Thu, 24 November 2016
#98: Finding Your Niche & Brand in Consulting With Rhodes Perry
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 98.
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: Hello and welcome to episode 98 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and as this is airing we are right around Thanksgiving time here in the US. And we're at the end of November of 2016, and I'm shocked really at how fast this year has actually flown by. I feel like the first part of the year felt kind of slow and sloggish, and now- I don't know, since September it's just really whizzing by. So I'm excited to be in episode number 98, and it has been multiple years in the making to get here, so this podcast will be turning four at the I guess beginning of January in 2017, it'll be four years that I have been doing this which seems a little bit crazy, but all good nonetheless. I have been keeping up with the promise of having interview, after interview, after interview, and today is no different. And the interview I have today for you is with Rhodes Perry of Rhodes Perry Consulting, and we had just a really kind of awesome conversation about personal branding; shocking since that is indeed the title of the podcast. It was really just kind of being an LGBT advocate, and a change maker, and a change agent, and really how that can be something that you can utilize as a benefit to yourself as you grow a business, or continue to grow your career in whatever avenue that might look like.
So rather than blabber on unnecessarily, I'm just going to dive right into the interview with Rhodes. I really think you're going to love it, and if you would like an introduction to him personally, feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn, on Facebook, Twitter, go to my website, contact me however it is easiest for you to just reach out and get in touch with me. That would be awesome and I would love to put you in touch with him. So without further ado, please enjoy this interview.
Okay so let's just start off with telling the listeners just a little bit about who you are, what you do, how you came to be in your business as it looks today.
Rhodes Perry: Sure. So my name is Rhodes Perry and I'm an LGBT strategy assistance guru. Basically what that means is I'm a management consultant, coach and speaker, and I work largely with clients who are in executive, HR, or diversity positions. And I really help clients transform their organizations into ones where LGBTQ people know that they're valued, and they know that they belong in the workplace. And I work all across the country, most of my clients are based in New York City. I'm actually living on the west coast so I also have a number of clients in the Bay area. And I've been fortunate, and much of the work that I do is informed by my time working in the LGBTQ movement as an advocate and building alliances with other social justice leaders. And I center a lot of that work around improving the lives for LGBTQ people and really focusing on raising awareness around the specific needs of transgender and gender nonconforming people, and as an advocate I help secure a number of victories, most importantly allowing same sex couples to marry. I also helped increase the number of states that prohibit LGBT workplace discrimination. And one thing that I'm really, really proud of during my time in the LGBT movement was starting the conversations with the Department of Education and protecting transgender and gender nonconforming students, which now if your listeners are aware of, there's federal guidance that basically mandates that most schools- schools receiving public dollars protect transgender and gender nonconforming students while there's a number of states that are putting forth lawsuits to protest that. And that work really inspired me to take the jump to work for government in an executive type position to take policies that have been passed at the state and local level, and take a look at them and implement them. So I had the opportunity most recently to work for New York City. I helped the systems that focus on foster care and juvenile justice look at these policies and from soup to nuts really take the spirit of these policies and develop a plan to basically implement them, to bring them into life, and to really make sure that staff are set up for success in understanding how to respect their LGBTQ peers as employees, but also to deliver services that are respectful for LGBTQ people that are dependent on them. So that's just a little bit about kind of my background and how it led me to recognize that there's a huge need for supporting many of these systems that aren't necessarily Fortune 500 companies which are absolutely ahead of the curve, at least in terms of developing policies and having staff to drive and implement them. But in smaller businesses, a lot of startups, and especially in government settings there's- I would say that actually looking at policies but in particular laws in states that mandate protecting LGBTQ, both employees and then folks dependent on receiving government services. There's not a lot guidance and there's definitely not a lot of support in making sure that these systems are compliant with the law. And so my business really helps fill in these gaps, and it's a lot of fun to really inspire people that want to do the right thing, just aren't sure where to start. I'm getting them started but also making sure that these policies are being implemented and sustainable over the long term.
Jenn T Grace: Okay I feel like you've said so much already, so in thinking about you as just kind of an individual contributor in so many ways to policy and advocacy, and just kind of your career, and now founding your business; do you think that some people are naturally born to play an advocacy type of role? Or do you think that it's something that you have to consciously recognize of 'this is something that I really want to pursue and I'm going to kind of dedicate myself to doing it.' Because I think that there might be a couple of schools of thought to that, so I'm just curious how your path kind of came about to recognizing that your voice is really an important voice to be heard to eventually get to the place now where you're kind of filling those gaps in the marketplace.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah, I think that's a great question, and I don't know if it's being an advocate or just a change maker. Maybe those are one in the same, but really I think when I look back on my career, most of my work has been entrepreneurial in nature, and that seems to have been coupled with being an advocate, and just trying to- whether it was working for government and trying to improve either employees treating each other with respect, and letting each other know that they value one another, or looking at the service delivery side of things and just kind of saying, 'We could be doing better, especially when looking at serving LGBTQ populations.' I see a lot of opportunities. In the past I certainly tried to take advantage of those opportunities and help those systems. But I think part of myself is identifying as an advocate absolutely, but looking at my business now it's really taking some of those skills and thinking about people that want to do the right thing, they want to be able to retain discerning LGBTQ talent, they want to be able to develop products that will appeal to LGBTQ markets. It's looking at those folks who definitely want to be identifying as- or they don't identify as an advocate most likely, they definitely don't want to be seen as pushing an agenda, but they need help in making a business case, or they know it's the right thing to do and they need some support around how to approach their leadership to get buy-in and to both do the right thing, but also to help their businesses out in performing better and having a competitive edge. And so I don't know if that answered your question necessarily but that's kind of how I see my role right now, is that I absolutely gained some skills as an advocate and I'm trying to translate those for businesses that are interested in having that competitive edge.
Jenn T Grace: And from a personal brand standpoint- so many of the things that you were talking about in your kind of opening introduction of who you are in terms of different types of- whether it's the Department of Education, or whether it's working with the city of New York, or wherever it might be; in those settings you were still yourself, right? So you're still Rhodes Perry and people know you as your name. Did you consciously think about the advocacy work or change making work, however we're calling it because I think it is all kind of the same as you alluded to, did you look at that as you were doing those individual things in thinking about like, 'Okay here's just another kind of notch in my belt of things that I can do and things that make me a strong leader and a strong thought leader in this particular space.' And then as you kind of created your company, and calling it Rhodes Perry Consulting, obviously you're putting a big stake in the ground of this consulting is based on you as an individual. Was that kind of a conscious thought process? Did you model it after others that you kind of saw in the marketplace? What was just kind of going through your mind? And the reason why I'm asking is just thinking about people who might be in similar situations right now where they're thinking, 'Really this whole personal branding thing here, there's something to it and I should probably be pursuing this.' And I'm just trying to give them some guidance from people like yourself who've already done it.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that that's a great question. I think that why I chose my business name to be my name in terms of personal branding is so much of my past work has been about building relationships, building coalition, and building trust. And I think that my work in the past speaks for itself, and the folks that I had the pleasure of working with really benefited from what they learned. In starting my business many of my clients are those folks that I have worked with in the past, and so that's just a huge benefit for me. Also as I was making the jump I knew I wanted to focus in on equity in diversity and inclusion work, and I wasn't quite sure that time- how that could continue to evolve. In just this past week I had my first business anniversary so I've been in business for a year, and even over that period of time a lot of things have changed, but my name and my brand have absolutely attracted my dream clients I guess to work with who were specifically looking for support on doing the right thing, and either wanting to develop a policy, more taking a policy and actually implementing it and sustaining it over time, that that's really where I see a niche in providing this kind of mentorship, and accountability even more so than delivering skills. Because a lot of the folks that I do work with I've known for some time, they have the skills to do this work, they really need that kind of support and role modeling, but especially just kind of knowing the work that they need to do, but basically being held accountable, and having those kind of frequent check-ins. So I think that [Inaudible 00:12:00] thinking about maybe starting their own businesses, I think it's always good to- if you're not sure on a killer name that will be super clear on what you do, starting out with your own name and you can always kind of build off and build a 'doing business as' name later on down the road when things become a little bit more clear with who your niche market is, and what specifically you are doing.
