“I found a way to help others while working in marketing.”

As a young girl, Amanda was always drawn to TV, design and advertising. Her mom would say that when the family was watching a TV show, Amanda would pay closer attention to the commercials than the show. Amanda thought that was charming until she had her own daughter and realized that all kids are captured by TV advertising.

In high school, while determining her career pursuit, she always felt an internal conflict between her calling to help people, based in her strong faith, and her desire to work in advertising. She entertained the idea of joing the Peace Corp to fulfill her goal of working in service of others. It wasn’t until she had a conversation with a teacher about her career goals and how she viewed advertising vs. helping people as an either/or decision. She was 17 and the teacher told her that “Good people need to be in marketing to make it better.” 

The teacher helped her realize that we all have the ability to do good and we have to spread ourselves across industries to make it happen. We can’t put the responsibility solely on nonprofits. 

So, off she went to pursue her degree in Mass Communications at Winona State University, where she was very active in peer ministry and worked 20 years per week. Graduating in 3 years and debt free is a source of pride for her because it shows what a hard worker she was and is.

After college, she worked at several ad agencies, Fallon being one of them, in various account roles rising to leadership very quickly. I first heard of her in 2009 when she was recognized on the 40 under 40 list in the Minneapolis Business Journal. At that time, she was the VP of Creative Services at UHG where she built their internal agency, Carrot. I remember reading about her work in that issue of the Journal and thinking that I wanted to know this woman.

Whether she knew it or not, she was building her path as a successful intrapreneur. An intrapreneur is someone with entrepreneurial spirit who is able to position themselves within large organizations to bring their ideas to life. It’s a unique funding strategy and quite smart really, if you can manage the constant push back on your ideas, as well as the politics in a large company.

Her most recent work of art, I’m sure you’re familiar with, is the Small Business Revolution. Amanda has brought this series to life on Hulu, Amazon Prime and .com, working as the Chief Brand Officer at Deluxe Corporation. From where I sit, this is where all the good stuff comes together.

Amanda leads by the principle of “doing well by doing good.” You’ll hear her say it all the time, in conversations, articles and speeches. It’s not just another pithy mission statement from an executive. She really lives it. She lives it so authentically that she often can’t describe it when asked about her leadership style. It’s so innate and comes from her core. It’s like asking Monet: “How did you paint the Water Lillies?” I doubt he’d be able to explain the detail people yearn for because sometimes things just come from inside a person. I see Amanda’s work in the same way.

If you haven’t watched Small Business Revolution, you’re missing out. Her team at Deluxe is revitalizing small businesses in small towns across the country. America gets a say on which town by voting on the submitted nominations. The winning town gets awarded a $500,000 boost to revitalize businesses and Deluxe documents the transformation by creating a touching series of small business stories for us to enjoy.

Let me take moment and tell you why this work is so truly aligned with Amanda’s mission to “do well by doing good.” Small business ownership ain’t sexy. Nobody has the same love affair with small businesses like they do with the “start-up” culture based in Silicon Valley. Especially not in small towns.

In a small business, you earn every single penny. When employees don’t show up for work, the owner will put on a uniform because someone has to cover the hours. When the small business owner can’t make payroll, she’ll forgo her salary to ensure that her employees are paid. Sexy, right?

Small business owners typically start their companies for altruistic reasons. They want to create a lifestyle for their families so one parent can stay home. Or, they see a problem they can solve to help people. It may simply be that they want to open a coffee shop on main street because even small towns should have good coffee and a place to meet with friends. The beginning of the idea is rarely about money, which is contrary to the start-up fantasies we read about today.

All of these wonderful stories and nobody was paying attention, at scale, until Amanda came along. Through her vision and commitment to helping others, she has shown a light on a community of people that rarely get the spotlight, even though they are a huge economic force in this country. Small businesses create about 50% of the non-farming gross domestic product (GDP), or roughly $6 trillion every year. Since the small business revolution program launched in 2015, it has achieved over 9 billion impressions in social and earned media. Nearly 4,000 articles have been written about it. It was named by Inc Magazine as one of the top show entrepreneurs should be watching. It is the #1 unscripted show on Hulu, outperforming network competitors by 5 times. And finally, it has been discussed on the floor of Congress, twice.

