WAVERLY — Marketing maven Melissa Barber, 36, achieved just the right work-life balance when she took a leap of faith and went into business for herself.

The Waverly woman launched Melissa Barber Marketing LLC in 2007. She enjoys having the freedom to be her own boss, take on clients and projects that interest her and set hours that work well for her family of five.

“It’s like the ultimate flexibility. The downside is you also have the ultimate responsibility,” Barber said.

Ironically, Barber says, she doesn’t need to go out of her way to publicize her full-service marketing firm that specializes in small- and mid-sized markets. Her work seems to speak for itself, and she takes on clients by referral only.

“I think really it’s all word of mouth and the network that you build,” Barber said.

Taking time to strategically build positive relationships at work and in the community has yielded professional opportunities time and time again.

“You never know where those connections can take you,” she added.

But first, a little background.

Barber grew up on a farm near Albion. Watching her parents press on through the devastating 1980s farming crisis instilled in her the value of hard work and perseverance.

She studied public relations at the University of Northern Iowa with big-city dreams of one day becoming a “super-important p.r.-marketing person in Boston.” Instead, she fell in love, got married and ended up staying in the Cedar Valley.

After resume-building stints with the Mudd Group and Vision Development Services Inc. — she is also grateful for a college internship with Community Main Street — Barber landed her “dream job” in marketing and publications at her alma mater. She spent six years working in marketing and public relations for UNI.

Barber never set out to launch her own company. The option came up when she started fielding freelance project requests from former clients. Barber enjoyed her job but didn’t have time to do both.

One element Barber finds unique and instrumental to her company’s success is her decision to be industry exclusive. If she is already representing a restaurant, she won’t take on another like client.

“I do that because I like the diversity, and I think it gives us a chance to be more creative with what we come up with,” Barber said.

Barber handles client services, marketing strategy and copy and pulls in freelancers — former work colleagues that she trusts implicitly — to handle other aspects such as print design or web development.

Since she works from home, it is easy to get distracted by piles of laundry or dirty dishes. Barber tries to stick to set hours and work when her sons are in school and her daughter is in day care.

So far, the system is working.

“My ultimate goal is not to be an empire and have 50 employees,” Barber said. “My goal is to have better balance in our lives.”

Cary Darrah nominated Barber for the 20 Under 40 award. Barber worked as Darrah’s intern in 1998 at Community Main Street. Barber considers Darrah a mentor, but the admiration goes both ways.

“I go to her often to bounce ideas and perspectives around, and she responds with very professional, thoughtful and honest opinions,” Darrah wrote. “I know I’m not alone in admiring her ability to weigh obligations and tough situations to make good decisions and stand by them.”

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