Years in Tampa Bay
Founder and Managing Director, Soleil Creative
What do you do?
I own a marketing company with my business partner, Fianna Fluess. We are located in St. Petersburg/Tampa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We specialize in high-touch branding, website design and management, strategy and consulting, marketing management, commercial interior design (which, we explain is an integral part of the branding process for brick and mortar, restaurants, even offices, etc. — the customer's experience needs to match your full aesthetic), photography, and of course social media.
Why do you do it?
I am in this work because to me it is where the business world, helping others, and creativity collide. I started out down the path of psychology and social work before I was introduced to marketing at a national nonprofit I was interning at where I switched gears. But I have always had an interest in human behavior and connecting with others. After my internship at the nonprofit, I landed a job in the U.S. Virgin Islands working as office manager and eventually marketing manager for a luxury real estate company that operated on three islands. I also helped to launch a vacations division. On that job, I really fell in love with operations and marketing. I enjoyed being part of a company that was rather small but allowed me to make and test different methods without all of the red tape of a large-scale company. After some time, I helped launch a business management and consulting company, and investment management company for two successful businessmen who were looking to create an economic development company in the Virgin Islands. I was their first hire, and they took a lot of risk investing in a young but driven and hungry entrepreneur in the making. Although it was a much larger organization, we still operated small, and I was able to help make a lot of decisions and be a part of some major projects at a young age. Although my primary role was operations and helping to create and run companies — their brand— their messaging and marketing was on my shoulders and it was something I enjoyed doing. Meeting with the respective managers and coming up with ideas, plans, and executing on those was where I found the most joy. Because of this, I had the unique experience of understanding how to make the most of what you have (small budgets) and with that launch new brands or companies, how to work with different business owners or managers, and really how to collaborate and partner with people. It hasn't always been rainbows and butterflies (is it ever?), but overall, the feeling of helping others see their dreams come to life (sorry for the cheese) is my favorite thing on this planet and is worth all of the downsides, stress, late nights, missed events, or what have you. Building something out of nothing, or working to improve something existing, is what I love.
What was your Catalyst? (How did you get started?)
I helped to launch business management and consulting office and investment company in the U.S. Virgin Islands (the headquarters for the family of companies is based in St. Petersburg). At that job, I was a point person in helping to launch many other businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry as well as a successful construction company, event company, commercial plaza, and restaurants. Through doing that and with our bare-bones team, I took it upon myself to create the brand and marketing for each of these businesses.
What’s a common misconception or unknown aspect of what you do?
An unknown aspect of what we do," offers marketing professional Alison Hastings Schmidt, "is really in a way a lot of counseling, partnership, and research for and with our clients. Marketing is such a broad term and what works for one client is not going to be the solution for another. That means that we need to be skilled at seeing things from our clients' perspective, putting ourselves in their and their target audiences' seats and coming up with the best solutions. That is personally my favorite part of all of this. I started out in psychology and social work and always wanted to 'help' others; this is another way of doing that, so I thoroughly enjoy it. The dynamic nature of the industry—with its changes and advancements day to day, and implementing solutions from client to client and all of the personalities involved—is perfect for the way my brain is wired." Sometimes people are untrusting of marketing people, and I understand that reasoning to an extent, especially nowadays. Other times, people automatically associate sales with marketing, but it is far from that. That is a bit of an old school train of thought. In this day and age, digital marketing is the new marketing: it's not sales, and it is not guerilla marketing with flyers and knocking on people's doors (although there is still a time and place for that). Marketing is what your company stands for, your ethos, how you communicate that to your audience, and how you create and represent all of this in your very own "digital ecosystem." Your digital ecosystem is anything that your customers or competitors see online about your company from your website, to review sites, your social media accounts, digital ads, to the systems you use to implement and measure all of these things, etc. Long gone are the days when digital was an “add-on” or “fluff”; most people understand that by now, but from time to time I run into people who still hem and haw and drag their feet on getting with it.
What’s the most challenging part of your Hustle?
The most challenging part is not much of a challenge and does not happen often. But to me, because I care so much about client success (and happiness) it can be rough when a client doesn't see the success of a project because they may be looking at the wrong metrics. For example, we all love (and should) look at metrics such as impressions, engagement, etc., but most of the value in what marketing companies do is not located in a pretty wrapped box like that. When you create a brand, a website, social media pages, a unique and beautiful space, etc., the benefits of doing so are seen and most impactful in the way that the world now sees you. It's a subjective experience that we create, outside of metrics. Let’s pretend you have a healthy dining restaurant, and someone is online searching for all of their options, of course, they are going to type in something like "healthy restaurants St. Petersburg" (and hopefully your SEO work is adequate so that you pop up somewhere on that list — that part, of course, is objective and measurable). Anyways, this person looks at all of their options, they see several other restaurants all with somewhat similar offerings, and they flip through each of the accounts that pop up online which is usually, Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, Google MyBusiness Page, the website, etc. Something strikes them with one restaurant over another. A mix of the visuals, the branding, graphics, photography, cohesive messaging and content, your response to active reviews on the review sites, and the feeling that they get from the messaging and aesthetic you are displaying speaks louder to them. They choose you over the other 10 companies and reach out to you first for a quote/your menu/your pricing/etc. I think you get what I am saying here.
What’s the most valuable piece of business advice/insight that’s helped you?
There have been so many valuable pieces of business advice or insight I have gained in my career. A lot of it has been from reading, podcasts, and such (I have been an avid business and personal development reader since my early 20s). Every CEO I have worked for has taught me some very valuable lessons either directly, or sometimes indirectly, that I will never forget. I would say one of the best tidbits is that "starting is better than waiting for perfection." This has always been very hard for me, but every time I get out of that perfectionist mindset things go further than I could have ever imagined. We sometimes like to unknowingly limit ourselves, out of fear or doubt usually, guised with the hope or determination of wanting something to be "perfect." It never is, and it's better to get over the fear of being judged, things not panning out, etc. Through things not being perfect, we learn and as we learn and improve we are one step closer to whatever our goal is."