Is the entrepreneur path the path for you? In this episode, Lizzy Harris takes us down the path to being a successful entrepreneur and listening to your heart if you think the corporate world just isn’t for you.
Lizzy online: www.pipitcommunications.com
Katie Brinkley 0:02
Hey there. This is Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back, everyone. My guest today is Lizzie Harris. Lizzy is the founder of pipit communications, a full scale PR agency based in Denver, Colorado. Lizzy has worked in PR for over a decade and has worked with clients all over the world in b2b and b2c Tech, consumer goods, blockchain and cannabis. Her agency focuses on making every move a strategic and targeted one. So that you know, your message is reading the right reporters. Lizzie, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Lizzy Harris 0:50
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Katie Brinkley 0:52
Well, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us where you grew up and what your life was like growing up?
Lizzy Harris 0:57
Yeah, absolutely. So I’m from Denver. Originally, I went to school in Oregon. And then just like every 21 year old, fresh out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I moved to Cambodia as one does. Wow. They’re feeling indecisive. Yeah. And I, I moved there with the intention to teach English that was, you know, that was a big wave when I graduated college, I did that. But then I also started doing PR for the Nielsen haze library, which is kind of like this expat Haven, in the center of Bangkok. And it was when the floods hit. And so we had, we had a lot of physical, but also, you know, brand rebuilding to do. And so that’s really where I got my professional PR start was internationally. And then from there, I moved to Whitefish, Montana, where I did PR for a very popular ski brand to Solomon found out that I really loved you know, the tech side of the product, but also the consumer aspect. From there, I got a gig in Seattle. And that’s really where my b2b experience took off. I was at that agency for a few years, three or four years, and then moved in house with a local tech company in Denver, and then started to get the feeling you know, that I had learned so much, both from being in house and at an agency that I thought I would go it alone, I’ve never, I’ve never been one to follow rules really, or take direction that well. And so, you know, taking that stubborn element of my personality, I just decided to start my own company. And I’ve been doing this for a few years now.
Katie Brinkley 2:40
Awesome. And I think that a lot of entrepreneurs have that in their mind of, I think that I can do this the a different way. And there’s going to be a more efficient way. And it’s, it’s where a lot of small businesses get started. Right. So, you know, let’s, let’s go through your career journey just a little bit more. You know, you said you worked for Solomon, and you were able to work, you know, for international companies. What do you think? Is your kind of your bread and butter? What do you enjoy most? For working with different companies? Do you like the b2b or b2c a little bit more. So I would
Lizzy Harris 3:16
say they both have their upsides, I think the challenge of b2b is that you have to keep up on a regulatory side, but also that it’s completely, it’s completely fluid and dynamic. It’s always changing. And you always have to understand the intricacies for what it means for a certain business. I think that keeps me really sharpened on edge, and up to date with all the new technology. On the flip side, doing consumer PR is, is really rewarding in a way because your people want to consume and their daily life they want they want to buy things they want to go places they want to spend money and, and you by way of PR help them do that. When they when and how they want to write. So for example, I have obviously we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I have a client that does weighted jump ropes, which maybe you wouldn’t necessarily think about but right now everyone’s having to shift their focus to Home Fitness, there really is no option gyms are closed all over the world, really. And so they’re having just this incredible moment. And you know, three months ago, you may have thought like, oh, that’s that’s a cool product, but I belong to a gym. And now all of a sudden, it’s bringing this physical on this mental wellness aspect to so many people that need it, right. Everyone’s just grasping for some sense of normalcy. And so I would say I really like both of them. b2b is definitely more challenging, but b2c is so much faster paced, so I like them both.
Katie Brinkley 4:52
I would say now, you know, since we are all having to pivot a little bit right now because of COVID-19 and Coronavirus. You know, a lot of people are having to completely rethink rethink their brand strategies. Right? How have you had to do anything a little bit differently for your own personal brand? Or are you doing it more for your clients right now?
Lizzy Harris 5:13
Both? Yeah, it’s been, it’s been completely unbelievable. You know, I think, I think had you told me several months ago that this is what we would be faced with both from, you know, a health standpoint and an economic standpoint, I would think you were telling me the story of some dystopian universe that I don’t want to be a part of, I gotta know now. Yeah, exactly. That’s, that’s 100% what it is, and, and now that we’re in it, you know, I’ve been able to see from my clients perspective, how incredibly how incredibly resilient these businesses are. And like you said, so many businesses have had to pivot? I see so many of them pivot in to the pandemic, right, just automatically adjusting? How can we how can we face this head on. And that goes from both like a product standpoint, you see gyms all over the country offering remote fitness classes. They live stream cycling, or yoga or pilates. And that’s incredible. That’s something that they didn’t offer before. And then at the drop of a hat, they’ve, they’ve pivoted into it. From my own personal perspective, I’ve absolutely absolutely had to pivot. I had a lot of clients that this hit pretty hard in early February, before we really even knew the impact of it, because they had products and manufacturing in China. So that supply chain was completely interrupted. So I had to shift from you know, when you represent a consumer brand, and you represent a consumer product, that’s typically your bread and butter. But what we’ve shifted into then, is thought leadership and predicting trends and talking about, you know, once this is, once this has subsided what people can expect and how it’s going to be different, and how it’s going to evolve in their specific industry. Whether that’s like I said, like, whether that’s consumer goods, whether that’s ad tech, or med tech, it just totally depends. You know, I think this is completely unprecedented. But, but that’s what makes it challenging and rewarding. And so from both a client perspective and my own, I’ve had to completely transform the way I do things. But that’s okay, because now I know that I’m capable, and so are my clients.
Katie Brinkley 7:21
If someone is listening right now, who is an aspiring or new business owner, what’s the single biggest piece of advice that you would want to give him or her as the journey starts.
Lizzy Harris 7:29
So I would give them the same piece of advice that I’ve lived by, since I started my journey. And that is that nothing is more important than customer service. And when you think about customer service, you think about it by way of maybe like a dial in phone line to xfinity or in a retail store, someone helping you find clothes, customer service is ensuring that you’re delivering on everything that you promised. And a lot of the times that’s not just checkboxes, right? That’s communicating incessantly, making sure that no one’s left hanging, ensuring that you’re meeting all your deadlines, and really making yourself a cohesive part of your client or your customers team, when they feel like you are invaluable, just by way of the work that you’ve done, but also how you treat one another. It really does provide client security and and it also shows you how to do business, right? I think that’s the absolute most important is customer service, no matter what industry you’re in, if
Katie Brinkley 8:38
you could go back and do anything differently on your business journey to where you are now, what if anything, would you change, you’ve had a lot of fun stops on the way. And I think, you know, probably a lot of opportunities from starting at, you know, an agency to an in house, you know, you were able to get a little taste of everything. So
Lizzy Harris 8:59
I would say something that I would identify is, you know, obviously, to make this shift, some pretty significant changes had to happen in my life. And I kept thinking that I was set for a path of, you know, nine to five full time employment, climb the corporate ladder, that’s always just something I envisioned, and not because I wanted it, but because I didn’t really have a different example set for me. And so I I just always was relentlessly pursuing that. And things kept happening in my life that would stray me from that path. And I kept trying to forcefully course correct until finally I just conceded to it. And, you know, like I said in the beginning, I’ve always been incredibly stubborn. And and while I think in times that has worked against me, I think it also really worked in my favor and so leveraging some of my skills and personality traits and tendencies and racket Knowing that maybe I’m not meant to do what other people say, for the rest of my life, maybe I’m meant to carve my own path. And that’s really scary. And I had to, I had to come up against some pretty difficult situations to make that decision. But I just think, had it not been that difficult, I never would have felt a need to get out. And so I would say, well, well, I wouldn’t necessarily say I would change something, I think just paying attention to you know, like, what, what my journey is trying to tell me and, and what both my opportunities, and my obstacles are trying to tell me because this, ever since I started it, it’s become abundantly clear that this is the path that I’m supposed to be on.
