Let’s make a podcast

I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for the last several months, as have so many of you. My kids are home 24/7, and my husband and I are taking turns working in between preparing snacks, mediating disputes and building LEGO masterworks. It’s the new normal! (She says through gritted teeth.)

I have been fortunate during these past few months to be engaged in an internal communications project for a client that has involved interviewing dozens of people from a wide range of backgrounds about how they’re adapting to working from home and how they’re keeping their spirits up. I feel like an amateur sociologist, and it’s really helped me to see the creative ways people work to stay energized and focused and to hear about the little strategies they use to adapt to new circumstances. One of the biggest takeaways from all these conversations has been that how this pandemic affects you depends a lot on who you live with, or if you live with anyone. It’s also clear that it’s not easy for anyone.

The format of the project involves a short podcast in which the subject introduces him- or herself along with six standard questions that form the basis for a written interview. In each interview, I get to ask people about the adaptations they’ve made and lessons they’ve learned that they’ll take with them when they return to the office environment. The answers range from predictable to wildly unusual, and it has reminded me how much I love interviewing people. At heart, I’m fascinated by people, and the interview format gives me permission to ask people questions about the way they live their lives that you’d never ask a stranger otherwise.

One man I spoke to told me about how he’s pouring the energy he’d once dedicated to following his favorite professional sports teams into sumo (watching it, not doing it). Several said they like to unwind by doing complex, 1,000-piece puzzles, so I tried it, too. One woman said she maintained her sense of community by shopping at farmers markets and food co-ops in her island community. Short stories about the farmers posted next to their offerings give her a sense of connection to the people she’s supporting. A family of musicians are holding nightly jam sessions with a 10 year old on the clarinet, dad on the ukulele and mom on an accordion:

“When we play together, it’s kind of terrible and the dog whines to be let out. But (it) usually end in fits of laughter. It’s been really cool.”

There were also heartbreakingly honest words from a middle-aged single guy, a self-described introvert who said he was born to social distance, but also expressed worry about how easy and comfortable it all felt:

I am perfectly content to be at home by myself doing my thing and not interacting with others, but I can unfortunately take it to an unhealthy level where I turn into a hermit.”

Many told me they were surprised to discover that most of the travel they’d convinced themselves was necessary to do their jobs was not. Almost all loved working from home and hoped to be able to continue doing it at least some of the time.

One of the ancillary benefits of this project is that it gave me a chance to dabble in podcasting. I have always been a huge fan of public radio and of podcasts, so it was a thrill to produce my own. Initial results were fairly rudimentary, but I loved the heck out of it anyway, so I signed up for a class through the University of California Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute this summer to polish up my production skills, and I’ve now got a list of 67 new podcast ideas and growing, daily. I haven’t seen a lot of companies producing podcasts for their internal audiences, but I think my client is on to something, particularly at a time when workers are separated from one another. Podcasts are helpful for building rapport because they invite the listener into an intimate relationship with the speaker. Emotional energy is conveyed through the voice in a way that is very hard to do in writing. For employers and managers willing to listen, the experiences of their employees can offer incredibly powerful insights into how this experience is changing them (and it is changing them) and how they will need to respond when we emerge on the other side of this.

For those who aren’t podcast listeners, or haven’t thought about it as a possible communications tool for their workplace, I thought I’d share a few stats about the medium. Most of this data comes from Edison Research, in the study entitled “The Infinite Dial 2020.”

  • The percent of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month grew from 26% in 2018 to 37% in 2020
  • Monthly podcast consumers are considerably wealthier and better educated than the U.S. population as a whole:
    • 41% of monthly podcast consumers have an annual household income of more than $75,000 per year, compared to 29% of the population as a whole
    • 53% of monthly podcast consumers hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees compared to 39% of the U.S. population as a whole
    • 68 million Americans listen to podcasts on a weekly basis
    • Weekly podcast listeners averaged six podcasts in the past week, and spent 6 hours and 39 minutes listening on average
  • Monthly podcast consumers grew by 16% year-over-year, and topped 100 million Americans for the first time ever.

(The income and education figures above were gleaned from a separate report called “The Podcast Consumer,” also by Edison Research, in 2019. If you need more proof of the size of the podcasting audience and its value as an industry, consider that Edison Research no longer makes “The Podcast Consumer” available for free – its in-depth analysis comes at a cost of $40,000 per year!)