Jenn T Grace: And your website URL is Rhodes Perry, so I think that there's a lot to be said about just having your name rather than having the consulting on it because if at any point in time you chose to pivot and go in a different direction, then the URL always remains the same, and for the most part our names don't change. For the most part.
Rhodes Perry: Right, for the most part.
Jenn T Grace: Of course there's exceptions.
Rhodes Perry: For your viewers, I am transgender and that's something that I talk about openly with my clients because a lot of the work that we're focusing on right now is how to support transgender and gender diverse employees, or people that businesses might be serving. So that's something that I am open about, and so I have changed my name, but that was a long time ago. But yes, there are times where if you are someone who's transitioning, or maybe you're thinking about getting married, maybe before you buy your URL, if you are planning to change your name, maybe hold off on that before you do.
Jenn T Grace: I ended up buying all- everything I could before I got married, and thought that I was going to change my name, and then I was like I wasn't sure, and then I was going to hyphenate, so I ended up with probably 25 URLs that all cost like $10 a piece, and then eventually over time I'm like, 'Alright I'm just going to stick with the one.' And then just as a random side note is that the reason why it's just not www.JennGrace.com is because there's a photographer I believe who has that- or a videographer who has that already. So I was like, 'Well I'm just going to have to put the T in there reluctantly.' But it is what it is and at least I know that I'm not changing my name anytime soon so it does allow for that kind of pivot as we were talking about, because you never know- especially as entrepreneurs and I think as the landscape- especially as it relates to LGBTQ, the landscape is always changing, and we really have no idea what- we could predict, but we really have no idea what's on the horizon and how that is going to impact what type of consulting we're doing, or coaching, or what topics we're speaking on, and I think that that's kind of a- to some degree a fool proof way of just kind of protecting your brand over the long haul.
Rhodes Perry: Absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: So in looking at just kind of the many facets of what you're doing. I was poking around on your website before, and I'm curious on a couple of things. Like the first thing I'm thinking of is how people find you, and then recognize that they need your help, especially as like the individual change maker. Because there are opportunities- like you were saying, the Fortune companies are definitely ahead of the game in so many ways, but at the same time they're so not ahead of anything in terms of just- kind of like the changing landscape of business. So it takes- they're like moving a Titanic versus I think entrepreneurship where you're kind of navigating a speed boat on a day-to-day basis. But how do you get in front of those individual people who really need your help, and they're really going to be that internal champion, and that internal voice that's really going to make change in their respective industry, or organization, or wherever it happens to be?
Rhodes Perry: I think that that's a great question. A few ways. One, I've been fortunate, as I had mentioned just having a lot of rich relationships from previous jobs. So many of my clients come to me word of mouth, and looking at business models over the long term I'm looking at other ways to market as well. So I also get a lot of referrals through online advertising. I do basic Google Ads. But one of the main ways of actually reaching out to newer audiences is locally I go to a number of different chamber of commerces in the Portland metro area, and also in Seattle just to build my network here because I recently moved from New York City out to Portland as I was starting my business. And so that's a really important way of just connecting with a number of businesses, but especially smaller businesses that haven't necessarily been thinking about the culture of their organization, or just want to be more competitive in reaching out to discerning diversity candidates proudly. So those are some of the ways that I get my name out there. Also through collaboration. I've been working with a number of other diversity and inclusion leaders here in the Portland area, and just looking at different projects where we can collaborate. By doing that I've had the opportunity of establishing newer relationships, both with the county and city government here, but also with a number of larger businesses in the area. So that's been helpful. But I do work across the country, so I try as often as possible to go to conferences, and when there's an opportunity to speak just to share a little bit more about the work that I do. So those are just some of the few ways that I try to get out there.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and so I feel like on your website you have supplier diversity highlighted as something that you are educating around and helping people with. It is something that I have certainly brought up many, many, many times in the past on this podcast, but never- maybe actually it was probably episode six or something, and we're on- I think this is episode 98 probably. So it was a long time ago.
Rhodes Perry: Congratulations.
Jenn T Grace: Thank you, it's been many years in the making. But one of the things that I feel like is a missed opportunity, and I'm sure from a supplier diversity standpoint you might be coming from a different direction, but as a diverse supplier yourself. Somebody listening to this, who the majority of listeners are part of the LGBTQ community in some form or another, what are they missing by not really kind of having an understanding of what supplier diversity is, and what that can mean to them as a business, but also for just kind of the community at large?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think- well one was supplier diversity, and one of the things that I do is educate my clients that I work with. So- and this is especially important for some of the county and local governments that I work with. So when folks are wanting to implement LGBT specific policies, they want to provide better services, one of the first questions that I ask is looking at contracts that they issue to diversity suppliers. So woman owned businesses, minority owned businesses, and sure enough with most government agencies they have set asides for those diverse suppliers. And so one of my first questions that I ask is encouraging them- well one, asking them if they know about the NGLCC, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce certification that certifies LGBT owned businesses, and almost 100% of the time most people aren't aware of that, most of my clients are not aware of that certification so I do a little bit of education around that. And then I've had success in New York with some of the agencies there of doing set asides for LGBT certified businesses. So there's education happening on that side with my clients, I also work volunteering for the chamber of commerce here, and just supporting some of the LGBT certified businesses, and those businesses that are owned by LGBT people but aren't yet certified. And I explain a little bit about the work that I do largely with local and county government agencies around encouraging them to do these kind of set asides, also letting them know that many Fortune 500 companies have diverse supplier offices, staff that are looking specifically for LGBT owned businesses for a wide variety of services. Everything from printing, to professional services like I do, and just letting them know that one, the NGLCC is a great resource. They offer certification, they provide a ton of information to help you grow a business that's thriving, and I think with that- I've at least encouraged a few to go through the certification process because it does give LGBT owned businesses a competitive advantage, and if you're lucky enough to live in a state like Massachusetts and you do contracting work with state, there are set asides for those LGBT owned businesses, and I think that that's a trend thanks to the great work that the NGLCC is doing that I think more and more states will be trying to either pass executive orders through the governor's office, or legislation to actually provide the economic opportunities for LGBT owned businesses, which historically have been disadvantaged because of discrimination. So maybe that's a little bit more than you wanted, but I know that you talk about this a lot. So did that answer your question?
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, yeah and it kind of leads into my next question a little bit. So we met through a mutual friend, and Jill Nelson has been a guest on this show as well, and I don't remember it but I will put it in the show notes of what episode that actually was. But we met at the NGLCC national conference in Palm Springs just a couple months ago, and one of the things that I wonder from your perspective is being an LGBT certified business, there's a lot of advantages to that from a business development standpoint. But in your perspective, how or how not do you feel like it maybe it is helping or not, just from a personal branding standpoint to be able to say that you are a- because you can say that you're an LGBTQ owned business, and that's got its benefits in and of itself for people who want to work within the community, but having that additional credibility of saying that you are a certified LGBTQ owned business. Where or how are you kind of using that, leveraging it? Is it part of your kind of daily conversation with people? I know that you're part of the local chamber so that kind of adds like another element to it. But just from a branding standpoint is it helping you in terms of attracting the right type of clients?
