When the time calls for it, are you ready to pivot – Lara Smedley

In this week’s episode, we have Lara Smedley. Lara is an event producer and owner of Smedley Events. She has more than a decade of experience in sports marketing and event production. Her passion for creating experiences to lasting memories pushed Smedley Events to become the go-to for most Colorado and Texas corporate, brands, and non-profit organizations.

The year 2020 didn’t favor the events industry so much that there was a need for her to pivot. She thought of a way to stay afloat. This is when My Fan Seat was born. She saw an emerging trend in Europe and Asia where Fan cutouts are placed in the team’s stadium while in-person attendance is still restricted. This brilliant idea kept them afloat in the middle of the pandemic.

Lara’s website: https://www.linkedin.com/in/larasmedley/

Smedley Events: https://www.smedleyevents.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/smedleyevents/

Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hi friends I’m Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs, realtors and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode.

Welcome back to Rocky Mountain Marketing. Today. My guest is Laura Smedley with over a decade of sports marketing and event production experience. Laura began Smedley events in 2018. Laura’s passion for creating memorable experiences for event attendees coupled with the meeting of strategic goals for corporations, brands and nonprofit organizations is at the core of what drives Smedley events his success. Beyond client works Medley events produces its own events centered around purposeful conversation and building community. Welcome to the show, Laura, I’m so glad to have you here. And before I hit record, when we had our kind of our introduction call, we realized that we have a very similar background, so I’m really excited to have you on the show today.

Lara Smedley 1:09

Yeah, thanks, Katie. I appreciate you having me.

Katie Brinkley 1:12

Well, and you’re another Colorado girl at heart so but before we get too far into Smedley events and what you do, tell us a little bit about how life was for you growing up and a little bit of your backstory.

Lara Smedley 1:25

Yeah, so I was born and raised here in Denver. My family has deep roots in the state. I’m actually now a fifth generation Colorado gun. And it’s just Colorado is a beautiful place to live. I think as as many of us know, and experience I went to school here, went to the University of Denver, when I graduated, I ended up getting a job in Texas, I thought that was going to be six months and it turned into 11 years, but then in 2018 just really got the pull to come back to Colorado for so many reasons. And so made the trek back from Texas. And I’m very glad that I’m back in my home state just gives me a lot of joy to see all of the growth and just all of the exciting things that are happening here.

Katie Brinkley 2:16

You know, I’m I’m a Denver native to and I feel like you and I are rare breeds just being born and raised here in Colorado, but the fact that you’re a fifth generation coloradan is really something special. Man, I’m sure that your your grandparents would just be over there, you know, over over the moon with but how much Colorado and Denver especially has changed, you know, just in the past decade alone, I feel like it’s just kind of blown up. But I think that too, you know, you said you went to Texas and weren’t really you know, didn’t weren’t planning on staying there for too long. And then it ended up being a while. And Colorado always has a special place in my heart. I went to school in Durango. And that’s still in Colorado, but I’ve really just after school was over, I wanted to come back home and be back in Denver and I love calling this place home. I think that it is truly a unique place to call home with the outdoor lifestyles that we live in the mountains. But I think the secret’s out, a lot of people are realizing it. And it’s really just exploded over the past decade. Now. You started in sports, and now you have your own events company. And you know, I want to talk a little bit about what it is that you do so so tell us a little bit about Smedley events.

Lara Smedley 3:31

Yeah, so my background was in sports entertainment, worked for professional and collegiate sports teams for over a decade. And as I was kind of going through my career really got to a point where I felt like I had hit a little bit of a ceiling. And there was something that I needed to do more, right, I didn’t really know that it was going to be an entrepreneurial endeavor. But just kind of everything, all of the you know, stars aligned, where it made the most sense for me to start my own agency, I had developed amazing relationships with clients and colleagues. And again, a lot of my draw, was wanting to come back to Colorado, and really come back to my roots. And so started my company where we focused on event production, experiential marketing, and fundraising. So we work with a variety of different organizations, big and small to really produce their events and meetings. We always take a strategic approach to all of the events that we do. I like to joke, we don’t just throw pretty parties. We throw parties and events that really have purpose and a mission behind them. So whether that is working with clients and making sure that they are being taken care of incentive. advising employees or you know, having some strategic conferences that are driving some type of revenue. And then a lot of the other part of what we do is really focused on mission driven organizations. So we do do a lot of work in the nonprofit sector, to help nonprofits really maximize their fundraising efforts. And then also give them some new and innovative ideas on how to connect with their community in a more meaningful way, so that they can not only just increase their fundraising opportunity, but really grow the impact and the mission that they have within their organization.

