Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional
#81: Growing Your LGBT Business with Kimberly Vaughan [Podcast]

#81 - Growing Your LGBT Business with Kimberly Vaughan [Podcast]

 

Jenn T Grace:              You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 81.

 

Introduction:              Welcome to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast; the podcast dedicated to helping LGBTQ professionals and business owners grow their business and careers through the power of leveraging their LGBTQ identities in their personal brand. You'll learn how to market your products and services both broadly, and within the LGBTQ community. You'll hear from incredible guests who are leveraging the power of their identity for good, as well as those who haven't yet started, and everyone in between. And now your host. She teaches straight people how to market to gay people, and gay people how to market themselves. Your professional lesbian, Jenn - with two N's - T Grace.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Well hello and welcome to the show. For loyal listeners, I'm sure you've noticed that I have rebranded this podcast. So this podcast is now called Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional. So you might be wondering why I decided to do this, so I'm going to share that with you super briefly, and then we're going to get into an interview with Kimberly Vaughan of www.LGBTWeddings.com.

                                    So let me just address real quickly that I was doing some marketing planning of my own, and doing a little bit of research into the listenership of this podcast, and trying to figure out who's really listening to the show, and what they're really looking for. And in doing so I realized that a strong majority of listeners are part of the LGBT community, and in thinking about where my business has been coming from, I've got a handful of pretty large corporate type of contracts as of late, and asking them- they've never heard of my show, they aren't really listening to anything in iTunes, they're not really podcast listeners. It occurred to me that I'm going to change the focus of this podcast to really just focus on the LGBTQ professional, or the LGBTQ entrepreneur; people who are part of the community who are growing their careers, growing their professions, growing their brands, growing their businesses, and really just make that my focus. So starting today in episode 81, that's my new focus.

                                    Now don't get me wrong, if you go back and listen to the overwhelming majority of the 81 podcasts, or the 80 podcasts I've already done, you will note that I talk about marketing and branding as it relates to being an LGBT person. So I've already basically been doing this, and it's kind of evolved into having been doing this probably since maybe the mid-60's episodes. So going on probably a good twenty episodes, I've really already been doing this. So it was really just a matter of finally putting the flag in the sand and just changing the name of the show to truly reflect you, the listener, and really kind of amplify the whole idea of personal branding.

                                    Personal branding to me is such a critical thing to be doing as an LGBT person, because being LGBT is such a benefit. And I know that some of you listening to this might not necessarily feel like it's a benefit right now, but I can assure you that it's totally a benefit. So with that being said, I'll probably be introducing more things around personal branding as we go through, but I did just want to make note the fact that I did change the name, so you're not listening to this thinking, 'What the hell? This is so not what I was expecting.' I just want to make sure that you knew that.

                                    So now that that's out of the way, today I have an episode for you with a person who's been in the wedding industry for a long time who is a wealth of knowledge around LGBT in the wedding industry, and she's the founder and creator of www.LGBTWeddings.com which is a huge resource for businesses within the LGBT community, but then also businesses that are not part of the community who are looking to serve LGBT couples in a better fashion. So without further ado, I'm just going to dive right into the interview today with Kimberly Vaughan.

                                    So I am really excited to have you on the show today. So for those listening, we're talking with Kimberly Vaughan of www.LGBTWeddings.com. And I told Kimberly before we hit record that she can shamelessly plug www.LGBTWeddings.com at the end of the episode. But to start us off, I'd love to hear a little bit about your background, and I guess how the LGBT community comes to play in what you're doing right now.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Good morning, Jenn. Thanks for having me.

 

Jenn T Grace:              You're welcome.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    So let's see. I've been in the wedding industry for about fifteen years now on the west coast, and the past ten years I've been producing consumer trade events, wedding expos, we operate the international wedding festivals here on the west coast. It's a very vivacious, fun, exciting place to plan a wedding. And unlike other bridal shows, or wedding expos, I think that we bring a lot of entertainment value, we have a lot of information planning their event. So it's a little bit different. I also work with a lot of wedding professionals helping them fine tune their marketing, and create marketing partnership opportunities for them. And that's my entire background has been HR, marketing, and events planning.

 

Jenn T Grace:              And you say it in such a succinct way that no one would realize the length of time that you've been doing this.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    It has been a lengthy, long time, and here on the west coast, the wedding industry- it's got the same ups and downs as the entire LGBT community as we were battling Prop 8. So we had a lot of time to prepare, and then no, and then prepare, and then no. So it's always been part of our industry culture here, as well as our community culture here, preparing for equality. And we were so excited when it finally happened for everyone across the board, but it also gave a great opportunity for the businesses who were preparing to really put into action the things that we've been talking about for so long, and we're finally able to let it roll, and get cracking.

 

Jenn T Grace:              So how did you decide that www.LGBTWeddings.com and what your company does, because you're more than just a .com website. How did you decide that this is something that you felt you had to tackle?

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    A lot of it had to do with communicating with the wedding industry, and a lot of the companies and players, mostly the smaller base businesses, as well as larger base businesses expos, they had a lot of questions. Going through the motions back and forth, the questions had much to do with how do we refer to couples? How do we refer to the wedding party? What's okay to say? What's not okay to say? What do we need to know? For 85% of the wedding industry, they're straight-owned businesses. And so clearly there was a disconnect of how do we provide services to the LGBT community, and really shine with our services? We've got florists who've got twenty years plus experience who have no idea how to service the community. And the media made it frightening I think for a lot of straight-owned businesses to want to provide services. They were concerned that they were going to get sued if they said the wrong things, and it really scared, frightened business owners. So I think the more that we start to see silly things that are being said by a lot of business owners, it's been more so a lot of concern. I felt that it was time to put together a program that would help develop their skills, and help build their confidence. If anything for the community to have more choice for everyone to connect. I mean what we're after- we're after a wedding of the wedding of the wedding in many respects, and the only way that we're going to achieve that is through education. So what started out as like a bridge between industry to community led into www.LGBTWeddings.com, it just kind of grew. We really wanted to have support services for the community that would have online tools, and articles, and how-to's, and seminars, and all kinds of fun things; education on both ends. So that's really what started it, and I think that for the 85% of the straight-owned businesses, they're probably going to find more information that is unknown to them than LGBT-owned business. But I also think that LGBT-owned businesses would find good information in there as well in terms of marketing. We all need to strengthen our marketing, things change, technology has changed, and so it's always good to stay abreast of those things.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Interesting. So now how would you say you're differentiating those two audiences? Because I know for me I also have kind of the straight audience, and I have the LGBT audience. So how are you finding that balance I guess on your website and in the marketing to those different and distinct different audiences, but at the same time there's so much overlap between them.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Absolutely and I think that for LGBT business owners, it's almost like they're going, "What do I need to know, really? We know our community, we know our craft, so what do we really need to know?" For other business owners it's like they wonder why. That truly is the differentiation. I think that for LGBT business owners, this is an opportunity for them to really shine, and they know their craft and they know their community, so this is a great opportunity for these business owners to really put their best foot forward. I think that through education, and through inclusion by gay-owned businesses to straight-owned businesses, inclusionary practices, we're going to find the love so to speak. We're going to have a more inclusive industry if that makes sense.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Absolutely. And have you found that any LGBT people have reached out to you and say something like, "Wow I wouldn't have known that." Like something that you feel like it would have been obvious that they would know, but yet you're even educating within the community.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    So yes, actually- and for a few business owners that have called me to say, "You know what, actually I did learn something that I didn't know, and a lot of it had to do with providing services to transgender individuals." So for the transgender community, there were just some other things to think about. I know one of the bridal gown owners, one of the sections in the certification talks about accommodating transgender clients for fittings, and things like this. And just kind of giving the POV I think really helped this particular owner, and she was eternally grateful, and I think it's changed her business and her point of view.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Awesome, that's really exciting. Can you share I guess maybe some of the highlights of what your training covers? Because I know that there's so much overlap in terms of the type of information that you're providing and a lot of the stuff that I talk about, too.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Yeah Jenn, and I love your work.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Thank you.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    I love everything that you talk about in terms of marketing, and the community, and I think you recall the first time that we talked it was like talking to a rockstar for me. So thank you for having me here today. There is a lot of overlap, I mean we all know that marketing is a key part of our business, and our business would not flourish without it. So a lot of the marketing focus for the community is going to overlap and be the same. However, part of our certification has to do with trends that we're seeing in our industry specifically, wedding trends and new traditions. The great thing about what's happening in our country with equality for our industry, for the wedding industry, is that there are new tends and traditions being created while we're talking here today. So we all know that the LGBT community is vivacious and very experiential in terms of wanting to reflect our lives, and our experiences through meaningful ceremonies. So for the industry, we're watching this unfold right before our very eyes. Two aisles, for example. Two aisles coined by the LGBT community. There were no two aisles prior to LGBT weddings. So same sex marriage brought that to the industry. There are a lot of other things, a lot of other little traditions and ceremonial traditions that are coming into play that we're able to share with business owners. And each year I think the plan is, is that through re-certification we're going to share what we're seeing in the industry with these weddings. So that's the difference that I think most people might experience.

 

Jenn T Grace:              So can you talk a little bit about the coined phrase the two aisles? For somebody who's not part of the- I guess wedding industry, what that would actually mean?

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    So I love this part. Weddings have a lot of old historical ceremonies and you kind of go, "Now why did the bride stand to the left of the father giving her away?" And that had to do with way back in the day, you wanted to have the man's right arm free to grab his sword to protect the bride because usually marriages had to do with merging two clans together to stop the war.

 

Jenn T Grace:              That's interesting.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Who knew?

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah, seriously.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    That's why you have the bride's side and the groom's side, was keep the clans separated long enough to get to the honeymoon so that the war would end and peace would begin. So things like that really started the one aisle to separate the two clans. Well to modern day, we don't have fighting war and clans coming together, and we would like to think that the people who are coming to our ceremony, they're coming there out of a place of love for us, uniting as one, and helping us celebrate the love that we've found for an eternity. And now two brides, or two grooms, a couple will enter in on two equal sides and meet in the middle which I think is so beautiful. Why it wasn't done a hundred years ago, I'll never know, but it's here now and I love it.

