10 Q’s With Aliza Sherman
This weeks “10 Q’s With…”; our question and answer series that’s aimed at offering insight to our readers who are interested in the ‘Adventure’ of becoming: The Boss – features Aliza Sherman.
From her website:
“Aliza Sherman is a Web pioneer, mobile strategist, and social media innovator and commentator. She speaks around the world and writes about Internet, social media, the intersections of social and mobile, and women’s technology and business issues. Aliza specializes in making technology more accessible to humans.”
Wow! Aliza sounds like quite the busy individual. As an entrepreneur and a guru of social and mobile media, BossStart is very grateful that she was able to take time to answer our questions and share with our readers.
My current company is Mediaegg focusing on mobile strategy and mobile apps development. I love creating things. I love taking complex ideas and making them simpler and more accessible. I love communicating, sharing, educating, and empowering. I can do all of these things and more through my company.
I’m a fanatic about my iPhone, iPod and iPad (well, not so much the iPad but my 4 year old daughter loves it). I’ve noticed a dearth of meaningful and empowering apps for girls. Using my daughter as inspiration, I’m gearing up to launch a series of apps for girls. In the meanwhile, I’ve been helping clients not only bring their apps ideas to fruition, but more importantly help them understand how mobile is an essential communications platform and how to properly integrate into their marketing mix.
My big focus is reaching female audiences via mobile as well as empowering women and girls through the apps I help create. I think there are a lot of parents out there creating apps for kids – I just chose a more specific female focus that is in sync with my long-time work empowering women through technology. Our first girl app is available now! Girls Can Be Anything Paperdolls HERE. Back in the 90s, I founded Cybergrrl, Inc., the first woman-owned full-service interactive agency and Webgrrls International, the first global women’s Internet networking organization.
The other thing that sets my company apart is that every app we produce will include a charity partner who will receive free space on the apps to promote their good work and link to their site, their donation page, and any other channel where they’d like to drive traffic and build awareness. Each app has a heart button leading to the app’s charity partner. This is just something built into the company – giving back by helping nonprofits raise awareness through mobile platforms at no cost to them.
Q. What inspired you take the steps to becoming your own boss? Tell us about Cybergrrrl, Inc. and how that came to be?
I never set out to be my own boss. I was just going about my life working in the music business and then running a nonprofit organization. Then I was held up at gunpoint in 1994. That incident made me question what I was doing with my life, with my career. I decided to start a business instead of going back to working for someone else.
At the time, I had no knowledge of starting or running a business and no idea what kind of business I’d want to start. For years, I had a “secret” hobby of going online and was active in BBSs and eventually commercial online services like Prodigy, CompuServe and America Online. After being held up, I ended up taking a class in HTML and built my first website. I decided I’d start a company designing websites for others. Of course, it took at least six months pounding the pavement and teaching classes at a local continuing education company before I landed my first big client: Avon’s Breast Cancer Awareness Crusade. That was in the mid-90s. After that, I realized that staying up on the latest technology and offering sound advice and guidance about leveraging technology was a good basis for all my subsequent businesses.
In 2005, I started another consultancy that quickly focused on social media. In 2008, I brought on a business partner to help me expand the business beyond myself. Today, Conversify is a growing virtual boutique social media marketing agency.
Q. How much planning was involved prior to the start-up of your business? Can you offer some insight into that process?
When I started Cybergrrl, Inc., it was all done by the seat of my pants. When I started Conversify, I was just doing what I knew and loved and offering to help others. I learned so much about growing a business from my business partner Monique Elwell. I also learned that I wasn’t very well suited for running a business with growing team.
With Mediaegg, I decided to stick to my strengths: providing strategic guidance on new technologies to clients as well as doing more writing and creating. I began writing about what I was going to offer to clients and what I wanted to create. Then I started spreading the word about my new venture to my network and on my social media channels. After toying with the idea of ramping up quickly and going for venture capital, I made a conscious decision to stay small and manageable right now – it just fit my lifestyle better to be independent and flexible.
In a few short months, Mediaegg has already launched an app for one of our clients – The Wine Sisterhood Drink-U-Lator (for iPhone and for Android), a beverage calculator to help estimate how many bottles to buy when planning a party or event. We have several more apps in the works including my own original apps, so every day is abuzz with creativity.
I also have two books coming out this year (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing and Mom Incorporated) and blog regularly for Web Worker Daily and Mashable. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing comes out in July, 2011 and can be pre-ordered HERE! And I am invited to speak at conferences about the Web, social media and other technologies. By continuing my freelance writing and speaking work, I’ve been able to invest money in my own company rather than looking for outside funding.
Q. In terms of running all of your blogs, podcasts, and all of your publishing – what does a typical day look like for you; or is every day different? How do you manage your time effectively between all of your businesses?
Every day is different. Right now, I’m back to writing a book so that takes up several hours a day and will eventually be consuming entire days closer to deadline. I also have to carve out time every week for several blog posts for paying clients, which often leaves little time for my own blogs.
I’m starting a podcast about crowdsourcing so I am carving out some time to edit several dozen interviews and prepping to launch before my book on crowdsourcing comes out in July.