Katie Brinkley 5:41

Wow. Well, that’s awesome. And you know, so I’m curious, you know, you started in sports marketing, and then why did you decide to start your own business, what gave you the edge to do your own thing,

Lara Smedley 5:51

but I looked back, my dad was a business owner. So he when I was a kid, he owned a autoparts store on kind of the west side of Denver. So I grew up in that store. I joke sometimes that I used to play with spark plugs, because they were easily assessable, they were on the shelf that I could reach. It wasn’t always easy. When I was a kid, once our house flooded, and we actually lived in the warehouse of my dad’s auto parts store. It had a little apartment, so we actually had a bathroom and everything, but that’s where we lived. Right? So I think, you know, part of it might be it’s ingrained in my DNA. But I think for me, really, I wanted to create the lifestyle that I wanted for myself and my family. And I just wasn’t able to do that fully in, in in a corporate job, right? where, you know, I was tied to specific standards, or even a work schedule, right? So starting that journey, allowed me that freedom. Now mind you, being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean that you, you know, work whatever hours you want, I have a new boss, and it’s called clients. So it’s not as you know, I didn’t trade in, the grass is always greener on the other side, right? Like you think you’re going to be your own boss. And then you realize that you’re starting a business and you have clients and you you really adjust your schedule to fit their needs. But with that being said, there’s just so much creative freedom I get to have right and as my business continues to grow, I can get a little selective on what clients I’m working with. And make sure that my clients are really aligning with Smedley events, mission and purpose, which is really cultivating communities and connecting people with purpose and meaning.

Katie Brinkley 7:54

Yeah, that is so true. He’s trading in the boss’s name. They’re called clients. I think that that’s one of the biggest things that a lot of people don’t really get, when they, when they decide they want to start their own business is you know, yeah, you you do get to be pick your own hours sometimes, but sometimes those hours are like 80 hour weeks, and other times, you know, it could be eight, but it depends on the bus have known as clients. I like that. I like that a lot. I might I might have to take that from you, Laura, like go for it? Well, and you know, it’s interesting, too, I we have a really similar background. So I you know, looking back to I’m like, Well, of course, I ended up being an entrepreneur, you know, looking back at how I grew up, and like how my parents were and how they worked. And, you know, my work ethic, I’m like, Well, of course I ended up you know, doing my own thing. But, you know, sometimes we we don’t even really think about that when we’re going through school or Okay, well, this is going to be my next job. It’s not necessarily always what I’m going to start my own company, then start my own start my own legacy. But without going too far down that that rabbit hole, I do want to ask you, you put it perfectly again, saying that the clients are are the boss, but if there’s anything that somebody who’s maybe on the fence, or they’re just getting started with their entrepreneurial journey, what’s one of the biggest pieces of advice that you’d want to give him or her figure out what your niches?

Lara Smedley 9:19

I mean, I think it’s so easy to start a business with an idea, right? you’re solving some type of problem or you’re providing some type of service and you want to do it, you want to do everything for everyone, right? Like I could plan events for anyone, any type of person could walk through my door and I could plan their event. But does it really match the core value of what I’ve created as a business? Is the first question I asked. So I don’t touch weddings. I’m not a good wedding planner. You don’t want me planning your wedding. It’s just not something that’s that’s aligned with my values. I think if I’m telling Anybody who wants to start a business is really figure out what is your niche? who are who are you serving? And then, you know, really dig into that and stick to it and figure out, how do you find more of those people? How do you make your product or your service meet their needs better than anyone else, and just don’t get stuck in this concept of you have to be everything to everyone.

Katie Brinkley 10:24

Love, love, love that. I think that was one of my biggest mistakes. When I was first starting out as an entrepreneur was like, as social media, I can do social media for you, and I can do something. And then it really wasn’t until I took a step back and realize who I enjoyed working with the most, and went after those type of clients and started ending contracts. You know, heaven forbid, with with clients, that’s, that’s probably one of the scariest things to do is turn away business. But when you do that, one, your work is better, because you’re working with clients attraction is passionate about and that you’re really good at, like you said, Don’t come from me for weddings. But you know, you’re really good at planning events. So I think that that is, it’s great advice. And I think that is something that all of us, kind of here as entrepreneurs are first starting, but when you really decide to take that advice and implement it, it changes things for your business. One of the things that that I found when I was first getting started was just listening to other entrepreneurs. And the why is that they do what they do, and what they would have done differently, you know, hence the reason that this podcast exists. And I think that that’s one of the hardest things is when you’re when you’re trying to find your way is finding the people that can be there to support you. So if someone’s listening right now, and they’re just getting started as an entrepreneur, if they’re having a hard time finding support as an entrepreneur, what advice would you give them.

Lara Smedley 11:47

So I am a huge, huge advocate of meaningful networking. So when I say that I don’t mean just networking, like you find whatever chamber event is happening in your community, or whatever young professional event is happening in your community, and you show up with a couple of business cards and expect to pass them out. What I mean by that is really dig into, again, what is aligned with your work and what you do and find some communities of people that support those similar areas. So I do a ton of work with other women owned businesses. So I am a part of I think, right now if I tally up the number, I’m a part of six different women focus networking groups, they are not industry focused so that the events industry has lots of networking communities, and associations. But I have found that finding support in like minded women has been a game changer for me. And those groups are not just a place where I show up once you know, the first Tuesday of every month, when they’re having their networking event, I participate, I ask people kind of what they care about and ask them about their business, the more that you express interest in others, they will express interest in you. And it’s not just the let’s trade services, or let’s work together on projects, it’s like, I really want to know who you are, right? I care about your success. And I want to build a foundation of a relationship and friendship, that then turns into amazing referrals where, you know, if I met you, Katie at a networking event, and I really got to know you, and understand who your clients are, and then I’m out in the world, and somebody is like, Hey, you know, I really need help with my social media. And this is my type of industry. And this is my type of customer that the first person that will pop in my mind is Katie, and I would make an introduction and that could lead to an amazing client for you, because I know who you are, and I know who you serve, versus blind connections, right, and very open networking that doesn’t really have any substantial backing behind it. So that would be my piece of advice. I mean, I would say the networking that I did prior to COVID saved my business during COVID.

Katie Brinkley 14:24

And that’s I want to move into pivoting German during COVID Next, but that is such a valid point because I’m a part of a women’s networking group too. But it is it is really such a difference maker for small businesses and entrepreneurs networking. I know when I was at in the corporate world, people would talk about going to you know network after work and all this stuff and I was like, that sounds terrible. No, I there’s like 800 million things I’d rather do. Instead of going to talk about work after I just finished working all day. Why would I want to do that but you Once I started my own business, I it the light bulb went off. I was like, This is why you know that I totally get it now. And it’s it’s not necessarily going in and being like, Alright, here are, these are all my ideal clients, I’m going to make sales up the wazoo, but it’s one relationship building, you know, getting to know somebody and what they do and how you can potentially refer them out in the future. And maybe they’ll refer you out in the future as well. So absolutely love that. And I know that networking kind of I can end up feeling like a dirty word, when you’re in, in the corporate world. But as an entrepreneur, I think it is essential for your business. Yeah, for sure. So you know, you mentioned you pivoted during COVID. And I think that the word of 2020 was pivot, I kind of feel like the word is 2021 is value. But well, that’s a whole nother story. But pivot, pivot pivot pivot, all of us had to pivot in some regard during the pandemic. And I think that it really showed a lot of us if you didn’t have an online strategy, you know, like, it’s time to pay attention to that. I know, my business pivoted from doing a lot of the done for you social media into teaching it and speaking on it. And so, now I have that entire, separate part of my business that I absolutely love. And that’s how I pivoted. But you pivoted at pretty uniquely, I would love for you to share what you did in 2020. To help kind of keep yourself afloat.

Lara Smedley 16:30

Yeah. So it’s connected to my sports background, and I still have a couple of sports clients. So my, my pivot, I think people when they look on the surface, they’re like, Oh, that makes no sense. what, how, and why did you do that. But if you really know kind of my background and experience, it wasn’t that hard of a pivot for me. But um, you know, events were hit really hard, because of COVID 99% of what I did was in person. And that came to a screeching halt on March 15. I remember the day because I had, I had a 500 person luncheon that was scheduled that day. So as I was looking at, okay, what do I do? Like, do I just take a vacation? I mean, it was a staycation because you can’t go anywhere, or do I like figure something out. And what happened was, I started to see what was going on in Europe and Asia as they were restarting sports, and they were starting to produce these cardboard cutouts that were going into stadiums and arenas when the games were returning without fans. And I was like, you know what that’s gonna have to happen in the States, we, you know, we’re, we’re following the same trajectory of what’s happening that direction. And so I quickly pulled together a website and got with a friend to develop a platform that we could then help universities and professional teams launch fan cutout programs. So you named it my fan seeds, we worked with 25, over 25 sports organizations, as well as arts organizations. So we had a couple of dance groups as well, that still had performances, but they had either limited capacity, or no fans or attendees at all. And so we created it as a revenue generator, not just for yourself, but also for these organizations. So they were losing out on a ton of ticket revenue on concession food and beverage revenue, and merchandise revenue, because they couldn’t have fans at their games. And so we helped them basically run the back end of selling the cutouts to their fan base, we would work with printing partners across the country to actually produce them, and then they would get shipped directly to the venues and they would be installed for the season. And we were able, you know, I mean, we raised we helped organizations raise hundreds of 1000s of dollars during a time when it felt like we all were going to go under.

Katie Brinkley 19:09

I absolutely love that. And I think that it’s given us the opportunity to really kind of think about Okay, you pivoted and you saw you were looking out at the other markets, like you were looking out at Europe and Asia and seeing Okay, what are they doing? How can I get in on it? Because we’re gonna need it to so with this in this new endeavor that you launched, I mean, what have you done now with it? Because I think that that’s where, you know, you pivoted and you built this other business that were you helped you stay afloat, and so many other organizations stay afloat when there was question marks galore. So with this, how have you been able to kind of make sure that this stays as something as a viable option for people to still use utilize now that fans can go to games and sit in seats again?

Lara Smedley 19:54

Yeah, I mean, full transparency. I don’t think that you’re gonna see any fan cutouts in 2021 2022 It was fun, I think it served a purpose. But from a revenue standpoint, you can’t replace a real live human with a cardboard cutout. Um, but I think, I think the experience was unbelievably beneficial for me, I learned how to set up taxes and 10 different states. I learned how to be super, super efficient, and worked on some technology projects that I never would have imagined I would have worked on before learned a lot of lessons you know about how to launch a new product or service, I would say my biggest lesson that I learned was, we were trying to build it so fast, because we weren’t the only people that ended up doing this, there were several other companies out there. Luckily, we got some really great press coverage to start. And so that kind of helped launch us quickly, but didn’t really have time to do a lot of beta testing, or to even get a ton of customer feedback. So we lost out on some business, because the model we went down was kind of a really turnkey model where all of the orders lived on our site versus integrating them into the organization site. And I think from a marketing and a sales standpoint, if you’re going to offer a product or service, you want to find a way to seamlessly integrate it into your customers interface, versus trying to push them out to something separate. So if I ever launched another product or service again, I know that now, right? Like I know, from a customer standpoint, they want to keep people on their website, they want to keep people in their kind of sales funnel. And I just I didn’t really think about that on the front end. And that probably cost me a few clients, right? So fan cutouts are probably not here to stay, I have about 30 sitting my office. So if anybody wanted, they come and pick one out. I’ve had a few inquiries about birthday parties or bar mitzvahs. And but I just think, you know, we’re kind of moved past that phase. And it was a good learning lesson for me.

Katie Brinkley 22:18

Well, and like you said to it, gave you a way to stay afloat, help other businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. And hopefully we never have to use the cardboard cutouts in the, you know, stadium again, but if we do we know how to, you know how to set up your funnels and set everything up so that you can be set up for success for for that type of marketing campaign. Now, I want to go back a little bit and talk about marketing. Because I think that like, like you were saying before, you’re a part of a lot of different networking groups, you do a lot of networking. So is that the best way that you’ve found new business? And the best way that you’ve been able to market your business is through networking? Or what type of marketing Have you found to be the most successful for you?

Lara Smedley 23:03

Yeah, I mean, I think my business is 100% service oriented, right? So I really have to work hard to develop relationships with clients or with colleagues that then refer clients to me. So for my business, networking is really the main way that I’m generating new clients or new revenue, I will say, I’m starting to work on some more automation with email funnels I do I produce some of my own events. And I sold out my sunset dinner in July with the people that want to do this want to be a part of this event, but I’m not going to have another one for another year. So really creating those systems in place where I’m capturing their information. I’m keeping them engaged, I’m giving them other opportunities to participate in this experience that I have, because I’m not going to have another live event in that format for another year. So to answer your question, fully networking is the main focus but I am starting to do a lot more with some email funneling and I do a lot of social media. I would say you’re the expert in the social media space more than I am. But for me, social media is really about promoting my clients and the work that they’re doing and then really telling a story about who I am who Smedley events is and why our mission and values are so important to us.

Katie Brinkley 24:36

You know Laura I think that too I’m so glad that you brought up email and you know I talk a lot about social media and how important it is for your business but email is is right there with it. It is just as important maybe maybe more important because you own your email list. Facebook they got your followers Instagram like technically Facebook, they got your followers so having a strong email strategy is extremely important. So I’m so glad that you brought that up. And I think a lot of businesses kind of struggle with, I don’t even know where to start with an email strategy. With that, I think that it’s always just getting started and then continuing to show up in their inbox, doing the networking events, and just continuing to build relationships. So I love what you brought up to about starting a second business, I know that it can seem overwhelming to run that one. But two, you’ve done it, you’ve done it multiple times. Now final bits of advice for anybody that’s just on the fence and thinking about doing it. What would you tell them as they get started on their entrepreneurial journey,

Lara Smedley 25:40

I would say the one thing that I have to continue to remind myself about is to ask for help. And that help my that asked might come in the form of asking friends and family for grease free when you are I did it this last weekend where I had five events in four days. And I told my family before it all started, I said I need your grace right now. Because I’m not going to be here, I’m not going to be super attentive, and I need you to just step up and support me at this exact moment. Right? And it could it could look like asking for help from co workers, if you are able to build a team right away in your small business. I think too often entrepreneurs take on the mindset of we can do it all. And I think that that’s the wrong way to look at it. I my business changed when I really got much better at working with my partners and team members in a way where I wasn’t carrying 100% of the load. And it’s a hard thing to do. Because when you create a business it is your child like a business is a living, breathing being that you nurture and cultivate and foster and your whole heart and soul is put into it. And so it’s really scary to let go of some things and to ask for help. But I think if you don’t do that you’re gonna burn yourself out and then you ruin the entire reason why you started a business. And so that that would be my main piece of advice that I again tell him I try to remind myself of every day. Well Laura, I

Katie Brinkley 27:27

can’t wait until we can meet in real life because you and I are so in alignment on so many topics here with entrepreneurship asking for help can absolutely seem daunting and overwhelming. And maybe you know, maybe almost like oh, I shouldn’t need to. But when you ask for help, that’s when your business can grow and you won’t get the overwhelm you won’t get the discouragement you won’t get the burnout. So absolutely love that final thought. So if if anyone is listening right now, and they want to get in touch with you, where should we send them? Where can we find you online?

Lara Smedley 27:56

Yeah, Smedley events.com is our website. It is very easy to find all of my contact information all over that place. And then we’re on social media in all the spaces except for Tick Tock because I’m just a lawyer on Tick tock, watch other people. I need to hire a really good like 20 year old to start a tech talk for me. But yeah, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn are kind of our three main ones that that we’re most active in.

Katie Brinkley 28:30

Well, thank you again, so

much for coming on the show today. It’s been a pleasure speaking with

Lara Smedley 28:34

you. Yeah. Thanks, Katie. I love what you’re doing. And I think I said this when when we first connected, but I wish I had more of these opportunities to hear from other entrepreneurs before I started. Because I think at the end of the day, it’s just knowing that you’re not the only one that’s feeling those feelings, right? You’re not the only one that’s scared of the journey or excited about the journey, but don’t know where to start. So I think what you’re doing is really great.

Katie Brinkley 29:02

What a fun conversation with Laura. I know I really enjoyed having her on today’s show. She and I have a lot of similar backgrounds with sports and with marketing. And how cool of an idea is that with those cardboard cutouts. I’ve wondered where those cardboard cutouts that we saw in the stadiums came from. I think that’s one of the things is when you’re trying to stay afloat when you’re trying to make sure that your business can just keep its head above water. There’s so many different ways that you can try to pivot and I love the way that Laura pivoted during COVID to try and just do something to keep her business afloat. And she was able to do it with the cardboard cutouts. I know that I’ve had another guest on on the show before Kyle wells and he he’s a coffee shop owner here in Denver and during COVID shutdowns, instead of just shutting his doors and hoping that he’d be able to open again soon. He he shut his doors and he joined a bunch of Facebook groups and then these Facebook groups, he established himself as part of the community, and he was still able to stay in business, keep his employees employed and still gain and still grow within each of the coffee shops, local communities. So how do you pivot your business? How are you going to make sure that you continue growing, and that’s what being a successful small business owner is all about.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at https://www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com/ connect with me on LinkedIn or check me out on Instagram. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights