Colleen McCarty – Co-Owner of Expert Message Group

[quote style=”boxed”]Branding is the first step you take towards gaining trust and confidence from your customers. Raise the extra money or use your own money if you have to, and develop a professional brand.[/quote]

“The conceptualizer” is a curious title, that’s for sure. But what does it mean? At the heart of the word “conceptualizer” is the word “concept,” and Colleen can take your concept and turn it into a proven, polished message by using a big-picture strategy.

Colleen has been marketing and branding business concepts for many moons. After she and her husband ran their own restaurant, Colleen realized that her heart belonged in marketing. She left the restaurant business (though she’s still in charge of marketing for their award-winning restaurant, Mod’s Coffee and Crepes) and joined a publishing company.

Since Colleen’s been in publishing, her marketing efforts have had a proven track record. She has landed her clients on national television shows and in national publications, such as Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine. Colleen knows the author’s process and mindset, since she has also ghostwritten books and articles for her clients.

“I began to notice a trend in the publishing world. Most authors now have a way of publishing their books–and that used to be the hard part! Although they can publish at the click of a button, authors don’t have a way of getting their products into the hands of their ideal readers,” Colleen said. When Colleen met Sharí Alexander, the collective lightbulb went off. The two began to formulate a business idea that would allow authors to publish, speak and effectively spread their messages. Thus, EMG was born. The rest is history.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on several really exciting projects right now. One is a complete book, website and branding project that has to do with traveling luxuriously for almost no money (and who doesn’t want to do that?). Also, we just finished re-branding Lance Armstrong’s mom, Linda Armstrong. She is a motivational speaker and her story is really inspiring. I am also working on a personal writing project that I am really excited about. I can’t say much, but think The Royal Tennenbaums meets Arrested Development.

Where did the idea for Expert Message Group come from?

My business partner, Sharí, and I shared a mutual client. Sharí was at the top of her game as a speech coach and speech writer, and came highly recommended to my client, whose books and brand I was managing. We met and worked on my client’s speech, and realized that the creative energy between us was something you don’t find every day. We realized there was a hole in the market place for speakers who wanted to be authors, and for authors who wanted to be speakers. The two careers clearly overlap, but there was no publishing option focused on selling books at the back of the room. We formed Expert Message Group to fill that void.

What does your typical day look like?

Right now, things are a little hectic because I have a nine-week-old baby, Eva. I work from home and care for her, so I juggle work and motherhood throughout the day. We wake up and get ready (this may sound easy, but dressing myself and my child is sometimes the most challenging part of my day!). During her morning nap, I work on projects for clients, which involves anything from proofreading a manuscript to project-managing a website. I take a break to feed Eva and engage with her for about an hour or two, and then she takes an afternoon nap. During that time I answer emails, write blogs, and pow-wow with Sharí about what we have going on. In the evenings I take time to finish up work or work on personal writing projects. Then I crash into bed at about 10:30-11:00 p.m. Somehow I find time to take care of my husband and two dogs, as well. Whew!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Being an entrepreneur means you constantly have a stream of great (and not so great) ideas running through your head at any one time. I think a huge part of being successful is knowing which ideas to act upon and which ones to leave on the table. Once you’ve made those decisions, it’s a matter of laying out, step-by-step, what needs to happen to bring your ideas to life.

Finding a great team is a huge part of making an idea a reality. Another part that many entrepreneurs want to ignore is the financials; you have to figure out how much money you are going to spend and then become okay with that, even if it means going into your own coffers. You have to look at that number and say to yourself, “This is what it’s going to take to make my idea a reality, and I am okay with that.”

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I am so excited about the personal branding trend. We are starting to see so many people emerging as experts, putting their areas of expertise to paper, and then sharing those skills with others. This comes naturally with social media; to an extent, we all have a personal brand more than ever before, because everything has become public. What’s so exciting is that people are finding ways to put themselves out there and get really vulnerable, and they are making money from doing so. The internet and social media have allowed for a vulnerability that was never before present, and people are running with it–sometimes in a good way and sometimes not (see: the Kardashians). But people’s abilities to leverage their personalities and areas of expertise to make a profit is opening up a whole new level of personal growth and development, both for experts and for audiences.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I waited tables for a while and let me tell you, I was shocked at how much we dismiss the people who wait on us. I was guilty of it too–until I had that job. I learned that sometimes, looking someone in the eye and genuinely asking how their day has been, and then listening to the answer, could make their day. Since having that job, I’ve really tried to “see” everyone and honestly thank them for what they do.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Oh, I both loathe and love this question. In a sense, I would do nothing differently. I love my life and love where I am. But that’s a cop-out, right? I know that I would really take the financial side of things more seriously. In our first business, we made a lot of mistakes. My husband and I started a restaurant straight out of college, and we got very emotionally attached to an idea and a location that did not make sense financially. We ignored all the signs and went ahead with everything anyway. We lost a lot of money that our relatives had generously invested in us. We ended up having to close the restaurant and let down a lot of people. We learned so much from that, but if I could go back, I would have listened to my gut, not gotten emotional, and really listened to what the numbers were telling me. (I wrote a very detailed blog on what I learned from this experience.)

