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Women in Tech

Community, Diversity, Human-to-Human (H2H), Inclusion, Marginalization, Social Media, Women in Tech

Don’t tweet in a bubble: why & how to diversify your feed

Birds of a feather tend to flock together, but that’s why they call them ‘bird-brains.’ Here’s how, and why, to diversify your Twitter feed.

Twitter Stats & Social Facts

Tech doesn’t just have a diversity problem in the workforce – tech workers and leaders often live in an online social bubble of, well, men. Mostly white men.

When the echo chamber of our tech community continues into our online social communities, it’s too easy to find yourself in a homogenous bubble that is so large and opaque that it eclipses the world outside of it.

And that is dangerous to us as people, as world citizens, as tech makers and users.

Yes, the Twitter feed diversity problem is real.

Not-so-fun fact: Elon Musk didn’t follow a single woman on Twitter until October of 2016 – and only then because a Motherboard article called him out on it. Musk isn’t alone. The Guardian looked at the Twitter accounts of several male tech leaders and found that they followed between 2 and 11 times as many men as women. The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, for instance, followed 238 men and 29 women at last count (also in 2016).

And that’s just the male to female ratio. They didn’t even touch on people of color or the LGBTQ communities.

When you consider that most founders of tech startups in America are white, and the average white American only has one black friend (75% of white Americans don’t have any black friends), it’s clear that not only do most of us in tech live and work in our bubble – we’re so far in it that it’s hard for some to imagine how to climb out.

I suggest starting to diversify your life and work by inviting in different ideas and opinions on Twitter. No, it’s not going to fix the diversity problem in tech or lead to world peace. But at least it’s a start.

How can you diversify your feed?

As with making most changes, awareness is the first step.

Check yourself

It’s easy to look at the list of people you follow on Twitter and feel fairly satisfied that you do have a diverse group. The human mind is funny that way. We see what we expect to see. Try this app, Proporti.onl, to see how your feed really stacks up. If you’re surprised by your results and feel like you’ve got a long way to go, that’s okay – I’m still working on diversifying my feed, too!

Consider all types of diversity

Diversity doesn’t just mean ethnicity or the spectrum of LGBTQ – it’s also about cultural diversity. People who believe, think and act differently than you. That isn’t to say you should befriend people who don’t share (or who are actively against) your core values. But try to recognize and respect other ways of being.

Don’t just add – listen

James Governor, co-founder of RedMonk, wrote about his effort to diversify his Twitter feed and made a very important point:

It’s not enough to add people who are different than you – you also have to listen to them. And that’s not always comfortable.

“You will certainly find yourself challenged. […] Question your assumptions. Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be smarter for it, and learn crucial lessons in empathy. Sometimes it’s the little things.”

The benefits are worth the effort. When you listen with an open mind to what different people are saying (and yes, complaining about) you gain insight into how to treat people with more sensitivity and communicate more effectively.

As James Governor also says, “following a broader range of people means that suddenly – surprise! – it’s a lot easier to find amazing speakers for tech events.”

Perhaps, most importantly for us in tech, this is an exercise in empathy. When we have empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – we build better products, better user experiences, and better relationships in and outside of work.

Not sure where to start? Here’s my shortlist of diverse voices who are sure to add unique, smart perspectives to your feed

Community, Curation, Diversity, Human-to-Human (H2H), Inclusion, Marginalization, Women in Tech

Delightfully unconventional women-written newsletters in marketing & tech 💌

I’m subscribed to more than one-hundred newsletters – not kidding, I’m a curator. It’s my passion. There are so many newsletters out there for marketers right now. Nearly every startup and entrepreneur in the field has a newsletter to offer. Of course they do. We’re marketers. We know newsletters work as part of our long and glorious sales funnels.

These women-written newsletters are on my can’t-miss list. I try to read them every time. I look forward to reading them, because each one not only has immediately useful value to offer, each one is really fun to read. And, their perspectives are refreshingly unique and unconventional, because these women think deeply about their subjects and don’t shy away stating their opinions.

I love that.

Also, fair warning: I added my own newsletter at the end. It’s all about building communities around SaaS products, and if you’re into that, then hopefully it will make *your* can’t miss list.

Marketing

WordWeaver // Alaura Weaver
I’ve included some of the best copywriters in tech on this list, but what sets Alaura Weaver apart is her unique story-fueled content and copywriting, as well as her commitment to only work with businesses who are legitimately trying to make the world better in some way. Her newsletter is tightly packed with insights into how to use storytelling and powerful language to create human connection that helps businesses sell and grow.

Inkwell // Autumn Tompkins
Copywriter and editor Autumn Tompkins focuses on copy, content, and editing for artists and creatives – a notoriously difficult industry, both to work in and to write for. She brings the stories behind the art to vivid life, attracting clients and building relationships (that attract more clients). Her newsletter includes her best tips for writing creative and effective copy, and it’s so good, that a lot of other copywriters I know read it too.

Copy Hackers // Joanna Wiebe
Joanna Wiebe made a commitment early on to give away her very best information. It’s how CopyHackers began, and why it’s become the go-to resource for professional copywriters interested in honing their craft, or getting a quick refresher on what headline copy works best. Each newsletter she sends contains a mind-blowing insight that you can use right now – it’s how she ‘trains’ us all to open every one of her emails. They’re always so good. Also, notice her writing style. She keeps you hanging on…

Every…

word.

Forget The Funnel // Claire Suellentrop & Gia Laudi
Forget The Funnel is for marketers at product-first tech companies – it’s a weekly series of free, 30-minute workshops designed to help tech marketers “get out of the weeds, think strategically, and be a more effective SaaS marketer.” These 30-minute workshops are not fluff, and you can tell that by their impressive list of workshop leaders, like Talia Wolf, Joanna Wiebe, Ross Simmonds – and oh yeah, me. Really didn’t mean to plug myself, but you’ll see me on the list, and I didn’t want this to get awkward…

GetUplift // Talia Wolf
If we’ve spoken for more than 5 minutes, I’ve probably mentioned how much I LOVE Talia’s newsletters from GetUplift. That’s how much I talk about this conversion optimization newsletter! I’ve used these as inspiration for my own writing more than once, because her writing style is so personal, so fun, so interesting and always informative, pulling insights from her own experiences (which ensures the content is always fresh).

