Jhoanna Marissa, founder of WILLA Creative Agency, on creating her dream women-led digital creative agency in the fashion and lifestyle space

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Describe WILLA Creative Agency in a few words?

A digital-first creative agency working with beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Not being able to find my dream job. I wanted to work in the digital e-commerce space specifically in beauty and fashion. And back when I was looking – those roles were very sparse. So I started to do it on my own and slowly cultivated not only the work environment I craved, but working with brands I loved.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

My first job was as an intern at a magazine. I thought I was so cool and loved every minute of it. After that I went from being a marketing assistant to Branding and Partnerships Director at an entertainment marketing company in LA. It was there that I started dabbling into web design, creative etc. However this company focused heavily on experiential marketing in hospitality and music. While those are great, I wanted to work in fashion & beauty and focus more on digital. I started to see the boom of digital blogs and e-commerce and that’s where I knew I wanted to be so I took the very scary leap to create something for myself. But both those jobs gave me a good taste of hard work and wearing lots of hats which i was so grateful for.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

No, it happened organically for me over time.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

I made sure everyone knew what I was working on and / or doing. Referral and word-of-mouth was always the best way I got clients so once I recognized that I made sure to keep WILLA part of my conversations. I also wasn’t getting the type of clients I wanted in the beginning so I decided to create my own e-commerce website and very small dress line and really showcased people my style, what I was into and what I could do.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

There were a couple times that I said yes to a project that was over my head and thought “hey I’ll just figure this out as I go.” And quickly I realized it was not the right move. I learned quickly that transparency and honesty is so much more important than the idea of fake it to make it.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I am mostly proud of the culture that’s been created within WILLA. I remember back in my early 20s this whole motto around “being overworked and underpaid,  never cry at the office, employee first human second” and in starting my own agency I wanted to create something that felt good to be a part of. I wanted to make sure I invested in women and create a positive work environment for everyone who is a part of it. And I feel like I’ve done that.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

My go to question is “would you rather have your project be late and perfect or imperfect and on time?” Then I ask them to elaborate. And there really isn’t an exact right answer for me but it gets me to understand the way this person approaches design and product. For hiring tips I always encourage people to truly feel that they are interviewing the company just as much as they are being interviewed. I always value people who are selective and value their time and worth. And with Zoom being the new norm, don’t let that be an excuse to not show up as if you’re in person. think about things behind you how close you are to the camera your audio your posture what you’re wearing it all really makes a difference of how you show up even in that zoom interview

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Definitely not as much as many other businesses and for that I am super grateful. The way it’s affected us the most is losing that thing that really made Willa such a great team to be a part of, and that is company culture, team gatherings, and just the overall energy we would be able to get in the office on a daily basis

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We have been investing in a couple brands that we truly believe in and incubating a couple of products that were super excited about. More to come.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

To be grateful more. And to be even more intentional with the products and digital experiences we create now more than ever.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

That everyone else is also just figuring it out as they go. And make sure you have an incredible CPA. 🙂

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Continuing to keep a routine for myself was super important. I committed to continue to go into the office even though I was alone. It created a lot of structure within my work life balance that with everything else going on in the world it was the only way I was able to really stay connected to the work that we had on our plate since we never really slowed down

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Yes, 100%. I’ve always been into beauty and wellness and I never sacrificed that me time. I make time for my beauty routines, take baths, go to the infrared sauna, get facials, at home pampering, and anything else that makes me feel good. I also rarely work on the weekends. I use that time to catch up on anything or get ahead but for the most part I really keep the weekends for myself.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I did barbie commercials as a kid.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

1. Working out before work. 2. Making sure my workplace is organized and bright with maybe a candle burning and soft music. 3. Hand written goals and lists,

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It means I get to create something on my own terms, build a legacy for myself, and pave ways for future Entreprenistas.

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