Megan Preston Meyer is an author, speaker, and communications expert. She’s the creator of the Supply Jane & Fifo Adventures and ‘Twas the Month Before Christmas: A Supply Chain Carol. Megan spent ten years in the corporate world, working in process improvement, supply chain, and analytics roles. After digging through data for more than a decade, she realized that numbers could never tell the whole story, so now she focuses on the stories that data doesn’t tell. In addition to writing children’s books about supply chain and operations management, Megan collects corporate jargon and helps companies become more authentic and engaging in their communication.
Where did the idea for your books come from?
I’d love to be able to say that the Supply Jane & Fifo Adventures came from a place of incredible conviction about inspiring children and nobly leading the next generation toward rewarding careers in the field of supply chain management, but they actually started with a pun.
My husband and I were hiking one day and started trading supply chain puns. We decided that “FIFO” (First in, first out) sounded like “Fido,” the generic dog name, and then we came up with “Supply Jane.” Once we had invented these amazing characters, they needed adventures…so I created some!
In all seriousness, though, I do think it’s important to expose kids to supply chain and operations and logistics – both the concepts and the career paths. There are a ton of books that inspire kids to be a fireman or a doctor or an astronaut, but not so many about being a digital supply chain analyst or a procurement manager. Astronaut books are great – shoot for the moon and all that – but it’s also nice to show kids something that’s a little more down-to-earth.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m an author. I wake up, don a fuzzy oversize cashmere cardigan, brew a mug of single-bean brunette roast in my Italian stove-top percolator, and then wander over to my vintage typewriter. I spend the morning stringing pearls of words into sparkling stories that speak to the human condition and then break for lunch.
Just kidding. Being a self-published author is about 10% writing and 90% running a business. One of the things I love about it, though, is the fact that I don’t have a typical day. Some days, I might spend the majority of my time on marketing – coming up with social media posts, prepping for interviews, approaching podcasts, kids’ book influencers, bookstores, etc. Some days, it’s all about operations – making sure the next book gets formatted, listed, and keyword-optimized on different platforms. I also do communications consulting, so some days, I work on client presentations and workshop plans.
One thing that helps me to stay productive, especially in the midst of so much variety, is an Asana board. I use it to track strategic projects and tactical tasks, and every morning, I plan out what I’m going to work on for the day. I try to balance between Important and Urgent work, and having my entire To-Do list at a glance helps me to find the right mix.
How do you bring ideas to life?
With stories. My philosophy on communication is that no matter how complex a topic is, you can communicate it simply, and no matter how dry a topic is, you can make it fun – and storytelling is an excellent way to make abstract or complex messages more accessible and engaging. I use (and encourage the use of) stories in all aspects of communication. Especially in professional contexts, we tend to take ourselves too seriously. I love taking a light-hearted approach to big, businessy, buttoned-up subject matter.
Supply Jane & Fifo are one example of this; the books are educational, but the concepts are wrapped in stories – and pictures. In Fifo Saves the Day, for instance, the owner doesn’t follow FIFO as he’s stocking the shelves, so the dragon eggs hatch. A store full of baby dragons makes for some great illustrations, which entertain and engage kids. They keep turning pages to find out what is going to happen to all the baby dragons, and along the way, they learn a lesson about rotating perishable inventory. A textbook chapter wouldn’t get the job done, but a story can.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m not really an early adopter at anything, so I can’t really say; by the time I’ve heard of something, it’s probably pretty mainstream. In fact, one of the things that most excites me is the increasing recognition and respect for things that have already been around for a while and thus have stood the test of time – architecture, analog things, etc.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a couple of Go-Tos. They aren’t productivity habits per se; more like whole-self habits. First of all, I’m pretty bought-in to the idea of affirmations. I’m one of those people who say their daily affirmations each morning while taking a cold shower, not in an Instagram, Look-At-Me-10Xing-My-Life-type way, but because I’ve found that they really work.
