The Entrepreneur Chronicles: What I Learned from Starting a Business in One Month

whatilearnedfromstartingabusinessinonemonth

Yes, it was rash. But was it too soon? I argue that it wasn't.

Here's how it happened.

The Entrepreneur Chronicles: What I Learned from Starting a Business in One Month

Back before my days of social media strategist/writer/consultant, I mainly did just one thing: acting. And when I say "mainly" I don't mean like "most of the time." I mean that was what I viewed as my career even though I'd spend anywhere between three months and nine months out of the year not doing the thing I loved. 

During one such period of working survival jobs I got a quirky gig as a princess with a character performing company in Nashville. Yes, I literally dressed up in costumes, brought my own soundtrack and sang Disney songs to sweet little girls wearing plastic tiaras and lip gloss. They loved it. I loved it. Everyone was happy*. :-)

*(Except when I was tasked with portraying Hannah Montana. Couldn't escape the skeptical side eye I got at those parties.)

I moved away from Nashville at the end of 2009 and spent another year performing in dinner theatre (while lightly freelance writing on the side) before embarking on a new parallel path to performing: the business side of show business which led to social media for live experiences which led to grad school which led to launching my full-time freelance career as a writer/social media strategist. All along I was still performing professionally when a good opportunity came along. 

Cut to fall 2014. (5 years since I had retired my glass slippers). It was Halloween. I was the candy passer-outer at our abode. 

And my mind was blown.

*Ding dong.*

Aren't you a pretty Elsa!

*Ding dong.*

Oh! Queen Elsa!

*Ding dong.*

Oh look! Elsa.

I began to feel a bit like Bill Murray in that film about February 2. How many Elsas could come to one door on one night?

That's when ideas began to come together in my mind. Einstein called this "combinatory play"--when you begin to piece together ideas that didn't necessarily originate with you and you create a new idea out of them. 

I set about researching. Were there any princess-type companies in Lynchburg? How about Roanoke? Charlottesville? Was this actually legal to do? (Lucky me--I've got a lawyer sibling!) I had a slew of actress friends who would be perfect to hire. Would they be interested? Available? I could use independent contractors. Pay roll wouldn't be a worry. I had experience performing at princess parties before. I could train the performers. I knew how to create a website. Marketing is my sweet spot. 

So all I needed to know was how to conduct research, make a website, get some friends on board and buy costumes? 

I needed a name. I needed some friends to say it was a good idea. And I needed those costumes by December 7--the date of a big public event where we could make a splash. 

I crunched some numbers and figured out that if all went well I could make back my investment by early March. It was low risk. It was exciting. Why not give it a try? 

Perhaps it wasn't as easy as all that. Did I oversimplify it? Would it have all gone better if I had created a long-term business plan, got funding, launched a perfect product?

The answer is "no." I didn't oversimplify it. You know what would have happened if I hadn't just gone for it?

Nothing at all, dear friends. 

In short, I would've over-thought it. I would've talked myself out of it. But instead, in this instance, in this low-risk instance, I just gave it a shot. What's the worst that could happen? 

I'd be out a grand and I'd fail in front of my friends, family and community. 

Worth the risk.

So on December 7, 2014 Enchanting Entertainment was born. A cool five weeks after the idea popped into my head. 

You may be toying with an idea. You may have a dream passion project or have thought "somebody should really do that." What if it's you? What if you're that somebody?

It may be worth the risk. As one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin says, "Choose the bigger life"--whatever that means to you. 

Go do it. And sprinkle some fairy dust while you're at it. 

 The snow Queen and friends on december 7, 2014

The snow Queen and friends on december 7, 2014

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Social Media: Good vs Evil (or "It Might Be Time to Pull the Plug If…")

socialmediagoodvsevil

Social media. You crazy thing you.

Because of my access to you I’ve built a business, grown friendships, been confronted by a famous person, an acquaintance, and a stranger. I like you less when people use you to talk about politicians. I like you more when people use you to spread awareness about international crises and ways we can band together to make a difference

The truth is sometimes we need a breather from you—from your ever-present, all-access, overload of information. Sometimes people use you to complain, to be passive aggressive and to overshare. When we humans have a platform to share our thoughts it can get a little funny. So today I’m proposing ten reasons that we, your oh-so-faithful users, may need to take a break from you. (I’m going to move on to addressing the readers directly now. You may not want to listen…) 

It Might Be Time to Pull the Plug on Social Media If…

1. It makes you more angry than happy.

2. It makes you more jealous than happy.

3. You can’t resist the urge to lecture your friends and followers. 

4. You feel like your impulse control is waning. You check it at every opportunity. 

5. You spend a lot of time following people you don’t actually have relationships with in real life. 

6. You post content that you wouldn’t say out loud to a bunch of acquaintances. 

7. You can’t resist the urge to confront someone you know in real life on social media.

8. You can’t resist the urge to confront someone you don’t know in real life on social media. 

9. You feel guilty and voyeuristic about how you spend your time on social media. 

10. You’re so annoyed by the content that other people post that you volley back and post about your frustration. 

Perhaps you sense the common theme here. If social media draws out negative emotions in you more often than positive ones then maybe you should pull the plug. If you have trouble with boundaries and self-control on social media then maybe you should pull the plug. If using social media means you are observing life more than contributing to it maybe you should pull the plug. 

Social media is a mystifying animal. Just this week we Peanutized ourselves, raved about Ryan Adams’ 1989, and mourned the loss of Yogi Berra together online. We experience community with people we never would have had a meaningful conversation with at this point in our lives if it weren’t for social media. 

We can interact with like-minded people, learn from thought leaders, see our friends’ children grow up across the country, and even share a laugh together via social media. 

This vast landscape of online communication can be used for good and it can be used for evil. If social media brings up more negative feelings than positive ones, it may be time to shut it down for a little while or for a long while. 

