Aleya Harris: “Make sure your information is legit”

My goal is to equip my audiences with tools and support to evolve into the versions of themselves that are better capable of handling their life and business journey. The more competent and compassionate people there are, the better the world will be for everyone. I am transported to my happy place when I receive […]

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My goal is to equip my audiences with tools and support to evolve into the versions of themselves that are better capable of handling their life and business journey. The more competent and compassionate people there are, the better the world will be for everyone. I am transported to my happy place when I receive DMs and emails from ecstatic business owners who see results after participating in my sessions and applying the knowledge. It is an honor for me to share my hard-won information and wisdom with those who will use it to reach their goals and improve their family’s financial future.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Aleya Harris.

Aleya Harris, CPCE is the founder and owner of Flourish Marketing, an agency dedicated to helping wedding, catering, and event professionals reach their full potential through fresh, cutting-edge marketing strategies that get and keep a consistent stream of clients. She is a firm believer that business owners should make good money doing what they love, and she spreads this message through her role as a thought leader in the industry.

Aleya has made it her mission to support catering and event businesses in their growth and help them to reach their definition of success. Her decade-plus long career as a chef and catering company owner, paired with her wealth of marketing expertise, matches her remarkable work ethic, providing her clients with an engaging and interactive experience that inspires them to take action. As a professional speaker, she fosters valuable discussion about actionable marketing strategies and profit-driven storytelling to inspire her audience to take charge of their businesses’ financial futures.

Her in-depth knowledge about social media marketing, branding, sales conversions, and effective marketing tools have earned her spots and top rankings on stages across the nation, including The Special Event and Catersource. She also serves as the marketing committee chair for NACE National and is a StoryBrand Certified Guide.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Hayward, California, as the daughter of a single mother. Well, technically, I grew up in Fairview County, an unincorporated area of which my late grandfather, Charles Snipes, was dubbed the unofficial mayor. My mother, Denise Snipes, still lives in the home my parents, my half-sister, and I moved into when I was six months old.

My parents divorced when I was four years old, and ever since then, it was mostly just my mom and me. I have a lot of respect and admiration for my mother. While I was young, she created a stable home environment, got her Master’s Degree, and worked two jobs. She overcame the financial challenges many recently divorced women endure and carried the two of us to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. My mother has been a Registered Nurse for over 40 years and is the epitome of hard work, dedication, and compassion.

Luckily, my mom had support near at hand. I was fortunate enough to be raised around the corner from my grandparents. I was so close to my late grandmother, Ruby Snipes, that I often called both her and my mother “mom.” My grandmother took me on field trips, picked me up from school, and never missed a dance performance or violin recital. Plus, she made the best macaroni and cheese and always had the coolest Avon swag.

I attended private schools my entire life, all the way from preschool through university and culinary school. I was educated in Montessori schools through the 8th grade and afterward attended the College Preparatory School (CPS) in Oakland, California. I feel fortunate to have had such an inclusive, open-minded, and rigorous educational Journey. While many people in our country suffer from the systemic challenges that plague the education system, I was nurtured by teachers who encouraged me to develop keen critical thinking, problem-solving, and leadership skills. I don’t take the educational opportunities I’ve been blessed with for granted, and I use every opportunity to make the most of what I have received.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t always have the confidence to go out independently. Even when I was attending the University of Southern California, I majored in business, thinking that that would be the most stable path for me to follow. Boy, was I so wrong! While I have enjoyed corporate success, I’ve also been laid off twice. My most recent layoff, combined with my desire to get back to working within my passions, inspired me to commit to being an entrepreneur for the second time.

The first time I dipped my toe in business ownership waters was when I started a catering company while still in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. I was told by a particularly grumpy chef instructor that I would never be able to make much of myself until I had worked for minimum wage for over ten years in a restaurant. I gave that instructor an astounded glance and decided deep within myself that that would not be my story. I grew my catering company to have over 20 recurring accounts in two years and also was the private chef for legends in film and music.

My current company, Flourish Marketing, results from a mixture of my degrees and my passion for helping other people realize their dreams. I am thrilled to work with industry professionals whose primary job is to help their clients celebrate the most significant moments of their lives. Through marketing education, strategy, and tools, I help wedding, catering, and event professionals get and keep a consistent stream of clients. I know I am successful when I can aid in their evolution toward becoming a version of themselves that is more capable of handling the journey towards their ultimate goal.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When working as a vendor partner on the Google food team, the director told me, “If you want to be successful, you have to learn how to manage ambiguity effectively.” I didn’t understand what that meant at the time, but as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that it’s only within the ambiguity that potential exists. If things are set in stone, you don’t have as great of an ability to move forward. In the uncertainty lies unexpected opportunity, profound epiphanies, and game-changing processes. I’ve learned to look at ambiguity as a friend rather than a foe as I move through an exciting and nuanced landscape.

