Michelle, welcome. Thank you for joining us on the show. I am super excited to have you.
Thank you, Tonya. I’m so happy to be here. It’s a long time coming that we finally made this happen.
It’s perfect timing because this episode is going to air in the springtime and that there’s something brilliant about spring. Whatever happens in spring, no matter what area you’re in the world, there’s a spring renewal happening at that time. What we’re going to talk about today has a lot to do with renewing yourself and digging into that value and that inner beauty in finding yourself. You do a lot of work with women in personal branding and marketing. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
My business started from the fact that I was freelance writing for a number of big publications, and my readers were mostly women. I was writing about overcoming personal challenges and becoming a mom. That parlayed into getting separated and then life as a single mom. Naturally, my readers were women. Down here in south Florida, I have so many female friends that are business owners that were starting to recognize that they needed to jump on board the content marketing and the branding train. Because I was a writer, everybody was reaching out to me for, “I don’t know how to best sell myself on Instagram,” or “What do I need to write on my blog? I know I need one, but what should I be writing about?”
Over time, I began creating these branding outlines for my clients that helped them dig deep into who they were, what their niche was, and what they were trying to say. I work with a lot of attorneys, medical professionals, and high-level professionals that are so knowledgeable about their craft, but when it comes to putting themselves out there, they stumble. For me, it became, “Why did you become a dermatologist?” People want to buy into your story. You watched your mom form skin cancer complications. That’s the story. That’s what we target. That’s why we make May the Skin Cancer Month, the most important month of your whole calendar year. We take the littlest details of what makes this person tick and turn that into a brand.
You sound like you speak from personal experience.
If personal experience is not the best teacher, then I don’t know what is.
Words don’t teach. Experiences teach.
You and I met on Instagram. Just like anybody’s social media feed, it sometimes portrays something that could be so different than they are. Sometimes when I can’t sleep and I’m on my phone scrolling down a rabbit hole of Instagram pictures, I’ll go back to three years ago on my feed. The difference in who I was just from three years ago until now is mind-blowing. There are times where I’m like, “I need to delete everything from that part of my life.” Other times I’m like, “No, I love being able to see the shifts and the transformation and who I’ve become because my feed is authentic.” The stuff that I say, the self-deprecating things, the inspirational quotes I make up, all of that is authentic because I come from a place of not being who you see today. Everybody who meets me now says, “You’re so strong. You’re so confident. You’re successful.” If you would’ve told me five years ago or even three years ago that I would have enough confidence to step on stage and tell other women how to feel their best or other women had to leave their past behind, I would have told you you’re nuts, let alone have the balls to start a business and deem it successful and make it so. It took a lot of negative life experience, a lot of soul-searching, and a lot of deciding that I didn’t want to be a person who lives in pity anymore. I didn’t want to be a “Why me?” person. I wanted to make an impact on this world not for anyone but my daughter. She was the catalyst for a change for sure.
Can you give me an example when you say you were in a pity space? The reason I’m asking for an example is we all do this. We’re all born powerful, amazing and with this unshakable confidence and then we lose it. It gets stripped away layer by layer, the pieces of our soul, because of our experience and people. We don’t know any better. We give them power and they mess us all up.
It is not letting other people have power over your emotions. When I was a very little girl, I was stripped of all of that. My parents had a traumatic separation and divorce. I was dragged through the mud through the whole thing. Their fight took about eight years. I had my own lawyer at eleven years old. I had a very unhealthy relationship with my father. He was not what the ideal father for a little girl should be. Talk about stripping your confidence when you don’t have the love and acceptance from the man who’s supposed to be your number one fan and set the precedent for how you should treat yourself and how you should allow other men to treat you. You might as well just be thrown to the wind because it takes everything out of you, and you don’t realize until later on. I used to say, “I don’t have daddy issues. I’m fine,” but I was also the girl finding these boyfriends who were emotionally abusive, who were emotionally latched onto me, narcissists. There was even a criminal once, like a real con artist type. I would find myself in these unhealthy patterns and realize it was all because I didn’t love myself enough. I wasn’t given an example of how I should be treated. I took any treatment as love, and it messed me up for a long time.