Don’t forget that you ultimately hold the power. You are not held prisoner to any negativity that creeps into your life via social media. You can use the platform for good or you can opt out altogether. Just don’t be passive. That’s the big request here. Social media can be used for good or it can be used for evil. I encourage you, use it for good! 

Do you struggle with any (or many) of the items I listed above? What do you do to combat those tendencies? I’d love to hear about your strategy in the comments! 

10 Ways to Up Your Writing Game

10waystoupyourwritinggame.jpg

If you have a message you’re passionate about conveying, you’ve probably already recognized the importance of good writing. As a social media and communication instructor I’ve been amazed at the array of writing levels I’ve come across in college classes. Some students (a very few) have such a challenging time getting the mechanics of writing correct, that I’m completely distracted from what they’re trying to convey to the reader. On the opposite end of the spectrum, writers like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Harper Lee, and Shakespeare have changed the world through their excellent writing. If we ever want to convince anyone of anything, we have to be able to communicate well.

So back to you. You have a passion. You have a cause. You have a business. You want to promote something

What can you do now, in practical terms, to inspire others to support it? 

I want to encourage you to focus on improving your writing game. Here’s ten ways to do just that.

1. Do Morning Pages. One of my favorite books on creativity is Julie Cameron’s the Artist’s Way. Cameron’s book is chock full of wonderful ideas to get your creative juices flowing but her most formidable idea is to start each morning writing three full pages of unedited, stream of conscious writing. In her own words: “Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.” The more you write, the better you will get at writing.

2. Write 200 words a day. Make a habit of writing about aspects of your passion/work/message/thoughts/business every day. 200 words is a manageable goal (that’s about the length of a paragraph or two.) All it takes is about 200 words a day to begin to create a catalogue of content you can use for blog posts, social media updates, content papers, eBooks, workshop content, and eventually full-length books. A secret of creating great content consistently is that you don't have to reinvent the wheel each time you want to share your message with the world.

3. Use Hemingway Editor. Ever wish you had an editor who could look over your writing before you hit “publish?” The Hemingway app analyzes your writing and highlights text that can be improved by suggesting you use a simpler word, use active voice, simplify complex sentences, etc. Give it a whirl. In fact, when I’m done writing this post, I’ll use it myself. 

4. Read Bird by Bird. Anna Lamott’s classic writing book is practical and inspiring. It starts off like this: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around mybrother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

5. Read On Writing Well. One of the most helpful texts I read in my journalism classes, Zinsser’s book has sold something like a million copies. Read it. You can start by reading my post celebrating his wonderful writing advice

6. Use active voice. Sometimes in our first swipe at writing something we have trouble getting to the point at the top of the sentence. Let me rephrase that. Get to the point at the top of the sentence. It can be hard but it makes for better writing. 

7. Draw readers in with an enticing introduction sentence. Make that first sentence pop. If you’re writing an article on a new coffeeshop write a first sentence that makes the reader feel like she is there. And if it’s a blog post make sure it clearly indicates what the reader can expect from the rest of the piece.

8. Edit ruthlessly. The quote has been attributed to William Faulkner, Stephen King and Allen Ginsberg. We don’t know who said it first but we do know it’s a hard truth. “Kill your darlings.” Some of the most beautiful passages have to go. Serve the story. Serve your audience. Don’t preserve text just because you like it. 

9. Write like a person. This is a piece of advice I’ve stood by for some time. This separates the good writing from the trying-to-be-good writing. Write the way you speak. Yes of course you can be more articulate, more well-edited, and more clear (isn’t that one of the perks of writing over speaking?) but be sure you don’t sound like a robot, or a rambler, or (God forbid) a telemarketer. 

10. Write what you want to write. Maria Popova of BrainPickings is a big advocate of this one. If you think the topic will be interesting or helpful to your audience but you're not into it then don't write about it. The spark starts with you! You'll write more and better if you write about things that interest you. So don't be swayed by what you think you should write. Write what you want to write. 

These are my ten tips to implement for more effective written communication. They can be summarized like this: write a lot, read a lot, edit a lot. 

Do you have writing advice of your own? I'd love to hear it in the comments! 

How a new boss can win over existing employees

How to win over employees when you're a new boss
How to win over employees when you're a new boss

One of my favorite interviews I've ever done was with Yvette Donado, the chief administrative officer and senior vice president of people, process, and communications at Educational Testing Service (ETS). If you've ever sat face to face with the GRE, an AP exam, a CLEP test, PRAXIS, or the SAT then you've purchased an ETS product. Donado joined ETS in 2001 as the vice president of human resources. With a president at the helm who had business practices in mind, ETS turned to Donado, a graduate of the Harvard executive MBA program who also has certifications from Wharton, Cornell, and Boston University and experience as a human resources senior vice president with a booming technology start-up.

So what was her strategy upon entering ETS as an outsider?

Donado set out to determine who had the greatest “pain points.” She proposed to serve them first. “Win them over and now you have an advocate. Success breeds success. You will eventually win over those people who are threatened by you. [It is a process of] developing trust and being impeccable with your word,” she says.

Donado’s first principle for transitioning into a new leadership position was to seek to understand the culture of the organization before making any changes. Her aim was to “be respectful of what is.” She advises new executives not to “jump to make many changes before understanding the culture and environment you’ve entered. Listen very carefully. Make changes that people will readily see as good.” Her approach to engaging departments that underperform would make Dale Carnegie proud. “Instead of creating conflict, I negotiated … instead of attacking I went with [an attitude of] service,” Donado says.

Donado leads with an attitude of service and respect. The prudence she exhibited in her early days at ETS has paid off. She began by managing a staff of 30; she now leads more than 500 employees and oversees marketing, public affairs, quality assurance, philanthropy, human resources, process management, government and community relations, and facilities. As part of her facilities oversight, she assures the effective management of ETS’s Chauncey Conference Center located on its 370-acre Princeton campus.

Have you had a great experience with a transition? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Read the full-length version of this article (originally published in Hispanic Executive) here.