 

Jenn T Grace:              I would not have- I don't know what I thought that that meant prior to you explaining it, but that makes perfect sense. So I had the pleasure of being on a panel this weekend that you and I set up at the very last possible minute for the New York LGBT expo. And one of the things that we talked about on the panel was wedding trends as it relates to the LGBT community, and you just talked about wedding trends a little bit yourself. What would you say that you're seeing- because it was interesting, because I'm not a wedding expert, I'm more of the marketing, and I can help any business with their marketing who's looking to reach the LGBT community. But some of the things that I was hearing on the panel, I'm like, 'Wow this is really interesting.' I would love to- instead of me regurgitating that information to my audience, it makes more sense to have the expert, yourself share maybe a couple of the trends that you're seeing currently with- in regards to maybe a lesbian- what the lesbian wedding trends are versus the gay wedding trends, or even transgender. Like what are you seeing right now? Because as we're recording this we're in March of 2016 and I'm sure the trends will be even drastically different six months from now even. I don't know, I'm not sure how fast the wedding industry moves.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Absolutely, and most businesses in the wedding industry follow these trends season after season. We know when the Great Gatsby movie came out, boy we saw that in weddings. There was a period where every wedding had this espresso brown, and either pink or aqua, and after a while you kind of get sick of the colors because you see them at all the weddings. So these are trends that us in the wedding industry are used to, they're defined by movies, they're defined by fashion. The Tiffany blue was so huge in the nineties. So it changes, definitely, for sure. And that's true specifically to the LGBT community. When the ruling happened in each state, state by state, as soon as marriage equality became legal, there were a lot of rainbow weddings, we saw that to be true. We saw a lot of smaller, more intimate weddings, we're just going to get through this. And we all know a lot of this had to do with celebration, yes of course. But legalities, and let's get this done as quickly as possible, especially here in California because we were going back and forth with Prop 8, and it just seemed like everyone was running out before it could be taken away. So we saw a lot of quickie weddings, a lot of quickie planning, a lot of small, intimate events. And now it just seems like people are spending a little bit more time planning, everyone's kind of moved away from the rainbow wedding theme, and are moving more towards what's trending in the industry a little bit. There's always going to be a level of individualistic planning, we all want to have our own signature on our event, and at the end of the day- I'd just like to share this, and I know everyone in the wedding industry agrees, this is about two people. This is about two people expressing their love for each other, and it's about two individual people coming together and expressing their love. So we've seen everything under the sun. I just received a wedding story from a couple down in Dallas, two ladies, and one of them is a huge horror story buff. Absolutely loves horror films. So her cake had horror figurines on top of it.

 

Jenn T Grace:              That's funny.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    That's not indicative of a trend that's going on, it certainly expresses to everyone that it's okay to let your individuality shine in your ceremony. So that's what we want to see in the wedding industry. And I think most professionals really want to pull that personal experience into the event. There is no right or wrong. There is no you should follow champagne fabrics when champagne is trending. While it's very gorgeous and fluid for many people, that's just not the expression of that individual couple. So those are some of the things that we're seeing. I think that the size of the wedding- for wedding businesses who are listening, when equality first went national last June, the average number was about 85 in terms of guests. And now we're seeing that number increase. So I think that now that kind of the fear of reversal is gone, people are looking at like, 'Okay maybe we did just get married real fast, we want to plan a wedding now.' And so we're seeing people extend their planning out nine months, a year, and putting more emphasis and thought into the nuances of the day.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Interesting. So are you finding that LGBT couples generally are more open to having weddings that are more individualized to them? So rather than them following just straight up mainstream trends?

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    I do see that, and I think that that has to do with- straight couples, brides especially have grown up playing with the Barbie dolls thinking about their wedding, knowing that there's a 90% chance that they're going to get married, and what is that going to look like. And I also think that there are more traditional pressures in terms of, 'I want it to be perfect for my family.' Not that gay couples do not feel that way, but certainly the traditional pressures of carrying on traditions, wedding traditions. 'My father is going to walk me down the aisle, we're going to go down one aisle, I'm going to wear a white dress, my flowers are going to look like this, we're going to use this minister, bride's side on the left, groom's side on the right.' I think that straight couples still think they have to carry on these traditions, and a lot of times I don't know that couples really know what those traditions represent, just like we were talking about why the bride walks on the left hand side. I mean does anyone really sit there and go, "Oh because my dad needs to grab his sword."

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    I think that in terms of same sex couples, that is kind of removed. That pressure of following traditions is certainly removed, and I feel like there's so much joy around just being able to marry, that all of those pressures are taken away happily, and replaced with much more celebration. So I think that couples are like, 'This is our day.' Not that there isn't meaning for straight couples, but it's just got more universal meaning and equality meaning for couples. And they just want to celebrate and express, and I love it. We're enjoying all of the trends, and the vows. Boy if you're not at one of these events and bawling your eyes out because you can feel real love at these events, you're not human, I'm sorry. Your heart is black. Not to say that straight weddings aren't beautiful, but there's just a different level of expression of love going on in same-sex couples that I don't think could be duplicated anywhere. So if these businesses are pro equality, you really feel like you're a part of something incredible, and I think that that's something that I wish for all wedding professionals. Even the ones that aren't pro, even if they're just coming to witness and not work at the wedding because I think it might change their hearts and minds. I did want to tell you that some of the negative responses to equality in our industry, I don't think that it all comes from personal belief. I think much of it comes from- I'm going to get heavy hitting here, Jenn.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Hit me.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    I think a lot of it actually comes from fear because they don't know how to service the community. I think a lot of it has to do with media, and when you don't know something, you're afraid of it. And when you don't know how to respond to something, or be a part of something, you're afraid of it. And so I think that sometimes when couples are going through the screening process of finding a photographer, or a venue, and they get an uncomfortable response on the other end, I don't know that the person on the other end really has taken a lot of time to have personal thought about it. We all see the responses from people who have fanatical personal beliefs that are against equality, but I think the larger part of negative responders have more to do with, 'I don't know what I feel about this. So I'm going to reach for this first.' And I think that that's where the education comes in and really helps them guide their feelings, and look at it, address it. So I think that if more businesses are invited to participate, obviously friendly businesses that are interested in participating because nobody wants that negative nilly at their event, I think that it's going to change so many hearts and minds because you cannot escape the love. You just can't. You can't help but feel it.

 

Jenn T Grace:              So somebody was on this podcast awhile back, Michele Wierzgac, I don't remember exactly what episode she was, but it was probably in the sixties. And she was sharing how she came to New Haven, Connecticut, which is not far from where I am, from Chicago to get married. And she was talking about what a good experience it was, and how where the reception itself was, was great, and she had good hospitality. But she had made a reference to a limo driver making some kind of comment about where the husband is when the two of them got into the limo on the way over to where they were getting married. And how that put just kind of such a damper on the day.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    And I'm sorry that she had that experience, and there's no excusing professionals from knowing their craft, knowing their client, and being better professionals than they are. We all want to grow, we all want to evolve, we all want to be better and provide the best possible service for our clients, that should be everyone's benchmark. And I also do seminars with couples and helping same sex couples to go through the planning process; let's talk about vendor selection, let's talk about budget, let's talk about timeline, and checklist, and things like that because if you haven't done this, and this is true for every couple, you don't necessarily know where to begin. But every couple isn't having the same challenges of the screening process and finding people who are accepting of their love, who are excited about their marriage, who are excited about providing services on their day. I mean that's just not the truth for every couple. So part of what I'm doing when I'm working with couples is talking with them about how to manage and handle and identify great providers. Certainly utilizing services who are doing screening, that's great, but also understanding that for many of these providers, they may not be trying to be offensive. They may just be so used to saying the same things for the past fifteen or twenty years that they've been a limo driver, or a florist. They're presuming to know their clients, and to ask appropriate questions for their craft, and by saying the same things for the past twenty years, it just comes out. So sometimes when I'm talking to couples it's you may have a wonderful, terrific, fabulous florist with all this great experience, and you've looked at the options, and they're fabulous, and you get halfway through the service and they say something like, "So is your groom coming to the next meeting?" Without even thinking, it's just something that they've been saying for twenty years. So we try to one, educate the wedding professionals on what to say, what not to say, and how to get out of these assumptions, and out of the ritual of what they've been doing for twenty years, and be excited, and re-formulate their questions with gender neutrality in mind. You know, some people just fall back. And so what I'm asking couples to do also is to just not always be on the defense, and instead correct. It's okay to say, "You mean my wife?" It's okay, and maybe not let a silly comment that may not have been intended in a negative way ruin your day. You know wedding days are really joyful but they're also very stressful for couples. There's a lot of emotion going on, and that's true for everyone. There's a lot of anticipation of having the perfect day; people strive for that, they want that, they want everything to go off without a hitch. And so sometimes getting a negative comment, even from our family and friends who know us, and adore us, and love us, in these situations they say the wrong things. And that's going to be true for everyone. I always just tell couples try to rise above some of the things that you think are important at the time, because at the end of the day it's the two of you expressing your love together that is the real important key element of your wedding day, and so let this other stuff roll off your back. There's always going to be an aunt or someone who says something stupid. A little bit too much wine, and they regret it, they know it, so just let it go.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah I get you.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Focus on what's important.

 

Jenn T Grace:              So as a wedding planner, is that part of their jobs to help educate any ancillary service that's going to be needed? So it's obvious that you'd want to prep the florist who has a big part of the day, or prepping the Justice of the Peace for example. But in terms of like a limo driver, which is obviously a big part of the day, but it's really kind of a small part in the grand scheme of things. Is there somebody that's kind of trying to pre-educate to avoid those types of faux pas?