Katie Brinkley 10:45
Now, you had, you know, you came from agency to in house to entrepreneur? Did you kind of slowly start building some of your clients? Before you just jumped right into being an entrepreneur? Or did you say, alright, this is what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna do it on my own.
Lizzy Harris 11:00
Yeah, absolutely. And you broke up there for a second. But I think what we’re just talking about is, like, was I did I basically cut cold turkey or was I constantly kind of thinking or tapping my client base? In thinking about this? I. So I’ve been very fortunate, since starting my own business, I would say about 90% of my business is all referral based. When I decided I was going to do this, I reached out to every person I’ve ever worked with, and I let them know that I was doing my own PR under my own umbrella. And I’d love to chat with them depending on their needs. And, you know, I always said that, within the first six months, I had what I would consider a very full plate. And since then, I’ve more than tripled it. And so, you know, I’ve been I’ve been so fortunate to utilize that network, and to have those referrals, and also to learn my way of working and the way to scale how to do certain things in my job and in my life. So I can take that on. So I was definitely tapping my network, I was definitely building good relationships. And that goes back to the customer service topic that we covered earlier. And that, you know, I wouldn’t have been able to do that, had I burned bridges, or had I not done a good job. But lucky for me in my 20s or something that I apparently subconsciously valued and and something that really came to help me down the line.
Katie Brinkley 12:21
So I know, you said that most of your clients are referral based, you know, what other type of marketing Have you found works best for your business.
Lizzy Harris 12:30
So for me referral basis, definitely the biggest, I think so I also engage in a consulting capacity. And what I think has worked really well for me is pointing out to businesses avoid that they don’t know they have. So let’s say a big company or a big agency is looking to fill a pretty, pretty upper level position. And they have this job posting up that says, you know, 40 hours a week in the office benefits, what have you, I’ve actually found quite a bit of lack of reaching out to those to those brands or to those agencies, and letting them know that, you know, obviously, this is going to take a long time to fill it’s very high caliber position. I’d love to help you out in the interim. And so what I do is I fill in the holes where I can and a lot of the times that does one of two things that delays the hire or completely puts it off because they realize that without having to increase headcount and pay benefits. They can they can get the job done, right. Or it’s it spurs even more hiring and it makes me a more integral part of their team. So proactive outreach, I would say is, and I’m putting this in air quotes is the best form of marketing that I have found successful for me.
Katie Brinkley 13:49
Do you do a lot of this through LinkedIn? Or do you kind of go through different job boards? Or, you know, yeah, or how do you find a lot of these open positions?
Lizzy Harris 13:59
So everywhere? I would say, you know, LinkedIn indeed, Glassdoor Andrew Hudson’s job list is a local one that I go through a lot. And also just, you know, especially in big cities, something that I found well, as is looking up emerging brands or agencies in San Francisco, Chicago, you know, New York, LA, Dallas, Detroit, and, and just looking up the agencies there, or the emerging businesses there and looking at the jobs that they’re hiring for, and seeing where I can fill in those holes. So everywhere, it’s definitely something that I had to teach myself to do. I don’t I don’t know if anyone ever told me to do that. Not being able to identify, yeah, those opportunities. That’s something that’s fared really well, for me,
Katie Brinkley 14:48
it’s a great way of making yourself known that you’re, you know, a necessity that will help them you know, really make their business succeed and finding it or Different ways that they can use your tools going forward for future hires.
Lizzy Harris 15:04
Right and and even if it’s not a fit for right now, making that connection reaching out to their team or their hiring manager, or whoever’s on the job post, you know, I think I think goes a really long way I have, I actually just signed a client this week who I haven’t talked to in a year and a half, and he’s in a completely different business. And so, it’s really important to plant those seeds, most most importantly, when you don’t need them. So they do come to fruition when you do. Something else that I would say about that is I told I told a young woman who was getting into this as well, I said, you should always commit to about 130 to 140% of what you your absolute maximum is, because there’s no way that 100% of it will close. So always commit to always seek out always pursue more business than you can feasibly handle. And if you know, by some stroke of luck that it does Oh, close, you can hire and you can, you know, you can bring on consultants or contractors. But always, you know, always get more business than you can handle and then you can work out from there.