20 Lessons I Learned in My 20s

20 Lessons I Learned in My Twenties Hilary Sutton
20 Lessons I Learned in My Twenties Hilary Sutton

 

Over the past few days I have received hoards of birthday wishes from friends and family. My husband put together a book of notes from people who have impacted my life along the way. One consistent theme that I saw in what they wrote was that they saw something intentional in me. Someone who goes for it and really seeks to live on purpose. What's funny is, I don't see this as admirable. It is how I'm hard-wired. I can't imagine phoning in life or not consistently checking in to see if there is a way I could be doing things better. Included in that "I can't not think deeply about my direction in life" thing is that I took a lot of time over the last year to reflect on the decade I was wrapping up.

I spent the last year of my twenties looking back on the decade as a whole and aggregating lessons I learned along the way. I actually journaled and blogged through much of my twenties so I had great reference points for looking back and seeing what was on my mind at any given age. Today I want to share with you 20 of the lessons I learned in my twenties. There's more than just this, of course, but these were the game-changers. My hope is that perhaps one of these lessons gets your wheels turning and is somehow helpful to you.

20 Lessons I Learned in My Twenties

1. Everyone has a story.

2. The things I needed in a partner were chemistry, connection and respect. Determining those three things and using them as a measuring stick was really helpful.

3. Pay attention to the cues you are receiving (people will show you how much they value you.)

4. Say "yes." Try new things. That will help you learn what you really love and you won't have to ask "what if?"

5. You can love and pursue more than one career path. It's harder than choosing just one. But some people are not meant for just one thing and that is OK!

6. Getting a second skill is imperative if there is not a huge need for your desired career path. It will help you not live in anguish stressing out about money and it means you'll enjoy contributing to society between gigs.

7. Tell the world who you are --better yet-- tell the world who you want to be.

8. "Funny" may not be one of the most important requirements in a spouse. (But do find someone who gets your jokes.)

9. People can't put you in a bad mood. You control how you experience the world.

10. Look for opportunities to invest in people. Relationships are the only thing in this world built to last.

11. Respect yourself enough to listen to your gut.

12. Education opens doors.

13. Marrying someone just like you is probably not a good idea. Balance is a great thing.

14. We regularly need to zoom out and examine our lives. We should ask ourselves, "Are we doing things on purpose?" Is this the direction I want my life to go?"

15. Internships are career launching pads. Get one. or two. or three.

16. Social media and the web are tools that can be used for good or for bad. Use them for good!

17. You never know what is right around the corner, so be intentional and optimistic. Sometimes bad things are around the corner, but it's not worth bringing the future bad into the present by being negative. And sometimes there is something great around the corner--quite often actually. Life is cyclical that way.

18. The best stuff money can buy are experiences. I'm so glad that when I was young and poor I figured out ways to travel and have great experiences. Caveat: it's also nice to have a warm home and all the necessities of comfort. At some point air mattresses don't match up to beds. ;-)

19. Show up to do the work even if you don't feel inspired. You've gotta show up.

20. If you don't audition you'll never book the part. If you don't write the book it will never be a best-seller. You have to risk rejection and failure. Be brave!

So that's my list of twenty things I learned in my twenties. The prospect of learning so much more in my thirties sounds pretty thrilling to me. But tell me, did this list spark a reminder in your mind of lessons you've learned in your current or last phase of life? I would LOVE to hear them.

30 Creative Pursuits of My 30th Year

30 Creative Pursuits
30 Creative Pursuits

So let's cut right to where my head's at:

This is the last week of my twenties.

And as such it is time to finally share with you about my 30 Creative Pursuits of My 30th Year.

Back when I turned 29 last year I had a real moment where I was overwhelmed at the thought of that decade winding down (yes, I still had a whole year to go). What had I done? What did I want to do? Was I being as intentional as I needed to be? I'm not one of those people freaking out because 30 is "old." It's just crazy to me that I so vividly remember turning 20 (what was going on, what I was thinking and feeling) and that was a decade ago. Life moves swiftly--especially as we get older. This pace is speeding up and I need to pay attention to all of it.

In 2013 my friend Megan did this uber interesting #30to30 challenge--thirty things she wanted to cross off her bucket list to usher in her 30th birthday. It was this awesome eclectic mix of like riding 500 miles on her bike and reading Dostoevsky and giving blood and other artsy things too. As I tried to totally copy her and make a list of my own I realized my short-term bucket list just didn't get me jazzed and I definitely couldn't come up with 30 eclectic items. Really what I wanted was more intentional creativity in my life. Thus, 30 Creative Pursuits of My 30th Year was born.

I made a list of 30 things I wanted to do around creative enrichment, experiences and output in the last year of my twenties. I've crossed many off my list: put 2 (better) musical theatre clips on Youtube, implement bimonthly HSL Creative Retreat Days for creativity and thinking, performer in a musical or play, start some sort of writing, creativity, thinkers or reading club (meet at least once), take at least one voice lesson, come up with ten book ideas, go to an industry conference. All of these intentional pursuits have been crazy fulfilling and/or inspiring and I wish I had been this intentional before I came toe-to-toe with 30.

Others on the list I've simply not completed yet or I've avoided them: read On Writing by Stephen King, see Gone with the Wind, write three songs, complete a book proposal, write one work of fiction. I'm not sure why these items got put off to the end. Update: I started the audiobook of On Writing and I just can't seem to get into it. Somehow Stephen King has made even a book about writing a little gory. Perhaps if I was a fan of his novels I would appreciate his style more. I still haven't seen Gone with the Wind but have high hopes to do so in the next week. I worked on some song lyrics last week but an actual song, they are not. The book proposal is simply a matter of blocking off time to flesh it out. The book is in my head.  I just haven't written the proposal because other things seem to be more urgent.

That's the interesting thing about this whole list. Easily none of it could have gotten done if I didn't prioritize it. These aren't things that were urgent or that one of my clients or bosses needed me to do. These weren't going to impress anyone or really greatly benefit my family or friends. They were kind of just for my own enrichment and enjoyment. So they were easily avoidable and easy to put on the back burner.