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Absolutely.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Okay.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Absolutely. So if couples are utilizing wedding planners, and that's a wonderful service. So wedding planners can do the screening for you, they can help you with your timeline, your budget, take your vision and really kind of mold it into your budget, and figure out what's the best course of action to go into. A really, really wonderful profession and underutilized I think in our industry by couples. Most of the time couples think that they can't afford one because every time you see a wedding planner in the movies or on TV, it's for these big elaborate events, and so people have the mindset that wedding planners are only for the rich, and only for high dollar events, and that's just not true. So that's a whole other conversation but that is definitely not true. Your average wedding can accommodate in the budget to have a great wedding planner. So I highly recommend them. And wedding planners should be the person that is doing screening, that is helping to educate providers. Typically wedding planners have a circle of providers that they call upon all the time, and refer because they believe in their work, because they know that they're going to show up on time, provide a great service, communicate well with their couples, those kinds of things. So that should be that person's role, and sometimes when you're working with a planner who's doing day services and they have not been part of the selection process, they're just there to kind of tighten everything up, and make sure everything runs smoothly so that a couple can focus on each other, and their family, and not on little dumb details like- not dumb, but you know what I mean. When's the cake going to be here, when are the flowers arriving, where's the minister, things like that. Those are the things you don't want to think about on your wedding day, you want to leave that to professionals. So sometimes you're just hiring a planner for day of services, and they haven't been part of your screening process, so they don't know. But you hope that they're having a conversation prior to- day services typically start ten days to two weeks prior to a wedding, so you hope that they're picking up the phone and going over these things. But if you've got the wrong hire, and the wedding planner realizes that you've got the wrong hire, it might be too late, and you might just have to make the best of it and run with that person, and really hope that your planner is tightening things up.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah, that makes sense. Do you think that there is any benefit that you as someone part of the LGBT community may gain versus someone who's not for doing the same type of role for a client? In terms of I guess-

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    So this is a really great opportunity for LGBT owners to put their best foot forward. You understand your client base, you understand maybe some different ways to express ceremonial wow so to speak in these weddings. And sometimes that's half the battle, especially in terms of marketing and reaching the community. Well you know how to reach the community, you have a good idea of how to network within the community, it's a very tightknit community. So what we're finding though also is just as- and any wedding owner whether you're straight or gay knows this. Marketing within the wedding industry is niche marketing. There's a way to go about it, and there's a way not to go about it. So whether you're gay or straight-owned, you have to understand your marketing inside of the community. That's a must. But I think that the advantage that LGBT-owned businesses would have here, is that you already understand your client base. Straight-owned businesses are really struggling in understanding how to accommodate the community because of media hype, because of their own fears, because they just haven't had the opportunity yet, and many of them want that opportunity. So I think it's a good way, especially if you are gay-owned businesses, to put that on your website, market that, promote it. I think it's a really good idea.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Would you guess that LGBT people might be more comfortable doing business in regards to their wedding with other LGBT people who are service providers?

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    I do think that there's probably a preference; we all know, we see it all the time, there's certainly a preference to work with LGBT-owned businesses because of the feeling of comfort and understanding of needs. There's a couple that we're working with down in Texas, they're actually getting married on the 20th next Saturday right after the LGBT Wedding Party and Expo. So they're getting married in Dallas, they don't live in Dallas, they live in a very rural area in Texas and they were having a very hard time finding a venue that they felt comfortable at, that was welcoming. So they were very excited to have this opportunity for them. It's happening, it's happening all over the place. There aren't always gay or straight-owned businesses that are rolling out the welcome mat for couples. And it's the sad truth that the community is experiencing. So would a couple prefer? Probably. That could very well be, but there are also in many other providers who are straight-owned that can do a fabulous job and might match their vision of what they're trying to achieve, or might be available on the day of their wedding. There's only so many Saturdays in a year, and there are only so many providers, and there's not one LGBT-owned, gay-owned florist in any city who can accommodate every Saturday for every wedding. So having that diversity is going to be- it's needed, it's wanted, I think everyone feels that we all want to see inclusion across the board.

 

Jenn T Grace:              And so if there's somebody listening to this, because as you were talking I was thinking about the media hype, and how things get blown so out of proportion whether it's in our favor or against us, it doesn't matter, it's just everything is to an extreme, it's not helpful. So in thinking about the bakery who refused to bake the wedding cake for an LGBT couple. Like yes, so there's a piece of that, and I feel like I'm very pragmatic and I always look at things from both sides of the situation, and to me if someone doesn't want to bake me a damn wedding cake, there are 1,000 others that will bake the cake. I don't need to throw a shitfit about this particular vendor not wanting to do business with me. So there are people who have that train of thought, and then of course there are people in the community that have a completely different thought of like, 'I want you to make my cake, you're going to make my cake.' So there's extremes again. Now in terms of an ally listening to this, because I do have an ally audience as well, if there's one thing that you could say to them that might get them to feel more comfortable? So maybe there's somebody who has some kind of service that they could work with the LGBT community, not even necessarily weddings. What would you tell them? Like if there was just that one little nugget of wisdom that you think might help them take that first step in saying, 'I feel comfortable enough to try this. It doesn't mean I'm going to do it right the first time, but I'm going to try it.' Is there something that you can think of that might make that a little more digestible?

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Well a couple things popped into my mind. One is for couples, if there's someone that you're just not feeling it, this is your wedding day. This is not a time for politics, this is not a time for social justice, that is not the expression that you want on your wedding day. Your wedding day is personal, it's about the love that you share with your partner, and that should be the reflection. So if you've got someone who is gruff on the phone, making comments, I mean this really just is not the time and place to push the equality button and push for the rights. I really feel like there are plenty of other instances in life that could support that, there's certainly opportunities every single day, but I kind of feel like weddings should have a special no pressure zone of just let's not push the equality button. I just want people to focus on the love really. And nobody wants somebody at their wedding that's going to provide bad services, or if it's a pro, it's like a no-fly zone for crappy people. We just don't want them at these weddings. So I think that for businesses who really want to be a participatory business for couples, I think just being honest and expressing your experience and your intention. So we have a lot of businesses who want to provide services, who don't necessarily know how, and it's okay to say, "Your my first same-sex couple, and I'm really excited about your wedding, and I don't know that I know all the right things to say. So I know how to make a great cake, and I know that I can take your vision and put that into the best cake that I can possibly give you, and I'm excited, and honored that you've selected me. So thank you for that. If I do something wrong, kick me under the table, correct me, help me be a better professional." That's what we're asking of couples as well as providers.

 

Jenn T Grace:              I feel like at least in my experience, and I think that you do bring up a good point that your wedding day probably isn't the day to take some kind of activist road, and cause chaos that may or may not be necessary. I know for our wedding, and I was actually thinking when you were talking earlier about the benefit of having a wedding planner, and we did not have one, and I don't know why we chose not to. I don't think it was a conscious decision to do or not to do it. And I was thinking about all of the logistical stress that since I run events I'm like, "Oh doing my wedding just might be just the same as any other event," and obviously that is not true. And I managed to pull it off because I knew enough people who were already active in the LGBT community, whether they were allies or actual LGBT vendors, which I tried to get as many as I could, and we even had the Lieutenant Governor of our state, who's still the Lieutenant Governor, marry us because she has a sister who's a lesbian and it was just kind of a passion for her to be able to marry- like we were her first lesbian couple to get married, which I think is so fun. And so I was thinking like I am stressed out about the fact that the frickin Lieutenant Governor is here, and I need to be like trying to like keep my shit together. So I feel like I was totally-

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    It felt perfect, and everything's perfect.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah, I was like kind of all over the place.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    No pressure.

 

Jenn T Grace:              No, not at all. My wife on the other hand who is a saint in many regards, she was just very calm, cool, collected, like 'just chill, come on, just relax.' Her dress was like falling off of her back because something got sewn wrong, and yet she was still like, "It's fine." She was so passive about the whole thing. But I know for us, we didn't take a political tact necessarily, but we did make sure that we- of course having a politician officiating, that clearly adds a political element. But having all these LGBT vendors, and then having the allies who are properly in the know, I feel like it worked out really well. But that was a very conscious and deliberate, and it took awhile. So I can totally see how if something at our wedding had kind of gone off script if you will, I probably would have been- I feel like I would love to say that I wouldn't have gone down like some kind of activist road, but I feel like I may have gone down that road because you're so wound up when you're getting married. Like it is what it is. So I think generally most LGBT people aren't necessarily wanting to go from zero to sixty, from being just this calm rational person to irrational and an activist without something kind of happening in between to push them there. So do you think that that's- and I'm trying to figure out the question.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    I don't think that people are setting out- I just think that if you're facing- during the selection process, if you're facing some push, move on, these are not the right people for you. These are not the people that you want on your wedding day. You want to feel supported, you want to feel the love, you want to feel- even if it's due to the proprietor, I mean we can all sense it when we've got someone who's embracing us. That's what we want on our wedding day. We want to feel supported, and loved, and that that provider is there to make our day as beautiful as they possibly can within their abilities. And it's deserving, and it's the way things should be. So all I'm saying is if during the process you're feeling some pushback, like it's just not the time to pick it up and turn it into a legal issue. Like just move on. I'm not saying let people trample right, I'm not saying let people treat you like dogs or anything bad, I'm just saying that it's probably just not the time or place to pick up a fight. You've got a wedding to plan.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah you don't have time for that.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    You've got celebration in your midst, and it's time to really grasp onto that and not let anybody rain on the parade. So move on.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah I know for us the only hiccup we had was filling out our marriage license. So we got married in 2011, and marriage was legal in 2008 in Connecticut, and the marriage license paperwork was still not up to speed, so I had to do some crossing out on that, put two brides. But that was like I feel like it is unreasonable for me to think that in a matter of- and while yes, it was three years, I feel like maybe it could have moved a little faster, to think that everything's going to be up to par and immediately, like overnight in terms of LGBT equality. And I think most people, most LGBT people understand that and realize that it's going to take some time. So I think that if people are thinking about doing business with the community broadly, or if they're thinking specifically about weddings, I think most LGBT people are coming from a place of recognizing that they don't expect that vendor to be perfect. And if they make a mistake, if that vendor kind of owns the mistake saying like, "Oh I'm sorry I said groom, or said bride," I think it's a completely two way open dialogue between the LGBT person and the vendor, because most of them are not out there to criticize and chastise, I think it's just what the media makes it look like, it's not really the reality.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Exactly, and I agree with you, and I think that those are things that we discuss when we're talking with, and working with companies, businesses, is let's just fine tune and go down through your forms, let's talk about gender neutrality on your website, let's talk about it in your forms. It's really important that if your intention is to provide services to the community that you are really demonstrating that; that you have taken thoughtful preparation, that you're rolling out the red carpet, that people feel welcomed, and accommodated and loved. So that's certainly a place where businesses can express their understanding, or at least their desire to understand the community. And it's funny because in many ways I feel like a lot of the businesses have been a little bit more proactive, and they don't want to be anti-government than maybe some of the forms that we're seeing at the state and local levels. And it's like guys, come on. I get that you've got probably 50,000 of these forms already printed, and it's going to require you to reprint all this stuff, but it is what it is. Time to get the printer going.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah I feel like-

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    For some of the smaller businesses it's probably an easier task than for the large government entities to revamp every form under their umbrella. So all of this is going to take time, and I think we all had hoped that it would move along a lot faster, and that it would have been enveloped a lot faster, but this is not easy stuff. It was long overdue, as much as the community would have liked that everyone prepared beforehand, it didn't happen, and in many respects the world is scrambling to be to par. And I like the process. The process means we get to take an opportunity to educate, to train, to understand the community. I think it's really an opportunity, and not- it's frustrating but this is an opportunity for more people to understand the community, and see the beauty. It's all good stuff.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah I'm in complete agreement, and I don't want to quote the right wing necessarily, but we have changed the institution of marriage. Like we can't expect because it was legalized last year that suddenly hundreds of years of what marriage was thought to be is just going to change overnight. So we do need to be I think a little more realistic about how long things take.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    And let's embrace the process, because this is going to change and evolve for many, many years to come. I mean this is just like a starting point, and we in the wedding industry just as we see trends change by season, whether it's the colors of weddings, or symbolism; we have a whole new culture and community contributing to how weddings are going to look going forward. And that is extremely exciting for wedding professionals, I mean everyone is just kind of like, "Oh my goodness, what's going to happen this season?" It's exciting for everyone to watch all the symbolism and the changes in trends. We're all on bated breath trying to see where this new direction is going to head into design wise, aesthetically speaking and symbolically speaking.

