Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a global branding and digital marketing firm whose clients range from early-stage start-ups to Fortune 500 companies including Colgate, Virgin, Microsoft, and The New York Times Company. She was formerly VP Marketing at Zipcar and VP Marketing at Inc.com. Prior to that, she held the title of SVP Marketing at Launch Media, an Internet start-up that was later sold to Yahoo.
Arnof-Fenn has also worked as a special assistant to the chief marketing officer of global marketing at The Coca-Cola Company and held the position of director of the 1996 Olympic Commemorative Coin Program at the Department of Treasury.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I am a child of the 60s and 70s who grew up in the Deep South. I am the oldest of 3 and was always a good student and athlete growing up, responsible and hard working. My father and both grandfathers were in business so I always thought I would go that route too. From a young age, I loved sports, movies, TV, and travel. I was an exchange student in France in high school and in Italy in college.
As an adult I have lived and worked in NYC, LA, Bay Area, Atlanta, DC, Cincinnati, etc. but have been in Boston for the past 20+ years. After graduating college with a degree in Economics, I started my career in finance 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 before they went public or were sold. I took the leap into entrepreneurship right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. I have never looked back and love being an entrepreneur.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I think both ways are paths to being an entrepreneur. There are successful entrepreneurs like Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg who were clearly born that way but the majority of entrepreneurs like me I think get into it after working for others earlier in their careers. Looking back I am guessing the ones who are made can see signs of being entrepreneurial in their previous lives so maybe there is a little part of it you are born with but the rest can be cultivated when you get inspired by the right idea.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: High energy, driven, passionate problem solver.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: We are a network of seasoned marketing experts who can do anything a marketing department, market research shop, public relations firm or ad agency does on an as-needed or outsourced basis. We help our clients tell their stories in compelling ways to create interest. We have resources in major metro areas across the country and around the world. We are storytellers and content creators who help our clients in compelling ways by finding the right words and pictures to create interest for their products and services. Creating content is a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile, and ultimately attract more attention/clients/ customers. I have always loved telling and listening to stories since childhood.
In the 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 I love to figure out how best to tell a story in a way that makes people pay attention and breaks through the noise. When you share what you know — your passion, your war stories, the good, bad and ugly — the content will flow and pour out of you. The stories will be interesting and the lessons will be real, people will remember you and come back for more.
We work with clients on both a project and retainer basis and post the Great Recession the majority of our work is now project-based (it used to skew to more retainer work before). The biggest change for me, my team, and my clients from the virus 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 year-plus, everyone is staying put and meeting virtually instead. I have had more Zoom and Skype calls in the past 15 days than the 12 months pre Covid!
Pivoting to online meetings, webinars, etc. is a smart and productive way companies can continue to have conversations that educate and inform, build relationships and move forward during this crisis period.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: You should assume that you do not exist today if you cannot be found online. SMBs must have a website to make it easy for their audience to find them. Being invisible online is a terrible strategy so making sure your site is keyword rich/mobile-friendly/loads quickly/produces meaningful content today is the price of entry. That also happens to be a great foundation for effective SEO. To make SEO even more relevant today it must be optimized for voice search. It does not have to be expensive but one of the biggest SEO myths in my experience is that it is a one-time activity/set it and forget it. Nothing could be further from the truth, the search engines are constantly updating their algorithms, keywords are always evolving, etc. so SEO needs to be an ongoing commitment if you want to stay on top/page 1.
The goal of each algorithm update is to help users more easily find what they’re searching for based on intent. The search engines will continue to find and serve up the websites that contain the best content and information to meet its users’ needs so make it an ongoing priority for best results. Set up a free Google listing and include physical address/phone number/email address/hours of operation/directions to the physical store/URL/photos to boost local SEO. Other tips are that content quality and length matter for rankings web pages that contain long high quality content get more visibility and shares so becoming that trusted source and influencer with timely and helpful answers to questions get rewarded quickly.