On the other hand, some of the greatest highlights of the last year came as a result of these items. I absolutely adored reading the Artist's Way with Erica and Whitney (and sometimes others who joined in). If it weren't for that, Enchanting Entertainment wouldn't be here and I wouldn't have led a workshop at Toolry. HSL Creative Retreat Days were a refreshing opportunity to put daily work on pause and check in with myself. Was I heading in the direction that felt most right? Was I pleased with the content I was writing? I stopped once every other month and instead of working from my home office like normal, I explored new locations and incorporated the outdoors into my experience for the day. (Click these links for photo proof.) I hiked Candler's Mountain and fell in love with Percival's Island. I found my perfect study place in Liberty's Library. I tried the Bean Tree Cafe for the first time. All experiences were enriching, pleasant and helped me recalibrate. I've done some of my best thinking and writing on HSL Creative Retreat Days.

As a result of 30 Creative Pursuits I pushed myself to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh, NC. I attended a conference solo while most everyone else who was in attendance came on their employer's dime. I heard from some of the greatest minds in social media and content marketing. I wrote a million notes and began to imagine myself as a keynote speaker. Could I encapsulate what is cool about social media and dual careers and being a female solopreneur and being a millennial and inspire someone through a talk about those things? I began to imagine.

In voice lessons with David Hahn not only did I gain a friend and an advocate but I also found new layers in my voice and began to really grasp the "less is more" of singing. I loved working steadily on the craft of vocal performance. It was a big part of my life in college and I hadn't studied with a voice teacher consistently in about four years. Music does something for the soul unlike anything else.

29 has been a creative, intentional year of growth. It's pushed me to a place of embracing "no" to things that are good and saying "yes" to opportunities I didn't predict. I really hope that I find the inspiration to live so intentionally every year whether it's a milestone birthday or not. I know my life has been better this year for intentionally carving out time to be creative, both outwardly creative and inwardly.

I encourage you to embrace your creativity this year. Whether you're drawn to visual arts, poetry, cooking or rearranging your furniture, taking time out to create something, to reflect more deeply or just to consciously inject change into your daily life can catapult you into a place where you see things quite differently and you connect dots that you didn't see before. I'm so glad I made this weird list last year. I think I will make another for my 31st year. It's too good to stop now.

I'd love to know, will you take me up on my challenge? What is one creative thing you will make time for this year? 

Hilary is a writer, a performer, a social media nerd, and digital strategist.

The 4 Measurements of Marketing

THE FOUR MEASUREMENTS OF
THE FOUR MEASUREMENTS OF

Several months ago I got to sit down with one of the brightest, most energetic marketing minds in technology, Elisa Steele. Steele's resume is nothing to sniff at. She has served as Corporate VP and CMO of all consumer applications and services at Microsoft, including brands such as Bing, Internet Explorer, Lync, MSN, Outlook.com and Skype, among others. She was also CMO at Skype, Executive VP and CMO at Yahoo!, and Senior VP of Corporate Marketing at NetApp. Since my article on Elisa went to print she has now graduated from CMO to CEO of Jive Software. Elisa is really inspiring. She got into marketing by way of sales by way of spending her summers scooping ice cream as a teen. It all started because she was just really excited about putting a smile on customers' faces.

Steele wrote a manifesto of her view on marketing called "Fast Forward: The Four R's That Matter in Marketing." I want to share her "4 R's" with you today.

The Four Measurements of Marketing

1. Reputation

How are people viewing your company in terms of giving back and doing the right thing in the world? What is your reputation as compared to that of your competitors? What specific aspect of your reputation is trending over time, and how can that trend be affected?

2. Relationship

How are partner relationships doing? Are they producing results? How can we make them better? Are customers garnering value from our product so they are inspired to tell the world about their success and help others learn from their experience?

3. Reach

How do you define your target market segments, and how much reach do you have within those? Of the reach you have today, what is your penetration rate? Is your penetration rate growing? What strategies are effective at increasing penetration and what strategies are not?

4. Revenue

How is marketing driving growth for the company? Are we supporting sales channels as effectively as possible? How is our database health? What are the conversion rates? How are we doing on sales leads?

Steele has used these marketing check points to ensure that her team is achieving the right goals. Do you have your own sign posts that you check in with regularly to make sure you're headed down the right path? 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article originally published in Forefront Magazine here.

Hilary is a freelance journalist, a bit of a marketing geek and blogger. Say hey on Twitter @hilarysutton.

The Secret Power of Nice

The Secret Power of Nice
The Secret Power of Nice

One of the most pleasant leaders I've ever interviewed is Ron Andrews, head of HR for Prudential Financial. Ron is one of those people who makes you feel like you have his full and undivided attention. Today I want to pull back the curtain on how Ron's "nice" personality led him to be the head of HR for a company that has more than $1.1 trillion in assets under management and approximately $3.5 trillion of gross life insurance in force worldwide.

Ron on consistency:

“I relate very effectively to the most senior people as well as people who take out the trash in my office. I can say things to leaders a lot of people can’t because I try to be very consistent. I don’t have a different persona or approach to different people. That adds to credibility."

How Ron stays connected: 

That accessibility has contributed to the horizontal sense of connectedness he focuses on implementing at Prudential. Andrews prioritizes staying connected with the HR leaders for all five major businesses within the company. Not only does he meet with them regularly, he also communicates with team members across the globe through a regularly updated blog and video messages. “It’s all designed to build a greater sense of connectedness,” he said.

The Secret Power of Nice

Andrews was not always sure that his personality would serve him in corporate America. Early in his career at Prudential, he encountered a group of cutthroat young professionals. “They were not nice. They had huge egos. And I wasn’t like that at all,” Andrews said. “I began to get concerned that I was out of place—that I would have to be like that if I was going to be successful. It worried me.”