Rhodes Perry: Yes, I think for the nature of the work that I do it absolutely helps me, it brings more credibility to the work that I do, it opens up a number of new doors that I wouldn't necessarily have had access to. Because of the work that the NGLCC is doing and continues to do, they're really expanding their reach, and I think for corporations that are aware of the certification, and for some of the government agencies that I work with, they're becoming more aware of it, maybe more because I'm constantly talking about it. But it is helpful. I would say though that if I were in a different industry- I grew up in the state of Florida, so if I was in a different industry and I still lived in the state of Florida, I think that there's still a long way to go. One in having this be an advantage, because stigma and discrimination still exist, there's a lot of education that professionals like myself have to continue doing to break down some of those barriers. And so I'm aware and I'm conscious that it's not always an advantage for every business owner, and that there could be challenges with that. One of the things that did give me hope and inspiration though is that when we were at the conference in Palm Springs, which was wonderful and it was great meeting you there, is- and I can't remember the business owners' names, but they are from Georgia and they were honored- I think they were the premier business at the conference, they're a pet store, right? And so they're in Georgia which as a state- it's a state that lacks a number of protections for LGBT folks. They're very out about who they are, it's a gay couple, and they're having a really positive and profound impact on the community just for holding that space, and they give back to the community, I think that they give back to a youth LGBT youth center there. So I digress a little bit but I do think that even when you are in a state or even a region of the country that might not be so LGBTQ friendly, there's still a power to certification, and being an LGBT owned business, and showing the possibilities for other emerging LGBT entrepreneurs that being out can be an advantage, and that there's strength in numbers. So I'm a huge proponent of the certification, but I do recognize that there can be or still are limitations to it as well.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, absolutely. So I was looking it up while you were talking, it's Tailspin and they are in Savannah, so they're even in a more conservative area than maybe Atlanta would be. So yeah, and they were awarded an SBA award for like the best small business owner or something like that. So I think that you bring up a good point of depending on where we are geographically. So I'm in a really progressive state being in Connecticut, you're in a complete- especially going from like New York to Portland, I feel like there's so much differences even though New York is fairly progressive I would say. But how do we make it attainable? Because I have listeners in all fifty states, I have listeners in many different countries; how do we make it something that feels attainable to the person who might be in Savannah, or might be in Little Rock, who maybe they feel like they're alone, or they don't have a chamber of commerce that's really kind of focused on business impact, but maybe they have a pride center that they can go and be involved in. Is there something that you would say as kind of a natural step that they could take to just kind of finding their community of people that are looking to build companies and businesses even if that formal structure doesn't exist?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that that's a great question, and the first thing that came to mind is an online organization. Though they are based in San Francisco you probably know of them StartOut. So they provide- they're in the process of launching a virtual space for LGBT entrepreneurs to connect, and that certainly isn't a silver bullet in solving the kind of actual face-to-face connections that folks in certain parts of the country may be desiring just because they feel isolated. But I do think that at least online it's an excellent resource to start and just kind of building connection, talking about some of the challenges that they may be experiencing because of where they live. And chances are they may be- I grew up in Palm Bay, Florida so they can be in Palm Bay, Florida and maybe they're connecting with someone in Missoula, Montana which is actually a pretty progressive place. But they're able to span the distance and just have the commonalities of talking about some of the challenges of being in a less progressive part of the country, and kind of weighing the benefits and the costs of whether it's getting certified as an LGBT owned business, or if they're providing a service, and it's a place where people are actually going to a physical brick and mortar location, do you put a rainbow flag on the front of your door? These are things that I think as LGBT owned business owners we have to consider, but I do think StartOut is a good place to start.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like that's definitely some good feedback and tips there. So going back to kind of looking at the national landscape, since you do have experience kind of looking from a very high top down level, from a national perspective, in looking at the different fights for equality that are occurring kind of all over the place, I do find it shocking especially when I run into an LGBT person who isn't aware of just the level of discrimination that's just completely justified and fine by people in terms of workplace discriminations. So if we look at different states and different cities even within states. So you have Massachusetts where they're including LGBT suppliers in government contracting, which is the only state still, right? I think they're working on it in New York but it's not there yet. So that's happening in Massachusetts but then meanwhile you hear from people in Nashville who are still being fired because they came out, and this is somebody that I absolutely should have her on the show at some point, Lisa Howe who received an award at the NGLCC conference in August, and was commenting on how the second she came out after being an NCAA coach for like sixteen years, they fired her promptly thereafter. So- and that wasn't that long ago, that was only a couple of years ago. So if we're looking at the differences in each individual state, if somebody's just trying to figure out how can I make a name for myself because they want to grow their personal brand, they want to maybe establish a business, and make that kind of natural leap that seems very natural that you made in terms of like doing all this great work in different types of pockets and then you kind of created a company around it. Is there any kind of words of wisdom that you can provide them that would vary because if you're in California the fight there is way different than Tennessee versus Connecticut. Like I think of Connecticut being the second state with marriage equality in 2008, and I remember going to NGLCC conferences in 2009 and 2010 and talking to people who were in far less progressive areas thinking, 'Marriage equality is so not even on our radar. We are focused on economic opportunities because we don't have to focus on our basic rights to get married.' So what might be just a- I don't know, some advice or something that you might have learned along the way to kind of provide inspiration to people regardless of where in the US that they might fall, and how non-progressive or progressive that area might be.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that if folks are interested in starting a business, if they have the entrepreneurial spirit and they're LGBT, absolutely look into it and take action because by simply holding space, by creating your own business, you are creating economic opportunities for many people, and especially our own communities, our own LGBTQ communities. And I think that so many of us have had experiences of discrimination, or at least perhaps being treated differently as employees in the workplace, and knowing that if we had the opportunity of having our own businesses, or when we are creating our own businesses, or even for many of your listeners in our own businesses, that we have values that are embracing a spirit where we want everyone to bring their whole selves to work. And I think that because of the economic disparities that still exist for LGBTQ communities, one of the most powerful things we can do is if we have the ability to start our own businesses, and prioritize looking at folks within our own LGBTQ communities who have historically been disadvantaged and trying to prioritize ways of bringing job opportunities to folks in our own communities. I just think it's a real game changer for us to look at this aspect of the next era of the LGBT movement, and I think entrepreneurship should be a part of it. In my past I worked with a lot of LGBTQ youth, and so many young people that I had the pleasure of working with are entrepreneurial in spirit. Every day is a day of surviving and just to- we prioritize ways of translating those skills into skills where young people can at one point be their own bosses, I mean again I just think it's a real game changer and we should be examining aggressively ways to add this as a part of the work that the LGBT movement continues to do for the next era. Because I think just looking back over the past twenty years we have as a movement accomplished so much and so quickly, and yet I still look at the work that so many national and state and local LGBT groups are doing, and it's almost as looking at the young people who are protesting and resisting police at Stonewall, so many of those challenges still exist today when you look at family acceptance, or just trying to get an education in school, and dealing with things around bullying. We still have a long way to go and I think that the work that we do as business owners can help absolutely extend economic opportunities to more folks within the LGBT community.
Jenn T Grace: So in looking at kind of a what's next, or what's on the horizon for you personally and for your business, like especially since you're just celebrating your first year which is so exciting. If you looked at what you were expecting to accomplish in your first year versus what you did accomplish and what you hope to accomplish in the next couple of years, how does that all kind of line up with what your vision was when you set out to do this?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I surprised myself in the first year. I've met many of my goals in terms of working with a number of clients that I didn't imagine working with, at least in my first year. So I'm happy with that. I really do over the next few years want to pivot more into offering services online, and so I'm starting to do that now with webinars, and I'm looking at next year having more of a master class available for executive HR diversity professionals that are doing the work but need additional support. And so I'm just looking at ways right now of creating more virtual communities, and I'm most excited about that just because there's only one of me and there's only so many hours of the day that I can make available for clients, and so I think this is another opportunity of just expanding my platform and really helping those folks that they already understand the importance of doing this work and they need that additional support. So I think that that's going to be- at least for my business, a real game changer and so I'm excited about that. And I also think making more time in my schedule to speak and go out to a number of different communities, especially- I'm really excited about going to more colleges and universities over the next year and talking more about entrepreneurship for LGBTQ folks, and I'm very, very excited about that.
