Invest in yourself. This includes not only self-care, but also buying resources and going to events that will make you a better person and a better leader.”
Kristi Porter is a writer and consultant who helps nonprofits and social enterprises get noticed and grow through effective marketing and communications. She believes that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. They’re proof that companies can both make money and do good. And she’s here to make sure they focus and shine.
Many small businesses are understaffed, and the entrepreneurs, leaders, and employees who run them are outpaced by the needs. This is especially true for cause-focused organizations, where the purpose takes precedence, and the majority of people resources are devoted to selling, fundraising, or administration, rather than regularly engaging with current supporters and reaching potential fans. She’s here to alleviate that burden by bridging the gap.
She launched Signify in 2016 as a solution to her friends’ problems. Several people she knew founded cause-focused organizations, both for- and non-profit, but few had marketing and communications experience. They were struggling to get the work done that they already understood, much less the world of marketing and communications that they didn’t. For many years, she stepped in as a freelancer or informal consultant. With Signify, Kristi has been able to help them on a larger scale, and therefore, have a larger impact.
It’s her desire for cause-focused organizations to communicate in a more compelling and professional manner because she believes, and hopes, they are the future of business. When they succeed, we all win.
Where did the idea for Signify come from?
When I was at my last employer and started thinking about what’s next, I wasn’t excited by what I saw on job boards or in asking around. However, I did realize that I had friends with nonprofits, social enterprises, and other “do good” organizations that had a lot of marketing and communications questions. I’d always been happy to answer, but at that time I realized it was actually my next step. They could never afford to hire someone like me full-time, but could afford to pay me for projects. I wanted to help them succeed, and was happy to take on their project work. So, it was an instant, mutually-beneficial relationship.
I named my business Signify because I wanted it to be about the things we could do together, rather than just name a company after myself. The collaboration was where the magic happened. Signify means to make known, to represent, and to be important. That seemed to sum up the relationship between us, and the goals we were trying to accomplish to build a better world.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m not a morning person, so it takes me a while to wake up and get going. But most mornings begin with checking email, and looking for anything I can respond to, or take care of, immediately to get it off my plate. Then I try to spend a few minutes engaging on social media to maintain an active presence. The day then changes depending on how much client work I have to do. If light, I will likely save it for just after lunch when I’m functioning at my best. If there is a lot, I jump into it as soon as I’m able.
Some seasons have more meetings than others, but I try to keep them to a minimum, or schedule several on the same day, to maintain productivity. I also try and see at least one friend or peer per week to give me a mental boost. Even though I’m an introvert, it helps to have good conversations with people I know and trust, whether its work related or not.
The exception to all of this is Mondays. I protect Monday to work on my own business, which includes things like writing blog posts, scheduling social media, and getting myself set up for the days ahead. The rest of the week fluctuates according to client work, so with this routine, I know I’ll always have time set aside to move my own business goals forward.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is a difficult question to answer because I feel like I have 100 new ideas every day! But for the ones that really excite me, and keep marinating in the back of my mind, I immerse myself in them.
I read books and blogs, find podcasts, talk to friends with the relevant expertise, and more. I become a little obsessive. But I love research, and I want to figure out the best way to execute the idea. And when I’ve immersed myself, I have no choice but to follow through. I may have to be patient in the timing, or in learning a new skill, but I know it’ll happen at some point.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The trend that excites me is the one my business is based on—that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You may use the terms purpose-driven or mission-centered or “do good,” but they all draw the same conclusion, which is that people want more transparency from business and want the places they spend money to serve a greater purpose. This is such a fantastic direction in the for-profit space, and one I believe is here to stay, and will only deepen. We as consumers are no longer content to buy a product or service. We want to buy a story.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m a life-long learner. So, even when I may not know the best habits, methods, or routines, I’m always willing to try another one. Right now, I’m learning about goal-setting and different ways to measure milestones, and I’m loving it. Being willing to learn new skills and new information will always serve you well as an entrepreneur, and a human being.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take care of yourself. I am struggling with health issues because I focused on work and not myself for a long time, and it’s come back to haunt me. It’s cost me years of not feeling well. It’s a mistake I’m happy for others to learn from.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Social media is, and forever will be, a shiny object. It’s important, yes, but distracting for the most part. I have to continually set the record straight for my clients who want to focus on their social media, but neglect their email list. But your email list is what counts. It doesn’t have a constantly changing algorithm, and you can download it and keep it without wondering if a company will be here today, gone tomorrow.
