Self-awareness is critical. — Take time for personal reflection and get real honest with yourself to identify what you’re good at and where your skillset falls flat. Self-awareness is a critical skill in this evaluation process. With awareness you can better identify your weaknesses so you can hire those out. Not great at invoicing and expenses or keeping meetings organized? Hiring an assistant or a bookkeeper early on can set you and your whole company up for better success.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Riel, a brand strategist, marketing consultant and founder, owner and “RielDeal” behind RielDeal Marketing, a U.S.-based boutique brand and multi-channel marketing firm. Stephanie brings more than a decade of experience to clients across a variety of industries including ecommerce, health and wellness, beauty, technology and retail. In her personal time she enjoys pursuing personal development, trying the latest wellness trends, spending time with her loved ones, spoiling her two dogs, and traveling the world.
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’m a brand strategist and digital marketer who got my start in the industry in 2008, while still in college. I discovered marketing via courses for my Business degree and immediately fell in love. Problem was, I was nearing the end of my college time and knew I didn’t want to change my major to learn the “book version” of marketing, so I started my consulting firm to get as much real-life marketing experience as possible before graduating. I leveraged that freelance work to land my first full-time job — and every job after. I’ve worked in corporate environments and in startups, with franchise systems, Fortune 6 companies and family-owned small businesses. Intentionally seeking out a diverse collection of brand and business-types to soak up as much experience as possible. I lived the “side hustle” life for over 9 years, navigating the demands of a full-time job — working for someone else by day, then transitioning to working on my business and servicing client needs on nights and weekends. In 2019, I left my corporate job to focus on my business full-time and I’ve not looked back.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Following years of watching my father in his own entrepreneurial journey and the admiration that went along with that, I knew from a young age I eventually wanted to own my own business. The question was more of what kind of business, and when I would get started. The initial “aha” moment really came about for me in college as a Journalism major in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. During my undergraduate career I had completed seven journalism internships, but wasn’t convinced a job in journalism was for me. When my senior year hit, I took my first marketing course and fell in love with the field as it was the perfect mix of storytelling and creativity, psychology (a la consumer behavior) and data. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in marketing but with no formal training at the time, it was important for me to find a way to build that experience. So, I started taking on marketing project work, leveraging my storytelling background to build up real-world marketing experience. Along the way, RielDeal Marketing was born.
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?
Navigating the “side hustle” life as a recent college graduate was challenging. I learned some valuable lessons about time management early-on which were extremely helpful to me in juggling the demands of my first full-time job, and a budding freelance career. There were many long nights and extra hours, including weekends where I was focused on my business while friends were socializing and having fun. While it was a tough balance at the time, I didn’t consider giving up. I made a commitment to my employer and my clients to complete a specific job. The pride of accomplishment and thirst of expanded learning kept me engaged and focused on the long-term goal; that this situation was temporary and it was a small price to pay to get where I wanted to be.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I am thrilled with the evolution of my business to date. Since leaving Corporate America in January 2019 to focus on the business full-time, RielDeal Marketing has experienced great success. The business is growing and profitable, even despite 2020 being one of the most difficult years for small businesses that I can remember. We have been able to hire and expand our service offerings as well. I am so grateful for all of the lessons and the journey that has led us to this point. I have no doubt that my grit and resilience is directly connected to the success of the business over the years.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of the top stand-out traits for our company is we treat our client’s businesses the way I’d hope someone would treat my own business, keeping it real at every step of the way. First, during onboarding we prioritize our client’s individual business data to guide strategy. Then we blend that with relevant brand messaging that will best resonate with their customer. The result is a customer-driven marketing and brand strategy approach that is aligned with client goals. No frills or fluff, just what’s going to work best.
It’s not entirely uncommon during a potential new business call for me to talk the potential client out of hiring us, especially when I hear any red flag items that could interfere with marketing results. Recently, a potential client reached out to us about paid advertising and email marketing automation. On the call, I discovered they had no true sales funnel in place to capitalize on leads generated from paid advertising campaigns. So, instead of selling the client on paid advertising, the priority quickly shifted to discussing their sales funnel and the various areas they should focus on first before allocating budget to paid advertising and email marketing automation consulting services.
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?