Jenn T Grace: That's awesome. I feel like the sky is the limit. I would love for you to reference back to this a year from now. Like throw it on your calendar and say a year from now to come back and listen to this, because my question is what do you perceive- and I don't want to deflate us at all, but in thinking about all of what you're setting out to accomplish, and I think that this is a question that the listeners are interested in, is what do you see as the potential kind of big hurdle, or some kind of road block that you feel like there's a chance that you're going to have to overcome in order to get to that next stage of what you're hoping to accomplish? Because I would imagine that there's probably a lot of similarity with what you think yours is and those who are listening. It makes us all human.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think that a road block for me is I get excited by all of the opportunities, and I think as entrepreneurs we want to do all of the things all of the time. And so one just for me is finding my 'no' when it could be working with another great client, but to build in the time to- like I said, like really trying to expand more of my virtual presence. That takes time on the front end to do that, and so I think the biggest challenge is to kind of build in the time where I could be working with more clients right now doing that one-on-one engagement, but trying to just find my 'no' sometimes so that I can have that space to imagine and dream how to grow my business in a way that can help more people. And I think that having talked with other entrepreneurs early on in the journey, I know that that's a challenge for many of us, and so maybe offline we can talk more about how you kind of navigated that as well, because I know that you're doing such awesome work for so many folks trying to do a better job with marketing to LGBT people, and so I would love to chat with you about that.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I feel like it's an ever evolving thing that everyone goes through, and if I look at- go back and listen to the first episode of this podcast which was in January of 2013 I think, it is a very, very different animal. And they're all available for people to listen to and laugh because it just takes time to kind of refine your message, and really I think learning to say no is probably one of the hardest things, especially as very stereotypically ADHD type of entrepreneurs where we're all chasing shiny objects every day, and especially when we're all coming from a place of truly trying to serve and really trying to help as many people as we can. I think that's where it becomes difficult to say no, because if you're looking at it from a purely dollars and cents standpoint of 'I have a threshold that I need to make $10,000 to go speak here, and if they don't meet it, then I don't do it.' That is not how at least the people that are on my show, and myself included, that's not how we operate. It's a matter of like, 'How can we accommodate? How can we make sure they still hear our message? How can we-' and then it just- it's a struggle and I think that we all kind of go through it even if it does look more polished on the outside. I think most of us are still kind of struggling with that day-to-day behind the scenes. At least for me anyway.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah and I think the audience kind of needs to hear these things and just kind of hear of the struggles that lie ahead as they're kind of figuring out what their voice is, and what platform they should be on, and how they should go about growing their personal brand because I think that personal branding, it's been around forever, but I feel like it just becomes more and more important in this day in age, even more so as an LGBTQ person because there's so much more at stake, and I think that all of us whether we want to or not, we're all kind of representing the community in our way. So if you do something stupid, or I do something stupid, suddenly it's the LGBTQ community that's stupid because of something ridiculous that you or I may have done. Even though that is so not what it should be, ultimately unfortunately that is just kind of the reality of it. So we all kind of have to navigate that tricky landscape as well.
Rhodes Perry: Right, absolutely.
Jenn T Grace: Oh good stuff. So if you could go back in time and maybe give yourself one piece of advice. Not necessarily the audience as a whole, but just really thinking of yourself. Is there kind of something that you would say or do that you think might have shortcutted some of the challenges that you've unnecessarily faced?
Rhodes Perry: Yeah I think absolutely for me is- for my younger self to trust myself, to trust my entrepreneurial spirit. In looking back I'm glad that I had all of the experiences that I had leading up to the point of starting my own business, I think if I trusted myself and knew what was on the other side of having my own business, I probably would have done it maybe ten years earlier. You know? And it was really a fear of what the 'no' was, and I think going to college kind of slowed down the process of having my own business, because I actually- I had my own business before I went off to college, and then it just was the programming of getting a good job, and contributing to the workforce, and I didn't realize that I could be doing that as a business owner. So I don't know if that resonates with any of your listeners, but I definitely- I think for myself could have used that kind of pep talk maybe a decade ago.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah I would imagine that hits home for many people.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah.
Jenn T Grace: So in kind of parting here, anything that you would like to share in terms of how people can get in touch with you, how they might work with you, just kind of any number of ways just to make sure that we get a good kind of plug here for people to contact you.
Rhodes Perry: Yeah thank you. Well my website is www.RhodesPerry.com so there's the personal branding there. And on December 1st I'm offering a webinar for my target audience which is executive HR and diversity professionals on setting vision for- a diversity and inclusion vision that's inclusive of LGBT employees and folks that are served by businesses or government agencies. So that's December 1st and if you go to my website, on my blog there's more information on how to register for that, and you can also just contact me at Rhodes@rhodesperry.com and I can share more information that way. And I also offer a free quarterly newsletter that just kind of keeps people in the know of what I'm up to, I offer a ton of free information there on just strategies on how to engage LGBT employees, how to develop an LGBT policy, how to sustain change over time; all of that stuff is included in my quarterly newsletters. And I just love to hear from folks, so if people have questions I'm available to just provide value and help people kind of get started on that path of building more inclusive workplaces.
Jenn T Grace: That is awesome. And so for anyone listening, this is episode 98. I'm pretty sure I screwed it up earlier when we were talking, so you can go to the website at www.JennTGrace.com/98 and that will get you a transcript for today's interview, and then all of the links that Rhodes was just talking about. And I feel like it might be important to note that Rhodes is spelled R-H-O-D-E-S, not like Roads like a road. Just because I feel like- I want to make sure it's clear and people can find you, so that's good. Awesome.
Rhodes Perry: Thank you so much, thank you for having me on the show.
Jenn T Grace: You are very welcome, it was a pleasure chatting with you.
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.
Thu, 10 November 2016
How to Establish Your Personal Brand With Intention With Jennifer Brown
Jenn T Grace: You are listening to the Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional Podcast, episode 97.
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: Hello and welcome to episode number 97 of the podcast. I am your host, Jenn Grace, and today I have a really awesome interview with a very dear friend, colleague, mentor, just so many different things that we can kind of categorize her as. And it is with Jennifer Brown, and she is a third time guest on the show, so this will be the third time that we have heard from her, and every time that she's on the show we end up talking about a variety of different things, and I truly feel like the opportunities are absolutely endless with the different directions that any one of our conversations can go. So back in 2013 she was the first interview that I ever had on this podcast, it was episode number 4, which was indeed a very long time ago since we're in episode 97. And then I also had her on as one of the interviews for the Thirty Days, Thirty Voices project, and that was a thirty day series of LGBT leaders just doing really awesome things in the community. So in this third time that Jen is on the show, we really, really focused on the topic of growing a personal brand, growing a business, writing a book, publishing your thought leadership. We really just, just, just scratched the surface on so many possible directions that all of this can go. But I'm hoping for those who are listening to this, and you have found your way to this podcast because you really want to know more about personal branding. And while yes, the show is called Personal Branding for the LGBTQ Professional, these tips and advice really kind of resonate across the board whether you're part of the LGBTQ community or not. And Jennifer being in a diversity setting and having a business on diversity and inclusion, certainly talks about women, it talks about people of color, talks about LGBTQ people, and really all of the principles are very similar regardless of how you might identify.
So I'm really pleased to share this interview with you, and we do talk about Jennifer's upcoming book and it's called, 'Inclusion, Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change.' And that is available on Amazon, it's available as of right now as you're listening to this, however I have been helping Jen with her book for about a year now, and we are finally at the place of having it be live, and my goal is to help her become an Amazon best seller, and I have no doubt that we are going to be able to do that. But I would love if after listening to this interview, and you're really kind of inspired by what she has to say because there is a lot of really meaty information that she talks about, if you do want to get a copy of her book I would love for you to put it on your calendar to purchase it on November 22nd. That is the day that we are trying to get everyone to buy so we can get her up in the rankings of Amazon best seller status. So I'm just really proud to have been a part of helping her with her book, and really helping kind of with this shift in personal brand, which we do talk a lot about. We talk about running a consulting business, and then also building a personal brand, and having both of those happen in tandem. There's definitely a lot of information in this. After you listen I highly encourage you to reach out to me as always. If you would like to get in touch with Jen, she provides all of her information at the end of the show, but if you would like an introduction feel free to email me, get me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, you know how to find me. It's at Jenn T. Grace at pretty much any of those locations.
So without further ado, let's just hop into the interview with Jen, and yeah I hope you enjoy.