Katie Martell
Unapologetic marketing truth-teller Katie Martell will be the first to tell you – in a bright red banner across her home page – that this is “the world’s best newsletter about marketing, business, and life.” She’s got some stiff competition there, but I won’t argue. This curated newsletter is really good.

Yeah Write Club // Kaleigh Moore
Copywriter Kaleigh Moore’s first newsletter was A Cup of Copy, which included beautifully-written advice for new and seasoned copywriters on writing better copy, and on building a writing business you love. Her Yeah Write Club is completely different – it’s interviews with working writers at the tops of their fields, book recommendations and even writing opportunities. I love both, but those interviews are fabulous.

Strictly Tech

Sarah Doody
Sarah Doody is an entrepreneur, UX designer, consultant, writer and speaker. Her weekly UX newsletter is a compilation of her personal experiences in UX design, curated articles, UX tips and prompts to get UX teams talking.

Femgineer // Poornima Vijayashanker
Femgineer promotes inclusivity in the tech industry, which is already pretty great (and much needed). The newsletter is an outstanding source of inspiration, practical advice and free weekly lessons for people of all backgrounds learning tech.

MarketHer // Jes Kirkwood
MarketHer helps female tech marketers grow their careers, and the newsletter (hover over the pop-up chat on the bottom right to find the Subscribe button – it’s a little hard to find) shares real stories from women working at companies like Eventbrite, Glassdoor and HubSpot.

Product Talk // Teresa Torres
Product Talk is all about product development – from learning much-needed insights about your customers, to conducting experiments and measuring their impact. It’s not strictly a newsletter, but subscribing will ensure you get their latest posts in your inbox, and they’re all really good.

Women in Product
Founded by senior women product leaders in Silicon Valley, Women in Product is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing diversity and inclusion in product management. Not only can you subscribe for their news and updates, they also have a Facebook community with over 9,000 members (of which I’m one).

Women 2.0
Women2 is focused on closing gender gaps and increasing diversity and inclusion in tech. Their articles often focus on female-founded, early-stage companies, as well as “the future of tech and startups.” One glance at their home page lets you know what kind of content you can expect – topics like “speaking out about equal pay” and “an introvert’s guide to collaboration.”

Whackadoodles // Emma Siemasko
Written by a content marketing specialist, Whackadoodles isn’t strictly about content or marketing; it’s more about living a better business life. It’s a great read for writers, marketers and entrepreneurs.

Other

The Good Trade: The Daily Good
A 30 second read of good things to listen, follow, visit, browse and read—delivered to your inbox each morning. Curated by and for women.

And…mine:

Sunday Brunch by Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré

My newsletter is strictly about building online communities, in places like Facebook groups and Slack channels (to name but two), around your SaaS product and brand. Communities help promote higher lifetime value, lower churn, happier customers, and – my favorite – customer success. But it’s not enough to just invite people to join. Creating a genuine sense of community is a little more complicated – and that’s what my newsletter is about.

Subscribe below! Are you thinking of starting a newsletter? Let’s talk about what makes the BEST newsletters out there. Leave a comment and let’s chat.

Diversity, Human-to-Human (H2H), Inclusion, Marginalization, Women in Tech

20 Women’s Stories on How They Learned to Set Boundaries

I didn’t realize until my late 20s that boundaries were a “thing” you could set. That you could tell someone “no.” Then it took several more years for me to actually start doing it, and only because I was forced to as a result of people hurting me and losing my trust — not because I’d finally gained the ability to set healthy boundaries all by myself.

But we all have our teachers, and those were mine.

Now, in my mid-30s, I can honestly say that I set boundaries.

But I still feel guilty about it.

Someone recently asked me for advice in working with one of their clients, and probably for the first time ever — I declined.

I honestly didn’t have the time. I’ve barely kept up with my own clients in recent months. As much as I love helping people — it’s who I am — I’ve come to a place in my personal and professional life of max capacity. For my own mental, emotional, and entrepreneurial health, I have to say no to things I’d otherwise do without a second thought.

I did feel bad about declining. But I also got over it. And I found that it’s less stressful to say “no” than to sign up to do one more thing on an already toppling list.

As a woman, especially, I think many of us have been socialized to say “yes” and be “nice” and “volunteer to help” when we don’t feel like it. Unless we have a really good excuse, like a broken limb or a fever above 103. That’s how I feel, anyway.

And it shouldn’t have to come to that! Someday, I hope to say “no” without guilt, just because I’d rather spend my day taking pictures of flowers and trees, or scrunching my toes in beach sand.

Today, I’d like to have an honest, open discussion about being a woman and setting boundaries. I asked 20 women to tell me their thoughts on boundary setting. Maybe you’ll find some tips you can use. Maybe you’ll just find camaraderie (because none of us are boundary-setting experts).

And hopefully you will find a bit more strength — because after reading what these women have written to me, I know I have.


Tia Fomenoff, People & Culture at Thinkific

When did you realize that you can set boundaries?
still struggle sometimes with setting boundaries as it’s in my nature to want to help everyone! I have definitely been getting better about this just over the last couple of years — after nearing burnout many times I had to make decisions to not always say yes, and be okay with that. I can’t say I regret any of the times I’ve had to say no so far!

How do you set boundaries in your personal and/or professional life?
I don’t so much worry about this in my personal life — I find it’s easier for me to decide what’s important or not. If I’m ever put in an uncomfortable situation, whether at work or personally, I make sure to be direct, but kind and understanding, as early as I can now. When I was younger, I would often let comments or issues that bothered me slide off to the side instead of deal with them head on, because I felt that was easier. I know now that’s not true — that addressing your concerns quickly helps you avoid the negative snowball effect that can crop up because of unclear communication.


