janae bryson

Janae Bryson is the founder of Auden & Co., a creative branding & strategy studio and Creatively Stocked, a stock photo image company which captures the diverse narratives of people of color.

We’ll start with Auden & Company. How did that idea come to you? When did you know that that was something that you wanted to do?
Auden & Company came to me after I did an internship with a small business in Beachwood. It was in health and beauty. I spent a little over a year branding their company, with a graphic designer and a sales team. And because they were taking their time with everything, it lasted a year. I started taking on smaller clients here and there, really just helping friends. There wasn't anything gigantic. But by the time we transitioned out I thought, “Oh, I can do this. I did it for a year. I think this could be a legitimate business. How do I start?” So I decided to start with à la carte services on a trial basis with some people and I see where we were at a year in, and then just revamp it.

So where did the name Auden & Company come from?
I struggled with this. I literally got almost every aspect of my business figured out besides my name, and my name actually came to me in a dream. It was based on the Sarah Dessen book called Along for the Ride that I read in high school, and the main character's name is Auden. I always loved that name. I don't know what crazy person would let me name my child Auden, so I decided to name my first baby, my business, Auden & Company. That’s how that came to be— all inspired by literature.

So you had a design background or a branding background. Is that what you went to school for?
Yeah, so, I'll skip over my entire story about how I went from pre-med to marketing and communications. I transferred to the University of Akron from Hiram college to study Marketing and Communications after taking like two and a half years off because of my traumatic brain injury. I was actually naturally creative. I'd taken every art elective you possibly can in high school. I did internships in interior design. I'm naturally artistic, I draw, sketch, sculpt. I knew that was where I would fall into, I just had to bring it to the digital world. Since I’m a believer in being self-taught, I decided not to go to school for design, so I went to school for the business side and the marketing and communications side of it.
I also had a fashion blog at that time during college. I started it when I couldn't do anything because I had my concussion, but I needed to do something. My family helped me keep it alive when I couldn’t be on my computer. The blog was how I learned more about branding and how influencers were branding themselves to work with bigger companies. You know, they were replacing the models of the world. And I was like “This is super intriguing. But what is this ‘b’ word that they keep saying- creative brand?'“ What is that? So then I kind of started diving more into my own research and taking pre-courses.

What year did you launch Auden & Co.?
Unofficially, November 2016. I told everybody on my birthday on Facebook that I was launching a business in a month, so that I wouldn't freak out and back out. Then I filed for an LLC in March 2017.

So when you first started Auden & Company, were you able to launch into it full-time right away?
No, I was not. I had a part time job with Sophie, who was a little girl who has down syndrome. And I was there from like, 2015 to January 2018. And then in 2018, I went full time.

How did the first year full-time go?
I definitely made no money the first year. 2018 was my year of uh-ohs and oops. It was just such a learning experience. You think you're ready, and then life tells you “just kidding, you're not ready.” Not to downplay any of my clients, but I had a lot of terrible clients and terrible inquiries and people who weren’t quite actually ready, so they’d back out mid-project and I wouldn’t receive the rest of the payment. I had infrastructure issues about onboarding clients, and how much I’d get paid. Once I figured out that, I redid all of my processes and infrastructure so that this year, the second year, full-time, could be a blast.

How did you get your first client for Auden & Company? Do you remember what that was like and how that felt?
I actually think my first client was Too Good Eats. They actually had talked to my boyfriend, Ethan, about starting a food-based company, and he said “My girlfriend does branding, you should check her out.” Of course, I was super excited. I got home from work like “Oh, my God, I have a client phone call at seven o'clock. I’m so excited, I'm so nervous! What do I do?” I booked a client, now I had to follow through. It definitely was a “Now what?” moment. So I was sitting there in our little tiny apartment, on the floor in our dining room, on the phone, talking to them, giving them my ideas. I built their website, their social media, and their collateral material, and they were my client for almost two years.

So tell me about Creatively Stocked. When did this idea come to you?

[In early 2018] I was creating social media content for a lot of black-owned businesses. I was on every stock image website known to man and I just couldn't get authentic, normal imagery of black people. In 2018, this really could not still be an issue that we can't find the right images in stock photos. So I thought, maybe we'll just offer brand photography [at Auden & Company] and that might help balance out how much I have to search stock image websites. But then I realized that not everybody has the budget for brand photography. So why not create my own?
So I decided to do it. Then obviously I had to find the right photographer to do it. It mainly launched because we were working with so many passionate business owners who needed the imagery for social media purposes, and they didn’t have it, and they didn’t have the money for it. So, we just offered it at an affordable price. People will fall in line to see it with how great of an idea it is, and we'll just keep rolling with it as like a little passion project right now.

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You manage the face of your own businesses and also all the other clients you have. So how do you keep your creativity flowing? How do you like avoid burning out because you have to constantly be producing great, creative work?

