Oops… I Started a Business

A colleague recently encouraged me to share some of the not-so-glam parts of owning my own business (trust me, most of it is non-glam). Starting a business was never my plan and happened very much on accident. It’s taken more than seven years for me to find any degree of “success.”

Most entrepreneurs struggle. It’s hard work.

So what would I share with undergrads considering entrepreneurship about lessons I’ve learned?

Five Hardest Things:

  • No set schedule. No, it’s not 9 – 5, it’s more like 24/7.
    50, 60, even 70 hour work weeks aren’t uncommon. You do what you have to do to get the work done. With your own biz, all-nighters are not relegated to the fond memories of college.
  • The “buck” (but not the decisions) stops here.
    I’m responsible for the success or failure of a campaign or initiative, but don’t always get to make the decisions that go into it. That means that I get to be responsible for a problem, even if the client didn’t follow my advice to avoid it.
  • The financial ebbs and flows.
    It’s not easy to do your own marketing and business development, especially in “flow” times when you’re busy. But if you don’t, the work (and the money) can dry up.
  • Working in a vacuum.
    I have a super talented account assistant and an amazing business partner who I just happen to be related to, but most of the time, I work solo. Brainstorming for one is not nearly as fun (or effective).
  • Working with a vacuum.
    Most of my business life has been spent in a home office and all the distractions therein.

Five Best Things:

  • No set schedule.
    I may work a lot, but sometimes my day doesn’t start til 10 and if I need to deal with family stuff (pretty often with a kiddo) or take a retail therapy break, I can.
  • Creative freedom.
    My work is my work. I get to be creative and think big. There’s no silo or vertical niche that I fill, I get to do it all.
  • Clients who trust me.
    This comes with experience. A decade in PR and (finally!) looking like I’m older than 30 means I have a little cred before I bill for a single minute. The other part of the trust equation is that I do good work. Consistently.
  • Creating new opportunities. Learning new things.
    If I’m learning something new, I’m a happy girl. Maybe it’s the luxury jewelry market, or sustainable food, or industrial manufacturing… regardless, information is fuel for my noggin.
  • Helping businesses and nonprofits succeed
    I’m as committed to my clients’ success as if their business were my business. And they know it! That feels pretty good.

Five really crappy lessons I had to learn:

  • Get  help with the parts you’re not good at. For me, that’s the “business” side (taxes, bookkeeping, etc.).
  • Don’t overpromise. Be realistic about your time and what you can accomplish. I hate saying no, so this is a biggie for me.
  • Manage clients’ expectations. It’s not likely that you’re going to get that “above the fold” New York Times article right away (or ever, for that matter). Help clients understand how the process of PR works. This is something I still struggle with.
  • Trust your gut.

I love being an entrepreneur. I love what I do. I have the best clients who do the most interesting things. I’m quite honored to be on their respective teams and know they trust me to help them set and achieve their objectives. But owning your own biz is hard freaking work. And you have to be committed for the long term.

Check out these ten TED talks for startups, too. Great advice and great presentations.

Not Afraid to Fail

The real world doesn’t have very many rules. There’s a lot of stuff you have to figure out all on your own and you have to love (or learn to love) jumping… and falling.

Glenn Cole of 72 and Sunny gave the commencement address this year for the School of Journalism and Communication and this idea was his main point. Not being afraid of failure will allow you to stretch yourself far beyond you ever thought was possible.

It’s not comfortable. In fact sometimes it downright sucks. Because you will fail and sometimes you’ll fail spectacularly. But overcoming that failure is really the only way to know, and appreciate, success.

Learn to learn from failure because everything will not go smoothly.

  • Chill out! You can’t learn without making mistakes. And making mistakes doesn’t mean you’re not smart, talented, creative, etc. In fact, quite the opposite.
  • Build a good relationship with your manager, your client, etc. Being allowed to fail, and learning from it, takes a team and takes support.
  • Be honest about your failure. Conduct a post-mortem of the project or situation and figure out what went right and what went wrong.

Being an entrepreneur has been meant that I’ve learned many, many lessons through trial by fire. What tips would you give? What lessons have you learned? Leave your comments.

Take a Deep Breath. Time to Renew & Recharge.

three people breathing relaxing fresh air

In late September when classes get underway at the University of Oregon, the academic year is full of promise. The possibilities of each course, and each student, seems limitless. I’m organized, focused and excited to try to new things, share new ideas and train the best PR PRos in the business. By the middle of June, I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. A 9-month-long bus.

