Adrienne Hill: On Bossing Up and Trusting God

Entrepreneur Adrienne Hill has these rules she developed for one of her companies, The Brand Box Club, that she calls “The Seven Rules of Retention”:

  1. Thou shall keep her coins.
  2. Thou shall be resourceful.
  3. Thou shall ask for help.
  4. Thou shall have firm vision.
  5. Thou shall not give up.
  6. Thou shall have goals.
  7. Thou shall practice self-care.

While these were developed as a framework to guide her in helping her clients launch and build sustainable businesses, they could also be considered a simple list of #lifelessons or maybe even #BlessedBlackGirlGuidelines because they outline the fundamentals of pursuing your dreams and being able to live your best life.

Take No. 5: Thou shall not give up. Though she was already an entrepreneur in the making (Adrienne launched her first business, KRAM Marketing, in 2009), she had undergone a number of setbacks and resets before she was able to transition into entrepreneurship full-time, including moving back home with her parents in Atlanta after graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2009, experiencing the all-to-familiar quarter-life crisis, attending (and eventually dropping out of) grad school and managing the evolution of her career path, without ever throwing in the towel.

“You just never know when moments that seem like defeat could really just be God turning you around, redirecting you toward something different,” she says. “Yeah, you may have come to the end of that road, but look left and right. Turn that corner and continue on.”

It was six months post-college graduation that Adrienne turned a corner and took her first step toward entrepreneurship.

“I was trying to figure out what my next steps would be,” she says. “My parents and I had gotten into it, and I went to stay with a friend in Chicago for two weeks. One day, I was on the computer, worshipping and asking God, ‘What do I need to be doing? What is my next step? Where am I supposed to be in my life right now?’ And he just began to download information upon me. He literally gave me every detail for KRAM Marketing at that time.”

KRAM is a full-service integrated marketing firm. Over the next two years, Adrienne was able to build a strong roster of clients, but the business wasn’t supporting her full-time yet. So, she decided to go back to school.

“I went to Miami Ad School to learn how to really tap into the mindset of the consumer,” she explains. “A year into the program, I presented a class project for [a major soft drink brand], and it went really well. About two months later, I look up and my ideas are live. There was a billboard — my professor pitched it [at the agency he worked at], and it actually came to life. Then I thought, if I’m this good, then there’s no reason for me to do this anymore. It was time for me to step out on faith. So, I dropped out.”

black girl, create: What did you do next?

Adrienne: At the time, I had a passion for thrifting, so I would just go out and thrift. That led me to eventually start a blog called “Boss of Beauty” in 2012, which then turned into a vintage boutique. I loved thrifting, so when I would go to Chicago or Atlanta or even in Miami, I would find these bomb vintage pieces, and I would rock them myself and take pictures in them, and it started to garner a buzz. The boutique got really good attention really fast, and I did everything myself. I built my own website, I did all of my marketing, etc. A lot of my clients were boutique owners, and when they started to notice what I was doing with the branding and my website, they’d ask me to do theirs. Then I was like, wait a minute — there’s an opportunity here. That’s where [my next business concept], Brand My Boutique, came from.

One of the first rules you learn as an entrepreneur is to identify a need and create something to fulfill it. Adrienne planned for Brand My Boutique to be a branding consulting service tailored to “fashionpreneurs,” or fashion brands that catered to a more diverse audience and boutique owners who were people of color. “There was no representation for branding [for black-owned boutiques],” she says. “There was no one creating website and graphic content that looked like us.”

Adrienne had this idea, but the money was running low. “I had to get a job,” she says. She landed a position at a Florida-based health food store chain as a senior marketing director, leading the marketing initiatives for the company’s six locations. A month or so into her time there, Adrienne was tasked with planning major events for two store locations at the same time. After spending countless hours preparing, everything came to a standstill the day of the events.

“I went to the smaller store, set everything up, took my pictures, then made the hike to the larger store,” Adrienne explains on her website. “I walked in and I could not believe my eyes … Nothing had been set up … it was a complete nightmare. To top it off, the detailed instructions I left behind had not been touched.”

