Courtney Riley is the CEO and visionary behind Proximo Marketing Strategies, an international marketing firm based out of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Driven by passion and a calling to serve, Courtney leverages her talent for innovative thinking with a genuine enthusiasm for seeing others succeed, to help her clients find and pursue their true purpose while also providing them with the necessary tools to successfully position their brands in the marketplace. She is an active and appreciated member of her community, serving as adjunct faculty at local colleges, educating students on best practices for marketing in the 21st century, and serving on the board of several non-profit organizations. A published author and recent recipient of the 40 Under 40 and Woman of Excellence award, Courtney Riley has been called “One to watch in the marketing world,” by Authority Magazine.
With a decade of success behind her, Courtney now focuses her efforts on helping other entrepreneurs, CEOs and visionaries employ the principles of the Love-Centric Business Model to not only achieve success and fulfillment for themselves, their employees, and their customers but to do it all on their own terms.
Of course, more important than any professional accomplishments are the blessings Courtney counts in her personal life – her husband, Matt, teenage son, Dominic, and toddler, Bella. Yes. You read that right – a teenager and a toddler! Needless to say, Courtney knows a thing or two about chaos and overwhelm and practices what she preaches not only on the job but also at home, recognizing that living a life of love has also meant loving herself enough to prioritize self-care. When she’s not helping entrepreneurs thrive and build love-centric businesses, Courtney can be found soaking up family time and sunshine in the backyard, relaxing with yoga, or enjoying a quiet moment with God’s word.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Courtney Riley: I really never thought I would own my own business – it was probably the last thing on my list when I thought about my future. I was raised by “serial entrepreneurs” who owned building, construction, and real estate companies. And witnessing their ups and downs, the instability and uncertainty of entrepreneurship did not inspire me in the least. I wanted security and order, something I didn’t think it was possible to achieve as an entrepreneur.
So I pursued an education in criminal justice with the intent of joining the legal field. To pay the bills through college, I took a position in a medical office – at first as administrative support and then promoted to essentially run their marketing department because I showed a natural talent for it. The rest, as they say, is history! I found a career I love by accident and wound up doing exactly what I said I’d never do! Now ten years have passed and I am the owner and CEO of my own marketing firm with a team of talented individuals working alongside me.
Together, we work with other business owners and CEOs who are burdened with overwhelm and who are unable to devote the time and energy needed to see results in their marketing. We focus on freeing up their mental space and energy – which has previously been occupied by tasks they’re not meant to be doing – so they can focus on exactly what they ARE meant to do. For us, it’s really not just about marketing. It’s about providing strategies and services that allow our clients to step out of chaos and into their God-given purposes.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Courtney Riley: I have always valued the mentorship of anyone who was willing to share their wisdom with me. I think some people think being a CEO means we’ve made it and we don’t have to listen to anybody else anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In order to be the best CEO, leader, business owner I can be, I’ve found that being open to continued growth, learning and development is absolutely vital. So, the list of people who have helped to shape the leader I’ve become is long. But the person who has made the greatest impact on me professionally is my COO, Katy Calabrese. I’ve known Katy for many years and in many seasons of my life – as a speaker, as a consultant, as a friend, and in other capacities – but over the course of the last year, she has breathed so much love into our company and has helped to renew my passion for leadership. I have always wanted to lead with love but struggled with playing that out on a bigger scale as my company grew.
Katy first joined my team as a consultant and process management specialist, helping me to completely re-imagine the structure of my company. That role quickly evolved into a position as our COO and I am still in awe of the dramatic changes I’ve seen in myself, in my team, and in our operations since she accepted the position. Her presence here on the team has allowed me to step back from the areas of my business that were distracting me from living out my purpose as a CEO. Add to that the astronomical growth that has come from implementing her processes – a 400% increase in our sales and a tripling of our internal team (in the middle of a pandemic!) – and it’s clear to see the mark she’s made on me and my company in such a short period of time.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Courtney Riley: Working to Burnout for the Sake of the “Hustle Mentality” – I think entrepreneurs often wear their burnout like a badge of honor. We tell ourselves that working late nights, missing time with our loved ones, and stressing ourselves sick is just “part of the job description.” But it doesn’t have to be. It’s something I wish I had known as a young entrepreneur — I think I would have been much kinder to myself! I wish I had known what all the hustling leads to (burnout) so that I could have avoided it, but of course, I would have missed out on a lot of important lessons along the way.
Neglecting the Team – It’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers. But I think being a great entrepreneur and CEO means you need to recognize that the investment in your team will have the biggest ROI. Obviously, we can’t ditch the metrics altogether because we can’t grow if we don’t know where we came from or what needs attention. But if you prioritize investing in your people – in loving them and making them feel valued, respected, and supported – your metrics will never be a problem because you’ll have the right people in the right positions and they’ll be passionate about doing their jobs well.
Losing Sight of the Mission – You and your team need a mission – a guidepost to keep you on track and inform each and every one of your decisions. Know your people. Know your purpose. Know your mission. Know your values. And keep them at the forefront of everything you do. Of course, your mission may evolve over time, so it’s important to stay flexible and allow necessary shifts to happen. Just make sure your team is working towards the same goals you are at all times. Don’t lose sight of who you are and who you serve.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Courtney Riley: Simply put, resilience is about weathering the storm, no matter what, so to some that might just sound like mental and physical toughness. And, to a degree, that is important. But I think it’s more than that. In order to stay standing after difficult circumstances, you cannot face them with rigidity or a closed mind. In fact, one of the actual definitions of resilience is, “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.”
