Ashley Albert & The Jimmies / Pluckypea Incorporated
MAJOR CATEGORY WINNER: From Dream Job to Dream Job in 1,000 Easy Steps

I loom large above a sea of adoring fans, my hands grip the mic fiercely, sweat rolls down my face, eyes wince against the searing lights, gleaming faces stare up at me…expectantly.

A single voice, strong and proud, rises up out of the crowd and shouts over the din...

"I have a boo-boo."

Just then, a beach ball bonks me in the head- a guitar jangles out a scratchy chord and I recover from the hit just in time to jump into a rousing rendition of "Do the Elephant" a song about covering your mouth when you sneeze.

This is just a typical day at work for me. 45 minutes of rocking it out on a Saturday morning, followed by 20 minutes of intense hugging and discussions about band-aids with 6 year olds.

I am a Kindie Rock Star.
When did this happen exactly? When did I trade suburban barbecued weekends and nights on the couch watching reality TV for endless hours of answering fan mail and writing songs about hamsters?

I blame it all on EGGS.

EGGS was this crazy idea I had with my two best friends. It stood for Every Goal Gets Served and it was gonna be a support group for GOALS. We were each gonna pick a goal and then get together to report on our progress and brainstorm each person's next step.

At our very first (and, sigh, only) EGGS meeting, my goal was to simply PICK a goal. I was always coming up with ideas and inventions and poems and business plans...but never actually following through on anything. One of the "potential goals" on my list was to "Make a Children's Album", but I meant make a SPOKEN WORD album. See, I had (and continue to have) a very successful career as a voice-over artist, spending my days voicing cartoons and commercials and books on tape- stuff like that; it seemed like pulling out the stacks of random Shel Silverstein-y poems that I had scribbled on napkins and paper plates over the years and reading them out loud might be a good fit.

A few weeks later, one of my EGGS friends (who happened to work at a television station that I did the promos for) was in a meeting about finding a new kid's band. She blurted out "Ashley Albert has a kids band" and then called me 10 minutes later, hunkered in the corner of her office saying "Oh my gosh, I don't even know why I said it- how soon can you put a band together? You're on kid."

And that was that. The Jimmies were born. I quickly wrote a couple of songs (I didn't even know I could write songs!), begged my other EGGS friend to sing harmonies and got some dude's cousin to accompany us on the guitar.

Needless to say, we weren't ready for primetime…but I walked away from that meeting knowing that this project felt fun enough and right enough to explore a little bit further…It was my Ah-ha moment.

I was lucky enough to have a previously untapped resource that became invaluable to the process. My dad was a record producer and owned AudioVision Recording Studios in Miami. I wrote 14 more songs and flew down to produce the album with him and one incredible studio musician. I have said many times that if nothing else ever came of The Jimmies, those few weeks of working alongside of my father made the whole endeavor worth it.

Once the album was finished, I flew back up to New York, held auditions, cast the band, opened up shop as Pluckypea Records…and set out on the road to international Tot-Rock superstardom.

But it hasn't all been cupcakes and rainbows; I've gotten a few boo-boos of my own along this glittery path. And to keep you from doing the same, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

You get what you pay for-so don't ask friends for favors
Oh sure, it SEEMS like a great idea...your cousin Amy just graduated from design school and has offered to set up your website. Fantastic! Here's the trouble, it'll take twice as long to get something half as good for three times the stress. If you pay a competent stranger, you can feel free to set deadlines, express your opinion and send them back to the drawing board if you don't like it. Trust me, if you ever hope to joke around with cousin Amy at the next family reunion, hire a professional instead.
Not everyone will like you; sometimes you hafta be the bad guy.
No matter what your business is, it's a BUSINESS. And as the boss, sometimes, you're gonna hafta make hard decisions. But as a woman, we're often preconditioned to want to be on good terms with everybody; we want everyone to think that we're nice and charming and generous. But, to quote Spiderman, "With great power, comes great responsibility". So swing your sword carefully, but swing it when you must. 
The GOOD news is that women also have notoriously great instincts, so if your Spidey-sense tells you that someone or something isn't quite right, do your best to confront the situation as quickly as you can and if you can't fix it, end it.

Surround yourself with people you can learn from and trust-and then learn from and trust them.
One of the biggest challenges I've faced as a business owner is finding people I trust enough to delegate responsibility to. I suffer from "No One Can Do This Better Than I Can Syndrome" and while that works in the short term, if I have any hope of growing my business and succeeding wildly, I have to let go of some control and recognize that you can move a mountain a heck of a lot faster with more hands underneath it. BUT (and this is a big but) it's imperative that you find like-minded people, who have a similar sensibility to yours, a compatible work ethic and a shared standard of excellence. Otherwise, you will never feel safe leaving your baby in their care and you will stay lonely and small and your holiday parties will suck.

No matter how desperately in love with your project you are, force yourself to walk away from it.
I have a lot of trouble with this one. Momentum is so fleeting, especially in the music industry and everyone says to strike while the iron is hot, but the part they don't tell you is that if you're sleep deprived, bleary eyed and cranky, you probably shouldn't be handling hot irons. Point is, YOU are what makes your project vital and intriguing and part of your job is to STAY interesting. That means taking time to reconnect with friends and loved ones, gathering new cultural experiences, getting to know your pillow better and having something else to talk about besides your latest business conquest. Most importantly, it means stopping to have a snack. Okay, fine. Maybe that's not the MOST important thing, but it's up there. For me, that means that every day, as much as I don't want to, I have to make a conscious effort to take time out from making The Jimmies a success.

Believe in what you've got to offer.

If you are really proud of your product, you're free to try as hard as you can. For a long time, I was one of those people who relied on other people's perceptions of my potential. I didn't actually try to achieve anything, because I didn't want to prove their assumptions wrong. If I was involved with anything at all, I'd keep it pretty much to myself, not wanting to waste anyone's time. But when it comes to The Jimmies, I'll talk to anyone who'll listen. I'll hand out CD's to families on the subway, send e-mails to people's nephews in Des Moines, sing a capella versions of partly written songs about pumpernickel bread to acquaintances on the street…Do they think I'm crazy? Probably. But I am so proud and confident in what I have to offer, that I feel like telling people about The Jimmies is doing THEM a favor. And that, is the single biggest secret to my success.

Do I dutifully apply all of these lessons? Nah. Probably not. I realize that the bigger this gets, the less time I'll have to do the things I love and spend with the people I care about. I nearly fall into the tempting trap of taking friends up on favors all of the time. I have moments of doubt and man, do I hate to fire people. But I'm learning as I go. Every moment feels like an opportunity to achieve something bigger and better and funnier. And while there may be some boo-boos along the way, there are also some pretty good snacks.