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 was auditioning to be the private chef for a producer in the LA area, I remember putting together an audition menu full of tropical ingredients, including lots of coconut and coconut water. I had read their dietary profile and felt confident in my recipes and beverage pairings. The menu was delicious, but I didn’t realize that this particular individual had a significant stake in a coconut water company and was totally over the coconut flavor. I didn’t get the gig. After that, I learned I needed to do a lot more research on the people I was auditioning for and make sure that I understood how even the smallest detail could impact their tastes and decision-making.

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?

Many beautiful souls have supported me on my path, but my two biggest cheerleaders have been my mom and my husband, Brandon. They are the ones who have dried my tears, proof-read my copy, and toasted to my success. My mom even came to one of my first speaking engagements, helped manage my exhibit hall booth, and give me feedback on my sessions. Even while he is finishing his doctorate degree, my husband makes the time to listen to my stories of trial, tribulation, and trophies. He also is at the ready with an ice-cold Manhattan to commiserate or celebrate.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Failure is a matter of perspective. When I look at my career trajectory, I see ups and downs, but there has been consistent upward movement. The key is to stay in motion, especially during times of ambiguity (which there are many on your entrepreneurial journey). As you take each step, new doors will open, and pathways will become clear. If you stumble on your journey, it’s ok. Take a look at what tripped you up, catch your breath, get up, and keep walking. You have only truly failed when you give up on yourself and your dreams. If you find yourself in a stagnate, sedentary place, you can always kick yourself back into movement again.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

My goal is to equip my audiences with tools and support to evolve into the versions of themselves that are better capable of handling their life and business journey. The more competent and compassionate people there are, the better the world will be for everyone. I am transported to my happy place when I receive DMs and emails from ecstatic business owners who see results after participating in my sessions and applying the knowledge. It is an honor for me to share my hard-won information and wisdom with those who will use it to reach their goals and improve their family’s financial future.

Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?

Plan the topic with what you sell in mind and always have a CTA.

I speak to help educate other people and to build my email list. Make sure that the topics you choose are related to how you make money. I have a staple of regularly updated 4–5 topics that my publicist team from OFD Consulting pitches to conference organizers. Each of them is related to something that I sell.

For example, my company, Flourish Marketing, designs highly-converting websites. One of my topics is “Having a Website that Drives Your Business Forward.” I am a StoryBrand Certified Guide and believe in the power of story to produce clear and compelling messages across marketing platforms. My team and I use the StoryBrand SB7 Framework in our client work, including the content for our membership, The Social Media Pantry Collective. To tie into that, one of my speaking topics is “Building Trust and Consistency Through Social Media Messaging + Engagement.”

Once you are already talking about something that will drive more revenue towards your business, it is much easier to come from a place of service and lean into being a fantastic educator. The topic will naturally attract more of your ideal customer, and you won’t come off as being salesy. At the end of your session, give away a free piece of information in exchange for attendees’ email addresses. You will add extra value and build your audience.

Start with the problem, not your bio.

Attendees most likely had the opportunity to learn about you before they came to your session. Your presentation’s first slides should address their problem and tell them how you will solve it without much preamble. If you don’t do that in the first 3–5 minutes, you’ve lost them.

It is tempting to think that because you are on the stage, the attention is on you. Actually, being on the stage is the most humbling role. Your job is to bring information that is so compelling it causes individuals to make real change. Speaking is not about stroking your ego. It is about being a useful guide that provides credible, concrete strategies and tactics that will transform pain into peace for your audience.

Be engaging

It doesn’t matter how poignant your information is if your audience is falling asleep. Good speakers deliver 3–5 critical pieces of education in a memorable format. This doesn’t mean you need to juggle or use a gimmick. It could be as simple as employing a unique storytelling technique, modulating your voice, or including engagement activities. I often captivate my audience’s attention through relevant stories with a few quippy remarks tossed in. Your goal should be to educate and entertain. I like to call it “edutainment.”

One of the simplest ways to keep your audience’s attention is to ask them to raise their hands in agreement with some of your points. When I do this, I sometimes ask people to call out opinions or ideas and work with them in real-time. This adds an element of unpredictability to the session. When you can break your presentation’s assumed trajectory, you will increase participation and deal with less glazed-over eyeballs.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Most people are nervous because they are self-conscious. They put their attention on themselves and judge themselves from the presumed perspective of their future audiences. If you remember that speaking is not about you, speaking becomes much more comfortable.