Val Geisler, Systems Strategist for Freelancers

I’m still learning to set boundaries and I find they get tighter the more I practice them. Running a business, being a mom, working online… all of these things required me to set boundaries.

However, I only actually set boundaries when I decided that my personal happiness and wellbeing was the main driver of all of those activities. If I can’t show up as my best self, I’m letting everything drop.

When I set boundaries I’m happier. I’m taking care of myself and, by extension, everyone around me.


Joanna Wiebe, Author, Copywriter, Creator of CopyHackers& Co-Founder & Head of Growth at AirStory

Actually my first reaction to your question was a chuckle — not sure I’ve learned to set boundaries or even realized they’re mine to set. I feel the need to justify my boundaries. As if others have more say over what I do than I have. Setting boundaries means saying no, and I still struggle with that in a major way. So I’m not sure I’ve arrived at a place where I know I can set boundaries. I need to work on that.


Kaleigh Moore, Copywriter

For me, setting boundaries is an ongoing process that I’m still working on. I have a lot of room for improvement.

In my personal and professional life, many of my boundaries are around my time. I’ve become much more protective of how I spend/invest my time — and with whom — so that I’m only doing things that I truly see value in. Often, that means saying no to opportunities, putting hard lines around my availability, and being less of a “yes” person in general. The power of no is incredible for establishing boundaries, and saying it more often has helped me become happier, healthier, and more sane.


Shayla Price, B2B Marketer

I set professional boundaries by stating and reiterating my expectations. In the work environment, it’s important to stay consistent in your actions. Someone will always test your boundaries. So, don’t waver to please others.


Crystal J. Allen, CTO of HausCall, Multicultural Media Wizard

As the CTO of HausCall, it was really important for me to create boundaries for my own sanity. Before I had a team of engineers, it was not uncommon for me to work around the clock on our product. In some ways, that can obviously be good for production — but as a manager, this can easily be a terrible habit to create. When I hired my team and realized how responsible I was for their career growth during their tenure with our company, I felt comfortable establishing healthy boundaries for their success and mine.

Using messaging tools such as Slack allows me to still stay on top of things without work requests, questions and concerns coming directly to my text inbox all the time. The ‘do not disturb’ has also had its fair share of value here!


Emma Siemasko, Founder of Stories by Emma, co-host with Kaleigh Moore of Ask Content Gals

I am REALLY anal and crazy about boundaries, in my personal life and in my business life. I realized I could set boundaries about a year and a half into running my own business (late 20s). I was super burnt out, THOUGHT that I maintained solid boundaries, but kept feeling bulldozed by clients. I just wasn’t very good or deliberate at managing my relationships.

One of the things I did was start creating processes that all clients had to follow. For example, I won’t work with a client unless they schedule a 15 minute call with me first. It seems small, but unless I get the client on the phone, I won’t know if they’re a good fit or if the project is a good fit. It’s also a quick compliance check– if they can’t follow my process at the very beginning, I probably don’t want to work with them. One of the other things I did was only take client meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and never after 4:30 pm. This means that I have “meeting” days but that Monday and Friday are reserved for quite working, or working no my own business.


Kristen Hillery, Editor of the InVision blog

Here I am in my early 30s, and I didn’t realize I could set boundaries until pretty recently. I’ve always equated being a good friend, teammate, and family member with doing whatever anyone asks of me. If someone needs help, you help. If someone’s having a get-together and invites you, you’d better be there. Saying no is rude, so never, ever say no. I think this is a common thing we teach little girls — always be polite and take care of everyone else before you take care of yourself.

The thing about that is that, eventually, you run out of energy. I realized this when I barely made it through the day without falling asleep, because I’d taken my neighbor to the airport at 4am that morning.

She’d texted me the night before: “Hey. Can you give me a ride to the airport tomorrow? At 4am?” Three grimacing emojis.

I said yes, of course, and I showed up at 4am on the dot with my trunk popped. She got in my car and said, “Wow! I can’t believe you actually said yes. My husband is mad at me for asking you because he thought it was really rude. But I told him you said yes!”

I couldn’t stop thinking about that the whole way back home. Why did I say yes? Well, because I thought I couldn’t say no. It was that simple.

The fact that even the askerwas surprised I said yes made me think pretty deeply about my personal boundaries and that they were basically non-existent.

Would saying no to someone result in something terrible happening?

Would it make someone swear me off as a friend? Of course not.

Others say no all the time, and it’s fine. I gave myself “permission” to say no to things I don’t want to do — things that won’t bring me joy or things that just don’t interest me.

It was honestly very difficult to start doing this, but I quickly realized that it meant I had more time and energy to spend doing things I loved. It’s so cliche, but life is just too short to waste your time doing things for the sake of doing things.


Sarah E. Brown, Director of Marketing, Service Rocket

I realized that work boundaries were important in my mid-twenties when I began doing consulting. Learning how to set healthy boundaries with clients and boundaries with others in my life in order to maintain balance as a sole proprietor was incredibly valuable.

In my personal and professional lives, I try to live by the rule of “full body yes,” which my friend Sue Heilbronner turned me on to. The idea is that if something doesn’t feel right on a cellular level, I don’t say yes to it. It’s kept me from some nice-seeming opportunities that I know weren’t right for me (perhaps at that time). It’s an ongoing practice.


Amy E. Dixon, Press Release Queen

I started setting boundaries when I realized I tend to be more loyal to my companies than they ever were to me. I’d been taken for granted and/or taken advantage of, and then tossed aside. I don’t know if I aged out of sucking it up, or stopped being afraid of owning my wellbeing.