So here’s my self-promotional piece: Want to create a podcast? Let’s talk. Want to jabber about podcasts in general and tell me what you’re listening to? Please comment. I’m always on the lookout for great new shows. I’ll start by leaving a few of my current favorites in the comments.

LIKE A BOSS: Alana Peterson

At 34 years old, Alana Peterson has worked more than many people a decade or more her senior.

In part, that’s because she started very young. Working at her artist father’s knee, she sold hand-painted wood trinkets to tourists before even turning 10 years old.

But it’s not just the length of her resume, it’s the breadth: from the southern coast of Peru to the Eastern Seaboard of the Lower 48 and now back in her hometown of Sitka, Alaska, Peterson has grabbed every opportunity to work, to help others fulfill their dreams, and to improve the local economy.

At the moment, she has what could reasonably be considered three full-time jobs: owner of Sitka’s iconic Backdoor Café; owner of the Fisheye Organic Café, also in Sitka; and executive director of Spruce Root, a nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution supporting economic development in Southeast Alaska through loan capital and support services to existing business owners and prospective entrepreneurs.

Her drive, unique skill set and willingness to share her expertise with others recently won her recognition as one of Alaska’s Top 40 Under 40.

It might be easy to look at her resume and think Peterson was single-mindedly driving toward her current role(s) from the time she was born: her early work experiences, her education, her time in the Peace Corps, even her tutoring jobs in college, all contribute to her ability to provide business development expertise to residents of Southeast and to run her two businesses.

From a very young age, she had an innate impulse to achieve. Starting at 10 years old, she delivered the Daily Sitka Sentinel every day after school with her brother, and the two reveled in making a game out of how quickly they could complete their route and get home to watch TV. “I was always driven to make a dollar,” she laughed. During high school she spent four years working at Subway, which she credits with teaching her a lot about responsibility and motivation that she still uses today.

“I was working and doing sports and trying to get good grades and I think a lot of people, my teachers, were telling my parents ‘You shouldn’t put so much pressure on her,’ but it wasn’t them, it was me,” she said. “I knew if I wanted certain things I had to work for them.”

Peterson earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina. Immediately upon graduating, she signed up with the Peace Corps and was sent to Peru, where she served as a small business development volunteer for two years.

In 2011 she moved back to Alaska to accept a job with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes in a similar business development capacity but quickly grew frustrated that despite the relative riches of the United States compared to Peru, it was just as hard or harder to create meaningful change in local economies. She decided to leave the workforce to get her master’s degree in business. She saw it as a ticket up the professional ladder and hopefully into a more impactful role.

It was during her master’s degree program at the University of Northern Arizona that she discovered and honed her aptitude for team building, working diligently with cohort members to draw out their strengths and get things done. She moved back to Sitka after the program and went to work for Sealaska Corp., one of 13 Alaska Native Corporations created in 1971 with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or ANCSA. The act was an attempt to settle land claims with Alaska’s indigenous people, whose land was illegally transferred from Russia to the United States at the time of the state’s purchase. Rather than create reservations, like in the Lower 48, ANCSA established corporations based on region that made all Alaska Natives alive at the time into shareholders. Today, those corporations are engaged in a wide range of industries and activities aimed at paying dividends to shareholders and preserving language and culture.

Peterson worked for Sealaska subsidiary Haa Aani LLC. At the time, Haa Aani was getting Spruce Root off the ground and building a network of collaboration and connection throughout the region to support sustainable economic development.

It might be easy to look at her resume and think Peterson was single-mindedly driving toward her current role(s) from the time she was born: her early work experiences, her education, her time in the Peace Corps, even her tutoring jobs in college, all contribute to her ability to provide business development expertise to residents of Southeast and to run her two businesses.

But she said the main thing she would want young people contemplating their futures to know is that you don’t have to have it all figured out when you’re young. “You don’t have to know what you want to do. … You should spend all of your earlier years, your late teens, your 20s, just trying stuff out. You’ll figure out what you like by experimenting.

“Every experience is worthy, even jobs you hate – if you hate something, that’s valuable information.”

Alana Peterson

“So many people go down these paths without really knowing themselves. Doing internships and working gave me more knowledge and experience about who I am and what I like. Every experience is worthy, even jobs you hate – if you hate something, that’s valuable information.”