The rest of my time is spent working on client projects and networking to identify new clients. Every day, I make sure to engage in my favorite social media communities – Twitter, Quora, Facebook and LinkedIn – which are my virtual water coolers and information resources.
Q. How many employees do you have and what went into hiring on more to your team?
When I left Conversify as a day-to-day operating partner, we had a core team of eight. We found them through various channels – a social media strategist through Twitter, a senior account manager through LinkedIn, several social media specialists through family, and a third business partner through business networks. Each one is incredibly talented, motivated and committed to doing good work and doing it all as a cohesive virtual team. I wrote about some of our process HERE.
With Mediaegg, I decided to call on others on an as-needed basis. I am working regularly with an illustrator and building my “stable” of programmers for various projects. I consider my clients to be part of my team and that I’m part of theirs. If my business continues to grow, I may have to bring on a business partner again to help manage it. My role is always best as a creative visionary, not a day-to-day manager of people.
Q. What has been the most challenging part of your entrepreneurial adventure?
With Conversify, the most challenging part was to be comfortable in structure. The more a company grows, the more important structure becomes. But I find it hard to be so structured.
With Mediaegg, the most challenging part is saying no to really great sounding projects. I want to say yes to everything that sounds interesting, fun, creative. But I have to be more focused on a few things to keep my work – and life – manageable. I see work as a means to an end and am grateful that I enjoy what I do. But I am not my work and my company does not define me. If I ever come up with the “next big idea,” I know I’ll have to bring someone else on board to run things – and I’m fine with that. Better to know who you are now then get yourself into a pickle later.
Q. Besides the obvious of being your own boss, what is the most rewarding part about being an independent business owner? Tell our readers about you accolades and awards (i.e. Newsweek etc.)?
Getting accolades and awards aren’t the most rewarding parts of being an independent business owner. The best part is doing what I love and still being able to contribute financially to my family. Being independent – that’s the operative word. I love being able to determine what my workday looks like – and feels like – and as long as I meet my deadlines and obligations to my clients, I’m okay. I’ve also learned that being your own boss in a service company means you aren’t really your own boss because you do have to answer to clients. So I pick and choose my clients and absolutely love the ones I have. I make sure they understand how I work and that my 4-year old daughter might be in the background sometime. They have to be okay with a slightly unconventional businessperson. Being able to totally be myself in business is a huge reward.
Q. What motivates you? What keeps you going each day?
I am motivated by exploration and discovery and being able to explain complex things to a lot of people. I love feeling empowered by knowledge and information and I like empowering others in that way. I love being inspired and inspiring others. I also love travel so I’ve been working that into the fabric of the work I do – traveling to speak at conferences or covering conferences and events for media outlets helps me get out into the world. And knowing at the end of the day that I worked hard, enjoyed my work, and produced something of value – that keeps me going.
Q. How do you promote your business? Advertise? Endorse? Contests? Social networking? Do you have a more hands-on approach for marketing/advertising for all of your companies or are there designated teams that handle this for you?
I mostly rely on relationships and my networks – including social networks – to get the word out about who I am and what I do. For many years, most of my clients have come from warm leads from my existing clients but I know I can’t just sit back and rely on referrals. I love Twitter and am building a following there. Not by using tricks, but simply by being myself and sharing information generously. I’m less fond of Facebook but do try to spend a little time on it each day to build my profile. I am trying to get better about nurturing my network on LinkedIn. And I recently discovered Quora, the answers community, and have enjoyed answering questions in my areas of expertise on the site.
I’m a firm believer in cross-promotions and always look for mutually-beneficial ways of promoting what someone else is doing and have them promote what I’m doing because it offers our friends, fans, followers and clients more value.
Q. The Internet and social media are where most of your business resides- How do you maintain and keep yourself up-to-date in this always changing field?
I learned long ago that technology moves too quickly for any one person. I try to focus on niches within much larger areas of technology and also keep an eye on what is very new and not yet adopted by the masses. This affords me the ability to be part of the first wave of adopters and part of the groups of people who help to “pioneer” the technologies that will eventually be adopted by the public at large.
In a way, I like to think of myself as a technology tour guide. I got out and explore, develop some level of knowledge and help develop best practices. Then I work to make it easier for the layperson – usually the non-techie businessperson – to understand. That’s kind of my modus operandi – discover, explore, explain, integrate.
Q. What’s next?!
I’m getting really excited about QR codes and integrating them into our every day lives in meaningful ways. I love love love augmented reality – it really appeals to the sci-fi fan in me while also appealing to my love of mobile content and information. And of course, more travel in my life and meeting more people who are doing great things.
Q. What advice do you have to those reading www.bossstart.com that you feel is valuable?
Life is an endless, bountiful lesson. Keep learning. Life is short. Do what you love.
To learn more about Aliza Sherman, please visit:
About the Author: Daniel Ballard
Daniel is a Writer and Entrepreneur. He is Co-Founder/Main Author/Editor of BossStart and Co-Editor/Featured Author for BossStart's sister site, PauseStart, launching early 2012
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