[quote style=”boxed”]Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.[/quote]
Alexandra Allred made sports history when she became the first female to make the US Women’s Bobsled team and was named Athlete of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee in 1994. She was also over four months pregnant which brought her international notoriety as many elite athletes and coaches wanted to know how she knew what she could safely do. Clocked at running 21 MPH and squatting over 350 lbs, Allred’s routine was used by both the US Olympic Committee as well as the International Olympic Committee for pregnant athletes.
She co-authored the US guidelines and by-laws for women and helped allow women in the Olympic Games. In 1998, Allred retired and moved into “adventure writing” when she played women’s professional football, was the first North American (male or female) to test drive the Volvo Gravity Car, proving again and again she was willing to break bones for a great story.
But in 2005, this former national athlete and 4th degree black belt took on her biggest challenge in the political arena. Upon moving to a new town, her son instantly fell ill and it was then that Allred learned local industry burned hazardous waste, that her son’s elementary school was named one of the most toxic in the nation but leaders turned a blind eye to high cancer and birth defect rates for profit. Allred testified frequently before the EPA and US Senate, met Barack Obama, became an Air Ambassador and was nominated as a White House Champion of Change in Public Health.
She wrote the award-winning Damaged Goods, a fictional piece about life in a cement town that has been tagged as both hilarious and packed with information you can’t believe. Today, the book is being made into a movie!
Allred is a humorist who also loves to tackle tough topics like racism, religious intolerance, social media and the flagrant over-usage of handicap stickers in America.
Where did the idea for WHITE TRASH, DAMAGED GOODS & ROADKILL come from?
When I moved to Texas, I hadn’t been here a week when I heard a woman call a toddler – African American – a “cute lil’ niglet.” I was stunned. Then mad. How that word could be used today, much less as though it were a compliment. As I asked around, I found many of my neighbors in my rural Texas town thought the word was funny and it made great fodder for WHITE TRASH. I wrote the book in 28 days and really take shots at those who would never miss a church service but are very prejudice. But, you know, if you’re going to make fun of your neighbors, you better make fun of yourself as well so I really pick at all of our flaws. It’s a murder mystery but WHITE TRASH is really a hard look at how we all think and act when we think others are lookin’!
Damaged Goods (it’s explained in the bio) but I’ll tell you the turning point for me. I’d gone up to Washington DC again and was to meet with a Texas Senator who, of course, once again, stood me up because she really didn’t want to talk about how we were polluting and poisoning little children when the industry was giving so much money to her fund raisers. It was just easier for her to pretend not to see me. I testified before the EPA, highlighting the tonnage of arsenic, lead, mercury, benzene and more cancer causing agents were poured into our skies and given the reaction of horror, I really thought I’d made a difference. I got home and two days later read in the Dallas Morning News that more mercury would be allowed into the atmosphere. I thought, “Okay, I get it now. No one wants to hear the truth.” So, I wrote a very funny, shocking, did-she-just-say-that book about my town and it won an award!
What does your typical day look like?
It starts at 4:30 am (I know. But it really gets less horrible as you adjust to it!) because I teach 5:15 am kickbox, spinning and bootcamp classes throughout the week. After that, it’s an even juggle between promoting (social media/emails/marketing books), writing and pitches. I also teach at a community college so I am on my feet all day working with people. If I’m not pitching my own work, I’m in there swinging for someone else. It’s a beautiful arrangement because there is never a lack of energy, ideas, meetings and networking.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Passion and courage. I know that sounds so flip but it’s true. When I wrote the book, Passion Rules! Inspiring Women in Business, I had the opportunity to interview Jenny Craig from Jenny Craig International. Her story, how she made the weight loss program the multi-billion company that it is today is really a story about having an idea she was so sure of, so confident about she was willing to move to Australia to see it through. Debbie Fields Rose of Mrs. Fields Cookies almost went broke before she even opened her doors but she knew that the oversized chewy cookie was the way of the future! It is relatively easy to come up with an idea and ideas come to us all in various ways – a flash, an experience, a need for something practical, etc. But taking it to that next level, being willing to put yourself out there takes courage. That’s the x factor right there.
For me, it is the concept. That is what I write about. But I look at what is going on in the news, what only what makes people talk but what defines us as a nation, a culture, a people. The George Zimmerman case, the Jena Six, Casey Anthony all got people talking but so do seemingly unimportant things like food stamps, people parking in handicap places, ED commercials, why we keep talking about Miley Cyrus and/or the new trend of dreadlocks and helmets in the NFL.
I have a column in a newspaper and when I write about current affairs or off-topic issues, I can gauge from the responses how (if at all) people care about something and from there, I can determine how far to go with it.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Social media. I love it. I despise it. As an instructor, I see how my college age kids are sucked into its vacuous hole. Today’s teens and early 20-somethings cannot keep their eyes from their cells for more than two minutes at a time. They think they can listen and watch their Facebook/Twitter/vine/snapchat/email while also attending to classes or jobs. They can’t. Trust me. I could rant how it’s shortened their attention spans so that the idea of reading an actual book is completely foreign to them. On the flip side, it has revolutionized how to market, how to promote, how to exchange idea, garner support and move a product. It’s amazing! And through social media, you can look at what is hot, what’s not, what people care about.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
This is such an easy answer I am going to sound like a jerk when I answer. Here goes: I don’t waste time. It drives me insane how much time people waste on Candy Crush, Song Pop, video games … all these time wasting things that, while momentarily entertaining, in no way better you financially. They do not advance an idea or a product. In fact, most people would be truly stunned to learn how much time they lost in the course of a year playing games. Sorry. I know I sound like a jerk.
I make every day a contest of how much I can get done. I joke with my kids that I am bound and determined to have the most kick-ass obituary anyone ever read.
Don’t get me wrong. I do like relaxing and have a few TV shows I like. I DVR them and watch while I fold laundry and/or respond to emails so I don’t ever feel like I’m losing ground on anything. But I never just sit. I remember one time I’d gone running, came home and collapsed on the couch. A friend of one of my daughters walked by, saw me and immediately asked, “What’s wrong with your mom?” She’d never seen me just sitting on a couch before.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Well, gee. That would be a tossup between being a Gingerbread Man (in which I had a giant cookie head that teenagers would bang on from behind but my damned head was so big I couldn’t whip around to say, “Hey, stop that!” without falling over) at Christmas time in the mall OR unloading and loading trucks for UPS. I’ll go with the latter.
I had to wake at 2:45 am and be at work at 3:30 am to unload trucks for UPS. I had a rural route which meant farm equipment. It was brutal because you have to move so many hundreds of units per hour. I walked into the break room one day, filthy and exhausted, ready to quit when I found there was a calendar on the wall. As I was the only female in the entire hub at this time, I was eager to be “one of the guys” and asked what the bet was about. You guessed it. It was about me and how long I’d last. I asked, “What’s the winner get?” A case of beer. “How much to enter?” $5.
I slapped down $5 and picked one day after the very last bet. Had they only known how close I was to quitting … instead, I showed ‘em a thing or two about determination, won the case of beer and was eventually promoted to lead loaded. I actually wound up staying for a long time, made great friends and had a blast. I thought the job was about one thing – unloading farm equipment and man, I hated it! Had I quit that day, I would probably still hold that one memory in my head about UPS. Instead, I learned the ins and outs of the company, even how the drivers worked and I learned a tremendous amount of respect for all the inner workings of a company … FLASHFORWARD to my days in bobsled.
When the first ever US women’s bobsled camp was help in Lake Placid, New York at the Olympic Training Center, no one knew anything about bobsled. Hell, we all thought you jumped in the sled and went down the mountain. We had no clues about gravity forces, having t o wear kidney belts to keep your organs intact, ice shoes, the physics of a curve or degrees of the ice. One day after some mighty hard crashes on the mountain, the van took everyone who wanted to go back to the training center (OTC) with the promise to make another round in two hours. Two hours? Ugh. So everyone went except me and one other athlete. We decided … what the hell? We wanted to learn how the sled itself actually worked, how it was steered, what the brake mechanics were. So Jill Bakken and I stayed and got schooled in sleds. I would go on to be named first National Champion and in 2002, Jill won gold at the Salt Lake City Games.
Meantime, some very buff, very elite, very powerful women who went back would eventually be cut from the program because while they were fast and strong, they lacked in passion and learning the fundamentals in how a sled works.
If you’re willing to hang in for just a little longer, suffer for knowledge, things usually fall into place.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I LOVE THIS QUESTION! If I could turn back the clock, I would have believed in myself a lot sooner. Physically, I was full of courage (or something!) and knew no fear. I was a competitive fighter, did bobsled, donned a dog attack suit, played professional women’s football, test drove the gravity car, did a back flip into the Sydney Harbor that had sharks, outran a beefalo (that’s a cross between a buffalo and a cow), etc. But …. When it came to putting it out there that I wanted to be a writer, I was afraid. I was embarrassed and strangled by my own insecurities. I am fortunate in that my pregnancy during bobsled made international news I was almost forced into writing. But what if I hadn’t won Nationals? What if USA Today and Sports Illustrated had never written about me? Would I be a writer today? And I love it so much. Now, today, I have award winning books and an award winning documentary with a movie in the making. But what if?
This goes back to having courage and passion.
Passion and courage!
This is how it happens!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
While this falls under the “budgeting time” category, I have one rule that I follow faithfully. No matter how hectic the day, every day I do one thing to help promote my work. I’ve talked to entrepreneurs who sell coffee, beauty products, art work or intellectual works and we all agree that marketing is as important as product for if no one knows about it, it can’t grow. Typically, I hit my marketing and/or promoting ideas in the morning when I first come home from teaching kickbox and am hyper. But even at the end of the day if I’ve not gotten around to it, I will Google various blogs, radio stations, marketing sites for ideas, I will reach out to other authors or media outlets to pitch an idea.
A huge mistake people often make is, for example, believing that his or her coffee shop is just about coffee. Nope. By listening to your customers you could learn of a person who has an amazing story of overcoming obstacles or helping the community. You can pitch that person as a story idea with the interview being conducted in your place of business. Your coffee shop can become THAT meeting place, the hub of great communal activities. A bar of soap can generate stories of fund raising, being sent overseas to the troops, helping seniors in a group home, etc. Your product is only as limited as you make it.
As an author, I have to pimp me out as much as my books. It took me a long time to get to that way of thinking. As an athlete, it was easy because I could be and was judged by my performance. I took pride in that. Being an author is much, much harder than hurdling down a mountain with high risks of breaking bones. Therefore, every day I have to find ways to promote a book or an idea. …see next question….
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
When my publisher suggested I start a blog, I set out in the big world of blogging and was instantly overwhelmed. There are a ton of blogs out there. Instantly, the question became … well, what would make my blog any different from everyone else? Honestly, I didn’t have the answer and soon abandoned the idea of blogging. While there are hundreds (or much more) who swear by blogging, I knew it wasn’t for me. I do interviews with bloggers and adore them but I really stunk at the idea of running my own. Here’s a hint: When you bore yourself … it’s time to abandon the idea.
Let’s get real. I broke into the adventure writing world because I was a pregnant bobsledder. I was an original. When a publishing house first approached me with the idea of writing Entering the Mother Zone it was a no brainer. There weren’t any other pregnant bobsled champions. I was it!
Though I am no longer – mercifully – in the baby making business – let’s all take another dramatic pause and fully appreciate this statement – I do try to tap into the whole concept of being an original.
Find that thing that always makes you, your product, your business, your idea different from anyone/everything else and then wave that flag for all to see!!
This great question also makes me think of something else which is worth noting. Strategy is great. Strategy is important. But there is one thing that is always most important and that is integrity. Your brand is your name and vice versa. However, it can be very easy to sell out – just once – to get to where you believe you need to be. I’ve seen this again and again. As athletes, there are those who convince themselves they need the “edge” and use performance enhancers. I was on the World Cup when one of our (male) drivers won the race and we were so super pumped! I was proud and I really liked that team. Then, we learned that they had cheated. They had weighted the sled and got caught. It forever changed the way I felt about him as a person and a competitor but it also changed how the international community looked at the US program and there were those who assumed we all cheated. I worked way too hard for that crap. But there are other ways of cheating as well. Not delivering on how a product is made, its true ingredients, or what it can do is cheating, lying and wrong.
Recently I was in talks with a very popular, very current talk show. I was talking to the producer of the show when I was told to lie about something. I balked. He had suggested that I say something about myself that was not true. When I pointed this out he said, “That’s okay, no one will ever know.” But had I agreed to lie it would have 1) worked perfectly for the segment he was working on and 2) gotten my on national television which would have been fantastic PR.
I hung up and never called back.
I could not dwell on the millions who would never see me. I had kept my integrity in order. No matter how tempting or how tempted … stay true to your mission plan and who you are.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure? Really? Just one?
How about the worst … and it boils down to one word: assumption.
As an author, my product/idea/creation is all about my intellectual works. My words are originals, so once I put them down that is my art. Sure, I could rewrite things but it would never be exactly the same. I had just finished a nearly 300-page work when I lost everything on the computer. I was devastated. Devastated! I cried. I screamed. But nothing was going to bring that back. Why hadn’t I backed it up? I had worked on the assumption that everything was going swell so …. Why bother?
Years ago I got to interview a very successful caterer in New York. Her clientele were celebrities and Wall Street big wigs. She appeared on a few talk shows and just had a huge spread come out about her in the NY Times with talk about a book deal. Things were going beyond her wildest dreams when she was in the grocery store and dropped like a rock. She would later say, “You never think you need to prepare for a kidney stone.” She woke up in ICU to find her business partner whispering to her. “Where did you put all the recipes?”
She hadn’t. They were all in her head. While she had a tube in her mouth and couldn’t speak, her business partner was desperately trying to figure out how to keep the orders flowing to clients who, they knew, would leave them if they didn’t get what they wanted when they wanted it. She had to half whisper, half scribble everything out.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.
No, wait. That’s what my mom used to say to me. (I’m kidding. Kidding! Geez).
We are told again and again to never give away your product/hard work for free but there are times when it’s actually a pretty good idea.
I had reached a point where I was having a very difficult time promoting my works. As an author, my books come out about every six months so it’s hard to generate continued interest. I write freelance here and there for various publications but, again, nothing that is consistent and can continuously build a fan base. For that reason, I called a newspaper and set up an appointment with the publisher. I had a deal. Let me write for free. What have you got to lose? The idea was if or when I built a fan base we could discuss pay. Because so many newspapers are now in jeopardy, it was a fair deal. If I could bring in more readership, everyone wins. I provided sample articles and he loved them. Today, I have a happy, successful relationship with a paper that allows me to write on just about any topic I want and, in turn, we’ve got a nice following. When the time comes for me to promote a new book, I have my own format. When I have nothing to promote, I can still promot e my brand name – me.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
I’m not shy about it (any more) but I am dyslexic so I am an editor’s nightmare. I have to double and triple my own work because I tend to flip words, especially sayings. In fact, for years I thought it was ‘why buy the milk when you can get the cow for free?’ which always sounded like an AWESOME idea!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
This isn’t a particularly insightful and helpful answer but I really rely on good old fashioned search engines for research, ideas and making sure I said the whole “free cow/free milk” thing right. I’ve been working on a story about a polygamist community and recently did a story on ED. I’ve also done research on child pornography, date rape and training animals. If I die soon and someone looks at my recent searches, well … I just want it known I’m not a super perv. Just curious. Let it be on my tombstone: Here lies Alex. She was just curious.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Really? You’re going to ask an author that question.
My honest to goodness response to that is this: There can’t be just one. Can’t be. There is no product, no idea, no brand, no concept, no storyline that cannot be improved upon. For that reason, inspiration must be ever growing, always changing.
Check this out. I have made sure that my children want to be at least three different things when they grow up because I want them to be open to new ideas, different ways of learning and succeeding. We always ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” …. Like there is only one answer. Boom. Locked in. Done. That’s it, kid, you can’t be anything else.
Today my oldest is in college as a double major in archeology and music with a minor in foreign languages with the idea that she can teach in five different fields in the school system but she is also in orchestra, is a competitive fiddler, has two albums and is a muralist with three children’s books to her credit. I never held her back from anything so today, she has a wide, wide variety of things she could in her lifetime. I keep telling her, I hope you continue to do them ALL.
This can be likened to reading all kinds of books all the time, from autobiographies to fiction to how-tos. Never limit yourself. Never limit personal growth as it does impact business and branding. My personal rule I have is that I make myself alternate between fiction and non-fiction. Because of this, I have read some of the most wild and interesting autobiographies and histories that foster AMAZING ideas.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Sorry … but its true: Books. I am heavily influenced not only by style of writing but the content and the author, who they are, where they come from.
Alexandra Allred on Twitter: @alexandraallred
Alexandra Allred on Facebook:
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.