Name: Morgan Overholt, Owner
Describe your business
Three years ago I quit my corporate job to work for myself. I started out as a freelance graphic designer. Today, that solo act has blossomed into two businesses: Morgan Media LLC, a small graphic design agency that I run out of Miami; and TheSmokies.com is a travel destination website that covers The Great Smoky Mountains National park and surrounding areas in East Tennessee.
Tell us about your self-employment journey
Three years ago I had what appeared to be a dream job, at least on the surface, as a TV host on a nationally televised shopping program. Behind the scenes I was miserable.
I was making $75,000 per year, working crazy hours including overnights (routinely clocking in around 3am), every weekend and every holiday. I never saw my family. My social life didn’t exist. I still refer to this period in my life as the “dark years.”
To make things worse, I was routinely told that I was “too ambitious” and needed to be “more patient” because there were so many “opportunities” my employer had in store for me if I was willing to give it a “few more years.”
My mind just couldn’t wrap itself around why an arbitrary timeline stood in the way of my happiness. And so, one day, I just told my employer that my heart wasn’t in it anymore and I walked out.
I’ve always had this little voice in the back of my head that told me that my ideas, and my drive, and my passion were valuable. I just knew I could make it on my own if I was willing to give myself a chance.
And so, with my husband’s emotional support and encouragement, I began freelancing full-time as a graphic designer.
While this might seem like a strange leap from TV host to graphic designer – I had actually been freelancing on the side for the past 10 years as a way to earn supplemental income.
As my business started to grow, I began to slowly expand. Fast forward three years and I now employ one full-time contractor and 3 part-time “as-needed” freelancers who work for my small graphic design agency.
This year, we expanded once more with the addition of TheSmokies.com. TheSmokies.com is a new business venture that I’ve recently launched with my business partners: my sister Alaina and my husband James.
In 2020, despite fears that COVID-19 would slow us down, we are on track to earn nearly $300k in gross revenue for Morgan Media LLC and $12,000 for TheSmokies.com. The second number might not sound like a lot but for a new website like TheSmokies.com, but breaking even in the first year is unheard of.
My personal take-home pay at the end of the year will be around the $200,000 mark – a far cry from that $75,000 I was killing myself over as a salaried employee.
What area of your business are you most passionate about?
I know this is the part where I’m supposed to talk about how passionate I am about the industry. But I’d rather be honest – I’m passionate about making money!
Through freelancing and business-ownership, I’ve been able to dream big and make those dreams a reality. I’ve completely transformed my own life as well as the lives of others and made myself, my clients, and my team more wealthy in the process.
What’s the most valuable thing you learned early in your career that has contributed to your success?
Don’t listen to the haters. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by former bosses, peers, “friends” and especially internet trolls that my ideas were invalid and my failure was imminent.
I’ve always chosen to ignore the haters and instead listen to people who have already achieved success in what I’m trying to do. Whenever someone tells me something “can’t” be done or that it is “impossible” to achieve I see it as a red flag. I automatically know this person does not have my best interests in mind.
How are you pivoting your business during the COVID-19 pandemic?
We actually formally launched TheSmokies.com during the COVID-19 shutdowns in April.
I was actually one of the lucky ones, my workload didn’t change drastically during the shut-downs. However, I did find myself with a lack of personal activities while sitting around the house on the weekends.
I think time is one of our most valuable commodities in life and letting that extra time go to waste just felt like a travesty.
We had been working on the rough concept for TheSmokies.com for some time before the COVID-19 outbreak but really hadn’t bothered to put a ton of effort into getting off the ground. So when the shut-downs happened, it was a no brainer.
Our site traffic exploded practically overnight and we were able to monetize in late June.
What’s a recent project that you’ve worked on that you’re really excited about?
Right now we are most excited about TheSmokies.com. Before April none of us had ever run a successful content-driven site so we’ve had to learn on the fly. This time last year the domain wasn’t even active. Last month we had over 100k visitors and made almost $4,000 in revenue with 34,000 engaged followers on Facebook.
Are you a part of any freelancer communities? Which ones and how do they support you?
I am a member of the Freelancing Females group on Facebook. I’ve also found a strong community of support on Upwork and Twitter.
What advice would you give other self-employed people?
Listen to those who are willing to add to the conversation, provide actionable critique and lift you up when you need it the most. Haters will only keep you down.
In the beginning, people said I wouldn’t “make it,” now they all say I’m so “lucky.”
I swear half the battle is just finding a belief in yourself and drowning out the voices that don’t matter. Work hard, play hard, retire early – that’s the game plan.
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