How she manages everything she’s got going – she’s also the mother of two girls, 4 and 8, and is expecting a son in the next few weeks – is, under the circumstances, not just a hackneyed working-mom question. She’s quick to point out that she doesn’t actually “do it all.”

“I have a really good team of people at each place,” she said. “I love entrepreneurship because I love working with other people and building teams.”

The time she spends on her entrepreneurial ventures is mostly dedicated to hiring and team building. “More different, less same,” is a principle that guides her hiring. “When people are too similar, that’s where conflict arises,” she said. “A lot of what I focus on is the individual. Does that person’s skills and abilities fit with what we need on the team? I want them to fit in well but I don’t want it all the same.”

Peterson with Fisheye Cafe co-owner Caitlin Way

She’s also deeply committed to the community of other business owners, particularly women, in Sitka and throughout Southeast. She met her business partner in Fisheye Café, Caitlin Way, through Spruce Root. Way refinanced a loan and received business counseling through Spruce Root, and the two connected over their shared interest in entrepreneurship and a commitment to improving the local community. Peterson said they both knew they wanted to do something together at some point in the future, and jumped at the chance to work together when Peterson decided to buy and re-envision the former North Sister Café in 2018.

Peterson is also a board member of the Sitka Sound Science Center and a member of the Outer Coast College Board of Trustees. Peterson is a Raven of the Luknahadi (Coho) clan and describes herself as a “product of Sealaska for sure.” She received Sealaska scholarships for her higher education and did internships during college with Sealaska Corporation in Juneau and Sealaska Timber Corporation in Bellevue, Washington.

She’s optimistic about the future of Southeast Alaska. “We have all sorts of struggles, like any place. The state’s not doing great and that affects our region. But there’s so much opportunity here. Everything we need is here: we have water, we have access to food, we have land. There’s plenty of growth opportunity.”

Peterson said she thinks the combination of the abundance of resources, a changing climate and the beauty of Southeast will drive growth and make it increasingly desirable to new residents.

“That’s why I really believe in what I’m doing at Spruce Root. We need to maintain the culture and character of Southeast Alaska, and create and maintain local control so it doesn’t turn into another concrete jungle. … It’s expensive to live here but there’s so much opportunity for entrepreneurship.”

Happy Anniversary, Chugach Children’s Forest!

Today I’m sharing a project I recently completed for Alaska Geographic and the Chugach National Forest to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Chugach Children’s Forest.

The Chugach Children’s Forest is not a place as much as a philosophy. The vision of the program is that public lands belong to everyone, and that everyone is well served when young people develop an appreciation for and practice stewardship of these national treasures.

Engaging youth, their families, caretakers, and communities helps young people develop the technical skills to experience public lands on their own, and to share those experiences with others. In the process, many increase self-confidence, make new friends, discover passions, and set career and educational goals.

The two agencies partner throughout the year to host multiday backcountry trips (kayaking, backpacking, and the like), conservation projects (trail work, invasive-species removal) and leadership and outdoor-skills development opportunities for kids of all ages in the communities that border the forest.

I got to talk to so many interesting young people, staff and partners as part of this project. It really opened up a world with which I was completely unfamiliar.

Take, for example, Reth Duir. Duir is the son of South Sudanese immigrants who grew up in Anchorage, went to West High, and as a teen, experienced the trauma of his older brother’s murder in an East Anchorage alley. Duir was lost, by his own telling, when he was connected to Alaska Geographic and went on his first backcountry trip. The solitude of nature and teamwork of group backcountry travel eased his deep depression, helped him form meaningful connections to people and place, and gave him an avenue for giving back. Duir became a volunteer and later a staff member at Alaska Geographic, recruiting others like him for Chugach Children’s Forest activities.

I also got a huge kick out of talking to Mike Woods, a 30-year public school teacher at King Tech High School in Anchorage. Woods teaches a class called “Career Pathways,” in which he invites in representatives of different Alaska industries to talk to students about their jobs and the educational path they took to get there. Students do a lot of field trips to experience career options firsthand, and Alaska Geographic connected with Woods to help showcase careers in land management, wildlife biology, forestry and the like. Woods is so passionate about what he does – talking to him was uplifting, and had me wishing I’d taken a class like that in high school!

Then there’s the Griffith family, composed of four siblings adopted by one amazing couple after trauma in their family of origin led to their permanent removal. Three of the four have been avid participants in CCF programs and have gained confidence, leadership and outdoor skills, and a strong network of healthy relationships with other young people and adult mentors.