 

Jenn T Grace:              Yeah, definitely. Well we're already pretty much at the end of our time. It went by so fast, but I want you to share how people can find you, how they can find more information about LGBT weddings, and just kind of hit them with all the information to get in touch with you.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    So you can find us at www.LGBTWeddings.com, that's our URL. You are welcome to call our 800-number. 844-899-LOVE, and we've got a lot of seminars developing for wedding industry businesses to learn about the current trends, how to express gender neutrality, and change their forms, and change how they approach their business for the community, and how to market to the community, and at the end of the certification process there's this free badge, and the badge I think is a good way to express to the community that you know what? I'm doing due diligence, I'm learning how to address my marketing, I'm learning how to address the community, and that you've got a provider who's really trying to be a great performer for you. So look for the badge of course, and we're also developing some online seminars for couples to go through the planning process just like you and your wife had experienced, there's now some online planning tools specifically for the community; bride/bride, groom/groom, bride/groom, bride/groom. So we've got some great tools like seating charts, and timeline, and checklist, and budget list, and things like that that will help couples through the planning process. So we're doing good stuff, and I'm really excited about where the world is taking us. We got to experience that at the expo last weekend, and we did a workshop with couples, we did a workshop with businesses. Jenn, you and I shared Kimberly [Inaudible 00:50:33], you had Kimberly [Inaudible 00:50:35] on stage, you had Stacy at Foxwoods, you had-

 

Jenn T Grace:              Louise.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Louise at Cafe Louise. And these were all great contributors in our industry that are providing services within the community. So that was really wonderful. So we're trying to incorporate programs like that across the nation to really be the bridge between industry and community. So We love to hear from wedding providers, we love to hear what trends are being seen in the area because we all know the east coast trends and traditions are very different from the west coast, and the south, and so these are the exciting things that we're looking at on an industry level, and it's going to be true within the community whether it's by location, time of year, we're going to see a lot of seasonal changes. So we love hearing from wedding professionals what they're seeing, and we love receiving stories from couples, and sharing those online as well. So we've got our real weddings where couples can go on there, see what other couples are doing, see what's trending, what's happening, and I think it's a fabulous site with a lot of educational value as well as a lot of- for both couples and for businesses. So it's a fun place, and wedding planning is a joyful process. It's supposed to be a contingency, and so taking all of the politics out of everything and focusing on having fun with the planning process. That's what www.LGBTWeddings.com is a site that's all about, and really helping everyone to have the tools that they need whether they're a business or a couple in the planning act.

 

Jenn T Grace:              I love it. It's an all-around fantastic resource. So thank you again Kimberly, I'm so happy that you were on, and I know that we will continue to stay in touch.

 

Kimberly Vaughan:    Thank you Jenn, thanks for having me today. Everybody have a great day!

 

Jenn T Grace:              Thank you for listening to today's podcast. If there are any links from today's show that you are interested in finding, save yourself a step and head on over to www.JennTGrace.com/thepodcast. And there you will find a backlog of all of the past podcast episodes including transcripts, links to articles, reviews, books, you name it. It is all there on the website for your convenience. Additionally if you would like to get in touch with me for any reason, you can head on over to the website and click the contact form, send me a message, you can find me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter all at JennTGrace. And as always I really appreciate you as a listener, and I highly encourage you to reach out to me whenever you can. Have a great one, and I will talk to you in the next episode.

 

Direct download: Epi81-Growing-LGBT-Business-with-Kimberly-Vaughan.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:05am EST

#80: Fast Track to Business Growth with Michael Mapes

Episode 80 - Fast Track to Business Growth with Michael Mapes

Jenn T Grace:              So we are talking today with Michael Mapes, and I'm just going to go straight into having you kind of talk about what you do and what your background is, and then that will be clear as to why you are a guest on today's show.

 

Michael Mapes:           Thank you so much for having me, I'm really thrilled to be here. And I was so excited when I came across your show in the podcast app, and I wanted to write you right away to say, "Oh you have to have me on," but I didn't. I actually listened, and absorbed, and I was so impressed by what you have so I'm thrilled to be here. I've actually been in business for myself since I was 19, so about twelve years now, which seems like a really long time. And I'm in a much different business now that I was in the beginning. I was very drawn to entrepreneurship for personal reasons. I experienced something of a personal tragedy in my life, and that really shifted my direction. In the beginning when I started, I was very focused on the intuitive and the spiritual side of things, really working with people one to one, helping them with their intuition, working with them on becoming more spiritual, becoming more connected. And I was kind of part time in my business, finishing up college, and really deciding which direction I wanted to go. After I finished college I found myself in a really depressing situation. I found myself graduating at the height of the economic recession, and I didn't really have a plan. I just sort of thought my business would take off, I was good at what I did, I cared a lot, I wasn't lazy, I was ambitious, I worked hard. And I actually found myself living in my mom's basement, for a month I had no job, and then when I got a job it was actually $8.00 an hour telemarketing job selling postage meters to Canadians. I was actually so bad at the job I almost got fired, and the only reason I didn't is because they moved me to some customer service sort of department, and it was just really a low point for me. I didn't own a car, I didn't answer my phone because the only people who called me were creditors, and while I did amazing work with the clients that I did have, it was nothing approaching paying my bills, let alone something that I could thrive on. And as sad it was, as depressed as it was, as hard as it was to not make any money, as hard as it was to feel disconnected from all of my friends and to feel angry about the direction I was going, that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was feeling like I had these gifts, I had this potential, and I wasn't actualizing that potential. And hard work and being smart weren't enough to get me to where I wanted to be. And one day I woke up and I thought the riskiest thing, the scariest thing I could do is continue to live this life. And I packed a bag, I had a few hundred dollars to my name, I walked upstairs to where my mom was and I said, "I am leaving, and quitting my job, and I'm going to figure out something. I'm going to figure out a different direction." You can imagine she was a little bit shocked and not pleased by this decision, but I called a taxi, and I got in that taxi, I took it to a friend's house and I said, "Please let me sleep on your couch, and if you do I will figure things out." My next step was the homeless shelter, I was not going home. And even though I was really scared in that moment, really afraid, I knew- I knew I had to figure this out. And I heard this voice inside of me that said, "Just take the next step. Just take the next step. Just take the next step." And that's what I started to do. And over that time grew my business, started an online program teaching intuition and spiritual development to different people. That business grew, what happened is people started asking me, "How do you get clients? How do you grow this business? How did you market?" And at first I just started telling them what I had done. And I sort of figured out, oh maybe I could charge for this. And from the time that I really started charging people for that advice, I shifted the direction of my business because I saw these amazing people; entrepreneurs, helpers, healers, therapists, coaches, consultants, people developing products. They were literally changing lives, they were literally saving the world, but they were broke, or they weren't charging enough. I tried to be a multiple six figure business. I had written an Amazon best-selling book, I had built a team, I had travelled all over talking about this. I mean my life really just changed so rapidly. And it's really cool that we're talking because I'm actually on the verge of my next evolution. So over the last three and a half years I've been running a coaching and consulting business, working with people, helping them build their business, helping them both make a lot of money, but also fulfill their social mission. And I'm actually on the verge of another evolution which is what we're probably going to talk about a little bit today, and my next evolution is I'm actually leaving my coaching business behind to start a company called Graveyard Innovation. What I see is that innovation, the rapid nature of change both online and offline has really changed what it means to be a marketer, what it means to sell, what it means to build rapport with your clients, what it means to brand your business. And there's a whole lot of people talking about little pieces of all of these different trends, but this company is really going to help entrepreneurs innovate every single aspect of their business so they can win. So that no matter what changes you can recession proof your business, you can disruption proof your business because we're all feeling these changes, but many, many of us, myself included, I think have relied on some outdated marketing tactics for too long, and we have to update the framework, some of the core premises that were relied on from the market. So it's really cool to be here today because I'm transitioning from a coaching business to Graveyard Innovation where we'll help people innovate at every level, and where we'll actually handle a lot of the execution and implementation, because I really see that in today's world entrepreneurs have so much to manage, and yet they're not always able nor should they from a cross perspective hire a full department, or even a full employee. One of the things that I've been doing recently is just going to companies that are thinking about hiring full time marketing people, social media people, and really looking at do you need that? Or is there a model that we can implement within your current team that is updated, and would still allow you to get the results that you want, or to do it through contract work so that you don't have to take on the expense of a full employee. Sometimes it's the right decision, sometimes it's not. So we're in a new world, I think it is super exciting, but I also believe if people don't innovate, if people don't watch these trends, if people wait too long, there's a lot of people who are leaving themselves very, very vulnerable to disruption, and very, very vulnerable to having their business either be taken over, or just not be relevant.

 

Jenn T Grace:             I think there's a book called 'Innovate or Die.' Is that accurate?