While mistakes are not usually funny in the moment — I do have a unique take on them. To me, mistakes or “failures” are our greatest way to learn. I’m sure I made many mistakes early in my career and I know that my team and I still make mistakes today, but what’s most important to me is the reflection process following that mistake. No matter the scenario, what I’ve learned is we can let our mistakes define us, or we can rise above and figuring out how to fix the mishap or learn from it and move forward is the most valuable lesson of all.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I can honestly say that I don’t live with regrets. I believe each decision we make leads us to where we are in present day. So without previous decisions, I cannot say that my business would be experiencing the same success it is today. However, at some point along my entrepreneurial journey, I received the advice to wait and gather more experience before focusing full-time on my business. In the years since quitting my “day job” to focus on my business, I’ve felt more and more that I wish I would have made the leap to full-time entrepreneurship sooner, though I am so grateful for the experience and lessons I learned from navigating both for that time.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I believe my ambition, curiosity and my intuition are most instrumental in my success. Ambition being first and foremost, as my drive to succeed and to success for our clients is at the root of all my decisions. That ambition keeps my “Energizer Bunny” energy going.
Curiosity is also a key as I am always eager and ready to learn. This trait also helps me recognize patterns for success across various client types and industries.
My intuition is often an unseen trait for my clients. I truly rely on my inner knowing to make many decisions behind the scenes, both in leading and building my business and in crafting strategy that will get our clients the best results possible.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As someone who’s fallen into bouts of “burn out” before, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is the importance of filling my own cup first. In the last few years, I block off calendar time each day for my morning routine. I also block off time weekly for working on the business. By keeping the commitment to myself to ensure I have time for my morning routine including stretching, meditation and physical exercise, I am able to show up as my best self for my clients, my partner and my friends. I believe this self-care is a crucial step to longevity and success.
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?
A common mistake I see CEOs and founders make when they start a business is they think their product or service is for everyone and they do not take the effort to understand who their target audience truly is. Our client’s target audience is at the heart of every marketing recommendation or strategy we create. By putting the customer first, we are able to help ensure the brand messaging will resonate with the ideal target for the client’s product or service. Another common mistake I see CEOs and founders make when they start a business is they try to multi-task too much. This could be by attempting to offer a variety of products or services with mixed messages, or by wearing too many hats within the business. There is a fine line between efficiency and setting yourself up for failure by trying to do too much. My best advice in either of those scenarios is, let’s look at how we can simplify. Sometimes that’s developing a clear roadmap with steps and timeline to focus and prioritize business ideas. Other times that involves outsourcing certain tasks to free up time for more pressing tasks. No matter the scenario, taking a strategic approach to business can set that business up for success long-term.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
From my experience the area of running a company that is most underestimated is the importance of identifying, documenting and establishing processes up front. Managing a team requires an incredible amount of commitment — both in time and efforts. This is often overlooked at the start of a business, allowing employees or other personnel freer reign. However, as the business grows and scale over time — those key processes for a business can get lost. It is much easier to identify and document your processes at the start than to go back and try to document or train staff of procedures later.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You and your team will make mistakes. Allow them. — Mistakes are part of being human. So unless you’re working with robots, mistakes will be made. By creating a culture that embraces failure and mistakes, you open the team up for better communication and more team empowerment (instead of fear). This attitude can enhance team morale and overall culture of your organization, too!
- Your journey is unique. — Business ownership and leadership is a wild ride and no two journeys are exactly alike. That is okay. You can find inspiration from fellow founders along the way without crippling your growth by harping on comparison between others. Your business journey is as unique as you are…and that’s an incredibly empowering thing.
- All eyes are always on you. — From how you engage via the company Slack to how you present yourself to customers or clients. Even to how you manage your work/life balance. Your team is watching you. As a leader, your team will look to you to take a cue on what’s accepted and what isn’t so it is important to act accordingly and consistently.
- Self-awareness is critical. — Take time for personal reflection and get real honest with yourself to identify what you’re good at and where your skillset falls flat. Self-awareness is a critical skill in this evaluation process. With awareness you can better identify your weaknesses so you can hire those out. Not great at invoicing and expenses or keeping meetings organized? Hiring an assistant or a bookkeeper early on can set you and your whole company up for better success.
- Ask your team questions. And listen! — Feedback is a powerful tool. Seek input from your team on topics such as company processes, tools and culture. Then, apply that feedback into action within the business. Not only will this effort give you real input on what’s working internally from the people who are closest to those aspects each day, but it can also help your team feel more valued. And valued employees are happy, more satisfied employees. Asking for input, acknowledging the input given and using that feedback to improve company processes can give your employees a sense of ownership of their respective roles. Having a vested stake and feeling valued and heard can also help create more dedicated employees who champion for your business outside of work hours.
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 inspire a movement that helps normalize mental health and encourages fellow humans to take care of their brains as much — or more than their bodies. In the last few years, I’ve incorporated wellness practices including meditation into my daily routine and the benefit to my brain and my mental health has been incredible. There is such a stigma around mental health in the United States, I truly believe that if we could help lift that stigma and normalize the need for brain training like meditation and therapy or counseling — we could really help so many who silently struggle.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Facebook Business Page: www.facebook.com/rieldealmarketing
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!