Paige Arnof-Fenn started a global branding and marketing firm 16 years ago (Mavens & Moguls) after a successful career doing corporate marketing at large companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola followed by heading up marketing at 3 successful startups that all had positive exits. When the company she worked for decided to cut their marketing team, she decided to take the leap right after 9/11 since she had nothing to lose and the rest you can say is history.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Paige to talk about her entrepreneurial journey and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman and Ursula Burns as my role models. I started a global marketing and branding company in Cambridge, MA 16 years ago after starting my career on Wall Street in the 80s, going back for an MBA and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose.
Can you describe your journey to success? When did you start? Did you ever imagine you would become this successful?
Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations. I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that >50,000 middle school-aged kids have gone through. As a marketing consultant, I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am an accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance). My definition of success has changed over the years but I always felt I would be successful because I knew I would work hard to make it happen.
What is your main source of income?
The majority of the fees come from consulting but I also get paid to give speeches and am a paid advisor to companies as well.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
Most of my business comes from networking. I think what makes someone effective at networking happens to coincide with things that just come more naturally to them. I am an extrovert and have been told I am good at networking. I grew up in the South so maybe it is both nature and nurture in my case. The traits that work in my favor include: being naturally curious so you ask a lot of question, people love talking about themselves; being a good listener so you can ask them more as follow up; being warm and friendly, smile, be the first to introduce yourself; sending a handwritten thank you note or e-mail referencing something you discussed or including an article you think they might enjoy right after you first meet; and making an introduction for them to meet someone in your network who they would find interesting. When you stop trying to sell and just share what you know and love networking can be fun! People put too much emphasis on trying to be interesting instead of being interested in the other person.
Here are a few networking tips based on my experience it does not need to be a chore:
Give before you get.
Stop selling start listening.
Find a buddy to go to an event with so you can work the room together, it makes it much more comfortable and fun.
Bring plenty of business cards.
Send followup notes to the best prospects after the event.
Monopolize people’s time or let them do it to you, chat briefly and exchange info so you can follow up after.
Overshare, let them do most of the talking.
Get into political discussions with people you do not know.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
I stick to LinkedIn and also contribute to other people’s blogs occasionally. Call me old fashioned but I still like the tried and true LinkedIn best. It is the most professional platform, my clients and prospects all use it, it is a great way to stay in touch with your contacts, exhibit thought leadership and do research on people. I like seeing who they are and are not connected to and asking about common interests and people. There is a lot of material there to work with. You do not need to be on every social media site but be strong on the ones you are on. Being invisible online is a very bad strategy. You must exist online today to be taken seriously.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
I do not use it for my business but I have clients who have found it is effective for them.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
Thought Leadership is also a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients. Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building your following on social media all contribute to increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well-trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of like-minded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
Word of mouth, writing articles and speaking mostly.
How did your brand stand out from the rest of the other brands out there that is similar to your niche?
Authenticity, hustle, persistence, and determination. We work hard and love what we do and I think it shows.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
We parted ways with a client when it became clear that despite our best efforts to delight and service her account she would never be a satisfied customer. The leg work we had done on her behalf we were able to leverage for other women CEOs we are working with so none of the team’s great work went to waste. One woman’s trash is another one’s treasure! Sometimes it is just better to cut bait and move on but it can be hard when you know you are right. Let it go and find the customers who appreciate your work. You will be fulfilled and gratified when you help them achieve their goals.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
I invested in a startup that folded but that is a risk most of my investments have done well so I cannot complain. You have to make the best decision you can with the info available at the tie but the market can change quickly.
What have you learned in the process of becoming wealthy that others can learn from?
Always spend beneath your means and don’t get caught up in trying to keep up with the Joneses.
What new business would you love to start?
If I had a great idea I would start it!
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
Not a thing, I learned from every bump and bruise along the way and it all got me here where I am today. Every bad boss made me a better boss. It is all part of the journey.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were first making a name for yourself, what advice would you give yourself?
It really is a marathon, not a sprint so do not set arbitrary goals like being named 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 because it may take you longer than Mark Zuckerberg to hit your stride and that’s okay. Most people take many detours on their career paths before finding their true calling. Don’t be disappointed if you get to 40 and are still exploring because the journey really is a great adventure so enjoy it.
Don’t be scared to fail, just learn from every bump in the road so you make better mistakes next time, that is where you learn the most! You learn to do by doing. Course correct and pivot along the way, it makes for a fun career path.
Do you have any favorite business-related or personal development related books that you can recommend to other entrepreneurs?
How To Win Friends & Influence People — it is a classic with timeless advice on manners and people/human nature.
The Tipping Point — I named my company before I read this. He really understands what makes people tick.
Good To Great — another classic that makes you think and ask the right questions every day to build a sustainable business for the long term.
Getting To Yes — I took his negotiations class in business school and this reminds me of what he taught us, we are constantly negotiating in business and you have to always keep in mind what your best alternatives are and be ready to walk away.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Focus on filling your pipeline, it is the key to any successful business and prospective customers can come from anyone anywhere anytime so you should always be on your best behavior & make a great lasting impression. Be nice to everyone & make friends before you need them, you never know who is in or will be in a position to help! It is true you should never burn a bridge, that really is great advice and I can tell you dozens of stories over the years where that has served me well. You just never know when your paths will cross again with old colleagues, former bosses, etc. Kill them with kindness and don’t ever burn that bridge, trust me it pays off! Also, be the best prepared at every meeting, work your butt off and smile. It has worked for me at least!
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
As far as mistakes go I would caution others that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson when I started my company was not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them, I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so I learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!