Liana Zavo, a college drop-out, and a single mom turned millionaire, is on a mission to inspire the world, one woman at a time. Zavo is the founder of ZavoMedia Group International PR Agency, based in New York, which helps clients globally secure media opportunities. The woman-run boutique agency which launched in 2018, is now expanding to secure placements for clients in Paris and Dubai. Zavo is a Columnist for Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine and is an official member of Forbes Business Council and Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). She is also the first female entrepreneur in her family.
On paper it may look like Zavo got “lucky,” but nothing could be further from the truth. It took hard work, perseverance, and a lot of courage to be where Zavo is today. Zavo, a single mother, got married early, had her son when she was a teenager, dropped out of college at age 21, got divorced at age 20, and by age 25 was so stressed and burned-out, she developed an autoimmune disease which stripped her of her hair on a portion of her scalp. Instead of letting her setbacks stop her in her tracks, she used it as her fuel to propel forward.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Liana Zavo: Growing up, I received my first taste of entrepreneurship from my family business. My family owns multiple restaurants and catering halls throughout New York. Even though it would have seemed to be the obvious choice to continue in my family’s footsteps and work within the business, I had my dreams I needed to chase. I wanted to create a legacy of my own and not take the easy way out and work for my family. So, I started my PR and digital marketing boutique agency, ZavoMedia Group, on the strength of my industry experience in branding strategies and public relations with the mindset to give voice to female entrepreneurs within their journeys and inspire women to become an authority in their niche.
Additionally, I developed a platform of podcasts and interviews of executive female mentors who offer successful tips and guidance to women as they embark or continue the entrepreneurship journey. These platforms concentrate on personal branding, content marketing, brand awareness, leading with confidence, authenticity, and how to push through various obstacles of adversity.
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?
Liana Zavo: As I remember my journey to get to where I am today, my two primary sources of inspiration are my son and the future generations of professionals. My son is my first source of inspiration because I not only want to provide choices and opportunities for him that I did not have when I was young, but I want to show him that anybody can make a difference in the world.
Anything is possible with perseverance, hard work, and dedication. My second source of inspiration is providing a successful example to other women and proving that they can make their dreams a reality if they stay focused on the goal. I believe we all have a voice within us that can be powerful and impactful to others when heard. For some, it is life-changing. Speaking up endows more self-confidence and brings in newfound peace and growth. Being in the media industry for over a decade, I’ve witnessed and went through different scenarios that tested my voice as a publicist and entrepreneur.
It wasn’t an easy journey, I admit, but by learning from my experience and extracting the moral lessons, I didn’t end up empty-handed. There were situations when I felt unheard, powerless, and limited by my surroundings. However, it was in those struggles that I pushed myself to step up. I broke through my limits, and from then on, I didn’t allow anyone to trample on who I am and what I am capable of doing. Fueled with the desire to succeed, I decided to step forward and start speaking up for myself rather than staying in the shadows, and my goal is to inspire others to speak up and become an authority.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Liana Zavo: When I had the idea to help brands with their branding and PR, I was told I can’t give advice because I am a college drop-out. I was told that I need to have a degree in communications in order to pursue my dreams and that I should go and get a degree to be taken seriously. Oh, boy was that the worst advice! I taught myself everything I needed to know in addition I hired a mentor in the field and started volunteering for a PR firm in NYC. I don’t take no for an answer, it only propels me forward to knock down more walls. I believe the uniqueness of my company comes from my coaching principles and PR hacks.
For example, I formulated my own acronym – B. E. P. I. C. – which helped me overcome moments of weakness to this day. I teach this method to my mentees so they can find their confidence and their inner voice to carry them through their journey. At the end of the day, my company’s primary goal is to carve an avenue for women in this male-dominated world continuously. I have stood firm on that goal and stayed committed to not only providing resources to educate women further but also to give them the tools and skills needed to become competent professionals. It is also important to me to not only educate but inspire. As a result, I have utilized my network over the years to give solid examples of what could happen with hard work, persistence, and dedication. Today, I am known as a great writer, a PR expert, a media mogul, and a branding maven.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Liana Zavo: Covid-19 has definitely changed the structure of business for everyone. Thankfully, my team and I could adopt more technology and create a digital avenue that allows us to reach a bigger audience and develop more effective and profitable services for these times. We were able to pivot my platform during a pandemic and carve out a new way to reach women on the one latest and aggressively growing apps, Clubhouse. The idea and overwhelming response from the platform motivated me to start a virtual public relations academy, Zavo PR Academy, which transforms professionals, entrepreneurs, and executives from being unknown to becoming unrecognizable by teaching proper industry strategies for boosting personal brands.