The project consisted of developing a 20-page eBook, a slide deck for an end-of-season celebration, and a bunch of social media and blog content to go along with it. The beauty is that everything flowed from the eBook. Alaska Geographic invested in the big content piece upfront and then everything else was developed by taking pieces of the book and repurposing them in other formats. Infographics and “about” material from the book can be used as handouts for prospective partners and sponsors, the profiles stand alone as blog posts, and an abundance of stunning photography works well for social media.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to know to all these amazing people and help them celebrate 10 years of making a major impact on Alaska youth.

A love letter to self-employment

Self-employment, I love you, and I’m not sure why I resisted your siren song for so long.

It is raining today and I’m on what I hope is the last day of a cold. I was up for an hour or so in the middle of the night after a fumbling, 1:30 a.m. sheet-and-jammie change for a 3-year-old who peed through his Pull-Up. (Again. Why so much pee at night?)

I’m not whining. That’s just life with kids. But because I work for myself, I do have the liberty of treating my stiff, tired body to a yoga class at 11:15 a.m., and I guarantee it’s going to help my productivity.

Yesterday, I signed up for an Adobe Illustrator class at the Armory Center for the Arts starting in January. You know who got to approve that decision? Me. Because I decide what kind of professional development I need and how much it’s worth.

On Friday, I’m attending Boost Entrepreneur’s “Manifest Over Breakfast” event in Encino, where I’ll work on laying down professional goals for 2020 and the coming decade and be inspired by the smart ladies in that crowd. Yet another decision made at the sole discretion of yours truly.

So on that note, I need to get back to it. I’ll just be sitting here in my home office, sipping coffee from my favorite mug, listening to “The Daily” without regard for disturbing my nonexistent coworkers.

Watching the rain out my front window

LIKE A BOSS: Jesse and Sarah Holguin

Q: Tell me about your business.

Jesse: What we do is self-improvement through the body. I feel like fitness is a gateway drug to improving your overall life. Having a better relationship with your body generally means taking care of it from the standpoint of nutrition and stress and sleep, etc., and people come in here because they want to lose weight or get stronger. But that’s not going to be the answer to what they really want, which is to feel better about themselves.

Sarah: They think they’re learning how to properly move their body with weights, but …

Jesse: It’s more than that. Why do you want to do it? Why is it important to you? There’s always a deeper meaning behind the motivation. You think you’re coming in to learn to squat better, get healthy, lose some weight, but what you really want is a transformation. You’re looking outside yourself for some help, and this will start to create the change, the domino effect.

Sarah: On the outside, we look like a typical strength and conditioning gym. We help people get strong and fit and healthy. But on the inside, we’ve just created a safe and supportive environment for when people want to transform their lives.

Q: How long have you been in business?

Jesse: I have been working as a trainer since 2006. The WellRock came in 2009, but at that point I was working from my garage.

Sarah: 2013 is when I quit my job to help grow the business, and 2016 was when we moved into a brick and mortar location.

Q: Is this what you imagined yourself doing professionally? If yes, when did the vision for this business form? If not, what were you doing before and why did you decide to strike out on your own?

Jesse and Sarah Holguin at their gym, The WellRock Wellness, Strength & Conditioning, in Altadena

Jesse: Yes, I did (want to have a gym). What was holding me back was just fear. I had a part-time gig that was supporting me, and I just worried that if I went full bore with the gym stuff it might not work out. One of the main things that motivated me to go for it was my best friend. He’s played a really critical role in my life with this kind of stuff. I like challenges, so I was kind of like ‘Aight motherfucker, I’m gonna do it.’ … At the time I was making more money than everybody I knew.

Sarah: Same.

Jesse: But I also realized I hated it.

Sarah: Same.

Jesse: I was starting to realize the quality of life for how much money I’m making is just not worth it. And I thought, ‘There’s no way I‘m going to spend the rest of my life being unhappy.’ That was another conversation with my best friend. At the time, we were living together with his five-year-old son. He had just started his own business and was broke, and I was paying a lot of our bills. But he was like, ‘So what. We’ll figure it out. Who cares. Your happiness is way more important than money.’ That was a Thursday or Friday and the next Monday I went in and quit. I told myself, ‘This isn’t going to be the rest of my life and if I don’t do this now I’m going to get more and more comfortable.’ I had enough money saved up for like six months.

Q: How did you get the idea for your business or decide to go into business for yourself?