Mobile UX determines your ranking too and video grabs attention – live streaming is available on every major social media platform and it is only getting bigger to hook in users with short attention spans, in a mobile-first world, you have less time to grab people, attention spans are shorter than ever so video will be used even more, the show doesn’t tell for maximum impact, rich content drives engagement. Interactive marketing makes sites stickier — brands will drive engagement even more with polls/surveys/quizzes/contests/interactive videos to grab audience attention even quicker.
Using the right keywords for video descriptions/headlines will ensure you do better in searches too. Finally, AI-powered chatbots cut costs and convert visitors into leads by encouraging themed content to answer FAQs with voice search-friendly semantic keyword phrases.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: 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!
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Paige Arnof-Fenn: 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! 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 learned to:
Give my 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 an impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with the 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 are 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 to 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.
- Take breaks with exercise — I do something active every day to stay healthy and break up my day.
- Practice gratitude — I am so grateful we can all work productively in home offices now with no commute.
This advice has also helped me find the silver lining in this crisis which 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. If we can hold on to the very best parts of this lockdown personally and professionally the world will be a better place for it.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Especially for new business owners and entrepreneurs, I 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 website 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! I also think “there is no such thing as bad PR” is bad advice because there are a lot of ways you can dilute or damage your brand equity. Stay on message and on strategy for best results. It can take a lot of time, effort, and money to try to course-correct after the fact but once things are released/posted online social media can take on a life of its own and the information can live on the web forever.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation and changed our shopping habits and practices forever so market research is more important now than ever! Whatever we thought we knew or understood before Covid about our customers and market must now be checked because the world has changed so much since last March. Before you spend anything you need to conduct market research! What has not changed is that only when real customers are willing to pay real money for your product or service, do you have a real business.
Start with the fundamentals: Who are you and why should anyone care? If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, then why should anyone else be? There’s a lot of noise in every category, so if you don’t have a unique story to tell and a new approach or idea that excites you, then go no further. Every great business is built on a great story so start telling yours to potential customers and see if they buy what you’re selling.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: 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. The key is just to pick your platform, it does not matter which ones 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.
Successful businesses understand their product/service is about more than the transaction, they are in the relationship business. People buy products/services from people they know/like/trust. LinkedIn adds credibility/transparency when you know the people you are meeting/working with knowledgeable people in common. It’s the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog/be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active where you are. If your customers don’t use Facebook/Twitter/ Instagram to find you, do not make them a priority.
For professional service firms like mine, LinkedIn matters the most in building a trusted brand.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: Successful business owners today are adaptable/agile, are strong communicators, and have a growth mindset. They are persistent, determined, focused, and resilient. Those are the traits that make 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, 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 a thick skin you will not last long in my experience. A good sense of humor goes a long way too. They are also inclusive, collaborative and build trusted relationships to drive the business leveraging technology to support them to build real-world communities and relationships too. These traits are also important for crisis management along with remaining calm/clear-headed/in control so that you can get through ongoing setbacks and curveballs as creatively and quickly as possible.
Being able to adapt to change is critical so staying nimble today is core to survival and ultimately, success. They never stop learning/experimenting, are focused on the future, and see opportunities ahead by embracing a culture of learning/growth.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: It takes effort and a commitment to excellence for people to continually learn/grow especially now in a virtual/remote environment. I do not think there is one silver bullet or trait to stay sharp/fresh, I recommend using a combination of reading/learning online and off/attending conferences/talks, networking/newsletters from influencers/TED talks/podcasts/finding mentors/ listening to all feedback good and bad.
To stay relevant/keep growing I also try to prioritize professional development to keep skills fresh and stay on top of new trends/technologies.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: I could see being a professor or a writer based on my interests and strengths. Who knows maybe it will be my next chapter.
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Paige Arnof-Fenn: A woman for sure, maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Gloria Steinem. They were/are national treasures, every woman in this country owes them a huge thank you.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Paige Arnof-Fenn 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 Paige Arnof-Fenn or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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