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Angel and Kristine Mason Broadus of Puzzle Pieces Marketing: “We have a very robust and detailed project management system”

We have a very robust and detailed project management system. We’re able to host team competitions that are tied to prizes and give bonuses based on work quality, and deadlines. We also make it a point to give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. It’s important to us to keep the lines of […]

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We have a very robust and detailed project management system. We’re able to host team competitions that are tied to prizes and give bonuses based on work quality, and deadlines. We also make it a point to give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. It’s important to us to keep the lines of communication open so that they know we are here to give any feedback or support they need.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angel Mason Broadus, along with her wife, Kristine, co-owner of the fabulous, do-gooding, creative and colorful marketing and PR agency, Puzzle Pieces Marketing. Founded in 2009, PPM focuses on social good and providing services that benefit their community, working primarily with nonprofits and mission-driven businesses to develop strategies that inspire action. In the spirit of giving back, Angel serves as a member of the Board of Directors for North County Philanthropy Council, Moonlight Cultural Foundation, and Point Loma Nazarene Marketing Advisory Board.

Kristine Mason Broadus is an animal and human rights activist. VP & co-owner of Puzzle Pieces Marketing, an agency focusing on social good and providing services that benefit the San Diego community. She is an active volunteer for United Way of San Diego and the Boys & Girls Clubs’ of San Diego. Kristine’s education includes a BA in Psychology from UMKC and AS in Respiratory Care. She specialized in Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care, was awarded Valedictorian and an Honors Member of the Lambda Beta Society.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

Angel:

I never wanted or dreamed of being an entrepreneur or business owner, but over the years of running the business, I realized that this is exactly where I belong. I founded Puzzle Pieces Marketing in 2009 when I was laid off from my last corporate marketing position. It may sound odd, but honestly, I am grateful for being laid off because it put me in the position to start the business.

When I was laid off, I thought it was the worst thing that could have happened to me both personally and professionally. It was a huge blow to my self confidence, I was terrified and felt as though I was disposable. I took that layoff as a reflection of my value or worth. I was scared but knew that I needed to get back out there so I immediately sat down at my computer and started looking for another job. That’s when I realized that going back to work for someone else where I could so easily be discarded again was not something I was ready to do. So I made the decision to try to start my own consulting business. I didn’t have high hopes and gave myself 6 months to figure out if I could make this business work. Fast forward to 11 years later and we’re still in the game!

In 2015, Kristine joined the company full time as our Vice President. She manages all of our Digital Marketing services with our Social Media, Search Engine Optimization, and Website Development team members report directly to her. I get to do and manage our team members for all of the other stuff like, Marketing Strategies, Public Relations, and Graphic Design and Branding.

Kristine:

I grew up in a small town in Missouri. I was poor and raised by a single mom. I was blessed to be able to go to a small Catholic school that instilled so much discipline, critical thinking, and motivation in me. With the good, there is usually another side. Being the only Black person, poor and living in some questionable neighborhoods put a target on me, but it didn’t stop me at all. My school was highly academically competitive and that made me want to be better each day. I was always on Honor Roll, took college classes in high school, and excelled in my education. I always had huge goals for myself. I would catch myself thinking maybe I should own a business, but had no clue what. So, I did what everyone thinks you should do after high school and decided on a university.

I used my intelligence to get out of my circumstances and received a full undergrad academic scholarship. Graduating with a BA in Psych, my goal at the time was to be a social worker. I got into UNLV, packed my car up, and fled to Las Vegas in a hurry. Let’s just say, once young Kristine realized how broken the system actually was, she decided social work was not her forte. To make a long story short, multiple years of being a server, being a tutor, and going back to school and becoming a Respiratory Therapist (Valedictorian) specializing in Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care, I met Angel shortly after starting a position at a Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, MO.

I asked Angel to marry me, she said yes, and we both thought it would be better for our future together for me to stop doing work for everyone else and build the business with her. In 2015 I became Angel’s sidekick (VP) of the company, we rebranded, and there’s nothing but smoke behind us from the fire of remnants of a power couple moving so quickly. I guess there really is some truth to not forcing your life and going with the flow because it took me right where I belong.

In 2017 we rebranded and that’s when we made the decision to focus on working primarily with nonprofits and mission driven businesses. It was the best decision we could have made. Growing up, my parents taught me that you don’t live on this earth for free. The price you pay is to give back and to contribute to your community. We both were always raised to understand the importance of volunteering, getting involved, and philanthropy.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting (or should I say heartbreaking?) things I’ve experienced as a business owner is realizing that one of our biggest clients, one we had worked with for years, did NOT have a value system that was even remotely close to ours. When I say not even close, I mean far from it. The business owner supported anti-LGTBQ, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim views, which is so far from what we stand for as an organization.

The lesson learned from that, however, is that the beauty of owning a business is realizing that not only do our clients get to make the decision of whether or not they want to partner with us, but we also get to decide with whom we want to partner. I truly believe that the clients we serve are a reflection and extension of our value systems. I am grateful that we are in a position to make the decision of how we use our talents and what type of businesses and organizations we help succeed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made when starting the business would absolutely be the first name and branding I chose. I originally named the business “Mason Consulting”. The name was boring, the branding was boring and corporate. There was NOTHING unique, different, or exciting about it. It was the complete opposite of who we are and what we stand for. I didn’t take any of my own advice when it came to branding. It was just stale, boring, and blah. I think it’s a funny story because I was making the same mistake that I tell our clients not to make.