The “cutthroat” colleagues made Andrews doubt his future at Prudential. Then he was charged with working with John Strangfeld, who now serves as Prudential’s Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President. Strangfeld was a breath of fresh air for Andrews.

“He was thoughtful, caring, low-key, and he was doing really well,” Andrews said. “That gave me hope that I could still be myself and be successful in this firm. I committed from that point on that I was not going to not be myself.”

Have you ever had doubts about your career because of your personality? I'd love to hear about how you overcame it or are working through it. Share in the comments! 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article here.

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Linkedin

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of LinkedinOk show of hands. Who here is on Linkedin but doesn’t really get why? Anyone? Bueller?

Today I want to  explore the benefits of this career-focused social network and provide you with a few tips on how to get the most out of it.

Linkedin is a place to establish your credibility in your field. Whether your post-college career is launching in two months or if you’re entering your 4th decade in the workforce, Linkedin can be useful to you. It’s more than an online resume. Linkedin gives you the opportunity to make your accomplishments and expertise readily accessible to people in your network who need it.

So how can you get the most out of Linkedin?

1. Fully optimize your Linkedin profile. That means have a professional headshot as your profile photo, include a header image, give some thought to your headline, include descriptions for each position on your page and sprinkle in keywords. If someone was searching for someone with your expertise and experience which keywords would they be searching for? These are a dead giveaway. They need to be front and center.

2. Publish posts on Linkedin. Linkedin publishing has not been around long. Now is an excellent time to begin publishing content here. You’ll reach an audience who won’t necessarily frequent your blog or other article links you may be posting.

3. Write recommendations for others. You have the option to write a recommendation for every person you have a connection with on Linkedin. Why not take five minutes and write a kind review on someone’s profile who has impressed you or given you excellent customer service? This is an opportunity to add value. And kind words are not quickly forgotten.

4. Include a personal note when you request a connection. If you’re really seeking to invest in a relationship by connecting with someone on Linkedin, what better way than including a brief message in your invitation? What a simple way to begin to build a bridge.

5. Remember that most users do not log on to Linkedin every day. Perhaps you post content more frequently because you are reaching different people on different days. Perhaps this means you use Linkedin as a resource to find further contact information for a connection rather than just sending a message through Linkedin. Draw your own conclusions on how this impacts your use of this social tool. 

Linkedin is a useful tool for professionals who run the gamut. If you’re a stay at home mom who is taking a few years off from your profession, a fully optimized Linkedin profile reminds the world of your expertise and experience. If you’re a freelancer it’s a constant source of clients. If you’re an early career professional looking for an internship, your industry-related post could impress someone who decides you’re worth taking on as an intern or entry-level employee.

Bottom line: Linkedin is a free tool that can help your career today and potentially years down the road. Why not take a few minutes and use it well?

The Connection Between Increased Responsibility and Increased Expectations

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN INCREASED RESPONSIBILITY AND INCREASED EXPECTATIONS
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN INCREASED RESPONSIBILITY AND INCREASED EXPECTATIONS

One of my first assignments for Profile Magazine was to interview the inspiring and no-nonsense Raquel Libman. Raquel is the executive vice president and general counsel for the Miami Heat. Yes--that Miami Heat. In our interview, Raquel shared a few speeches and interviews that really impacted her along the way. I took the liberty of doing the googling for you and included the links. Enjoy!

Raquel Libman's Career Advice

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received? You’ll be happiest and most successful if you learn and work in ways that make the best use of your natural strengths and abilities.

Who do you recommend young female professionals listen to or read? Madeleine Albright. Most recently she was interviewed for a TED Talk—a terrific resource in and of itself—on being a woman and a diplomat. Also, there is a 2007 interview by Laura Liswood, who spoke at the Salzburg Global Seminar, called “Women and Power: Mechanisms to Advance Women’s Leadership,” which is really excellent.

What is one lesson that you share with younger colleagues? Don’t be in too big of a rush to develop professionally, because the higher up the proverbial food chain you move, the harder the job, the greater the pressure, and the higher the expectations. Telling yourself that you are ready to have the buck stop with you is one thing, really being ready is another.

A closing thought from Raquel: "My role within the company is by its very nature the antithesis of ‘front and center,’ and that’s fine with me,” she says. “The truth is that there is a tremendous amount of preparation involved in putting on a game or a show, managing a facility such as the [American Airlines] Arena and everything in between. The trick of it is to make the end product look effortless.”

Libman has worked hard to prove herself in a male-dominated industry and has been rewarded for the great work that she has done.

Do you agree with Raquel's assertion that you'll be happiest and most successful if you make the best use of your natural strengths and abilities? 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article in Profile Magazine.

The Surprising Secret to Standing Out in the Hiring Process

The Secret to Standing Out in the Hiring ProcessLast year I got the chance to sit down with Demand Media's CFO at the time, Mel Tang. (Update: Mel is now the CFO at SpareFoot.) While Demand Media may not be a name you're familiar with, you've probably visited a few of their sites such as eHow.com and LIVESTRONG.com, and you may know their digital artist marketplaces such as Society6.com and SaatchiArt.com, among many others. Demand Media sites have more than 70 million unique worldwide users—more than the populations of California and New York combined. Today I want to share a few of Tang's stellar ideas on what he looks for when hiring talent.

The Surprising Secret to Standing Out in the Hiring Process

“I tend to look for and hire people with the raw talent and who have a passion for overachieving—not necessarily in what they do specifically, but in being helpful in anything,” he noted. “To me, experience and specific skill sets are helpful, but not the primary driver of a hiring decision. This approach requires more upfront training and managerial oversight, but once up to speed, the amount of what you can do with a team like this is truly unlimited.”

“I joke that my objective is to train myself out of a job,” Tang said. “Ultimately, that’s how I think about running our team. You find the right people. You work with them early on, and then let them run on their own. I am there to provide guidance and support, but I try to stay out of the way unless I’m needed. That’s how I like to lead.”

Have you considered that being passionate about going above and beyond no matter the request may be what sets you apart from other candidates with a similar skillset? 