The academy also uses a specific method to help magnify and monetize a message, how to find your unique voice, and how to develop an authority in your niche. As a result, we were able to broaden my audience and help more women create a better life for themselves and their families without losing any of our team members.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Liana Zavo: Going forward, My organization and I plan to take my brand and mission to the next level. ZavoMedia Group is becoming a global company by establishing offices in Paris and Dubai in the Spring of 2022. We will capitalize on technology so we can reach an even larger audience and help more women tap into their entrepreneurial spirit. I plan to continue to educate and inspire those who know that there is more to life than doing the bare minimum and those that want to live instead of merely existing.
Overall, I will remain persistent in creating more avenues and preparing the next generation of successful entrepreneurs for their greatness. I love the idea of giving voice to the voiceless, and I love the idea of storytelling and the power behind someone’s message. As a result, I plan to continue creating a brand that is aligned with the things that I am extremely passionate about, which is turning personal stories into brand assets.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Liana Zavo: Entrepreneurship is an art because this journey is not for everyone. It takes a skillful and passionate person to understand the balance of talent, dedication, and the need for patience to trust the process of birthing a dream. Most people give up because of the dark and narrow roads of entrepreneurship, mainly because there are no guarantees, no safety nets, and no one or nothing to fall back on. Everything rests on the Entrepreneur’s shoulders, and not everyone can bear that amount of weight. For example, before I started my company, I was a college dropout and a single mom at age 20.
I knew I wanted more so I decided to learn for myself the art of storytelling and how to get it out to the public. I wanted to share my story with the world so others can learn from my experience and become inspired. When PR initially piqued my interest, I had no knowledge of the industry, but I decided to partner with a firm in NYC under one condition: I could introduce new clients from her family’s restaurant, and in return, I could learn everything there was to know about PR. I gave myself a year, and during that year, it was nothing but hard work, grit, and determination.
By the end of the year, I learned the ins and outs of PR and hired a mentor to teach me the business aspect, and started my journey. With only $5000 and a spirit of determination, I started my bootstrap startup company in 2017 without any partners to assist.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Liana Zavo: Effective personal branding is crucial in today’s day and age. It will differentiate you from the competition and allow you to build trust with potential clients. You only get one chance to make the best first impression and that should not be taken lightly. When you Google yourself, what pops up on the first page? Your message has to be relevant and consistent across all social media platforms. Whether you like it or not people will want to learn about you as a person. The most important part of personal branding is taking control of the narrative and not be controlled by someone else who can ruin your online reputation. Today, everyone should build a strong personal brand, especially how fast social media is growing.
Personal branding is how you present yourself to the world. The sooner you realize that authenticity is key in a successful personal brand the faster you will be set apart from your competitors. Most importantly companies should encourage their employees to build strong personal brands to bring more business. When positioned as trustworthy though leaders, employees can help acquire new customers and retain existing ones. Managing online reputation is key to success and if you are not doing a good job at it, then you run the risk of losing great opportunities.
How would you define “leadership”?
Liana Zavo: Every leader has a different style of management. As long as everyone is passionate about what they do, the rest automatically follows. I believe that leading by example creates a positive environment and inspires the workforce to do the same. I learn from my employees on a daily basis and I listen to them and deliver to create a high-vibrational work environment. Since Covid, my whole agency went remote and that created more creativity to work on campaigns.
When everybody works smart for the brand, consumers receive excellent service, bringing positive reviews and feedback to the company. Taking our clients from zero to hero, to be seen and heard as experts in their niche is our mission. Now that is a cycle that every leader would want to have.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Liana Zavo: The mantra of my success comes from the failures that were defeated time and again. My life is not perfect, and I have confronted countless struggles before reaching my zenith. When I was young, I looked up to successful people and used their stories as my inspiration. I adopted the valuable lessons and qualities from these significant individuals to break through the glass ceiling and achieve success. Here are the 10 best pieces of career advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and thought leaders who aim for the top.