Sarah: I was the manager of a research department at a commercial real estate company. I was doing data analysis, data mining, that type of stuff. It helped me develop a ton of skills that I use now. Business skills. Administrative skills.

Jesse: Originally I had more of a 24 Hour Fitness vision. But then I realized I cared a lot more about the human in front of me. It wasn’t about squatting, it was about eating and sleeping and stress management and relationships – that spiritual and mental development. That’s where Sarah and I clicked a lot. We would talk about some really deep emotional stuff, and it was like ‘Yeah, this is how you really get better.’ Aesthetics are not what motivate people. If people would be more vulnerable they’d admit it’s not about having bigger biceps or a better butt.

Sarah: (Being a business owner was) not at all the plan. I started out as a client. I was looking for a trainer because I wanted to get healthy and strong. Through our client relationship we became really good friends and then that blossomed into something deeper. After we started dating, that was at the peak of my really falling in love with health and wellness. At some point he was like, ‘What if you quit your job and we grow this thing?’ I love it but I never thought about doing this as a career.

Q: What’s the best thing about being the boss? What’s the worst?

Sarah: Not having a boss. The freedom to create whatever you want for your business, since you’re the one who gets to call the shots.

Jesse: I don’t look at it as being the boss, but the best thing about owning what you do as far as your business is that you have the ability to create it into anything you want it to be. What we have both found, myself and Sarah, is that just like fitness, owning your own place is very much a personal development life trajectory. So if we want to grow the business, if we want to create more freedom, get more locations, clients, whatever, it’s just about us growing as individuals. It’s about acquiring the mindset to get where we want to be. That constantly drives us every day. In fitness there’s no limit either. You can develop and develop and develop. As a business owner, there’s no limit. Amazon started in a garage, so did Apple. So did we.

Sarah: The worst part is the pressure to do well. And basically everything is your fault. You’re responsible for everything, which can be really overwhelming sometimes.

Jesse: The hardest thing, and I wouldn’t really say there’s a ‘worst,’ is looking in the mirror and really taking ownership of what’s happening in the business. If we think we’re working too hard or want more freedom, it’s our fault for not creating the systems and structures for that. We have some really honest moments where we look in the mirror and say, ‘If we’re complaining, it’s our doing and we have the power to change it.’

Q: How has being a business owner changed you?

Jesse: It gives you more confidence in life. We’ve been through so many scary things getting to where we are now. And every year has just been better and better and better. And that’s because we’re better. If we were to lose it all next year I think we could create something new really fast. And that’s because of the people we’ve become.

Sarah: You develop a ton of grit as a business owner. It has changed me completely. So much so that it’s hard to answer that question. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t own a business or hadn’t chosen this path for myself. Everyone has this idea of the kind of person they are or want to be. But as a business owner you have to live that out. You actually have to be that person who is responsible and does what they say and takes ownership of things and is resilient and a good problem solver. You have to actually become that person.

Q: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Jesse: Ourselves.

Sarah: That’s a good answer! I’d say self-limiting thoughts. Learning to not compare yourself to other business owners or what other businesses are doing in your field. Accepting that you can’t help everyone even though you really want to. Embracing risk.

Q: What do you wish you knew more about?

Jesse: I think at this point, marketing, especially through social media. That side of things is the next step for us, and it’s just storytelling but we’re going to have to start doing that more in terms of how we want to run the business and grow it.

Q: Tell me about a moment that stands out in your business history as particularly triumphant.

Sarah: There are many. The first six months (in their Altadena location) were pretty difficult because we were so scared. I remember I had written down some monetary goals for us to hit and it was something I would go over constantly, how we would grow and the rate we’d grow and making sure we were going to be okay. At the six-month mark we had sold one of our largest personal training packages and I just felt so proud of myself. I was constantly thinking in worst-case scenarios because I was so scared, but that was a huge weight off and I realized ‘We can do this!’ It wasn’t just the monetary goal, it was my mindset at the time. A lot of people say ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ But for me it was the opposite. I had to believe it to see it.

National days of things are played out

Today is National Bologna Day.

Don’t freak out, marketers. There’s still plenty of time to shoot something for social media. A tray full of bologna sandwiches with old-school Wonderbread slices and lettuce leaves rakishly askew, and a carefully curated selection of hands reaching in to grab one? Or just reboot the National Hot Dog Day pics (July 17, 2019)?