Instead of worrying about what people will think of you, what you look like, or how you sound, focus on being of service. Ask yourself, “What is the information that will be of the highest good for my audience right now?” If you deliver presentations from that place, you can feel confident that you will be a hit.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Make your session titles captivating. When you speak at a large conference, the session title is your most important piece of marketing real estate. A lousy title could lead to an empty room. Include the problem your audience thinks is the most crucial inside of your title. For example, “How to post on social media” is descriptive but boring. “The 3 Keys to Converting Social Media Relationships into Sales” is much more engaging and will put more butts in seats. That last title is one of my most popular masterclasses.
  2. You don’t have to do it like the veterans. Any speaking circuit has a staple group of speakers. They have been doing it for a while, have made a name for themselves, and are booked often to speak at conferences and events. It is tempting to model your sessions after them, but conference organizers are always looking for new and innovative ideas. Create your own lane.
  3. Make sure your information is legit. There are many operator-turned-speakers on the circuit. They have done something successfully and want to share their wisdom. I am all for that, but they will only go so far, and they all sound the same. Set yourself apart by being committed to the craft of education. Do research, run surveys, pay for studies. You will elevate yourself beyond just personal experience and leveraging the power of empirical data to position yourself as an industry leader.
  4. How you look matters. It doesn’t matter if you are short, tall, thick, or thin. You need to be cohesive. Think of how you present yourself as your logo. People need to be able to recognize you easily when they see you. When I was getting started, I wore my hair the same way as my headshot whenever I was speaking. I still try to wear clothing that fits my brand’s color palette. Whatever you can do to draw a more explicit connection between who you are and what you have to offer, the better.
  5. Don’t be afraid of a little hard work. At a large conference, I spoke about website design for wedding, catering, and event professionals. In that session, I also offered free website reviews to anyone who gave me their business card. I got 200 business cards, and the website reviews took me a total of 33 hours to complete. While it was a lot of work (and not something that I would do every conference), the relationships and leads I built were of high quality. It also helped create a name for myself in the industry as someone who truly cares about my participants’ success.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

I just launched a social media membership for wedding, catering, and event professionals call The Social Media Pantry Collective. I am jazzed about it because I know many people in my industry struggle to have images to post due to a lack of recent weddings and events. They also suffer from writer’s block and use their Instagram feeds as more of a portfolio rather than a lead generating storybook. The content and community in The Social Media Pantry Collective helps them stop feeling disappointed because their efforts on social media aren’t adding to their bottom line and start building relationships, engagement, and sales.

I am also in the outlining phases of a book that will detail a personal evolution framework to help people understand where they are in their journeys and how to maintain their momentum towards their goals.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

Self-care is my jam. I tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to achieving my goals, which causes me to neglect my body and spirit. If I don’t prioritize self-care, I end up in pain, irritated, and exhausted.

I meditate twice daily. Even if it is for a short moment, I make time to pause and reconnect. I found that the type of meditation that requires you to empty your mind was not for me. Instead, I do Spiritual Exercises, which I learned through the Movement of Inner Spiritual Awareness (MSIA). In spiritual exercises, I inwardly chant a tone called “Ani-Hu,” which helps focus my mind and allows me to have a broader perspective. I also read monthly Spiritual Discourses by John-Roger that I purchase through MSIA. It is great to have an easy way to remind myself that whatever is directly in front of me is far from all there is.

I work one-on-one with my spiritual coach, Monica Laskay, every two weeks. We are all on our own spiritual journeys, and everyone could use help and a compassionate ear. I have been Monica’s client for several years and find her to be a valued anchor in my life.

I try to move my body 2–3 times per week, without judgment of what that looks like. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself saying, “If I am not doing a full workout, I am not doing anything.” That’s just not true. I have gotten more out of my Zoom pilates classes through Phitosophy than I ever could sitting immobile on the couch or in my half-hearted attempts to workout on my own. Karina, Cynthia, and all of the instructors have helped me release stress, keep my creative juices flowing, and provided much-needed support.

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 quotes that I have adored over time. One of the more recent ones that has crossed my path is by Gabrielle Roth.

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? What did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

Often, it is difficult in the midst of our storm to realize when the storm started or how to get clear of it. By tracing our behaviors back to when the darkness began to gather, we can more accurately pinpoint the cause and see the path forward.

When I start to feel my energy draining, I now know that I need to dance, laugh, sing, shift my routine, or change what my brain is consuming. I have made myself aware of the guideposts of happiness and stress to know when I am veering off course.

You are a person of huge 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?

I would inspire a movement where people live in full alignment with who they were and where their talents and passions lie. When most people try to determine a career path, they gravitate towards what their parents tell them to do or what they feel will make them most secure. Sometimes, they luck out and land in an area that makes them feel like they are on top of the world, but often they end up grinding and feeling like life is a struggle because they aren’t able to leverage the full extent of their talents. I would create a movement that allowed people to be okay with their evolution and growth and incorporate the lessons they learn along the way into how they bring abundance into their lives.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I would love to have lunch with Beyoncé. Besides being a fan of her art, I am impressed by her work ethic and creativity. I would love to know where she finds her inspiration and what tips she could provide me to transcend the norm and reach greatness. Often, I find that my ideas just feel incrementally better than what I see around me. I am looking for the keys to break-out success.

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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