So I would love for you to just kind of start and give the listeners who might not know who you are just kind of a little bit of a background about yourself, about your consulting company, and then maybe a little bit about your personal brand, and then we'll just kind of take it from there.
Jennifer Brown: Perfect. Yeah, I am Jennifer Brown and I've had my own consultancy for about a decade called Jennifer Brown Consulting, and we service mainly large Fortune 500 companies in the diversity and inclusion space. So whatever those companies need, and wherever they are in their journey, we maintain a team that develops strategies, delivers and designs training on various hot topics in the diversity and inclusion space like unconscious bias and inclusive leadership skills. And as well I have a new book out, and I am speaking and keynoting a lot. The book is called 'Inclusion,' the subtitle is 'Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change.' So I'm happy to be here today.
Jenn T Grace: Awesome. Alright thank you. So for the loyal listeners of this podcast, this is indeed the third time that Jen has been on the show, and every time that you're on we end up going down a different type of rabbit hole in conversation about what you're doing in the land of LGBT-related stuff, and personal branding, and all that jazz. I feel like today it naturally would make sense to start the conversation with the book which you already led in with which is awesome, and maybe just kind of sharing what prompted you to even write a book in the first place. Because I know that JBC, your consulting company, is known for its thought leadership around white papers, but this is a book that is authored by you, not necessarily the consulting side of the business. So what was the impetus behind writing a book, and what was that experience?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, thank you for asking that, it's such an interesting question. I think having a book was part of my strategic plan a decade ago when I sat down and created my company. It was a piece that we expected to be a part of our arsenal but it took me a long time to get around to it, and boy are they a lot of work so that totally makes sense. However I know that in order to build the platform for my own personal brand as a thought leader and as a CEO, it's an important extension of that brand, and I know that it will open doors as books often do to a higher level of visibility, and opportunity, and really reputation building. It seems to excite people in a way that I have read about but I haven't really seen firsthand, and now I'm seeing it. Now that we're even speaking about the book which is not even out yet until November, the level of excitement that people have about it, and the legitimacy that it brings to everything you've already created, it's more than a cherry on the top, it's like- it sort of brings it in conversation. And for me, I want to evolve into more executive level conversations, I want to evolve through and past the corporate only conversations that I've been in as a consultant trying to influence that world. I really want to have more of a societal conversation, a political conversation, I want to tackle different domains so I do think that this will be a great way for somebody to get acquainted with who I am and what I care about. If they pick this book up, they'll understand why did she build the company? What is she about? What does she care about? Why is she an expert and who is she as a person? And I think armed with that I will be able to enter new communities to be a change agent within those communities. You know when I think about the choir that I have worked with and focused on for a long time, it's the change agent within the corporate structure, and the person that's running diversity and inclusion, or the- it's the LGBT, or woman, or person of color individual who's trying to get ahead and is looking to be empowered. And I still love that community and that's my primary community, but at the same time I need to take the message of everything I've learned and bring it to people that know nothing about what I'm talking about, and really make this message acceptable to them, and I think that's the work that all of us really should be thinking about doing who identify as change agents, is really getting outside of the choir and trying to reach that mainstream world out there that really needs to hear what this is all about.
Jenn T Grace: So I have two questions as it relates to what you just said. So first of all, the book title as you mentioned is 'Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace, and the Will to Change.' So if you were to summarize kind of what inclusion is for the person who might be listening to this who for the most part is likely going to be an LGBTQ entrepreneur, or maybe a business owner of some kind, what exactly are you talking about when you say 'inclusion' as it relates to the new workplace?
Jennifer Brown: Well if we're talking to business owners, entrepreneurs, people who are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur and also who identify as LGBTQ, the concept of it should resonate with us because- and I say 'us' because I am exactly that profile. Inclusion of us into the- really into the economy. You know something very basic as opportunities that we have or don't have based on maybe who we are historically, and also how competent we are and how we appear in the marketplace, how we bid on opportunities, how we are included. And I think diversity has so much to do with how we have been included or not included historically, and also how we have thought about our own story. Because we have been outsiders to so much because of our identities. So it is the same story as for women entrepreneurs, it's the same story as minority entrepreneurs. We are sort of outside of the insider circle that I think has started businesses and figured out how to grow those businesses and thrive. So we're coming at the opportunity very differently, and I think it's important to understand inclusion and exclusion dynamics for us as we build our companies, because it's very real for a lot of us and it's a self-talk, or a narrative, or what the stories that we tell ourselves. I mean that's an important part of the equation and what do we see as our own limitations because of our own identity, and because maybe we've been on the outside, and how do we overcome that, but also build resiliency, and skills, and take risk and actually see our diversity as part of what- of the magic that we bring to the companies that we build and the markets that we're capitalizing on, and the people that we are. So inclusion is important to understand for us because to not understand that and to deny that they're are elements of diversity and exclusion that are happening to us as LGBT business owners is not accurate. It's all around us, it's in the water. But far from feeling like- or being satisfied with, 'Well that's something that I need to minimize, or hide, or it's something that makes my life more difficult.' It might have made it more difficult in the past, but the cool thing these days is that it should be actually making you more talented, and more able to pivot, and be flexible, and capitalize, and have like deep emotional intelligence, and be resilient because we as LGBTQ people have had to figure out how to do all those things in order to survive in whatever environment we have been in, professionally and personally. So when we say, "I want to start a business or I want to grow my business," I think we ask deeper questions, we can come with an authenticity that truly draws people to us. I think we have a special tool kit, and then we have a special community certainly that is very loyal to us. So when customers and clients or however you define that, if they hail from the LGBTQ or ally community, they're going to resonate with us in a very different and a very deep way, and I've seen that really play out in my own business after going to LGBTQ conferences for years and feeling like I know many LGBTQ people in Corporate America, it's been a community that has truly believed my business up, and has been very loyal, and very invested in our success because the message that we're bringing is so important, not just to LGBTQ people but to all talent in organizations.
Jenn T Grace: You have said so much, so one of the things that I feel like might be worth going down a little bit further is kind of this dynamic of the professional self and the personal self, and I feel like you really just kind of weaved in and out of those two areas. But somebody who- maybe they're just starting their journey on their personal brand, as it relates to the book and then maybe I guess how you're planning on repositioning yourself as this book comes out, was it difficult in some ways to find that balance of sharing your personal story as it relates to sharing this whole kind of professional side? Because the book does kind of weave in and out of, 'this is the landscape, this is the marketplace, here's the workplace that we're trying to change.' But it's important for so many reasons to be sharing your story, your personal story as it relates to all of this other stuff, and all of what you were just talking about. Was it difficult to kind of find that right balance of how much do you share versus how much do you hold back and vice versa?
Jennifer Brown: Oh sure. Yeah it's difficult sometimes but I actually really enjoy the challenge of weaving in my story because it's so much a part of my credibility as a practitioner. It's so much not just what I know how to do, but it's who I am, and those two pieces- I think the reason we've had the success we have had is that our work is deeply personal at the same time as it is of professional value. So it's interesting to run a company whose mission and vision is so personal to me. It makes it very helpful versus I'm building- I don't know, I have to kind of work to bridge who I am and what I care about and my role as somebody who seeks change, and then this product that I'm building. But I think it always can be done regardless of what you call your product. For me it just happens to be I'm trying to create more inclusive workplaces where all kinds of people can thrive, and that was very much me as an employee before I had the company. So I remember those feelings, and I experienced that, and that energy fed the creation of the company, but it's still something that I am fighting. Every time I walk into a room with executives I feel under fire, I feel they're not going to listen to me, I feel that fear comes up, and I remember this is the fear that I am trying to change through having a company that is tackling that. And it feels very much like it's closing the loop for me as a person, and for so many others, it's improving the situation for so many others and that's always been our goal with the company. So I think there are some things about my personal life I don't go into in the book. So the journey of figuring out what parts of your personal story do you share, and when, and why, is I think what you're talking about. That really interesting gray area, and as we evolve and get more confident and more autonomous I'd say, and maybe even as you evolve your personal brand separately from the company that you've built if you have a company, or separately from the company that you work for; as you evolve those they start to separate. And you- what I hope for myself is I have more and more freedom to experiment, to not necessarily make my personal brand always support the company brand that I've built per say, but that it can speak more for the questions that I'm asking myself, and others. I mean I think almost the rawness and authenticity about what I don't know. Because I'm so busy in my company CEO role knowing what I know and making sure that I can bring people to a certain place and helping them with my knowledge and I need them to trust me implicitly. I have 150% confidence in me as somebody who is guiding a very large, typically large high stakes, high level people through this sort of process, and that's what we do on the consulting side. But as a personal brand it's like the metrics for success are so different. To me, what I'm learning about it is you do know a lot and your knowledge is so important, but who you are and being real about the things you are uncertain about, and the provocative questions you can ask, and the vulnerability that you need to show in order to resonate as a personal brand feels a little bit in opposition to the sort of expert stance that you have to have all the time in the circles that I run in right now. So I know Jenn, you and I have talked a lot about this dichotomy, it's really an interesting one. So I'm just looking forward to exploring that, and noticing the tension between those two. I'm not judging it, I don't feel badly about it, I am confident that I will figure out the right place for my personal brand to live vis a vis our corporate work, but I do think that there's some business there that I'm interested to kind of watch how that evolves. And deep in my personal work and really think about who I am to other individuals and not just who I am to the companies that we sell business to if that makes any sense.
