Twenty-eight years at the helm of Onyx Woman Network (OWN) has made Ola Jackson a remarkably self-assured person. She is the incredibly successful owner of Onyx Woman Network which publishes a digital magazine, a blog called ‘Your Stylish Ways,’ and more recently, a podcast. Ola is an astute businesswoman with a strong set of personal values. She refuses to be held back by fear and uses her unwavering belief in God and herself as a guiding light to reach her goals. Her son, Armon, and overcame his difficult diagnosis to nurture him into the confident young man he is today. She is sharing her light with women of all ages, especially older women contemplating their future path. Whether it is looking stylish, or taking the first steps to start your business, you can turn to Ola for the answers, as well as an enormous dose of encouragement.
At the start, will you let everyone know about who you are and how you dared to begin a hard copy magazine for women 28 years ago!
When it comes to who I am, first and most importantly, I am a child of God, and that helps to guide my decisions and gives me the resources to do what I need to do. I didn’t grow up to want to be an entrepreneur. I found ‘me’ because I was in a situation where I had to decide what’s next. My son was developmentally delayed and I realized that it was most important to make him a priority. Though I was the first in my family to go to college and quite ambitious, I did not let that interfere with my personal goals. I thought that I would start a business that will enable me to be there for him as well as make sure that I am fulfilled and doing what I want and love to do. Therefore I had the idea to start a business in public relations. I was a volunteer at first, and then I turned it into a business. I started by doing wardrobe presentations in addition to going to school for marketing. I also went to school for fashion merchandising. I parlayed that into a side hustle where I went out to job training programs. This was a time when women were required to begin the process of creating a resume, to dress appropriately, and transition to the workforce. One day, during a presentation I realized that the women were not paying me a lot of attention. And so I had this revelation that as opposed to me standing here and trying to get the women to give me attention, I would go ahead and start a publication. Granted my background was not Journalism or English, but the burning desire stayed with me for about a year. I thought – the only way to put this fire out is to do something at least! And so what I did was that I ran around collecting newspapers to see who the writers were. I measured the advertising to determine how much they [the writers] were charging and how they figured it out – I didn’t want to ask them because I was concerned that they might think that I was competition. I came up with a newsletter, and the first one was a disaster. The newsletter looked so bad that I thought “I should be in the witness protection program!” But I understood that whatever we do is a process – you, life, and after years of revising and revising I turned into a full-blown magazine. A black and white eight-page newsletter turned into a full-length magazine! It was the vehicle by which I could make extra money to fill my obligation and commitment to my son who was first diagnosed with developmental delay but eventually autism. [It meant] just being brave enough to continue to evolve. We were doing workshops and conferences and moved on to public access television show. We were able to get funding to do a public access show – you never get money for public access – and I did! Again, there was a process, a self-taught one, and I ended up getting the money, and things just evolved to where I had a magazine on the newsstands, next to ‘Black Enterprise.’ Who would have thought it? I had an idea, and I made it happen!
How did it feel to have something tangible in your hands and on the stands next to the big boys?
I remember the first time I saw [my magazine] it made me think how much I was prepared for life. Well before you reach your goal, there is a preparation. I remember when Beverly Johnson was first on the cover of ‘Glamour’ magazine, I thought ‘Oh my God! Here’s this Black woman!’ and I started wearing my hair like her and simulated her. Who would have thought that as I sat there in my teens, looking at that magazine, that what was to come was that I would have my own magazine? But that was a process happening, I would never have thought that I could do it, but I did! People always say ‘Are you ever fearful?’ And I say that I am always fearful. Anytime I start something new, I am fearful, but the difference is – I never, ever allow fear to be the obstacle or the barrier that inhibits me from doing what I want to do.
That’s my next question – how did you deal with fear then and now because the magazine is no longer hardcopy. What made you shift to the digital age and what were the trepidations you had making the move?
