James Moss became homeless in Atlanta in the early 1990s, after his car was stolen with all his possessions inside it. Thanks to the help of a men’s outreach program and lots of determination, he made his way – via temping – to a marketing job with a local radio station. Two decades on and James has worked with more than 8,000 different clients and now heads up his own company, US Global Marketing Group (USGMG), which consults on marketing and business development. He’s passionate about supporting young entrepreneurs across the United States and helping others get out of their professional ruts.
Here James talks about the challenges he’s faced in both his personal and professional life, and how he feels they’ve pushed him to achieve even greater success.
At one stage in your life you found yourself homeless.
When I first moved to Atlanta, I drove down with all my things in the car. I had problems getting to the right part of the city so stopped to buy a map, figure out where I was going and get something to drink. But then my car was stolen with my wallet inside it as well as everything I’d brought with me for the move. It took me quite a while to get back on my feet. That was back in the early ’90s.
How did you get back into the workforce?
A church group picked me up and supported me through its men’s outreach program while I was on the street. They helped me get hold of new clothes and a new ID card. Eventually, I got myself together and half a year later I was working in temporary labor.
I moved from that into a job doing marketing for a local radio station called WQHI. That was my crash course in the industry and the springboard for US Global Marketing Group. Along the way, I went back to school and took a degree in neuropsychology, which I’ve been able to apply to business and marketing.
Do you feel that the challenges you faced in your personal life have affected your attitude toward entrepreneurship?
Overcoming homelessness was a lesson in confidence. People become acclimatized to that lifestyle – you don’t have a cell phone, you don’t have a place to change and no one can contact you. That means you have less responsibility, so less motivation to do something about it.
It’s only when you go back into civilized society and see people going back and forth to work each day that you see clearly. Breaking that chain by taking the opportunities I was offered got me back on my feet and keeps things in perspective today.
How have you used your experience to support young entrepreneurs?
We run an internship and apprenticeship program called Relight America, which supports people returning to work or with little experience of entrepreneurship. We provide them with [the] experience of working with business owners and local communities.
In particular, we focus on getting them working with what we call the RSB, or the “really small business” market. For us, it’s the best way to share skills and business knowledge from different fields. You can work with a barber, a local beautician or a retail outlet and see what works best for each of them.
What advice do you offer the people in your program?
My favorite kind of project is one where I’m working with younger entrepreneurs. They’re going through this for the first time, don’t have any real experience and are afraid. Having learned a lot of lessons the hard way myself, I can really empathize with that feeling, and I hope I have something to share with them. There are apps and techniques to teach you the basics of business, but it’s only through tenacity that you can keep going.
I encourage them to focus in on their idea and not to let anyone talk them out of it before they’ve even started. Then when they try them out, it’s important not to be afraid of failure. I was afraid of failing, but I was able to overcome it because I had poverty at the door, pushing me on with my business.
Between running an internship program and heading up a marketing business, how are you able to achieve work-life balance?
For me, work and life work well together because I’m doing what I love. In particular, working with young people keeps me learning, as I experience their ups and downs alongside them. But I do have hobbies outside of work – I like chess and walking. I’d love to get back into cycling because my work means I have a sedentary lifestyle where you’re at your desk or in the car, not getting much exercise. I still do some amateur radio. As a child, I was an amateur radio operator and I loved communicating with people. It’s that feeling of wanting to be in touch with others that fuels my work today.
Top tips from James:
- Don’t be afraid of failure – the first thing you learn in martial arts is how to fall and the first thing you learn in boxing is how to take a punch. It should be the same in business.
- Experience is the best teacher. Apprenticeships and internships are invaluable to those just getting started in their careers.
- Pursue your idea wholeheartedly. So often people allow their ideas to fall by the wayside – don’t let others talk you out of it.
James Moss uses Regus offices in Atlanta, Georgia and Sacramento, California.