People use the term daddy issues in a joking way. The relationship or lack thereof that I had with my biological father shaped the next twenty years for me. My life came full circle. My parents splitting up was as tragic as anything just in how it went down, and what my dad had going on and what he was doing, and all the adult truths I had to face at eight years old, and how I started being used as a pawn. My life started unraveling there. Bad choices, bad decisions, bad relationships, not doing well in school, getting mixed up with the wrong crowd, having severe eating disorder issues, having horrible body dysmorphia, stress and anxiety, and taking it out on myself. In the last stages of all of this, I was 27 or 28 years old and in the last horrible relationship, I was ever going to find myself in. It was like drowning every day trying to get myself out of it. When I finally realized I had to get away, I couldn’t. In physically trying to get away from that relationship once and for all, I got into a major on collision. I broke everything from the neck down in the winter of 2012.
That right there was my moment. I went into the hospital and I was there for a little while. I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk for a long time. I was going to lose my job because I didn’t have tenure yet. I used to be a teacher. I was alone in New York and my mom had to fly up from Miami. It became this moment like, “What are you doing?” A couple of weeks into my recovery, I had gotten a call from the president of Mercedes Benz North America who had heard about my story. I was driving a Mercedes Benz. He’s like, “I’m looking at these pictures. I don’t understand how you’re alive.” My insurance company sent me photos of the car wreck. I don’t remember anything. I’m seeing these pictures and I’m like, “What am I doing? What kind of life am I living? I’m almost 30 years old. I’m blaming everything on my past. I’m constantly going in circles and finding myself in the same place. Something’s got to give.”
At that moment, I started writing. I’d always been a writer. I was handwriting because I didn’t have a laptop and I couldn’t get up to go to the computer because I was bound to my bed. I kept a journal and just wrote myself letters every day, promising myself that I was not going to find myself in these patterns anymore. I was going to value myself. I was not going to let myself be emotionally abused. I was going to love myself regardless if I had perfectly chiseled abs or not, and all of these things that I just didn’t want weighing me down anymore. I didn’t shift overnight. It definitely took some time. Once I had my daughter a few years later, I got married and had my daughter, my transformation was complete. The second I looked at her, I became who I needed to be because I knew looking at her that I had to lead by example. I’ll be damned if she ever ends up in the situations I was in.
If she didn’t love herself and see the beauty that you were neglecting to see in yourself.
My daughter’s only three, but I am so hell-bent on helping her create a positive self-image. There are certain words I refuse to use around her. When she asks me why I only eat salad, I’m like, “Because I love the way vegetables make my body feel.” There is no talk about body or weight or how you look. I tell her a thousand times a day she’s beautiful because I want that to be herself narrative regardless of when she grows up and doesn’t like her nose or her hair or her hips. It’s just so important to me that she loves herself first because that’s what was missing in my life forever, outside beauty and inside beauty. She’s three. What is her response when you were like, “You’re so beautiful or that looks so pretty on you?”I have this giant leaning mirror in my bedroom. It’s my only full mirror in the house. After she gets dressed in the morning, I’ll say, “I want you to go look in the mirror and tell me how you look.” She’ll go and she’ll be like, “I’m beautiful,” and she’ll twirl. I grew up in a house where my mom was drinking diet Coke and only using Sweet and Low and like burning calories. My mom was like Jane Fonda. I love to exercise and eat healthily and all those things, but I don’t make it an issue or I try not to, because my thought when I was ten or eleven years old was I had to put on standards and do some cardio if I was going to be worth a damn in this world. As much as I tell her she’s beautiful and all those things, I’m not trying to restrict her calories.
A three-year-old can look in the mirror and she doesn’t see flaws even if they exist. She only sees beauty. She only sees what she likes. We as adults, we get trained growing up to look in the mirror and it’s a comparison thing. We’re comparing ourselves.