Secondly, Principles: A few years ago, my husband and I wrote down a set of principles that we try to live by – a list of things like “Be truthful,” “Be open-minded,” and “Become anti-fragile.” We review the list each week, discussing ways that we lived up to (or missed the mark) on each principle, and revisiting the list itself. We’ve added a few, revised a few, and watched a couple of them morph in meaning over time. Our principles grow with us and keep us focused on the things that matter – even more so now that we’ve added “Get the Right Things Done,” which involves revisiting our professional strategic priorities each week to make sure we’re making progress toward those Important-But-Not-Urgent projects.
What advice would you give your younger self?
This is a hard one… honestly, I don’t know. I didn’t have everything figured out when I was younger – no one does. I have a lot more figured out now, but that’s because of all the stuff I learned along the way. If I went back in time and gave Past Megan advice, she wouldn’t have to figure it out on her own, and then I wouldn’t be who I am today. If I wasn’t who I was today, I wouldn’t be able to give Past Megan advice as to how to become Current Megan, and the whole thing just devolves into a time-warp loop.
I guess there’s one thing: I’d tell Past Megan not to make bold, sweeping declarations. When I was 16, I had a terrible experience on a language exchange trip to France; when I came home, I announced that I was never leaving the United States of America again. Fast forward, and I’ve now lived in Switzerland for almost ten years. Life has a way of giggling at your absolutes.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Data shouldn’t drive. We love data these days – the bigger, the better. We’re always talking “algorithm-based” this and “AI-powered” that, and every single decision is “data-driven.” But too much data can be dangerous. For one thing, we assume that “data-driven” equals objective, which it doesn’t. Just because there are numbers involved doesn’t mean there’s a ‘right’ answer.
The other danger with data is that it can be tempting to just throw all of your judgment, expertise, and common sense out the window and blindly follow the numbers. At the end of the day, whether you’re B2C or D2C or B2B or some other acronym, humans do business with other humans… and organizations that deal with humans need humans at the wheel. Data is still a useful tool, and it should still be in the front seat, but use data to navigate – and do the driving yourself.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Hire freelancers. I know this isn’t novel – I heard a million times that you’re supposed to “Do what you love and delegate the rest” before I actually took heed, but I’m so glad I did.
Upwork is a solopreneur’s best friend. I am a writer – I’m not a graphic designer. I’m not an EPUB maker. I’m not a lead generator, a PR specialist, or a web design expert. There are people who are, though – and even if it takes a bit of upfront work to find the good ones on Upwork, the ROI is so worth it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Making (and nurturing) connections. Again, this isn’t new – networking is Business 101. I used to hate networking when I was in the corporate world because it seemed so forced and phony. When I went out on my own and realized I didn’t have built-in colleagues to chat with, I went through my LinkedIn network and set up coffees with people I hadn’t talked to for a while. I asked random interesting people on Twitter if they wanted to have Zoom calls. I chatted – and it didn’t occur to me for a long time that that’s all that networking actually is.
And it pays off. I’ve gotten tons of support and word-of-mouth exposure, which has helped to sell books, and have also gotten consulting gigs and collaboration opportunities. As I said before, humans do business with other humans – so connection matters.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I launched my first kid’s book, I had never really marketed anything before, so I sort of believed in the Field of Dreams model: “If you build it, they will come.” My sole marketing plan was to put a couple of posts on Twitter and Instagram… and, as became painfully obvious, it’s not that easy.
Couple that with the fact that I’m a severe optimist. I try to temper it with realism, but where some people see a glass half empty, I see a cup that runneth over and start looking for a second glass. Since I assumed it would be a runaway success, and didn’t want to have to bother with reprinting once I sold out (as I was sure I would), I ordered what I thought was maybe a tiny bit optimistic but still totally reasonable first pressing: 2000 copies. When I launched my second book a year later, I still had about 1700 copies left in my basement.
