'Why Don't You Go Draw?': My Small Business Story

jill kerrigan

Everyone wants to have a niche. An area of expertise. Something that sets him or her apart from the crowd. I've seen this both in life and in business.

Friday, Nov. 18 is Women's Entrepreneurship Day, a day meant to celebrate and uplift enterprising women. As a female business owner, I've learned that it's essential for women-owned, diverse, and small, local companies to come together and support one another. Sharing our stories inspires us to succeed.

So, here's my small business story:

I was born in the suburbs of Chicago, the youngest of six kids raised by a hardworking single mother. Early on, my mom was a model of strength, determination, and perseverance. She wrangled a boisterous bunch of children and worked three jobs, all while making sure each of us felt supported, encouraged, and, most importantly, loved.

As time passed, my siblings all seemed to find a niche. One brother was an all-star baseball player. Another took to the mat as a wrestler. One of my sisters was a gymnast, one a spelling-bee champ. Another served as her high school's senior class president. And then there was me.

I wanted so badly to be great at something, but figuring out what that something would be turned out to be a bit more difficult than I thought. Until one day, when my mother turned to me and said, "Why don't you go draw?"

And I did. She enrolled me in art classes. I experimented with techniques and honed my talent on my own. And then, years later, I studied graphic design at Eastern Illinois University.

My mom's inkling was right. I was--and still am--an artist.

JAK Creative Design grew out of my passion. Getting my business where it is today wasn't without its challenges, though. Along the way, I've maintained the tenacity I inherited from my mother, and I've been fortunate enough to be part of a community of other business owners who support each other, fostering connections through NAWBO, the SBA, the WBENC, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, and other organizations.

I started JAK Creative Design out of my home more than 20 years ago with just one client: American Express. Since then, so much has changed. JAK has developed long-standing relationships with more clients, like ComEd/Exelon/PECO and, most recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We've moved out of my family's space and into our own place in Darien, Ill., and we're continuing to grow and expand.

Good things are always happening at JAK, and it all began with one not-so-simple task: finding my niche. Actually, JAK's niche keeps changing as the graphic design field evolves--but for me, and my team, it's still about being great at doing what we love.

In honor of Women's Entrepreneurship Day, I extend my wish to you that you find your niche, and that you tap into support from fellow entrepreneurs and other strong women around you to help that niche become something wonderful.

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.