About J.Nichole Smith: The Long Story

by | Feb 5, 2018 | Craft Your Brand

For someone paralytically afraid of failure, I sure am good at finding it.

Or, well, I was, anyway.

I mean, I literally drew disaster after disaster after disappointment towards me like a giant confused, fleshy magnet.

I started my first pet business officially in 2005. I then spent the next 4 years as an entrepreneur plagued by one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next.

Here’s a short list of the type of chaos I have dealt over the last decade:

  • Dropping out of college to start my business because I couldn’t afford expensive art school tuition anymore – only months away from finishing my Bachelor’s Degree
  • Dealing with not one, but several deceptive, reactionary, unethical people (clients and ‘official partners’ both)
  • Having to file a breach of contract lawsuit, which in the end we won, but which lasted 4 years and cost over 60k
  • Being owed multiple 5-figures by people who filed bankruptcy instead of paying what they owed
  • Having all my equipment stolen the day after a ‘big break’ for my photography business – resulting in a loss of not just the equipment (and having to pay over 10k to replace rented gear) but also the loss of 99% of the images I had taken for the client #epicfail
  • Having great business partners who moved to another state (and the business had to go with them)
  • Racking up consumer debt on top of my student loans just to survive
  • Car accidents and unexplainable tech failures (yes even the backup of the backup burnt up) resulting in permanent loss of large chunks of my photography archivesC
  • Countless instances of image theft, Trademark and Copyright infringement to deal with
  • Losing dream gigs to competitors who are also close friends
  • Freak disasters like a golden retriever puppy breaking its leg in my studio when catching a ball about 8 inches off the ground
  • Debilitating sickness, joint pain and hives which no doctor could explain (but I now know was stress related) – I literally stressed myself into crippling physical pain
  • Investing over 40k in totally the wrong business, resulting in devastating financial losses depression and conflicts in my marriage

Not to mention other major challenges like:

  • Moving myself, businesses and dogs from the US to the UK
  • Starting over in several new businesses and markets (in different states and countries)
  • Taking 2 yrs. out of my career (at its peak) to do a Masters degree
  • Amicably splitting from long-term partners
  • Deciding at the top of my career to give up photography and graphic design

I could go on and on but the point of this is not to indulge in the negative energy of disappointment and setbacks – but to illustrate that everything I’ve learned and gained (and teach) has been well earned and hard won. Plus, if you’re new to my world, then this will be my first chance to tell you (and prove to you), that ANYTHING is possible.

Where you are now does not define where you can be a year from now!

 For the longest time I truly believed I was destined to be broke, over-worked, and severely under-appreciated. I feared I was never going to have a ‘proper business’… I started my business when I was 22 and I feared I was never going to be an actual ‘grown up’. This meant that when I did have big wins, I suffered from terrible imposter syndrome and could never appreciate or acknowledge my accomplishments. It meant that what I believed I deserved (or did not deserve) completely defined by my reality, which was full of ‘not enoughness’. Consequently, I believed deserved whatever I got, not what I actually wanted (so much so, that I’m not sure I was brave enough to even FIGURE OUT what I really wanted!)

Does any of this sound familiar??

Over the years (while I didn’t recognize or acknowledge it very well at the time) I did accomplish a LOT. In fact in the first five years of self-employment as a pet photographer and graphic designer, I had achieved many of my greatest aspirations! I was a published photographer and author, my images were on the cover of the greatest pet magazines in the country, I got paid to travel and photograph pets and my work was all over at trade shows like Global Pet Expo and Superzoo… my designs were winning multiple awards in multiple countries, and I had been hired for amazing gigs with huge brands like Petco and Purina.


design for pooch play launch by j.nichole smith

designs for petco's pooch hotel launch by j.nichole smith

When my coffee table book came out in 2012, it was featured in tons of press including USA Today, where it was featured side by side with the Rolling Stones, Steven Spielberg, Kate Moss, Vogue, National Geographic. This was definitely a career highlight!

Puppyhood by J.Nichole Smith in USA Today

In addition to my career as a designer and photographer for other pet brands, my partners and I had grown our own little brand, Dog is Good, a little tee shirt business, into a multi-million dollar dog brand.

dog is good founders j.nichole smith and jon and gila kurtz

dog is good designs by j.nichole smith

dog is good booth at new york gift show 2011

Plus, I couldn’t believe I was working with my absolute #1 idol in the dog world, Victoria Stilwell!!

logo design for victoria stilwell by j.nichole smith

Best of all, I had moved to sunny California and my dogs came to work with me every day. There was so much to be grateful for – there was SO MUCH to be proud of!