Katie Brinkley 16:10
Now, that leads us into my next question, what do you think the Biggest Mistakes Business Owners Make when they’re trying to grow and sustain a business? Would you say it’s not getting enough business out of the gate, or,
Lizzy Harris 16:23
I would say, and this is something that’s like very specific to my personality as well, I think being too safe. I think everyone, not everyone, quite a few people operate in a place of fear. You know, worried about money coming in, and money going out, obviously, you need enough money coming in to cover your bottom line, and live and exist. But I’ve I’ve reached out and I’ve secured some clients, in some projects that thinking back on it, I never would have known or even felt confident that I was qualified to do, but I think have confidence that you know what to do, or you will figure it out. You know, obviously, I think everyone’s incredibly intelligent. I think entrepreneurs have a special fire in them to figure things out. And I would say I would say the biggest mistake is operating from a place of fear, you know, like the best case scenario is that you secure so much business and so many clients and you have that oh, crap moment, because you don’t even know how you’re going to service them. There are always people looking for work. And you know, then then you get into like a profit but profitability standpoint and or discussion. And that’s always, that’s always really interesting to analyze as well. But you can’t get you can’t get there if you’re always playing it safe.
Katie Brinkley 17:39
Now, how have you gone about trying to find contractors and consultants to bring on when you do become a little bit overwhelmed with with some of the work? How it Where do you typically go? Or do you have a little network? To find good talent?
Lizzy Harris 17:52
Yeah, absolutely. So I would say obviously, the first the first place I go, are to my network, you know, like people that I’ve worked with in the past by both at an agency and in house. I’ve brought people on in both of those capacities. I like I said, I consult for some agencies as well. And there’s other consultants there. And so I bring them on. But I think I think what people underestimate is how incredibly vast your own personal network is. Because even if I don’t know someone directly, that would be a fit for this specific project or this specific scope. I know someone that knows someone, and everyone’s always willing to help or willing to try, you know, and so I would say that I would go I typically go through my network. And then I have my network go through their network. I’ve never I’ve never had to hire someone point blank that I didn’t know.
Katie Brinkley 18:48
And I think that can be one of the hardest things is trying to find decent help. Whenever someone of another entrepreneur that I spoke with, said, You know, he always tries to find someone and hire someone that better than him. Yes, product’s going to be even better than, you know, if you’re, if you’re going to have to contract it out. It’s worth the money to pay somebody that does the job better than you do.
Lizzy Harris 19:10
Yeah, I’m always so ecstatic when I find someone with better ideas than me someone smarter than me. You know, I always think that two heads are better than one and I don’t think we need to compete, you know, to succeed. And so I absolutely agree with that sentiment. One
Katie Brinkley 19:24
passion that so many business owners and entrepreneurs have is to build a business around their lifestyle, not the other way around. How has that played out in your story and approach to running your business? Um,
Lizzy Harris 19:35
I would say, I don’t know which, which is built around which I’m kind of just I approach everything really head on. And so I work a ton and I live a ton. You know, I don’t I don’t ever really feel myself sacrificing what I want to do in my personal life or sacrificing what I want or should do in my business life. You know, and so sometimes that means we’re working super late nights, early mornings all weekend, or going on vacation and you know, sitting with my laptop by the pool or on a beach, you know, sometimes it means that but it’s also I’m looking at it as a means to a later end. Right and and I anticipate that the the way that it’s all playing out, I guess I’m, I guess I’m working to live later maybe but I wouldn’t say I’ve sacrificed and either in either space.