Whatever you do, be sure to throw a hashtag on it (#nationalbolognaday, #bolognaday) so we can measure it. Easiest way to pump the numbers by far! Throw up something delicious, nostalgic or adorable and watch the likes and comments roll in.  

The problem is, as a content strategy, it’s sooooo lazy and tedious. Can we stop?

There are three chief problems I see with these made-up holidays from a content standpoint:

  1. Many brands and agencies lean way too heavily on these completely imaginary national days to fill their feeds.
  2. Many of them are nonsensical and/or and nakedly commercial. For your consideration: National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day (Nov. 7, 2019); Lash Stylists’ Day (Oct. 22, 2019); or Wave All Your Fingers at Your Neighbors Day (Feb. 7, 2020), which happens to coincide with Working Naked Day, just to illustrate my point.
  3. Unless the “holiday” directly aligns with your brand or speaks deeply to your customers, it’s kind of a wasted opportunity. If you’ve got eyeballs – and especially if you’re paying for eyeballs – give them high quality content that makes them want to buy your stuff. The end.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not going to make an argument that attention given to made-up holidays particularly detracts from the national discourse (have you listened to the national discourse lately?) or is some larger metaphor in our increasingly attention-fractured modern lives.

But these faux commemorations are predictable and uninspired from a content standpoint, and dammit, we can do better. What do you think? Want to share a brand or agency you think does these posts correctly? Or just want to crack up at some really bad ones? Drop a screenshot or comment below.

I’ll start with a virtual high five for MarionMade!, a collaboration between the local chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau, United Way and others to promote life in Marion, Ohio. At least they found an authentic, local angle on National Bologna Day.

Consultant knows best

Most of my career has been as a professional outsider. I worked at PR and advertising agencies for more than 10 years, and I truly enjoyed about 85% of it. (The other 15% falls under the umbrella of billable hours, which is one of The Worst Things on Earth.)

My favorite aspects of agency work:

  • Constantly learning as we courted new industries, businesses and projects.
  • There was never, ever a dull moment. The pace was intense but it kept me focused.
  • I enjoyed the creative brainstorming and camaraderie with my coworkers. Rather than being part of a small communications-oriented team within a larger organization that does something completely different, I worked with people who lived and breathed communications day in and day out. We never had to fight the man to move things forward – at least not internally.

And here’s a dirty little secret and one of the best things about being a consultant: Clients often believe what you say to them purely because you’re a consultant and they’re paying a hefty hourly fee for your time.

It’s true. I’d often guiltily share a knowing glance with some poor internal comms staffer after a presentation, understanding they’d probably already made similar suggestions only to have their ideas shot down purely because they didn’t charge $100-plus per hour. Sorry about that, all of you.

But after a recent trip to meet with a new client on what will be a big initiative, I had a revelation about what you miss when you’re always being called in from the outside. This client is a large organization with employees in offices nationwide, and I had the privilege to be part of its annual communications planning process. Colleagues who work together frequently via email came together to talk big-picture goals and strategies, to brainstorm, to share successes and celebrate one another.

I realized that it’s rare as a consultant to be brought in on the ground level like that, to hear the impetus for the ideas and have a chance to soak in the organizational culture in such a meaningful way. I wasn’t there to present ideas or teach techniques, I was there to listen (mostly) and absorb the team’s priorities and concerns. It’s difficult as an outsider to read a group of people and make recommendations that are perfectly on point not only for what they hope to achieve but that are suited to their internal capabilities, organizational subtleties, political concerns and unique dynamics.

I was grateful for the opportunity to approach the project from this perspective. Hopefully what we create together will be even more relevant and more closely aligned with their goals as a result.

And as we discussed branding and taglines for a big milestone celebration, it also underscored what’s great about the relationship between clients and consultants – while a consultant can never know an organization as well as its internal team members do, internal team members are sometimes too close to the subject matter to view things as a neutral third party would. And neutral third parties are often the audience for communications campaigns.

What has been your experience as a consultant, or working with one? Have you worked from the inside and the outside? What did you like best? I’m curious to hear what others think about the best ways to work together in this dynamic. Drop a comment and let’s discuss!

Let research light the way

It’s not about you.

In life, and in marketing, that can sometimes be a difficult idea to accept. We are all naturally egocentric, and that’s okay. But in order to truly connect with anyone – friends, family, customers, members, prospects – you need to see the world from their perspective.