Magazine Covers

citydog magazine cover photos by j.nichole smith


home cooking for your dog cover by j.nichole smith

Commercial Pet Photography Gigs

photography for mascot pet brand by j.nichole smith

photography and logo design for 2Hounds Design by J.Nichole Smith

behind the scenes at a commercial photography session by j.nichole smith

Pet Brand Identity Design

PLAY logo commercial pet photography and design for PLAY dog toys by j.nichole smith

And Yet…

I lived in a perpetual state of chaos and exhaustion. Even though my revenue had increased exponentially, I didn’t manage my money well, so I had extremely high expenses and still felt broke all the time. I was spread paper thin between multiple businesses and skills and clients and deadlines… Even with all I had to be proud of and thankful for, experiencing these incredible wins, I simply was not very happy.

Then, thanks to a bit of happenstance, or fate, or freak luck

Or, as I believe, some serious true-love manifesting, I got an incredible fresh start. I met the love of my life (who happens to be British), and 6 months later I moved from Long Beach, CA to London to be with him. I took 2 years out of my career to complete a Masters in Marketing at Kingston University, one of London’s top 10 business schools. We bought a flat in SW London and created a storybook life, complete with picture-perfect wedding in Sicily.

When I finished my Masters I didn’t really know what to do with myself.

I was completely starting over in new country, having been ‘out of the game’ for a couple years. I had always wanted to have a cute little boutique where I could have a photo studio and sell Dog is Good gear and the products I had designed for other pet brands… so I invested our little nest egg in creating ‘Little & Large’, a wonderful retail boutique and pet photo studio.

little and large pet boutique in south west london

It was named it Little & Large because when we walked around town with our two dogs (A Great Dane and a Frenchie) everyone always said to us Ah look it’s little n’ large!’ (I thought was odd that everyone said the exact same thing until I discovered that ‘Little and Large’ is a popular comedy duo in the UK).

Surely now I had it all right?

The handsome prince, the beautiful boutique business only a 2 min. walk away from our newly remodeled flat in swinging London… humans and dogs were healthy, and I had just gone from having no degree to a Masters degree! Surely now, now I had it all and I was euphoric, right? I mean seriously, what else could anyone possibly want!?

Nope. I wasn’t. As the retail business trudged on, I realized I had just spent over 40 thousand pounds on a business I didn’t want. I was feeling more and more resentful of my choices. How could I be so ungrateful? How could I POSSIBLY not want this DREAM!?

I was at work every day from 9-5, photographing spaniels, fitting no-pull harnesses, managing inventory, managing staff, and feeling completely miserable. The guilt was suffocating. I had it ALL. Why couldn’t I just buck up and make it work!?

What the hell was wrong with me!?

As I wrestled myself through the motions of making our retail business work and faced the monotonous day-to-day realities of a small neighborhood retail business, it became more and more clear to me that:

I had started the business for all the wrong reasons.

It was a great opportunity, it was a wonderful brand, it was a dream business… for someone else.

I felt wasted. I felt like my days and my purpose were not being fulfilled. I felt like my potential – for helping people – for earning a living – were not being maximized… or even tapped at all, really. After those realizations, came the soaking wet weight of guilt. Of shame. The misery of knowing I had simply made 100% the wrong choice, and for all the wrong reasons. I never asked myself the right questions,

I never even CONSIDERED how I wanted to spend my time, or where I wanted my life to go, I had just obsessed over the idea of the good stuff.

I had obsessed over the idea of ‘Little & Large’ the perfect name.

I had obsessed over trying to prove people wrong who had said to me ‘retail is a hard gig’.

I had wanted to prove something to someone about just how legit a boss and business owner I could be. Surely there is nothing more legit than a brick and mortar store, right? Low margins, lots of staff, inventory and fixed costs? If I could do this, I could do ANYTHING.

Then the suffocating truth cut through me: I probably COULD do it… but I didn’t WANT to.

How could I be so selfish – to think that I could just decide what I did and didn’t want to do? I had signed up for this thing – I needed to see it through! Right? Surely once you commit to something you’re stuck with it, right?

Surely I couldn’t just waste all that money we’d invested? Surely I couldn’t just be the cliché failed pet boutique – I couldn’t let all those people who told me I couldn’t do it be right! I couldn’t face the shame of seeing the same people on my dog walk every morning who I used to see in the store and have to explain to them why I quit? I couldn’t QUIT!? Why don’t I finish the things I start? Why do my big ideas always get me in such trouble? If I didn’t do this, what the hell WOULD I DO?