Boundaries. I did experience that last year, where I just kept going and going and going, and by the time September hit, I was like, “I don't want to go anymore. I don’t want to speak to a client. Just stop talking to me.” So—boundaries. I started setting very particular boundaries, like “You can’t contact me before this time, you can’t contact me after this time.” I set office hours. I make sure I step away from these devices. [My laptop] is literally is my business. This is my livelihood. So I have to tell myself “Janae, you’re going to step away. You're going to go to the gym, you're going to go for a walk, you're going to go visit your nephew, you're going to leave your phone in the car, and you’re going to leave your computer at home.” That’s been the main reason I have not established a burnout just yet.
Creatively Stocked has also been a refresh. Each month, I have to plan a different theme, I have to plan different narratives, and then we have to shoot that. It’s always keeping my gears going because it's not going to be the same set of photos, it’s not going to be the same set of models, locations change, and I get to think outside the box. And I have such a diverse collection of clients that keep me thinking to keep things fresh.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Yes and no. My mom was very entrepreneurial. Yes, I've always been entrepreneurial, but the opportunity wasn’t always there. When I was with my biological family I thought, “Oh, yeah, I want to own my own business, whatever the f*** that means.” Excuse my language. And then when I got adopted, the opportunity was way more available to me to learn and explore and to actually do it. So when I was in high school in my senior year, I traded out my last four elective credits for internships, all based in business. Whatever I was doing, I wanted to see the business side of it. So I was a startup consultant, and then it was an interior designer, and I asked to see the business side of that. Then a pediatrician, I asked to see the business side. Then, a chocolatier where I just helped make chocolate and do the business side of that. I definitely saw myself having a business no matter what field I went into.

You're always posting your daily to-do list on Instagram. What tips do you have for organizing and managing your time?

Yes, those are my priorities for the day, and there’s about 18 million other things on my list. But mainly, like I said, the week structure is always really good. Wednesdays are meeting days, Monday I have a recurring client meeting from this time to this time. Creating the routine, as boring as it sounds, helps you in the business aspect, because you can't really be everywhere, because then everything gets disorganized. It sounds slightly control freak-ish, but the one thing we have control over is our time, and that's the thing that we should value the most. I also have to sit and actually do design work. So the days when I'm not meeting with people, I'm sitting in my pajamas, eight hours a day on my computer, doing work. It’s accountability by putting it online to my followers like “Hey, this is what I’m doing, these are my priorities for the week.” I try to be organized because then it keeps everybody else accountable. As a leader, you have to remember people are counting on you to be organized. I can't be like, “Oh, sorry interns. We have nothing for you this week,” or “Sorry, client. No update,” because that looks bad on me. And I'm a paper person. I like a paper calendar, a visual. I like to see the big picture of the month.

You also run a really robust internship program for college students. So what sparked your desire to do that?

I was sitting in the office at my house and I kept hearing friends on the line like “Oh, I’m working in retail, what did my degree get me?” and “I graduated with no experience and no one will hire me.” And I thought “That's dumb.” I already have such a fickle relationship with college education, because it's really person-to-person dependent and often the debt you take on is not even worth what you get in the end. A lot of people end up working not even in their degree field, and it's very frustrating because you paid all this money for it. So I thought why not kill two birds with one stone—I’ll get a little bit more help, and give these kids a fun learning environment. You know, rather than grunt work. I remember one of my clients said, “Can’t your intern get coffee?” And I said “No, my interns don’t get coffee. That’s not what they do.” I don't believe in grunt work. I try to make it as much hands-on learning as possible. So it just came out of really wanting to help college students get an experience. They leave with a headshot, a recommendation letter, they put me on their resume and I'll be their first set of experiences.

“Just start . . . you don't really know what you're doing anyway, So there's nothing that you can do terribly wrong that you won’t learn from.”

What is the most important thing to think about when branding your business?

Clarity. A lot of people start branding their company with what they think they want, or what's related to them personally, and they forget to think about their brand as its own entity and as having its own personality. So once you start putting your personality into your own brand it won't grow, because ultimately your brand has to have its own personality. It is own person, its own personality. Everybody's always like, “You're so extroverted on social media,” and I'm like “That's Auden & Co.’s personality, right? Not mine.” So find clarity. And remember that there are two separate things: you and your business.

What piece of advice do you give to a woman who was trying to start a business?

I want to say “Just start” but I feel like everybody says that. But just start. Since you've never launched a business, you don't really know what you're doing anyway. So there's nothing that you can do terribly wrong that you won’t learn from by just doing it. So give yourself a year. You get a year to implement things, mess up, implement things, edit, change. Year two is when you really start laying your solid foundation now for what you want your business to be. In my first year of business, the business changed a lot, a lot of focus was on the educational side of it. So definitely just start, edit, start, edit, start again, redo, revisit, and focus on building a solid foundation.

Creatively Stocked is currently seeking models for their next narrative. If you’re interested in modeling, complete the form here.