This led to a clash between her and the store manager, who eventually resorted to penalizing her for not having her name badge and then asking her to leave — or he was going to call the police.

“I’d never been fired,” she goes on to explain, “and I had certainly never been threatened before. That feeling was awful and one I will never forget. I never wanted to dedicate my time to anyone or anything that didn’t fully support or serve me.”

When she got home, Adrienne gave herself two hours to recoup from her experience. After the time was up, she dried her tears and hit the ground running, coming across an open marketing position with an established Miami-based jewelry designer.

“I emailed him on a Saturday [after I lost my job], and by that Monday, we had an interview set up,” she says. “I walked in there and said, ‘I don’t really want to be your employee; I think this would be more beneficial for both of us if you were my client.’ I put together a presentation for him, and he agreed to pay me what I asked for. That was my first branding client.”

Adrienne says that the opportunity to work with him, on terms that she’d outlined, provided her with the lesson of “owning my own greatness and not playing small.” Thus, in 2012, she decided to make Brand My Boutique, a division of KRAM Marketing, a reality. And not only a reality — but a way to support herself full-time for as long as she wanted.

“I began to approach popular bloggers and the boutique owners who would shop with me when I was thrifting to see if they needed help with their graphics and stuff like that,” Adrienne says. Through that outreach, she was able to snag her first Brand My Boutique client. And while that journey did not come free of the tribulations that all entrepreneurs face, Adrienne was able to maximize on her Rule No. 5 and build her brand in the way she imagined. In the five years she led Brand My Boutique, she says, “I’ve had clients in 40 countries, I’ve worked with celebrities, professional athletes — I would have never imagined that it would have been like this, based on the situation I was in.”

In April 2017, Adrienne transitioned Brand My Boutique into The Brand Box Club (a DIY branding service for fashion and beauty entrepreneurs), and her new focus is on educating business owners about the basics of business operations through a marketing lens.

black girl, create: Why did you start The Brand Box Club?

Adrienne: I realized that a lot of black millennials just aren’t doing good business. Sometimes you have to look at how you’re presenting yourself and how you’re talking to people with a blind eye — would you really support you? Just seeing this sparked an interest in me to teach. I realized I had a lot more to give, especially with fashion clients. Over the years, I’ve seen so many clients save up for my services, and in a year, they’re nowhere to be found because they didn’t have a foundation in place for their business. They didn’t take the time to research how to run a business, how to handle customer service, how to buy and maintain inventory, how to create and focus on profit. Entrepreneurship is very popular right now, and everybody wants to be their own boss, so it’s important that we understand how to do things right, how to build a foundation for our business that will create longevity. Learn how to test the market, how to find your audience and how to build your brand.

In an effort to help her customers do this, Adrienne has also launched Brand My Bundles (a hair extensions packaging company), The Stockbox (curated stock photography galleries for fashion and beauty brands of color) and Flick Inc. (a merchandising endorsement agency) under the KRAM Marketing umbrella. She also writes and curates The Mailbox, a monthly e-newsletter dedicated to entrepreneur self-care.

“The biggest lesson that I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is to treat myself gently,” she says. “I’m a perfectionist and a strategist, so I always have a plan A to Z, but sometimes entrepreneurship is not about having a plan A to Z. I had to learn to be OK with that and to not beat myself up and to keep positive thoughts in my mind. Because when you aren’t making a sale or you’re dealing with irate customers or working on a project that you really don’t like, you need something to lean on. You need positive reinforcement and encouragement and affirmations.”

black girl, create: If you could give another black girl one piece of advice, what would it be?

Adrienne: Follow your heart. I know that sounds cliché, but your heart and your spirit will really tell you where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do when you listen. I would have avoided a lot of mishaps in my life if I would have followed my gut and understood the power of my intuition. Really get in tune with yourself because your heart will lead you to your passions, your heart will lead you to your purpose. It will show you who you’re supposed to be around, who you shouldn’t be around, and it will make letting go of people and things that don’t serve you easier, but you have to trust it. You have to have that unequivocal knowledge that your heart knows best. If you’re grounded and have any sort of faith, follow your heart.