Rather than bounding into each week’s classes, what I feel is closer to “clawing.” I don’t love my students any less (well, most of them…), but the weight of the entire year can feel pretty heavy by week 10 of Spring Term.

In academia, the breaks are clear. In June, I am gazing lovingly into the beautiful stream of four months of summer break. Glorious, glorious summer break. But whether you’re in academia or the “real world,” I’ve learned it’s important to take time to renew and recharge. It’s important to take time to breathe, reflect and look forward.

Some tips of my own and a few mixed in with some from the experts at stuff like this:

  • Take some time to brain dump. For me this means writing. Just writing and writing and writing. Get it all out of your noggin and onto paper. I write notes about what I want to change in my routine, what I learned about the classes that I taught, etc.
  • Exercise. Run, do Pilates or try Yoga. I’m a Pilates fan. It’s amazing for helping to clear my mind and put my spine back on straight.
  • Envision the next year. For me, the year is September – June… maybe you’re on a calendar year. Regardless, take some time to plan your year, envision what you want to accomplish. I found this great post about giving yourself an annual review. I think I might try this sometime this summer. I’m also creating a “vision board” (with a little nudge from my biz coach). Have no fear, you’ll hear all about that process, too.
  • Find your own way. You’ll find plenty of ways to organize mental clutter. This post has tons of tips for getting your noggin organized.

How do you best use a transition to prepare for the next “thing” in your life?

photo by LunaDiRimmel

Success? Definitely a Journey.

I was asked not too long ago to talk about building blocks for success… and specifically what my building blocks have been for my success. Odd, I thought. I don’t really think of myself as “successful.” I love my work, I adore my family and I’m pretty darn happy. But for me, I guess because I’m still in a growth phase of my career, I’d just never slapped the success label on any part of my life.

But request made me think… mostly because once I’d said yes I’d certainly have to come up with something to fill 30 or 45 minutes on this topic. So I got a little existential and pondered,

How did I get here?

For the purposes of my presentation and discussion, I defined three “building blocks”: the intangibles, the skills and the glue.

The Intangibles

What are your values? I identify three that have been important for me.

  • Empathy – the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I’ve talked a lot about empathy here. You can read it here.
  • Generosity – generosity of time and spirit lets you put yourself out there and trust me, you’ll learn more than you teach.
  • Curiosity – be insatiably curious and always excited to figure out what’s next.

The Skills

You can’t be successful without the skills to do your job.

  • Writing – communicating clearly in writing and verbally is crucial regardless of your industry. Get some practice, get an editor and build your skills.
  • Verbal – you don’t necessarily have to give presentations, but you have to be able to communicate your ideas clearly and out loud. To other people.
  • Industry Specific – In PR, it’s writing and speaking that’s the crux of what we do. But it’s increasingly important to  undersand technology (web, video, audio), too.

The Glue

Even if you have all the above pieces, you still have to have the glue that pulls it all together.

  • Networks: online and offline networking with other professionals. Learn to build your networks.
  • Mentor: My mentor has been pivotal in my career, and in turn I enjoy being a mentor, too. I’ve written about the mentor-mentee relationship before.
  • Friends & family: Pretty basic concept. My friends and family keep me grounded. And my partner is the household manager for our family, which really allows me to do what I do.

You can click through the Prezi here.

Building Blocks for Success on Prezi

What are your building blocks?

Guest Post: Simple Yet Savvy PR – Disciplined News Monitoring

This is a guest post from Jamie Szwiec, a PR colleague I connected with on Twitter. More about Jamie at the bottom of the post.

I can remember when I went client-side and my boss gave me the task of personally monitoring the news, daily, through Google news alerts and RSS feeds.

Something along the lines of … “Spend an hour a day, first thing. I’m not talking about those third-party monitors that charge an arm and a leg. Do it diligently, for competitive analysis, tracking trends and sharing ideas with the team. Most importantly, media relations.”

The internal dialogue in my head was along the lines of … “Dude, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Fine, I’m client-side and don’t have to worry about the lingering 0.25’s and billing my time now.”

At first, it was daunting. More than a dozen Google alerts to sift through every morning followed by 30-plus relevant publications in the RSS reader.

After about a month, I got it down to an hour worth of time. The internal marketing folks loved it.