Enjoy the full-length version of this article in Forefront Magazine here.

Why I'm Killing the old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” --William Faulkner

Why I'm Killing the Old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh
Why I'm Killing the Old HSL Creative and Starting Fresh

 I love the promise that comes with the turning of the calendar year. It's an opportunity to change it up, to do it better than last year, to get it right.

For me the turning of this calendar year means that work life is changing.

I’m working with Pursuant, a Dallas-based fundraising agency, in a brand journalist capacity. There will be blog posts and press releases and articles and video interviews and podcasts.

Oh heck yes, podcasts.

So what does that mean for HSL Creative? It means I’m pairing down and getting crystal clear on what I can contribute. This is where 2015’s “less but better” mantra comes in. Rather than supporting clients by writing articles and posts and executing their social media strategy on a daily basis, I’m stepping back and thinking big(ger) picture. The services list on my website currently has three categories and 18 different services. (18!)

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

 I'm focusing on "less but better" this year. This means I want to do less overall but do it a heck of a lot better. This approach means my clients really win. I'm not spreading out my energy in a million directions. I'm focusing on a few things and I'm going to do them as well as humanly possible. What does this mean, practically? It means saying "no" more often (a challenging and uncomfortable thing for me.) It means fewer shows, fewer freelance articles, fewer commitments overall. But the things I say "yes" to will get double (sometimes triple or quadruple or whatever, [you math people,  this probably deserves some sort of equation]) the effort  and focus.

So here's what all of that means for HSL Creative.

what HSL Creative will deliver in 2015

Strategy Consulting: I'll work with clients on brand strategy, social media strategy and help you think outside the box with rut-busting brainstorming sessions. You can rent my brain to create a social media plan for your business, give you feedback and perspective on your branding, or just get help when you're not sure where to go next with your business or career.

Speaking & Teaching: Last week's super successful Blogging for Business workshop, made it crystal clear to me that teaching and coaching are ways I can really help add value for clients. There will be more workshops, opportunities to receive coaching on blogging, social media and business, and guest lecturing, media appearances and other talks.  You can also take my social media, journalism and mass communication courses at SNHU--but maybe, only do that if you're working toward a degree there? Actually, I take that back. Do whatever you want. :-) 

Content & Special Projects: Expect me to up my blogging game this year. That means more free articles that relate directly to you and your marketing needs as well as social media analysis, and posts that center on goal-setting, career and lifehacks.  I'll also be taking on select writing projects ranging from magazine articles to bios and other content created just for the web.

So I'm killing HSL Creative as we know it. Goodbye, old friend. I'm trading old HSL Creative for the new crystal clear HSL Creative. I can help you through consulting, teaching, and writing content that is helpful to you. That's my promise for 2015.

What is your mantra for 2015? Are you revamping your approach to business? I'd love to hear about it!

Hilary is Principal of HSL Creative. If you'd like to learn more about one of the aforementioned opportunities, fill out the form below.

Top 5 Memories of 2014 & HSL Around the Web: December

My Top 5 Memories of 2014
My Top 5 Memories of 2014

Wow, here I sit writing to you on the last day of 2014. What a year it has been! My top 5 highlights of 2014 that come to mind are: performing in Mary Poppins, attending the Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder after-Tony party with Spotco in Rockefeller Center, visiting Charleston for the first time, running the Virginia 4-Miler, and traveling to California in October.

Work has been incredible this year. I worked a lot of hours but I've seen really solid results. HSL Creative has grown and transformed and so have I. While reflecting on 2014 is fun, I'm way more jazzed about looking forward to 2015. This is a big year. I'll be focusing a lot of my efforts on working as a brand journalist with Pursuant, a fundraising agency. My goal with my work with Pursuant is to help the nonprofit clients we serve share their exciting and moving stories, whether it's through a video, a blog post, a magazine article or even a podcast.

My work with HSL Creative will continue in the form of consulting, strategy and workshops. Our first workshop of the year is Blogging for Business at Toolry on January 17. It's $50--a steal--for the knowledge and practical help you'll walk away with.

More on the excitement of 2015 in my next post. For now a look back on all the places I've been published around the web this month. Happy Holidays!!

The HSL Creative Blog
Announcing the HSL Creative Blogging Workshop
Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur
5 Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

The Clutch Guide Blog 6 Tips to Avoid Becoming the Grinch This Christmas

Forefront Blog A Leader's Mentor

Lynchburg Business 9 Secrets to Improving Your Website Content

The Digital Drip Pursuant Gives Back: Repairing Wells Through Global Aid Network
Happy Holidays from Pursuant

And I also launched a side project that brings fairytale and superhero characters to life for children's events and parties in Virginia: Enchanting Entertainment Company. Check it out!

Hilary is an entrepreneur, musical theatre performer, and a brand journalist with Pursuant. Connect with her on Twitter

5 Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

Five Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers
Five Reasons Every Artist Should Have Two Careers

When people find out that I do multiple things (writing, social media, acting) they often sort of shake their heads in bewilderment. I want to take them by both shoulders and say, "you should do more than one thing too!" In lieu of that potentially awkward moment, I'm writing this blog post. Especially for my artist, musician, actor, dreamer friends, I want to encourage you to pursue your craft and consider pursuing something else alongside it. After spending four years as a professional actor, I knew to have the lifestyle I wanted to live and to be inspired and engaged with the work I was doing on a daily basis I would need to pursue a second career. Of course there are the exceptions, but by and large, getting a second skill is only going to improve your life.

Here's why you should have two jobs

1. You don't have to let your dream die. I'm not proposing that you give up the keys to your dream for a life in Office Space. If I'm the first person to tell you this, move in a little closer. Pursuing a second career doesn't mean you're selling out, it means you're opening up more doors for yourself. You don't have to give up the certainty that you'll be making a decent living because you want to be in a band or be an actor. Pursuing a second career gives you the opportunity to pursue your passion without resenting it for making you really, really broke. Pursue a second career so you won't get to that dark place of cursing your career when you can't make rent.

