Want To Be An Entrepreneur? Here Are 7 Tips From A Woman Who Didn’t Give Up
Great genetics may make Sheila Marmon appear like she's new to the game, but with over 15 plus years of experience in the media, digital and financial industries, this Harvard Business School grad strategically positioned herself for success. Unlike some of her peers, the 40-something CEO didn't strike gold while sitting in a cushy corporate office, backed by a six-figure salary, paid vacation days and a 401K. She quietly and diligently created her own digital empire, smack-dab in the middle of her kitchen. In 2012, the L.A. native launched an ad tech company with a simple yet unrivaled service. "Mirror Digital connects leading brands to the growing U.S. multicultural market, through our network of social media influencers, boutique digital publishers and bloggers nationwide," Sheila explains. By providing access to impactful multicultural content creators, top companies can advertise to audiences they've had limited access to. Today her firm has executed over 300 interactive ad campaigns for clients like Sony Pictures, Marriott and Verizon. PowerToFly spoke with Sheila about what it takes to launch a successful business, along with the tips and tricks she's learned along the way.
Tip 1: Use your work experience to create a business that speaks to a larger mission.
In her experience working with media, digital and financial brands, Sheila developed a passion for launching new projects, which naturally grew into launching new businesses. From roles at Morgan Stanley, Essence and Time Inc., she's had her hand in shaping the growth, development and look, of many print and digital properties. But her big aha moment surfaced after working in the multicultural media space. "I helped launch Sports Illustrated Latino, worked on People en Espanol (and) launched a multicultural fashion magazine. I saw that there wasn't a lot of investment or even attention being paid to what was going on with multicultural consumers from a digital perspective. That's where I came up with the idea to launch Mirror Digital, because it explicitly looks to build and fund an ecosystem of digital content creators of color through an ad network model," she says.
Tip 2: Make a financial plan, and even still, be prepared for lean days.
Today Sheila employs a staff of 14. Her team has executed over 350 interactive campaigns, for clients like Macy's and General Motors; but that wasn't the case when Mirror Digital first launched, in 2012. She initially nurtured her fruitful idea in the kitchen of her Inglewood, California condo. "It was a bootstrap startup, so those were lean days," she laughs. After living off of her savings and working alone for a year, she hired her cousin. "She was so tremendously helpful in helping me get things off the ground … We were working 18 hours a day, with no resources. Two of my sorority sisters loaned me money, to get over that first hump, until we got a client … it was amazing that I had friends and family step up for me … You really have to be financially prepared to launch a business."
Sheila speaking on Council of Urban Professionals panel
Tip 3: Ask for help.
It was almost by accident that Sheila got help from her cousin, who was new to L.A. and job hunting. Looking back, she admits that she should have asked for help sooner. "A lot of female entrepreneurs in particular end up launching a sole proprietorship and they're doing everything from making the coffee, to taking out the trash, to closing the clients … You've got to get leverage to move yourself forward, so that you're not driving yourself crazy … Men are so much better at asking for what they need. I'll meet a man and within five minutes he's telling me what I can do to help him with his business. Women don't do that as aggressively. We need to think about how we can use the resources around us, whether they're colleagues, old bosses, friends or people we've networked with." She says that the key is identifying, "What's your ask that's going to help you get your business to the next level?" While running the show can be incredibly liberating, it's also demanding. Sheila warns budding entrepreneurs to know their limitations and hire people who can offset their own weaknesses.
Tip 4: Know your market.
In the process of solidifying funding and establishing a staff, it's important to research the market that you plan to impact. Sheila's previous work experience, including a failed business venture in the multicultural media space, helped her learn the ins and outs of the market and create a solid business model for Mirror Digital. "Multicultural consumers control 25 cents of every dollar spent in this country, so that is really significant. And in aggregate, you're looking at over 3.6 trillion dollars in economic investment and development … I hear people say, 'Oh, you focus on a really interesting niche.' And I just think to myself, 'Oh my God, do you realize that this is not a niche? This is the driving force of our economy right now,'" she affirms.
Sheila alongside Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed, during Council of Urban Professionals panel
Tip 5: "Crystalize your value."
While you may understand how the market could benefit from your product, it's essential to convey why a client should work with you. In addition to distinguishing your business from competition, it's important to provide a unique value to clients. For Mirror Digital, it's giving Fortune 500 brands, and other large advertising agencies, access to bloggers, influencers and other digital content publishers with large multicultural audiences, that they're not be plugged into. They also create custom social media marketing campaigns to fit their client's needs —"whether they want to advertise on websites, mobile, social platforms," Sheila explains. Once you identify your value, it's time to sell — with the right marketing materials. "Your media kit, your website, your capabilities presentation —you have to have those things in concert to present the same look and feel, and also resonate with your value proposition. So does this look like material from a company that's bringing me curated media or does it look like a construction company? You have to be really mindful of that branding element," Sheila adds.
Tip 6: Prepare yourself for "hand to hand combat."
In order to link Fortune 500 companies with multicultural content creators, first, she had to meet them. Sheila refers to her intense networking process as "hand to hand combat," explaining, "I would go to the blogger conferences. I would get referrals from different people that I knew … City by city we built the network up. Starting with New York, and L.A., Atlanta and Chicago … we have a mix of websites, bloggers, email newsletters, all digital content creators. We tend to work with close to 200 to 500 on a regular basis, depending on what the content is, what ethnic group they represent, because we can create campaigns specifically for African-American, Asian or Hispanic consumers, whatever our advertising client is looking for."
Sheila and Mirror Digital Team members
Tip 7: Build a diverse team that's not afraid to experiment.
"Tech colors everything that we do." Sheila says. "We are in the ad-tech industry. So, I joke that we really find ourselves in a new business every six months, because there's always an innovation and everything is constantly changing." To embrace change, the CEO fosters a culture of experimentation, so that both staffers and clients aren't afraid to think and work differently. "My team looks like the new America," Sheila explains. "(There are) a lot of young people who may not have understood that there was opportunity like this or felt welcomed in this industry to learn, grow and ultimately take a leadership role … Everyone is represented and contributes together; that's what makes me excited about what we do."
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
I sat in front of my CEO to discuss several complaints of racism. I was new to my role as a Culture Director. I was nervous about his reaction to the complaints. But I also knew he strongly supported developing this new department; I knew that he would take the right steps. So I was shocked when I heard him say sheepishly, "I don't know, Noelle...all of this stuff about racism. I just don't see it. I don't even see color. I'm pretty much color blind."
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