If Alex Palmerton isn't eating, she's probably talking about it. She's spent her entire career in the food industry as an in-house food writer and marketer for restaurants and food brands. In 2016, she founded The 5th Sense — a copywriting and digital marketing agency that helps food businesses find their voice and increase their online traffic while crafting the content people crave. When she's not writing FOR food businesses, she's writing ABOUT them — she's also the food editor of 303 Magazine in Denver. When she's not working, she loves exploring Colorado with her husband Brooks or putting in quality couch time with their English Bulldog named Bacon.
Shantel: Hi, Alex. Welcome to the show.
Alex: Thanks for having me.
Shantel: Yes. We are so excited to learn more about you and what makes you imagine more. Can you kick us all off with telling the listeners a little bit more about your journey of becoming an entrepreneur?
| FOOD + WRITING = LOVE |
Alex: Totally. I guess everyone can relate to the fact that, that's not ever a short story, but long story short, I've always had a life-long interest in food and writing, and I went through the conventional college system and didn't really realize that I could make a career out of it. I was in college right around the 2009 recession, and we sat in journalism classes, and all people told you is, "Don't work in journalism. You're not going to get a job in journalism." I went more of the marketing route, started doing some in-house marketing for restaurants right out of college, which I absolutely loved. Then, just realized most of the companies that could afford someone like me full-time had ten locations, 13 locations. What does the independent restaurant owner do if you have one or three locations, and you can't afford a marketing person full-time? I launched my business on this hunch that there were people out there that needed help, like a fractional CMO way. That was a great way for me to use my writing and my love of food. We've been going a year strong, so I guess it's working out so far.
Shantel: Great, and just a little backstory on Alex and I, we actually met through another company that you were acting as their marketing ... What was the title at?
Alex: Marketing ninja.
Shantel: Okay, so we had the opportunity to work with you on the social media side. Tell us about your business now and where you're at. You mentioned you're a year into The 5th Sense, but how have you marketed yourself? Let's dive a little deeper into The 5th Sense.
Alex: Totally, so The 5th Sense, I like to say, helps restaurants with their digital online profiles. We got restaurants that have wonderful hospitality while you're sitting at the table, but if you don't really have a great interaction with them outside of that, websites are out-of-date, social media can sometimes be a struggle for food concepts. I started my business to help people with that, and it's really taken off from there. We're about a year in. I hired a business coach in the last three weeks, which is my biggest news, just to get more focused on what we want to offer restaurants and make our packages a little more clear moving forward.
Shantel: That's really exciting. I've been hearing a lot about business coaches recently, just from external networks and would love to hear your experience so far with this coach. I mean are you meeting week-to-week? What does the cadence look like?
| THE BUSINESS COACH BENEFITS |
Alex: Oh my gosh, I love it. I cannot recommend it enough. I'm only a couple weeks in. I'm working with this guy, Sean, Colorado Coaching Company. I wanted someone semi-local who had a feel for the restaurant scene in Colorado. He's not a restaurant guy, but he's worked with all kinds of businesses. We're meeting, let's see, I booked 12 months. He suggests people do something a little more long-lasting to show a certain level of commitment, but I drove up to Fort Collins. We had a six-hour session in person, which is probably the first time I've ever talked about myself and my business for six hours. We just talked what my struggles were, what I wanted to leave the meeting with. Now, I think we do another one of those after six months, but in between, we just do an hour phone call check-in every other week. It's like just an accountability partner. I'm sure you remember, before you had employees, it's hard to keep commitments to yourself, and he's helping me with that.
Shantel: That's great. Essentially, does he give you those accountability items, or are you determining those on your own?
Alex: It's a combination of the two. I mean he's definitely no non-sense, which I love. I went into our meeting with ideas of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to sell myself. He's definitely very straightforward and willing to tell me when something's like, I don't know if I'm allowed to curse on here, but bullshit.
Alex: I like that. It's a combination, you know? I wanted to work on sales and building a reliable sales funnel, and he knows that, that's my main goal, so we keep that a focus, but he's not afraid to step in when he thinks I'm going off the tracks.
Shantel: Nice. Well, I want to hear a little bit more about the sales piece, if you're in.
Shantel: I know you're just building that out or really refining that, but as a small business owner, how have you found new business and retained that business, and then, how are you filling the pipeline?
