Remote work is becoming more widely accepted. Before COVID-19, we already had a fairly flexible work-from-home policy, but I’ve been thrilled to see more companies realize that this should be the norm! I’ve heard from multiple friends who work jobs that previously shut down the idea of working from home but have now realized that it’s working well and there’s no reason they can’t continue some aspect of remote work options in the future.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelsey Raymond, co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., which specializes in helping companies strategize, create, publish, and distribute content that drives business results. Under Kelsey’s leadership, the company has evolved from a small startup to a full-service content marketing firm that was named to the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies four years in a row.
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. Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Starting a company brings a lot of interesting experiences. One story that always brings a smile to my face is the first time I met our very first client in person. We’re located in Columbia, Missouri, but most of our clients aren’t based in Missouri. So it’s not often that we meet with clients in person unless we’re traveling to them. When our business was about a year old, we had never met our very first client in person because he lived in Costa Rica at the time. He let us know that he’d be coming to St. Louis for a conference and would love to meet with me and my co-founder. Our company was a team of 12 at the time, and we decided that it made more sense to bring the entire team to meet him. We hired a party bus, drove the team from Columbia to St. Louis, and surprised our client at his hotel with the entire company there to meet him. He loved the surprise, and we spent the day bonding as a team and showing our client around the city. We wanted him to feel special because he was the first client to take a chance on our company, and we were so grateful.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We’re always evaluating what new services we can provide our clients. The most recent addition is more advanced reporting and services. This is so important because having a strong strategy is the foundation of a strong content marketing and digital marketing strategy. We’ve seen that so many companies don’t even have their sites set up correctly to be crawled by Google, so by starting our services with a technical and keyword audit, we’re helping them see value from the get-go.
Another project we launched is our first online Influence & Co. University course.When we originally launched it, we intended to sell it as a standalone product, but with everything going on with COVID-19 and the importance of people having resources to educate themselves online, we’ve been giving it away to specific audiences for free. (Anyone reading this can get free access by getting the coupon code here.) This course was built to help people learn how to launch a content marketing strategy for their business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been so fortunate to have had a few wonderful mentors throughout my career. One person who stands out in my mind is Greg Bier. I met Greg my freshman year at the University of Missouri-Columbia when he was the professor leading a student entrepreneurship club I joined. Over the past 13 years, Greg has been a mentor, a cheerleader, an advisor, the officiant at my wedding, and, most recently, a business partner in Influence & Co. I remember when I went to Greg as a mentor when I was considering buying out my former partners. I showed him my plan for getting a bank loan and shared that I would need an investor. I wanted his advice because I always valued his input on big decisions like this, and his first response was to say that he and his wife might be interested in being the investors. I was shocked and so excited because Greg and Karla are the exact type of business partners I was looking for. Now, it’s almost two years later, and I couldn’t be happier that our mentor/mentee relationship grew to become a business partnership!
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
I gave birth to my first child on February 20. I had planned for a 12-week maternity leave, and before giving birth, I felt absolutely confident that I could truly disconnect and let my team take charge. Then, COVID-19 hit. We had to make decisions about when to close the office and our safety plans for the team, the economy started to destabilize, and our clients started saying they wanted to pause. Fairly quickly, my maternity leave was no longer an option.
I am so fortunate to have an amazing team, so I was still able to not come back 100% full-time. Instead, I was able to work just enough hours to handle the unique challenges COVID-19 was causing and to help get our team in a better situation financially.
I was also incredibly fortunate that my husband had eight weeks of paternity leave, so during the month of March when I was working a lot, he was the primary caregiver for our son. During those eight weeks, it was so great to see him being such a wonderful dad, and it made me even more passionate about the fact that all parents should get substantial paid time off for parental leave — our family couldn’t have gotten through this time without it.
Honestly, February 20 feels like an eternity ago. Being a new mom during COVID-19 has been rough. The normal support you would have weren’t options. Grandparents weren’t able to come over to help, we couldn’t get a babysitter for a night out, and even going to do something for myself like getting my hair cut just wasn’t in the cards. But this experience has also been a blessing because we have had so much together time as a family. There were a solid six weeks when I didn’t see anyone else in person other than my husband and my son, and I know I will cherish that togetherness when I look back on this time years down the road.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
After things started opening up a bit in our state, my husband and I made a commitment to continue to be extremely cautious in all aspects of social distancing (like not going anywhere and not seeing friends) so we could feel comfortable seeing our parents. Because of that commitment, my in-laws were able to start watching our son three days a week so that my husband and I could get back to a somewhat normal work schedule, and my parents were able to come visit us.
Another thing I did just to stay sane was to go on walks almost every single day. I think this was so key to me staying healthy and happy during this tough time.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Two big challenges come to mind.
The first is supporting parents who have children at home during COVID-19. Many of our employees have young children and were homeschooling for the months of April and May while working from home full-time. We had a lot of conversations about how people could adapt their schedules to make time during the day for schoolwork, how it was absolutely fine for kids to walk into a Zoom call to ask for a snack, and how we were all just trying to get by and do our best. We also tried to involve kids in some of our work activities. We turned one of our team happy hours into a virtual show-and-tell with everyone’s kids on Zoom showing us something they loved. We also had employees volunteer to record videos of them teaching the kids about something they’re passionate about — one example is this awesome beekeeping video by our head of HR.But every single day, I feel like I want to do more to support our employees with kids at home and sometimes feel at a loss for what that can actually look like.
The second challenge has been being agile for clients. Our clients have been experiencing all of the same chaos, so a lot of the challenges we’ve faced during this time were related to simply being agile in order to adapt to our clients’ needs. We decided that it was in our best interest to be as flexible as possible with clients to retain them for the long term, so we did everything from deferring installment for 90 days to completely changing up the services we provided some clients to quickly changing strategies and allowing clients to pause work for periods of time. I am happy to say that our clients have appreciated our flexibility, and our relationships with those clients are stronger than ever. This is due to our amazing team that stepped up to the challenge and truly went above and beyond.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
The advice I keep giving the parents on our team (and myself) is to communicate and give yourself some grace.
Communication: It’s easy to feel super alone in this struggle, but communicating with other working parents can remind you that you’re not alone and give you the opportunity to share strategies that are working (and things that aren’t). Communicating with your team members who don’t have kids is also important because you can share your challenges and let them know what you would appreciate from them in terms of any flexibility or help that they can provide.
Grace: In one of my all-team presentations, I showed a photo of my kitchen that was a complete mess. I did that to remind the team that we are all dealing with challenges right now (working from home with kids being one of them), so it’s OK to not be perfect in every single aspect of your life. For me, that meant that my kitchen would be dirty for a few days. I didn’t know how big of an impact sharing this would have, but I had so many people reach out to me afterward thanking me for being vulnerable and sharing that photo because it made them feel less alone and like they could give themselves some grace as well.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Going for walks: During the eight weeks that were the most intense for me personally and professionally, I walked for almost an hour every single day. Even if it was raining or a little cold, I made myself get out of the house because I knew it would make me feel so much better — and it did.
Treating yourself when you can: My husband and I realized that we had been spending a lot less money during quarantine because we hadn’t been going anywhere. So we used some of that savings to purchase a nice robot vacuum. I know that doesn’t sound like something that would keep you serene, but when you a have a dog that sheds a ton and a five-month-old who’s about to start crawling, this type of purchase can bring so much calm and joy. Now, vacuuming the house is one less thing my husband and I have to do! So if there’s a purchase you can afford that will help make your time at home more comfortable, now is the time to go for it!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel” by sharing “Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. People are learning to have more empathy for one another. I recently had a virtual coffee with an old college friend, and she said that her default when she is talking to someone is to start from a place of giving grace because she has no idea what specific challenges this crisis has brought them personally. I see this a lot. People are less upset if you have to reschedule a meeting because of a crying baby or if you show up to a Zoom call with a T-shirt on and wet hair. People understand we’re all doing our best to get through this time, and I hope that continues into the future.
2. Remote work is becoming more widely accepted. Before COVID-19, we already had a fairly flexible work-from-home policy, but I’ve been thrilled to see more companies realize that this should be the norm! I’ve heard from multiple friends who work jobs that previously shut down the idea of working from home but have now realized that it’s working well and there’s no reason they can’t continue some aspect of remote work options in the future.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I’m not a mental health professional, and you’re probably not either. So my advice for supporting family and loved ones who are feeling anxious is to encourage them to talk to someone who is! There are platforms like BetterHelp and Talkspace that make finding a therapist in a virtual environment a lot easier. Encourage your loved ones to ask their HR department at work about any mental health policies that might offer support and even help them financially in seeing a mental health professional. At Influence & Co., we have an extensive mental health policy and fund an HRA plan that employees can utilize to get reimbursed for any copays related to mental health visits. We have reminded employees of this often because we know that taking care of yourself during this time is critical.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Women belong in all spaces where decisions are being made.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I admire the incredible career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I think this simple quote speaks for itself.
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