That is quite a spotlight.

What’s truly exciting, is that I believe Amanda is only getting started. We haven’t really seen anything yet. She shared with me that her experience with the Small Business Revolution has been incredibly fulfilling and has also exposed hints to her about her next mission to help people. Her experiences in these small towns across the country have opened her eyes to opportunities around the topics of diversity and inclusion. Being a woman of faith and her commitment to working in service of others, I’m confident she’ll find clarity around those topics and what’s she’s supposed to do next. Let’s just say that I’ll be waiting, watching and cheering her on.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Ellen or Oprah. They both use their platform for doing good. I don’t think they have fame for nice houses and cars. I think they have answered a higher calling.

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
I would not mind being famous if there was a greater purpose for it. Any notoriety I may already have is because I’m destined to do something good. As I continue to earn more visibility because of my platform with Deluxe, I’m still discovering what I’m supposed to do and where I need to lend my voice. Through my work on the Small Business Revolution, diversity, inclusion and love are topics that are trending for me to have a voice around.

What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Sleeping in only to get up and be active right away so it’s done for the day. Giving a speech and connecting with people afterward. Then, going out with my family to have good beer and good food.

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning. I play Pandora when I’m getting ready. I sing in the car. I sing anywhere people aren’t listening.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
I’ll be hit by a bus because I always have my head down, on my phone, not paying attention to where I’m going.

Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
We both love craft beer and traveling. We also appreciate our midwestern roots. Being raised in the midwest, we learned a good work ethic and how to be frugal. “Save before you spend,” is one of our mantras.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I know I’m supposed to say my daughter. Motherhood is an important part of my life, but I wasn’t put on earth solely to be a mother. I wouldn’t change it, I like being a mom, but I’m most grateful for my ability to look at life and appreciate the serendipity of it all. I rest in this space of believing that life is one part hustle and one part the universe doing it’s work. I can control the hustle by showing up everday and doing the work. The universe part, I can’t control, but I believe in it and that mindset gives me perspective. 

What is your most terrible memory?
One time I said something mean to someone in Sunday school and I replay it all the time in my head. I was trying to be funny and it didn’t land right. I didn’t realize the impact until the teacher told me how it came across. I was devastated because my love language is Words of Affirmation and if that is reversed, it’s painful. It was just a joke that went wrong, but I ruminate on it to this day.

What does friendship mean to you?
It means encouragement. Being that support system when needed. I see my role in friendship as being a cheerleader for my friends. 

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
I’ve dreamed of taking a year off, traveling around the world and homeschooling my daughter. We haven’t done it for all the same reasons everyone else hasn’t. It’s expensive and I fear not being able to get a job when I return. I have the same worries as everyone else.

Hope is a game-changer, a gift and it changes the landscape

Meeting entrepreneurs who are so clear about their purpose, is infectious. Spending time with them, elevates my mood and leaves me feeling like anything is possible.

Junita is one of those entrepreneurs. If you ask her about why she started Junita’s Jar, this spirited woman gets a very serious expression on her face, looks you straight in the eye and says: “I never want another woman to feel like she can’t talk about the abuse she may be suffering from an intimate or domestic partner.”

Junita has known since she was 12 years old that she’d own her own business, she just didn’t know what it was. As a strong-willed girl growing up in St. Paul, she was always fascinated by creating something out of nothing if that something didn’t exist. 

Her grandfather owned a barbershop and her mom started a nonprofit, so she witnessed entrepreneurship in her family. In my experience with entrepreneurs, there’s commonly a family connection to that lifestyle. As a kid, if you witness your parents or close family members running their own business, it tends to be an easier leap to make because you’ve seen it with your own eyes.

Junita was closest to her mom’s entrepreneurial experience, witnessing her success as an owner. Junita’s mom was a fulltime mom until the last of her 8 children started Kindergarten. Then, she returned to school and started her nonprofit, Family Values for Life. Junita and her siblings helped out when needed and are able to proudly say that Family Values for Life is best known for a Back to School Community Event on the Eastside. They filled a whole parking lot with tents of vendors donating supplies to kids to start their school year right. Junita and her siblings worked alongside their mom at this event and saw what was possible at an early age, even if she didn’t realize it until later in life.