2. You become more marketable. Whether it's a second skill directly tied to your first love (learning how to sew so you can step into the costume, learning how to run sound so you can take over the board if a band needs a sound tech) or one completely different (ie me with journalism and acting), having more than one skill makes you more valuable in the overall marketplace. You never know what open door leads to the next, so simply becoming a more useful worker overall is a very, very good move.

3. It gives you options. You know what the problem is with acquiring only one skill in a tough market? If there's no use for that skill at the moment, then you're out of work--or out of the kind of work that you actually like doing. If the idea of waiting tables between gigs til you're north of 60 sounds kind of awful to you, I urge you to rethink your plan! If you are a passionate, talented person, there's no doubt that other industries would jump at the opportunity to use your talent, passion and heck, charm (cause we know you got it!) for their cause. What about real estate? What about social media? What about yoga? What about entrepreneurship? Draft up a list of things that people have told you you're good at, you feel personally are your strengths and things that you like (*besides* your first love career). Start there.

4. You can make an impact in the lives of more people. If you work across several fields you will be making a greater impact on more people. Not only will "show people" know you but so will marketing people or nonprofit people or real estate people or church people. You get the idea. If you want to do something significant with your life and leave a legacy, consider how you may have an even greater impact if you work in more than one field.

5. When someone says "no" it's not over for you. One of the biggest advantages of having more than one skill is that you're not putting all your eggs in one basket. If that gig that you're really hoping for doesn't pan out it doesn't mean you have to go back to the worst-job-ever. You get to go back to your "in-between-gigs" job that is fulfilling, purposeful and rewarding. Isn't that so much better than going back to your minimum wage job where you're really not using your strengths?

Bottom line: your passion/first love career is your main thing. It's your identifier. But don't let your passion for that career keep you from having a meaningful day to day existence in your work. Reinvention is always acceptable. Adding on a second skill or heck, business, is a good thing! So think about what else sparks your interest, the other things you're good at, and how could you use the skills that you've developed for your art in other marketable ways. Remember, the artists who are at the pinnacle of their careers aren't doing just one thing. Whether they create new companies, (hello Jessica Alba), or invest in startups, or go back and forth between acting and music, your role models aren't just focused on one career. So why should you?

If you found this post interesting or helpful would you do me a solid and share it? 

Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur: 10 things for that person who you fully expect to take over the world one day

Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur
Gift Guide for the Entrepreneur

If you have a hustling, creative, self-starter in your life, my guess is that they would go nuts for any of the following items on this list. Happy Holidays!

1. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Full disclosure: one of my latest podcast obsessions is #AskGaryVee. The main thesis of JJJRH is that though communication is still key, context matters more than ever. It’s not just about developing great content, it's about developing high-quality content that's perfectly created to blend in on specific social media platforms and mobile devices. Anybody who has something to promote online should read this book.

2. Subscription to Audible.com. We're all busy here. Why not get a subscription for that busy person in your life and let them read while they exercise or drive? The Audible subscription includes one audiobook per month. Perfect!

3. Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. This New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller was written by one of my favorite bloggers and podcast hosts, Michael Hyatt. Recently, Forbes magazine named him one of the “Top 10 Online Marketing Experts To Follow In 2014.” In this book Michael unpacks how to let the world know about your incredible message by building a platform that gets you noticed.

4. Premium Skillshare subscriptionSkillshare is an online community where you can take classes from some of the country's leading experts. Topics range from building a logo to starting a business. It is one inspiring place. Plus, Seth Godin even  lectures here.

5. Fast Company. This magazine has gotten my wheels turning about trends in technology and business many a time. Fast Company inspires a new breed of innovative and creative thought leaders who are actively inventing the future of business. When I look through the pages of Fast Company I see role model after role model. This magazine will inspire and challenge your entrepreneur.

6. A photography session. Every aspiring entrepreneur, thought leader or creative needs professional images on his or her website and social profiles. In today's image-focused social landscape, pictures are everything. To say they will enhance your online presence is a gross understatement. (Photographers I've worked with and love: Foster & Asher, Adam Barnes Fine Art Photography, Billy B Photography, Deb Knoske, Ty Hester)

7. The 4-Hour WorkweekThis book has had maybe more of an influence on the way I work than any other book I've read in the last five years. In its pitch the 4-Hour Workweek says Tim Ferris will "teach you how to escape the 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich." Well, I can't say I've quite joined the new rich yet, but Ferris' book is chock full of helpful ideas to help you do more of what matters and less of what gleans you a less valuable pay off. This is a GREAT book.

8. BluehostSo web hosting is not a sexy gift, you say? It IS! I say. Your creative knows he/she needs a self-hosted site to really run with the big dogs and show the world he/she is serious about his/her endeavor. (This very blog is moving to a self-hosted site in January.) Sometimes its hard to make that initial investment. Give them the gift of Bluehost and do it for them.

9. Success MagazineThis subscription was actually not one I sought out for myself; my dad got me a 2-year subscription last Christmas. Oh how I love it. I appreciate that the stories are not dumbed down for the multi-tasking millennial generation. They are long and in-depth. In addition--my favorite part of the magazine--it comes with an audio CD with in-depth interviews based on the focus of the magazine that month. Just last night I was listening to an interview about significance. It has challenged and inspired me on my drives more than once. Well worth it. 

10. Creativity, Inc.  By Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, Creativity, Inc. was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal. This book takes you behind the curtain at one of the most innovative companies of the 20th & 21st centuries. Forbes said it "just might be the best business book ever written.”Listen to Forbes people.  

There you have it! If you read this and see items that you'd love you might ought to reshare it as a helpful hint.