We’re also having a lot of talks right now about kindness because her and all her little friends in school are coming out of this terribly where they would basically maul each other for a toy. We’re talking about kindness. I pick her up from school every day, she gets in the car, and she’s like, “Mommy, I shared my toy. It made me so happy.” Being kind makes you beautiful and being kind is what makes other people want to be with you versus the aesthetics. That’s something I never valued in myself either. I’m tremendously kind and empathetic, but I felt like it was worthless because I wasn’t a perfect size two.
After all of this, you used writing to yourself as a form of therapy. How did that translate for you into what you do now?
I’ll never forget the moment. I had my daughter in January of 2015. I was on maternity leave. I was a teacher, and I had taken the rest of the year off. Even if it was going to cost me my job, which it did, I wanted those first six months at home with her because I do have anxiety. I didn’t know how I was going to feel. I wanted my daughter’s first six months on earth to be with a mom who was calm and relaxed and present until I felt strong enough and confident enough as a mother to go back to work. Those first six months were challenging in the sense that I never expected myself to become a mom. I was never intending in my life to get married and have kids. I didn’t think I was good enough to do that. I just thought it was something that wouldn’t be for me, because I couldn’t be good at that because I wasn’t good at myself. Here I am, I’m a mom, and I’m in love with her. I’ve never been in love before but this little creature. I started looking at life in a different way, and it was so emotionally overwhelming. When you’re as empathetic as I am, people don’t understand your emotion sometimes. Everything makes me feel and so I would just write about it. I would write about how I was in the mall with my daughter. I saw another mom and she looks miserable and unhappy, and she was snapping at her husband. I can relate to that. I understand.
The defining moment for me was when I wrote an open letter to a woman, a mom who had yelled at me in the mall. I was at the mall by myself one morning, my ex-husband was with our daughter, and I was at H&M. It was a Sunday morning and there was a mom, flustered, and she had a baby in a stroller. She was fighting with her husband and she wasn’t paying attention to the line, so I didn’t think she was in line. I went in line and she yelled at me and she was like, “You must not have kids. How dare you cut me in line.” I was like, “I do. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. You didn’t look like you’re in line. Go ahead.” The whole time I’m behind her and she’s telling her husband, “This bitch did it,” and I’m like, “I’ll have you know that I have a six-month-old.” I was so upset but then I went home. I was driving home and thinking about it from her perspective and how overwhelming those beginning stages with a baby are and going to a crowded mall and your husband is just staring off into space and not knowing what to do. I wrote an open letter to her forgiving her for how hard she treated me, and I posted it on Facebook. It went viral, and I feel like my life changed from there.
I very quickly built a blog because I realized people took to my writing. I have so much more to share. I started writing about body dysmorphia and letting that go, the relationship between my husband and how that had changed because of becoming a mom. My work started getting published in a number of childhood and baby magazines. Huffington Post and Elite Daily came, and that’s when friends with businesses reached out and said, “I need you to write for me.” Whether it was just web content or a web copy for a product they were selling, everyone looked to me as their writer, and so the company was born.
I want to talk about the mindset of shifting into the space and in getting vulnerable and putting yourself out there. I’m not a good writer. I prefer to speak. When I sit down to write, I get ridden with anxiety. Writing is not my thing. I have a team that helps me with things like that. There’s prestige to getting your name in some of these magazines. How does one do that?
I have a good friend who just started out as a client. She was just starting her mommy blog when I first got published in Huffington Post. She reached out to me on Instagram and she was like, “I want to do what you do. How can I get my work published?” I helped her refine a few of her pieces. We helped her create a voice. She has a real hold-nothing-back attitude, and she was self-conscious about that in her writing. I was like, “I love it.” Now she’s one of the biggest mommy writers. She’s got 50,000 followers on Instagram. She and I are working on a book later this year. It was in me helping her that I realize anybody who has anything to say can submit to one of these publications and get published.