 

Michael Mapes:           Yeah absolutely, and you know we used to have the Seth Godin thing, if you're not online you don't exist. And I would update that a little bit and say if you're not innovating you're irrelevant.

 

Jenn T Grace:             Absolutely.

 

Michael Mapes:           You might exist, but not in a way that's relevant, and clearly not in a way that's profitable.

 

Jenn T Grace:             So you have certainly said a mouthful, and I feel like I have a hundred questions, and we have about 40 minutes to get through most of them. So I want to try to figure out where we can hit the most meaningful conversation for those listening. So since you've been listening to the podcast, you know that there's kind of a mix of LGBT business owners listening, and then allies who are looking to market themselves within the LGBT community. I think everything that you just said is relevant to anyone listening. One of the things I want to ask you about though is- and I know you briefly mentioned it, but taking the leap from an established coaching business, which you've done at a young age, and now going into something completely different, but bringing the skillsets that you had to that new endeavor. What made you say that you weren't going to continue coaching while you build up the second thing, but rather just say, "I know that this is the right decision for me, I am done with this business the way it stood, and now I'm going to move on to this next thing." Because I know there's two kinds of trains of thought around this. One of doing it kind of baby step and gradually, and the other of just being done with one thing and just jumping into the next thing. How did you make that decision?

 

Michael Mapes:           You have to know yourself and know your personality. And I can't say that one way is right or one way is wrong. I have seen people do this from starting their first business to their fifth business both ways. And for me I tend to work better without a net, just having that urgency of let's get this going. And certainly not an easy decision. I actually cancelled one of my biggest events of the year, and I of course lost a little bit of money because we planned this months and months and months in advance, and that certainly was not an easy decision for me, it wasn't an easy decision for my team. My personality is such that when I'm ready to do something, I'm ready to do it yesterday. In this case I certainly was initially leaning towards doing it more gradually because it seemed to make more sense. And I didn't fire all my clients, I'm transitioning them either into the new business, or into coaching with someone else. But what I felt with this, is I really started to step back, and I really started to see what's going on online. And when I really started to see just the way in which people were doubling down and pushing themselves so hard, I honestly felt Jenn just couldn't stay quiet about it. I couldn't be gradual about it. I felt such an urgency in myself, and I felt this feeling that was if you never make another dollar but you talk about this, okay. If you have to go work at Walmart, or Starbucks, or whatever, that would be worth it to get this message out because I'm so passionate about what I'm seeing, and the fact that people don't have to get left behind. Of course as we talk in the context a little bit more here about LGBT hue marketing, there's a way in which it's called old and new. There's a way in which innovation is everything. So for me it was really the personal decision of knowing my gifts, of knowing that right now is really the time, and feeling like if I were to wait over the next year, if I were to wait two, three years to get this going, I would be leaving people behind. I also think that I have now being sort of on the third evolution of my business, and really what I hope to be the second very successful evolution of my business, I'm much more confident in the steps that you have to go through to initially build a business. And what I think is important to remember is there are phases of business. That doesn't mean everyone is going to look exactly the same, but in this first phase you have to go raise money, whether that's getting clients, whether that's getting investors, whether that is getting a loan, whether that's getting commitment. You have to get money in the beginning of your business. And so I've really honed in on what are those first few steps? And it's much easier to do that now in thirty to sixty days, whereas the first time it took me years, the second time it took me many, many months, and this time it will take weeks. And so I think you get better at it as you go. My passion, what I've also realized, and I would just encourage people be honest with yourself about where your genius lies, and where your genius doesn't lie. I would put my coaching programs up against anyone, I truly think they stand among some of the best when it comes to consciousness and spirituality and marketing; so marketing in a way that is really ethical. But my gift, my highest kind of way to work is not teaching and training. My highest way to work is building. I like to see the idea come into the world. And what I realized is there are so many people that are such much better suited to be the coaches, to be the teachers. And while I love what I've done, I realized that my actual genius- not just my competence, not just what I'm good at lies somewhere else. And I think if you keep answering that, and you allow other people on your team to come in and fill in where you're not a genius, you can accelerate your growth so quickly. So get yourself esteem from what you are truly exceptional at, not just what you are competent at.

 

Jenn T Grace:             I agree on every single front, because I was just doing one of my group coaching programs last night. So we're recording this on a Wednesday, it will be released on a Thursday but we're recording on a Wednesday. It was Tuesday night and I was just having this exact conversation with them of focus on where you are naturally gifted, and just really hone in on that. Don't worry about all the other ancillary stuff that is not your strength, just focus solely on your strengths. And I know that when you do that and you outsource other things, then your business can grow exponentially.

 

Michael Mapes:           I want to say one thing about that quickly, Jenn.

 

Jenn T Grace:             Yeah, please.

 

Michael Mapes:           Because I think especially for those listeners who are gay, or who are lesbian, or who are trans, or who are bisexual; I think that one of the things that we often experience in childhood is a gift and a challenge. We have something inside of us that often says a lot of what I see around me is not true because I'm seeing these models, or I'm being told this thing about what love is, and what relationships are that doesn't really match up with what's on the inside of us. And that can be very challenging obviously for all of the reasons that we know about, all the trauma and tragedy, or just the inner angst that we feel. One of the gifts of that I think is that for many, many gay people, it gives us a sense of- like we have an inner BS meter. Because we sort of can look around and go, 'Well everything I'm being told is not really true.' And so it gives us an incredible core, and I think with what you're saying- but it can also cause us to become a little bit fragmented in how we approach things, or we can get very good at code switching. Very good at playing different roles based on the audience who's before us because we need often to do that to fit in, or for survival. But what you're saying about strength, I think is so important. If you focus on that alone, building that muscle, I truly believe- it's not that everything will be easy, but you will move through things with such a higher level of ease. Because have you ever watched a child? A child will naturally gravitate toward what he or she is good at. A child will naturally do more of the things that it likes to do, that it is good at, and less of things that it is bad at. The problem is- and that's evolution. That's why oak trees aren't zebras, they come here to be oak trees. And we come here to fulfill our potential, to do what we are naturally good at. We have this diverse ecosystem, but what happens is that impulse gets overridden so quickly into childhood. So it's like, "Oh Timmy don't play with dolls, that's what girls play with." Or, "Jenn why can't you be more like your sister and do your homework, and sit down, and be still, and stop bouncing around the room." Or, "Why can't you Michael, stop reading and go outside and play like the other kids." So what we are naturally designed to do is just to produce this diverse ecosystem of strengths and gifts, we override, and we want to be good little boys, and we want to be good little girls, and so we lose touch with what our strengths are, and we try to become the kind of- not great at anything, but sort of good at everything. And we really get stuck in confidence instead of genius. This is one of the main reasons we have so many issues in our education system right now, because we focus on getting everybody to a base level of competence, and we don't have a system that helps anybody really go deeper and wider with their gifts. So what I would say is especially for those small entrepreneurs, but even for grants and bigger organizations, drill down on what are you- not only what are you unique at, but what are you good at? What is the genius level thing that you do? And that will move you forward. But it takes some work because we have so overridden this, and often our strengths have become weaknesses to us. I was told, "You're lazy, you're flighty," because I had like fifteen majors in college, and I was always starting things and quitting things. But starting things and quitting things is essential to being a good entrepreneur. You need to know when to let something go. You also need to know when to follow something through. The thing is nobody in my life knew to say, "Oh you're an entrepreneur, you're not an employee. You are a builder, you're not someone who sits back and absorbs, or sits in a cubicle." Nobody told that to me, so my strength had become a liability. And so sometimes what you think you're bad at, or what comes so natural to you is actually your strength, and is so needed.

 

Jenn T Grace:             I completely, completely, completely agree. I think the other piece to this is it's all well and good- so for those listening who maybe they're a solopreneur right now, maybe they have one other person working for them, I think what happens is you recognize that your gift- like for me, I'm just the get shit done type of person. A client asks me for something, they know what's needed, I will get that shit done. No one knows how it happens, but it happens. And it's because I have- I can delegate to a team, and I can do it really effectively. I know that's something that I'm good at. There are plenty of people who don't manage teams well, and it's a matter of finding that balance within your own team. But the question is when you recognize what your gift is. So if I'm looking at it from a marketing standpoint, I am the strategist. I can lay out the strategy and build the team to get it done, whether it's my team or the client's team. The problem then is if I'm good at strategy, and I'm a generalist with everything else, then how does a business figure out who that next hire is? I think that next hire, whether it's the second in command, so some kind of admin person, or VA, that's usually one of the next things that people hire for. But how do people look for the offsets of their own- where their gaps are? Do you have any recommendations for people listening on how they would actually get to that place of recognizing, 'Okay I'm good at strategy, or I'm good at execution, but I can't see the vision.' Like how do people find their counterparts to really exponentially grow their businesses?

 