We changed the name very quickly within the first few weeks to Puzzle Pieces Marketing. Over time, the branding has changed to what it is today and is a much truer reflection of who we are. We’re colorful, creative, unique, and different. We’re the MisFits, we don’t fit in and that’s ok. It’s our uniqueness that makes us special and we’ve built a brand that embraces and reflects that uniqueness

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Treat them like family, listen, and lead team and individual calls by asking how they are and what questions they have first. This tends to help them get everything they want to say out and listen in a fresher state.

We also try to lead with motivation, compassion, and positivity. We work primarily with nonprofits and mission-driven businesses. It also helps keep our team motivated by reminding them of the why? The work we do supports the mission of our nonprofits clients.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?

We’ve been in business for 11 Years and have had members of our team work remotely since the beginning. We have a physical office in San Diego that allows us to host our team meetings and meet with clients but we have always given our team the flexibility of working from home. Hosting our team and client meetings via Zoom and Google Meet has always worked for us. Because we have always been set up to facilitate our team working from home, making the transition during the pandemic was much easier for us because it was as if we were already prepared and set up for this accidentally.

Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?

We really don’t have a lot of challenges managing our team remotely since we have been doing this from the beginning. But what we have noticed since we closed our office on March 8th and since then have even taken all of our client and team meetings online, is that some of the creativity that comes from collaborating is not as organic when working remotely. When we’re meeting and strategizing in person, we’re able to bounce ideas off of each other and build off of each other’s energy. The collaboration just feels forced when meeting online.

We realize that we also have to work harder at keeping our team members motivated, engaged, and focused on their work. There is so much going on right now outside of working remotely and it is easy for any of us to lose focus. Staying focused seems to be more challenging because we’re unable to have in person interactions with our clients. Meeting with clients regularly is one of the ways we stay connected to their mission and another reminder of why we do what we do.

Another challenge that comes with managing our team remotely is maintaining a healthy work schedule. It’s as if there is no such thing as office hours when you’re not in an office. We will receive messages from team members at all hours and on weekends. We try to be as responsive as we can because if they’re working, we want to be working. It goes back to wanting to make sure our team members feel supported and are staying motivated. However it doesn’t make for a very healthy work environment and schedule for us if we’re constantly putting the expectation on ourselves that we have to be responsive and available 24/7.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?

We have a very robust and detailed project management system. We’re able to host team competitions that are tied to prizes and give bonuses based on work quality, and deadlines. We also make it a point to give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. It’s important to us to keep the lines of communication open so that they know we are here to give any feedback or support they need.

In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?

If we think there is a chance that what we are saying could be taken out of context or too negatively, then we will opt for a video conference instead so that we can all see what is being conveyed and at least see each other’s body language.

If not video, then we suggest giving the team member the opportunity to ask questions and ask them if they understand what you are saying so not to dominate the conversation. Also, making sure your tone fits the message you are conveying helps immensely.

Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

We always start with the positives and what is working well before transitioning, in a nice way, to point out “a few things that need tweaking or some additions that would be great.” Another way to frame feedback is by stating that we want to discuss some areas of opportunities that may not have been explored. We can then have a conversation about bouncing ideas off of each other about things we can do “differently” and why, as opposed to focusing on things that someone may have done “the wrong way”.

Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?

I think it’s important for teams that are used to working together to consider doing regular and potentially even daily check ins. They can be quick 15 minute calls with the entire team just to make sure no one is feeling isolated or unsupported or even just sending daily messages asking if there is anything they need from you before they start their day.

What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?

It’s important to make sure your team knows we are available for any questions, collaborations, and brainstorming sessions they may need. We also try to make sure that our team members understand that they own the work that they do and try to give them a lot of creative liberty. We give them direction but we don’t micromanage or try to stifle their creative process.

Check in with them regularly without being too overbearing so that they do not feel like they are working in a silo. Give positive feedback and reinforcement to keep them motivated. Keep lines of communications open so that they know we are here to support them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If we could inspire a movement it would be to eradicate racism at every level. We’re living in the middle of a movement right now and we hope that people are listening, learning, and taking notice of how they can be a part of the change. It saddens us to think that we still live in a time where so many of our young Black and Brown faces will never live to see their full potential because of the systemic racism that we still so prevalent in our society today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Kristine: “We Receive to Give”. This can be your talents, knowledge, money, time, etc. I have always tried to think of anything I possess as something that can possibly help someone else. All gifts I’ve been blessed to receive have led to helping people as a mentor, tutor, saving lives (as a Respiratory Therapist), and having this business support nonprofits in my community right this second.

Angel: My parents always taught me that “you don’t live on this earth for free. The price you pay is to give back to your community.” It’s a lesson that I’ve carried with me through my entire life. It’s what motivated and inspired me to volunteer, to get involved with nonprofits, it motivated me to sit on the Board of Directors for several nonprofit organizations. That lesson is what made me want to work primarily with nonprofits and mission-driven businesses. I am so grateful that my parents taught me that lesson because not only has it shaped me but is also the value system that our company was built

Thank you for these great insights!

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