At the age of 20, Jessica Alex (Jessica Cobran) sat down and started writing what would become her first children’s book, “What If the World Had No Colour?” The idea to write this book came just a few months after she decided to put her first company Urban Voice (a free publication she started at the age of 17) aside to focus on her other goals, which included finishing her undergraduate degree.
After transferring from Ryerson University (Toronto) to Concordia University (Montreal) she finished her Bachelors of Arts with a Joint Specialization in Sociology and Anthropology. From there she decided to move back to Toronto, unsure of what her next step would be. She decided to get back to what she loved most: writing. The summer of 2012 saw Alex go through a writing frenzy. She also went through all her old materials including her story, “What If the World Had No Colour?” and realized that this story was worth publishing. After spending some time during her summer researching details on how to get her book published, she decided to attend a networking event.
That’s where Jessica Alex says she met a fellow author Darren Hogarth who planted a seed. He told her, if she had the entrepreneurial spirit she should try self-publishing; if not, she could try publishing the traditional way. She knew without a doubt that she always has had an entrepreneurial spirit. So from there she shifted her research from getting published to starting her own publishing company. She frequented bookstores and tried picking the brains of managers from the children’s book section.
After weighing all the pros and cons of starting her own publishing company and finding the perfect name for it, she went ahead and registered Upon A Star Books Inc., a publishing company geared toward publishing children’s books that are educational and inspirational.
Her first publication is both educational and inspirational as it teaches children to play with one another no matter what their ethnicity and cultural background is; but also to love themselves the way they were created.
Within a few months, she has sold 90 books mostly through word of mouth. Her main goal at this point is continuing to get media coverage for her debut book and getting her books into local bookstores.
Now after just turning 25, she has also made a commitment to work with local charities and non-profit organizations by supporting them during events that she attends. Giving back in some shape or form is something that has been important to her, and something that she wishes to continue doing.
Q&A with Jessica Alex
What inspires you?
Working hard, and seeing the fruits of my labour. I’ve never been someone who can sit at home and do nothing. I have to constantly keep busy, whether it is work, school, volunteering or running my own business.
As a small business owner, what achievements make you most proud?
When I decided to publish this book, I said from the very beginning, as long as one child reads my book, and understands the message I would be happy. Cliché I know, but it was honestly how I felt. So I had my company launch in October 2012, and at least 20 people preordered my book. That gave me a lot of confidence.
I recently attended a book reading with a class of grade three children, and they came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they liked my book and the pictures I drew. We had a discussion about the moral of my story. They also asked me to sign their lunch bags, which I thought was so adorable!
What advice would you give to other aspiring small business owners?
Start small, and manage your expectations. If you are going out on your own, it usually means that you are passionate about what you are doing, and believe in the product you are selling. However, sometimes it takes others a while to also believe in your vision as well.
I also believe it is a good idea to work at another job until your business takes off. Currently I work at a full-time job. It’s hard work juggling the two at times, however, with my full-time job I know that I am getting paid every two weeks, and I use part of my income to fund my business activities.
Another piece of advice I can give is that it is important to network and “social” network. Attend as many events as you can, especially if it relates to your field, and always have a business card handy. You never know whom you will meet. Social media and networking on social media outlets is very important as well.
I would also say do your research, and never stop reading up on your industry to keep up to date. Last but not least, have a plan B (and even up to Z). Things may not always go your way, but it is how you recover that can make or break your business.
What new things can we look forward to from your business in the upcoming year?
I have a few more books upcoming this year. The first one will be a follow-up to “What If the World Had No Colour?” I am also looking to put together workshops for children and pre-teens.