Michael Mapes:           Absolutely, and I think that for anyone listening, Jenn and I had quite a long conversation before, and I'm sure we'll have many, many more. But I can say when you said you're good at strategy, I just want everybody to get that she really is. And you can tell by the way that she spoke about that question, by talking about building things at multiple levels, by speaking you must have a team to execute and deploy this. What most people are good at- and we need both, and yet we have some blurriness here, and I'm really passionate about this. What most people are good at is much more tactical than strategic. And they use the word strategy for it, but it's not. Helping someone figure out how to do Facebook ads is a tactical thing in your business. I would say they're actually helping you do ads that you then put on Facebook rather than Facebook ads. And many, many people are more tactically focused. A business absolutely needs that, however one of the big things that I think is missing, and one of the things where I believe there needs to be a lot of innovation is in shifting from only tactical approaches to strategy; because you can't wake up with a goal of just, 'I'm going to win this day.' Because you can win a lot of days, and yet still lose the war. And you can see many, many examples of this even if you think of political campaigns where people will have many great days where they may win the press cycle of the day, but they don't ultimately emerge victorious. And you can see examples of this in sports where- I'm going to do the best I can to talk about sports here as a gay man. But where people may win many different moments of the game, or do things that are incredibly impressive and not emerge as the person who wins that game. So I just want to point out that what Jenn is saying is absolutely incredible, and I'm more and more convinced that if you- because again there is so much shifting, and none of it is a total difference, but it is a very rapid evolution. I'm more and more convinced that if you don't have someone that is stepping back that can kind of look at all of the interlocking pieces before they rush in and start saying, "Do this, do this, do this," I just think that kind of advice is going to be less valuable for a lot of people moving forward. So I just really like what you said there. But to answer your question around your next hire, this is something that I have screwed up so enormously. And the reason that I have screwed up at many different points in my business is because I got in the mindset of following what other people did. Because I didn't- like you said, I am not a good manager of teams, and so it took me a while to figure out that I am the creative force, I am the energy. I can bring the business in, I can create something out of virtually nothing, but when it comes to managing people and holding people accountable and making sure they're super invested, it's not my gift. So one of the things that I had to figure out was I didn't just need it to be the straight edge support, although I started there in the beginning. What I needed was someone who could actually manage people, who had that gift to call them out when they needed to be called out, to motivate them because it just was not my skillset. So I think that it really goes back to again, just be willing to be honest with yourself. And that doesn't mean I didn't have to become better; I still had to grow, I was still the leader, and there are still things where the buck stops with me, so you have to grow. But I would say certainly learn from other people in terms of what's next, but also really think about your business, and think about your business model. Because about a year and a half into my business, when I hit the six figure mark, we were rapidly growing, rapidly accelerating, I had hired an administrative person that I promoted to my business manager, we then brought on two quarter time administrative people, and a sales person. And my thinking about this was sort of what I had seen other people do in their coaching businesses, and their model. And what happened was we quickly became overleveraged both financially and I became overleveraged because it was essentially still me that drove all of the lead generation. There was a way in which I did that, that nobody else could really do as effectively. And so I became very exhausted, and I really had to change things. What I sort of figured out was how am I going to leverage this business? Now as I move forward with Graveyard Innovation, I'm actually taking a very different approach where I'm less focused on getting a salesperson, or getting an administrative person. I do have assisted help, I should just say. But I'm much more focused on let's get account managers, where they're all invested in this business. And one of the things that I have learned for me, working for more of that solo entrepreneur with contract worker model, is it works better for me and I think for my personality, if you can have people that are truly committed to your vision, and then are incentivized based on sales. Or incentivized based on delivering some other kind of result. If you're going to work with people that aren't in an office, you need to build in a lot of ways to motivate them, to be disciplined, to motivate them to want to show up. So I would say know yourself, think about your business and your goals, and really think about your model. I hired people because I thought, 'This will pay off,' and it really didn't. So I would say hire people that can really produce revenue, or allow you to produce revenue very, very quickly. And just kind of think about what is that business model? How am I going to make money? How am I going to scale this? One of the things that coaches I think really have to reconcile with- even coaches that are at the seven multiple seven figure mark, is that many of them created businesses that are so personality driven, it's hard for me to see the business really sustaining if they step away. And to leverage and scale in that model, you have so much money to hire these other coaches, and so much money to hire these other salespeople because the emotional impact of what a salesperson can do when you've built your brand around you, versus what you can do, is always less. So I think that it doesn't mean that it's wrong, I just think there's some ways that business model may need to be evolved or shifted a little bit. So I would say be willing to entertain something outside of conventional wisdom, even if you ultimately go with conventional wisdom. Because what I would have done looking back is I would have shifted my business model much earlier, instead of looking around and doing what other coaches were doing because it just- it's not that it didn't work for me, it worked, just not in the way that I wanted to live or run my business.

 

Jenn T Grace:             So now on all of that. So talking about changing I guess the way that you're running your business. I know that you had mentioned when we started that you had written an Amazon bestselling book, which I would love for you to talk about for a couple of minutes, but also talked about programs and courses. Did that evolve? I guess when in the evolution of this business did that maybe 'ah-ha' moment of like, 'Oh wow if I just created this program, I can scale faster.' Or 'I can scale me,' which is always the challenge of any founder of any business, is scaling an individual person. So where- first if you can just share for a couple of minutes about your book, based on I work with a lot of authors. I'm just curious if you have any kind of piece of information that might be helpful for someone who's listening who's about to write a book. But then also that scaling via working with online programs.

 

Michael Mapes:           One of the things I'm super passionate about is the idea that I have for anything that I want to do. Whether it's the idea for a new business, the idea for a book, or the idea for a program. One of the things right now, because you are such a plug in world, is there's this temptation to avoid the idea part of things, and to rush right in. What's ironic about this is we rush right in, but then we spend all this time preparing, getting ready to make money, or getting ready to do the next thing. But preparing to do the next thing, and really getting a solid idea aren't the same. And I think one of the things that is so benefitted me is that I spent time in ideation; what is this business, where does it fit, why is it needed? What is this book, what is the gap that it is filling, why is it needed, how can I position it? I think the same thing is true of my programs, and my courses. So that as Einstein said there are no new ideas, there are many, many re-inventions, and many, many re-imaginings. And I think that if we would all just unplug a little bit; and when you do this it doesn't have to take months, and months, and months, and months, and months. But if we would all just spend a little bit more time making sure the idea was a bit stronger, I think people would have a lot more success. When I started this business, my goal was not just to have a business coaching business. My goal was to help those people who wanted to make great money and make a difference in the world be able to do that in a way that was really genuine and aligned to their value system. That was my goal because I saw some companies like Toms Shoes or Trader Joe's that were doing some really ethical and cool things; it wasn't the norm, it wasn't the scale that I thought it should be. So that was really my idea. And that idea helped me so much because I wasn't able to go to people and just say, "I can help you market, I can help you with money." I was able to go to people and say, "Here is this mission that I am on. And you are a piece of this, let's work together." So they were invested in both my idea as well as their self-interest. And this is the key innovation that I think business and so many of us who are entrepreneurs need to grapple with. It is not solely a self-interested proposition anymore when people buy. And so most marketing, you hear this, 'Focus on the results, focus on the transformation.' Yes that is very true, however you also have to focus on what's the bigger mission? What is the bigger thing that you're a pat of when you do this? It's also that recession proofs your business. And so spend some time on your ideas. My book is called, 'The Conscious Entrepreneur's Guide to Creating Wealth,' and it's based on a series of what I call Wealth Alignment Principles which are I would say timeless wisdom put in the context of creating wealth, put in the context of growing a business. Whether you think of these as mindset shifts, or spiritual principles, or as I said timeless wisdom, that's what the book is all about. Because here's what I figured out. There is no outer playbook for success. Oprah did not follow the same path as Bill Gates, did not follow the same path a Hillary Clinton, did not follow the same path as RuPaul, did not follow the same path as Barack Obama. You know there are many, many ways from an external point of view to become successful. Now that doesn't mean you don't have to learn a new system or a structure, but there's many different ways to do it. But there is a rule book when it comes to the inner game of success. If you read books of highly successful people, you will find that the shift that they have at the inside, the way in which they approach things, how they handle adversity, how they respond to challenge. All of these people have been knocked down. It took Edison 10,000 tries to create the light bulb. It's like what would have happened if he gave up at 9,999. Walt Disney declared bankruptcy many, many times. You will find that there absolutely is an inner play book for success. And when you focus on certain principles, that's really what needs to shift. And so that's really what my book is about. Why I decided to write the book, is because I felt that this real leap, this real merging between what do you do practically? And what do you start to work on, on the inside? Because anyone who's a business owner or entrepreneur knows on any given day you could be riding high, and then a challenge comes out of nowhere. And how do you handle that such that you stay in equilibrium? So for me, writing the book was really a way to bring this idea to more people in a less expensive and more accessible way, and that idea fit in with everything else that I had. I didn't start with the book, I had a full practice of private clients, I had a successful group coaching program, I had launched self-study courses in different partnerships with people, and then this was a way after having that revenue of money to say, 'Okay now how can I democratize this wisdom?' And I just want to say for people that I know that we can get so into, 'Am I going to do one-on-one work? Am I going to do group coaching? Am I going to do a product? Am I going to do a book?' And I write about this in the book, but the medium is not powerful. Too many people are actually diminishing themselves by the platforms they choose to use, and they're going, "I'm getting clients," I'm like, "Well how many clients are you not getting by doing this?" But the medium that you choose, the way that you choose to market is not powerful. The message that you choose, and then your gifts, and then based on that message and those gifts, choosing the medium is what makes it powerful. So when you're thinking about how do I set up your business, begin with the idea and then go, 'Well how would I love to deliver this?' I knew that I had- I liked teaching groups, I liked working with people, there was an energy there. Other people it seems would ask a question that other people on the calls needed to hear, and there would be this synchronicity that kind of happened with no planning at all. And so for me that was something I wanted to do, it seemed like a party I would want to attend. And so I just began, I just started it. But every individual thing came from an idea, and a reason for existing. And I think if you don't have that, it's hard to really- you could sort of create a marketing plan, but it's hard to really I think get maximum results from it.

 

Jenn T Grace:             So what would you say along the lines of what you were just talking about with your book. So in terms of maximizing a marketing plan. A book obviously is one very small piece of a much larger plan. So if a business is listening right now, and they don't necessarily have an actual concrete plan that they're following, what would you say might be a couple of things that they should be thinking about as they maybe- not build a plan, because I know especially for clients that I work with, building a marketing plan stresses them out. So I try not to do that. But there are low-hanging fruit opportunities for them to take advantage of that maybe something that they're already doing, they're just not really looking at it as like a marketing thing. Do you have any like maybe one or two things that you would say, "Focus on this," to at least get them started in the right direction?