Launching a book without thinking about how to sell it isn’t really a failure, per se – more of a hiccup (see, there’s that optimism again!), but I definitely learned some things that I could use the second time around. I was much more intentional and deliberate about it, and I brought in outside expertise instead of assuming I could just figure it out on my own. Marketing and PR are dangerous disciplines precisely because they seem easy… but for most of us, it’s best left to the professionals.
As for my books, luckily, they don’t go bad – and, since the launch of the second book has brought attention to the first one, it’s comforting to know that I still have a basement full of them to sell!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Uber Eats for trains. My husband and I recently had a Strategic Train Day, where we bought an unlimited 24-hour travel pass and spent the workday riding to the other end of Switzerland and back (it’s a small country), looking at the scenery and planning out our strategic priorities for the upcoming year. The train’s restaurant car was closed due to COVID, so we couldn’t get coffee onboard, and none of the stops were long enough to run out and get a cup. What we needed was an app where passengers could order coffee or a sandwich, and someone at an upcoming station (maybe one or two stops away) would retrieve it. They could hand it off to their onboard colleague, who would then distribute it leisurely to the correct seat number, eliminating the time pressure from all involved – and providing much needed refreshment for traversing the Alps.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I just spent $108 on Smallpdf Pro. I love Smallpdf, and I am ashamed to admit that I have, in the past, used Incognito browsers to skirt the 2-free-actions-per-day rule. Recently, I wanted to do something that required a Premium feature, so I signed up for a free seven-day trial. I forgot to set a reminder to cancel it on day #6, so my credit card was charged. I canceled my subscription eight minutes after getting the charge notification and emailed Smallpdf to see if they would refund me. Seven minutes later, I got an email from a real person cheerfully confirming they had issued a refund. I was so impressed by their super-fast, friendly customer service (and felt a little guilty about the Incognito mode thing) that I decided to un-cancel my subscription. So if anyone needs any PDFs merged, hit me up.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Canva. I am mainly a words girl, but I like things to look nice, too (I’m just not all that good at design). Canva makes it so easy to have professional(ish) looking presentations, social media posts, etc. without having to actually learn any graphic design stuff.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Alchemy by Rory Sutherland. It is the best marketing/behavioral science book written in the last half-century and everyone should read it. No matter what you do, you’ll get something out of it. One of my favorite anecdotes recounts how, when Betty Crocker first came out with instant cake mixes, they thought the market would love them: Baking cakes is hard, so offering housewives the chance to pour a bag of powder into a bowl, add water, and impress your husband seemed like a slam-dunk.
But it wasn’t. It was too easy. If you didn’t do any work, you couldn’t take any credit. Then they altered the recipe slightly so that the ‘baker’ had to add an egg. That tiny amount of effort seemed to be enough to feel like you had actually earned the lavish compliments that the Super Moist Triple Chocolate Fudge garnered, and sales skyrocketed. It turns out that consumers wanted convenience, but not too much.
I put that principle to work in my writing by purposefully not explaining everything. I let the readers make connections on their own so that they’re more engaged and get a sense of accomplishment. So much content out there is just spoon-fed, and I know the things that resonate most with me are those that make me feel smarter, not dumber after I’ve read them. I like having to work a little bit when I read, so I figure my audience does, too.
What is your favorite quote?
Deo crede sed a scopulis remiga (Trust in God, but row away from the rocks).
- Business doesn’t have to be boring
- Your presentations, pitches, and marketing copy don’t have to sound like everyone else’s (and, really, they shouldn’t – differentiation is Strategy 101). Use stories and metaphors to inject personality and to make your messages resonate with all sorts of audiences
- Bring in experts
- Delegate the things that you’re not good at and/or don’t enjoy doing. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a speaker, speak. If you’re a founder, found… and don’t try to do everything else yourself, too.
- Keep an eye on your priorities
- It’s easy to get caught up in the million tactical tasks that need to happen, especially if you’re a solopreneur. In order to manage your time, energy, and business effectively, keep an eye on your strategic priorities. Review the progress you’re making toward them, and regularly check to make sure that the goals you’re working toward still make sense.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.