We spoke with Melanie Everett, an award-winning Chicago real-estate broker and founder of her own boutique firm, on the process of starting her own company and her love for real estate. Read more to hear what makes her powerful and confident.

What sparked your interest in pursuing real estate?

Ever since I was really young, I wanted to be a journalist; writing was and is my passion. Just before my senior year of college, my summer internship opportunity in NYC unexpectedly fell through, and I was devastated. Somewhat drastically, I decided I was going to quit journalism. My dad randomly suggested I give real estate a shot, so I ended up getting a summer job at a local brokerage. I signed up for the real estate licensing class, and as soon I passed the test in October 2014, I hit the ground running, selling real estate during my last year of college.

Have you found any parallels between your studies in school and the work you do now as a broker and manager?

Everything I learned in journalism school has impacted my real estate business, from social media to marketing to communication. I applied what I had learned about branding yourself as a journalist to branding myself as a broker. In my early years of real estate, I wrote my own magazine and online newsletter, and I made sure that all of my branding was succinct and super polished. I also started blogging about my clients, the houses that I was showing, and every career milestone. In 2014/2015, I was one of the few real estate brokers who was blogging about my life and my career, and I think my online presence is what put me on the map.

Can you talk about the process of starting your own boutique real estate firm?

I decided to start my own firm in October 2018, just a few months before my wedding. I studied for two months to get my managing broker’s license, left the firm I had been at for more than 4 years, and I launched Melanie Everett & Company in January 2019. I worked double time to brand myself as a new company and to brand myself with my new married last name. I used my blog to tell my story, and throughout that first year, I wrote about my experiences and lessons learned. Being a managing broker allows me to oversee brokers and focus on what I am good at (getting the business) and allows for the brokers on my team to do what they are good at (closing the business).

What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of starting your own firm?

Learning how to lead gracefully and lead well has been a huge hurdle for me, and it is still something that I work on constantly. There is a lot of self-doubt involved in a leadership role, and conquering my own fears has helped me to grow both personally and professionally. Another challenge I faced was learning to stay organized; at a big firm, you have people who manage your deals, but at a boutique firm, I have to make sure that we stay on top of everything.

How have you worked to overcome these challenges?

I’ve found that looking to others for mentorship outside of my own business has been wildly important; I can bounce ideas off of my mentors and learn from what they’ve done. But most of all, my faith is what helps me overcome every challenge. I know that my true identity doesn’t come from my work. I am a child of God, and He accepts and loves me regardless of what’s happening in real estate. When I forget this, that’s when I get lost.

“My best piece of advice is to lean on your family and friends for support. Everything that I’ve built in real estate has been ‘home grown’…”

What about real estate in Chicago most excites you?

I love Chicago—I was born and raised in the suburbs, and I moved downtown in my junior year of college. I know the streets like the back of my hand, and I want to be where my friends and family are. Chicago is small enough to really get to know the neighborhoods, but it still provides something for everyone. Real-estate wise, this city offers so many different options for housing, from vintage buildings to sleek high-rises.

Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs?

Lean on your family and friends for support. Everything that I’ve built in real estate has been ‘home grown’—my best friend, who is a professional photographer, does all of my photography; another one of my friends is a talented graphic designer who has helped design my brochures and newsletter templates. My husband also has his brokers’ license and he handles all of the backend of the business. I’d be helpless without them! I owe so much to the people in my life.

Do you have any advice for purchasing your first home?

Keep your options open and try not to fall in love with just one property. Know there are many properties that could work for you; it is just a matter of timing when you see the right property.

How do you define power and confidence?

My power and confidence comes from Jesus Christ. I believe that He is living in me; He is the one who makes me confident. When I can rely on His life within me and know that we’re in it together, I can handle any meeting, any presentation, any tough situation. This is how I combat my feelings of nervousness, social anxiety, and insecurity… I need to be able to step aside and let Him lead.