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How to dream small.

Guest blog by Jess Brookes, Founder of Jab.

I always knew I wanted to run my own business.

Even at a young age, I couldn’t think of anything worse than a rigid corporate career, long commute, holiday request forms, and being stuck in an office with a gnarly boss to answer to.

I often wonder if it’s that same avoidance that drives other entrepreneurs and founders too.

My teen years were complex compared to my peers, and so by the time I’d graduated, I was done with institutionalisation. My dream outcome was to take back control and show the world what I was capable of. How sweet.

But as the joys of adulting kicked in (kids, mortgage, debt), I resorted to spending the next few years in the security of an array of full-time marketing jobs. Even though that entrepreneurial dream slowly started to ebb away (whilst I wondered if I just wasn’t destined to be a business owner) it never fully left my consciousness.

It was pretty much the first day of maternity leave with my second daughter when (even though I don’t fully recall what the catalyst was) I decided I was done once and for all with employment. The thought of having to ‘go into work’ everyday for the next 30+ years genuinely filled me with dread. I knew I had more to offer and craved the flexibility that had been lacking from the conventional career route, not to mention the income ceiling I seemed to have hit.

I had tried a few different side-hustle ideas over the years, but going freelance and starting an agency seemed like the best shortcut to get away from my full-time job.

And so, I found my first few clients, handed my notice in and launched my digital marketing agency, Jab.

That was nine years ago.

But if you think that’s the end of the story, you’re very much mistaken.

A few years in, I quickly realised that, in my pursuit of growing my business, I hadn’t built a life of freedom at all. I’d simply created myself another job - the precise thing I’d wanted to get away from.

Working with asshole clients who didn’t respect my time or boundaries, the constant income rollercoaster, as well as the inevitable headaches of recruitment, team training and firing… This wasn’t the kind of freedom I’d dreamt about when I gazed out of that grim office window during all of those 8.30am-5pm days.

And then it was 2020. Despite being a shit-show, Covid gave me (like many others) the opportunity to take stock and re-evaluate what was important.

Teaching others how to start their own digital marketing business was something I was super passionate about by this stage of my journey, and so I created a lucrative online course to substitute some of the income that I unavoidably lost during the pandemic.

It also meant I became more picky about who I worked with, and I was now known as the ‘red flag queen’ by my students. Life is too short to work with clients who aren’t a good fit, after all - no matter how good the money is.

And so to 2024.

I always thought I wanted Jab to become a multi-million pound agency, awards coming out of my ears, and the excitement of growing an empire. But that’s not what I want at all. 

And I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s OK to dream small.

Instead of a modern city-centre office, I have the freedom to work from the garden, the beach, Starbucks, or sat up in bed when I can’t be bothered to get dressed (it’s been known!) - taking comfort in the knowledge that I don’t have rent, rates or overheads to stress about.

Instead of a huge team of employees, I love working with independent freelance specialists who have worked equally hard to become experts in their fields - I get the benefit of being part of a collective, without having to worry about payroll or ‘people’ issues!

I’ve created my business so that I can have the life I want. It has just taken a while to realise that. And now I’m ready for the next level - scaling with a solid team of experts and mentors by my side, and working only with clients who I genuinely align with (rather than saying yes to every business who wants to work with me).

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had days when the scarcity mindset has taken hold. “What if I lost all my clients tomorrow?!” But going all-in on LinkedIn has been a game-changer for my business. The truth is, there are clients everywhere. And when you’re good at what you do, the focus becomes more about discovering who you can help, rather than who you can sell to.

If I was to visit that naive pre-Jab version of me, here’s what I’d tell her:

  • Pick a niche (for now) - what are you passionate about, what skills or knowledge can you monetise and how can you genuinely help people?

  • Identify the types of businesses you’d like to work with - niching down on your audience makes life a lot easier when it comes to, well, everything.

  • Don’t waste money printing business cards - unless you’re actively networking in-person, invest in digital marketing instead.

  • Be human - people buy from people. There’s really no need to hide behind a company logo; focus on building a personal brand.

  • Build relationships - even as an introverted founder, I’ve kept my sanity thanks to the relationships I’ve built with decent people. You simply can’t do this business-thing alone.

  • Help people without any expectation - there’s no need to gatekeep your knowledge. Be generous - you never know what it might lead to.

  • You’ll never be a polished version - I’ve pivoted more times than a Russian ballerina, but I continue to grow and refine. And that’s totally acceptable.

  • It’s OK to dream small - as Chris Mole keeps reminding me, your business should work for you - not the other way round (thanks Chris!).

You can find Jess on Linkedin at

And learn more about how Jab can help you win on Linkedin


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