And, in a short amount of time, the sea of headlines, news alerts and RSS began to generate tangible and intangible results, including:

  • Breakthrough with reporters – I’m sure many savvy media relations people can attest: it’s an awesome thing when you email a reporter with their recent story in the subject line, info and idea(s) for future reference.
  • Data – Pulled right from the news, saving time to dig up facts later and giving us hooks to support pitches. Some times, a single piece of data can hold a newsworthy angle together.
  • Better writing – Reading all that news, over time, will make you a better writer. As a PR pro, it will gradually show up in your work when you start to notice you’re writing like a reporter. And, it will give you plenty of story ideas. If a story has worked nationally, why not tie it to a client locally as well.
  • Media list building – Done right. Done organically.

The “I don’t have time to this everyday” dialogue in my head was turned off.

I quickly realized it was one thing to monitor the news on an as needed basis. But a whole different ballpark to do it with discipline.

Going agency-side again nearly two years ago, the practice continued. Spreading the news across industry pubs for the agency and keywords for PR clients. The benefits are still endless. From breaking the ice with national reporters to gathering story ideas for local media to establishing an organizational RSS feed and gathering solid Twitter material.

In more than five years, Jamie Szwiec has ventured with organizations across industries to deliver PR solutions and quality editorial coverage on mainstream Evening News with Katie Couric, the pages of newsstand magazines such as Cosmopolitan and People, the front of target daily newspapers, the cover of client wish list publications, online with major media outlets and on-air with 24-hour cable news. He currently lives and works in Milwaukee, Wis. You can learn more about Jamie at his site: jamiePRszwiec.com.

Using LinkedIn: A Primer for Undergrads

Connecting with people in your industry is as easy as creating a LinkedIn profile and using it as a live resume. Treat LinkedIn as the “suit & tie” social network and put forward your most professional self. Your profile should be kept up-to-date and polished regularly.

A LinkedIn profile, as you’ll see, is a great way to build your network & a place to send prospective employers to get info about you and your experience.

So how do you get started?

First step is to sign up & complete your profile:

  • Use your complete name
  • Fill in your title (Public Relations student at the University of Oregon is ok… but what about Intern at XYZ Company or Account Executive at Student PR Firm?). You can have more than one title & then choose the one you want as your headline. My profile includes significant volunteer experience in my title alongside my business titles. Your primary title is what people see first, so be smart about what you include.
  • Create a summary of your experience, aspirations and inspirations. Keep it relatively short and edit like a madman/woman. This is your first impression and the info that people see before they’ll see your specific work experience details.
  • Include the last three positions you’ve held. Internships, volunteer positions and student organizations are all okay and show your breadth of experience.
  • If you have a blog, add it.
  • Claim your custom URL/public profile link. Then use it! Include it in an email signature line, on a business card, etc. Mine is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellimatthews

When you think you’re done, walk away and come back later. Try to look at it with fresh eyes – they eyes of a potential employer. Does this profile say, “wow! I need to hire this person!”

The second piece is to make connections:

  • Start by letting LinkedIn scan through your email address book and find people who are also on LinkedIn. People who are on LinkedIn will have the little “in” blue box next to their name. You’d be surprised how many people you find. I always am! Don’t just add everyone, but go through each contact and be smart about who you add (especially at first).
  • Want to connect with particular people or particular types of people? You have two options. Look at the connections of those in your network and ask for an introduction (more on that in a minute) and also do a search for people by location, employer, job description and more.
  • When you add connections, be sure to include a personal note. The standard LinkedIn templates are boring and well, standard. This is particularly important if you are asking someone you don’t know to be part of your network. Tell them why you’re knocking on the door.

A word about introductions: Asking for an introduction is a great way to meet people and build your connections. When you do, though, be extra conscientious of the message you ask your contact to forward. For example, I should feel comfortable forwarding what you write to me with a note that says, “this person is worth your time.” As a general rule of thumb, treat that message as a mini cover letter.

Now, my LinkedIn contacts are comprised of people I know in real life and those I know via social networks, but they are all people to whom I could forward a message and make an introduction. It’s important to note that everyone cultivates their networks in different ways, however. It’s always good to ask first if someone is comfortable with this process generally and making an introduction to a specific person.

This should get you started, but here are some other LinkedIn tips worth a read:

Thanks also to @jmartens, @mihaela_v, @ValerieSimon & @mhonald for their tips, too. In an upcoming post I will talk about how to join and participate in groups. There are several for PR students that are worth checking out.