Lauren Van Mullem, Copywriter for Coaches

I used to work late into the night and during weekends — and I’d say the most success I’ve had with setting boundaries is to stop doing that. But I’m not great at setting them across the board. I want to help everyone, as much as I can, as much as they’ll let me. For me, the #1 cardinal sin is selfishness, and generosity of spirit is the ultimate good. Recently though, a relative stranger asked me for help, and I gave her all the help I could, even though I didn’t really know her. That opened the floodgates to her asking me to do more and more things for her, and there was no reciprocation. This is not my first rodeo with a narcissist (I’ve been burned before — over-givers attract them like ants to a picnic!), so this time, I recognized the signs early on. And I shut off the giving. Funny thing — as soon as I set ONE boundary with her, she disappeared. Boundaries are magical things!


Whitney Antwine, Digital Marketing Coach & Keynote Speaker

Setting boundaries is a direct reflection of your self-respect; and for me, that came right around the time I turned 30. I made a conscious decision to work 8-hours a day, not keep work email on my phone, and commit to taking a lunch break every day. I still can’t help that feeling of guilt when taking care of myself over my business, but I understand its importance on my well-being. When I’m taken care of, I’m able to focus productive energy on my work.


Natalie Smithson, Digital Innovation Copywriter

I realized I had to set boundaries when children came along. I was fiercely protective over theirboundaries, and it took me a while to recognize I could do the same for myself. I put boundaries in place for my business, which in turn protected me and showed me how effective it is to use them. Now I’ll put up a boundary quicker than you can say ‘Could you just… ?’ and “No” rolls off the tongue with no effort at all.


Holly Wolf, Director of Customer Engagement, Solo Laboratories

I started setting boundaries when I realized that what I gave wasn’t reciprocated on any level. I used to put in long hours, attend events, go the extra mile, but when I asked to leave 30 minutes early, it was a big problem.


Caroline Zeichner, SEO Specialist at Thrive Internet Marketing Agency

Don’t set yourself on fire to keep somebody else warm! If you’re negatively impacting your own well-being for the benefit of others, you’re just hurting yourself in the long run.


Coral Wulff, Onboarding Specialist at Thrive Internet Marketing Agency

Beauty does not equal weakness and kindness does not equal naïveté. I give people the benefit of the doubt that they will be respectful, but the first time a line is crossed, there needs to be action/conversation on my end to ensure where the line lays.


Marijana Kay, Freelance Writer and Content Strategist

I don’t think I realized the importance of setting boundaries until I burnt out at a full-time job and realized I wanted to work for myself. Months after making that transition into running my own small business, my work life and personal life were spilling into each other. I had to draw a line to stop looking at emails at night and not let non-urgent personal matters creep into my working hours. I’m easily distracted, and that cycle was taking up all of my energy. Over time, I’ve gained the ability to block off time for work and put my phone and laptop down when it’s time to focus on my husband, family, friends and hobbies. It’s still a struggle, but I’m getting there.


Tracy Oswald, Leads with Love, Big Change Coach, Keynote Speaker

For me it’s about not rearranging my priorities to respond to everyone else’s “emergencies”. A lot of the time all we have to do is say “No.”. No further explanation is needed.


Alaura Weaver, Content & Story Editor for Inflectionpointradio.org, Copywriter

Your question got me thinking about how my lack of boundaries led me to getting sick with pneumonia and how our limitations are opportunities to create space in our lives. It took a physical and mental collapse to finally give myself permission to stop feeling like I wasn’t trying hard enough. It shouldn’t have to be that way.


Stefanie Grieser, Global Markets, Partnerships & Events at Unbounce

There’s this quote from Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self Esteem:

“People with high self-esteem have strong personal boundaries. And practicing strong personal boundaries is one way to build self-esteem.”

I think to set boundaries you have to know yourself really well and be confident in who you are. Sometimes you only really figure out who you are in your late 20s. I saw Michelle Obama speak and I forget exactly what she said, but she talked about the significance of being true to yourself and how that happens later in life.

I most recently went through an exercise of writing down my core values — which are: integrity, curiosity, adventure, passion and perseverance. I know that if something doesn’t align with those values, my boundaries are being pushed.


Thank you to all the women who gave their unvarnished stories of struggles and successes in boundary-setting.

How are you at setting boundaries? When was the first time you discovered that you could? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!


Enjoy this article? Sign up for my Sunday Brunch newsletter.

My newsletter is strictly about building online communities, in places like Facebook groups and Slack channels (to name but two), around your SaaS product and brand. Communities help promote higher lifetime value, lower churn, happier customers, and – my favorite – customer success. But it’s not enough to just invite people to join. Creating a genuine sense of community is a little more complicated – and that’s what my newsletter is about.

Community, Women in Tech

Happy International Women’s Day 2018

Happy International Women’s Day, friends! ❤

This isn’t just a day for celebrating women – but heck yeah, break out the cupcakes! – for me, it’s about celebrating women who lift each other up.

So I wanted to write a special note that gives a shout-out to a women-led community I’m so proud to be part of: The Shine Crew.

The Shine Crew is made up entirely of female founders, consultants, and experts in their fields of CRO, SaaS, and more.

The eight of us came together to support each other, help each other, bounce ideas off of each other, and be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. And it has been a profound experience being part of a group of women who are brilliant, driven, and so incredibly generous.

A community doesn’t have to be big to have a powerful impact.

Content Marketing, Women in Tech

Authentic marketing: dangerous jargon or the only way forward? ft. Lauren Van Mullem (@LVanMullem)

Lauren Van Mullem is a conversion copywriter who knows the rules and when to throw them out. She believes authenticity is the only way to market a business sustainably, because it feels good (and character wins in the end).

“So there I was, in a tent in the back-end of Rajasthan, armed with a bucket, chasing a six-inch bug (that looked more like a baby dragon) around the toilet.

“I finally cornered it against a canvas flap and it started vibrating at me. Do dragon-bugs explode? Was this a ticking time-bug? But I believe in humane relocation of even terrifying insects, so I went at it with the bucket, trying to trap it, and accidentally lopped off one of its legs.

