends on how they do it. When it is done out of control – I can't stand it.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting your business?
I think it was that the answers will just come out of thin air. That is actually how the name "Aspen Oracle" came to me. I always have to let go of the analytical, trying-to-find-a-solution way and just trust that the answers will come to me when they are supposed to – you have to live into the answers and they will appear. If you seek out the answer then you find someone else's answer, apply it to your thing and it doesn't work for you. There is also an element of owning it in your own way, too. Because it might be someone else's answer, but then you need to have filter on it. So, it's good information, but how do you own it in your own way?

What is your biggest struggle in being a small business owner (and/or in starting a small business)?
Thinking that people won’t accept me if I am successful – specifically, more successful then them. There is always this fear of leaving people behind or that they are going to think that I am too rich or too snobby or too materialistic. It also is about how we connect with people on a positive level. Eckhart Tolle has talked about how we connect over "pain bodies" – how we bond over our pain or gossiping. It is about how we can live without that, and I believe that success and money come the more you live without that. So, for example, if you connected with someone over having no money and then that changes or you let that go, how does that change the relationship. That can be a scary thought.

If you weren't doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?
Traveling is the first word that comes into my head, but I would imagine most people say that! But I think it is really more about what I am trying to do with my business right now, which is working with just one or two clients at a time. Maybe more high end work, so that I can be in that artistic space and my creative zone more. Ideally, I'd be able to travel around the world to create the Synchronicity cards. Creating a deck of cards for each city or site that I go to along my travels. That really would allow me to combine my love for travel to my practical design work!

Matthew S. Bargell: NORDEN41 Design

Small Business Champion Interview

As a professional graphic designer spanning 25 years, I’ve designed and collaborated on numerous successful creative web and print publishing projects for both small and high-profile companies. I currently am the owner and lead designer at my creative/design agency in North Denver called, NORDEN41.

How do you measure success?
My measurement for success (at least for business) is really quite simple. It’s called the “Return Customer.” A Return Customer is a satisfied customer and this does not only pay dividends in repeat business but usually extends to word-of-mouth marketing for one’s business. Regarding personal success, I don’t think anyone can go wrong by getting paid for doing something they love. Passion, Personal Growth, Travel, Kindness and Tolerance are a few of my favorite attributes and are the ones that I consider to be prevalent in most successful people.

What is the biggest “happy accident” you have had in starting your business?
Ironically, the biggest “happy accident” for me was when I was seriously considering a new business concept in a completely different industry. I actually went down the road of exploring this new business and with the help of Denver’s SBDC, it was this process that made me realize my true passion — graphic design and brand development. I learned that “reaffirmation,” in itself, can be a powerful tool in business.

When have you been the most satisfied in your life?
Aside from the cliché: “When I hear the laughter of my children,” which happens to be true for me, it was probably the year when I realized that I had what it takes to make a good living and be my own boss.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting your business?
I wish I could share something profoundly inspiring here. That said, my favorite piece of advice was a simple quote I read many years ago from the famous car-racing owner and enthusiast, Roger Penske: “Effort equals Results.” In other words, work hard, do your due diligence, persevere and good things will happen.

What is your biggest struggle in being a small business owner (and/or starting a small business)?
Managing growth vs risk. I truly care about my employees and their families so I never want to be put in a position where I have to lay someone off. Growing a company requires some financial risk and managing the impact on cash flow and revenue streams must be carefully considered before adding staff or equipment.

If you weren’t doing what you are doing now what would you be doing?
I would either be a chef at a boutique restaurant or a mechanic in a vintage automotive restoration business.

Craig Watrous: Business and Civil Litigation Law

Small Business Champion Interview

Craig is a partner at Mallon Lonnquist Morris & Watrous, a business and civil litigation law firm in Cherry Creek.  Craig focuses his practice on business and commercial law, transactions, contracts, corporate law, litigation and real estate. He represents established and start-up businesses and individuals. His clients come from a wide range of industries including: manufacturing, environmental services, environmental remediation, engineering, restaurants, construction, financial services and business consulting. He advises clients on a wide variety of business topics including: business formation, transactions, consolidations, non competition agreements, mergers and acquisitions, planning and operational legal problems, distribution, franchising, dealerships, import/export issues and general environmental matters. He also counsels clients in negotiation and resolution of disputes, including, when necessary, representing them in litigation. Craig received his JD and MBA from Tulane University and is tri-lingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese.  When not working he enjoys traveling, skiing, rock climbing and painting.

How do you measure success?
A variety of factors. Positive feedback from our clients, along with overall job satisfaction come to mind. We want to provide our clients with exceptional legal services; most of our new business is generated through referrals from current and past clients. We strive to build long term client relationships based on trust, legal acumen, quality of work, and efficiency. I want to work on engaging, challenging legal matters. Overall profit and accomplishment I see as the by-product of doing good work. So I think of success as generating and doing good work.