That’s really the key for me – being able to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone which helps to discover creative solutions, being pliable and open to reshaping your opinions by considering the insight of others, and being agile in your movements, and learning to pivot when you encounter a roadblock. A business cannot survive if its leaders cannot adapt and adjust in the midst of adversity.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Courtney Riley: I can say without a doubt that what sets my company apart from others in our field is the way we lead with love. Everything we do, every decision we make, every interaction we have is guided by a desire to put love first. As a leader, it looks like getting to know each of my employees on a personal level, giving them the space to communicate freely, and honoring their time – not because I just want them to work harder, but because I genuinely want them to love what they do every single day. And this extends beyond our team and touches each of our clients as we prioritize their unique needs as human beings. We don’t see metrics and dollar signs when we bring on a new client. We see a human being who needs our help – who has hopes and fears and dreams that all contribute to whatever position they find themselves in when we meet them.
It’s our job to know them on a deeper level, to understand every step of their journey that brought them to our door, and to create personalized strategic plans that will carry them into the future they’ve imagined for themselves. And we don’t just present a strategy and send them on their way – we care deeply for each of our clients and are honored to walk beside them through crisis, through transition, through whatever the future holds for them. It’s a different way of doing business, one that we don’t see all too often in our industry, and I am so proud of the relationships we’ve cultivated by operating a love-centric business.
Delegating is part of being a great leader, but what have you found helpful to get your managers to become valiant leaders as well?
Courtney Riley: I think the first part of creating valiant leaders is hiring the right people. You can’t rush through the process of hiring new talent out of desperation to fill an open position. You need the right people in the right positions. The way we’ve achieved that within our company is by digging a little deeper into our interview process. Of course, we ask all the usual questions about their professional experience, but beyond that, we ask each applicant to take an Enneagram test and a Love Language test and spend a considerable amount of time getting to know them personally.
This helps us envision how an applicant might fit into our company culture. Because it’s not just about whether or not they can do the job – it’s about whether or not they will be able to work towards our mission, respect our company values, and keep pace with our existing team. For me, finding the right people for my team has made it very easy to mentor them into leadership roles. I’ve found that encouraging my management team to claim ownership of their tasks and projects (as opposed to micromanaging or looking over their shoulders constantly) has empowered them to lead others on the team with grace, love, and respect. It is really true that attitude reflects leadership – it’s a trickle-down effect. You have to practice what you preach and lead by example – always.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Courtney Riley: Well, as a marketing strategist, I obviously know the value of good branding. Your brand is simply the story of YOU – how you got here, what you value, where you’re headed. As a CEO, a personal brand serves to lead others back to your company and inspire people to work with you, so it’s incredibly important for a leader to be mindful of her own brand. You cannot be the leader of a company and neglect your story – it has so much potential to strengthen your bonds with your clients by forging more personal relationships and it serves as a beacon to your company.
Mindfully crafting your personal brand as a leader also serves to demonstrate your authority within your industry which can only strengthen your company. As potential customers learn more about you – your experience, your education, your values – and they see your story interwoven with your company’s, they develop trust and respect which turns shoppers into buyers and cultivates loyalty. Every opportunity you have to go deeper, to add another layer or another chapter to your story is an opportunity to create lasting success for your company.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Courtney Riley: I am absolutely a proponent of servant leadership. I believe if you dedicate yourself to the growth and well-being of your people, your people will perform and your company will grow. But it’s more than that. I genuinely care for the people on my team. I see how hard they work and I respect their talents, expertise, and unique perspectives knowing that they all contribute to the success of the company. It isn’t MY company. It is OUR company and my role as a CEO is to equip my employees with the tools they need to do their jobs well and the opportunities they need to achieve their dreams – both professionally and personally.
I think as CEOs we need to acknowledge the unique position we are in. We hold people’s lives in our hands. We are responsible for their livelihood, for their mental health, and overall wellness because they are spending ⅓ of their lives working for us. We can’t take that for granted. I’m not interested in power. I’m interested in empowering the people I employ to do their best work, to grow in their roles, to become leaders themselves, and ultimately, to live their best lives.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Courtney Riley: I think the skills that make a great entrepreneur may come naturally to some people, but I think the majority of us are learning, developing, and honing them over time. I’m not sure anybody is really ready to be an entrepreneur right out of the gate – many of the skills we put into practice as executives are ones we learned with years of experience in subordinate positions. And I wouldn’t want anyone to skip those experiences simply because they really do make you a better leader.
So, sure, there could be some people who step into entrepreneurship without stumbling (though I’ve yet to meet any such person) and just have a knack for it, but the vast majority of entrepreneurs have seen their fair share of failure and are learning as they go.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Courtney Riley: The quote by Paul Shane Spear that goes, “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person,” has always resonated with me because I’ve always dreamed of making a big impact. I’m sure it’s the millennial in me – or maybe it’s just who I was born to be – but I want to leave a legacy and make a real difference in the world. I think some people assume they can’t change the world and so they don’t do anything. But I’m not content with that. This quote reminds me that making a difference for one person is important and little by little can make an impact. It’s really about doing what you can whenever you can to make the lives of everyone you encounter just a little brighter.
If we could all commit to changing the world of one person – whether by showing kindness, lending a helping hand, donating to a worthy cause, whatever we’re able to do – we really could change the world, together.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Courtney Riley for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Courtney Riley or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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