I was quite eager to make the transition because magazines are quite costly and take up so much time so I was eager that on my 25th year of business, it would be the last hard copy that I was going to do. Also, I pay attention to industry activities. I see that magazines are now about one-third of the size they used to be, so that says something. There is a shift going on in the industry while the growth in digital content is king or queen. So I was not concerned at all. I knew that since life is about a process, and we live our life in stages – that was a stage and it parlays me to where I am now. So I am getting older but what about the women who were around when I started the magazine, and they were my age – where would we go now? So I transitioned to more of self-care and launched other vehicles with which to address that woman who was like myself, she was nurturing growth, too young to be old but yet needed different things than before. That is how we got to our podcast and blog.
The content you give it endows the business side as a woman moves along in life and you can also sense the self-care and enjoyment of life.
There are times when I have not been happy with things, and I have told myself that it is just a stage of life. The word ‘age’ is in ‘stage.’ As I was wrapping up the hard copy, I began to create a blog which is ‘Your Stylish Ways.’ It is not just fashion and style; the difference is that it infuses self-care. What better way to get a woman’s attention than to talk about shoes? When I talk about shoes, I am going to talk about feelings, what better way to talk about decorating your home to make self-care gathering with your friends in your home since we don’t see them that often. I infuse a self-care message into the lifestyle and style content to address the ‘men like women at that stage in her life’ message.
Help me understand that the copy ceases to exist and everything has shifted to digital Onyx Woman Network and that is where you have celebrations for women?
We have an annual event where we celebrate Black women in leadership. On your [magazine] anniversary, we celebrate 25 women – this year was our 19th. With all that is going on today, we need to embrace and celebrate our own. We need to let women know that we have their back, we support them, and we will continue to encourage them as we nurture their growth in the industry. Some women are presidents of their own company, and some are heads of organizations – so they are diverse. We do not want to say that a woman has to attain a certain level of success for us to acknowledge you. That is not the point. At the end of the day, we are all on the same path but taking a different route to get there. We honor women for years, document their success and celebrate who they are and who they are to become.
It sounds like the everyday woman has an opportunity to identify and to find herself somewhere in the network, is that right?
Everyone does not want to be the CEO, and that is fine. We [the network] will make you whatever you are and wherever you want to be without saying that you have to fit into a certain mould for us to acknowledge you. Our society does not endorse happiness; it endorses having things such as followers on Facebook or the right car. When you are my age (I’ll be 60 next year), you wonder why you were chasing those things. It is about truly defining what makes you happy at the end of the day. My older friends and I looked back and realized that the simplest things in m life make me happy – taking a walk, walking down the steps when so many can’t, having gratitude and realizing what we have got and appreciating that.
I teach women who are self-employed to do something for you such as staying in bed a few minutes longer or meditating. You make your kids, the boss, your mother and friends happy – at the end of the day you come home, and you have not spent any time nurturing yourself. When others ask how I balance everything, I tell them that can I not give myself just an hour a day?
Your podcast is valuable, and you are looking at the issues of middle-aged African Americans.
Our issues change as we evolve. Women my age in their 50’s and 60’s are worried about their jobs, ageism, the resources available to them as they are growing older, and even unresolved childhood trauma. With all the demands on you, you have to ask – what about me and my well-being? Women need to protect themselves not to be unhealthy as they get older and do whatever they can to live the best quality of life until they can.
What kept you going all these years in spite of all the problems you faced?
Because I believe. I always believe that I am a child of God, first and foremost before I am anything else. My belief is my goal, and it keeps me going.
So read the article on Ola’s magazine for a host of resources and tune in to her podcast. How can we listen to your podcast and get in touch with you?
My podcast is on Blog Talk radio! You can get in touch with me on my website.
Ola Jackson has been in business for decades and knows all about sponsorship, branding, and everything else it takes to start and stay in business. Most importantly, she is willing to share her knowledge and experiences with women all over the world to empower them as entrepreneurs. Her podcast and magazine is a valuable resource filled with the experiences of women that are relatable and helpful. If you are losing hope, positivity, or belief in yourself, Ola’s digital web of support will help you to get up and running!
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Margo Lovett is the creator and host of Her Business Her Voice Her Conversation, a podcast, a business that markets how- to reinvent yourself information, instruction, inspiration to women leaving corporate, looking to become a podcaster, author, entrepreneur .