Jennifer Ramos thought she had her life figured out after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in public policy. But then, her father lost his job, and she was thrust into the role of breadwinner for her family. To ensure her family’s well-being, she launched Jen Contracting Group, LLC – a construction business that placed her in a male-dominated industry. Currently, she’s on pace to bring in $1 million in revenue from her construction firm in 2018.
The 24-year-old boss lady was raised by Salvadoran parents in what was formerly known as Aurora Highlands Community in Arlington, Virginia. Located just outside of Washington, DC, the community was home to a low-income and diverse population. A self-described “girly girl,” Ramos played soccer and basketball and participated in a variety of community-friendly activities, such as the local D.A.R.E. program. As a teenager, she discovered she had a knack for social media and page building and would spend her free time on MySpace and other platforms.
Her parents, who met while working at a restaurant, instilled in her the value of hard work and strong family values. These principles guided her during her college years in Richmond, Virginia.
“I was noticing the state was setting aside a lot of opportunities for businesses that were specifically women-owned.”
When her father got laid off from his job as a maintenance technician, Ramos interned at the state regulatory board that oversees the general contracting industry and ensures that contractors abide by state laws.
“I was noticing only a very small percentage of the contracting businesses in the state were women-owned, and yet, I was noticing the state was setting aside a lot of opportunities for businesses that were specifically women-owned,” Ramos tells me.
After her father lost the job he had for two decades, Ramos set out to provide for her family. She spent summer 2014 learning about regulations and opportunities, which is when the idea of founding a construction company “just clicked.”
In August 2015, she launched Jen Contracting, which services the DMV area. Initially, the company had three employees, but it has grown to a team of 20. Her business offers subcontracting, interior construction work, and commercial services. When she started the business, Ramos – who also runs an online home décor business and an inspirational blog – knew nothing about the industry.
“I felt that although I didn’t know anything about the day-to-day operations in construction I could really take on the challenge of learning it,” Ramos recalls.
“I was reading textbooks and cold-calling a lot of construction companies.”
She applied and got accepted into the Strategic Partnership Program with Clark Construction, which is regarded as an industry leader. The apprenticeship is targeted at minority-owned businesses. Ramos learned how to successfully run her business based on comprehensive theory and hands-on training.
Though there were learning curves, Ramos learned quickly. “I was reading textbooks and cold-calling a lot of construction companies and shadowing anyone who would allow me to,” Ramos says.
Once she felt satisfied with her knowledge of the industry, she earned her license in construction and opened her firm in 2015. The only way to succeed, she concluded, was to fully immerse herself in her endeavor. But despite her preparation and knowledge, she’s been undermined. For example, at one of the first industry meetings she attended, people confused her for an executive assistant. She took the high-road and “gently introduced” herself as the owner of Jen Contracting.
Since then, she has dealt with skepticism and doubt from her counterparts. “The way I’ve overcome that is that I’ve had to prove myself,” Ramos shares. “Persist and really be consistent. I find I’m persistent in showing that I am well informed and have done my homework.”
Another recipe to her success is treating her employees like she treats her customers. She strongly believes in “doing good unto others.” This also means not over-committing to projects and being realistic in goal-setting.
She regularly reads inspiring stories of people who have preserved and made their dreams a reality. Knowing how these stories resonated with and inspired her, Ramos decided to pay it forward through her blog.
She launched the site to keep friends and family in the loop of her career. Along the way, however, she’s built a following, many of whom are Latinos. “I started getting messages from them about how my experiences were motivating them. and they wanted to start their own business,” Ramos says.
That type of feedback keeps her motivated. Always looking forward, Ramos launched the “From Idea to Execution in 30 Days” project, where her followers got a free, first-hand look at the launch of her home décor business step-by-step. Femme Décor offers chic décor at affordable prices.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my journey of entrepreneurship,” she says, “is to just keep going.” Up next: Partnering with nonprofits.