In the Spotlight: Exclusive Entrepreneur Stories and Interviews with Business Founders

In the Spotlight Exclusive Entrepreneur Stories and Interviews with Business Founders logo

In the Spotlight: Exclusive Entrepreneur Stories and Interviews with Business Founders 

Let me tell you about the time I almost tanked my business. I’m guessing that’s not exactly what you were expecting to read here but I want to give you the real – the hard truths, the insight won from grinding it out in the trenches, and the life and business-changing lessons that came from the whole mess of it. You see, I’ve been the “everything’s fine, I’m fine, the business is awesome” entrepreneur that wouldn’t let anyone see the truth behind the sparkling facade. And what I’ve discovered is that living like that helps no one (including myself). So, let me break it down for you in hopes that you can learn and feel inspired by the absolute dumpster fire from which I’ve been able to rebuild a successful international digital marketing firm. 

I started in the marketing business kind of by accident – actually, completely by accident. I was raised by serial entrepreneurs from the real estate industry, who ran successful businesses.  You might think this inspired me as a youngster, but the truth is that it actually had the opposite effect. Sure, my parents were their own bosses and managed their own schedules – which seems great at first glance- but what I saw was the worry, the work, the sometimes unstable nature of business ownership, and I wanted no part of it. In fact, I pretty much swore up and down that I would never own my own business.  

Instead, I decided to pursue criminal justice with the intent of joining the legal field, working in a medical office to help pay the bills. It was just supposed to be a temporary position but, as it often does, life had other plans for me and I ended up staying there for 5 years! In my time in the medical office, I started helping out with marketing and finding that I had a natural talent for it. By the time I left that office after 5 years, I was running their marketing department entirely on my own. From there, I went into co-ownership of a marketing firm (talk about diving right in!) which, over time, has evolved into the company I am now sole owner and CEO of – Proximo Marketing Strategies.  

Owning my own business has been everything from literally the worst thing ever to the greatest blessing in my life, which is where I’m happy to be right now. The turning point for me happened a couple of years ago when, after years of showing up in my power suits and high heels, that “can’t stop won’t stop” hustle mentality finally caught up to me. I quite literally had a total breakdown (I’m talking about a bathroom floor type of breakdown). I had spent so much time worrying about the image I projected to the world – wanting to be seen as a powerful, strong woman who could hold her own in an industry full of men – that I lost myself completely. I worked myself to complete and total burnout and did the same to my team (not my proudest moment, I can tell you that much). I knew that something had to change but I was so lost and so tired that I couldn’t even see my way out of the chaos. So, I did the only thing that seemed natural to me at that moment. I prayed, and I threw up my hands, shouting, “God, you’re in control, because I give up!” And you know what? I felt IMMEDIATE relief wash over me… I had been carrying so much for so long and white-knuckle gripping everything in my business, squeezing the life right out of it, that it felt absolutely incredible to just admit defeat and accept that I needed help. It was true surrender, and it changed everything. So, yeah, I nearly blew up my business, but I’m proud to say that it is now thriving like I never could have imagined for one simple reason: I decided to let love lead.  

You see, what I find we are all struggling with in this industry (and, honestly, all industries… it’s not just marketing) is finding and creating human connections that lead to increased productivity, better customer relationships, and more satisfied employees. I see businesses constantly lamenting their employee turnover rates and wondering why their sales are dropping when they’re throwing so much money at their problems. I see CEOs burning out trying to drag their teams to success. I see people just like me trying to create something lasting in the midst of total chaos. And my experience taught me that it’s the mindset that matters most. It’s how we see ourselves, how we see our employees, how we see our customers that makes all the difference in how successful we can be.  

As CEO’s, we have a real opportunity to change the status quo – to prioritize people over profits, to connect to our consumers on a deeper, more personal level, and to lead the way in love-centric business leadership. But as technology pulls us further and further from each other, allowing us to live virtually without human connection, it becomes more and more important to reach out and develop bonds and relationships. In marketing, it’s especially important. Now more than ever, the consumer is craving human connection – they want to feel good about the purchases they’re making and they have more choices to make than ever before. So what makes the sale and builds loyalty when your consumer is comparing you against countless other options? I believe it’s love. It’s about going the extra mile to connect authentically (that’s the key here – no faking it allowed!) with your customers, not necessarily because you want their money but because you actually care about them. They are real people with complex lives, opinions, and values and they want to connect with you – they want to be loved. 