 

Michael Mapes:           Absolutely. And there does come a point- and I know that you know this, Jenn because you work with some amazing clients, and some incredibly large and potent companies. There does come a point where scary or not, we've got to sit down and do it. There just becomes a point where to get to that next level without a full plan, without a full strategy, it is not going to work. And I sort of think about this- I'll use a political example, but I think about this as the difference if you're running for like state-wide election versus if you're running for President. If you're running for state-wide election, you just kind of want to go out there, and do it, and meet voters, and you can win doing that. But when you're running for President and you have to split your resources among so many states, without a strategy there is no way to do it. And you can sort of see this where you'll have certain candidates in the Presidential race, they'll win some tactical victories, they'll win some states. But they run out of time if they don't have that strategy to be able to overtake someone who does have a strategy. In most cases, there are always exceptions of course where something just works. But what I would say to anybody who is starting out, and just needs to get going, at that point having some big overall comprehensive strategy or plan, you don't need that. What you need to do is get into action, and you need to- I would say this is where coaching can be so powerful. It certainly was for me because people do the wrong thing, and I just have to be kind of blunt about that. If you are getting clients, building up that initial revenue base, the most important thing is not your website. The most important thing is not what's on social media. In fact until you get several clients, you don't even know what to put on those things really. So I would say you need someone, or you need to be able to quickly identify the highest value action. Now if you're in a service based thing like you're selling programs, products, eCourses, services; then the highest value action is getting people to pay you money. Whether that is $100, $1,000 or $10,000, you need to have conversations with people one-on-one and get them to say yes to your idea. Because until then, you don't know if you are selling something that people want. I don't doubt that any of you are selling something that could change lives, or that's a value, but you also have to have something that people are responding to, and that people want. So the place that you want to begin is going out there and selling it. You don't need a business card to do that, you don't need a website, you really just need to be willing to talk to your idea about someone. Now if you're selling an app, or a product idea, or you're just a startup, that maybe investors that you're doing that with, or partners that you're doing that with. But the process is the same; you need to go pitch the idea to people. So I would say every single day get up into your highest value action. Because this gets hard when there's no clients and there's no revenue because you don't just get clients and then everything is okay. You have to build up by looking at your growth sales numbers over a number of weeks and months, a certain baseline because there's a delay between when money starts coming in, and when you really feel profitable. So I'll give you an example. How did I go to on track to hit six figures in six months, when so many other people struggled and haven't even hit six figures to this day? Well I set a standard for myself, which is every single week at a minimum I will ask five ideal prospects to work with me. And at that time- at the beginning I started selling a $300 coaching package, but pretty quickly it became a $3,000 program for six months. And it was a weekly private coaching with me, so there was a ton of value in it. And people get the value of one-on-one work without you having to say much about it. So every week no matter what, I did not end on Friday until I had asked five people. And if I didn't do it Monday through Friday, I worked Saturday and Sunday. And there were no excuses. If a newsletter got delayed, if a blog post didn't go out, if something didn't get posted, if the infrastructure that I was building- I would let anything else get pushed back except for that, because I knew- I had a roller coaster right in my business, I knew if income wasn't steady, I would never be able to build a team because I couldn't promise that I could pay them, and I wouldn't feel right about that. I would never be able to get the money I needed to make the investments that were essential to growing quickly. And I would not feel within myself that I could create a group program. And there are people that are doing this, and I would challenge it a step back. How could I create a group coaching program telling people to do things that I didn't know if they worked, or if I hadn't done myself. That didn't seem right to me to create great marketing or great copy that was inauthentic, or that was essentially lying to people. And so that was my commitment; no matter what, I will do this. And I thought if I fail, if I succeed, either way it will be okay. But for one year, every single week I'm going to do this. So I think that people get so distracted. If you're in the beginning of your business and you don't have clients, you can't just work on a landing page for a week. You can't just work on getting a webinar scheduled. Those are your second priorities. Your first priority is get the receivables up, get the client base up, it's going to give you confidence, and then you can not only get referrals from that, but you can ask people and hear from people what they like. Because how you have things arranged in your mind, and how people actually need them arranged, are I would say almost always very, very different. So get focused on that high value action. And here's why people don't do this; it's scary. I had such an intense fear of rejection from being gay, from being bullied, from an emotionally abusive father, and all of these things that I had lived through. So picking up the phone to me and asking someone to pay me, I mean I would almost rather die than do that. But when I got coaching, high level coaching, I said I will listen to this woman no matter what, because she has done something, I have not done- my best thinking didn't work, my plan didn't work, it didn't get me there. So I had to come to terms with that, I had to go in the bathroom and look in the mirror to go, 'Your way didn't work. Are you willing to try something else?' And when she told me get on the phone, ask people to pay you, set up these meetings. And again, I wasn't calling through the phone book, these people requested conversation with me, or I asked them if they would want to have a conversation with me. I did that, and so I would literally almost be in tears, and then I would center myself, and pick up the phone and make the call. And it was really hard in the beginning, but then I would do it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. If you haven't exercised in ten years, and you go to a yoga class, it's going to be hard. You're going to be panting and your muscles are going to hurt, you may want to throw up, but that's not a sign it's not working, that's a sign it is. If you want to receive more, you have to be able to hold more, you have to become more. And so you have to transform all of the inner stuff that's actually stopping you. And I just want to say that you have to identify the difference between a stretch- and remember, just think of exercise. A stretch can hurt sometimes as you're growing, and in actual pain. You don't want to overextend yourself. Like if something's just truly not you, that's a different story. But most people, it's we don't know what's authentic to us because we're not coming from a high enough level of awareness to know. And as I did that, I was this person who thought success doesn't happen for people like me, it doesn't happen for people that grew up poor, it doesn't happen for people that have this kind of a background, it doesn't happen for gay people, it just doesn't happen for people like me. What I found by doing this, the things that I thought I could never do, ask people to pay me and raise my rates again, and again, and again, and again, and again. And speak on stages, and all of this stuff that I thought I could never do, I learned something about myself. What I had been told had been a lie. I wasn't a victim, I was so powerful, I was so creative, I was so resourceful, I could handle anything. I wasn't going to fall apart and die if somebody said something mean to me. I'd already lived through that. I wasn't going to break if somebody said, "No, I'm not going to buy this." And what happened was people were grateful. They loved hearing from me. Even if they didn't become a client, they sent me referrals, or they became a client three months- because I followed up, and I followed up again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and I let them know, "You may not think you need this right now. You may not care about me right now, but I care about you. And I'm not going to stop working for you." And so I kept following up and connecting, and I just had a conversation with myself and a conversation with these people. So usually whatever you are the most afraid of, whatever is freaking you out the most, is what you need to run toward. And instead we run to our comfort zone. And as one of my mentors, Derek Rydall said to me, "Michael most of us would jump in front of a moving train to save a loved one. But we wouldn't get out of our comfort zone to save ourselves." And what I had to do was get very uncomfortable; that was hard in the beginning, but I had a good cry, and then I centered myself for the call, and then I had a good cry. It's like you freak out, and then do what you need to do, and then freak out, and you will start to build these muscles. Because remember, if you're not willing to go get the clients, I am. If you're not willing to go get the clients, somebody else is willing to go get them. So look at- we have this whole thing, the 99% and the 1%. But what is the 1% doing that you haven't been willing to do? And that's what I had to look at. So we know it's like, what is it less than 2% or 3% of businesses make over $250,000 a year?

 

Jenn T Grace:             It's less than 3%? Wow, jeez.

 

Michael Mapes:           I think so, yeah. So what does that tell you? Well that tells you that you have to do things differently than 97% of people. But what are people doing? They're looking around at the Internet going, "Other people are doing this." So you're probably actually modelling people that aren't successful, which is a problem. Or you're modelling successful people, but you don't understand the reason, the sequencing which is so important in business, the timing of why they're doing certain things. So a lot of times what are happening is people are in phase one of business, but they're implementing phase two, three or four strategies. And that's disastrous and it really diminishes your ability to elevate yourself and cultivate a sense of influence over the long term.

 

Jenn T Grace:             Wow, I feel like you have said more in this interview than we could have probably done in twenty interviews. So I appreciate just how robust, and how tactical in some instances your information is, but then also such high level information as well for people listening. I know that we are already pretty much at our time, but I want to make sure that those listening know exactly how to find you. So can you please just share how they would go about doing that?

 

Michael Mapes:           Yeah, absolutely. So just thank you for having me, Jenn. And as I said to you privately, and I just want to repeat here, I spend a lot of time cultivating, curating, aggregating, reading, absorbing information every week. And so for something to stand out to me, for me to want to go back to something, it really has to stand out. And I just think for all of your listeners, what Jenn is doing is needed. To me it really stands above, and it really stands out. So I mean share it, like it, review it. She didn't pay me to say this, I'm not a sponsor, we don't have some kind of influence or marketing campaign. I just really believe it because it really stands out to me as something that's so useful. As far as connecting with me, there's just a couple quick things that you could do. If you want to get on my list, which is all about resources right now, there's not a lot of pitching or selling, especially given my new direction of who I'm going to be working with. But if you want to get on there, and kind of get information about what's changing, what are these trends, how can you evolve? Whether you're a marketer yourself, or whether you're an entrepreneur, I think that this information is so cutting edge, and while some of it's out there, I haven't seen anyone bringing it together. So you can go to www.Shift.MichaelMaves.org. And that will give you access to my list which is blogs, and articles, and resources, and videos, and podcasts that are all about innovating, and building on what we know, but then also bringing in the new. So that's one place that you can start if you want me to be in your inbox, and if you give me that opportunity, I will work very, very hard to earn my place there, to earn my right to be in your inbox because I know how crowded that gets. However, if you don't want to get on my list you can go to our blog, which The Marketing is Broken Blog, to get a lot of resources and articles, read more about me, and see if there's something there that might be of value. And that's just www.MarketingIsBroken.com.

 

Jenn T Grace:             Excellent. Well thank you so much for all of your wisdom today. I know my audience is going to appreciate it, and I have no doubt the two of us will continue our conversations.

 

Michael Mapes:           Thank you so much, Jenn.

Direct download: Epi80-Fast-Track-to-Business-Growth-with-Michael-Mapes.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:05am EST

#79: Women & LGBT Entrepreneurship Dissected with Guest Jennifer Brown

Women & LGBT Entrepreneurship Dissected with Guest Jennifer Brown

Jenn T. Grace:

I am thrilled to be talking today with Jennifer Brown, Founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting (JBC), a New York City-based consulting firm that is a womenowned and LGBT-certified business. Jennifer is a vocal advocate for workplace diversity and a passionate social entrepreneur who has created a thriving business by doing the work she loves. Welcome, Jennifer.

Jennifer Brown (Consulting):

Thanks for that introduction, Jenn. I’m excited to be here speaking with you as well.

Jenn T. Grace:

Great, then let’s get started. You actually began your career as an opera singer and eventually realized that you were meant to be using your voice in a different way. Can you share a bit about your professional journey and how you came to founding JBC in 2004?

Jennifer Brown:

My story has been an interesting one with lots of twists and turns. I originally came to New York to be a singer. I got a master’s degree in opera and voice, had an agent and was auditioning on the opera circuit. I really believed that was going to be my life. Unfortunately, the arduous training caused me to injure my voice and I ended up having to get several surgeries. Although I recovered fully from those surgeries, my stamina for performing multiple times a week and for touring became difficult to maintain.

