At some point in our teenage lives, we all sit down and think about how our lives would look like in years to come.
This period usually comes with a lot of depressing thoughts about the reality of life. At the age of 19, MJ Thomas experienced this phase of self-reflection, and in her own case, she had someone else to think of, her baby.
MJ was a single mother at 19 and was at a point in her life where she questioned if she had the grit needed to keep pushing forward. In this exclusive interview with MJ, we will learn how 12 years later, MJ is the super successful entrepreneur she is today.
Tell us about how you started and when you decided to create your own business.
I was 19 years old when I had my first daughter. I didn’t have a clear direction in life, but I was in my first year of college, managing a sporting goods store at the time and living on my own, and doing all the things.
From the outside, it looked like I was a responsible young adult, but I was just doing what I felt like I was “supposed” to do. I decided to have a daughter at that age, and therefore, I was going to be responsible for everything that came with it, including being a single mother.
I kept working, going to school, and at the same time, I was a bartender on the weekends when my daughter was with her dad. I remember looking at my life and my schedule and wondering, “how am I ever going to get ahead?”
I come from a very hard-working family; my mother finished her Masters the same year she completed her chemo treatments while being a nurse. My dad was an almost pro basketball player in the Philippines and dropped it all for a chance to come to America. I mean, there was no complaining in my house about any of the decisions and responsibilities we had. “Cry your river somewhere else; this house is made for humble hustlers” was our watchword.
One day- I remember asking my mother if she always knew she wanted to be in the medical field. She told me it was her life’s dream. What happened next, I will never forget.
I said, “I don’t feel that way about what I’m doing….”
She said, “Stick with it, you’ll get used to it.”
Now, there are things that we need to GRIT through, but I defined THIS as SETTLING in the context of my life.
It was then that I asked her what she would do if she didn’t have to sacrifice anything, and she told me she would open a MEDSPA and do facials, lasers, injectables… all the things. So I looked into it…. And as I spiraled deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, I emerged enrolled in a local beauty school’s Esthetics Program.
That first day of my Esthetics program was like a hit of the best drug ever. It was the first time I felt happy and excited about the opportunity. I stayed aligned with that feeling and used that as my compass when spending my time.
After getting my license, I went on a mission to make this my full-time career. I added it to my list of side hustles and my schedule. Then I told myself when I started making as much as this job; I’ll quit that and just keep this bartending one and shuffle my life around my daughter. Literally two months later, I quit all my jobs and, for once, had just one. This was also the first year I made six figures.
Now 12 years later, I have two studios with ten resident artists. I have helped women quit their day jobs, and side hustles to create the life of their dreams. Just like I did.
Can you talk about some of the challenges you faced when starting your business as a single mom?
Time: Mothers, single or not, can feel like there’s no time. We have to make it. Back then, I had to create time to work on my business. I asked for help and hired babysitters. The spare time I had, I worked on my firm.
It also meant early days and long nights and seasons of just incubation while getting this baby together.
Financing: I didn’t have the credit to get it, so I had to work on getting the cash together and learned that I could build business credit while working. Business financial literacy saved me AND gave me an opportunity that I didn’t know existed.
Mindset: I had to turn my dreams into plans, and that meant tapping into my inner grit. It meant finding the opportunities where they were challenging. It meant starting things before they were ready. It meant being brave and persistent and not making excuses. A lot of times, the challenges that come our way need mental shifts to explore all the options.
Mentorship + Guidance: I made a complete career change. I wasn’t surrounded by people who already started their own businesses or anyone who was in the beauty industry. The unsolicited advice I was getting was from people who had successful careers doing the 9-5. I learned from pure trial and error and all that Google had to offer (which is literally the world of resources).
Many women caregivers are already stretched for time, so making a career change or starting their own business can seem impossible. How are you able to manage your time being a mom and a business owner?
Impossible when broken down also says I’m Possible. It takes looking at things from a different perspective to see possibilities. It’s so important to have a calendar and a schedule that breaks down the whole day. I use Google Calendar + the old-fashioned paper calendar for our command center at home.
I’m married now and have four kids and 4 fur babies. It’s a circus. I can’t tell you if it was easier when I was a single mom or married (lol), BUT I will tell you that an organization system is necessary. We use the Google Calendar to sync our schedules, and I also use it to time block my workdays. It’s a color-coded work of art, to say the least. It’s imperative to be organized when juggling all the hats, and it’s absolutely possible.
Time blocking my day is so important. I become more intentional with my time. Even social media is time blocked (ever scroll through your feed and lose an hour of your life?). Family time is time blocked. Answering emails/texts/phone calls is time blocked. Most importantly, my ME time is blocked.
It’s also important to know what is necessary for me to do and what can be delegated. It can feel like I need to do everything for it to be done right (I know a lot of you can relate); however, I honor that I started this business so it could support me being with my family when I chose to be. To do that, I had to empower other people to help me run the studio while I wasn’t there. As well as tap into my community of parents to divide and conquer things like carpools. It’s ok to build a team in other aspects of your life.
What advice would you give to a woman starting her own business or looking to make a career change?
Hold on to your why. It’s got to be good, so good that it silences your fears and fires you up to figure it all out. Know that it is going to be hard, so very hard at times. You were built to do hard things.
Be brave enough to try. For every worry, remember that there is an equal opposite possibility! Bet on yourself and trust that you will figure out everything.
Surround yourself with like-minded people or be alone. Your dreams are fragile while you’re building them. Reach out to people who have been where you are trying to go; get a coach or a mentor if you can. And make sure your social media and places that call your attention are aligned with your heart and vision. This season of building is so crucial, but the fruits of your labor will be worth it.
What drew you to the beauty industry, and how do you see Malaya Skin + Wax studio and Malaya Lash + Ink growing in the next five years?
I find the most joy in helping people who want to be helped. I thought the medical field was it, but I realized as an empath I had a lot of work to do to not take things home! When I started the esthetics program, I realized I was learning how to help people relax and address their insecurities with the tools and techniques learned.
I realized I loved empowering women to feel good about themselves. Malaya Skin + Wax and Malaya Lash + Ink studios are two of many to come. Malaya Studios will have another location in Roseville and wherever else the team decides they want to take it in the next five years. I will support and breathe life into all of it.
During shelter inplace, I gave birth to MalayaMade Pro. It’s the online store for lash technicians to buy our supplies and sign up for lash courses and business coaching. We serve clients, but now we also serve technicians to continue empowering their clients the way we have been able to do for 12 years and counting. In the next five years, we will be in trade shows + offering lash training nationwide, God willing.
What has been the most rewarding part of launching two businesses in the beauty industry?
Owning a business in the beauty industry allowed me to empower women. My goal was never to be the best or have a franchise. My goal was to be a mother who could go on field trips and stay home with her if she was sick and still provide the both of us with a beautiful life.
When I started as a solo entrepreneur, I was helping my clients save time and feel confident. I put my heart into building the relationships with clients I have now. When I got so busy, I expanded my space so I could find someone to help me who wanted to do the same. Not only did I find one person to help me, but I helped her quit her day job.
Before I knew it, our little studio was a powerhouse of women (many who are now mothers) who dropped their day jobs. Now 12 years later, collectively, we have had six babies born and a few fur babies added by our team and still growing.
The most rewarding part of having businesses in the beauty industry is simply providing women an opportunity to help other women walk confidently in their skin + help technicians create their own schedules to have options to fill their lives with what is important to them. It’s a beautiful cycle.
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