Jolene Stevens: Magic Maker
Jolene Stevens is in the business of making dreams come true. As the energetic entrepreneur behind goMagic, her specialty is planning the perfect Disney vacation. Jolene got her start working for “the Mouse” as an intern with the Disney College Program. After a decade of work in PR and marketing, she launched her own company in 2015 where she uses her insider knowledge to share the magic of Disney with families across the country. Read on for Jolene’s unique story on turning a personal passion into a full-time profession.
Tell us about your company.
Everyone at goMagic started their careers by working at Walt Disney World. Now we share our love of Disney by providing the Disney level of service throughout the planning stages of our clients’ vacations. Planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming for first-timers or busy parents who don’t have the time to research all the ins and outs of their vacation. That’s where we come in. We also help with family reunions and tours all over the world through Adventures by Disney.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
I spent the summers walking through corn fields and de-tasseling corn. Wasn’t this everyone's first job in Minnesota? It taught me that a long day of hard work can be extremely satisfying.
Tell us about your career path before starting your company, and how it got you to where you are today.
It all started while at Walt Disney World for spring break as a junior in high school. I asked a cast member how he got his job and he told me about the Disney College Program and gave me the recruiting department’s number. I kept it in my wallet for over a year before calling it. My first internship with Disney was in 1996. I was a lifeguard at Blizzard Beach but also took business classes the College Program offered. It was the best introduction I could have had to the business world.
I went on to do three more Disney internships there while in college. I worked in guest relations at Disney Hollywood Studios, in human resources for the Disney Cruise Line, and finally in group sales. There’s no better place than Disney to learn about operations, guest services, sales, and marketing.
Disney then offered me a full-time job in sales, where I worked on large-scale events. It was logistic-heavy, and I learned that combining marketing, operations and logistics was one of my strengths. I loved Disney, but adventure called, so I packed my things and moved to New York City.
There I worked as a tour guide, and in marketing and public relations. Then a former colleague from Disney called and told me she was in New Hampshire working on something secret and needed help. I couldn’t resist.
It turned out she was coordinating the launch of Segway, the personal transportation company. I joined, working again in marketing, PR and dealer development. I had to wear about ten different hats a day, which made working at a small start-up an incredible learning opportunity.
From Segway I moved on to work at an experiential advertising agency on projects like the Tide Clean Start, a mobile laundromat which brought a team of people to serve the community of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina hit.
And from there went to head up a marketing department in an international company. Then children came along, and I knew that I wanted to be with my kids for the first year of their lives.
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business.
It happened when my youngest was about a year old. I was talking with a woman I volunteered with. We happened to talk about the subject of Disney and learning about my past she asked me for advice about bringing her grandkids there. We talked for an hour, then she looked at me and said with all seriousness, “You should do this professionally,” and I thought, “Yes, I should!”
At first, I reached out to a number of Disney-focused agencies, but soon realized that I was supposed to start my own business. Having worked for others for my whole career, I was nervous about starting my own company. So I took time to research, which helped me realize that, as with most things, it’s easier than you think.
I thought it was just going to be me selling to my family and friends. That changed quickly. Word spread fast, and just when I thought “well that’s it” another round of referrals and repeat clients would pour in. It wasn’t long before I had others asking to join my growing agency.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I have a 4-year-old and 7-year-old, so the first thing is to get everyone up and out the door. My work fills most of the day till they get home. It's everything from calls with clients to go over their vacation options—dining, FastPasses, resort activities, etc.—and all the other business owner things—blogging, social media, marketing, accounting, and supporting my agents. But I do take the time to eat well and fit in some sort of workout during that time!
After that, it’s time to pick up the kids and run them to their activities—dance, gymnastics, swimming, etc. While they’re busy, I’m still working, responding to emails, writing blogs, etc. Then we’re all home for dinner, but may have another hour or two of work before I get to read just for fun.
Tell us about a hard time in your life, career or personal.
I’m a particular person. I like to have things done in a certain way. And I’m definitely a planner. When I was pregnant with my first child, I had everything planned out. Not one thing went according to plan.
