Ashlee Willis: Planning on Success
Remember the name Ashlee Willis; because this business owner, CEO, wife and mother of two is going to change the Lansing community forever!
You may have seen Willis’ name in a few places these last few months. She was named a ‘10 Over the Next Ten’ award winner in October 2017 and won ‘Entrepreneur on the Move’ at the Pillar Awards. The Lansing State Journal even named her one of the six people to watch in 2018 or you may have also seen her around town in one of her many community roles. She is currently president-elect at the Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce, on the board of directors of the Old Newsboys Association of Lansing and is active within the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Or, maybe you have heard of one or both of her two companies, Michigan Premier Events and Lansing Mosaic. Maybe, you‘ve attended one of the dozens of events she plans, supports or hosts each year. Well, however you’ve encountered her, she is on the move and has no intention of slowing down!
Willis has become a community staple and symbol of entrepreneurship for many in the area. She has found a way to do it all with passion and grace.
Her first company, Ashlee Willis Floral Décor, which has evolved into Michigan Premier Events, marked an opportunity to pursue her passions as career options.
“When I had my first child, I really didn’t want to go back to work. It was funny because even when I was in my previous position, I had a side thing that allowed me to pursue my passion in flowers, and it really just blossomed into my own business,” Willis said. “I have always been an artist. Flowers and decorating always interested me. I love the way people feel when they receive flowers, and I wanted people to feel that way more often.”
The more she does, the more she is being noticed. Her expertise in event planning has helped Willis grow her company from floral décor to full-
service event coordination. Her main priority is always client satisfaction, which means making sure she helps educate organizations and individuals on the ways that events can best serve the community and a company.
“As I worked through events doing flowers, clients needed more services and I knew I could do that. Right now, I am focusing on event planning, photography and décor. I work to create strategic partnerships with customers. When it comes to events, a lot of people aren’t sure how to get a return on investment, and I love being able to help with that and really bring everything together to make it work,” Willis said. “Seeing the expression on faces when they see what an event can do for them is the biggest motivator for me.”
Willis has received even more recognition through those partnerships and wants to share the spotlight with other small businesses in the community. That mentality is what birthed her next business idea: Lansing Mosaic.
Lansing Mosaic highlights diversity and entrepreneurship by partnering with organizations to market, educate and create events that showcase Lansing’s diverse business culture. The organization works to highlight hidden gems within the community and share the spotlight to help businesses thrive.
“I am a Lansing native. I grew up here and I want to be part of what we grow next. Diversity already exists here, and we want to embrace it. Not just skin colors but industries and individuals. Diversity is what drives innovation,” Willis said.
And while Willis is on the move, she always has the best cheering section 100 percent behind her. Willis and her husband Tony met in 2008 at a jazz festival; after getting married, the pair started their family and welcomed two smart, funny and lively boys: 6-year-old Ashton and 4-year-old Auston, some of Willis’ biggest supporters.
“They act like they are business partners. They’ll put on daddy’s glasses, carry briefcases around and tell us they have business today. They are learning they can be anything they want to be. We want them to know they don’t have to be doctors or lawyers; they can be if they want to be, but we want them to know they can be entrepreneurs or find success wherever they want to if they work for it,” Willis said. “We think it’s important for them to see what it takes and help them understand that.” Willis and Tony always work to put family first while balancing their day-to-day schedules. Willis credits her husband’s unwavering support as a key factor in helping her to achieve her dreams.
“Prioritizing my family is important to me. Tony is a big support. We work as a team to support the family and to schedule to make sure we are there. Scheduling is part of what I do as an event planner, and that goes for our family as well; it is a big part of us making sure we always have family time,” Willis said. “Being together as a family is the most important thing and it’s relaxing for me. Quality time with family, doing things like reading together, gives me the energy I need to do what I do. I can’t thank them enough. My husband and kids, my mom
and dad and sisters — they all supported me no matter what.”
Willis hopes for moms to see they can do it all and should. She hopes that, through her story, other moms see a path toward greatness in motherhood
and their professions.
“I talk to a lot of moms that want to pursue their own businesses, but they think they can’t do this. I take that really seriously, because I can do this and they can too. I try to share my experience and encourage them,” Willis said.
As an entrepreneur, Willis is always pushing forward, but every now and then she takes time to look back and remember just how she got here. Her advice for anyone looking to take the leap into owning their own business is simple: With passion and planning, you can make it happen.
“The biggest thing is networking. You never know who will be your next referral or partner,” Willis said. “I also think it’s important to find areas in the community where you can help. Do more for your community. Whatever you do, do it with passion. Sometimes it can be challenging, but if you have passion, you’ll keep going. When you start your
own business, you may think no one sees you but they do. People are watching so keep going. They will see you.”