We had the good fortune of connecting with Ayanna McNeill and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ayanna, how do you think about risk?
One of my personal mantras in life is “You’ll miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” Success requires risks, calculated risks that helps you find opportunity for growth and to learn lessons. In business you have to have the gall to bet on yourself, It takes confidence to believe in yourself, and taking actionable steps towards securing your success. When I started Harriet Returned, there was a million reasons why starting a business was too risky. However only one reason trumped all of those internal fears, I believed in myself. My company’s motto is “The Cost of Freedom is Faith!” I have built a brand on securing our freedom through having faith in ourselves. As a life coach and author, I use my platform to encourage others to tap into having faith in themselves in order to life their best lives. In order to take risks you have to activate your faith. It takes faith to step out of your comfort zone. It takes faith to built your own table and invite people to sit down and “eat with you”. Being a business owner and entrepreneur means betting on yourself over and over again. That’s the ultimate risk that can lead to the greatest rewards!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
At the root of who am I am is a writer. I’ve always been a writer, crafting stories and telling truths. I started writing at 12 and performing professionally at 14. Harriet Returned was initially created to share my writing with the world. I’ve self-published three books since 2010 including a collection of poetry entitled “Before There Were Guns There Were Gods”, and two novels in my trilogy romantic thriller series: “Half of What You See: The Scars of Love” and “None of What You Hear: Redemption and Repairs”. I’ve always loved to write, create, and perform my pieces and I host monthly virtual open mics to offer that platform and opportunity to other artists. I am proud to have connected with countless dope writers all over the world! My most fulfilling part of my work is something I’ve recently started to do, I am in the process of creating a non-profit organization Writing Our Own Stories, Inc. with a group of dynamic women. I was approached over a year ago by seven or eight women in my network who were interested in telling their own stories so I created a weekly group where we could meet and share what we were working on and support one another through the writing process. At first, it was just a space I offered to my peers, but it has manifested into this beautiful labor of love and a dream of mines has materialized. I’ve always wanted to create the opportunity for others to tell their own stories. I wanted to empower individuals to use their voices and to be free to write. The universe made it possible because I was brave enough to share my own stories and now I am working to help others do the same! We are dropping our debut anthology “For Black Women by Black Women: An Anthology of Lessons Learned” on June 30th, 2022! The craziest part is we wrote the book in SIXTY DAYS!
I think the most challenging part of being a professional writer, especially a self-published author is that you are your own EVERYTHING! You’re marketing, you’re the CEO, you’re the web designer, you’re the talent, you’re the editor, you’re the agent. You wear so many hats and you are responsible for it all. That is challenging sometimes. It’s also hard with measuring success as an author, I’ve had to learn over time that success is subjective and can/should be redefined often. I used to think the only measure of success as an author is how well my book sells, I now know there’s so much more that can be considered a success in this business.
Harriet Returned started out as a space I created for the world to be introduced to Ayanna McNeill as an author and spoken word artist. It has become a space where individuals can come to be FREE to write. It is a source of motivation for my followers, it is a place where aspiring authors can connect to receive writing coaching and editing services, and it is a place where legacy is being writing and dreams are being fulfilled. That is the truest measure of success for me!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Ah man, I am a homebody now that I am a mommy to my one-year daughter Trinity, but if I had a babysitter and was ready to hit the streets then I’d take you to explore the wonderful restaurants throughout the city, for a little turn up we could hit up a dope rooftop like Elite in Williamsburg, or for a quiet hole in the wall space to have a great treat and place to write I’d take them to The Secret Garden in Bed Stuy or The Word Up Cafe in East New York Brooklyn! I love exploring culture and New York has some of the most amazing museums and pop up experiences, I’ve around the corner from the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Prospect Park, so we lit!
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?
There are so many people and things that have added to my success and continue to support me in my entrepreneurial endeavors! My family who supports me fiercely, I thank my mother for teaching me the importance of being authentic and honest. She is the strongest woman I know. I thank my network of amazing friends who are also business owners, creatives, and game changers! I have worked with and collaborated with incredible companies that have helped to advance my business and support my growth. I want to shout out Lloyd Cambridge of Progress Playbook, Vicky Jocelyn and Javonia Smith of ReFourm Consulting, Jessica McJunkin-Flatt of Self-Centered Wellness LLC, Ashle` Simmone of Ashle Simmone LLC, Thanecha Senat of AJO Consulting, Danielle Fairbairn-Bland of DF Bland, Anita Pierce of Eleven3Seven5, as well as the Brownsville Community Justice Center. These amazing Black owned businesses have collaborated with Harriet Returned in various ways and I am indebted to their partnership.