You just have to have something that is so authentic and real and not what you think others want to read. I started doing my “motherhood is beautiful” writing. None of that ever got looked at, until I had a bad day and wrote about it and just put it out there. Scary Mommy rejected me nineteen times before they published my first piece. It was a piece that I wrote with anger, shaking in my car while my daughter napped in her car seat, and I sent it to them. It wasn’t even edited, and they loved it. I realized I have to help people do the same thing because everybody’s got a story to share. I have to help them realize the value of being authentic, vulnerable, and real. That’s the stuff that you can have published even if you think you’re not a good writer. People love experiences, people love realness. As Americans and as humans on this planet, we are over-saturated with content every day. It’s always the real stories that make you feel something that sticks out. You need memorable content. You don’t need to be a great writer.
When you say vulnerability and memorable content, what do you say to the woman who thinks her life is boring?
There is no boring moment. I find hilarity in my 30 minutes of getting my child awakened and out the door. I can write a sitcom just based on that. There’s so much non-boring material in that moment from your daughter peeing her pants as she’s walking to the car. It’s like Murphy’s Law in the morning. Even the mom who’s living the same life day-to-day, if she stopped and looked into her day, there’s so much meaning and memory there that she’ll look back on one day and be like, “That was more special than I thought it was. It’s not boring.” Your role as a mom is raising these kids and you’re also fielding this amazing insanity that’s coming at you all day long. I love for people to find the beauty in those moments. I also have another venture, The Keep It Real Moms. My best friend and I are very similar. She also writes for a number of big publications. We created an Instagram account, and we have a live podcast that we do from where we are invited, from restaurants, clothing stores, and jewelry stores around South Florida. They ask us to record live, and we talk about these other things that are not boring at all. Nobody’s life is boring, especially if you have children.
You say Murphy’s Law. It’s funny. I feel like Murphy has lived with all of us at some point.
Usually, Mondays are a nightmare for my daughter because she gets out of school and she’s exhausted after the weekend. Monday afternoons, I plan nothing but her to be home and playing with her toys and relaxing. We ended up having the greatest afternoon. She came with me to do errands. We went for ice cream. We just had this great day. We cooked dinner together, and she went to bed so easy. I go to bed and I’m talking to my mom and I’m like, “What an amazing day.” Two hours later, my daughter wakes up and she was up for the rest of the night. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t. They’re here to fool you.
It’s so true. Kids keep you on your toes and that doesn’t stop no matter what age they become. You’re working with a woman. She comes to you and she’s like, “I have this business.” Probably most of your clients are entrepreneurs and they’re trying to elevate their positioning. What are the mindset issues that come with that?
Their big question is “Why would anyone want to hear from me? What do I have that other people care about?” I help them find these things. I have a client, she started an independent luxury travel agency. She’s helping people book these luxurious travel experiences. She’s like, “Why do I need a blog? I have nothing to share.” I’m like, “Didn’t you live?” She was part of the Ministry of Defense and lived in Japan for a few years and has this whole history. She’s a seemingly beautiful American girl that you would never know has this powerful history with the government. I’m like, “You have so much to share. I want to book a trip with you, versus the person who’s never left rural South Florida. You’ve been all over the world. You know the secrets, plus you know all the safe parts because you were part of the government.” People don’t realize how valuable their experiences in their life are, and that’s essentially what makes your brand. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. When you have life experience that lends itself to you being an expert in something, your brand is born. Everybody has a brand, whether they’re in business or not.
It doesn’t matter what it is that you sell, it’s you. Whether you’re online or brick and mortar, it’s you that people buy.
