Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m the founder of Health+Commerce, a healthcare PR and digital marketing agency. We’re only two years old but already bringing in about $5M annual revenue, and growing. I’m also mom to five kids: two boys and three girls, ages 5 to 15. Prior to starting Health+Commerce, I was an independent PR freelancer for 10 years. Before that I worked in the corporate world at a major medical device company. And before that, I worked for an Internet startup. So I’ve worked in basically every setting: as a startup employee, in corporate America, as a freelancer, and now as the founder and CEO of a small business.
What has been one insight or lesson that has been most helpful in your career?
Take control over your career and your life. Be excellent at what you do, so that you have power to negotiate the terms under which you will do it. Know your value and work on your own terms. For example, when I worked at my corporate job I hated every wasted, non-productive minute away from my kids. I knew I could get my job done working less than 40 hours a week. So I successfully negotiated to work part-time. Later, when part-time was no longer an option because my job really did require a full-time person, I left to work as a freelancer. I realized my skills would be useful to many other companies that couldn’t afford to have a full-time person doing what I had learned to do. As a freelancer I was able to gain control over my schedule, have kids without worrying about the impact on my job, and work anywhere in the world. For three months we lived in Madrid, which was a wonderful experience for our family.
What has been your favorite mistake? A mistake that in retrospect led to a great lesson and progress.
My favorite mistake was thinking I could expand my agency to do traditional marketing as well as PR. It seemed an easy way to capitalize on the needs of our existing clients, but I didn’t actually know that much about marketing, and our resources were spread too thin to do more than one thing extremely well. I read about the Hedgehog concept in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great and it changed my mindset completely.
Project forward ten years. How will your industry or field be fundamentally different then? What opportunities do you see?
The media landscape continues to evolve, moving away from a handful of trusted publications and outlets to zillions of others (like this one). I see a great need for better training and education about how to maximize the opportunities presented by this new world, and I hope to make a dent there.
What are some bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Blast out a press release to generate media coverage. Press releases do serve a purpose but just putting them out there over the wire is usually a waste of time and money. Media outlets all compete with each other, and you need to give each of them something special that’s of interest to their audience (unless your news involves massive amounts of money).
In the last two years, what have you become better at saying no to?
As a company, we have become better at saying no to client projects that don’t fit well into our area of expertise. As an individual, I’ve become better at saying no sooner to professional relationships that aren’t built on deep trust or are otherwise not a great fit, whether client or employee.
What is the one book you recommend most often and why?
The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco completely changed the way I think about work and the value of time. I’m not sure everyone has the personality or stomach to implement its lessons, but if you’re an entrepreneur it is a must-read.
What advice would you give a smart and ambitious recent college graduate? What advice should they ignore?
My advice is to always put yourselves in the shoes of another person to understand their perspective and also what motivates them. This will help you as you negotiate and persuade, and as you interpret advice, feedback and guidance from others. For example, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to “Lean In.” As a corporate executive, of course, she wants her employees to “lean in!” That would have been the very worst advice for me. I’m so glad I leaned out!
What is your favorite quote, one you aim to live by?
“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” — Mother Theresa