Our Founder and Creative Director, Ashley Graham, was recently featured on SD Voyager Magazine, a local media publication focusing on San Diego’s most creative stories around entrepreneurs, creatives, and more!

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ashley Graham.

Ashley, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.

“Never underestimate the power of coffee and a woman with a dream”.

For starters, I own a boutique brand management agency in San Diego called Brandesso. The name itself is quite unorthodox to the “norms” of brand development, but seeing as I believe branding owes its success to creativity, my name had to match just that. Imagine a contradiction of the words “branding” and “espresso”, and you get Brandesso!

Our process is much like walking into a coffee shop. When you approach the barista, you have a pretty good idea of the type of coffee you want, the size, as well as what you want to put in it: and the ingredients are simple! Just add a little cream and sugar and you are on your way. When it comes to branding, you have an understanding of what you need in order to build brand awareness, but it takes a specialist “the barista” to put together a solid service to give you the finest product.. That’s where we come in.

Okay, enough with the elevator pitch.. 😉

As for the brains behind the operation, I am a midwest transplant that moved out to San Diego back in August of 2008. I packed my bags, loaded my small Saturn Coupe, and drove out west to pursue a bachelors degree in Marketing and Management at the Art Institute of California – San Diego. Upon graduating mid-2011, I spent the next five years in the San Diego startup scene, learning and soaking up all the information I could, not only when it came to the appeal and processes of marketing, but also structural aspects such as company culture, ethics, synergy, and overall integrity.

Known as the Jill of all trades (or so I have been told), I have worn many hats in vast marketing and management positions for several industries such as retail, beauty, real estate, hospitality, and finance. Although my in-house positions possessed characteristics that kept the work fun and engaging, I always felt there was something missing or I had outgrown the positions rather quickly. Like most employees pursuing their careers out of college, I was embedded with the idea that I needed to maintain my in-house positions for financial stability, regardless of the inevitable conflict of interest of where my passions lied, versus where my efforts were going.

As a result, my day-to-day life grew stagnant, and what most entrepreneurs will agree to, is that with this mindset, we limit our abilities and miss out on more prominent opportunities.

What I needed was a creative outlet…

What was once a Youtube channel, quickly turned into a lifestyle blog where I conducted reviews on restaurants and events around San Diego, as well as makeup and cosmetic reviews, travel features, and anything that appealed to me. I worked with brands on a local and national basis and even tapped into a few international opportunities working with brands in Canada, Mexico, and France. My process as a blogger was not only to make my content appealing to my audience but to also apply the array of skills I had developed over the years in my in-house positions for this creative project.

My skill-set progressed rather quickly and I needed my career to follow. Rather than sitting back and hoping for my dream job to land in my lap, I decided to create it myself. I had always envisioned myself as an entrepreneur, it just took some time to discover in what way.

After about three years it had finally dawned on me that I should turn this hobby into a full-time focus, as working with creative brands collaboratively on their marketing strategies, was where I had found my natural passion. That is where Brandesso was finally brewed in March of 2016.

Since then, I have engaged in some fantastic projects such as copywriting and editing for a now published book on Amazon, rebranded a lifestyle brands entire online presence, launched a creative group called Coffee and Commerce, and paved the road for even more fulfilling projects to come.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?

The roads worth traveling are never smooth and it’s the bumps that truly define you. As for my experience, the first was the obvious: the financial transition. Like most entrepreneurs who are pursuing a passion or starting a business, I developed a higher sense of my budget and spending habits, even more than I had before. This resulted in having to put short-term business costs and goals I wanted to achieve on hold, while I focused on just making ends meet.

Although I come from a background of wearing many hats, sales has never been one of them, which resulted in a slow start on the financial front. Most of my business was gained through referrals and word-of-mouth from the extensive network I had developed over the years working in-house. Business kicked off fast in the beginning, but the work was lacking substance and body. Again, I was making ends meet, but I was missing the large piece of the puzzle; “the pie”.

Although a high-emotional period in the process, it was rewarding to discover that sales was never my forte as it pushed me towards the next course of action. The streamlined process of bringing on new accounts will always be a work-in-progress as there is always room for growth, but by reaching a few financial hiccups, in the beginning, it lit a fire under me to take my business from 0 to 60 in a matter of days.

Other bumps were more around the lifestyle changes from working full-time to self-employment. Let’s just say that the struggle was real when it came to escaping that “9-5” mentality. One of the ultimate goals I set towards becoming an entrepreneur was to enjoy the flexibility and freedom but was chained to the mentality that if I wasn’t working from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. straight Monday through Friday, I felt guilty. That was the hardest obstacle to overcome but as with anything in life, you find your grooves and I finally found mine. Some days I will work from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m., others noon to 3 p.m. The beauty of being an entrepreneur, is it’s not about HOW many hours you put in, but how you are utilizing that time.

Struggles are only struggles if you allow them to be. Struggles are learning experiences that force you to become a better version of yourself than who you were before, and I strive to frame my mindset around that each day to keep pushing on.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Brandesso – what should we know?

As mentioned before, Brandesso specializes in building and managing brands messaging and image. As for our services, we cover everything from full brand development, to brand management on social media, media/pr outreach, and design within website and photography. What I believe truly sets us apart, is how integrated we are with the community. Although a very competitive industry, it is hard to see others as competition as I’ve always viewed them as equals and focus a lot of my efforts on supporting the community (competition or not).

Going back to longing for synergy working in-house, I strive to build Brandesso’s image in a positive and uplifting manor, to connect with the community with no intention other than to watch it grow. I may be drinking the kool-aid, but I believe in the law of attraction that if you do good, good will return to you tenfold.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?

Oh boy, where do I begin! I have had a countless number of mentors and supporters who have been building me up mentally (and emotionally) through this entire journey. I not only owe my life to my family, obviously, but I wouldn’t be as centered or grounded as I am if it wasn’t for their love and support. I come from a long line of business owners from both sides of my family, and if it wasn’t for their guidance and pep talks of obstacles and roadblocks I would face prior and during the start of Brandesso, I’m not sure if I would have been as confident to go out and pursue this business as I did.

Aside from family, I naturally attract people who share similar interests, ethics, and values, both in person and even online. As my intern Kaithleen once said, is I am a quirky, social butterfly that wants to be everyone’s best friend, and I come across more and more personalities like this each day. These people are often reminded by me every day of how thankful I am to have them in my life, as I am quite the sap in that regards. Especially when it comes to expressing my gratitude for the small things. You all know who you are. 🙂 I owe a lot to their shared words of affirmation and cheers from the sidelines when I find myself in doubts.

Thank you a million times over!

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