I wanted to have a natural birth but ended up having an emergency C-section—not quite what I had planned! Then five days later, my newborn son had a severe brain hemorrhage. We spent six weeks living in a neonatal ICU. Those six weeks felt like a fight. We were trying so hard to help him gain weight so we could leave the hospital without a feeding tube in his stomach. Thankfully, we were able to.
When released from the hospital, my husband and I were so excited to finally go home with our little guy, away from all the stress of the NICU. But when we got home, there was a man in our house robbing it (yes, really). Again, not what I had planned, not what I wanted, and not what I was prepared for.
Emotionally, I was spent. I had nothing left and struggled with feeling safe. I was diagnosed with major anxiety and was extremely lucky to find a good therapist who specifically dealt with emotional trauma. She worked with me to process everything. I’d be a very different person today if it wasn’t for the work we did together. I’m a huge believer in therapy.
Not surprisingly, my outlook on life changed. I can plan all day long, but I know it won’t guarantee life will unfold the way I want it to. It doesn’t mean that I don’t plan, but I let go of the illusion that I’m in control. I think it’s a fantastic lesson to learn early on in both parenthood and in business. You need to be able to pivot when the sea changes.
If you were to start your business over today, what would you do differently?
I’d create the work-life balance earlier. When I started I felt the need to respond immediately to every request. I was building a business after all and thought if I didn’t, I may lose the client.
But, it really is OK to not respond right away to the inquiry at 9 PM on a Sunday night. Monday morning is a fine time to get back to them.
What’s next for your business?
This year, we were recognized by Disney for our commitment to excellence and our sales. We’re now considered Earmarked, which means we’re an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. This is an annual recognition, so I’m striving to continue to be recognized in this way.
Right now, I’m working on increasing our social media presence and am looking to partner with someone to do our marketing as I no longer have the time myself. Long term, I would like to bring on more agents. But it takes time. I’m deliberately growing more slowly than other agencies because I’m very particular about who is representing the goMagic brand.
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
Communication. The inside knowledge that we have of Disney is where our strengths lie, but in the end, it’s about how we communicate all of our knowledge. That truly makes the difference. Many people think my job is all sales, but it’s ultimately communication. It involves listening to people’s wants, anticipating what their needs will be, and conveying important information to them so that they can have the best time possible.
Tell us about your life outside of your business. What do you like to do?
My family fills my life! I’ve been with my husband for 17 years (we’ve been married for 10), and we have a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old. We love exploring. We just moved to California this past summer, so there’s been a ton to see and do. We’re outdoor enthusiasts and love hiking, camping and biking. We love National Parks.
We also enjoy the fine and performing arts. Southern California is home to one of my all-time favorite places: the Huntington Botanical Gardens and Library. It’s a mash-up of everything I love: beautiful gardens, incredible art galleries, and a fantastic library. We enjoy going there often.
How do you balance your career and family/personal life?
Not very well sometimes! It’s still a struggle because my business is growing faster than I anticipated. At the same time, I want this last little bit of time with my kids before the youngest goes to school full-time. It means that I’m working more evenings and Saturdays now, but I love that everything is so full. Next year, I’ll have more hours to completely devote to my business, but I won’t have as many hugs during the day.
Quick Fun Facts
What’s your favorite charity?
What age do you want to retire at?
I am retired! For me, retiring is when you stop doing jobs you have no interest in. I’m living my dream right now and doing what I love. Is this it for me? I don’t know. I can imagine starting another business or partnering with someone else, but that dream hasn’t come about yet. When it does, I’ll be chasing it!
One travel location on your bucket list?
I think my 7-year-old planted the seed, but I want to see the Great Wall of China. India has also been on the list, and I haven’t had the opportunity yet.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
It depends on the day. I’m smack in the middle.
What is your favorite blog, podcast or book?
Tattoos on the Heart is certainly up there. In terms of fiction, I love The Count of Monte Christo by Dumas.
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