What is the biggest “happy accident” you have had in starting your business?
When I originally started practicing the job market was in rough shape. I ended up working as a contract attorney on a variety of legal matters for different attorneys, one of which seemed directly adverse to what I’d done prior at Tulane’s Environmental Law clinic; I represented a number of pesticide companies. The experience ended up being invaluable. The specific skill sets I learned have come into play time and again over my career and it showed me early on that legal issues are often not black or white.

When have you been the most satisfied in your life?
Graduate school, back when everything was hypothetical and theoretical and time was abundant.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting your business?
Focus on providing the highest quality services you can; do good work.  Providing excellent service leads to customer/client retention and ultimately builds the business. Do good work and the business will grow.

What is your biggest struggle in being a small business owner (and/or starting a small business)?
Time management. The juggling act between handling the work to be done, administrative tasks, business planning, and marketing.

If you weren’t doing what you are doing now what would you be doing?
Teaching and traveling.

Elizabeth Lewis: Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.

Small Business Champion Interview

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About My Entrepreneurial Journey:
My entrepreneurial journey started before I was born. At least about fifty years before I was born, and based on research probably closer to 100 years before I was born. You see, I am at least a fourth generation small business owner and it is believed actually a sixth generation small business owner based on Denver census records (anything before that becomes family folk tales).

Small business ownership is in my blood.  My father owned a real estate business. My grandfather, with a lot of business help from my grandmother, owned an electrical business. My other grandfather owned a restaurant along with several other startups. Going back to my great grandparents, one owned a large ad agency in Philadelphia back in the days of radio advertisement; another, after the death of her husband at a young age, started catering for locals and worked as an independent artist; yet another after a divorce started offering music lessons to support her family. Going back to fifth and sixth generations, records show independent carpenters and other tradesman who worked for themselves. The idea of working for anyone else was something that couldn't be reconciled with how I was raised - owning a business and being the boss was a family trait. Of my living relatives, a majority of my uncles, aunts, and cousins are small business owners today or were at one point in their lives.

I myself became a small business owner five years ago. Upon finding out I was pregnant, I knew that it was the perfect time to change not only my family status, but my work status.  Three months pregnant, I turned in my resignation and started my law firm on January 1, 2010. My first child was due June 28, 2010. Big life changes awaited.

As with every small business owner, my first year was filled with twists and turns that I didn't expect and some, especially the birth of my son, that I did. I spent time learning how to market, how to budget, and how to read my finances. Some things came naturally - for instance how to budget as I had managed my finances for years. Others had step learning curves - learning that growing a business takes time. Other things just happened. For instance, I learned that I could combine being a brand new mom and business owner. My newborn soon became an honorary guest at many events - and a great way to start conversations with strangers. (And a way to instill in him a drive to be a small business owner; to this day, people ask about my son at chamber events and he talks about wanting to go to work with mom to "run" a business.)

So, what do I do? In addition to being a small business owner, a boss, and a mother to my oldest furry child and now two human children, I am an attorney.  My business is a law firm that focuses on providing legal solutions for small business owners - a group of people that not only am I part of, but I love working with! I get to work with business owners when they are at their highs (starting their first business, signing a first lease, hiring their first employee, making their first dollar) and I get to figure out ways to help them find light at the end of the tunnel at their lows (fights between partners, issues with vendors, worries about making payroll). Even at times that seem bleak, many times I can determine fixes to situations that a business owner can't see through the darkness.

How do you measure success?
Measuring success for me is how my clients respond to what I do. I take my work personally - if a client has a success or sings my praises, I feel awesome! Going to a ribbon cutting for a company that I helped start is the best thing possible! I have received several emails from clients saying thank you that have left me feeling good for days. And being able to be present at a client opening, a client anniversary, or other client event shows that I have helped someone change his or her life just like opening up my own business changed mine. My client's successes are my successes.

