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Texas summers ought to be about blue skies, bright sunshine, and soft breezes, but for Tara Wilson, sweet summertime wasn’t ever sweet – it left her feeling a little blue instead. As she watched the summers come and go, Tara was ready for something new. She was ready for a future full of challenges and victories. She’d even settle for a few defeats if it was a future where she bet on herself.
So, one warm summer night, after nine years as a Senior Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch, she turned her blues into a blueprint. It all began with a poster board, some post-it notes, and the will to map out her skills, values, and interests to create a new way –a way she could own her future.
Post-it notes in hand, Tara began to forge her new plan. She genuinely didn’t know what she wanted to do but she knew she wasn’t in her sweet spot for success. While she had landed her first job as an Advisor with Merrill Lynch after graduating in Finance from Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, she wasn’t certain she had any other marketable skills. As she began building her business blueprint, she realized her education and her professional experiences had equipped her not only with strong leadership skills but strong sales skills as well.
To find her interest and what she valued, Tara began to peruse her bookshelves for ideas. What was she reading about? Finance. She was working in finance, so that wasn’t it. Self Help. She didn’t want to go back to school for counseling, so she set that aside. Entertaining and Hospitality – that got her excited, “I found that hospitality and event planning really set me on fire, and I thought that’s it, that’s what I want to be doing,” she said.
Tara now had a plan. “One of the things I figured out was that if you start telling people, and you have to be selective about it, but if you start telling people what you are interested in, what your passions are, what you would deeply like to pursue, but maybe you are too scared to do it, the people around you, whether you know it or not, will conspire to help you achieve it.”
As Tara began telling people she was interested in owning her own events planning company, opportunities began to come her way. People began to say, “Oh, I can see you doing that,” and “Oh my gosh, you’d be great at that,” she said, “And then before I knew it people were reaching out with small opportunities, and I could start to see it line up.” Tara believes you can’t be what you can’t see, so this important step of sharing with others helped her to see what others already saw in her – she could be successful owning her own company.
Tara was confident she would be happier as an entrepreneur, but also knew that translated to more risk. Still working with the firm, Tara spent six months getting her ducks in a row. She took baby steps. She set up a DBA, read books about women in business, and made sure her marketing collateral was in place. With her business plan set and a project on the horizon, Tara thought she was ready to launch her business, but as she re-evaluated her plans, she realized her dream needed to be put on hold. She was devastated.
Then a newlywed, her husband had only one request – no debt. To accomplish this, Tara worked an additional six months banking her salary and receiving her bonus to bankroll the launch of Tara Wilson Events in February 2007. She successfully executed special events for eight years. Realizing her business model was not scalable, Tara pivoted in 2015 and began to focus solely on experiential marketing events.
Rebranding to Tara Wilson Agency, she grew the business to what is now an incredible team of woman-led, women-savvy professionals with the main goal of creating an IRL (in real life) brand experience for clients’ consumers. Focused on creating brand affinity through three-dimensional brand experiences, the agency garnered the trust of companies like Nike, ESPN, Samsung, and Ann Taylor.
Tara and her team have achieved, big time. Their successes landed them on the prestigious INC. 5000 list as one of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. in 2017 and again in 2018. However, this Texan transplant didn’t sit on her laurels.
The growth of her company and her passion for women in business, led her back to the drawing board to create a platform dedicated to helping other women own their futures too.
In 2019, Tara gave life to this passion and Fierce Lab was born. What began as a live event to gather women in business for professional growth, has now transformed into an online empowerment platform.
Today, Fierce Lab, more than 5,000 members strong, offers a podcast, an app, and on-demand curated content focused on career development, financial intelligence, mental health/self-care, and risk taking.
Tara pours out her passion to collaborate with and elevate other women in business. “Entrepreneurship gets painted broadly with a brush that it’s very risky to be an entrepreneur – that it’s very risky to start a business,” Tara said. Fierce Lab found risk to be one of the top concerns among women.
“We recently did a survey on risk taking and why women are apprehensive about stepping into something they perceive to be risky,” Tara said. “Some of the big answers were, ‘I don’t know where to start when thinking about trying something new that I perceive to be risky’, and ‘I’m worried about judgment,’ and then some of those ancillary things like ‘I don’t know if I can afford it,’ or ‘I don’t know if it is the right move,’’ she continued, “So, we spent a lot of time at Fierce Lab talking about how to move through concerns about taking a risk.”
As part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Week, Tara shared the rubric she uses to help assess her own personal and professional risk tolerance. First and foremost, she looks at the opportunity and asks herself, “Does the risk align with what I am passionate about, where I am trying to go, and what I am trying to do?” If the answer is yes, she takes it a step further and asks, “What is this going to cost me?” Tara evaluates what the financial cost will be, what it will cost emotionally as well as how much time will need to be committed to the venture. “Finally, are there any other cost considerations you must be aware of and are they worth it?”
Socializing the idea is the next step. Tara has a few select people whose opinions and viewpoints she trusts. She shares her idea with them and genuinely wants to know, “Is this good? Is this bad? Where are my blind spots?” Tara laughs, “I am married to a very practical man, he is not a risk taker, he doesn’t even cross against the light when we’re crossing the street, and he is always a point on the idea socialization.
I have friends who are entrepreneurs building their businesses, mentors who have built businesses, some who are intrapreneurs and number two in their companies who have seen and experienced things different from me, but I want to bring these different opinions to the table so that I can start to flesh out how I feel about a particular risk.” If Tara feels good about the idea at the end of this process, she’ll move forward.
Fierce Lab encourages women to consider: where do your skills, your values, and your interests overlap? That’s the sweet spot. When you find that sweet spot, you are less apt to feel like you are taking a big risk, and you are less apt to care about what people think because now you are aligned with your internal self. You can create your own blueprint and assess the level of risk you’re comfortable taking, and there are resources available to help you.
Fierce Lab is a powerful resource for all women in business, but prior to Fierce Lab, Tara served and learned from the Ft. Worth Area Entrepreneurs’ Organization which played an important role in her growth as an entrepreneur. Here in Auburn, the New Venture Accelerator, a part of the Harbert College of Business, also aids students as well as area residents by fostering their ideas for entrepreneurship.
Tara agrees with the concept that all new ideas were nothing, until they were born. They were in someone’s head. Somebody took a risk to put something out there that no one else had ever done before. “There can often be this perception that you have to wait until something is fully formed to share it, but you don’t. You have permission to create and then evolve, and hopefully have the emotional and financial support to continue to ideate around it,” Tara said. She loves that about entrepreneurship – if she has an idea, she pursues it.
Tara’s encouragement to women is “It’s never too late. If entrepreneurship is not the right path, right out of college, that’s ok.” Tara’s path began in her late twenties, but she has friends in their forties just getting started. “You don’t have to have it all figured out and if anyone tells you they do, they are lying,” she laughs.
You may fail a couple of times before you succeed, but if you would like to own your own company someday, remember, the Tara Wilson Agency you see today, and Fierce Lab now born from Tara’s wisdom and experience, all began with the summer blues, a poster board and a few post-it notes powered by the passion of a woman who simply wanted to own her future. In the simplest sense, she knew she could figure it out. You can too.