Paige Arnof-Fenn: “Be passionate”

Good companies fill a market need, treat their employees and customers fairly and with respect, are ethical and have a strong reputation. Great companies transcend their products and services by also doing well not just good. They tend to be mission driven and attract employees and customers who are motivated by the same purpose too […]

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Good companies fill a market need, treat their employees and customers fairly and with respect, are ethical and have a strong reputation. Great companies transcend their products and services by also doing well not just good. They tend to be mission driven and attract employees and customers who are motivated by the same purpose too so become true champions/advocates/fans of the brand creating loyalty and emotional connection.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of Paige Arnof-Fenn.

Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a global business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started Mavens & Moguls after beginning my career on Wall Street in the 80s and having a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and then working at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. All 3 startups had positive exits. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Running a global marketing business provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel (pre-Covid) and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Never! To be successful today you must be resilient because you get knocked around often so you have to be able to keep getting back up and trying again with enthusiasm and energy. A lot of people tell you no (investors, board, customers, candidates, etc.) so if you are easily daunted or do not have thick skin you will not last long in my experience. A good sense of humor goes a long way too but without resiliency you will not survive in business today. It makes the biggest difference between success and failure I think because the road is always bumpy and you know you will have to overcome obstacles along the way. I stay motivated because I get excited solving problems and helping people. I have always loved fixing things and helping out where I can. I am naturally curious and get energized talking to people so when I meet interesting people it is just natural for me to ask a lot of questions and when I hear about things that they are dealing with where I can be helpful I want to roll up my sleeves and jump in. It’s just how I am wired I guess. I love the challenge of cracking the code to see what works. More challenges create more opportunities!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our name really sets us apart it think For my company when I started the firm I jokingly referred to the women as the Marketing Mavens & the guys as the Marketing Moguls & for short I called them Mavens & Moguls as a working name but never expected it would stick. I did research over e-mail with prospective clients, referrers, media, etc & tested ~100 names. Mavens & Moguls was one choice on the list & to my great delight & surprise it came out as a clear winner. It has helped us be memorable and stand out from the pack. Because I have a hyphenated last name half the battle is for clients to be able to find you when they need your help. I have had clients tell me they could not remember anything other than my first name & one word of my company so they googled Paige & Mavens and we popped right up. I was at an event one day and a venture capitalist started waving in my direction and shouted “hi Maven!” across the crowd, everyone looked my way and we ended up getting introduced to a portfolio company that hired us! Names contribute to your brand and in our case I think it has been a major plus. Maven is Yiddish for expert and a Mogul is someone of rank, power or distinction in a specified area. I like the alliteration and I think it sets us apart from other consulting firms. It shows a little personality & attitude and implies we do not take ourselves too seriously. Would you rather hire “Strategic Marketing Solutions” or Mavens & Moguls? We are the “not your father’s Oldsmobile” of marketing firms. If nothing else our name is a great conversation starter and getting into a conversation is all it takes to open a door.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax. A mentor once told me and I have come to appreciate and realize is that to stay sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! The mentor shared that respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the least I can do for self care because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either, specifically I have encouraged my team to:

Give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), meditating, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself. You can fill a calendar to stay busy but what matters most is having impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with volume of activity, it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.

Disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships (when not social distancing). Even meeting for virtual coffee or drinks can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time. I used get out of the office 3–5 days a week which was a great way to stay connected, shake up my routine and get going before the virus hit.

Taking breaks with exercise — I do something active every day to stay healthy and break up my day.

Practice gratitude — I am so grateful I can work productively in my home office now with no commute.

As an entrepreneur it is easy to get overwhelmed. Staying healthy for me is about finding ways to unwind and relax as part of my day. It is about balance. I am a big fan of Tai Chi, but I also do Qigong, massage, acupuncture, knitting, reading, hanging out with friends, and watching TV to de-stress. I started learning Tai Chi >15 years ago and have gotten progressively addicted over the years. I now know the choreography of 2 different forms and I absolutely love it. It is a way to both relax and focus. I even guest teach when the regular backup cannot be there. I have met great people, it has helped my balance, improved my bone density and helped calm my mind. I just love it. I even wrote an article on it for Entrepreneur magazine a few years ago.

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?

I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, senior women in organizations where I worked but the person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and bump kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Good companies fill a market need, treat their employees and customers fairly and with respect, are ethical and have a strong reputation. Great companies transcend their products and services by also doing well not just good. They tend to be mission driven and attract employees and customers who are motivated by the same purpose too so become true champions/advocates/fans of the brand creating loyalty and emotional connection.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Strong leadership, a culture of learning, great talent, compelling stories with humility and a sense of humor are key ingredients for great companies and brands which are built from the inside out one person at a time starting at the top. Organizations tell their stories in compelling ways by finding the right words and pictures to create interest. In early days of mankind, stories were a great way to communicate around the campfire, they are critical to the Bible and they are still effective today. People do not remember facts and figures but if you tell them a story that touches them emotionally you get their attention and they want to hear more. People need to be educated, informed and/or entertained so figure out how best to tell your story in a way that makes them pay attention and breaks through the noise. Focus on the benefits to them not the features of your product or service. Stories create fans who will help you sell! My best tip is to stop selling and start sharing. If you share what you know — your passion, your war stories, the good, bad and ugly — the stories will flow and pour out of you an will be interesting and the lessons will be real, people will remember you and come back for more. Once your employees internalize your brand story they will share it with your customers in authentic ways that are relevant to them which absolutely builds a strong culture and makes for a unique and memorable customer experience.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

My vision for the business came from my belief that all organizations regardless of size or budget should have access to the best marketing talent on an outsourced basis. I wanted to bring world class marketing talent and expertise to companies that believe marketing matters and want to make a difference in the world. With purpose driven brands the goal is to find ways to connect with your customers on a deeper level in a way that transcends the product or service you are selling. Purpose gives buyers the reason why they should buy you versus the competition. Purpose creates loyalty with your customers and attracts great talent too, people love being associated with a great mission and it drives organizations to find new forms of value which accelerates growth. With more loyal customers and less turnover in staff, the organization becomes more profitable too. Consumers become advocates and champions for the brand which keeps marketing costs lower too.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

It comes down to culture and attracting the people who thrive in that environment. With the right attitude you can always teach the new team member more skills. I have been fortunate to work in several world class businesses in my career like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola with growth mindsets and l have tried to create that culture in my company too. In my experience, having a growth mindset helps successful people realize that the more happiness and wealth they acquire the more they can help others succeed too. Their gratitude becomes a multiplier and virtuous circle creating a positive .environment for future success. Fixed mindset people tend to feel that they know it all and see the world as a zero sum game, so if someone else is winning they must be losing. Growth mindset people never stop learning and experimenting, they are focused on the future and see opportunities ahead by creating a culture of learning and growth. The key is to make the know it alls see the power in becoming learn it alls.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

The key to survival for SMBs like mine in these unprecedented and uncertain times is about staying agile. The world has been forced to pause and hit the reset button while the pace of life and business has slowed. We have all been given the space to reflect on how we both live and work so it is a great time to apply the project management principles of Agile to all parts of our lives focusing on iterative incremental changes, open communication and feedback, staying flexible, sharing learnings across our networks and recognizing that small wins are still wins. This has become the new normal to survive the pandemic. We have all come to value and appreciate individuals and Interactions over process and tools, customer collaboration more than contract negotiations, and responding to change over following a plan. Pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc. is a smart and productive way companies like mine can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period.

