All Jonathan Bell wanted was to work.
In early 2020, he applied for a total of 17 jobs at local fast food restaurants. The COVID-19 pandemic had just hit the Ozarks, but he hoped a manager would take a chance on an eager 16-year-old.
“I was rejected by every single one of them,” he said.
Bell, now a senior at Parkview High School, decided that if no one would hire him, he would hire himself.
“I was like, you know what, maybe this isn’t meant to be,” Bell, now 17, said. a consultancy and project company.”
Bell, active on social media for years, became founder and CEO of Bells Marketing Consultant, a digital marketing firm in Springfield.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
He was motivated to use the skills he had honed to help increase profits for small businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Next Gen-Z” company offers brand and social media management, e-commerce website design, search engine marketing and optimization, a service aimed at increasing online traffic.
He said it got off to a slow start but ended up making more money in 2020 than he would have in a fast food job. He reinvested the money in the business and nearly doubled his profits this year.
“I’ve worked with 14 small businesses in this area, two or three in Chicago,” he said of the city where he still has family. “I’ve also worked with many marketing agencies who refer their clients to me.”
He said some potential clients he approached were hesitant at his age. But if they gave him a chance, he made detailed proposals aimed at winning their case.
“I changed my mind,” he said. “I haven’t convinced some of them.”
Bell grew up immersed in technology and was a regular user of blogs, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. He taught himself how to interpret and maximize analytics from different platforms.
“I learned a lot of strategies along the way, social media algorithms and I still do today,” he said. “They always change, unfortunately, and I have to stay on top of that.”
Bell said many services are offered at discounted prices because it wants to help small business owners with limited funds while gaining valuable experience.
“I’ve done a lot of websites for $250. I know my competitors can make thousands of dollars on websites, and so do I, but I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help out as much as possible, being affordable” , he mentioned. “It cost me financially, but building my portfolio, initially, I think it was worth it.”
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‘A great work ethic’
Brent Gilstrap, real estate agent at ReeceNichols Real Estate, initially connected with Bell on LinkedIn.
“His profile said he was a teenage entrepreneur and I was like ‘this is interesting’ and so I messaged him,” he recalled. “I said, ‘(I’m) very fascinated, I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee and hear your story.’
Gilstrap said he was so impressed he hired Bell to audit his social media presence and recommend ways to improve his reach.
“He came back and he had a proposal and a fee for what he was going to do and it was just amazing, great work,” he said. “It was probably cheaper than what I would have paid if I had contacted a big company, but it was fair and it really helped my presence.”
He said that since Bell’s summer job, the teenager has been checking in periodically.
“He’s got a great work ethic, great mindset,” Gilstrap said, adding that Bell is customer-centric and supportive.
“If you just interact with him, you’d never guess he’s in high school — in terms of professionalism, respect — and the process he’s going through, his expertise.”
Bell, who runs his entire business from a laptop he constantly carries around, has become busy enough to hire a part-time sales manager and assistant, who lives in the Philippines. He posted the assistant position online and was hired after fielding 50 applications.
“I don’t want to be a boss, I want to be a leader,” he said.
He learned early on that he was good at math, which helped him establish balanced budgets and make quarterly and annual projections of expenses and income.
In early November, Bell was invited to give a presentation at a Minorities In Business meeting. He is also available for in-person and online seminars.
“He did an amazing job,” said MIB board member Lawrence “LA” Anderson.
Anderson, equity and diversity coordinator for the Springfield District, said Bell is engaged with the public.
“I was really impressed with his presentation and his style,” he said. “The audience was really captivated.”
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“Strive to be an entrepreneur”
Bell grew up primarily in Springfield, but part of her childhood was spent near Chicago. He switched between the two cities during elementary school.
He attended Delaware Elementary and Wilson’s Creek Intermediate. But it was at Jarrett Middle School that he began to flourish.
Bell was student body president and active in student council, theater, speech and debate, and orchestra.
But, at the time, her hardworking family was struggling to make ends meet. They didn’t have a car. He relied on taxis, city utility buses, and friends’ parents to get to and from school events.
That changed in 2017 when a teacher found a car for his family.
“Once we got the car back, it felt like a lot of weight had been lifted off our shoulders,” he said. “We have grown financially ever since.”
His parents have since upgraded to a newer car. His mother also plans to start a business on the side.
Bell launched his company in April 2020, in the early months of the pandemic, and spent a year getting it off the ground while virtually attending high school.
In August, he returned to in-person learning at Parkview for his senior year.
He plays cello in an advanced orchestra and piano in a jazz band. He also attended organizing meetings for the Student African American Brotherhood, or SAAB, a new leadership program offered at all five high schools.
Bell admits he can be hyper-focused on customers and growing his business. He tries to make more time to have fun.
“I learned from my girlfriend and my mom that it’s not great to work all the time,” Bell said. “You need to take a break once in a while.”
One of the ways he lets off steam and tries to grow intellectually is to listen to people who have a different point of view.
Bell has a deep interest in politics and before the pandemic it was common for him to interact with someone who had different views on social media and then invite them to meet for coffee.
His goal of “exchanging perspectives” was to find common ground. Along the way, he changed some of his beliefs and reinforced others.
“Honestly, I like having conversations with people who have a different background than mine, a different political affiliation,” he said. “I love listening to people and where they come from.”
He plans to graduate in May and attend Ozarks Technical Community College to begin a degree in business and management. He is also interested in law school.
“I will always strive to be an entrepreneur as well,” he said. “I have a few businesses that I plan to launch next year.”
About the series
The “Future of the Ozarks” series, highlighting extraordinary students in the Ozarks, will be released on Monday.
The series features students with incredible talent, achievement, or passion for helping others. To nominate someone, email Education Reporter Claudette Riley with details and contact information at [email protected]