- Learning is the first step.
As humans, we are prone to making mistakes in life. We settle the score by learning from our faults and developing better habits. But why do we keep on making the same mistakes over again? It is because we refuse to learn. When we start to acknowledge our lapses, we can move forward and become better individuals.
- You are powerful beyond measure.
People told me that I should conform to what society dictates me to do and be a woman. But I did not let the words of others define who I am. I know my capabilities as a woman, and I am confident about what I can do to serve my community. Do not let limitations and doubts cloud your confidence because you are more than what people say. Believe in yourself that you can do it.
- Gratitude makes us appreciate different perspectives.
When you start being grateful, you begin to see things in a new light. I used to see gloomy days ahead because all I could think of were the problems that drained my energy. As I practiced the value of gratitude, I started to feel more positive and invigorated. Being thankful for the blessings I receive daily encouraged me to work harder. I ended up happier and more content with what I have rather than stressing over things beyond my control.
- When you feel lost, go back to your “why.”
In a world full of distractions, we undoubtedly go astray and lose sight of our goals. It is vital to stay rooted in your purpose by reminding yourself consistently why you do what you do. I desired to gain more knowledge and develop my talents because I wanted to educate and empower the next generation of female entrepreneurs. At times of doubt, I looked back to where I started. This helps me evoke the passion I felt when I commenced my mission.
- Failure is the foundation of success.
We tend to perceive failure as a heavy downfall. Therefore, we try to avoid it by playing safe or doing nothing at all. Taking risks is an inevitable part of the journey if you want to be successful. If we fail, we can stand up and try again. I failed many times when I started my business, but I refused to stay defeated. My failures became my stepping stones which helped me climb the ladder to success.
- Seize the moment.
Cliché as it may sound, it is the truth. Nothing comes to fruition if we do not take action. Doing our best every day brings in positive results rather than doing things half-heartedly. Opportunities come when we least expect them. Hence, it is crucial to be ready and seize the chance when it presents. I make sure to create a checklist daily to see my progress and acquire more skills to improve myself. Preparation is key to grasping opportunities.
- Be adaptable and stay relevant to the situation.
Last year was a challenging time for everyone, but it revealed other directions that people used to achieve their wins. The ability to switch directions according to the changes gives us the advantage to be at the forefront. I managed to pull through and averted the crisis by staying relevant to the times. I modified my methods of handling my business to stay connected with my clients. If we remain stuck in the old ways, it will be harder to keep up with the trend.
- Always know people are rooting for you.
Never let the noise pull you down rock bottom. You may not seem to notice it straight away, but some still support and believe in you till the end. Instead of stressing over the people, you can’t please, turn to those who are ready to hold your hand. Never take these individuals for granted because they are vital to helping you reach your goals.
- The sun doesn’t shine every day; there are rainy days, too.
Life goes up and down whether we like it or not. There are good days and bad days; it is a matter of taking the good with the bad. It is never a smooth walk in the park, but it does not mean we have to give up searching. I also had bad days, but they did not hinder me from fulfilling my mission. I made sure to keep moving forward and enjoy the journey instead. Tomorrow is another chance to start over and become better.
- There is a time for everything.
Age and gender are not the ultimate barriers that stop us from attaining our dreams. It is our self-limiting beliefs. Renowned billionaires, celebrities, and thought leaders reached the pinnacle at different phases of their lives. It took me years to establish myself as an expert in my niche, but I never let these factors become obstacles in my path.
These career tips can serve as a guide in building yourself to the top. Most importantly, let us not forget that family is an essential aspect of our lives. Family can be a great source of inspiration and motivation to keep us pushing forward. Remember that life is a marathon and not a sprint. It is a matter of time when you take charge and design your life the way you want it.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Liana Zavo: “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” – Stephen Hawking
I resonate with this quote because it reminds us no matter how difficult things may seem, or how beaten down we may be, as long as we are breathing there is something we can do to improve our, or someone else’s, situation. Anything can be possible, with that little reminder every day.”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Liana Zavo 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 Liana Zavo or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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