Jenn T Grace: Absolutely. And do you think that you had a benefit from the onset that you- your company being called Jennifer Brown Consulting, obviously your name is on the company, your name is on the door, but I feel like if I go back in time and think of when we first met which is probably seven, maybe eight years ago, it was a while ago, and just looking at you as a personal brand then. Even though it wasn't- well maybe it was and you can answer this, it didn't appear to be overtly intentional that you were trying to brand yourself as a person. You were- when we met you were under your CEO hat of Jennifer Brown Consulting, but I wonder for people who are listening to this and they have a company but maybe it's not so synonymous, it's not Jennifer Brown Consulting and Jennifer Brown. It's something a little bit different where they now are in a place where they have to bridge the gap to some degree to really start to pivot and position themselves as the brand rather than their company. Do you think that now as you're ten, twelve, fifteen years into this, that you have kind of a benefit because you really kind of positioned yourself as a thought leader so clearly and so early on that that now is just a matter of refining what that looks like today, versus maybe when it was when you started. Or do you feel like maybe your struggles of trying to separate the personal brand versus the business still to be very much the same struggle that pretty much anybody would be going through at this point in time?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, and there are so many ways to look at this, Jenn. You know that- boy I've been talking about do we rename the company for years. We realized that there are sort of implications either direction you go of having your name on the door, and maybe the difficulty then of pulling your name apart from the name of your company eventually if you know that that's what you're going to want to do, but at the same time every time I went to think about changing the name of my company and removing my name from it, something held me back from doing that. And I've always sought a lot of advice about it, and I think some quarters had said to me, 'You're the one that everybody knows,' and that's a blessing and a curse but it's actually been mostly a blessing for the company because I happen to be the kind of CEO that is out there speaking all the time, writing all the time, taking a position, I have a platform because I'm very extroverted. It's something that suits me from a personality standpoint to always have been pretty visible, and I was an asset to the company frankly, and still continue to be probably the biggest asset to the company. Other CEO's that are more I'd say operational or behind the scenes or tend to have a more analytical style- like say you're a technician, you're not the selling CEO, you're the person behind the scenes creating the magic, doing the product design and all that, and you rely then- or you will as you grow, you'll rely on that front facing head of sales, or that person who's managing your marketing, or who knows, maybe you're a CTO and you hire a CEO who's going to be that person that's in front of clients and customers, et cetera. Every company usually- unless your product is so magic and you don't need sales and marketing, most companies are going to need somebody that's facing the public. I happen to be the technician consultant that came through my education being the consultant who also enjoyed the sales and marketing side. And so it actually made sense I think the way we did it, I have to say it's been a conversation over the many years with my team, who depending on the year, and depending on the team, I have gotten feedback about when we walk into the room we're not Jennifer and that doesn't feel good, and that's been- we have talked about that and we have then kind of ended up though choosing to continue to have the full name in the name of the company. And some of those folks have rolled off because they never quite could embrace it, and that's that natural attrition, that's totally fine. It was not that it wasn't painful and difficult, but that's how you evolve to having the right team as well, and you have a team that supports you, and you have a team that actually celebrates the fact that your name is in the title and the name of the company because they're so proud. It's very important- we could talk about team development and selection all day long Jenn, and I know that's not the topic here, but it was a really important evolution for me to hear that, for me to think about what is my role vis a vis my brand and the company, do we want to keep my name there or do we want to totally change to another name that has nothing to do with me. Are we ready to kind of kick those training wheels off and have the company stand on its own with a completely other name? And you know, in ten years I haven't done that yet. I'm not ruling it out at all, and actually I think you just never know when the right moment is to actually really truly bifurcate and rename a company and remove your name from it. But that's a strategic choice, and really to me it depends on what happens with the personal brand, and whether we feel that there's a niche where we do that, and also whether we feel the company has built up its brand as an independent entity strongly enough that it can go on its own under another name and it's so good, and it's so recognized that it doesn't really matter, it's sort of a blip, it's a rebranding exercise, and it doesn't really hurt business. So you know I think that it is all kind of a question mark for me, and that's what's so exciting even ten years in to know that we're still evolving, we're still trying to figure it out. We have to see how that's going to go, but yeah that's my long answer to that question of what do you call your company, what's your role in your company, are you important to your company, are you the most important thing to your company? And you know, are you a front facing person? Is that a role you like to play? And will whatever you are building in your company help your personal brand when and if you're ready to set off on your own and take that name with you or share that name with a company for a while, and then kind of separate them a little more, how do you build that up? I mean I think to answer one part of your question, the reputation and the platform that I've built for myself is- I'm so grateful to have had the company to do that in. I've had that environment to establish myself. And I would say Jenn, that I think women, and people of color, and LGBTQ people- I don't want to speak for everyone, for me it took me a really long time to step to the front of my own company from a confidence perspective, and that's a long, long story and I don't talk about that a lot in the book, and we often joke, you and I, that that's book number two or maybe book number three. But it took me a long time and I felt that I somehow wasn't sharing or being generous with the company by calling it my name. I struggled with my position- being as bold as I really wanted to be, and as proud as I wanted to be, and as in the front as I wanted to be, and sort of building up the confidence to step out and say, 'I'm ready now to do a book,' for example and put my stake in the ground. 'I'm ready now to have a personal brand because I'm strong enough to do that.' It took a long time to do that, to kind of learn how to lead and be proud of being a leader.
Jenn T Grace: I think that there's so much to be said about personal branding generally speaking. Personal brands have been around for- since the dawn of time, I'm sure of it. But I feel like it's becoming so much more important in the current days and years to follow because there's so much more about authenticity, and there's so much more about a company or an individual wanting to do a business with another individual. So I feel like there's all of that that's kind of like wrapped around this on top of it, so it's interesting because you have been in this for fifteen years or so, and you're coming at it from a completely different vantage point than somebody who is deciding right now today that they are going to form a business and kind of figure out what strategic direction do they go in? Do they use their name or do they come up with a different company name and build the company and their personal brand at the same time? Like there's just so many decisions that kind of have to be made, and a lot of people I think just fall into whatever that decision is without a lot of strategy behind it.