That’s why I love data. There’s an abundance of free data available online, and cross-referencing what you know about your customers/members/constituents with readily available sources of information can reveal some blind spots in how you’re communicating with them.

Pew Research publishes loads of data on all sorts of topics. This handy fact sheet on social media use offers some interactive tools to help you assess how well your outreach is aligning with your customers’ preferences and behavior.

In many organizations, the staff responsible for updating and maintaining social media channels are young, and that’s for good reason. As the data illustrate (and most of us just know instinctively), young people have always been the first in the pool when it comes to social media and are the ones responsible for propelling newer platforms to mainstream adoption (see: Instagram).

The potential pitfall in turning everything over to a 20-something recent college grad, however, is that their enthusiasm for new and trendy may take valuable time and energy away from slightly less sexy but more relevant channels for your customers.

Be sure to check your assumptions against the research periodically – at least a couple of times a year.

A word to the wise: Make sure the sources you reference are reputable. Depending on the specific information you’re after, Pew Research, the Brookings Institution, the RAND Corporation, the U.S. Census Bureau and other large, public or nonprofit research institutions publish regularly, share their methodology and present it beautifully. There are lots of people on the web peddling junky pseudoscience in an effort to grab your attention. Don’t fall for it.

And another word to the wise: As much as I love a beautiful graph, you should always truth-check your findings by talking to your customers. Do not hesitate to chat them up, formally or informally. Be curious about who they are, how they found you, where else they shop, where they get their information and more. You will gain invaluable insights that will drive your marketing, content development and purchasing.

What do you wish you understood better? Leave me a comment and let’s see if we can find it.

It’s time to launch!

I’ve been working on this site for a good two months now. That might seem sort of astonishing considering how basic it is. With the abundance of simple website publishing platforms available these days, the site creation itself is pretty easy. What’s not as easy is the conceptualizing of the business that must happen before you can do much more than spend nearly a week playing around with different color palettes. Not that I did that.

What services will I offer? Perhaps as importantly, what services WON’T I offer? What kind of clients do I want to work with? How will I build my professional community?

This photo was taken during a photo shoot I commissioned a few months ago. It’s not one I’m going to put on LinkedIn, but I kind of love it because this is a real facial expression I make when I’m thinking and it looks like the real me, not the more polished version I would rather put out there. So here I am being vulnerable. This better not bite me in the a**, Brené Brown!

Why am I doing this?

Why. There’s a long answer and a short answer. The short answer is that I love to write and always have, but had grown a little bored with the feature writing I was doing as a freelancer immediately before this business idea was born. After taking some classes online to refresh my skills, I was introduced to the idea of content marketing as a discipline separate and distinct from traditional marketing and from public relations, and it clicked immediately. In this field, I can apply my skills as a writer and editor in a new way, and take advantage of the master’s degree in business I recently completed by a) running my own business; and b) applying what I learned in my favorite courses, which were data analysis, business intelligence and statistics. I can apply some science to the art of copywriting and truly help small businesses elevate their visibility online and reach more customers. YES! That’s exciting to me.

The long answer is more complex and personal. Like most of us, I want to find purpose in my work. I want to advance the causes and issues and people I believe in and help them succeed.

So how do I make the leap from lead generation to lighting a teeny, tiny light in the world?

My life has been dramatically improved in the last few years by the hardworking and dedicated small business owners whose services I am grateful to spend money on. My gym family changed my life and helped me uncover a stronger, more determined side of myself. The amazing care providers who nurture and teach my kids have moved me in ways I didn’t know was possible. The neighborhood Mexican restaurant from which I’ve bought gallons of take-out refried beans and rice has saved dinner dozens of times. These entrepreneurs are BRAVE and creative and work so hard. They inspire me. If I can help these good people be more successful, more financially secure and reach more people, I’m all in!

I resisted the pull of self-employment for a while because I wanted to be able to show up somewhere, do the work and go home. I didn’t want to deal with billing and administrative headaches. After many years working for a small public relations agency, I’m well versed in the hassles of business ownership.

But there are a lot of great reasons to do this now, flexibility being the biggest. I also want to push myself to take risks. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m learning to embrace imperfection and experimentation and the mighty ‘F’ word – failure. I want my kids to see that I won’t let anyone else define what I’m capable of, what I’m worth or when I can spend time with them.

So here I am. Open for business. Let’s do this!