The real story of my business: Part Two

Previously, in Part One of The Scandalous Truth (aka: my business story)…

I walked away from my soul-sucking job in pharmaceutical marketing and advertising. Then, shortly after setting myself up as a self-employed marketing consultant, I found myself embroiled in a nightmarish lawsuit with a client’s former business partner. Even though I hadn’t done anything wrong, it was messy, complicated, and gut-wrenching. Panic attacks and hospital visits ensued. Post-lawsuit, I was ready to clear the slate and begin a new chapter… (if you missed the full Part One of my business story, read it HERE)

This is Part Two…

I’m a born & raised Jersey girl. A natural born hustla. Even though my first year as a self-employed marketing gal was rocky, to say the least, I still had a tiny voice inside that told me: “I know I can DO THIS.”

I wanted to line up some new clients. But this time, GOOD clients. You know… clients that would actually pay me on time, and wouldn’t drag me into lawsuit hell! Is that sooo much to ask? LOL.

Problem was, there were tons of established marketing agencies in my area. Meanwhile, I was a newbie on the scene. How could I possibly compete with the big guys?

Ultimately, I decided: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

I decided to dig in, do some research, and get the 411 on every single marketing agency in my area. Who ran the place? What did they specialize in? What types of clients did they have on their roster? Who’s on their staff right now?

What I discovered is that most of the local marketing agencies at the time lacked someone with PR skills—specifically, media relations, like getting clients featured in magazines and on TV. At the time, media relations was my #1 specialty. Hmm! Interesting.

My instincts told me, “Maybe a few local marketing agencies would like to hire me as media relations consultant. If that’s a skillset they’re missing, then they’d probably be stoked to have someone like me on their team.”

I figured, “It couldn’t hurt to reach out and introduce myself.” So that’s what I did. I made a list of local marketing agencies—literally every single one in the region—and I started calling and emailing. Every last one.

Turns out, my instincts were right! Several of them said, “Yes! We could totally use someone like you.” They hired me as a consultant and brought me onto their campaigns. I’d manage the PR under their agency label, and they’d pay me. Their clients got even better results—and more bang for their buck—thanks to my media relations expertise. Win-win-win! Everybody was happy.

Within just a few months, I went from “basically unemployed” to “solidly booked.” I partnered up with several agencies and got to work with their amazing clients—big brands, emerging brands, and popular NY Times bestselling authors.

Overall, this was a really exciting time for me. I was getting my clients booked on every major TV show and magazine, which they loved. I got pulled into client strategy meetings and got to sit with super talented people, throwing ideas on a white board for hours. So fun!

I did this for several years until I gained enough momentum and confidence to start going after my own clients, all by myself, instead of partnering with more established agencies. I was ready to be independent and really, truly, run my own business. It’s like I was Justin Timberlake, a member of *NSYNC, but I wanted to break away and start my solo career.

The only problem was… I didn’t really have a “brand” of my own. I’d been partnering with marketing agencies for several years, and while I wasn’t exactly an “employee,” I still wasn’t completely “independent” either. I sorta got folded into their brands, and I tried to make myself fit in. I dressed in gray skirts and button-down blouses—just like all the other agency employees did. I wore my hair in a short newscaster bob. I tried to erase my Philly accent, because I thought I didn’t sound “intelligent” enough. Basically, I was playing “dress-up”—pretending to be a slick, corporate gal, when in reality, that’s sooo not me.

So when I started pitching my own clients, something wasn’t clicking. People didn’t seem interested in hiring me. Even though I’d worked so hard to build my reputation, I still was competing against better-known agencies with better resources. I was losing every pitch. My confidence was plummeting.

One day, I went in to pitch a group of older men at a financial services company. I delivered my polished pitch but no one even paid attention to me. I felt invisible. Totally humiliating. Then one of the partners looked me up and down, and said he recognized me from somewhere. I didn’t know how, but then he blurted out: “OH I KNOW! YOU’RE THAT GIRL FROM THE COMMERCIAL!”

Oh, right. I forgot to tell you a dirty little secret of mine…

Back in those days, to earn extra money, I used to work as a commercial actress and model. Nothing well-known or sexy. Mainly local TV commercials and small-time publications. Think: “Household product commercial depicting a busy soccer mom packing snacks for the kids!” Or: “Magazine cover featuring a woman suffering from uterine fibroids.” Yup. That was me. #SoGlamorous

When this guy recognized me, I felt so embarrassed. I slumped down into my chair, feeling mortified and defeated. I figured, “These guys must think I’m a total joke. If they had no respect for me before, then this is the final nail in the coffin.”

But then, a funny thing happened. Another man lifted his head and said, “That’s so cool—what’s it like to be in a TV commercial?” He was smiling and seemed genuinely curious. So, I told him all about it.

“It’s actually really fun!” I said. Then I shared some scandalous behind-the-scenes details about the TV biz. I was in my element, feeling relaxed and confident. I even let my Philly accent slip through. Before long, the entire table was gossiping about my commercial and wanting to know everything about my “side career.” I indulged them and left. It ended up being a fun conversation, but still, I figured, “Oh well. Another lost pitch.”

Then the next morning I got a call. It was the financial services company. They’d chosen me as their PR rep. {Me, inside: “Whaaaaaaat???”} They told me they loved my personality and thought I was smart, interesting, and “different.” I ended up working with them for several years—and it was a fantastic client relationship.

That was the moment I realized that I’d been doing everything ass-backwards.

I’d been trying to suppress my true personality, but that wasn’t working. Clients could sense that something was “off,” and they weren’t interested in hiring me.

The minute I let my guard down, and allowed my personality to shine through, that’s when I landed my first major client.

Maybe I didn’t need to hide my accent. Maybe I didn’t need to wear a scratchy, stiff power suit. Maybe I didn’t need to slap on tons of make-up to try to make myself look “older” and “more established.” Maybe I could just be… me. Goofy. Gossipy. Enthusiastic. Bubbly. Obsessed with TV and pop culture. The real me. Maybe that was the ingredient I’d been missing.

What happens next? Check out Part Three in this mini-series right HERE