We had the good fortune of connecting with Jana Dennison and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jana, how do you think about risk, what role has taking risks played in your life/career?
I am a small-town girl from Ohio with generations of family members who built lives in the Northeast. So, it was a huge risk to leave the home I had grown up in for my entire life to move to Missouri to attend a University in a big city of 155,000 people. As it turned out, I would end up getting a job at a corporation there and become restless after seven years. Something about the trajectory I was on just wasn’t for me. So, with not much of a plan at all, I decided to leave it all behind to come to San Diego in 2012. After visiting my family for a month, I made the drive alone from Ohio to San Diego. It took several days and many many hours in the car. I had $800 to my name and a place to stay for six months that my friend’s family generously provided. Now, to me, $800 was a ton of money. In California, though, that does not last long. I applied for marketing and finance jobs for weeks on end, sitting in a McDonalds in Point Loma with a $1 iced tea to use the wifi for the entire day. Finally, at the end of September, my friend’s grandmother handed me a newspaper cutting to an administrative job for a local gym. I applied, interviewed, and got offered the position on the very day that I was going to have to decide if I had to go back home. My $800 had been long gone, and I knew that I would need to either have a job in place or pack up my things and head back east. The risk paid off because I got to work for the best fitness company in the country for several years alongside their brilliant CMO and learn anything about marketing that I would put my interest in. The door was opened for me to discover my passion in marketing. In the summer of 2016, my husband was offered a volunteer position in Guatemala. We weren’t ready to leave San Diego, but the opportunity to live in one of the most gorgeous and vibrant cities in the world was too much to pass up. So, I put in my notice and decided to go with him. Quitting a job I loved so dearly with a company that I not only worked for but genuinely believed in, was a gargantuan risk. I decided I would offer the knowledge I had built at my dream job as a service, and open my own business, Zettist. The goal was for my business to allow me to travel the world for two years before we landed back in San Diego to settle down. I had no real plan but to list my services on Upwork and try to make enough money to allow us a little freedom. With a lot of cold sales, and that very company that I had worked for in San Diego believing in my services enough to become my first client, my business grew. With all of these risks came great rewards. Four years later, Zettist is leading in creating high-quality content and brand voice strategies for San Diego’s most customer-centric brands. Our services have pivoted and changed as we have grown, and our clients have graciously grown with us as we continue to take risks. Personally, I have been able to travel the world, learn from people of all backgrounds, and experience things I could never have imagined. As a white woman, I have been able to bring myself up from very humble beginnings without the hurdles that many people to deal with. So, as I grow, I need to remember to make the table larger for other women, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ brilliant creatives that can help take this business, and their own businesses, to the next level. Everyone’s journey is different, and it is my job as someone who was able to take risks, and who had people who were willing to support me along the way, to begin to step aside for others to be able to take their career risks and show their brilliance in the creative industry. Without taking risks, I believe that many people find themselves in careers that don’t serve them. When you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and get uncomfortable, you can make anything happen.
What should our readers know about your business?
At Zettist, we specialize in brand voice. We know that, in most cases, marketing materials and outreach are coming from many people all at once. This can create a lot of inconsistencies. If you think of any large business and then think about how their website feels, vs. social, vs. how you feel at the point of sale, chances are it is not consistent. So, we take a look at all of the places where a voice might come into play: a point of sale, blog, ad, or website copy. We then create a strategy to help get them all aligned. Within that, our clients also get a content marketing and social media strategy and even implementation if they choose. Of course, it didn’t all start this way. Like most businesses, we’ve grown into who we are now—jumping tons of hurdles and learning lots of lessons along the way. The things that have remained are consistency and genuinely caring about the end-user and how they feel when they come across the content that we help to create.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
When friends come to visit there are always three things on the agenda: the mountains, ocean, and city. One of the incredible things about San Diego is that in one day you can hike a mountain and get out into the waves—which is a must-do. And, honestly, if that’s all you do the whole time you visit, you are one lucky person! For food, I love City Heights in particular. I would bring my friends to my favorite spots like El Borrego, where the food and atmosphere are incredible, and we would definitely have to grab some tacos or burritos at Tacos El Panson. This area is so exciting because of its amazing markets and incredible foods, including the city’s best Vietnamese foods which are absolutely perfect for a light and healthy choice. One of the absolute best experiences in this area is hiking on Mt. Laguna. On some hikes, there is a perfect line where the pine trees and desert meet, and it really is a sight to see. You can also find trails that go down into beautiful, grassy valleys that look like they are out of a fairy tale. I could spend a whole week just showing people around and camping in this area. And, of course, people come here for the stunning beaches. I always like to take friends hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve because it makes the beach time next to some of the county’s most gorgeous cliffs that much more worth it. But, I also love to paddleboard, so we have to spend a day with some picnic foods out on Mission Bay, hopefully coming across a dolphin or two. There are so many places to see in this city. Gem Coffee in Talmadge, Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant in Kensington, and Red House Pizza in University Heights are some of my absolute favorite restaurants. A sunset on the beach or cliffs anywhere on the coast is a jaw-dropping experience, and the gorgeous parks all around the city are a fun way to spend the day. I am so thrilled to get to live in such a beautiful city.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This is a fantastic question. For me, it would have to be my community organization, The Kensington Talmadge Business Association. This organization has helped me meet and connect with so many people right in my neighborhood. Allowing for not only my business to grow but for friendships, mentorships, partnerships, and even finding me a home. I have been very lucky to join the board of this organization as the Marketing Director, and I get to see firsthand the passion that all of the leaders in this community have for lifting one another up. Because of the Kensington Talmadge Business Association, I highly recommend that any business owner or future entrepreneur join their community business group—your life will be made much sweeter by the connections you make.
Nominate someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.