When Belize native Tanya McNab was denied an extension on her student visa a decade ago, and forced to give up her dream job at a Florida design firm, she felt sucker punched.
She’d graduated with distinction from the Miami International University of Art and Design, and was flying high with a Ft. Lauderdale design firm, when the rug was pulled out from under her.
“At the time that I left (the USA) I thought it was the worst thing in the world,” McNab told an audience at a recent lecture. “But I found (instead) it was just the beginning … of a big adventure.”
McNab returned to Belize in 2008 and with the help of her family and their friends, slowly built a freelance design career that has blossomed, a decade later, into a full-service firm offering print, production, publishing, branding, and a full complement of design expertise to a thriving customer base in Belize.
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, McNab discusses how her path to success as the CEO and founder of McNab Visual Strategies of Belize, a 20-employee business serving clients in the hotels and hospitality (among others!) industries.
Q: How did you pick up in Belize with your career goals after leaving the USA?
It was a baptism by fire. I had no plan when I returned to Belize. But, I got dropped into this, and spent every day trying to figure it out. I wasn’t thinking about where I wanted to be in 10 years, but was taking it one day at a time, and figuring it out as I went. I knew that I loved working in design, so I sought to create here what I loved doing in the US.
My parents were a tremendous help to me. I started accepting freelance work from their friends, or people they knew. And over time, built a business word of mouth. Then business started to come my way, but I also started to experience limitations in Belize that I didn’t face in the US, and those limitations inspired me and led to further business innovation.
Q: How did local limitations in Belize lead you to grow McNab Visual Strategies?
One example occurred early on, when I was trying to get something printed for a client and was having difficulties finding a quality product. This led me to invest in my own printing equipment, and this decision eventually led me to dedicate one arm of our company to wide-format printing and signage.
McNab Visual Strategies is actually three companies under one umbrella. We do design in one company, print and production in the other, and publishing in our third. So, we’re a one-stop shop building brand experience, expectation and management for a range of customers.
Q: Who are your customers? What industries do they represent?
The biggest industry we service is the hospitality and tourism trade. This is how I found Boxerbrand, because I was working with our client, Mahogany Bay Village, which is a residential resort development coupled with a retail village on Ambergris Caye, Belize.
We also do quite a bit of work for tour operators and hotels. And after that, our next-biggest industry is agriculture. It sounds a little weird, but the banana industry is very important here. And we also do corporate projects for insurance companies.
On the publishing side, we recently launched our newest magazine, Caribbean Culture and Lifestyle.
Q: Your family became integral to McNab. Please tell me about them.
My parents, from the beginning, were tremendously supportive. When I first arrived, as I mentioned, they introduced me to friends, which helped me land jobs in the beginning. But as the company grew to something much bigger, they both joined me to build the companies. My father Wayne, who has worked in local business, supermarkets and hotels in Belize, brings all his expertise to the business side of the company. My mother handles all Human Resources and administrative decisions. And my sister is an interior designer.
Q: How did you turn a Visa denial in the US into a successful brand and business in Belize?
I’m a doer. I can’t sit still. And even when I was in college in Miami, I had to make my own money. Though it wasn’t a conscious effort on my part to build a company that employs 20 people, I worked really hard, every day, on something to help re-create the experience I had working on a design team in Florida.
When I first opened my print shop, for instance, I worked to 4 a.m. many nights. Then we would rest the machine, and my father would come in at 6 a.m. to relieve me. I was only 23, so I didn’t need much sleep back then.
I kept those hours because I was driven to create a product with the highest possible quality. I’d kill myself to make something right. I think it’s that drive to detail that propelled me to always find a way to do better. — Tanya McNab and McNab Visual Strategies of Belize, is a Boxerbrand distributor. Thank you!