For more posts like this subscribe, follow on Twitter, like on Facebook and double-tap on Instagram
 

Announcing the First HSL Creative Blogging Workshop

HSL Creative Blogging Workshop at Toolry in Lynchburg, VA
HSL Creative Blogging Workshop at Toolry in Lynchburg, VA

I'm so thrilled to announce that I will be leading a workshop at Toolry (the massively inspirational co-working space in downtown Lynchburg) on January 17. This workshop is all about taking the headache out of blogging for your business. If you're a small-business owner, employee, artisan or even an Etsy shop owner, this workshop is for you.

Did you know that websites with a blog receive 55% more traffic than those that don't?

At this workshop you'll learn blogging best practices, how to create an editorial calendar, and you'll leave with a ton of great post ideas. Guaranteed.

This workshop would also make an incredible gift for the creative entrepreneur in your life.

Experiences>Stuff.

Join me {in person} in Lynchburg on January 17! 

6 November Articles You Might Have Missed: HSL Creative Around the Web

HSL Creative Around the Web: November
HSL Creative Around the Web: November

Happy Thanksgiving HSL readers!

November has been an incredible month around here. I (Hilary) got to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina earlier this month. I got to hear from some of the leading digital media and marketing minds in the country. In addition to that, as you can see, I got to write quite a bit! Things have also been progressing with the social media class I teach at SNHU and with the social media work I do with Spotco. I'm writing this today from New York. Over the next few days I'll be seeing several of the shows I work on...On the Town tonight and This is Our Youth on Friday. Very exciting!

Here's where I've been published around the web this month:

Medium Why Two Careers are Better Than One

Levo League What You Can Learn About Setting Goals from Mark Zuckerberg

Forefront Magazine Protecting the Shield By Building Players' Brands

The HSL Creative Blog  How to Write a Blog Post That Actually Gets Read

The Clutch Guide 7 Cool Weather Races to Run in Central Virginia

What has November looked like for you? I'd love to hear the highlights!

On “The Internet of Things” and 10 other actionable items I heard at #ISUM14

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On "the Internet of Things" and 10 Other Actionable Items I Learned at #ISUM14
On "the Internet of Things" and 10 Other Actionable Items I Learned at #ISUM14

Last week I got to attend the Internet Summit in Raleigh, North Carolina where I got two days chock full of the latest in digital strategies, content marketing, social media, SEO, email marketing, and analytics. A week later and my mind is still spinning with all the awesome advice I heard and all the ideas I’m ready to implement. Today I want to share with you ten of the best actionable items I heard.

1. Since Google Authorship went away, use Linkedin publishing for credibility & thought leadership. -Cara Rousseau, Duke University (Tweet that!

2. Find someone like me, tell about how you solved a problem like mine, I’ll trust you. -Chris Moody, Oracle (Tweet that!)

3. Websites that blog receive 55% more traffic than those that don’t. -Matthew Capala, Search Decoder (Tweet that!)

4. You have to be as good on social media as Amazon, Walmart ,etc—that’s where your customers are. -Heidi Cohen (Tweet that!)

5. Instead of making it about you, make it about your audience and your customers and what they care about. -Leigh George, PhD (Tweet that!)

6. 80% of people delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their mobile device. -Jodi Wearn, SilverPop (Tweet that!)

7. Asking for and getting money from customers is the best form of feedback on an idea! -Eric Morrow, Google (Tweet that!)

8. 80% of people who open your email are only scanning it. Capture the big idea of your email with a bold image and strong headline. -Christopher Lester, Emma (Tweet that!)

9. The average consumer unlocks their phone 110 times a day. -Robin Wheeler (Tweet that!)

10. The “Internet of Things” is where technology is going. Every item in your home will be connected to the Internet. Your printer will be able to order its own paper. Your car will drive itself. Autonomous everything. -David Pogue, Yahoo (Tweet that!)

11. “What motivates you to do your best? Being personally excited and motivated internally.” -Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder (Tweet that!)

Guys, this was only a portion of the great information I received last week. I’m so energized to implement this stuff for all of my HSL Creative clients.

Be honest with me—have you heard of “The Internet of Things” before this post?

HSL Around the Web: October in Review

October came and went before I had time to blink! I finished up Little Mermaid, celebrated my mom's birthday with the family for a few days in Florida, celebrated my 2nd wedding anniversary with a trip to California and then celebrated my husband's birthday in Washington D.C. I'm afraid I missed some of Virginia's prettiest leaves but I think all that celebrating was worth it. In the mean time, here are a few pieces I wrote over the last month. Enjoy!

8 Surprising Lessons Running Taught Me About Goal-setting Have you ever worked toward and succeeded at a fitness goal? I'd love to hear your story.

8 Podcasts You Should Listen To This Week Truth be told: I listen to podcasts when I'm running and in the shower. Are you a podcast-aholic too? What are your favorites?

What You Can Learn from Taylor Swift About Killing It on Social Media Did you hear more people bought her record in its first week than any other album since 2002?

I've got some exciting pieces coming down the pipe in the next month so stay tuned!

Keep up with HSL Creative on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

HSL Creative Around the Web: September Roundup

Are you enjoying the subtle chill in the air? I'm not sorry to see September go. October is on the way! And what month is better? It's that time again where I share some places I've been around the web over the past 30 days. HSL Creative turned One! So we had our own little birthday party in the way of a countdown post. If you missed it take a look and enjoy our most popular content over the last year!

I got to celebrate the changing of the seasons over on the Clutch Guide with a fun post that includes eight of my favorite quotes about autumn.

I analyzed how the powers of social media and nostalgia combined to bring back Surge, the sugary soda from the 90s.

I also got to interview Wolfbane Productions' Artistic Director Dustin Williams for the fall issue of Clutch. I had the pleasure of working with Dustin two summers ago on a play called FOXFIRE.

I also wrote several pieces for Forefront Magazine that haven't hit the airwaves yet: an interview with Cracker Barrell's head of HR, Beverly Carmichael, Achievers' General Counsel Lisa Haugh, Mark Stone, CIO of Texas A&M University System, as well as Lynchburg's own Kathy Clay for the winter issue of Clutch.

As always thanks for keeping up with HSL Creative. And remember: your story is begging to be told.