Shauna Armitage of ‘Making Moxie’: “Build a strong network”

Keep the vision and the values written down somewhere, and always come back to them together. Focus on building diverse teams and make it a priority to empower your team members to become leaders in their own right. Empowering your team is one of the most important things you can do to get team members […]

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Keep the vision and the values written down somewhere, and always come back to them together. Focus on building diverse teams and make it a priority to empower your team members to become leaders in their own right. Empowering your team is one of the most important things you can do to get team members “all in” on your business. In marketing, we talk a lot about brand advocacy and how to get your customers to be your #1 advocates, but the truth is that brand advocacy starts with the team.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Shauna Armitage.

Shauna Armitage is a fractional marketing director for early-stage startups, guiding founders at all stages of growth in developing an impactful marketing program. Bridging the gap between freelancer and agency, Shauna takes a hands-on approach in each and every business which leads to a custom marketing program that gets results.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I graduated with my second Bachelor’s degree in 2011, the economy had tanked and I couldn’t get an interview, much less a job. I started freelance writing and was hired as the Director of Digital Content for a marketing agency and quickly fell in love with all things marketing.

After a few years, I realized the “typical” marketing agency blueprint wasn’t working for me or for our clients. I decided that I would go out on my own and offer a new service I wasn’t seeing in the marketing industry: a fractional marketing director. This role was designed for companies that were not yet big enough for a full-time hire, but wanted a dedicated team member to bring all the pieces together and drive brand growth.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

How my company started is probably the most interesting thing that has happened to me!

I loved marketing, and when an old colleague of mine was starting up his own agency and asked me to be his #2, it seemed like my dream job. My husband and I had some talks about it, but ultimately I left my stable gig as an SEO coach for an organization to go all in on this new agency. At first, it was exciting! I was pitching, onboarding new clients, and was able to be very hands-on with the strategy. It was exactly the kind of work that I had wanted to do.

But then, as work started to pick up, my friend-turned-boss started taking on new team members — ones that we didn’t particularly need. Deadlines weren’t being met, and instead of finishing client deliverables, the new team members were making Instagram content for my boss. Clients were becoming frustrated, and these business owners who had signed on because of me, were losing money left and right.

So I talked to the boss about it.

He wasn’t particularly interested in what I had to say, but I thought we had come to an agreement. A few weeks later, after a follow up conversation, I woke up one Friday morning to find that my email was down and my access to everything in the company had been revoked. He called me a few hours later and informed me that he was recording the call. Unfortunately, I was no longer a “culture” fit and he would have to let me go.

And so six months into this “dream job”, I found myself with no work. I was 29 years old, had three young children at home, and found myself just three weeks away from my husband’s first deployment to the Middle East. He would be gone for six months.

I cried. I cried a lot. But by Monday morning, I was resolved. I had picked a business name, purchased my domain, applied for my LLC, and started building out my own services.

The story of how I came to be a woman of the C-Suite is the most interesting story of my journey so far! I learned so much from this experience — most of it about my own capabilities and values.

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?

When I started the business, I definitely couldn’t be called a Fractional CMO like I am today. I knew that building the company would be slow as I didn’t have a strong network — so networking was the first place I started! I met lots of amazing people at local Chamber meetings and female entrepreneur associations, but I wasn’t meeting the right people. I wasn’t meeting anyone with the kinds of businesses that I was trying to work with or the entrepreneurial mindset that I valued.

Looking back, this was a classic example of “you don’t know what you don’t know”! I had to be in the room with all the wrong people to realize the kind of people and rooms I wanted to be in instead.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ll be eternally grateful to one of the very first CEOs on my roster, Nick Dennis of fitDEGREE. In my first year of business, I had been flailing a little bit not truly understanding what my niche was. Earlier in the year I had started working with an early-stage med-tech app because of a chance meeting with the founder at my co-working space.

However, it wasn’t until I started working with Nick that I truly realized where my “place” was. Now that I was working with two startups, it seemed much more clear that a business model focused on growth and scalability was where I could do the most good. With Nick’s leadership, I was able to fully step into the role in a way I hadn’t been able to for the first year in my business.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I find that I always feel better when I come prepared, so I usually take 15–20 minutes before the meeting to review materials and take notes. (I’m a pen and paper kinda girl, so just the act of writing things puts me at ease!) This gives me some solid points to reference once the call starts!

More than just coming prepared, however, is feeling capable. The more of these high-stakes calls I did, the more I realized that I truly did know what I was talking about and that confidence and passion showed through to the people I was connecting with.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

It’s so easy to surround yourself with people who look like you, who think like you, isn’t it? But in truth, that simply puts us in a comfort zone where we aren’t challenging ourselves and we’re not growing. The executive team must set the vision, while also being the innovators. It can be pretty difficult to do that when you all see the world through the same lens.

According to a 2015 McKinsey & Company report that looked at the top management and boards of 366 public companies in various industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom, and the United States, they found that companies with gender diversity in their leadership were 15% more likely to have financial returns above their industry median and companies with racial and ethnic diversity leadership were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry median.

