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“Stay focused on your vision.” With Paige Arnof-Fenn

As we have been discussing the keys are to communicate clearly, course correct as needed, be transparent, stay focused on your vision and purpose and to get through this period with the team together intact. Everything else is a nice to have but not on the critical path. As part of my series about the […]

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As we have been discussing the keys are to communicate clearly, course correct as needed, be transparent, stay focused on your vision and purpose and to get through this period with the team together intact. Everything else is a nice to have but not on the critical path.

As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.

Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and 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 your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?

Idid not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national 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 my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, and before the virus hit I had time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and I still 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 share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ 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 before the virus hit I got 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.

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 butt 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.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

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.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

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.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

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!

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

To stay clear headed, motivated and to get through this period with the team together intact. Everything else is a distraction.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

In my experience the most important qualities for effective leadership in times like these are:

Strong moral compass — you cannot compromise on ethics and values, be honest and transparent

Good communicator — able to rally the troops and keep them on the critical path with a clear message

Smarts — technically competent and they work hard to earn the respect of their team

Bonus — great sense humor and fun to work with even (maybe especially) in tough times

I predict the most trusted leaders and brands will have a big competitive advantage in the new normal that evolves in a post-Corona world. Employees, customers and clients will remember who treated them well during the crisis and they will be rewarded with loyalty from earning that trust during the bad times.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Running a global communications firm during the current crisis has provided a stage to rise to the occasion. Between the pandemic and the possible recession, leaders have an opportunity to further connect with anxious people and focus on the true relevance of their message. We have to acknowledge that now things are different so we need to communicate in a way that will give our audiences better focus, helping them to create a bridge from today to the future. We need to communicate in a way that combines information and need, synthesizing feeling and facts. I feel leaders have a tremendous responsibility because never before has communications had the power to help society in the way that it does right now. Words are part of the healing process and we can see which leaders are doing the best job every day with messages that touch not only the mind, but also the heart and soul. There has never been a more important time to provide accurate, empathetic communication with transparency, truthfulness and timeliness. Maybe the silver lining is that this crisis reminds us that we have always needed each other and we have learned that everyone is struggling right now to find a new normal so the key is to show our humanity and compassion while we look out for one another.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

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.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

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 investment to get this right.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

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 SEO. 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 SEO strategies in your plans today.

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 biggest change for me, my team and my clients from the virus so far is the shutdown of all networking events, travel and conferences. This is typically a very busy time with many events, trade shows, business meetings on the road, etc. and for the past few months everyone is staying put and meeting virtually instead. I have had more Zoom and Skype calls in the past 15 days than the prior 12 months! So first and foremost I have learned to help small businesses to be flexible and open minded so we can keep working together during the crisis and create more flexible capacity going forward over the next year as the economy reopens. If small groups on the team want to talk through specific issues (managing anxiety, kids, parents, etc.) virtual coffee meetings online have been helpful too. A few colleagues have even met online after work for virtual happy hour/beer/cocktails as well when they had more time to chat. It is starting to feel like the new normal by leveraging technology to build and maintain my relationships. We have learned that finding routines and things we can control helps I think.

Another pivot because of the lockdown, this is a great time to build your brand through online marketing and social media. Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but we have learned 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. For example, Content Marketing and Thought Leadership are great ways to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients/customers. Activities like writing articles, hosting webinars, podcasts and building your following on social media all contribute to increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. 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. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts. 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. 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. Start small and build as you go. For me I started with small publications then moved up the food chain to reach bigger audiences. People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. 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. These ideas do not require big budgets but they are productive ways to stay connected during the crisis.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

As we have been discussing the keys are to communicate clearly, course correct as needed, be transparent, stay focused on your vision and purpose and to get through this period with the team together intact. Everything else is a nice to have but not on the critical path.

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

I saw this quote recently from Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept” and it inspired me to send a note to elected officials in DC for the first time in my life the week George Floyd was killed hoping 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 tens of millions of people unemployed, the largest number in our history. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, 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 we will all be on the same team. Another great quote is “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt said it and it is still true today.

How can our readers further follow your work?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigearnoffenn

www.MavensAndMoguls.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you stay well!

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