Jessica Stegen, founder of the Golden Cord Foundation and owner of JLS Event Management, is an entrepreneur with a true passion. She has found a way to create her own business combining her passions: event planning and working for a cause. We asked Jessica to provide some insight about being an entrepreneur in the nonprofit world.
What was your career background before starting the Golden Cord Foundation?
My passion and my career have always taken me down the path of non-profit work. Specifically, my area of expertise is program management and special events. I love working with people and organizations who believe they can make an impact on the lives of others. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some empowering and impactful efforts through my work with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri and as Special Events Coordinator with the Humane Society of Missouri. In 2011, I let my entrepreneurial spirit guide me and launched JLS Event Management.
Why did you start the Golden Cord foundation?
My husband Jon passed away in 2012 after a courageous 10-month battle with a rare and aggressive cancer. We were surrounded by an incredible support network of friends and family. Our journey taught me that every cancer patient deserves to feel like they have an army fighting with them, just like Jon did. After that experience, I wanted so badly to help other families who have had their lives turned upside-down by cancer feel more in control of the day to day throes of treatment – for them to feel like they could have a little of their “normal” back. While my husband Jon was battling cancer he still worked full-time through most of his treatment. He still read books to our kids, took charge of bath time, got fired-up about his favorite sports teams and planned date-nights and family activities.
Life with cancer is still normal life and I want to provide as many families as possible with tools to help support their version of normal.
Our new “Cancer Resource Binders” are modeled after the one Jon and I used throughout his treatment. It is a customizable care coordination guide and binder template for tracking medical records, appointments, doctor consultation notes, pain and diet tracking and other files. Created in conjunction with caregivers, survivors, patients, nurses and experts in the field, this resource is a must-have tool helping families feel empowered in the day to day battles against cancer.
What is your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
I often miss the opportunity to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with a team of colleagues. It is easy to feel like you’re stuck in a bubble full of your own thoughts and ideas that may or may not be relevant to the rest of the world.
Also, keeping up with maintenance, billing and mail is a challenge. It is very easy to get wrapped up in event details, emails, marketing ideas and designs, social media posts, etc. Just like at home – the “fun” stuff can very easily take over hours and days.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
I love the dynamic I have with each of my clients and collaborating to create successful events that run smoothly and raise both awareness and funds for a worthy cause. Also, I simply love the challenge. Being busy and on the move suits me. Plus, I like the flexibility of being able to soak up my most creative evening hours and then if needed run to the grocery store before I pick up the kids.
Work / Life balance can be difficult for entrepreneurs. How do you balance being a mom of two with the Golden Cord foundation & JLS?
Work/life balance is difficult – I think everyone struggles with it – especially in a world where we are all constantly connected through email on our phones. I have found there’s a constant learning curve and fine-tuning of my systems. A few months ago I turned off auto-notifications on my phone – it was ultra-distracting and kept me from getting solid, focused time on anything because I was constantly reacting. Now, my emails are there, but only checked when I’m ready to check them.
Moleskine notebooks are my friend – for keeping meeting notes, brainstorms and journal entries. I carry them around with me everywhere – with custom tabs for each client and/or event I’m currently working on. They are my lifeline for keeping everything straight – an amazing reference for meeting notes and a great place to draw layouts and visually brainstorm ideas.
One of my biggest goals with work/life balance is to be sure when I’m with my kids I’m truly present for them. Often that means I’m cheering from the sidelines, or driving carpool or just stopping everything else and cuddling up on the couch to watch a show. And it’s important for our children to see me take care of myself, so sometimes they accompany me to the gym for a workout. It’s fun and frankly, exercise is one of those things that keeps me from going completely bananas.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs of nonprofit organizations?
1. Go to lunch.
A lot can be accomplished over lunch with a like-minded soul. Step away from the office and screens to brainstorm, problem solve and nourish. Even lunch or coffee to catch up with a friend who is not work-related can be effective as a simple reset. Explaining what you’re up to to a friend can be a great way to practice selling yourself in a meeting that really counts.
2. Focus your mission.
Since the inception of the Golden Cord Foundation in 2013 I have logged pages of ideas about the direction the organization could take. Ultimately, in collaboration with our Board of Directors, I have been able to take those pages of notes and determine the one or two places where we can make the most impact. Take a step back and make a clear decision about where your experience and expertise lie. What gap can you fill? What can you provide that is unique? Be strategic and don’t rush it. Then, establish clear steps to use these tools to make the biggest impact you can.