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I try to surround myself with amazing people who are totally out of my league. I heard Tim Ferriss say, “You are an average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I really took that to heart. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to keep that internal fire, because it’s so easy to get burned out. Surrounding myself with people who are doing incredible things really kicks up my expectations of myself. I try to go to conferences and small meetups at least a few times a year, and I am always trying to expand my network.

What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I think scalable growth is a challenge for every business owner. I firmly believe that if you’re not growing, you’re dying. For EMG, our challenge is that we have to be present for our services, as our business model is built on our expertise. This limits our ability to grow in the traditional way. One way around this–that we’ve found–is to create products, which we are in the middle of doing right now. We’ve started doing webinars for a lower price point, which is nice because we can teach a lot of people the same information all at once. It’s important for us to be able to grow our business even though our time is a finite resource. Developing products and offering a wide range of price points has been a great way to do that.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Okay world, try this one on for size: I have seen a huge need for plus size women’s clothing, for the professional, cool, chic and curvy woman. I am not talking about regular-sized clothes extrapolated for larger sizes (of course, that market is saturated). But the problem is that curvy women have different needs and concerns than skinny- or average-sized women. So many of the clothes being designed today are being designed for a size two body, and then they are being enlarged to fit all other body types. This doesn’t work. There is no way that what looks good on a size two body will look good on every size body out there. The average woman is a size 12; this tells me there’s a huge market for this idea. And despite what we might think, not all larger women are sitting home in mumus. They go to work and school, and they want to look and feel good. I would love to see an Everlane-type concept that is vertically integrated from design to manufacture to market. Someone, please do this!

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I haven’t figured that out yet. I think that’s why I became an entrepreneur–to find out how I can make the world better. I’m still working on it.

Tell us a secret.

It’s okay to do something just because you enjoy it, not because it’s going to be a multimillion-dollar company someday.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

  1. I really love StumbleUpon. I know some people say it’s past its prime, but I find a lot of great content on there that I wouldn’t find otherwise.
  2. I love Evernote. I am working on converting my entire office into Evernote so I will never have to deal with paperwork again.
  3. Basecamp is a great tool for project management. We use it for book projects, website and branding projects, and tons of other stuff. It’s a great way to keep everyone on the same page when you’re dealing with freelancers and clients.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I can’t stick to just one. I think every entrepreneur should read The E Myth by Michael Gerber. Every writer should read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, and every human should read the 4-Hour Workweek and the 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

I am not as into Twitter as I probably should be (gasp!). Follow me at @colleen_mccarty and convince me why Twitter is all that. Also, my company is @expertmessage, and my business partner is @sharialexander. We tweet about speaking, publishing and branding.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

When I read 48 Things That Will Make You Feel Old.

Who is your hero?

My grandparents–it’s cheesy, but it’s true. They were the OGs of entrepreneurship, before the internet, before twitter, and before Silicon Valley. They built a business selling pies to local grocery stores and restaurants. They grew the business from their home kitchen to a multimillion-dollar corporation that sells pies to the largest hamburger chain in the world. They did it all on $37.50 and a dream, and they stayed married for more than 60 years.

How important is a brand, really?

I think you would be surprised how often I get asked this question. When people are starting new businesses, they are looking for ways to cut costs, and a (seemingly) easy way for them to do this is to get cheap designers and then develop brands on their own. They take headshots in their backyards and call it done. Let me just tell you, please don’t do this. It will cost a little extra capital to get a professional brand created, but you have to do it. Your expertise is in your business, not in your branding. Branding is the first step you take towards gaining trust and confidence from your customers. Raise the extra money or use your own money if you have to, and develop a professional brand.

What are the similarities between being a mom and an entrepreneur?

There are quite a few, actually. You can’t half-ass either. They’re pedal-to-the-metal roles, all the way. There are good days and there are really bad days when you feel like there is no end in sight. There are sleepless nights. There is a lot of guilt, and it can get the best of you if you let it. Don’t feel guilty for doing what you have to do to. But both roles are a lot of fun, and something unexpected and beautiful happens every day.


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