If you’ve already started with LinkedIn, what tips would you share or what questions do you have?

What Does Professionalism Mean?

iStock_000008656215XSmall (1)The PR major in the SOJC is a professionally-focused one. Most students who go into PR understand the importance of perceptions. Or at least they should. And, naturally, our students are concerned with professionalism.

Lately, however, I’m beginning to think some are too concerned. Or their emphasis is misplaced. I’m not sure which. But I think it’s worth exploring.

Maybe we’ll start with what I think professionalism is not:

  • About (just) what you’re wearing. Your appearance is important, don’t get me wrong. It affects that way you feel about yourself and certainly influences first impressions, but style without substance quickly fades.
  • Rigid or doctrinaire. I hear students admonish each other for not being professional or gossip behind someone’s back about some terrible unprofessional misdeed (first of all, judge not, lest ye be judged…). It’s as if professionalism is the new religion for students.
  • Lack of personalization. Where are YOU in this battle for superior professionalism? Scrubbing your digital footprint or even your interpersonal interactions clean from anything that smacks of (God, forbid!) being a 20-something is boring. You’re not a hermetically-sealed-stepford-account-executive-pre-professional just waiting for your assignment. For crying out loud… BE YOURSELF.

Ultimately, professionalism is about the work, it’s about the way you interact with your peers and colleagues. It’s about being gracious and empathetic. What professionalism is:

  • Being accountable. Doing what you say you’ll do, having open lines of communication, telling your supervisor or client that you don’t understand or you’re unclear or you’re in over your head. All of that is part of being accountable. I often see students try to “fake it” and not acknowledge their limitations.
  • Putting the work first. Professionalism is about your professional work. That comes first… before your personal brand. You won’t have a very solid “brand,” by the way, if you can’t do good work.
  • Focused on building relationships by celebrating others successes, having empathy. Being a good person, someone who people enjoy working with is also part of the equation. Professionalism means celebrating your team and giving credit where credit is due. It also means having empathy – not for just clients and colleagues, but any “stakeholder.” Relationships are paramount and the ability to build and maintain strong ones takes a real professional.

What do you think professionalism means?

Building a Strong Mentor-Mentee Relationship

My mentor has been an important part of my professional life and, over the years, a trusted friend, confidante and adviser in many aspects of my life. She’s given me opportunities to earn experience in areas of public relations that I might not otherwise have had and is always ready with advice if I ask. If I don’t need advice, she’ll just listen.

We met when I volunteered for a nonprofit organization as an undergrad where she was serving as the communications director. We had a chance to work together on maybe a project or two before she left. I continued to volunteer for the organization and frequently asked my mentor for her advice on projects.

It wasn’t long before she asked me to help her with a client project – doing some basic media relations work. That was 8 years ago.

I am not exaggerating when I say that my career would not be where it is without her guidance and advice (and trust!). I’m a better person and a better PR professional because she’s in my life.

I think I’m pretty lucky. But how did I build this relationship and how can you seek out and develop one that works for you? I also asked my twitter network. I’ve noted their advice with a twitter ID after each point.

Being a mentee.

Being a “good” mentee has to be a part of figuring out a mentoring relationship. From the very beginning, think about this relationship as two-way. As a mentee, you have responsibilities:

  • Know yourself. Know what you’re looking for in a mentor and can identify the qualities that you want to grow in your own life. Think about your values and priorities. For example, for me a mentor without the same family-focus that I have would’ve been a problem. I need someone who understands, and encourages, work-life balance (mostly because I can forget the “life” part). (@AmandaJones)
  • Talk about your goals. Being clear about your goals and aspirations will help your mentor be clear about what you expect. (@sarahannelilly)
  • Do outstanding work and be enthusiastic. It’s rewarding to mentor someone who is learning and growing and doing work that you can both be proud of. If you’re seeking career guidance, show that you’re actively working toward those goals and making progress. (@krhodey)
  • Listen. Listen to what your mentor has to say. Only you can make the right decision for you, but good advice is valuable. Showing that you’re listening can strengthen the relationship and encourage your mentor to continue sharing his or her insights and experience. (@RichBecker & @aplambeck)
  • Reciprocate. Everyone has something to offer. Figure out how you can give back to the relationship.

Finding a mentor.