Communication is key to all of our community, customer and employee engagement. To stay connected I try to set the tone upfront with one rule, when in doubt over-communicate. Especially now that everyone is working remotely it is key to set up regular e-mails, video and conference calls. If the lines of communication are open and everyone makes an effort to listen and be heard then collaboration will happen naturally and the information will flow. Whether you are B2B or B2C every business is P2P and connecting on a personal level is what matters most. Successful businesses understand their product or service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business. People connect with brands they know, like and trust and if they have a great experience and relationship with your brand you can keep them connected even in tough times by staying in communication. Show them they are respected, loved and needed. It is a smart funding to get this right.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

In business being decisive is an important quality. You rarely have all the information or data you need to be 100% confident but to keep things moving forward and your team on track you need to become comfortable with some uncertainty. In my experience the best ways to stop being indecisive are first and foremost stop trying to be perfect. Perfection does not exist so do not get paralyzed trying to find it. The key is to make the best decision with what you have and know you can pivot or course correct down the road when you know or learn more. Stop “should-ing” yourself, when you stop trying to please or impress and worrying about what everyone else will think, the best decision often becomes clear.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

To improve conversions, websites must be optimized for voice search. Voice user interface allows users to interact with websites through voice commands so it adds usability and functionality to your site making it accessible to all users including those with limitations and disabilities. It is not just about complying with the ADA, responsible web design and corporate social responsibility goals but it is also good for the bottom line by reaching a broader audience especially now with the virus Inclusion is the right thing to do and it is good for business. One key trend to address and tackle to grow your audience today is that smart speakers and voice search are growing in importance so being able to optimize for voice search will be key to maximize the marketing and advertising opportunities on Siri, Alexa, Google Home, etc. Brands that perfect the “branded skill” with more customer-friendly, less invasive ads are going to win big. Are you prepared when customers ask for help like “Alexa who has hi def TVs on sale?” “Ask Nestle for an oatmeal cookie recipe” or “What is the best Mexican restaurant in Boston?” If not you are missing a big opportunity! There are always new shiny objects in marketing to distract you, social media and technology are 24/7 but is here to stay whether it is via Google or voice. You get one chance to make a great first impression so if you want to improve the impression you are making and give your business a boost make sure your site is optimized.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Branding is very important to growing your business because if you do not brand yourself then the market will brand you instead. The single most important ingredient to creating a great brand is authenticity. Here are a few tips from my experience to help establish an authentic brand without having to spend a lot of money:

  • Be original. What makes you unique or special? Think about brands like Chic-Fil-A, they do not try to compete with other fast food brands on menu items, they are all about chicken, they have amazing customer service and they are closed on Sundays as a corporate policy and yet they continue to grow.
  • Be creative. How do you want people to think & feel after interacting with you vs. your competition? Brands like Apple and Virgin transcend the products they sell, it is about a lifestyle and way of life when you consider purchasing from them.
  • Be honest. Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source. Any woman can relate to the Spanx and Dove brands for example, they show real women and bodies in their ads with problems their audience can relate to easily.
  • Be relevant. Brands aren’t created in a vacuum. Nike does a great job of signing athletes across multiple sports to reach their audiences from Serena Williams to Tiger Woods to Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James for example. So whether you are young or old, male or female, it is winter or summer, Nike has someone on their roster you can relate to.
  • Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and live it every day. Coca-Cola has been around for more than a century and you do not need to see the logo to know it is a Coke ad, they always have the familiar bottle/can, colors and images that build on their past and leverage the nostalgia for the brand.
  • Be passionate. Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting. This is the bonus strategy where brands can really stand out. It is hard to fake passion, when your employees love their jobs the customers feel it too and brands that create evangelists have a huge competitive advantage in the market. Apple and Chic-Fil-A understand this and it shows.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Whether you are B2B or B2C every business is P2P and connecting on a personal level is what matters most. Successful businesses understand their product or service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business. People buy brands they know, like and trust. Everyone is not going to like, buy or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. Your brand grows when you have consistent messaging and deliver on your promises so build a strong relationship that is based on your value proposition not on price.

