Paige Arnof-Fenn

How To Build An Online Brand With Paige Arnof-Fenn

Last Updated on September 3, 2020

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Tell us about yourself and your background!

I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. My clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. I graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School and am a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.

Tell us about your company! How did you start it? Why did you start it?

I became an entrepreneur and took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. We are a global network of seasoned marketing experts who can do anything a marketing department, market research shop, public relations firm or ad agency does on an as needed or outsourced basis. We have resources in major metro areas across the country and around the world.

Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

How did you get your first several customers or users? How many users or customers do you have now?

My first client came from a talk I gave to a professional networking group. Someone from the audience came up to me after and made an introduction which resulted in my first project a few weeks later. I felt great that my talk was so well received and generated meetings and referrals as follow up, I knew I had a real business. I still give lots of talks and it is a great way to generate leads and business. I think having a good reputation is incredibly important to building a strong B2B business. We work with dozens of B2B, B2C and non profit organizations mostly in the US but have also worked with clients around the world.

How does your company grow and acquire new customers?

This is a great time to build your brand through online marketing and social media. Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but we have learned you do not have to let it run your life! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths. I am a big fan of Content Marketing and Thought Leadership which are great ways to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients/customers. Activities like writing articles, hosting webinars, podcasts and building your following on social media all contribute to increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of likeminded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up. When your articles become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts. Don’t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first. Start small and build as you go. For me I started with small publications then moved up the food chain to reach bigger audiences. People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most. These ideas do not require big budgets but they are productive ways to stay connected especially during the crisis.

What actionable tips and tricks do you have for new founders who are looking to get their first thousand users or dollars?

You do not exist today if you cannot be found online. As a business you must have a website and I’d argue businesses always need SEO because the whole point of having a web site is to make it easy for customers to find you. Being invisible online is a terrible strategy so making sure your site is keyword rich, mobile friendly, loads quickly and produces meaningful content today is the price of entry. That also happens to be a great foundation for effective SEO. Your home page is the most important to hook in prospective clients and customers if it does not load quickly or they do not see something that grabs their attention the opportunity will be lost. It must include enough of your value proposition to start the conversation so they will click further to learn more about your product or service. The goal is to make the navigation intuitive and easy so they follow the breadcrumbs to get their questions answered or problems solved. When your brand foundation its strong the metrics show that you shorten the sales cycle and people spend more time on your site. I started my company when websites were basically a brochure online and search was a novelty The sites have gotten fancier over the years and search engines have changed their algorithms to keep up with customer demand for better and more relevant search capability. The main SEO strategies I recommend incorporating into your plans are:

  • Websites must be optimized for voice search: Voice user interface allows users to interact with websites through voice commands so it adds usability and functionality to your site making it accessible to all users including those with limitations and disabilities. It is not just about complying with the ADA, responsible web design and corporate social responsibility goals but it is also good for the bottom line by reaching a broader audience. Inclusion is the right thing to do and it is good for business. One key trend to address and tackle to grow your audience today is that smart speakers and voice search are growing in importance so being able to optimize for voice search will be key to maximize the marketing and advertising opportunities on Siri, Alexa, Google Home, etc. Brands that perfect the “branded skill” with more customer-friendly, less invasive ads are going to win big. Are you prepared when customers ask for help like “Alexa ask Nestle for an oatmeal cookie recipe” or “What is the best Mexican restaurant in Boston?” If not you are missing a big opportunity! There are always new shiny objects in marketing to distract you, social media and technology are 24/7 but SEO is here to stay whether it is via Google or voice. You get one chance to make a great first impression so if you want to improve the impression you are making and give your business a boost make sure your site is optimized.
  • Content quality and length matter for rankings: Web pages that contain long high quality content get more visibility and shares so becoming that trusted source and influencer with timely and helpful answers to questions gets rewarded quickly. Search engines notice when sites publish consistently and can see how long people stay so building a strong reputation as a site that informs and educates pays off in higher organic search results too. Users are savvy and can tell if content is too salesy or self promoting which gets ignored.
  • Mobile UX determines your ranking: In a mobile first world, you have less time to grab people, attention spans are shorter than ever so video will be used even more to boost rankings, show don’t tell for maximum impact, rich content drives engagement, traction and growth. The world is moving to mobile first or mobile only, fewer people accessing web on big screens so everyone is tailoring their site, message and content accordingly. More people watch videos than TV now so adding video to your site and using the right keywords for video descriptions and headlines will insure you do better in searches too.

This advice is not fancy and does not require big budgets but it does take time. It is a smart investment to get this right. This has helped me grow my business.

What is something you’ve learned that would not be obvious to somebody who hasn’t worked in your space before?

It might sound counterintuitive but I like to disconnect from technology and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships when not social distancing to grow my business. Meeting for coffee or lunch even virtually can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you (good or bad) on your founder journey?

In the first few years I did not know how much is too much for follow up — being persistent vs a stalker. I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. I thought I was being pleasantly persistent but I was nervous to see her at the event because I thought she might think I was stalking her. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉 To think I almost did not even show up maybe seeing me there is what prompted her to pull the trigger and hire us? I sold more business in the month that followed than l ever had since starting my company so we really began to scale quickly at that point and got a lot of referrals as a result! It was a big day in our history for sure.


In the first few years I did not know how much is too much for follow up — being persistent vs a stalker. I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. I thought I was being pleasantly persistent but I was nervous to see her at the event because I thought she might think I was stalking her. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good 😉 To think I almost did not even show up maybe seeing me there is what prompted her to pull the trigger and hire us? I sold more business in the month that followed than l ever had since starting my company so we really began to scale quickly at that point and got a lot of referrals as a result! It was a big day in our history for sure.

What are your favorite books?

I usually prefer books by practitioners because they are more relevant and have current examples from pop culture vs. theories based on research. I also like the classics that have advice that has withstood the test of time and in this case the best book I can recommend is How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie — it is evergreen with insights on manners and people/human nature. In my experience you can learn a lot from books which offer practical advice whether you are someone just starting a career in business as well as anyone managing and leading a team. It was published almost 100 years ago and the advice has held up so you cannot go wrong with this one. Another one I highly recommend is Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brene Brown. She is an academic who writes and speaks about her research in very practical ways. She shares powerful insights to dare you to think big and has the data to back it up. She excels in describing behaviors and emotions that we’ve all felt. More importantly, she gives us constructive actions we can take to live and work more effectively.

Anything you’d like to plug?

www.MavensAndMoguls.com

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