To understand how a precocious 12-year old girl declaring her future entrepreneurial endeavors to the current realization of that declaration as the owner of a mission-driven cookie company, you have to understand Junita’s experience surviving domestic violence.

Married for 14 years and a mom to 2 amazing children, to the outside world, her life looked good. But the painful reality is that she was slowly losing herself to emotional, verbal and physical abuse. 

As the years passed, she wanted to leave her marriage, but she didn’t know how to get out. Nobody talked about relationship violence and the more isolated she felt in her situation, the more she started to believe it was her fault. “If only I could do (fill in the blank) better, things at home will improve.”

She didn’t talk to her family about it and she didn’t talk to friends because of the “perfect couple” perception. So, she decided to look to her church and her faith for counsel. Unfortunately, the church let her down. At the time, the message delivered was to “pray more” and then things would turn around.

One day. she hit her lowest point and she went for a run and didn’t come back. She checked into a hotel, not telling anyone so she could try and figure out how she could leave with her kids. She ultimately was able to leave and has been on her own for 5 years!

Her personal experience with violence in her marriage laid the foundation for her mission-driven cookie company, Junita’s Jar. Baking cookies brought her peace because it connected her back to her childhood when her grandmother used to come over and prepare meals every Wednesday. It was during these meal preps that Junita would hear all the family stories. 

The process of baking became therapeutic because it was an escape from her marriage. Pulling the ingredients, mixing them, putting the formed cookies in the oven and then sharing with her kids. She had control over something in her life and it felt terrific. 

She took this process and made a product she could sell to fund her true calling to help people. The program she started is called “Cookies & Conversations”. She works with student leadership organizations on college campuses to host a two hour event discussing relationship violence. Junita brings a panel of experts in domestic and intimate partner violence. She invites a representative from the medical community, a therapist and a survivor. After their presentation, they leave time for Q & A and that is the most engaged portion of the event, revealing to her that it’s something people need. People need to know how to work with the medical community whether it’s for their own mental health or to reach out when they are in danger. These conversations must be had.

“That’s the crazy thing about purpose. I articulated mine when I was 12 years old, but it wasn’t until I felt like I had nothing to give the world that I was able to pursue it. I think it’s because I never lost hope.”

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
My dad. He was a man of few words, but he as a very wise man. He died at 58 and he had this deep wisdom. He could listen to what was going on and always give a good solution. I was the first daughter to get married in the family, so I’m the only one he walked down the aisle. Because he died so young, he didn’t get to see the impact he had on our lives. Even though I never told him about the abuse in my marriage, looking back on some of the comments he made, I believe he knew. 

Would you like to be famous? In what way?
My dream is to be a world-renowned speaker to inspire people to move beyond their comfort zone to create change. So, if that’s famous, sign me up! 

When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
This morning in the car with my son. The Hamilton soundtrack. He knows every word to every song on that soundtrack.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
No, but I want it to be peaceful. I want to go to sleep and not wake up, but not now! Maybe when I’m about 110.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My family and my faith.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I don’t think I would change anything. I wouldn’t be the person I am without the experiences that I’ve had. 

What do you value most in a friendship?
Trust, but you better be funny!

Share an embarrassing moment in your life.
Just one? I have a good embarrassing and hilarious story. Because my dad worked for an airline, we flew everywhere as kids. Back when we were traveling as a family, you could bring a lot of bags. We traveled with everything, so many bags. On one particular trip, as teenagers, we were going to a church convention and then to Mississippi to see family. We brought a bag of catfish on ice back to Minnesota with us. When we were riding up the escalator, the bag burst and catfish went everywhere! We were mortified and all of us kids just scattered away from my mom because we were so embarrassed.

What is your most treasured memory?
On what became the final father’s day that my siblings and I would physically share with my dad, we sat by his bedside, reminiscing and sharing stores. I was 10 weeks pregnant with my son and was lucky to be able to share the news with my dad. He didn’t live to meet my son, but I gave my son his name.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
The mind. Well…I don’t know. It doesn’t say I’d be senile. I’d work that body.