“And then it flew off and disappeared. I went to bed knowing there was a giant, now very angry insect somewhere in my tent. I didn’t sleep the whole night.”

Lauren Van Mullem will tell you that she went to India before it was cool – before that whole ‘Eat, Pray, Love and leave your spouse thing.’ But she went for a similar reason, at least in terms of mental and emotional healing.

“I’d just left the first real job I’d had since graduating from college, and the boss was so abusive, and the environment was so toxic, I knew I couldn’t go straight into another job. I needed to clear my head. Stop having nightmares about emails with the subject line ‘See me.’”

She’d saved enough money for one straight shot around the world, touching down in England, India and Tokyo. England and Tokyo because she had friends there. India because, for lack of a perfectly logical reason, she felt called.

When you tell people you’re going to India, you’ll run into a few people who’ve been. They will tell you the same thing: it’s a life-altering experience. I didn’t buy the hype. I should have.

“It’s so completely different. Any sense of control you thought you had over your life, you have to let that go, or the very nature of India will beat it out of you. It’s elemental in that way. And it’s intense. I saw the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life jammed up next to the most horrible things I’ve ever seen in my life. Temples with courtyards of blooming trees, green fields where dozens of women are working wearing bright pink, gold and blue saris. Then young men my age with no legs begging in the train station. Skeletal dogs walking the streets with gaping holes in their rib cages. It’s all there.”

Lauren is the first one to laugh at herself, saying “Yes, two weeks in India is enough to contract giardia and change your life.” But it’s also true. When she came back, she did have clarity.

She never wanted to work in an office again.

But more than that – she never wanted to play by anyone else’s rules again. The only path she wanted to follow was one she forged herself.

“It’s how freelancers are made,” she quips.

In this interview, Lauren talks about how to do marketing in a way that doesn’t play by established rules, how she applies her philosophy to her own website, and why “authentic marketing” is both dangerous jargon and the only way forward.

Read More on Canva
💗 Check out Nichole’s Services for SaaS startups 💗

Diversity, Women in Tech

Women in Tech Spotlight: Creatrix Tiara (@creatrixtiara)

Creatrix-Tiara

Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

Writer, performer, producer, researcher, presenter, artist, provocateur, deep-thinker – and dare I say badass – Creatrix Tiara is one phenomenal woman in tech. Her projects act like a galaxy of ideas orbiting around the sun of social change.

One planet might be debunking Ello’s privacy manifesto. A star cluster might be the numerous articles she’s written on topics like pop culture pagans, examining the surprisingly cross-cultural phenomenon of storing sewing kits in cookie tins (who knew?), and pointing out that Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. isn’t far-fetched (it’s already happening).

What does this have to do with tech?

Tiara is one of those rare, wonderful people who take the way we define “tech” and stretch it, re-shape it, and make it better. This isn’t just my opinion. She was invited to the White House LGBTQ in Tech Summit in 2015; she was part of Al-Jazeera’s invitation-only Media in Context Hackathon in 2014; and she’s worked on website content and social media for organizations including Global Fund for Women’s IGNITE project (about women in STEM). Whatever her projects may be, most bridge the very wide gap between art and science, creativity and code, and make the rest of us question why there’s a divide at all.

I asked Creatrix Tiara to talk about tech as a means for social change and got so much more. I’ll let her take it from here in her own words.

Thanks for reaching out. What a pleasant surprise!

So about me: My background is largely in the intersections of arts, media, tech, education, activism, and community cultural development. Unlike most “people in tech” I’m not much of a programmer or even a visual designer, though I have been tinkering around with code since my classes in Pascal when I was 8-9. Rather, I create, educate, and build community online: whether through highly successful blog and social media projects, moderating and managing online communities, helping people figure out best practices for social media, or using social media and blogging as a creative medium as well as a social justice outlet. I grew up on the Internet; it has been integral in so much of my life, from my educational pathways to my careers to even my love life – I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without computers and the Internet, especially as an isolated kid growing up in Malaysia.

I’m really big on the use of technology to create, build, and maintain culture, as well as looking at ways that the tech world can better co-exist with other realms rather than assume it’s solely important on its own. For example, I wrote a piece for Model View Culture’s Quarterly about breaking down the arts/tech divide, after being frustrated at the tech-antagonism of my artist peers as well as techy people thinking I’m only good for marketing. I also co-created the game Here’s Your Fuckin’ Papers, which is kind of a parody of Papers Please but shows the tedium of the immigration process from the POV of the applicant – using minigames that are deliberately difficult and mind-numbing to make a point. We (ironically) won the Diplomacy award at the GXDEV Game Jam.

My other areas of interest are:

Ways that cultures and communities are built on the Internet. One of my biggest avenues into tech was fandom – as a teenage fangirl, I learned how to create/code/design/host websites, design graphics and digital art, build & moderate online communities, and even work with social media long before “social media” as we know it was a thing (e.g. Diaryland or Livejournal). I was doing some research into the ways that fandom becomes a gateway for young people to learn and teach themselves particular skills, including techy skills like coding or design, and heard from a lot of fans young and old about how they too built skills in HTML, media editing, or even games development thanks to fandom.

* On a related tangent, mostly in my mind because Homestuck just ended its 7-year run I am super SUPER fascinated by how Homestuck in particular references and uses geek culture to build a sprawling creation myth based around video game conventions. It’s like a time capsule of 90s-Contemporary Millennial culture: data structures, programming nerdery, Con Air, Neverending Story, Pan, Vine, Instagram, Trillian, AIM, god there’s probably a ton more references and allusions in there that’d make sense to anyone who was a nerd of some fashion in the last 30 years. There’s actually a small group of us with similar interests in the academic side of Homestuck getting together to create AcademicStuck, and we’re hoping to experiment with the whole notion of academic writing & publishing throughout the process – so if this appeals to you come join us!