What is the biggest “happy accident” you have had in starting your business?
My happy accident in my business was actually the self awareness that I needed to ask for help. My whole life I have been self-sufficient (a trait I have found that many entrepreneurs share). I started working at a "real" W2 paying job at 14. The only time in my life that I haven't worked at least one job was for several months my first year of law school (you aren't allowed to work while in your first year of law school by ABA rules, something that I had a hard time following because I had always worked at least one job since I was 14, even during undergraduate and graduate school). I learned how to wash my own clothes and cook my own meals as my mom worked. I learned to work during high school and college to help pay my way in the world - with several jobs offering tuition assistance. Asking for help was something I was not familiar with. However, as a business owner with two young children, I have learned that you need to learn to ask for help. It may be small (and cheap) at first - a free appointment with a SBDC counselor to ask for business plan advice or coffee with a power partner to ask for business referrals. It may be personal - requests for family to babysit to go to a networking event or even something as simple as to watch the baby so I could get a haircut to look presentable to clients. Then it may grow to where you have to pay for such help - a CPA to do your payroll, a new employee to take over tasks you don't have time for, an attorney to write an estate plan (yes, even attorneys use other attorneys if they know what is good for them!). I have even met people that have hired administrative assistants just to help with tasks such as dry-cleaning and appointment setting (I'm not there yet, but there is always the ten year anniversary goals!) or for people to answer their tweets or Facebook questions. Asking for help - whether paid or not paid - for many people is a skill you have to learn as entrepreneurs tend to be people who do things themselves.

When have you been the most satisfied in your life?
I have to say that right now, I am completely satisfied with life. I have a growing business, two healthy and happy children, a (somewhat neurotic) great dog, a happy marriage, and a great network of people that I interact with on both a personal and professional level every day (and many people on both levels depending on the day). This isn't to say there aren't nights that I don't wake up worried about how much I will bring in this month or that the phone will never ring again (it always does). But that is the life of a small business owner and human in general. Many small business owners I know are 80+ years old and still have those thoughts at 3:30am. The difference is that I have control over my business - I don't have to worry that a company with thousands of shareholders will lay me off tomorrow.

What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting your business?
I received two great pieces of advice.  The first was purely business. I was told that your first year of business, you will not make money. If you are lucky, you will come close to breaking even - and that is if you are lucky. You need to be prepared both mentally and financially for it. By your second year, you will probably break even and maybe even make a little.  However, chances are good you won't be able to pay yourself what you need to. Again, you need to be prepared mentally and financially to be able to live off of Top Ramen if you have to. By your third year (and beyond), you will finally reap the rewards of being a small business owner (if you made it this far). You will make money (if you don't, you need to reconsider your business) and have a life. However, you need to be prepared for two years of hard work and no money to get to this point.

The second piece of advice I got (which was more personal) was you can have everything, but you can't necessarily have it all at once. This came from a co-chair of board I was on who had a business and also children. This advice came as I was (and still am) dedicated to my children and my business. My colleague (who I consider both a business contact and friend) knew what I have learned - you can either raise your business or your child full-time- you can't do both. If you want to do both, you have to realize that your business isn't going to grow as quickly as one that receives 100% of the owner's attention. However, if you are lucky, then you can grow a business slowly, but also raise your children. Being able to take time off without asking permission when my son has a field trip is priceless.

What is your biggest struggle in being a small business owner (and/or starting a small business)?
My biggest struggle (other than having a child six months into being a business owner and then again a little less than three years later) was realizing that the advice I received (see above) was really true. Everyone says, based on the norms in their industry, that won't be me, I will make money in XX days, I will be open in XX days, it will only cost XX to get open even though for everyone else in my industry, it is ABC. You can run a business that makes XX and have a personal life. Your children (or dog, or love to ski, or marathons) won't get in the way of being a business owner. You are not special, it will not happen, and you will end up not making money until ABC, not being open until ABC, or spending ABC to be open. You will find that life gets in the way of being a business owner (unless you have absolutely no life). I was lucky - being a small business attorney prior to opening my own law firm, I saw time after time, business after business without proper funding. I knew I needed at least a one year financial cushion. While I was (mostly) prepared financially, I wasn't prepared mentally that it would really take two years (plus) to build a business that made a profit. I thought (like every other business owner), I would be the exception to the rule. I thought I could start a business, have a family, and success would fall from the sky. I wasn't the exception to the rule. I should have listened to those that have gone before me - they actually knew their stuff.

If you weren’t doing what you are doing now what would you be doing?
Prior to law school, I worked in IT. To be honest, even now I sometimes wonder if I wouldn't be happier in IT, which is what I would be doing if I weren't a lawyer. I look at my peers from back in the day that have jobs where the perks are free massages, catered meals, unlimited vacation, a beer fridge in the office, and a salary that they can count on (minus the dreaded "L" word - layoffs). I remember that I missed several years of "real" income while going to law school and then later starting a business (again - see above about the first few years of owning a business). Then, I realize that if I go to CrossFit at 10am on a Thursday, I don't have to explain to anyone. If I want to show up to work in jeans and a t-shirt because I don't have any appointments, I don't have to explain to anyone. If I want to take days off, I don't have to worry about clearing it with anyone.  And if I want to take every Friday off (which I do), to raise my children - and any other day that they need me - my career path is the same because my clients aren't worried about the hours I work, my marital or child status, but that I am there when they need me. Would the same be true if I was in IT still? Who is to say? But I am happy where I am now which is all that matters.