“I’ve always had a little ‘business bug,’ ” said Billy Rae Whittaker, a 2015 BJU graphic design graduate and owner of BRIM DESIGN, a small business in Raleigh, North Carolina.
As a 14-year-old entrepreneur, she founded her business in 2007. It has grown into an award-winning branding agency that specializes in crafting brands that transition well from website to social media. Since then, BRIM DESIGN has served over 450 clients through drone videography, photography, consulting services and more.
“Neither of my parents were entrepreneurs,” said Whittaker, “but both of them taught me every single characteristic I use to run my business every day.” Their example of diligence and commitment to Christ in daily life, as well as their support of her dreams, laid the foundation for Whittaker’s work ethic and success.
From starting a mini jewelry business in her house at 5 years old to trying to sell the rocks out of her driveway, Whittaker’s entrepreneurial spirit has propelled her forward. “The business I launched at 14 was the one I knew I would pursue in some variation for the rest of my life,” said Whittaker.
“Through a desire to expand another business venture I had as a kid, I discovered a love for storytelling through design and photography. It was actually first working on my own brand that I realized these particular interests would bring together all the passions the Lord had instilled in me as a child — creativity, photography, entrepreneurship and serving others as well as my family.”
Beginning with photography and design services, her dream was turning into a reality. But the challenges she faced as a young entrepreneur stretched her in many areas.
Professionalism in interactions with clients and in handling the demands of the industry was key. “There is a certain etiquette you need to have when running a business,” said Whittaker. “That was something I learned the hard way being a teen and running a small business.”
Furthermore, the finances available to teenagers running their own businesses are limited. Said Whittaker: “My parents tried to fund my learning and advancement of my skills, but when it came to my little business venture, they encouraged me to take responsibility.” Her siblings were her first clients, and she even produced some projects for free to establish her company.
This new sense of responsibility taught her valuable life lessons. Whittaker expounded that “it taught me how to scale with what I had. It taught me that the best tools are the ones you already have.”
Attention to Detail
Coming to BJU with her own business helped Whittaker understand the importance of her college program and education for a career. Said Whittaker: “The Art + Design program taught me how to take my skill from average to excellent (with the details). I truly believe it is that attention to detail that sets my business apart, even in fast-growing urban centers which currently make up about 92% of our clients.”
According to Whittaker, BJU also taught her “soft skills … like public speaking, leadership, project management, discipline; but especially serving and investing in others.” This last skill was not only spoken in the classroom and in chapel but also lived out toward her both in the classroom and in private settings.
The impact of professors, friends, society sisters and residence hall roommates investing in her changed her mindset about life. Said Whittaker: “They faced student challenges, terminal illnesses and professional hurdles with me, which led to my eventual realization that graphic design wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; loving others was. Entrepreneurship would just be the vehicle for it.”
After graduating from BJU, Whittaker took her passions of entrepreneurship, creating excellent services for clients and building relationships to the next level. While working in the corporate world, she continued to freelance in her spare time. Said Whittaker: “The Lord was always growing my business in unconventional ways.”
Then, she left her corporate job to work full time for the flourishing BRIM DESIGN. “I knew the Lord wanted me to have courage, step away from the security of a 9 to 5 and trust that He would take care of the details,” said Whittaker. “It had always been my desire to run a business from home once the Lord had blessed me with kids, and to see that come to fruition still reminds me of how tenderly the Lord sees our desires and meets our needs.”
But this step of faith wasn’t unusual for the owner of BRIM DESIGN. “My faith is the very center, the very core, the very calling for what I do every day,” said Whittaker. “And while it’s tempting (and pretty normal) to separate life and business as it relates to Christianity, I firmly believe that faith is as intertwined to a believer’s professional pursuits as it is to their personal life.”
Daily she uses her platform to build relationships with clients and connect with other professionals. Sometimes these investments lead to gospel conversations. Whittaker’s faith in God dictates all decisions with administration, team and client work. She adds, “Without the Lord as the center, our business is just one of many.”
Business as Usual
More than a decade later, Whittaker’s vision for BRIM DESIGN continues to develop. Reflecting on her 14-year-old self, she said: “I was interested in solving people’s creative problems … as a means to my own gratification. There is a difference in serving someone to serve them and serving someone to get something out of it.”
Whether she’s explaining the importance of domain names, email signatures, posting content, or how to choose between videoconferencing and teleconferencing, she hasn’t lost her attention to detail. By building meaningful relationships and raising a child in the process, Whittaker has crafted a business of authenticity and excellence.
Said Whittaker: “Today I am humbled to look back and see how the Lord has shaped each and every experience that has come out of BRIM DESIGN to teach me that a business is just a thing if it’s not growing towards His glory.”
Advice to Aspiring Business Owners
Whittaker gives advice in her own words for young entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams.
- “Find a mentor (someone who has already done what you want to do) and get as much wisdom from them as you possibly can — stop assuming asking for help means you don’t belong in business.”
- “Do simple things well, and do hard things often. Nobody takes the time anymore, and this will set you apart and ensure your own growth.”
- “Most importantly, never compromise your faith. He can propel your future further and faster than you ever imagined. It always was and will always be His.”