My favorite definition of great customer experience is related to the quote “people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” it has been attributed to many people including Teddy Roosevelt. I like it and find it helpful because it is a simple reminder even (maybe especially) online to listen more than talk, show empathy and try to look at the situation from another perspective. The goal is not to wear them down or impress them with your smarts. The goal is to connect, communicate clearly, solve the problem and move on.

Much of my business comes by referral and word of mouth. Enthusiasm can be contagious so with each referral those clients can feel wowed too and thank the referrer for the introduction which makes them want to tell more people about us because it reflected well on them too. It becomes a virtuous circle of a lot of great businesses supporting each other and growing so that the tide rises for all of us, creating a win-win.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but you do not have to let it run your life! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths. Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of likeminded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Don’t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most.

You do not exist today if you cannot be found online. It is important to establish an authentic brand voice on social media. Your online presence is an extension of your brand so it must align with other brand messaging and be consistent to help you differentiate from your competitors. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. It can dilute your brand and damage your reputation if you get sloppy or spread yourself too thin and do not monitor your online presence in real time.

You must always respond quickly to any problem or negative comments online because customers have high expectations for a prompt reply or acknowledgement today and it can be risky if social media takes hold you can dilute or damage your brand by seeming uncaring or unresponsive. Being invisible online is a terrible strategy so making sure your sites are keyword rich, mobile friendly, loads quickly and produces meaningful content today is the price of entry. That also happens to be a great foundation for effective. To hook in prospective clients and customers if your blog does not load quickly or they do not see something that grabs their attention the opportunity will be lost. It must include enough of your value proposition to start the conversation so they will click further to learn more about your product or service. The goal is to make the navigation intuitive and easy so they follow the breadcrumbs to get their questions answered or problems solved. When your brand foundation it strong the metrics show that you shorten the sales cycle and people spend more time on your sites. I started my company before social media existed when websites were basically a brochure online and search was a novelty The sites have gotten fancier over the years and search engines have changed their algorithms to keep up with customer demand for better and more relevant search capability. It would be a big mistake to ignore any of these strategies in your plans today.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

My biggest mistake was not realizing sooner that the people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. The hardest lesson I learned when I started my company is not getting rid of weak people earlier than I did in the first few years of my business. I spent more time managing them than finding new customers. I knew in my gut they were not up to snuff but out of loyalty to them I let them hang around much longer than they should have. It would have been better for everyone to let them go as soon as the signs were there. They became more insecure and threatened as we grew which was not productive for the team. As soon as I let them go the culture got stronger and the bar higher. “A” team people like to be surrounded by other stars. It is true that you should hire slowly and fire quickly. I did not make that mistake again later on so learned it well the first time. I wish I had known it even earlier though but lesson learned for sure!

I also recommend NOT spending money on things like fancy brochures, letterhead, business cards, etc. Until you know your business is launched I would say to put your budget into things that help fill your pipeline with customers. Getting your URL and a website up and running is key. I created online stationery for proposals and invoices, ordered my cards online and made downloadable materials as leave behinds for people looking for more information to help me find clients more quickly. I know other business owners who spent thousands of dollars on these things and found it was a waste of money. Your story will evolve as you find your market, you need to look professional and have a web site to be taken seriously but embossed paper with watermarks and heavy card stock is not going to accelerate your sales cycle. Find those reference customers quickly, use them to get testimonials and referrals. There is plenty of time later to dress things up!

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 would love to spark a movement or create change through a new (domestic) Peace Corps (2020 version) and suggest we are all in it no application required. We have millions of people unemployed, the largest number in our history. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, tutors, day care, senior care, census takers, contact tracers, there is no need to pay people to stay home or send them abroad to build infrastructure overseas we need it here right now across all 50 states! We also need peace to prevail and I think if we work together side by side to fix these problems in our communities we will all be on the same team.

How can our readers further follow you online? and

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure!

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