Part of what I love so much about connecting with other women entrepreneurs and having this blog is hearing all the stories of women who have overcome obstacles and adversity to get to where they are. Marissa Levin is a woman entrepreneur with an inspiring success story. Fourteen years ago, Marissa started her business, Information Experts, in her kitchen after her boss told her she would never be worth more than $34,000. Today, Information Experts is a multimillion-dollar integrated consulting firm and Marissa has since won several awards for her leadership skills. I am pleased to be interviewing Marissa today about her experiences as a woman entrepreneur.
Natalie: 14 years ago you started your business because your boss told you that you’d never be worth more than $34,000 and today you run a multimillion dollar company. What has this journey been like for you?
Marissa: This journey has been a tremendous learning experience. It has, in many ways, shaped and defined who I am. It has pushed me way beyond my comfort zones in many ways, and has required tremendous courage and perseverance. As a CEO and woman business owner, I am always concurrently both a teacher and a student, as well as a mentor and a protégé. I never envisioned that I would be running a business like this. I’ve always been expressive, family-oriented, relationship-focused, and interested in helping others. I try to be present in life… to show up in every aspect of my life, and in every relationship.
I also want to always be able to look squarely in the eye those that trust me and depend on me, and this need drives my decisions and actions. I take the trust and vulnerability of others very seriously. It really is these characteristics that drove me to start my own firm, because I don’t think these traits were valued or appreciated in my previous roles. Only my skill-sets were valued. I think my ability to stay true to my core value system has enabled me to be a successful leader. I also think I was very fortunate to learn early on what I didn’t want from life. And that also was a catalyst for me in starting my own firm. Overall the journey has been one of self-discovery, personal growth, and professional growth. And despite how much I have accomplished, I am certain I haven’t even scratched the surface of any of these aspects. I have so much more learning, growth, and discovery ahead of me, in all aspects of my life. And I will eagerly embrace all of it.
Natalie: Can you tell us a bit more about your company, Information Experts, and your role in the company today?
Marissa: Information Experts is a full-service strategic communications firm with three core practice areas: Education/learning, Human Capital, and Creative Services/Marketing/Outreach. Blending strategic thinking with creative and pragmatic implementation, we create and manage programs that produce real results: a changed and educated audience, a compelling brand and a more productive workforce. As CEO, internally I set the vision, mission, value system, culture, and strategic direction of the company. Externally I build our brand, articulate our value to the marketplace, establish relationships with strategic partners, and develop & maintain relationships with customers. I am very much the face of Information Experts. I also do a tremendous amount of speaking on how to successfully build a government contracting organization, how to bootstrap an organization, and how women entrepreneurs can build organizations that align with the rest of their lives. I am very passionate about helping other women business owners.
Natalie: What advice do you have for women entrepreneurs or women who may be in the position that you were in 14 years ago and wanting to start a business?
Marissa: Women today have so many more advantages than I had 14 years ago. There are so many avenues of emotional support for women business owners through local, national, and online networking organizations, and this is essential for women business owners. Tap into those groups You can’t build a business on your own, and you have so much to learn. Surround yourself with people that know more than you do and stay connected to others that emotionally support you.
Stay true to your core value system, and don’t forget to have a family life. I see so many women business owners delaying their family plans or becoming so engrossed with their businesses that they don’t nurture other essential relationships. There will never be a “right time” to try and have it all. The business can not define you. You must derive satisfaction from other aspects of your life. Do not neglect your relationships. I’ve had my business for almost 15 years, and I have two boys, ages 9 and 12. It is extraordinarily hard to try to be all things to all people. There are times when I have had to sacrifice the growth of my business for the development of my children but I make no apologies for that. I also implore women to give themselves the gifts of imperfection and self-acceptance. Embrace the journey and believe that you can succeed.
Natalie: What are the three most important lessons you have learned building Information Experts?
Marissa: I’ve learned finally to not compare myself to other successful women who seem to have it all together. Invariably, things are not always as they seem, and no one has it all together. I have also learned how important it is embrace change because at any given time, you will need to shift strategies due to circumstances beyond your control. Finally, I’ve learned that when you are in the middle of the ocean, failure is not an option. We must keep swimming. Somehow, in the hardest of times, we are able to find the strength to pull through and to come out stronger in the end. We must have patience and faith that things will turn out the way they were meant to be.
Natalie: What is a day like “in your heels?”
Marissa: Every day is different. But every day has similar components: self-care (beginning with a 60-minute exercise session), family care (caring for my kids before and after school and being present when I am with them; connecting with my husband outside of Information Experts), organizational care (doing what I need on any given day to propel the business forward: internal meetings, external meetings, planning, etc.), connectivity with extended friends and family, and some type of spiritual fulfillment, even if it is simply a prayer of gratitude.
Natalie: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us Marissa.