Interview conducted by Chanèle McFarlane
Photography by Becca Lemire

As entrepreneurs, it’s safe to say that our finances are one thing we can’t afford to ignore. However, we’re lucky to have companies like FreshBooks that not only help to keep our accounting organized, but remind we’re part of a growing community of entrepreneurs. There’s one woman who we have to thank for the latter: Irene Elliott.

As the Events and Community Manager, she’s responsible for putting together engaging events for FreshBooks and building community among forward-thinking developers, designers, small biz owners, entrepreneurs & creatives.

However, not only does she have a pretty awesome day job  - she also moonlights as a freelance musician! Through both events and music, she’s passionate about inspiring and uplifting others.

With 2019 just around the corner, FreshBooks is gearing up to host another event as part of their #IMakeaLiving series so we thought it was the perfect opportunity to get to know this multi-talented professional a little better. Of course, we know the journey to finding your dream job (and balancing a side-hustle!) is often full of ups and down — so we chatted with Irene to learn more about the lessons she’s learned along the way.

Keep reading for sage advice on finding your own lemons, becoming comfortable with learning curves and why saying yes to everything in the early stages of your career can create the best opportunities:

Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade? 

Life hasn’t always handed me lemons. I think that what defines a successful person is their ability to make lemonade when the fruit isn’t growing on the trees. How we overcome challenges is what creates strength & success. The best lemonade I’ve made was when I found my own lemons, rather than have them handed to me.

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Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.

Music. Music is key. Being a musician & artist, I gain inspiration from it – especially when working. Having the right album or soundtrack in my ears pushes me to stay optimistic, driven, and focused. The room could be falling apart around me but as long as I’m tuned in, I’m getting sh*t done.

After that first year, how did you scale your business and continue to grow?

From an events perspective, the learning curve can be harsh. Especially when you’re trying to fill a room in a city you don’t know, or in a market you’re unfamiliar with. Growth to me has always shown in my network and attendee numbers. Can’t always get it right, some events are a miss, but I think that’s when you need to try something new.  

“I can only hope that the work I do continues to help and inspire others as my network & reach grows.”   

How much of your success as an entrepreneur has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?

As a freelance musician taking risks comes with every gig – being on stage is always risky. I remember being offered my first jazz gig; I had only been playing the genre for 2 months but I said yes anyway. It was pretty embarrassing (I wasn’t very good), but I don’t regret it. My philosophy has always been that when you first get started SAY YES to everything. Whether it’s a networking event, gig in an unfamiliar genre, meeting a new person, or trying something brand new. Just say yes and take the risk. You never know what you’re capable of until you put yourself in that situation, and you never know what connection will come back around. 

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How do you measure success in your career?

Success in all aspects of my career whether in music or events, is the same. My personal mission has always been to help others. Whether it’s through the music I perform that uplifts others or helps them to feel, or whether it’s through powerful & inspirational events that I create. I see myself as successful when I’m able to help others.

If you could attend a dinner party with 3 women of your choice - past or present - who would they be?

Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell & Marilyn Monroe.

Do you have a mentor? What role have they played in your success?

I have been extremely lucky in my life to have multiple mentors. I have had many music mentors (and still do), and I have had many mentors in events & entertainment. If they end up reading this, they’ll know this is a shout out.

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What excites you most about your career?

The most exciting thing for me has always been the opportunity to learn and grow. I grew up on a farm outside of a small town in rural Saskatchewan – my life was very limited until the age of 17. Through music and events I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world meeting incredible people and be exposed to many cultures. I can only hope that the work I do continues to help and inspire others as my network & reach grows.

Give us the play-by-play of your typical morning routine.

I’m not necessarily a routine person because I travel often & wear many hats, therefore my schedule & obligations always vary. Sometimes I have time for breakfast, sometimes I don’t. But I always have coffee, and I always have music in my ears. Sometimes I look professional, sometimes I wear my boyfriends shirt to work.

What's next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about something exciting you're working on?

I’m very excited about a music project I’m working on with the producer La Flamme. It’s a combination of hip hop, jazz & trippop – chill vibes. With FreshBooks I’m very excited about an event I’m developing that’s happening in Toronto on 10/30. The FreshBooks #imakealiving event is featuring Monika Bielskyte as a keynote at our headquarters. She is a futurist, VR expert and nomad – her original ideas are incredible and she’s a very talented creative. You should join us at FreshBooks on October 30th.


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