Boss Lady - Michelle Barnes

Bella Vita launched a blog titled “Boss Lady” in March 2017, after years of being inspired by the women that we are friends with, work with, or do business with, that are building their empire doing what they love.  Running a business takes work, and getting started takes courage.  At Bella Vita, we wanted to take this opportunity to praise and encourage some of the great female entrepreneurs we have met over the years and we hope to inspire more young women (and men) to follow their instinct/talent/passion and become entrepreneurs.  

My team and I are reaching out to the woman owned businesses that inspire and amaze us on a daily basis.  We will start with a brief background, then dive into the nitty gritty of running a business, what keeps them inspired, and everything else in between.

I am a country girl from Strong, Arkansas - a small town in south Arkansas. I left there at 18 to attend UA Little Rock. After college I decided to stick around Little Rock for a couple of years. I then moved to Hot Springs for 5 years, and came back to Central Arkansas in 2012 to finish up my master’s in public administration from UA Little Rock.  Between my parents, I am kid #7 (even though I’m the only child they had together). I’m a part of a huge blended family and I absolutely love it. There is so much love between all of us and I am blessed to have my tribe.

  1. Give us your elevator pitch.  Real Images is a nonprofit that focus on unifying and uplifting women. We have community discussions on topics that affect women, no matter what zip code you reside, what race you are, or your spiritual beliefs. We also provide self-image workshops for young girls.
  2. What is your business?  The mission of Real Images is to uplift women and young girls to recognize their true beauty, uniqueness, and talents in order to empower them to become healthier (physically, mentally, & spiritually) and be exceptional role models for their family and community. Real Images provides support for a positive self-image and a strong bond of sisterhood among all women in Central Arkansas.  We are a nonprofit organization, who's funding relies on monetary donations to continue our work in the community.  
  3. When did you start your business?  August 2014
  4. What inspired you to make the leap?  In a prior job, I conducted self-image workshops for teenage girls AND boys to meet my programming requirement of the job. When I left that employer, I started to get phone calls to come facilitate women empowerment sessions. I was honestly surprised. The calls never stopped. My discussions are always about self-reflection and how that impacts what we do and how we feel. It was a no-brainer that since this responsibility was divinely placed on me, I had to make something out of it. Real Images was born from all of this.


  5. What helps you get started each morning? Coffee, diet coke, 10 mile jog, meditation??  I’ve never been a morning person, and I haven’t always been a coffee person. In the past 5 years though, I need at least one cup of coffee and a cup of water every morning.
  6. Tell us about a day in the life of running your business.  Real Images is my labor of love. I do work full-time at another local nonprofit. so a lot of Real Images related things happen in the evening hours after I leave my 8-5.
  7. What keeps you motivated?  Honestly, what motivates me is when I hear women say how much of what we are doing matters to them. Also, I love seeing women connect with one another about certain subjects who may not have otherwise been in the same room together. The honesty of the women at our events, revealing personal feelings in a semi-public atmosphere, lets me know this person needed that event. She needed to feel like she’s not the only person going through xyz. That’s powerful for me to watch unfold.
  8. Describe your dream day.  Rainy day, couch, blanket, books.


  9. What is your greatest strength/super power?  My mother passed down to me the power to read a person within the first few minutes of true conversation. She had a way for explaining someone’s personality instantly. I never understood it, but I have it now.
  10. Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat?  Facebook, all day
  11. What do you do in your free time? (ha! What is free time?!)  Exactly, what is free time! I love to be at home, relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet.
  12. If an investor gave you 1 million dollars to use toward your business, how would you spend it?  Real Images would have an event center. We could have as many discussions, workshops, meetings, etc. as we wanted!


  13. What’s the biggest risk you ever took; how did it go?  Ha! I quit my job at a call center ten years ago. My doctor diagnosed me with depression and offered prescribe me pills to deal with my job. So, I quit. I didn’t work for almost 2 months and almost moved back home with my mom.  Then that job I mentioned earlier (which is the foundation of Real Images) came along two weeks before I was going to move. The fact that I’m doing this interview now let’s you know ultimately how it worked out. Not a lot of people know this part of my story.
  14. Name something you hate doing but have to do for the good of your business. How do you make it tolerable?  Paperwork. It’s not the fun part of the job but it is so necessary. I usually go into my home office and play 90’s R&B and sing while I do the work.
  15. How do you handle discouragement?  My God, you have to ignore it. You know your plan better than anyone. If someone says you can’t do it, then ask them “Have you met me?” All the material things we love came from a vision and a plan, and I’m sure along the way someone told them it can’t happen like this or that.
  16. Which iconic person inspires you?  Dr. Angela Davis


  17. Do you have a favorite, inspiring quote?  “No one can make to you feel inferior without your consent.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
  18. If you could choose anyone to pick as a mentor, who would you choose?  I would need Heaven to lend me Maya Angelou for a little while.
  19. Who are you in your next life?  An author.
  20. Any secrets on how you balance the ins and outs of running a small business?  No big secrets. You have to love it so that you can get through the difficult times.
  21. What’s the best advice you have for other women wanting to be entrepreneurs?  Do not let fear stop you and don’t feel like you have to knock it out of the park and do everything too soon. Give yourself plenty of time to make your plan and talk to people you trust for insight. Real Images was launched to the public in August of 2014, but I was working on it in the Fall of 2013. I have developed a strategic plan for the next 4 years and I am taking my time to build fully the dream that’s in my head. If I’d thought I had to achieve my complete vision in the first year, I would have never done this. Plan, Patience, Practice.


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All photos were taken at the "Women, Motherhood and Choice" event in September 2017,
by: Saira Khan 



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