If this isn’t who I am – WHO AM I!?

All of these thoughts and many more, tore me apart for months and months as I desperately clung to a business I resented, that consequently was sucking the light and life out of me. I held on for dear life to an identity I had really created just because I had liked the sound of it. I was supposed to be an expert t this stuff, how could I have been so naive!?

Then, one dreadful August day, the world stopped

My heart dog died. The one who started it all. Olivia the Great Dane – the reason I had ever even ventured into the pet industry. My love. My best friend. The ‘Large’ in Little & Large was gone and so was my will to keep pretending.

When Olivia died the choice suddenly seemed so clear. I closed the shop. I sold off the business in pieces. Almost overnight, I lost my love for selling photography as a service. I let the guilt and shame eat me alive. I gave in to total failure and defeat. For the first time, maybe ever…

I let myself just completely fall apart.

As the months passed, I started piecing myself back together. I started asking myself difficult questions to figure out who I actually was, and what I actually wanted. I was determined to never invest in the ‘wrong’ thing ever again.

I focused on healing. I found the silver linings. Everything I read told me to be more grateful, so I stopped taking inventory of what I didn’t have, or what I wasn’t. Instead, I started focusing on what I DID have. I stopped waiting for a unknown ‘someday’ to get my sh*t together.

I began to define the life I wanted and I immediately started fighting for it.

So what happened?

Well, around the same time, my husband quit his job and started his own business. We had nothing tying us down, so we made the difficult decision to rent out our house (ahhh strangers using my shower, whaaaatttt?) Which, as it turns out, wasn’t that big of a deal when we were sitting in Winter sun at 4pm in Mallorca instead of running through the dark, in freezing rain in London. We redefined our concept of home, and happiness, and for us, that meant spending weeks and months at a time in beautiful locations all over Europe.

As I worked to figure out my next steps, I was forced to lean on mentors, coaches, friends and healers. I had finally given in to the fact that I simply couldn’t do it by myself.

I had to learn to ask for help and invest (even when I had NOTHING) in taking care of myself. I worked to identify the beliefs that had caused me to get myself into the position I had been in. I started to change them – I began to overwrite the old toxic stories with new more empowering ones.  This intensive work included weekly masterminds with a fellow entrepreneurial accountability buddy, working with an EFT practicioner, consuming endless books and podcasts, listening to my self-talk and changing it, and facing the ugliest parts of my personality… admitting things about myself I didn’t want to face.

Surprisingly, the hardest part was facing the good stuff

Allowing myself to acknowledge my resources and unique talents as well as my failures and shortcomings. Asking myself and others what I was good at.

Hitting rock-bottom allowed me to be so clear about what I didn’t want, that I was able to identify, by contrast, what I DO want.

Hardest of all, discovering that maybe what I DESERVE is aligned with exactly what I want… Not some bargain-basement or harder-than-it-has-to-be, knock-off version of what I want… fundamentally changed me.

 … and that is where this crazy journey began.

These days I am 100% dedicated to helping entrepreneurs find freedom and fulfilment by building brands instead of businesses. My passion for this process is rooted in my personal journey, but has been fuelled and sustained by the entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure of working with.

[ Check out some ‘before’ and ‘afters’ from my clients]

Since the dark yesterdays that inspired these bright todays, some incredible things have happened. I have had the pleasure and honor of being asked to speak at the very top conferences in the pet industry (Global Pet Expo, PATS and the Women in the Pet Industry). I published Million Dollar Dog Brand – the essential guide for petpreneurs and I was awarded the ’40 under 40′ award from Pet Age Magazine. In order to help more pet businesses, I launched Working with Dog, the Official Club for Petpreneurs.

Now, I am expanding outside my niche in the pet space, to help all types of cause-driven entrepreneurs who want to have it all. If this sounds like you, hop over here you want to learn more about my version of freedom & fulfilment, or to start the process of defining and pursuing your own!


How Can I Help You?

Get in touch.  Tell me what you’re struggling with and let’s make a plan. Book a free 15 min strategy session or check out some more comprehensive ways I can help you define your freedom & fulfilment and build a brand to achieve it.

But whatever you do – don’t wait. No matter how ugly the fear or shame, it’s time to face it.

Start now and who knows where you can be in just a few months time!