Making the leap from idea to successful small business is no easy feat—and it’s even harder for people in historically underrepresented groups, who comprise only 20% of business owners. JinJa Birkenbeuel is a Black entrepreneur who’s helping small businesses discover opportunities for growth through a mindset shift: from thinking solely as a consumer to thinking like a creator. JinJa believes that by adjusting the focus toward creating, an owner can take advantage of technology to grow and profit from their small business.
The creator mindset has aided JinJa personally in her many pursuits, allowing her to prioritize the growth of her business ventures and make a positive social impact. This journey began in 1997 with her nationally recognized marketing agency Birk Creative, and since then she’s formed many other initiatives under that umbrella. They include the publishing house Birkdigital, the digital coaching program Journey of Gratitude, an entrepreneur-centered podcast called The Honest Field Guide, and Utah Carol, an Americana dream-pop band created with her husband.
Marrying business, autonomy, and social impact
The inspiration to focus on creation over consuming came to JinJa years before Birk Creative, when she worked for a variety of businesses—from corporate spaces to nonprofit organizations to small mid-market companies. Though she enjoyed the jobs and the people, she wanted more ownership, meaning, and independence in her career, specifically the freedom to own her work, collaborate with people more creatively, and drive social change. As JinJa says,
“Having my own agency allows me to express myself and be curious without shame, and bring people to my company whose curiosity I can champion. I’m working with clients who have a passion for social impact in their heart, their mind, and in the work that they’re doing on a day-to-day basis.”
One project she’s proudly supported through Birk Creative is the CPASS Foundation, which was created in conjunction with the Chicago Area Health and Medical Careers Program to help underrepresented students, specifically Black and Latino, succeed in healthcare and STEM careers. Another is the award-winning advertising campaign she designed for Advocate Health Care, which provided COVID-19 vaccine education to Black and Latino communities. But JinJa’s drive to create social change doesn’t end there—she also collaborates closely with creators through Birkdigital. Using her knowledge of intellectual property rights, JinJa helps these entrepreneurs concept, write, design, publish, and promote books as well as create their own publishing platforms so they can retain ownership of their work.
Staying ahead in a digital age
Many of JinJa’s ventures through Birk Creative revolve around empowering executive leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners to seek out the tools for not only creating but also capitalizing on those creations and establishing a more professional brand identity. To do this, embracing technology is key.
“You cannot operate in the world without technology. Especially when you’re a Black- or woman-owned business, you’re already up against enough people who do not believe you or trust you,” says JinJa. “It’s not even enough to keep up anymore. You’ve got to stay ahead, and the way to stay ahead is to continue learning at all times, especially when it comes to technology.”
One tool she swears by is Dropbox Sign, which has helped Birk Creative operate professionally and efficiently with eSignature. “The very first time I had a digital contract, I thought, ‘I am never, ever going to have a paper contract again as long as I live,’” says JinJa. “What I love about Dropbox Sign is it’s simple, it’s easy to understand, and it professionalizes my company. It houses my historical records, and you can sign from your phone, which is really beautiful. There are a lot of really interesting features that are very helpful.”
As a certified digital coach facilitating free classes and workshops every month, JinJa guides leaders, especially women and other underrepresented business owners, who want to reach their next level but lack confidence to do so digitally. JinJa tells her workshop learners: “Large brands use Google’s suite of products like Google Ads, YouTube, Google Meet, Google Calendar, and Gmail. They also have figured out how to grow their influence with TikTok and LinkedIn. So there’s nothing stopping you from doing exactly what they’re doing, on a smaller scale. Maybe you don’t have a large budget, but the tools to share that information are available for all of us to use. So it really becomes a matter of how you tap into digital tools and not be afraid of them. How do you stay ahead of what’s happening so you can continue to grow and continue to make money?”
Empowerment through thinking like a creator
JinJa’s work with Birk Creative and her affiliated business ventures demonstrates that money and social impact are not mutually exclusive goals. But she has taken her efforts a step further by encouraging other business owners to celebrate curiosity and pursue ownership through the use of technology. Developing this mindset enables these entrepreneurs to think independently as creators and, as a result, make money.
“A lot of people don’t think they have any power, and that’s not true. You have a lot of power. You just have to see it first. The biggest lesson I’ve learned with my company is that curiosity, stamina, energy, and being loud, when appropriate and when necessary, are hallmarks of how you can be successful working in your own right.”
Dropbox Sign is helping companies like Birk Creative become more digitally savvy with eSignature, and it can do the same for you.