• Project Empower Circle

The Process Lab: Building Resilience as a Serial Entrepreneur - Deon Stokes of The Ambition Planner

Updated: Mar 5

What keeps me at having the ability to do things is being intentional about my time. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to be present, if I'm going to commit, I'm going to be here.” -Deon Stokes

The Ambition Planner is an all encompassing and culturally inclusive planner that helps you be more mindful of your time. Deon is the founder of The Ambition Planner who has extensive experience in building different business and brands. In this piece, we cover her journey to creating The Ambition Planner and the resilience she has built as a serial entrepreneur.


Once I was seven years old


Deon started her journey as an entrepreneur at the young age of seven. She started out as a ‘Granny sitter’ doing chores for older individuals and keeping them company. She grew this opportunity into a network of young children who would go out and help older individuals within the community. At this young age, she was already thinking about how she could take that network and build a business model that would be a source of income while having a positive impact in her community.


Following her young entrepreneurial adventures, Deon mobilized people to achieve a common goal by becoming a political consultant and strategist. Through this role she built a network and learned how to effectively sell ideas.


Fast forward to having her own business in the corporate world, Deon was working long hours and started to feel burnt out. After relocating her home to a new area, she started working at a non-profit which offered her the opportunity to make an impact on a larger scale. She next re-entered the entrepreneurship space but soon re-discovered the negative effects of long work hours and had the spark for the Ambition Planner as a future business pivot.


“[The lifestyle was] run, run, run. And I was like, I don't want to feel that way anymore. So now I have to say, what keeps me at having the ability to do those things is being intentional about my time.”

Building Resilience during COVID-19


COVID-19 has had detrimental effects on businesses around the world and Deon’s business was no exception. The call came on a day in March, when a major client wanted to opt out of their contract. The calls kept coming in until there were no more clients. Although this presented a major challenge to the business, Deon highlighted the importance of having written a 2020 plan for her business and putting intention behind each action. “What you can glean from that plan is that this is what I wanted to do. It may not be right now, but I can pull it out later. Or I can mentor someone else and help them with this.”


Thinking about pivoting? Here is some advice.


Pivoting is business in a crucial element. You need to know when to keep at it and when to pivot to other options depending on how you need to adapt to life circumstances. Deon experienced multiple pivotal moments when switching from her corporate job to the non-profit world to starting the Ambition Planner. When asked what questions people should ask themselves if thinking about pivoting, Deon mentioned the following:


Why?


The answer to this question could be as simple as “I am not happy where I am now” or “it doesn’t bring me joy anymore”. Deon mentioned that a lot of amazing entrepreneurs who began their careers right after college do not want to continue the same path and end up pivoting to do something else.


Is this the time to pivot?

  1. Do we have the money?

  2. Is the market primed and ready for it?

“One thing that I think that we've learned, especially last year, is that time is not promised, tomorrow is not promised. But ask yourself a big question of why first. If you can answer that, then there should not be anything that stops you. But you.”

Mentoring, Sponsoring, or a mix of both


“Everyone needs a mentor,” Deon said, “ there's nothing better than having someone that you can just pour your heart out to and say, Am I headed in the right direction?”


A mentor-mentee relationship can take many shapes or forms. 67% of women consider mentorship as a career advancing opportunity. However, 63% report they’ve never had a mentor. There is a need for young women professionals to be connected to experienced mentors who can provide unique perspectives and nuances to their mentee-mentor relationships. It is always helpful to share challenges and successes with someone who has been there and navigated a similar professional and personal landscape.


Deon considers herself more of a sponsor than a mentor. A mentor is someone who will show you the door, but a sponsor is someone who will show you the door and open it for you as well. Deon believes that a healthy mix of both can result in a great mentor-mentee relationship.


“Every time I get into the role of being a mentor, I realize after our first conversation that I should send them this article. They should know that what they really need is to do this. I become so invested that I'm opening the door. I'm helping you go in.”

Intention is what makes it all possible


We asked Deon how she does all that she does, running a business, hosting two podcasts (The Failure Report and Leading in Color). Deon highlighted the fact that to get here, she had to go through a process of figuring out how to be intentional with her time. “You know, I love confirmation emails, but [now that I am intentional about my time] I forget to even respond to them because [if we agreed] we're going to do it, we're going to do it.”


Deon mentioned that she is still working on not multitasking (and we can relate!!). We all tend to multitask at different times during the day, mostly to save time. Research however has shown that our brains are not nearly as good at handling multiple tasks as we like to think they are. In fact, some researchers suggest that multitasking can actually reduce productivity by as much as 40%.


“Everybody can do multiple things at one time, but no one can do anything well, at one time. And so just making sure that everything that I do is planned and executed with intention is how I'm able to do all of those things in a day, and get them all done.”


If you are looking to work on minimizing multitasking, here are some alternatives to multitasking:

  1. Focus on one thing at a time.

  2. Minimize interruptions.

  3. Have brief and focused meetings.


Parting Words


When asked what empowered her, Deon talked about how her faith empowers her. “I truly know I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me. And that is a mantra and a text affirmation [that helps me when] I don't know where to turn for the answers. And so that is what helps me to know that I can get up every morning that I can achieve the goals that I had. My faith empowers me to go forward and to help empower others.”

We next asked Deon about her vision for her work and the world at large. Deon wants every woman around the world to experience the joy and the freedom that comes from having a plan and being able to execute it. Deon’s vision for her business, Ambition Planner, is for her planners to be every woman’s best friend and be a part of all life events, however big or small. With her culturally and spiritually inclusive planner design, Deon wants to ensure that everyone finds a bit of themselves and their identity in their Ambition planner.


Nothing feels better than writing down something that you're going to do marking it off the list, that that little surge of euphoric joy is something that I want everyone to be able to experience.

This article was written by Pallavi Dutta and Nikoo Aghaei, with excerpts from an interview with Deon Stokes. The images were provided by Deon Stokes.


You can follow The Ambition Planner on Instagram here.

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