While licking my wounds a bit, thinking about what I wanted to do next, I realized that my stage background was actually great preparation for a career in training and organizational development. People who have performance skills do very well in this career because it requires creativity and the ability to improvise. In addition, as is true in many fields, you have to love selling and business development, which I did. I started out in internal HR roles, gaining my chops for the organizational development and consulting world. When I was laid off due to a restructuring at the company I was working for, I realized I was better suited to being an external consultant than working inside. So I made the decision to hang out my shingle. Initially, rather than incorporating myself or establishing an LLC, I took an interim step. I became a subcontractor for other training companies. They would send me into corporations and I would deliver training programs. Sometimes I designed those programs myself but most of the time somebody else designed and I delivered. Through that experience, listening to group after group of managers who attended these trainings, I started to form my own opinions about what was broken in the workplace and how it could be fixed. One thing led to another, and eventually I stopped subcontracting and started getting my own clients. I was finally privileged to start selling directly to my first client, then my second, then my third, then, before I knew it, it turned into 10! I started hiring people, and I began morphing my role from one that focused on delivery to one that prioritized running the business. I essentially went from working in the business to working on the business. That meant a combination of marketing, sales, brand building and thought leadership. Today, I continue to explore the journey around building my personal brand. There is my brand and then there is the company, JBC. The whole concept of being a founder who builds a company while at the same time thinking about your personal brand is something that I’m thinking a lot about these days. Personally, I don’t just want to be managing my business. I want to be out there changing the world in a broader way. This next phase of my professional journey will be about the intersection between my company and my personal brand, figuring out how to make both successful.

Jenn T. Grace:

Wow, that is quite a journey so far, and as you've alluded to, you are still on that journey. What inspires and drives you to continue moving forward?

Jennifer Brown:

I’m driven by the fact that there is still so much left to be done related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Especially when you step outside of urban areas or the Fortune 100 companies that we tend to work with, many organizations haven’t made building an inclusive workplace a mantra and a commitment. They have not put in the investment, and their employees’ experiences reflect that. This is a very personal mission for me because when I was working in corporate roles, I was in the closet. I felt like there wasn’t a place for me in those environments, and now I realize what a loss that was for my employers. Companies lose when they fail to create corporate environments where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. There is a clear, bottom-line advantage to encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace. I believe that Find the Gay Business & Marketing Made Easy Podcast in the work we do at JBC is helping to spread that very important message. iTunes Find the Gay Business & Marketing Made Easy Podcast in iTunes Jenn T. Grace | www.jenntgrace.comThis is an especially important message to be heard among executives. They are the people who have the power and resources to stand up and say, “I believe in this, and here’s why we’re going to put our money where our mouth is as a company.” We help companies understand why they need to care about inclusion and how they can go about making progress within their cultures. Creating inclusive workplaces is a tool for growing a business and it’s critical for achieving innovation. Within corporate entities, we need to keep pushing at all levels—certainly at the executive level, but also among employees and entrepreneurs because change happens from the bottom up as well.

 Jenn T. Grace:

Let’s talk about supplier diversity and supplier certification. Those two terms are still a mystery to many people. As an out lesbian, how have you been able to leverage your status as an LGBT business owner and as a women business owner?

Jennifer Brown:

At the end of the day, we are all marketers. Whether you have a sales role or not, especially if you are a business owner, you spend a lot of time selling. Supplier certification is very exciting from a marketing standpoint. For example, as a women-owned and LGBT-owned business, I get access to business opportunities that I might not otherwise have. I get access to a network of entrepreneurs, which is useful to me in terms of strategic partnerships, vendor relationships and also suppliers for our company. Also, the corporate network of sponsors that are involved with and support organizations like WBENC, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and NGLCC, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, is highly valuable. The corporate sponsors are all over these organizations’ conferences and other events. The introductions that I have made and benefited from in this ecosystem have been incredible. The relationships we’ve established through NGLCC and WBENC have led to bidding opportunities that weren’t always publicly known. We have bid on some of these RFPs and won! Bidding on an RFP is a time-consuming and expensive task for a small business, but these types of gigs can be game changers. If you win one huge contract, it can really change your trajectory in a positive way. One of our success stories was with a Fortune 50 financial services company. We bid on and won the opportunity to lead a three-day LGBT leadership-training event that this company now holds three times a year. We are now in our third year of delivering the program and the client is extremely satisfied with it. That is just one example of an opportunity that has come to me because of my status as a diverse supplier. People are often intimidated by these certifications because the paperwork can be intense. They want tax returns and letters of recommendation. For LGBT certification, there are even status qualifiers, which essentially require you to “prove” your LGBT status. It is certainly a robust process, but it’s also a very clarifying exercise that can help businesses get things in order. The certification bodies do not require high revenues. In fact, you can be a pre-revenue company and still get certified. So as an exercise alone, I believe certification is worth it. In addition, it is a great networking opportunity, and a feather in your cap that you can use to market yourself. Remember, certainly in the corporate sales space, the leading companies out there are trying to find you.

Jenn T. Grace:

What is the most rewarding part of working with corporate clients?

Jennifer Brown:

The number-one most rewarding part is feeling like I am making a difference and leaving a legacy. I am planting seeds. It is so rewarding when I’m facilitating a training with a senior management team and someone finally makes a connection. They have a light-bulb moment. Maybe it’s a woman who realizes why she’s been facing certain challenges. Suddenly it clicks, and she understands how she can modify her behavior. Or I’ll be working with a white male executive, and suddenly he has a breakthrough—intellectually but also in his heart—about what inclusion really means, and why it’s so important. It usually involves locating something in that executive’s story that he can then use to communicate as a leader in a way that resonates with the workplace. I love helping executives understand, and truly believe, that workplace inclusion is an important part of their job, and that it’s important to them personally and to the business. When I can be a part of that change in mindset, especially at the executive level, it is really exciting. Sometimes just a little tweak at the top of the house can have a big ripple effect throughout an organization. The transformation of someone with influence and positional power can be huge. In that way, JBC is at the genesis of organizational change.

Jenn T. Grace

As a successful business owner, I’m sure you have picked up a lot of valuable insights and tricks of the trade along the way. If you had to narrow it down, what one piece of advice would you give to business owners and entrepreneurs?

Jennifer Brown:

The most important thing is to realize very quickly your unique gifts. That is a journey. You have to pay attention: When do you get energized? When are you in the sweet spot? When you run a business, you have to do a lot of things that you don’t like. For me, those things have been operational duties, setting up processes, and anything to do with finance and accounting. Immediately when I started my company, one of the first things I did was outsource my book keeping. I knew that I would be much more useful to my company if I was out there selling instead of entering taxicab receipts in Quickbooks. Many entrepreneurs try to take it all on themselves. They think they can learn how to do everything. Maybe you can, but that’s not the point. Running a successful business is a game of time management. You need to figure out what you can do very quickly and intuitively versus what things are going to unnecessarily eat up your time. As a born business development person and marketer at heart, I had to invest in a complementary senior person in a COO/CFO type of role. Without that, I knew I would run out of bandwidth and expertise very quickly. I wanted to safeguard our revenue and ensure that I was running a solid company. If you are at all successful, scalability will become a challenge. I recommend reading entrepreneur books that focus on scaling, such as The E Myth because it’s a very important topic. You can’t be everything to everyone, even if your company has your name on the door. So, ask yourself, what is your towering gift? Then put all of your energy there.

Jenn T. Grace:

You mentioned that you are a marketer at heart. Can you share one piece of marketingspecific advice?

Jennifer Brown:

I love marketing. It is what I would do all day long, if I could. JBC’s business is all referral based. We have succeeded to a large extent through our pipeline of interest, which exists because of the branding and marketing work we have done. I am always out there circulating at conferences and events where my existing and potential clients gather. This is great for networking, as well as learning about best practices and thought leadership in your industry. I have built relationships with conference companies so that they now expect me to come to certain events. It has been an incredibly successful strategy for me. I can name 15 clients that have come from audience members when I was presenting at an event, or moderating or participating in a panel. I don’t charge for that kind of work. It’s a “give before you get” mentality. Make yourself useful before you even talk about money. Sales will come if you add value and put yourself in front of the right people. When you present yourself in a vulnerable and authentic way, people respond. When I participate on panels, I make it all about other people’s expertise and do whatever I can to help them get out their insights to the larger community. This has been a great way to build our brand and it has resulted in real business. Put yourself in the business of creating value and sales will follow.

Jenn T. Grace

You are clearly very passionate about the work you are doing. Is there something specific that you are particularly excited about at this moment?

Jennifer Brown:

There is an opportunity for me to really invest in my personal brand over the next year or two. I want to become more visible as a person and a founder. There are CEOs, CEO and founders, and just founders. As a business owner, this is something else to ask yourself: Are you a founder? Are you a CEO? Are you both? I am much more of a founder than a CEO. What’s exciting for me is the opportunity to invest in the company in a way that allows me to pursue building my personal brand. This involves professionalizing my management team. The benefits of this will accrue to the company but I also want to monetize and create a good revenue model around the personal brand. I want the success of my company in combination with a refined personal brand to continue creating a rising tide that lifts the workplace as a whole. I am not sure yet how this structure will look, but I have the pieces of the puzzle. My challenge now is to find the best way of putting them together.

Jennifer T. Grace:

Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, and for your enthusiasm and professionalism. It has been fantastic. Where can people find you if they want to learn more about you and your business?

Jennifer Brown:

We have various online platforms where people can reach out: Our website is www.jenniferbrownconsulting.com If you need to get in touch with our company, email info@jenniferbrownconsulting.com Our Twitter is www.twitter.com/jenniferbrown We’re on Facebook and LinkedIn under the company name. We also have a group called Diversity & Inclusion Leadership on LinkedIn. The group is made up of are hundreds of people from our network, including entrepreneurs and corporate diversity and inclusion advocates. Members share articles and have lots of interesting conversations there, so if the topic is up your alley, I suggest joining that group. (You can find the group here: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4517615&trk=myg_ugrp_ovr) People can find additional information about JBC through researching ERGs, or Employee Resource Groups. A lot of our work focuses on ERGs, and we are one of the foremost resources for consulting in that area. If people Google ERGs, they will find our website as well as several thought leadership papers that we’ve published on the topic.

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Category:general -- posted at: 12:05am EST

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