Carrie McConkey is #MadeForKnoxville.

Continually feeling divided by her creative passions and business acumen, it took some time for Carrie to settle into who she wanted to be. After many beginnings in various industries, she hit her stride as a freelance copywriter. Now, she doesn’t have to choose between a left or right brain persona; she lets them flow together, allowing her to capture the styles of her diverse client base and craft a branded message that makes each of them look and feel good. 

Carrie traces her ambivalent career interests to her parents–growing up with a mother who created things from scratch as a seamstress and artist and with a father who spent his career in law enforcement. As a young girl, she tested her fledgling fashion interests with Barbie dress designs made of household materials. This nascent talent evolved into Carrie’s first entrepreneurial venture as a bridal gown designer. Due to the economic downturn following 9/11 and more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic, her career path has been anything but linear. Because of the changes, she has been gifted with a versatility that enables her to relate to a variety of clients, each of them needing content that uniquely represents them. Carrie found her niche in copywriting because it allows her to continue doing what she sought to do all along–to help people look great and feel happy. 

“Whether I was dressing a bride to walk down the aisle, helping a young professional build a wardrobe for his future, or collaborating with a family-owned small business on their blog content, bringing positive attention to the beautiful people in our Knoxville community is what I have always loved.”

In Their Own Words…

I seem to be slower at life events than most people. 

I didn’t have a boyfriend until my college years. The urge to learn the game of golf hit me a month after my 40th birthday. And, I was nearly three decades into my career before I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up.

From the start of my working years, my career identity flip-flopped between curious creative and buttoned-up businessperson. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Interior Design, but a Master’s in Human Resource Development. I ran a small business as a bridal gown designer, then worked on contract as a public speaker. I had a stint as a career services professional, tried my hand at fundraising, and began a second small business as an image and fashion consultant. The environments in which I worked included a furniture store, a state university, a private college, a religious nonprofit, and our local zoo. Friends and family patiently accepted the many transformations, often greeting me with, “So, what are you doing now?” 

I wondered whether my career ambivalence came from being raised by parents with talents on the opposite ends of the spectrum. My mom is right-brained, gifted in all things arts and crafts. Growing up, I watched her sewing and drawing, painting and stenciling; she was always busy with a new project. Dad’s left brain is his dominant side; he spent his career in law enforcement. After two decades as an FBI agent, he traveled internationally as a private investigator, then retired as Knoxville’s 24th police chief.

From Mom, I gained confidence in using my hands, unafraid to try a new, unknown medium. From Dad, I learned attention to detail, relationship building, and how to be a reliable and trustworthy business associate. For many years, I just didn’t know how to blend the two. 

When I stumbled upon freelance writing, something clicked. The process felt like designing; I chose words with intention, like picking just the right bead for a bridal gown or shade of paint for a bedroom. It also involved deadlines, coordination, and collaboration, which satisfied my need for structure. Finally, its purpose was to make my clients look great and feel happy, which had always been a connecting thread throughout my career no matter which job I claimed.

My diverse career background finally came in handy, allowing me to understand many vocations and communicate effectively with a wide variety of people. I no longer try to fit into a left brain or right brain persona; I allow Mom and Dad’s influence to flow at will and guide my days. 

It did not matter that I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 18; one year later I met the man of my dreams. I may not have been on the girl’s golf team in school, but there is plenty to love about the sport no matter how old you are. And, years from now, I can’t wait for people to ask me what I’m doing. At some point, they’ll realize that “writer” is where I plan to stay.

What Led Me to Entrepreneurship:

Fashion led me to entrepreneurship, two (and a half) times.

My mom taught me how to sew when I was eight years old, but even before then I was dressing my Barbie dolls in original creations. Because I was scared of the aggressive sounds of the sewing machine, my early “outfits” were on the crafty side–socks cut into tube dresses, and rectangles of fabric wrapped around my doll’s waist and secured with a belt made from a scrap of satin ribbon with the ends carefully cut into a “V” for extra style. 

By middle school, I overcame my fear of Mom’s Singer and made knickers and stirrup pants to wear to class. High school brought harem pants and prom dresses, and as a college co-ed, I spent my summers altering satin and taffeta bridesmaid dresses in my first “real” job at Pamela’s, a bustling West Knoxville bridal shop.

I fell in love with the UPS man who delivered to the back door of Pamela’s, and made my own wedding dress. Soon after, I was asked by a college friend to create her wedding gown—my first paid sewing gig. Although I had earned an undergraduate degree in interior design just one year before, in 1993 I hung my shingle as a bridal gown designer and began an entrepreneurial adventure at age 23.

After a decade in business, the economic decline following September 11th forced me to change course. I enjoyed the steady paycheck of an 8-5 job, but felt wistful when I thought of my days as a small business owner. 

The opportunity for entrepreneurship arrived a second time in 2016. I took the advice of a former bridal client and returned to my fashion roots, this time as an image consultant. As I helped clients pare down their closets and polish their wardrobes, I navigated the new virtual world of business. Boy, did I wish Instagram had been around during my bridal design days! 

A couple of years into my new venture, I was given the opportunity to write a monthly fashion column for a new local magazine. Not long after, I began writing a quarterly column about professional image for the Knoxville News Sentinel’s business publication, Then, a local closet designer asked me to write his monthly advertorials for yet another publication.

After the pandemic began, my freelance writing jobs increased, and the services behind my image consulting business went from literal to figurative. Instead of helping clients shop for clothes and determine their best colors, I captured their unique qualities in content and copy for their websites, blog posts, and marketing materials. Taking a holistic approach to their signature style, I helped them confidently brand themselves online and on paper.

I named the “new” business Carrie M. Creative to represent my journey. But the goal has always been the same: to make people look and feel good. Whether I was dressing a bride to walk down the aisle, helping a young professional build a wardrobe for his future, or collaborating with a family-owned small business on their blog content, bringing positive attention to the beautiful people in our Knoxville community is what I have always loved.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Focus on favorite aspects of your craft, and politely decline when someone wants you to do a project that is related to what you do, but is not your passion. 
  2. Benchmark and study industry professionals whom you admire, but never compare yourself to them. Your path will be different than theirs. 
  3. Mentor those in your field who are a few steps behind you. 
  4. Find a business coach or accountability partner who can keep your fast-moving train on the tracks, sift through your ideas to find the gold nuggets, and kick you in the pants when you feel like giving up.
  5. Friends and loved ones will express “worry” about your entrepreneurial aspirations. Thank them for thinking of you, take a deep breath, and forge on. When your business succeeds, they’ll be bragging that they know you.

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