Starting your own business requires skills that go far beyond creating an incredible product or service. It requires patience, persistence, and passion. And because emotional intelligence and self-awareness are keys to success, it’s no wonder successful small business owners often create deep, lasting relationships with their customers and community.
Meet long-time Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, customer James Roy Jacobs. He’s the Founder of YaLife Media and Marketing, a full-service agency based out of Spring, Texas. His organization provides graphic design, social media management, and event planning businesses in the Houston area and throughout the United States.
However, YaLife Media isn’t James’ only venture. Driven by his desire to help others, he is also deeply involved in community activism. He runs the non-profit NOW Youth, Inc. (New Opportunities Waiting), which provides state-of-the-art technology to low-income elementary school students via a full-sized mobile tutoring lab. He also writes and records with his twin brother under the name Double Portion.
We recently chatted with James over the phone about his challenges and achievements in business over the years. Read on for inspiration and useful tips for anyone looking to start or grow their own business:
From the music industry to serving local businesses in his community
“I love helping people, so there’s always a component of giving in all the work I do.”
Early in our conversation, James noted that people in business and leadership had surrounded him all his life. He explained that this paired with the positive influences from his family has helped consistently bring out the best in him.
Born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, he watched his father – an Airforce veteran, pastor, and 4th-degree blackbelt – first start a successful dojo and then build a million-dollar janitorial business despite never earning a college degree until later in his career.
While James inherited his father’s enterprising spirit, he started his career focusing on music. After high school, his family relocated to Austin, Texas, where he got a degree in commercial music management. He and his twin brother started their first company together in the music industry – which they both enjoyed running until they moved on to other ventures in 2010.
At that time, James shifted gears and decided he wanted to focus on serving his community. He explained, “I love helping people, so there’s always a component of giving in all the work I do.”
He then founded YaLife Media and Marketing and began his business by working with different churches and ministries. “That’s where my clientele was,” he pointed out. “So many people at church had businesses, so my marketing business just blossomed from there.”
Understanding that struggles are part of the process
“You need to know how to ride the wave. It’s part of the process of being a business. Those growing pains are lessons you can learn to do the next project right.”
While the network James was building through his church helped jumpstart his new company, establishing consistent work wasn’t easy. There were months where he had few clients calling. There was also a learning curve for staying organized, prioritizing the right tasks, and meeting tight deadlines.
However, James explained that it was through these challenges that he was able to make his business stronger. “You need to know how to ride the wave. It’s part of the process of being a business,” he shared. “Those growing pains are lessons you can learn to do the next project right.”
James went on to talk about three main contributors to overcoming early challenges. First, he cited the importance of staying within his means. “Always have another stream of income from somewhere because you’re going to need to invest in yourself,” he shared. “I was working full time while building my business at first. I’m afraid for those who jump out without a cushion. You know, you need to have some support so you can be flexible to learn.”
Second, he took a lesson from his dad: be a life-long learner and never think you know everything. James recalled late nights in the early days reading and Googling about improving his service and overall business. “I worked on learning video editing and production all night, and it was challenging,” he remembered. “I didn’t know exactly what I was doing initially, but I knew that was where the money was at. If I didn’t do it, I would miss out on an opportunity to provide a service my customers were asking for.”
Finally, he emphasized the importance of being future-focused. “You don’t want to be the last one to come to business,” James shared. “You’re always looking for the next project because you may need that the following week.”
A partner in YaLife Media and Marketing’s success
“Recurring payments were especially beneficial. That you can automatically send invoices and reminders every couple of days, I was just like, ‘Good. I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore.'”
As YaLife Media and Marketing gradually grew, James discussed how Invoice2go helped his company stay on track. He explained, “I made about $4,000 in my first year. I started with PayPal, which was cool, but they didn’t offer a way to track your reports, which was essential with all my small projects.”
James searched for new solutions and found Invoice2go. “I’ve been using Invoice2go for more than 8 years now,” he shared. “My income grew and grew and Invoice2go kept adding new features. Recurring payment reminders were especially beneficial. I was just like, ‘Good. I don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore.’ And I’ve seen my income grow just from just that feature in itself.”
Building a reputation by providing services to those in need
“I help people, and the bonus is that then often they’re interested in doing business with me later.”
As James’ business grew, he found that focusing on providing value for his community was good for the soul and for business. “I help people, and the bonus is that then often they’re interested in doing business with me later.”
In 2017, YaLife Media and Marketing was picking up steam. They had just expanded from graphics to video editing and social media management when Hurricane Harvey ripped across Texas.
James scrambled to help those suffering from devastation and flooding. He created a non-profit called Reaching Houston and collaborated with local business owners to raise thousands of dollars to help those who had lost everything.
Soon after, YaLife Media was commissioned to develop mental health software to empower youth by establishing a safe space to discuss bullying, peer pressure, and other struggles. For James, it was a perfect fit. He explained, “I love working with kids and technology – and it was also a good opportunity because we wanted to expand into software and app development.”
The program was a success. “A lot of students engaged,” James said enthusiastically. “And the fact that I was part of something like that and to help so many young people was just amazing.”
Using challenges – like the COVID-19 Pandemic – as opportunities for growth
“I was more successful in 2020 than any other year of my career.”
While 2020 was a challenging year for many small businesses, James found opportunities to continue growing. “I was more successful in 2020 than in any other year of my career,” he explained. “People needed graphics. A lot of the organizations I work with needed extra help with digital media services because of the pandemic.”
Last year’s success has allowed James to quit other work and focus his efforts full-time on YaLife Media. He’s expanded his business by creating new training courses for those in the community and expressed excitement about helping seniors learn to better use technology.
Build relationships with your customers for the long term
“There are clients I’ve been with for 15 years. They know I’ll get it done.”
James compared his relationships with his customers to a marriage. “And you’ve got to divorce me once we start working together,” he laughed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He stressed that his ability to give clients excellent value while still making enough to pay his bills has been crucial. He explained, “Now, most of my clients are loyal. I don’t need to do much promotion anymore because every day I get calls for work. And I don’t want to promote because I don’t have the capacity.”
He emphasized that this took time – more than ten years in business – but was worth it. He told us, “There are clients I’ve been with for 15 years. They know I’ll get it done.”
Setting his sights on the future and even bigger goals
“I just signed a lease on a suite with two offices here in Houston, Texas.”
2021 is already a big year for James Roy Jacobs and YaLife Media and Marketing. He recently signed a lease on a suite with two offices in Houston and has added new members to his team. “I’m just honored to do this. And I don’t take that lightly because there really are businesses that are struggling. They really are.”
James’s biggest desire now is to create a coworking space to support Black business owners. “As an African American and a Black business owner, I know many like me are getting into business but don’t have space and support to grow. We don’t want to just offer them a room, we want to provide them with marketing services, graphics, and tools to help them really grow.”
We’re excited to hear about the success of James and YaLife Media and Marketing. We hope to see them continue to grow and serve the community for years to come. For more inspirational stories and tips for running and growing a successful small business, join our Invoice2go Subscriber Success community. We’re behind you 100%.