For me, the Love-Centric Business model plays out in every area of my business: 

  • I lead my team with love knowing that each person has entrusted me with their future success and wellbeing. I value them as employees but, more importantly, I value them as humans. I care about their personal lives, their families, their dreams. And as a result, we have formed rock-solid relationships and each employee is satisfied and fulfilled in their role (which does a whole lot for productivity, just sayin’). I don’t have to worry about employee retention rates because when I lead with a loving servant’s heart, my employees are well cared for and are connected to our mission on a deep, personal level. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty. 
  • Love is at the center of all of my client relationships – I don’t just see them as dollar signs that add to my company’s bottom line. They are people with dreams, just like me. They have families they’re trying to support by building those dreams and, as their marketing strategist, it’s my job to help them build their businesses in a way that is sustainable where success is the only outcome. So, while my title is Marketing Strategist, I often find myself working with clients on everything from their team dynamics to their leadership styles to their process management – anything to help them achieve their dreams of success. I’m not about “nickel and dime” transactional marketing relationships. If it needs fixing, I want to get in there and help because I love my clients and I love what I do.  
  • I love myself enough to say no sometimes and prioritize my peace. This was honestly the hardest part for me. I had gotten so used to the idea that a CEO has to work to burnout or they’re not doing it right that stepping back and allowing myself to rest felt like failure. But, with the help of some amazing mentors who were so affirming of my well-earned rest and who held me accountable when I started drifting off the path I’d set for myself, I’ve seen incredible progress in my business just by loving myself more. Loving myself means setting boundaries and turning off the laptop when it’s time to be with my family. It means taking mental health days when I need them. It means being flexible about where I work (sometimes, you’ll find me with a laptop at the beach!). The Love-Centric Business Model is about pouring into myself when I’m feeling depleted so that I have more to give for my team and for my clients. 

What I hope you’ve learned here is that you don’t have to hustle to be a success. You don’t have to make sacrifices that lead to poor mental and physical health. Just because it’s always been “business as usual” doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way. In everything I’ve been through as a CEO, I’ve learned one very important truth: I wasn’t put on this earth to suffer or to sacrifice for someone else’s idea of success (and neither were you). We were born to thrive and to help others do the same. And the best way I know to do that is with LOVE.  

So, I believe it’s time to Lead with Love – to cherish our people and their dreams as much as we do our own, to uplift and support one another, and assist without agendas whenever we’re able. There IS room for love in business and when you finally open up to it and let it lead you through every action you take and every word you speak, everything – and I mean everything – changes. 

ABOUT COURTNEY B. RILEY 

Courtney B. Riley is the CEO and visionary behind Proximo Marketing Strategies, an international marketing firm based out of Hampton Roads, Virginia. 

Driven by passion and a calling to serve, Courtney leverages her talent for innovative thinking with a genuine enthusiasm for seeing others succeed, to help her clients find and pursue their true purpose while also providing them with the necessary tools to successfully position their brands in the marketplace. She is an active and appreciated member of her community, serving as adjunct faculty at local colleges, educating students on best practices for marketing in the 21st century, and serving on the board of several non-profit organizations. A published author and recent recipient of the 40 Under 40 and Woman of Excellence award, Courtney Riley has been called “One to watch in the marketing world,” by Authority Magazine. 

With a decade of success behind her, Courtney now focuses her efforts on helping other entrepreneurs, CEOs and visionaries employ the principles of the Love-Centric Business Model to not only achieve success and fulfillment for themselves, their employees, and their customers but to do it all on their own terms. 

Of course, more important than any professional accomplishments are the blessings Courtney counts in her personal life – her husband, Matt, teenage son, Dominic, and toddler, Bella. Yes. You read that right – a teenager and a toddler! Needless to say, Courtney knows a thing or two about chaos and overwhelm and practices what she preaches not only on the job but also at home, recognizing that living a life of love has also meant loving herself enough to prioritize self-care. When she’s not helping entrepreneurs thrive and build love-centric businesses, Courtney can be found soaking up family time and sunshine in the backyard, relaxing with yoga, or enjoying a quiet moment with God’s word. 

You can find Courtney by visiting her website or following her on Instagram. And be sure to keep an eye out for Courtney’s upcoming Book: Leading With Love, The Love-Centric Business Model! 

Julia Davis

Mental health expert MS, University of Latvia I am deeply convinced that each patient needs a unique, individual approach. Therefore, I use different psychotherapy methods in my work. During my studies, I discovered an in-depth interest in people as a whole and the belief in the inseparability of mind and body, and the importance of emotional health in physical health. In my spare time, I enjoy reading (a big fan of thrillers) and going on hikes.

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