The proof is there that with more diverse and inclusive teams, we are better able to solve problems and be far more innovative.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Very simply, we need to focus on building more diverse teams within our own companies, even if that means stepping outside of our comfort zone and searching in new places for talent. Having more diverse teams means that we’re spending our days with, investing energy in, and placing trust in a more diverse group of people. Working toward equity in the workplace will help to change the dynamic in our society as a whole.

For me, this has meant branching out and exploring new platforms for hiring. It has meant digging deeper throughout the hiring process to ensure that I have a diverse pool of candidates before making any big decisions.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

Any leader in a company is going to be responsible for their team and the work their team does.The people in the C-Suite, however, are ultimately responsible for the success of the company! That looks a little different than managing a team responsible for one arm of the business. The most important part of their job is to set the vision and make sure they are building up the leaders in their respective departments to carry out that vision effectively.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

While it certainly is up to the executive team to cast the vision, depending on the size of the organization, they may be responsible for much more than that! Often we envision a C-Suite team member as a hands-off role, something very high level. However, for startups and emerging companies, the C-Suite team members have to be scrappy and wear a lot of hats. I’ve seen a CEO managing the marketing budget, doing sales calls, connecting with the development team, and bringing on a new hire all in one day! As the company grows and the team grows, the role of CEO becomes more defined, but in the early stages, a CEO or other executive team member is likely doing several different jobs.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The first challenge is definitely the way our strength is perceived. I was told once that members of my all-male team didn’t like me because I was too aggressive. If a man was leading the team, I don’t believe that setting the expectation for team members to meet deadlines would have been perceived as “aggressive”.

The second challenge that really sticks out to me is the assumptions about my capabilities because I am a parent. I have been told more than once that I was passed over to go to a conference or tackle a project because I am a mother and they didn’t want to “put too much on my plate”. Traditionally, fathers aren’t seen as the primary caregivers (even when they are!) so assumptions like these aren’t presented to them.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

CMO is a big, fancy title! However, because I’m a CMO for startups, my job has to do with a lot of the nitty gritty day-to-day stuff compared to growing and managing a team to meet the company’s vision. It’s certainly more difficult and hands-on than I had originally imagined, but it’s challenging and fulfilling at the same time.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

You may not be right for an executive role if you’re passionate about doing it all yourself or if you’re inflexible in the way you work. Executives might have to take on certain tasks to keep the company moving forward, but at the end of the day they are master delegators who have a deep-rooted confidence in the brand they are building and in the team they are nurturing to build it. Executives are also the risk-takers who are willing to be disruptive and to fail if it means there is a solid chance of success. If failure scares you, the executive role is likely not a good fit for you.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Keep the vision and the values written down somewhere, and always come back to them together. Focus on building diverse teams and make it a priority to empower your team members to become leaders in their own right. Empowering your team is one of the most important things you can do to get team members “all in” on your business. In marketing, we talk a lot about brand advocacy and how to get your customers to be your #1 advocates, but the truth is that brand advocacy starts with the team.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’ve been lucky enough to mentor other entrepreneurs and facilitate the growth of other women with purpose who are growing businesses they believe in.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Find a mentor. When I started out as a business owner, there was a lot that I didn’t know! The problem with finding answers in the beginning is that you don’t know what questions to ask. So find a mentor. Paid or free. Find someone who has walked this path before and can be your guide. It will save you a lot of valuable time if you can learn from their mistakes instead of your own!
  2. Build a strong network. I can’t overstate the importance of your network! Having the right connections makes all the difference in business. When you put in the work to build solid relationships and give to others freely, it always comes back around.
  3. Do things differently. I was taught how to do marketing a certain way. However, when I was empowered to take charge, be creative, and do things differently, that’s when the magic started happening! There will always be a blueprint or framework for success, but take from it only what you believe to be valuable and then forge your own path.
  4. Build a team you love. Skills are important, for sure, but skills can be taught. Culture is something that is built from the people you surround yourself with. And because your team are your first brand advocates, you want to be sure that they are fiercely in alignment with what you’re building.
  5. Stay the course. Things will get hard, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Stay the course long enough to ensure you’ve tested every angle! However, be flexible and know when to pivot. Making a pivot in your business isn’t quitting, it’s about finding the best path forward for everyone so you can grow.

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

If I could inspire a movement among founders, it would probably be that they get comfortable getting uncomfortable. When you’re starting a business, money is usually tight. It can feel so uncomfortable to spend money on just about anything because you’re so focused on the here and now. How can you justify spending money before you make it?

I think more founders need to become comfortable with taking a risk on themselves! When you truly believe in what you’re doing, that passion and confidence shines through. Before you know it, others will believe it too.

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

There are many inspirational leaders out there, but I’m going to let my inner nerd shine through and quote Albus Dumblebore: “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” I’ve always been very confident in my abilities and I know a lot of other executives and founders who feel the same. However, the successes we create for our teams and our companies are largely about the choices we make, and being a person in the C-Suite means making smart ones.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

If I could have a private breakfast or lunch with someone, it would be Sara Blakely. It’s so important to learn from founders who have successfully brought their vision to life and have built strong teams and strong communities in the process. Her success has enabled her to bring her larger vision of supporting women to life and I would love to discuss what the future looks like for women!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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