I think you have to “play the game” where social media is concerned, but it will always be secondary to an email list. And even that will always play second fiddle to the relationships we build in person.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Invest in yourself. This includes not only self-care, but also buying resources and going to events that will make you a better person and a better leader. Most of the vacations I take are due to conferences I want to attend. I love going to conferences.
Likewise, I’m always listening to books or podcasts in my car instead of music. I realize music is soothing to many, and I wouldn’t begrudge them that, but if it’s just a way to pass time, it’s kind of a waste. Keep learning, and share what you know with others.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I have two, similar strategies to share. The first is to get a mentor (or more than one). My long-term goal for Signify is to move more away from one-on-one services to digital products and curriculum. But I’ve never had an online business before, so I got a mentor that has one to learn from.
The second is to get an accountability partner. While I only see my mentor once a month, I see my accountability partner twice a month, and we check-in between. We act as a sounding board for each other, provide feedback, encourage one another, and ensure that someone else will be asking us how we’re doing with our goals and projects. These two people have helped me tremendously over the past year.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I didn’t launch my online presence until seven months into my business, which wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I didn’t start building my email list, creating early content, and knocking out small tasks until I absolutely had a launch date on the calendar. So, it was completely overwhelming by the time I was in “go” mode.
And I ended up taking the launch month off from client work to get used to the new rhythm of creating content for myself. So, I lost income that month.
It’s still a difficult balance, and sometimes feels like I have two, full-time jobs. But there are two things I do that help. One is that I work solely on my business on Mondays, as I mentioned above. That lets me just focus on Signify for an entire day. The second is that I take quarterly retreats to conduct quarterly reviews to evaluate my goals and processes. This is just a day or a couple of days, but again, it provides that clarity that I don’t have outside of all the day-to-day tasks.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I really need someone to start a business that pairs interns with organizations. I think this would be so vital for small organizations and solopreneurs. Interns need the experience and little companies need the help. But it’s such a heavy lift to put something in place and then keep the position filled. Someone please do this! I need an intern!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I spent $20 to attend an event on social justice recently. It’s for an organization that I also attend their annual conference, and they have a great, local network. I was tired, it was raining, the location was far away, and I really didn’t want to put out the effort to go. But those were my people, and that was my topic, and it was two hours well spent. I was so encouraged and inspired, and ready to get back to work.
Outside of that, I will almost always say my Audible annual membership, or other books and events.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I just started using Asana in the last couple of months, and am really liking it. I’ve always just sort of kept my To Do List in Evernote, but I realized that I’d stop adding something when the list looked really long, or I wasn’t adding in the small in-between steps. And I certainly wasn’t including deadlines.
But Asana is free, and helps me keep track of everything much better. I like seeing it all laid out in that way, organizing it by project, and absolutely love checking things off the list and seeing them disappear!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d still say my favorite entrepreneur book is The $100 Startup by Chris Gillebeau. It’s one of the only books I’ve read twice. There is so much useful information packed in those pages. And I love all the stories because they just sound like your friends and neighbors who had a sound business idea and made it a success. There are definitely times to listen to the famous people, and how they made it big, but I love this book because it’s so practical and relatable. It made me feel like I could actually be a good business owner.
What is your favorite quote?
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi
This has been my mantra, and at the bottom of my personal email signature, for many years. It’s probably overused or cliché, but it’s absolutely true.
• Never stop learning. It’s the key to your business and personal success, and will serve you almost better than anything else will.
• Cause-focused organizations are a growing trend in the market place, and will only continue to become more popular. Consumers don’t just want to buy products and services anymore; they want to buy stories.
• When you’re searching for your next business or idea, look at the conversations you’re already having and the people you already know. They may just be the key.
• If you’re a small business owner, or an aspiring entrepreneur, check out The $100 Startup by Chris Gillebeau. It’s chock-full of practical information and people just like you who became a success.
• Invest in yourself. No one can make you do it, and no one will do it for you.
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