It’s you that people buy. I say it all the time. I’m sure there are better marketers out there than me and I’m sure there are better writers out there than me, but I believe in my writing so much and I believe in the strategies that I’ve built in my marketing company. With marketing, SEO, and Google Analytics, you actually have numbers to prove that what you’re doing works. I’ve seen those and I’ve seen the growth. Every single one of my clients that I started with two years ago are now like, “Let’s slow down the marketing because I’m booked with patients through the middle of the year. I can’t take anymore.” I do it differently than other people. I believe in it so much. No matter whether it’s a doctor, a lawyer, a travel agent, or a psychotherapist, whatever it is, it’s your brand that people are buying. I’m working with industries that are so oversaturated. I just put out an article in the Daily Business Review in Florida about how to stand apart in an over-saturated field. Everybody you meet in the medical space in Florida is either a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon because you want to look beautiful in Miami and you don’t want to get skin cancer. On the other side, there are more lawyers per square mile here in Miami than there are anywhere. I get those people who are like, “I’m just another personal injury attorney. How do I help myself stand out?” That’s the game-changer in my business. I love it.
Now that we had this conversation and you’re making me feel like maybe I’m okay and maybe there’s something unique here that people will gravitate or respond to, what is the next step?
The next step is creating an outline of how we’re going to translate that brand and how are we sharing this with the world? I create a twelve-week, three-month outline that combines blogging, email marketing, and social media strategy that all ties into each other. It starts with the blog. The blog is like a cake, and we bake the cake. We are putting together topics that are authentic to what it is of this brand that we’re selling. I’ll give you an example for one of my dermatology clients. About three or four months after they open their business, it was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Everyone thought they were just another dermatology center until they decided to tell me that throughout the month of October, they treat breast cancer patients for free to help them lose their mastectomy scars. We got this some press, and their business blew up. That became their thing, helping women who have gone through traumatic experiences feel their best for free. We built so much blog content that geared towards women and self-care and health. These are two dermatologists that started this massive skin center that focuses on women. They help men, too, but it became about the core of the healthy woman. Their slogan became, “Healthy skin equals a healthy you.” It became about women and health. If you’re a woman in South Florida, you’ve heard of them, you’ve been to them, or you’re trying desperately to get an appointment, and you can’t because they’re so busy.
From there, we build blog outlines with all the content that is going to help them stand apart and an email marketing outline strategy that matches up. In email marketing, you want to say very little but give the biggest impact. How are we taking this content and sending it out there for people to know that it exists and getting people to click back to the site? Social media is a conglomeration of all of it, click bait images links back to the blog and education. We take the brand strategy that we’ve developed and we turn it into a content marketing strategy that runs about twelve weeks. Statistics show that it takes about eight to ten weeks to make an impact when you’re consistent with putting your content out there. Then we go from there. Luckily for me, a lot of my clients have stayed with me much longer than the twelve weeks, and I love it. I’m learning, they’re learning, and we’re evolving. I’m ramping back with certain clients because they just can’t handle the volume right now. That’s a good problem to have.
Do you find that this works regardless of personal brands or big businesses?
It does, but you also have to do the work, too. I tell clients this all the time. I’m working with someone now, and he’s like, “I can’t do public speaking. I can’t do any of these. I want to do Instagram stories and videos.” I say, “You hired me for my expertise. Yes, I’m a good writer but I’ve also learned a thing or two about marketing. Marketing trends for 2018 are all video. People are sick of reading. If you can’t be committed to the process, it’s not going to work. It’s like a marriage. We both have to give and you have to give in terms of taking what I give you and running with it.” I have a client, she’s a chiropractor. In three years, she has spoken on 200 stages. She’s at every networking event. She’s shaking everybody’s hand. She is part of every charity because that’s her version of taking what we built and putting it out there into the world. It works if you’re committed to putting it out there. It’s not just me. You have to get out, network, meet people, sell the brand and sell it. Speak it into the universe, to people you meet, shake their hands. Introduce yourself as, “Hi, I’m Linda, the travel agent.” You become your brand. Sell it and it will work. I can do all the work myself.
Where do we find you?
You can’t be everywhere all the time. You pick your places.
Yes. I had a great social media/marketing assistant working with me who’s no longer with me and I’m drowning.
I’ve seen your work, Michelle. You are amazing. You take it to the next level; top notch for sure. I appreciate you sharing your expertise here with us. We will definitely stalk you, connect with you and follow you everywhere. Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for hanging out with me.