Katie Brinkley 20:29
Well, now, you know, you said you’d like to live a ton. You know, what is what does having your business here in Colorado mean to you know, what is a fun day for you? What are some of your passions outside of work?
Lizzy Harris 20:40
So my favorite things to do? Are I love scheme, and I love fishing. I love hiking. I love golfing. I’m not great at it, but I absolutely love it. I think Denver just as a city is really incredible. Something that I’ve found in Denver that I haven’t found elsewhere is Denver is very much like a more the merrier kind of city. And so doing anything outside with people is my is my absolute favorite thing to do. And to like you said, what, what does it mean to you to have built your business in Denver? You know, I talked about how so much of my business is referral and and so much of that was referred from people I’ve met or have worked with in Denver, whether or not they’re not, they’re still here. It’s just such an incredible community. And I’m, I’m really grateful to be a part of it.
Katie Brinkley 21:27
Have you found that other business owners or other entrepreneurs have been willing to, you know, give a bit of advice or sit down in London air and with it easily here in Colorado?
Lizzy Harris 21:37
Yeah, 100%, I constantly have people connecting me with other entrepreneurs or other small business owners, someone who’s going to be you know, who’s an aspiring entrepreneur, someone who wants to do public speaking, it just, everyone’s always here, I feel in Denver to lend a hand. You know, even if there is overlap in our businesses, or even our, you know, our target clients, it’s still just a matter of helping everyone grow at once, you know, and, and as fast and efficiently as we all can. And so, I’ve certainly found that
Katie Brinkley 22:11
what’s the best piece of advice that you ever received, and how has that impacted your business or your life?
Lizzy Harris 22:16
So I would say the best piece of advice I’ve ever received, and I don’t know, if it was specifically directed at me, it might not have been was from David Mandell, who was the CEO of pivot desk. It was a boulder company who I actually helped launch when I was an agency, they’ve since been acquired. And I think he sits on the board of a bunch of companies now he’s so great. But his he always used to say, Get your head out of your shorts. And I think I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the weeds of what you’re doing. And you know, only be able to see five feet in front of you. And I think that’s, I think that’s really dangerous. I think that is what gets you in a place of, you know, sometimes in an uncomfortable place where you didn’t anticipate being, but also by way of business, you know, he was saying and that, get your head out of your shorts, watch your competition, right? Because competition validates a space or an industry or a product, it means that there’s demand, but also see what your competition is doing. What are they doing better than you? Right? What are they saying louder? What are they doing faster? What are they doing bigger, and seeing how they’re elevating and how you can surpass them. But there’s just no way that you can operate in a vacuum, you know, in a silo. And so I would say the best advice I ever got was Get your head out of your shorts.
Katie Brinkley 23:43
That’s, that is great advice. Because I think a lot of times, especially as small businesses, you can just get so focused on what you need to do to survive and grow, you know, but we always need to be keeping our head up to see how we can grow and see what other, you know, things we can bring on to make ourselves and our businesses better.
Lizzy Harris 24:02
Absolutely. And that goes back to what what you and I were talking about earlier, you know, like always finding being so elated when I find someone smarter than me or with better ideas than me. I’m not the smartest person on the planet. I wish I was, but I’m not, you know, and I think being able to collaborate and utilize other people’s experience and skills and creativity is what’s really going to build something invaluable. Right. And so that’s, that’s certainly something that’s stuck with me for years.
Katie Brinkley 24:31
Mosey this has been such a great conversation. Where can we find out more about you and your business online?
Lizzy Harris 24:36
Yeah, absolutely. So you can find more about my business online at just pivot communications comm Pei Pei T and then I regularly update my LinkedIn with really exciting client hits that I get. So if you want to take a peek at those, that’s where you’ll find them.
Katie Brinkley 24:53
Well, I will include a link to both of those in the about section of today’s podcast and thank you again so much for coming. On the show,
Lizzy Harris 25:00
thank you so much. I was really happy to that you had me.
Katie Brinkley 25:04
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 www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look for Katie Brinkley. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights