Put your big girl pants on and just do it! My mom gave me this sage advice when I went through a period of simultaneous personal, financial, and professional reinvention. One facet of reinvention is intimidating enough, but when you have to totally rebuild yourself in each of these areas all at the same time, well, it can feel insurmountable. There were so many days when I felt like nothing I did was up to par — I was inexperienced relative to the other professionals in the area I was about to enter. While I had strong academics behind me, it wasn’t directly related to my new field. I wasn’t able to bring a huge book of business. I wasn’t heavily networked. I had every justification for why my reinvention wasn’t going to work. My mom, rightly so, wouldn’t have any of that and in a Suze Orman sort of way told me I shouldn’t either!
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Harr. Elizabeth (Liz) Harr, a nationally recognized Visible Expert® in high-growth marketing, leads Hinge’s business development team. Liz is also actively involved in developing high-growth strategies for clients and delivering expert advice. An accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive specializing in brand management for successful business growth, she co-founded a tech-consulting company and grew it into a thriving organization that became known for its expertise in Microsoft customer relationship management. Liz has co-authored several Hinge research books, reports, and courses, including The Visible Expert, Inside the Buyer’s Brain, The Social Media Guide for Professional Services, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition and regularly contributes to Hinge’s company blog. Elizabeth has a Master’s degree in International Economics from Columbia University in New York and a B.A. from the University of Missouri — Columbia. Elizabeth is active in numerous professional and community service organizations.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Liz! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I don’t have a background in marketing — never took a class, never had a role as a marketer, in fact, my masters are in economics (I know — that’s everything and nothing at the same time!). Fresh out of grad school, I landed a position as an analyst at a consulting firm. I quickly moved up within the organization and within a year, found myself running a department with a small team of people. It was then that I realized my true passion was in growing organizations as opposed to a particular discipline. That company was acquired and with the new leadership came some new decision-makers that weren’t super supportive of women in leadership. I left the firm and over a brainstorming session and a bottle of wine, I decided to start my own tech consulting company with a peer — I would run and grow the company, he would manage the software aspect. I can’t say I have any particular affinity for software, and I had zero background in it, but the opportunity allowed me to test my chops at running and growing a startup. We got to year 10 and then, for multiple reasons, I decided it was time for my next chapter. I turned to many friends, family, former colleagues and mentors for advice. One such mentor is now one of my partners in crime, Lee Frederiksen. He had started a marketing agency that was every bit about growth — he just happened to tackle growth through attention on one’s brand. We sat across from each other one afternoon and the more I told him about what drives me, and the more he told me about his agency, we almost at the same time said, “We should work together!”. So here I am, 11 years later, partner at a firm called Hinge Marketing — where yes, we talk about marketing, but really, as a partner here, I’m helping multiple firms with their growth strategies on a daily basis.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Being a partner at Hinge allows me to help reshape the way professional services executives are leading their companies. I coach c-suite and marketing leaders on the art of educating their marketplace vs selling to their marketplace. That may not sound particularly disruptive, but it really is groundbreaking in that we’ve been able to leverage original research to help leaders sift through the noise of marketing fluff and really avoid squandering marketing budgets on ineffective strategies. I once had a client who was spending 30k dollars per month (per month!) on paid advertising that yielded very little in terms of qualified leads — and this was their only real marketing. Because so many other firms were investing in paid advertising and it was all the buzz, they were convinced that they too should go down this path. And, while they did understand the value of educational content, unfortunately, the thought leadership content they produced was minimal and highly technical. This might have been good for the end-user of their service, the technical crew, but it simply didn’t resonate with their c-suite decision-makers.
Research on how their own client base learned and made buying decisions helped me teach them to not only do away with paid advertising but to completely revamp the way they approached their client base through securing speaking events at key industry conferences where their clients were congregating and producing downloadable executive guides their c-suite decision-makers could actually understand. The paid ads and super technical thought leadership they had been doing for years were not reflective of how their audience learned. AND, within just 6 months of producing a series of executive-focused blogs and downloadable content, they received several leads, one of which turned into an actual client. Infusing behavioral science with go-to-market strategies can be a game-changer for how leaders grow their firms.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Walter Webdale, President and CEO of AHC Inc., and affordable housing developer and overall community builder in the area where I live and work is my mentor. I met Walter when I became a member of a philanthropic organization, Rotary International. Walter not only encouraged me to run for president of our particular Rotary club (I was the 2nd female president in the club’s 80-year history and the first under 40!), but he also encouraged me to apply for a leadership program in our community called Leadership Arlington. Several cities around the country have these — I was accepted, and it CHANGED MY LIFE. Long story short, Walter’s encouragement came at a time when my personal, financial, and professional worlds had been turned upside down, and I had zero confidence about how to move forward. Once I became part of the leadership program, I spent the next 10 months in what I now consider to be the foundation for my leadership style today. And, I’m always looking for ways to pay it forward and to look out for a leader-in-the-making who just needs a boost of the right kind of confidence from the right kind of person.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Put your big girl pants on and just do it!
My mom gave me this sage advice when I went through a period of simultaneous personal, financial, and professional reinvention. One facet of reinvention is intimidating enough, but when you have to totally rebuild yourself in each of these areas all at the same time, well, it can feel insurmountable. There were so many days when I felt like nothing I did was up to par — I was inexperienced relative to the other professionals in the area I was about to enter. While I had strong academics behind me, it wasn’t directly related to my new field. I wasn’t able to bring a huge book of business. I wasn’t heavily networked. I had every justification for why my reinvention wasn’t going to work. My mom, rightly so, wouldn’t have any of that and in a Suze Orman sort of way told me I shouldn’t either!
2. Be. Just Be.
I came across this notion when I traveled to Bhutan — it’s widely practiced by Buddhist monks in this tiny country, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s a known concept across all of the world. “Just Be” is a very peaceful permission slip to not get caught up in other people’s expectations of you as a leader and simply be the leader that comes naturally to you and feels intuitively genuine. In my journey as a leader, there have been times when I’ve left my office feeling defeated. I wasn’t as direct or commanding as one of my colleagues in a meeting. I didn’t push back enough when I knew a colleague was inflating how a situation really went down. I didn’t run through the numbers as succinctly as the other team did. I think a natural inclination in leaders is to be competitive, always measuring their own performance against that of other leaders in the organization. If you can tackle your journey as a leader a little more introspectively and allow yourself to just “be”, then an enormous pressure gets released from that extremely high bar you hold above your head. And, you may find that you are actually appreciated for the leadership style you bring to the table that is distinctly NOT the way other leaders in your organization do it.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson is a brilliant podcast! Tapped as one of the 50 leading business thinkers in the world, her podcast, books, and other content all carry titles that embrace her brand as a coach and a leader of innovative personal disruption. I learn something that both validates and encourages my approach to life, family, and career in nearly every single episode. One of my favorites is episode #113, where author Priya Parker talks about this idea that Purpose is your Bouncer.
I can’t think of a better sentiment that captures the clarion call to all professionals seeking to disrupt. There’s so much noise. It’s a crowded market. It’s hard to stand out in a meaningful way. Everything about being branded as a disruptor has to be grounded in purpose. The niche area of expertise you choose — is it something your audience cares about and is not yet solved? There must be a purpose in your chosen area of specialization. What techniques will you employ as you build visibility around your brand? Are they just check-the-box activities that you latched onto b/c another known expert does them? Or were they selected with purpose — techniques that reflect how your audience learns and makes their buy decision? The purpose is your Bouncer. Pressure tests every notion that gets into your roadmap and tosses it out if it doesn’t have a purpose.
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. :-).
I do have this idea. It’s partly about respecting and caring for our very sick environment, and partly about helping grieving families find a loving home for the belongings of family members who have moved on. Did you know that only about a third of the items (furniture, china, artwork….) that gets donated to thrift stores is actually sold? The rest ends up in landfills. I’d love to build awareness around this and connect families looking for a good home for their love-ones’ belongings with people who would restore those belongings (a personal hobby of mine!) and then get them into the homes of affordable housing tenants by way of donation. I know there are other options for furnishing and decorating these places, but currently, there is no real connection that might make this a known practice. This idea would keep stuff out of our landfills, gives grieving families some sense of closure and solace, and helps those in need who don’t otherwise have access to such things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only person you’re destined to be is the person you decide to become.” I live by this quote. Can you believe it’s attributed to an unknown author? There is so much wisdom in this — I have it written on our family chalkboard so that it gets engrained in our children’s heads as well. For me, this quote is about accountability. Sure, mentors can guide and influence, or on the flip side, influencers can take you down the wrong path. Ultimately you are in the driver’s seat. By using this as a personal mantra, you’ll feel exhilarated at accomplishments (YOU achieved it because you made a conscious decision to achieve it — no one did it for you!), but it also serves as a moral compass that keeps you in check when you might want to blame others for any personal or professional failures.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!