Ericka Lozano-Buhl is the founder of Mixto Communications, a marketing and communications consulting firm in Portland, Oregon. Her background includes local government, politics, nonprofits, and higher education. She likes to say that starting her own business marked the first time she worked in a for-profit industry. Ericka's a political junkie, avid cyclist, and mother of a two-year-old who already cracks potty jokes.
In this interview, Ericka shares with us her story about becoming an entrepreneur, what gave her the courage to start a side hustle and what Mixto really means. Ericka realized there was no way for her to live unless she became her own boss. That's when the hustle began.
Read her full story in the following paragraphs. When you're done absorbing her insights, give her a shoutout on Twitter!
What ignited the spark in you to start a business? Where did the idea for Mixto Communications come from?
When my daughter Rory was born, I took six months of maternity leave from my digital strategy director position. After a lifetime of being a Type A overachieving workaholic, I found my priorities shifting. Being home for dinner and spending weekends together as a family became really important.
Despite the many benefits of working for someone else (like health insurance and paid time off), I realized there was no way for me to live the life I wanted unless I became my own boss. I started Mixto Communications as a side hustle when I returned to work; a well-timed buyout from my former company early last year allowed me to focus on growing my business.
In Spanish, Mixto means mixed; it references my specialty of mixing traditional and innovative strategies in my work and is also a nod to my daughter’s mixed race heritage.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love it when my clients are happy.
Favorite moments: I send a marketing piece that my client says is “even more beautiful than the last one.” I find the right tool for a client team and hear back, “I don’t know how we lived without this.” I write a piece for a client and she says, “These are the perfect words for what I want to say, but I never could have written this.” These are the times when I totally I high five myself in my office.
How do you generate new ideas for Mixto Communications to keep growing? Is there a secret that you have figured out over the years?
I keep a careful eye on business pain points – for me, my clients, and other organizations. That helps me identify areas where I can jump in and help clients thrive. I also pay attention to what brings me joy.
For the longest time, I’ve been the person friends and colleagues turn to when they need help with their resumes. It’s the best when someone tells me I helped them get an interview – or land a job! I’ve added resume writing to my consulting services and it’s a great source of new business, as well as something I love doing.
In your experience, what is the best way to build a successful customer base? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?
While I advertise and network, I have been very fortunate to grow my business steadily through word of mouth and referrals. When I first started out, I was shy about asking for recommendations and testimonials. Now I don’t hesitate, especially when a client tells me how happy they are with my work.
Always let your network and clients know that you would appreciate any referrals. You might be surprised to find out that some of your connections don’t know that you’re looking for clients or aren’t familiar with your services – and they could be interested in hiring you once you mention your availability.
As a business owner, what is your greatest fear and how do you keep it under control or harness it?
My biggest fear is probably the same as many small business owners: what if I don’t succeed? If through some perfect storm, I lost all of my clients tomorrow, could I rebuild? I remind myself that I started this business from nothing – zero clients, zero income – and if I had to, I could do it again.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Mixto Communications?
Three people who inspire me are entrepreneurs and leaders in varied fields, each of whom I’m fortunate to call my friend: Shawna Dawson of Sauce LA; Rudy Espinoza of LURN; and Parag Batavia of Neya Systems. They’ve all worked incredibly hard while staying true to their values and supporting their friends and communities.
The amazing Pip’s Original Donuts uses the hashtag #communitynotcompetition, which really embodies what I admire about these folks. When I have the opportunity to do pro bono work, collaborate with a community partner, or offer advice to someone new to the industry, I’m following in their footsteps.
What do you feel is the major difference between you and other entrepreneurs? Is there something that has guided you along the way?
I don’t know that it sets me apart, but being an entrepreneur has allowed me to make my personal life a priority. That may sound counterintuitive given how difficult it is to start a business, but I used to consistently work nights, weekends, and holidays, even on vacations.
It was just part of who I was to dedicate that kind of time and energy to my professional life. Now, I give myself the luxury of uninterrupted family time outside of business hours. I’m there when my daughter wakes up. We spend evenings and weekends relaxing as a family (as much as anyone can relax with a toddler, two dogs, and two cats). My husband telecommutes, so we get to have lunch together most days. I try to meet up with a friend for coffee or a walk at least once a week.
Have you faced any failures with Mixto Communications? How did you overcome it?
I’ve definitely faced failure. Any time I’ve written a client proposal that wasn’t accepted, it stung. It’s not just because a contract wasn’t signed, but because I invested time and energy to create something just for that individual or organization. Still, I wouldn’t have become a consultant if I couldn’t handle rejection.
And I fully recognize that just because my proposal didn’t make the cut one time doesn’t mean it won’t next time. I keep in mind that I’m not just trying to find clients; I’m working to build relationships.
What was the best piece of advice you have ever gotten from another business owner? The worst?
The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to hire an accountant, which, embarrassingly, is something I’m only just now getting around to doing. The worst advice was probably to do my own taxes, because taxes are freaking hard.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs in Oregon who have a business idea but don’t know where to get started?
I’d suggest they speak with friends and family members who are entrepreneurs and small business owners to get insight on what it’s like to start a business. I’d also tell them to connect with the SBA, which offers free training, online resources, counseling, and even loan programs.
And when they’re ready to take the plunge, I would highly recommend working with a marketing and communications consultant (such as Mixto Communications, ahem) on brand strategy, marketing materials, and a digital presence.