  • Set some goals. Be clear to yourself about what you’re looking for in a mentor relationship. A mentor can be helpful in many ways, and often more than one mentor is necessary and appropriate.
  • Consider logistics. Do you need a mentor who works at your company? or would you like (or need) someone from outside the organization?
  • Be proactive. Just ask! I was flattered to be asked to be a mentor recently. It really only took an email and I was on board. I also recognized that she and I would be a good fit and so it was easy to say yes. (@ntindall)
  • Ask for referrals. Ask friends, your peers or family to help identify a good mentor. You may be able to extend the possibilities far beyond your own personal network.

Being a mentor

As I mentioned early on, the mentor-mentee relationship must be two-way. The mentor also has some responsibilities besides just sharing what s/he knows. Two important “duties” stand out to me. My mentors have excelled in these areas, and that has truly benefited our relationship.

Listen. Listen to what your mentee says and needs to meet his or her goals. Clearly s/he respects you and your work, but everyone has a different life path. So your path might not be the right path. (@RichBecker)

Be genuinely interested. It is flattering when you’re asked to be a mentor, but it must be more than an ego boost for you. You need to be genuinely interested in your mentee’s life and career and eager to help meet the goals he or she has set.

Setting expectations.

Women for Hire has a great list of questions to consider at the outset of mentor relationship. I don’t know that something this formal will work for everyone, but it’s worth considering these questions and determining if the answers are important to creating a functional relationship. A few of the questions worth considering:

  • How often will you meet? Before you approach your mentor, have a good idea of how much time you’d like from her. Do you need to meet once a month or once every other month?
  • Under what circumstances will you meet? Coffee shop, home, office? Morning, lunch, evening, weekends?
  • How you will stay in touch? By phone or email? Ask what is easiest for her and be willing to accommodate that.
  • Confidentiality. This is a must on both sides, especially if you work for the same company or know many of the same people professionally. You’re likely to discuss work situations and professional relationships in the course of your work together, and you must agree to keep all information just between you.
  • Honesty. If you can’t exchange ideas freely there’s no use in getting started

So what are you waiting for? Just ask! It won’t cost you more than some time and a cup of coffee and the rewards can be tremendous.

If you have (or are) a mentor, I’d love to hear your tips and stories! Please share in the comments.

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My “Social” Resolutions

This morning I left a comment on a blog that I’ve been reading for a long time, but never commented on. That made me think that I should really leave more comments on blogs. I love it when people comment on my blog … one thought led to another and here’s a list of my “social” resolutions (I’ll spare you the “eat better” and “exercise more” resolutions).

  • Leave more comments on blogs. I read hundreds of posts a week, it should be easy to leave a few comments, right? I always want my comment to be valuable and add something to the conversation. For me, that means just taking a few minutes to pause and think about my response… chances are I have something to say. Cool Cat Teacher has some good tips for commenting.
  • On a similar thread, initiate more conversations on Twitter. People are smart and I don’t use that @ sign nearly enough to either tell them or to learn. Some ProBlogger Twitter tips here. Also check out TwiTip, a new blog devoted to Twitter.
  • Post here and on my agency blog more regularly. I ask my students to post twice a week, I should be able to do the same. Find 40 tips to creating killer content here.
  • Find new voices to read. I need to trim the fat from my feedreader and look for new voices to add to those I currently read. Chris Brogan had a great post this week of list of eight marketers to watch gave me two new ones that I added to my reader.
  • Be a resource across all social media platforms. I think I do a pretty good job of creating good content here, but I can always do better and I can be more consistent across platforms, including Twitter.

How about you? Any “social” resolutions?

The Way You Speak Sort of Like, Matters, You Know?

I’ve often remarked on the speech affectation of undergrads in my classes. With “likes,” “ums,” “kind ofs” and “you knows” peppering their speech along with this almost valley girl-esque speak pattern. In more than one case, I’ve thought that those students with particularly distracting speech patterns would be taken so much more seriously if they, as the comedian in this video says, would just speak with authority.

Not sure if you have these speech patterns? Or what to do about it? Some tips:

Rowan Manahan suggests tape recording yourself in natural speech and listening for the cues: kind of, like, sort of, you know and the myriad of fillers that sneak into our conversations.

A Real Simple article about identifying and correcting eight common speech problems offers tips about everything from interrupting to correcting speech tics.

Fast Company also has a article that’s a bit old, but still has great advice for thinking about your speech patterns and what they say about you.

(hat tip, Lindsay Olson)

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