Jennifer Brown: I think you need both. I mean I think you've got to think about both from the beginning, and you have to be really clear from the various roles and hats that you wear, vis a vis both. So like I said, I'm a selling CEO in my consulting business. I also happen to be a technician, but in the work that we do. Originally that was my training. So what my team tries to do now is- and I'm the one with the trusted relationships in our market. So everybody knows me and the trust is huge in the business that I'm in. It's not just your technical skills, it's do we trust her, do we trust her team? If we bring them in will they make us look good inside our company, our big corporation, et cetera. So all of that I think is that personal integrity piece that the company has earned and the team has earned but that I'm ultimately responsible for. So I have to- if I have my CEO hat on, I have to run a tight ship, I have to hire the best people, I've got to deliver on what we promise. I'm also out there creating thought leadership and reputation for the company. Then when you say, 'Okay what's your personal brand? Is it separate from that, is it the same from that?' I would almost say again it comes back to the role that you play best. For me it just made sense given that I'm so out externally focused, I'm so in the marketplace, I so want to be in the conversation on both fronts. But I'd say if you're not that kind of leader and those aren't your strengths or your passions, if you love to build, if you're sort of more of an engineer and you like- you're introverted and you like to sit alone and craft things all day long, your brand within your company is not going to be as visible as my brand is in my company. People aren't going to know you, maybe you don't want them to know you, maybe you want to lead with a concept or an idea, you want to lead with your team, you want to lead with your product. I think we've done a little bit of all of that, it's not like we don't lead with the product, but I'm sort of an indelible part of the product. And so it's interesting like the lines are so blurry for me, but I'll tell you as you get larger, if your personal brand in your company is very visible, as you scale your business it's harder and harder to maintain the intimacy that you have worked really hard to build, and that you really treasure and enjoy. And that's a hard part about getting larger as a company, is that you lose the high touch opportunities. We've got 8,000 now in our database and I've collected them over ten years as you know, Jenn, and I can kind of tell you the story about every single one of those people. You know, I know where I met them, and they heard me speak, and there's a million stories that they have about me, and I try to stay ahead of it but it's really difficult. So I think too just the difficulty of scaling a personal brand, at least in the consulting environment, is an interesting challenge. On the personal side though, if we build a personal brand that's really much more about the individual, whether that means I'm doing through coaching, or we're doing sort of a different business where I'm reaching in and working with people, not just companies, maybe we generate that intimacy again but in a different way, and they know Jennifer and they can spend time with me. But as my consulting company gets larger and larger it's more and more difficult for me to intersect and interact directly with clients and the people that I originally was influencing when I started the company ten years ago, and I was teaching every class, and I was meeting every person. So as someone who really cares about relationships and values that intimacy- and I get a lot from that intimacy. I don't just want to be a CEO that's somewhere disembodied. To me it has to still be organic, and I need to still be in the conversations because that actually helps me be a thought leader. If I can speak on a firsthand basis, not just reading reports from my teams that are doing the work, but if I can actually feel intuitively the conversation that's going on amongst my constituency, it enables me then to say, 'Okay we're on the right track, we're talking about the right things, we're providing the right services that are most urgent for people.' And for me to walk into an executive room or interview a CEO, I have a lot of credibility and depth that I pull on to make sure that I'm very connected to the conversation. So that's kind of the danger of growing a bigger company is that you lose touch with that, and I think that's so much a part of my brand, is the ability to really keep it real.
Jenn T Grace: How do you find that balance though? Like what do you think- so for somebody listening to this who might be overwhelmed just at what you've been talking about, how do you find some kind of balance where you can continue to grow your company, but you can also still be involved in those conversations that will keep you on the forefront of whatever the industry is that somebody might be in?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, that's a challenge. I hear a lot of people, what they do to kind of satisfy that, is they do a lot of pro bono work for example. They kind of bifurcate it, they've got their business to run but then they do community conversations, they teach for example- not that teaching is pro bono but they're working with young people in some way, and that kind of scratches an itch for them in terms of continuing to keep their feet on the ground and really make a difference. For us at JBC, we make a difference constantly. Like every single thing we do is making this like transformational difference for people because we're giving them confidence and skills and helping them find their voice. So everything we do has impact. So I think for those on the phone who may not be running this kind of company, I'd say just to pay attention to how will you be satisfied and feel that you're doing your sort of heart work, because business can be exhausting and I think we can lose track of why we even started in the first place, we can get disconnected from what's most important to us or not make time or have time to do that. But I'd say pick and choose if you have a team, and even if you don't and you're a solopreneur, make sure that you're doing the kind of work at least for a portion of every day that really fulfills you, and really replenishes you. Because when you're running a business that has to make money, I would guess most of us in the audience and myself included, there are many tasks that we do during the day that deplete us whether we're managing conflict, or I don't know, trying to make hard hiring decisions, or dealing with difficult customers and clients, or managing cash flow, or things that- as I think through the things that deplete me versus the things that replenish me like investing in my community. Like for me- and that's evolving. What are the things that I really enjoy now versus a year ago? Versus four or five years ago? It's actually really evolved and there's not one thing I think that replenishes me from a work standpoint, there's a couple different things that I enjoy that I wish I had more time to do. Some of them make money for our company, and some of them are things that I would prefer to do just because I want to do them. So I think our own nurturing and pacing ourselves and sustaining our energy as founders and leaders, it just is so critical to seek those things that give us energy as opposed to taking it away, because business leadership and existing in a commercial world is a very difficult balance between kind of what needs to get done and what we really want to be doing every day. And I would say to sort of pay attention to that, journal about it, notice how you spend each day, each hour of each day, notice your energy. Are you tired? Do you have a headache after a certain conversation? I mean my body tells me a lot about what kind of zone I'm in at any given moment. I know what's hard, and I know what's easy, and like I feel like I could do it every day all day, and all of our goals should be to kind of shift our lives more towards the latter if we can.
Jenn T Grace: Do you find, or have you had conversations that people- you know I have a client of mine that calls them gremlins, where you have those gremlins that are kind of in the back of your mind, or in the pit of your stomach that are saying, 'Who are you to say that you can work in your happy place all day? Who are you to say that you don't have to work with difficult clients?' Because I hear what you're saying and I think it's brilliant because I so feel the same way. You have to find what makes you happy, you really have to pay attention to what your body is telling you, because nine out of ten times the signs are there if you're just quiet and still enough to listen to them. But I also know that there are so many people who get stuck in their head and they start to doubt themselves and say, 'Well how come I can make this decision that I'm only going to work with this type of client that makes me happy?' Because people are somehow engrained in them that they have to be miserable in their careers or in their businesses. I feel like that's a large conversation that I kind of hear from kind of the periphery, because I'm all about working with people who are awesome, who are doing good for the world, and I don't want to work with people who give me a headache after being on the phone with them. How do you kind of I guess balance that as well, and have you personally had those experiences where you've even doubted your own intention or your desire? Maybe not current day, but perhaps it was in the past.
