I Went From Multinational Agency to Full-Time Entrepreneur and Never Looked Back
Fiona O’Leary Sloan | MBA Class of 2019 | Careers
Like many of my peers at ASB, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. But perhaps unlike my peers, I’ve often tried to convince myself that I wasn’t — that I was destined for a more traditional career at a prestigious company, following a well-worn path toward the “top.” A year of that later, and I have finally realized that I was always meant to work with people, not for them.
I moved to NYC shortly after graduating from ASB in 2019, convinced I’d landed my dream job, working as a Business Designer for an international design agency. It was exactly the job I’d been aiming for post-grad, and I was so proud of myself for landing it from all the way around the world. I still am.
But as I put in my hours at work, I spent my evenings keeping up the side-hustle I’d had for six years: designing websites for small business owners around the US. Over time, I realized that my favorite part of my 9-5 job was the same part I loved about my side-hustle: working deep in the trenches with clients to help them tell their story in a more impactful way.
So when my former employer announced they had been acquired by a Big 4 firm, it felt like the time had come. In the two months since I left, I officially decided to set out on my own as a full-time web designer building a full-suite creative shop.
I’ve been a freelance web designer, in some capacity, for over six years. Until recently, I thought of it as a vehicle — something that helped me do something else — and never a destination. Becoming a full-time web designer with my own small business never felt like a viable option until the mental reshuffling of a global pandemic helped me realize what was right in front of me.
The reality is that I’m not the same web designer I was when I started six years ago. I’m a hell of a lot better at web design, for one, but I’m also more than a web designer now. Web design is my tool, but my artwork is helping businesses grow.
We can embody job titles without printing them on our business cards. For example, I am strategic in my web design practice, but my job is not that of a strategist. I help my clients develop their business models through the visual lens of my phased web design process.
MBAs are inherently generalist degrees. People come from all backgrounds into an MBA and leave to achieve a wide variety of things. We often view MBAs as a machine for career switchers — enter as an accountant, exit as a program manager.
I think MBAs actually offer another, alternative route: that of a genuine entrepreneur. We can enter as a jill-of-all-trades and exit as a jill-of-even-more-trades.
The point I want to make is this: working for myself is the least prestigious thing I’ve done in my career, and it’s already the thing I’m most proud of. I’m grateful to have attended a school that celebrates the gamut of accomplishments of my peers.
I have won things in raffles exactly twice. In 2013, I won a web design course. This past week, I won a bundle of digital nomad tools I’d put in an Amazon wish list raffle. Call it coincidence, but I call it a sign—things tend to fall quickly into place once you’ve aligned your passion with your vision.
The name of this venture is pending, but for now it lives under my own name, at www.fionaolearysloan.com. I truly couldn’t be more excited to grow into my new role as a bona-fide, full-time, proud entrepreneur.