Oct 31, 2014

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My BIG IDEA: A Bilingual Latino Travel Media Company

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MY BIG IDEA: A Bilingual Latino Travel Media Company

By: Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz, Founder of GrowingUpBilingual.com

My Journey

Moving to the US from Guatemala 5 years ago has been the hardest and most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. When we moved to Florida in 2008 getting a job in one of the areas that was hit the hardest by the economic downturn was a small miracle in itself so we where happy my husband had gotten a job fairly quickly even though it was not enough for us to cover rent. We figured we would move in with my in-laws for a few months while he got a better job or while I got a job. The months turned into years and although living with my in-laws was really tough every day I woke up thankful that we had a place to stay and knowing that without them we would be homeless, sleeping in the car or maybe worse.

My husband’s job barely provided enough money for a family of 4 to eat, and even with the help of government programs like WIC and reduced school lunches, when my husband lost his job the unemployment check was not enough to cover the costs of our basic necessities. I tried to apply for food stamps but even though our income was well below poverty level since my daughter and I where not citizens at the time we did not qualify for the government’s help. So I turned to food banks. As I waited for my turn to get free food , standing under the burning Florida sun for two hours, I realized I had to do something. I could no longer sit and wait for something to happen, I had to take action. I started to understand why I would never hear back from the hundreds of job applications I had sent. Among hundreds of people competing for every single job I realized no one would look twice at the resume of a Guatemalan woman who had studied architecture in a University no one had heard of and who had no job experience in the US.

I knew it was up to me and I knew if people met me they would realize that I could do any job, and do it well. My husband was studying an online web design course and I asked him to make a website, we got some cards printed online for free and I started looking for networking opportunities. Although joining my local Chamber of Commerce or other networking groups required a fee I could not cover I found that I could go once or twice for free before joining. So one afternoon I dressed up, did my hair and put on some heels and headed to the Hispanic Chamber’s meeting. I parked my old, rusted Corolla (our only car) a block away so no one would see it and I walked to the restaurant. I was terrified but I went in there, talked to people and gave out my card. And as a couple of people showed interest I experienced a mix of excitement and panic. I ran out of the restaurant and called my husband and pleaded for him to hurry and get the website finished (yes our website was not done yet!) in case someone decided to actually visit it after the networking event.

When the event was over I got in the car and raced to the food bank, you see that day a special truck would be there giving away free chicken and school supplies for the kids and not just canned food. A couple of blocks before arriving I turned into an empty parking lot and changed in the car. I couldn’t show up to the food bank all dressed up and if I went home to change I would not get there on time. I felt horrible about just having spent money “eating out” at the networking event but knew the $13 where a necessary investment. I still cry when I think of that day and how guilty I felt for having a nice meal while I was feeding my kids canned vegetables and peanut butter sandwiches. That was the last day I went to the food bank. Networking lead to volunteering and volunteering soon led first to one part time job and eventually to three.

My Growth

A few months before, I had started my blog as a way to help other Latino families who might also be struggling with keeping their language and culture alive at home and with getting their children with special needs the services they needed . As I spend more and more time on social media I started to meet other Latina bloggers. Eventually I joined a couple of blogger networks and in March 2012, 5 months after starting my blog I won tickets to attend SheStreams in Ft. Lauderdale. There I met so many people, learned so much and I tweeted from my phone for the first time in my life. A few weeks later I attended Hispanicize and a month after that I got my first sponsored campaign from Latina Bloggers Connect  and I was elated! I realized then that I could make a living doing something I loved and fueled by the desire to provide for my family I dove full force into my blog. After my kids where asleep I spent countless hours researching the internet and signing up to free webinars on everything from WordPress templates to the best times to post on Facebook.

Last month, when my husband lost one of his main graphic design clients (he does freelance work from home) I became the main breadwinner in the family. I am lucky that we both work from home and can be flexible so now while I sit in front of the computer for more hours than I dare to admit my husband does an amazing job with the kids, helping them with their homework and taking them to horseback riding lessons and soccer. He has supported me every step of the way and thanks to him I was able to quit my last part time job in November so I could focus on my business full time. We are still struggling but after 4 years we finally moved to our place and although every month I work longer hours fearing I will not make my monthly goal and won’t have enough money to pay the rent I love what I do. The best part of my job is that although money has always been super tight blogging has provided us with so many other things that we would not have been able to afford from attending conferences that have helped my business grow, to date nights at fancy restaurants and family trips.

My Goal

I have been an entrepreneur all my life. In Guatemala I started as a freelance architect then I opened a furniture design business and when I got pregnant started the first parenting magazine in Guatemala (actually in Central America). When I moved to the United States, I had to start from scratch and realized that although many of the basics where the same here there where many things that I need to learn and I truly believe that the opportunity to attend the ELLA Leadership Institute Training Conference  would give me the knowledge and the tools to take the next step to creating a successful and profitable business. I would love to start by being able to sleep at night without worrying about our economical situation and having enough to afford health insurance (yes the adults in this family are uninsured as insurance costs more than our rent now). But what fuels me is knowing that the sky is the limit. After what I have been through and what I have accomplished so far I am convinced that I can succeed.

My BIG IDEA

I want to start a bilingual Latino travel media company that focuses not just on marketing to the Latino travel market in the US but also marketing to Latin Americans in Spanish. I know that I am really close to taking my business to the next level. My challenge right now is that I need to grow and I need a passive income source because there are only so many hours in the day and I am working for most of them now. I know that the next step is going from a one-woman-show to a business with employees and I am excited about taking that plunge and creating jobs for others. Maybe I could even start with my husband as I really need a full time graphic designer on board and he would love to get paid for all the stuff he does for my websites! ;)

This post has been edited for New Latina. To read the original post, visit Growing Up Bilingual! 

See other Latina Bloggers Connect contest entrants’ BIG IDEAS here:

Share your BIG IDEAS with us by tweeting us @ELLAInstitute or @NewLatina! 

 

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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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