Jennifer Brown: Oh yeah, so many times. I think as I said earlier to build your confidence as a leader and to trust your instincts, for me took a long, long time. I tend to listen to others too much, and I'm not tuned into what my sense is about things. Coming to that confidence was a really, really hard one and taken me much longer than it should have, and what I chalk that up to frankly is honestly being a woman business owner and being LGBTQ to a certain extent, and the lack of role models that I have been able to see that resonate with me that are available to me so that I could have gotten there quicker. And it's one of those things that is a shame, and it's not right, it was a missed opportunity for me, and I was delayed because of it. I was delayed in my development as a leader. It took me much longer to get my company to where it is now than it should have. But it's because of the messages I was getting or not getting, the mentors that popped up in my life, whether they happened to be all men, or whether they happened to be- which they were, or whether they happened to be people that didn't have my best interest at heart but I trusted them and I shouldn't have. You know there's so many mistakes that were what I call unforced errors like in sports, that I made that nobody caught me doing it and redirected me, because I just didn't have that guidance. And then to tune into yourself, and to learn to listen, to quiet it and say, 'Am I happy? Am I working on what I want to be doing? Am I noticing stress level? Am I fulfilled and how can I reorient my life, my activities, my company accordingly?' That takes the ability to listen to ourselves, and the confidence that the commercial market is going to appear if we do that. I think we have so much fear. 'Well I have to keep going, and I have to keep delivering this, and I committed to doing this, and this is my brand,' and we end up- the tail ends up kind of wagging the dog. So this dynamic is to shift the power dynamic and to take that power, and to know that when we do that and we put this powerful vision out into the world for whatever we're building, or bringing, or whatever service we're providing, the right clients will find us. And it feels very risky, it has always felt risky to me to do that, and I think you can't be foolish about it and completely ignore your market and what your market is telling you. So it's kind of an inside out, outside in dynamic. You've got to pay attention to both sides, but I think for me, I've been very reactive and I think I'm finally stepping into a proactive stance in the market, and the book is a big part of that proactive stake in the ground. It says here's everything I've learned in those trenches, and I'm going to not only share it, but I'm having an opinion about it. It's here whether you agree with it, disagree with it. I mean you know, Jenn, I've said to you I get hate mail and people who are challenging me, I've now put my sort of personal and professional vision out there, and I don't know what the reaction is going to be to it. And that is a huge overcoming of fear. To me that was all about I am finally strong enough and I have a wonderful team and community that's supporting me, and I can put myself out there, and what's the worst that can happen? And that ability to do that has taken a very long time to be ready to do that for me. It's an interesting feeling but I'm grateful that I'm finally there, even if it was delayed, even if there were a lot of detours, even if I had to learn the hard way about how to trust myself. And I'll say that- I did this class on feminine- it was called a Lean Startup Canvas, and it was seen through the feminine lens, and the permission- permission is really the key word to lead in the way you want to lead, and I think that versus the way that maybe we see a lot of businesses being led, and grown, and what we celebrate in terms of good business behavior, I think is still a very male paradigm that we are watching, that we are emulating. And it's enormously powerful to say, 'I'm a woman leader, I'm an LGBTQ leader. What's important to me, what does authenticity look like?' Trusting that and leading with that is the transition that I've been kind of coming to, and that's just going to get stronger and stronger I think. As people's reaction to what I've put out hopefully is a largely very positive one. It's an encouragement that's going to come back that's going to say, 'We need more leaders like you out there who are leading in a different way, who are building companies in a different way, who are having a different conversation, who are bringing their personal brand together with their expertise, and valuing that story, and integrating those pieces. We need a lot more business owners like that.' I think that would really change fundamentals of our society frankly.
Jenn T Grace: If you could- because I know we're already coming up on our time, if you could distill one piece of advice, just- I'm sure you have- the conversations that you and I have just on an ongoing basis about entrepreneurship, and how to make the world a better place, I feel like we could just record those and I could air them and have plenty of material. But if we were to just kind of bring that down to one thing that you could give as a piece of advice to someone listening to this that is kind of where you were ten years ago, or fifteen years ago, what might that one kind of step be, or one thing that they could do or start to think about that could really maybe shortcut or bypass some of the hurdles and heartache and headache that you may have experienced?
Jennifer Brown: Yeah I think we've kind of already touched on it. I think it is building a new habit to celebrate your LGBTQ identity, your diversity story, and really do some work- deep and I would say even spiritual work, however you define that, on the role of that story in creating the kind of leader that you are, or that you want to be. And I mentioned some key words earlier like courage, like resiliency, like flexibility, like emotional intelligence and sensitivity to others, like inclusion. I believe- I believe that LGBTQ people, but also entrepreneurs specifically, have this very unique opportunity to change the world. Whatever we're building, to me that's kind of secondary. We are role modeling every day with everything that we do so that others don't have to suffer in the way that we did. And I know that the suffering is on a personal level and a professional level, and the suffering on a professional is, 'Gee I don't feel that I fit in, I don't feel comfortable playing the game. What is the game? What are the rules of the game? What are people going to think of me? Are they going to accept me?' All of that narrative is swirling around as we're trying to do business, as we're trying to impress people so that they will give us their money frankly, because that's what it is at the end of the day. But we get in our own way as much as maybe our external world is preventing us. And I would say these days what I find mostly for LGBTQ people and entrepreneurs is there's some of us that are awakened to the huge opportunity in front of us to grab our power, to really own that story, be authentic, role model for others, be a force of change, and bring your business along that journey and it will thrive as you're doing that, because remembering it's as much who you are and the relationships that you're establishing, and sort of the shared trust that you're building, as much as it is what you are selling or marketing. And I would say do some work on integrating those pieces. Think about your personal brand, think about your company if you have one, or your product, and think about do they intersect? Are you keeping them separate? Is there sort of a one plus one equals three part of this equation that you are not exploring to the extent that you should, and that there's some magic there that you haven't yet even tapped into? And that would probably be- that would probably be my biggest advice for this community because it's really proven true for me. I know that it can work, and that it's been even unexpectedly wonderful and transformative for me both on the personal brand side and the company side, and it's very cool to see. But I think there's something there that could really apply for everyone in your audience, Jenn.
Jenn T Grace: I love it, and I think that your book is a natural tool for a lot of people listening. While no, many people in this audience aren't going to be DNI practitioners, but I feel like a lot of what you were talking about is in the book in terms of just bringing your authentic self to the workplace, or defining your diversity story which I know is a chapter in the book too. So for those who are listening- so the book is available in November, and this is coming out on November 10th, so we are hoping to get Jen on the Amazon best seller list, so if you are interested in purchasing the book, you can do so on November 22nd which is when we're driving everyone to go there. But in the meantime, how would you advise people to get in touch with you? What is the best way for them?
Jennifer Brown: For sure. So we've got our website that's our corporate website. I think we have- we're building and almost releasing Jenn, I think the personal brand website as well.
Jenn T Grace: It should be live.
Jennifer Brown: Yeah, www.JenniferBrownSpeaks.com, and that will have a lot more about the evolution of my personal brand, and my speaking, specifically highlighting a little bit more about me as a person. So there's multiple ways you can kind of keep in touch with us. We have newsletters, we've got our Twitter feed which is @JenniferBrown. We've got our LinkedIn presence, and our Facebook presence, and if you've got- from this audience Jenn, I would say I'm here to support you, and what you all could do for me is if you ever encounter corporate clients, any sort of companies that are building- even fast growth smaller companies are really investing in diversity and inclusion these days. We've got new clients that are 200, 300, 500 people for example, and they're trying to really build diversity into the core and the foundation of the company even though they're not very large. That's really an exciting conversation, and I enjoy even just mentoring and brainstorming with those kinds of founders and CEOs who are- a lot of them are straight, white men frankly, and straight women as well, saying, "I want to embed this in what I'm building, and I want to do it right, and diversity is important to me, and is important to our ability to grow and thrive." So that's a very exciting conversation, so I'd say if anyone on the call, on the podcast has interest in that, or has someone who needs help with that, please do reach out and we'd love to be helpful even just in an advisory capacity.
Jenn T Grace: And that's where you get your energy from, is that kind of helping that grassroots organization that we were talking about before, where the happy place is and the energy.
Jennifer Brown: Yes, I enjoy that because I can relate on a business owner level, and that's a big part of my identity in addition to LGBTQ, and woman, and all the other parts of my dimensions because owning a business is an experience like no other. It's really unique, it's really hard, it's really rewarding, it shapes you, it takes over your life and heart, but we are really the creators that are putting pretty important stuff out into the world.
Jenn T Grace: Well thank you so much. I feel like we could have gone in so many different directions talking today, and in just 48 minutes or so we've just scratched the surface of so much information. So I really hope the people do go out and get your book when it becomes available, and at least follow you on one of those platforms because you do have a lot of good information to share with the world.
Jennifer Brown: I do, I do. Yeah please do, and we like to give away a lot so please go read our thought leadership, our white papers, our articles. I'm a big fan of generosity in business, and I really believe in it. So maybe that's something that as folks are looking at how we've built our brand and our platforms, that level of we want to be able to be helpful first and foremost, not really sell first and foremost. We're trying to invest in the community, so I hope that's apparent.
Jenn T Grace: Yeah, maybe we'll have you on in 2017 and we can discuss that whole concept, because I think there's so much to be said about that, and it will be post book launch and it will be interesting to hear kind of what happened to that too. So we'll have to make a date for that.
Jennifer Brown: Totally, thanks Jenn.
Jenn T Grace: Cool, alright thank you. I so appreciate it.
Jennifer Brown: Thank you, everyone. Thanks, Jenn.
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.