Tech as a means of social change, centering on the needs of marginalized people. Firstly, omg, I am SO TIRED of “disruption” and can’t stand for-profit companies that try to market themselves with “manifestos” and promises of “revolution” (ahem Ello).

But anyway – while I am frustrated at my social justice peers for being just as antagonistic to tech as their artist peers (often one and the same) I can understand why they’re frustrated – it’s because tech culture is mostly dominated by straight/White/cis/guys who think only the concerns they personally face are important to fix and who are very parochial in their mindset.

Last year I got a lot of press for co-founding Screet, a proposed app for on-demand discreet delivery of sexual health products that was going to be feminist and queer-centric. People LOVED the idea, and I got some momentum from it, but due to visa issues I had to leave the US and drop the project. Hopefully it’ll start up again – the response to it, including by typical white-dude investors, showed that people are more than willing to support apps made by and for marginalized folk.

Emphasizing other aspects of interacting with tech that don’t involve coding or visual design. For instance, writing gets really underappreciated, as does research/fact-checking. It all gets thrown under “social media management,” yet in my experience, when I’ve tried to find paid work for similar roles – using the Internet and social media to research, collect, curate, and educate people on particular topics – the only people who are even the slightest bit interested want social media managers to talk solely about the company.

Even some new-media journalism sites expect reporters to also be dab hands at programming – which means that a wealth of stories, information, and knowledge ends up going unreported because the best people to write about them don’t have enough technical knowhow (or interest) to code up an interactive infographic from scratch. But then you also have YouTube channels like PBS Idea Channel or Crash Course work, or even how Metafilter works when people make really deep multi-link posts: they’re both enabled by tech, they probably couldn’t exist without tech, but they’re not often thought of as “being in tech” because they’re mostly informational. (I highly doubt Mike Rugnetta or the Green brothers do any sort of coding to make a YouTube video, and the only code I have to deal with to make a Mefi post is basic HTML.)

Now there seems to be more recognition of online culture mostly through discussions of comment culture and online harassment, as well as the growing concerns about how online-based creatives should get paid for their work (especially when regular paying work that utilizes the same skills can be hard to find – see earlier rant about “social media manager” jobs) – and I’d love to keep that going. 

But, because we (women, human beings, creatives) aren’t just what we do professionally, I wanted to ask Tiara one more burning question: What brings you joy? Her response, well, I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

What brings me joy – there’s a reason my tagline is “signs up for anything that looks interesting”. I seek out or keep an eye open for opportunities and experiences that seem intriguing, whatever the field or topic, and try them out. Sometimes this leads to whole new career paths – for example, my foray into performance art started after taking some burlesque classes on a whim. Sometimes it’s purely academic: one time I got really into perfume design, read a ton of books about the perfume world, and did consider going into perfumery before I found out that I needed a stronger chemistry background. 

Sometimes it’s a dare – a dare from my dad to apply for Harvard’s MBA (he’s a HUGE fanboy) eventually led to me enrolling in HBX CORe, their new 3-month online business fundamentals course (analytics, accounting, economics). I sat for its final exam last week, and somehow, despite having far less direct business experience than my classmates, I’ve built enough of a reputation as a strong and helpful student that my classmates are asking me for help! Yet I probably wouldn’t have even thought about joining HBX CORe if it weren’t for my dad’s snarky suggestion.

The things I sign up for may seem arbitrary on the surface, but there is some kind of internal logic powering them. My therapist called this “following your developing question”: there’s something I’m interested in knowing, which leads to research and exploring that point of inquiry, and through that exploration I find some other branching point to continue on. 

Self-expression and identity is also important: how does this experience allow me to express and develop myself, and how does this experience allow me to change up who I am at will?

I think Creatrix Tiara says it best in the final paragraph of one of my favorite posts: Let’s Lose the Arts/Tech False Dichotomy Already, published in Model View Culture’s Quarterly issue #1, 2015.

“Let’s stop assuming artsy people and tech people are two separate groups. Tech and art should be holistic, creative, all-round ventureslet’s actually make them that way.”

That’s a message all of us in tech need to hear a lot more often.

Creatrix is always looking for more opportunities.

To follow her through all of her projects, check out her website and follower her on Twitter at @creatrixtiara.

Women in Tech

Women in Tech Spotlight: Lauren Van Mullem (@LVanMullem)

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Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky).

[Note: This post contains extremely useful tips from one of SaaS’s top copywriters. She wouldn’t have it any other way.]

If you ask Lauren, she doesn’t qualify to be on this list. “Tech?” she asks. “Pretty sure that involves numbers… or at least code. I don’t do any of those things,” she protests.

But what Lauren does is something the tech industry sorely needs – someone to explain it (and make it likeable) to everybody else. A tech ambassador, if you will. Someone who takes the thing made by engineers and gives people the best possible reasons to buy it and love the brand behind it.

Lauren has been a copywriter, specializing in SaaS and startups, for nearly a decade. If you ask me, she’s one of the best (and I’ve worked with her on more projects than either of us can count). She has a knack for finding the heart of a business, and expressing it with exactly the words that business’s target customers need to hear.

Meet Lauren Van Mullem

You’ve been writing tech marketing content for a long time – what do you like best about it?

I like the trend I’ve seen over the last decade of customers demanding better experiences, and the tech industry, especially SaaS, rising to meet the challenge. The Millennial market in particular fascinates me – I’m a card-carrying member. But they are asking for a degree of transparency and humanity that scares the pants off of many big businesses (and small businesses). We’re entering a new era where consumers demand to be treated like human beings, and I am really excited about that. I’m even more excited when I see a company that’s CRUSHING it.

Got any off the top of your head?

Absolutely. I keep a swipe file of marketing materials, home pages and emails that hit the target for me. One subscription-based online business that I really love is Bright Cellars. They target the millennial wine consumer, and do it brilliantly. The buyer’s journey starts out with a fun quiz (who doesn’t love a quiz?) that matches wine types to your personality and preferred flavor profile. If I say I like dark chocolate, they might suggest a petite Syrah, but if I say I like milk chocolate, they might pair me with a smooth merlot.

Then, they send a follow-up email offering a 30% discount and a “Delight Guarantee.” And this email is written so well that it sounds like a real person is sitting on the other side of your computer waiting to hear back from you. It’s very compelling.

And, they’ve got a robust customer success system. You can rate every wine, and your personal “wine concierge” will select the following shipment based on your feedback. I got great results, even though I’m a little too much of a wine snob to fit neatly into their target demographic (I’m a really terrible wine snob).

Even though they’re not strictly SaaS – their business model has a lot in common with it. It’s subscription-based, and they only survive if they can deliver a great product and great service every time. I love that about subscription-based businesses. I like that kind of sink-or-swim honesty.

You’ve worked with some very cool SaaS companies – who’s nailing it right now?

Content-wise? Customer success-wise? For me, content and customer success are inextricably connected. The best content tends to come from companies that genuinely want their customers to succeed – not just buy, and buy more. Right now, I give mad props to Cubeyou on all counts. They’re constantly coming up with ways to add value to their customers’ experiences and help them be successful through their content. And it makes their content fun, fresh, and interesting. They publish “Pitch Alerts” – to keep their marketing agency clients in the loop about potential opportunities, they post advice on how to win more pitches, and then they publish other posts explaining the quirks of various demographics. My 5 Insights into Millennial Consumers post is one of my favorites.

You talk a lot about customer success – how does that inform your content strategy?

My content strategies start with two things: Your goals, and your customers’ goals. You want them to buy (or click, or like, or follow); they want to spend more time playing with their dogs. How can we bring those two goals together? I firmly believe that when you help your customers get their desired outcomes (to borrow a Lincoln Murphy phrase), they’ll want to be your BFFs (aka. “brand advocates”) for life.

But I also think that customer success isn’t all of the equation. It’s a hugely important part. Maybe the most important. But my favorite companies also bring something else to the table: Likeability.

Oh, watch out! I’m throwing some Cialdini in here. If your readers didn’t know before, good copywriting is the result of lots and lots of reading and research about how people process information, and what motivates them to do what they do. Cialdini had a breakthrough idea – I’m joking, slightly – that “people buy from people they like.” And, “People like people who are like them.”

These two ideas feed into all of my copywriting. Likeability. Familiarity. Using the words and expressions that the target audiences uses, rather than the ones I’d use myself.

I was writing a sales page for one of my clients recently, and the most valuable part of my research was combing through all of his client testimonials and sorting them into major themes. These became my “Biggest Baddest Benefits” list. And I also highlighted the exact words his clients used often to describe these benefits – and those went into the sales page copy. It’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever done, and really, his customers wrote it.

What is the most important thing to remember when coming up with a content strategy for SaaS?

Oh gosh. If I had to pick one, I guess it would be this: Be useful. Genuinely useful. Always offer value, whether it’s in an email, or a 140 character Tweet. And do it generously. Don’t save your best material for after the purchase – you’ll get more purchases if you give away those ideas.

Maybe that’s even more important. Be generous.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve downloaded an ebook that promised me “Everything you need to know to do X,Y and Z” – and inside was just fluff. Because they were too afraid to actually tell me how to do something they’d rather I bought from them. It undermines trust to waste people’s time like that. I never, ever, ever waste anyone’s time. Life’s too short.

Lauren can be found through her website, www.TruerWordsbyLauren.com, where she engages in what she calls “authentic content marketing.” She warns: “If you’re looking for manipulative sales tactics, go elsewhere!”

5 (or 6) Take-Home Copy Tips Lauren Insisted I Include

  1. Automate where you can, but always deliver a personal experience.
  2. Customer success is 90% of a good content strategy. What can you give your customers to help them bridge the gap between what your product does, and what they really want to do (even if that’s playing with their dogs).
  3. Content strategies start with your goals and your customers’ goals. And the key is to get them to tell you what they think your “Biggest Baddest Benefits” are.
  4. Mine your testimonials and user reviews for words and phrases you can use in your copy.
  5. Be generous with your expertise to win trust, win friends, and win business.
  6. (Bonus) Inboxes are SACRED! Don’t abuse your privileges with emails that offer little value. Better to send fewer emails and make them count.
Women in Tech

No, I Won’t Be Coming to Your Conference: OCD as a Woman in Tech ft. @ModelViewMedia

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In a very personal article on Model View Culture, I share my experiences with OCD as a woman in tech.

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“Oh yeah, I’m totally OCD.”

Well, no, statistically you’re probably not. You might keep your house neat as a pin, but that doesn’t mean we have a disorder in common.

So many people misuse the phrase. And they have no clue. OCD affects only 1 percent of the population. You know how the joke goes – if 99 percent of your friends are normal, then you’re the one? Yep, that’s me. But because so many people claim they have OCD, people I tell tend to not take it seriously. Or they pigeonhole it into symptoms they recognize from watching Monk: germophobia, organizing everything, checking the door locks.

I don’t have that kind of OCD. For many people with OCD, it’s a much more complex issue. I don’t want to get into the specifics about my rituals, but know this: When I go out into a public space, I might be fine, or I might spiral into worst-case-scenario thought patterns that I have to drag myself out of – if I can get out at all. Social anxiety and agoraphobia are nasty side effects of my particular strain of OCD – the fear of something terrible happening. More than once, I’ve stood in the middle of a public space, teetering on the edge of a panic attack, as my significant other talks me down from the figurative ledge, reminding me that this is “worst case scenario” thinking. Sometimes those words snap me out of my spiral, giving me just enough distance from what I know is an illogical thought to see it for what it is. Sometimes, it doesn’t work.

I haven’t had OCD forever. In fact, it’s a relatively new thing for me – only within the last five years. For  the first three of those years, I was too ashamed to tell anyone about it. I unintentionally pushed away my friends, who wondered why they didn’t see me anymore. Why wouldn’t I come to their birthday parties, or their weddings? Why couldn’t I be there to celebrate the most important moments in their lives?

Before OCD, I had no problem doing these things. I didn’t have any problems presenting at conferences, speaking in front of people, or going grocery shopping either. I’d always taken pride in being a strong person. Someone who isn’t held back or defined by the unfortunate experiences of her past. Strength and independence have always been two of my defining characteristics. So how can I find myself standing outside of a bookstore for fifteen minutes, unable to go in?

It was hard for people who knew me to understand that the sudden onset of a disorder was the reason I barely ventured out into my front yard. When I finally did talk about it, my big reveal was through a Facebook post — appropriate, since social media had become one of my central connections to other people. The funny thing was, the people who responded most to my announcement were acquaintances – even people I’d never met before who connected with me because of our shared interests. It was from them, more than my friends, that I received support, and responses like “I also have OCD. Thank you for sharing your story.” Some of them even recommended medications that they’d tried.

I am on medication, and it helps. But not enough to get me on stage. I feel this way at the bookstore, at the grocery store, in any public space. There is no way I’m going up in front of a hundred or more people. But in my line of work, on stage at a conference is where everyone seems to want me to be.

In academia, you have “publish or perish.” In SaaS marketing, we have something very similar: it’s not quite that cut and dried, but conferences, speaking, and in-person networking are incredibly important components of tech careers. As a marketer, especially, you’re expected to not only make your clients successful, but to gather data, write about the data, and speak. If you’re counting, that’s actually four jobs: Marketer, researcher, author, and speaker. If we want to make it to the top, we have to be renaissance people.

It’s already too much for one person to do well, and when you pile a disorder on top of it – it’s even worse.

What’s a woman to do in a conference culture?

In tech, we’re all about our conferences, and I am honored to be invited to many of them. I appreciate it. And you should invite more women to tech conferences (we’re sadly and severely underrepresented). But when I politely decline, the response is often dismissive.

Even though I’ve worked past feeling ashamed, guilty, or like I’m less of a person because of my OCD – and I have – it’s still not easy for me to tell strangers why I can’t attend their conferences, or why I won’t speak at their live seminars. I used to present original research, teach classes, and network in person, and be happy to do it. It’s hard to explain that I would like to do these things again, but OCD limits me in very real ways. So, I prefer not to go into detail about exactly what could or would happen if I were to haul my anxiety-ridden self onto a plane, to a hotel, and onto the stage at a conference. Honestly, I prefer not to imagine that at all – can you feel my anxiety rising at the thought? Sometimes, I swear, my anxiety rolls off of me like sound waves.

When I do try to explain, to say: “I have anxiety, so it’s difficult to participate in that aspect of my career,” often, the first reaction is to push me:

“You just need to practice!”

But this isn’t a mild discomfort with public speaking. This is OCD. It can’t be cured with a membership to Toastmasters (Yes, I’ve had someone make this suggestion to me before). I’ve also had this exchange, more than once:

Me: “I have anxiety, so I can’t attend your conference.”

Conference host: “That’s a chick thing. You’re just being a woman.”

Me: “Um… this isn’t a ‘chick thing,’ it’s a disorder.”

What I’d like to add: “That’s what the ‘D’ stands for – you know, in OCD?”

Social anxiety comes with the territory for many with OCD. And entrepreneurship in tech is socially demanding. Either online or in person, I have to vociferously advocate my work. I’m not complaining. I love what I do and I’ve met incredible mentors and colleagues (online). And I have “workarounds;” I blog and guest post on my industry’s most popular blogs and am extremely active on forums. I realize it’s nearly impossible for people without OCD to get it – you almost have to live it, or love someone who does. But whether or not you understand OCD, please understand this: It’s very real. It’s not something I can control. It’s not going to get better if I just try harder.

So please: Don’t pressure me.

Can we be more welcoming to people with OCD in tech?

Conferences are a huge part of my industry, but not the only avenue. The focus on conferences in tech culture excludes many people with mental illness, disabilities, caretaking responsibilities, travel and financial restrictions, and more. Luckily, many people do a great job of creating opportunities that I can be part of, like inviting me to guest speak on podcasts or webinars. Providing these alternative routes, and giving all of the avenues that people can participate visibly in our industry equal weight, consideration and funding will go a long way to making the industry more welcoming — not only to people with OCD, but to the many people who can’t or don’t attend conferences for all sorts of reasons.

I’d also like to see us, as a society, stop taking OCD so lightly. At a granular level, don’t say you have it unless you have it. That might mean we need more education about what OCD is, and what it is not: a punchline. What happens when it is the punchline, or just some off-hand descriptor of a behavior that has nothing to do with the disorder, is that nobody takes it seriously. It also feels really crappy to hear about your “OCD” when I’m sitting here suffering from the real deal.

On the theme of awareness, teaching people how to interact with OCD sufferers would be a step in  the right direction as well. Simple things like not pressuring us, or trying to make us feel bad would make such a difference. Invite us, please, but take “no” for an answer. Don’t include guilt with your invitation – it just creates more anxiety over something we can’t control.

And for the love of all that is Holy, don’t say it’s a “chick thing.” Ever. To anyone.

If someone voices their anger over how they’ve been treated – even if they’re just venting on Facebook about yesterday’s luncheon when someone laughed and said “Oh, I’m so OCD”  – don’t police them for it. I see this not just in the context of OCD, but in the context of most marginalized populations – a world where we blame the victim for their honest and justifiable reactions.

Ultimately, I’d like to see OCD research get more funding – there’s no cure, at least not one that’s been found.

*For a wonderful explanation of exactly what OCD is, read 5 Things Everyone Misunderstands About OCD by Hayden Carroll.