Marleena Garris is a freelance multimedia marketer, creative writer, and social media specialist. Her new website, “Digitalia by Marleena” highlights her unique voice as well as her versatility in the world of digital business. This 18-year-old firecracker won’t let age define her as she sharpens her skills and works to rise to the next level.
Marleena plans to study Acting and Digital Content Media at Lindenwood University in St. Charles Missouri this fall, all while managing her ever-growing business!
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I grew up wanting to create. I wanted to tell stories, and I wasn’t quite sure how I would go about doing so. I remember an instance in 7th grade when I sold bracelets and made some pretty great cash from it, enough to buy a whole bunch of gum!
My friends used to joke that I carried myself “like a businesswoman”. I quickly found that there was something for me in the world of business when I got into digital work.
It appealed to me because I’m studying acting, and in the world of entertainment, one of the most valuable skills you need is to market yourself creatively and outside the box.
Digital media became a gateway that not only allowed me to market myself but also successfully promote others and enhance their brand, work or story while genuinely enjoying what I do! It’s a win-win.
Tell us about your business.
My business has always been there, but I am only very recently taking the steps to publicize and bring it out into the open.
My website, “Digitalia By Marleena,” is my communication platform to the world around me. I specialize in multimedia slideshows and social media graphics, as well as headers, photo editing, and typography — that’s not even the half of it!
I also work with editing for papers, and content writing, because I believe that how you write something is just as important. Readers should be able to envision you just from your words, and that is wildly important to me.
I can also be found on Upwork, a platform that supports freelancers, and you can check out my writings and samples there as well.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Of course! I take pride in my ability to create, but even the savviest creators need a pick-me-up! On my website, I have a gallery of samples available for download and free usage.
I invite my readers and possible clients to suggest an idea for a sample that they would love to see and I’ll create it in return for a coffee.
No joke! This way, I can be complimentary while also fulfilling a project. Who doesn’t love coffee? This allows for a test drive of my skills if you will.
Something I’m very proud of is working with my last client, Jeffrey Raider — one of the co-founders of a billion dollar company, Warby Parker, and also one of the CEOs of Harry’s, a company that is making several million every single year!
Raider wanted a project completed and it was an absolute dream to work with him! Here’s a portion of his review:
“Marleena was wonderful to work with. She did an AMAZING job. She took on our project with real passion and was committed to ensuring it went well! She was incredibly responsive to all of our needs, made changes we discussed quickly and correctly and creatively problem solved in an amazing way…”
Imagine that! My work has also been spread along social media, successfully highlighting national campaigns, like the Toys For Tots initiative, and of course, my slideshows have showcased the local organizations and businesses around my area.
Where is your business based?
The beauty of the computer! My business is located on any of your screens, but mostly through my website or my profile on Upwork.
In the meantime, I can actually be contacted directly on my website, here. I’m ridiculously friendly, seriously, strike up a chat.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
As soon as I was able, I gathered all my projects in one place. This step is important because if you have tons of material to show, there is always the problem of different projects being on multiple folders, leading to all of that magical content lost!
Next, I found a marketplace to showcase my work! I chose Upwork because of the security that comes with communication, negotiation, and portfolio sharing with clients right off the bat.
It really is a forward way of business in our rapidly changing world. The website is something that is fresh, as it takes a large amount of structure and design to complete.
Luckily, I was able to build one exactly to my liking using Wix. Wix is already a platform for website creation, but this was my first time utilizing it and I could not be more pleased with the outcome!
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
One of the most effective ways of spreading my business has been all forms of social media. You don’t fully understand how connected you are to everything until you put yourself out there.
By simply placing my work out for people to see, or even for people to scroll by, I am earning yet another point toward awareness for my brand, without interacting personally at all with anyone at that point.
I’ve found the most successful platform is Instagram, due to the high level of photos required by my work. One image, in particular, used only to promote the launch of my website, has received over 66% of the traffic from my business Instagram account.
People keep coming back to that photo, even after I post others next to it, and that is also what brings people to my website, without my lifting a finger!
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
This is going to be a little confusing at first, but I did not start out with social media accounts for my business. For a while, I didn’t even have an Upwork profile. All I started out with was software and some basic editing skills.
There’s no other way to say it: starting from zero is going to be a challenge no matter what you specialize in. If no one knows about you, then you have to throw yourself out there!
How did you overcome these challenges?
On social media, I began to follow many design accounts. Entrepreneurship (hello, Lady Boss Blogger!), media, editing, anything I could find. Anything to get my name and my brand out there. Then I kept the content coming.
I find that if a company does not know about you, but they see at least one piece of compelling content, that’s the ticket to a beautiful business, and they get hooked.
The same goes for Upwork, I kept building and creating a bigger portfolio and now I have a website to show! It makes me happy to know how far I’ve come from just a girl with an idea.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
When I’m feeling out of it, I remember that hard work and determination will get you to where you need to be; that’s something I have always believed in. I keep reminding myself that this is something I truly love to do and, seeing the stories and the messages spread around, it’s worth it!
You just keep creating, but you have to stop and listen to what’s around you every once in a while, just to make sure that what you’re creating is making an impact.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I try to be as fresh and as modern as possible. As a young entrepreneur, I have so much motivation and drive to separate myself from other players, including my striking way of photo editing, and that wonderful coffee freebie incentive. Seriously.
When applying to possible projects, I submit proposals and work making sure that I showcase my voice and unique point of view. I know how to relate to the client, and I think that it’s essential to have a laugh with someone, even before you start a project!
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I remember scrolling through quotes and one read, “What good is work if you don’t smile while doing it?” I absolutely agree. You should love what you do, and do that thing, whatever it is, the best you can.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Don’t let your age or your freshness stop you from making big moves; I mean I’m 18 for crying out loud! People my age don’t even think about things like this, especially at this point, but I think young entrepreneurs are the future.
My personality, along with my willingness to put myself out there, has blessed me with a feature on this blog. I don’t care if you’re five, and you want to have a lemonade business!
We all have that in us, the willingness to create something and make others happy, and once you realize you have it, don’t you dare look back. It can take you places!
Another piece of advice I would tell others is that you get in it what you put out, so don’t skimp on the work ethic. I worked my backside off to get to where I am today, and with very little knowledge to start out with; all I had was my ambition and motivation to drive me.
There is nothing you cannot dream, and if you keep going with the fire you started out with, honestly, who can really stop you?
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
As someone going into digital media, I am on an endless search for photos that aren’t complete snoozefests. I’ve found that Pexels and Unsplash are perfect havens for creative content that is license free and of course, perfect quality. I highly recommend them for your projects!
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I am currently rereading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and while I do personally own all 4 novels and 56 short stories and have read each and every single one of them, “A Case of Identity” remains one of my favorites because it was one of the first I was able to deduce all on my own. A true nerd, I am.
I take pride in owning the complete canon, and I highly recommend that one to beginners.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I could always do with better ways to navigate the creative marketplace, so I look at other freelancer blogs and digital content pages to see what the seasoned pros are up to. I’m learning every single day!
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
Right now, I have my eye on this video software that would look phenomenal for my work. I’m saving up to get a yearly subscription, and hopefully, to continue to use it with other content that I produce. With that being said, I hope to gain more exposure as the months go on and more opportunities such as this one come and go.
I also really want someone to ask for a coffee freebie. I worked really hard on that cute extension, but if no one does soon I might bribe a friend, we’ll see…
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.