Alex: Yes, totally. I mean I guess since I'm someone who's building an entire business on content marketing, that I struggle to sell myself, but I guess that I can relate to other people in a way because of that. I've met a lot of my clients so far. I'm also the food editor of a publication in Denver, so I got a lot of restaurant openings, shake a lot of hands, but I was really struggling with making these great connections, and then mentioning that I also run this business. I have these capabilities of helping people. My business coach is helping me bridge that gap without coming off as sleazy, and what I feel is sleazy. I actually got ... He was pushing me toward e-mail marketing, building, segmenting e-mail funnels. I wanted it to be educational and valuable for the people who sign up. I was listening to your podcast, yay.
Shantel: Well, thanks.
Alex: You're welcome. I was listening to the episode with Entreholic, and he was talking about the great e-mail series the do where they send a tip that could help grow your business every week. I've started one. I'm starting one next month. It's called five-minute food marketing, so after I meet someone, I'm just going to send them an e-mail saying, "You know, we've got this great e-mail thing that we do. We send one five minutes with marketing tip a week. Here's the link if you want to sign up." I'm hoping to build the funnel in a way that's content marketing. It's a benefit for everybody.
Shantel: I think that's a great idea. I certainly will link it on the podcast notes too if you want to send that to me when it's live.
Alex: Yes, I will, for sure.
Shantel: What does your routine look like every day, now that you have your own business?
Alex: You know, it's a lot more different every day than it was when I went into an office. Because I am a food editor of a magazine part-time, they're great, and I only have to go into the office once a week, but I do go to restaurants, restaurant events, restaurant openings about, I'd say four or five times a week. I have to build my schedule around that. Usually on Sundays, I sit down and look at the meetings that I have to go to for the week and try to build my to-do list around that. I'm not really good at hopping out of meetings and into work repeatedly, so I try to book all my meetings on the same days, and then have other days where I sit in my office at my house and don't get up from the computer all day.
Shantel: I think that's a great routine. Are you anticipating growing and adding more staff? Would you like it to be you for a while?
| THINK BIGGER |
Alex: You know, it's funny. One of the first things my business coach asked me were obviously, what my business goals were, and he said they were too small. We're working on imagining more, some might say, dreaming bigger. I haven't really thought about it. I hope, obviously, if the market demands, I'd love to have an assistant, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to move out of my home office yet and have other mouths to feed other than my own, but I mean honestly, if I can get enough work to warrant it, that's the dream, right?
Shantel: Yes. Well, that's great, and I'm glad that you are still vulnerable there and mentioned that. I think I have had a similar experience being surrounded by other really great entrepreneurs in this organization that I'm a part of. I went into it with probably similar goals to what you have, and I was really excited to have my own business and feeling like I'm accomplishing something. Being around other people, it certainly pushes you to want more or do more or dream bigger. It's interesting, now that I'm a few years into that program, I'm taking another step back and trying to really realize or ideate what do I want, and why, more than anything else, which I think has been really interesting.
Alex: Yes, it's crazy to think about I was just giving him what I'd like to make per month from clients to make ends meet. My business coach is saying, "No, we're talking five years, 10 years. Think bigger, think bigger, think bigger." I'm working on that, thinking bigger.
Shantel: Yes, well, I'm super proud of you and excited to see where that goes.
Alex: Thanks. I am too. We'll see. I think the coach is going to really help though. I needed someone to crack the whip.
Shantel: Well, let's talk a little bit about biggest pain points or just super vulnerable moments in the business. Have you ever had any of those where you've been like, "What did I sign up for?" How did you work through this?
Alex: Totally, absolutely. I mean I think everybody would be lying if they said they hadn't had these moments where you're like, "What am I doing?" Mine is definitely I was so eager to have work and get work right when I started that I would take business from anyone. I would negotiate on my prices. I would work with businesses that weren't necessarily food businesses, which I'll still do some if it's a good fit, but these people weren't even good fits. I think probably my biggest lesson, which is something I learned from you, is just taking the time to vet your clients and make sure it's a good fit for both people, or everyone's going to walk away dissatisfied, some thing and sometimes, it's just the same way a friendship cannot be the right fit. I wish I had taken myself more seriously and valued my time and the commitments that I made at the beginning instead of just scooping up anything that crossed my path.
Shantel: Yes, that's a tough ... I certainly remember being there. Even now, it's hard to turn away the revenue when you know you could do it. Did you realize after maybe not the best client for you, that okay, you really did have to hone in on that niche? Was there a defining moment that you really started to say, "Okay. No, this is how I'm going to approach business. This is who I'm going to take on," or was it a gradual process?
Alex: I mean I'd say it's still a process. I mean I went into this knowing that I wanted to work with food clients, but in the beginning, I couldn't turn down the revenue. Now, when I'm a little bit more of a comfortable position where I can do that, I've still taken on food clients that seems like a dream at the time, but something in my gut was telling me that it wasn't right. I wish I had just listened to myself because I think you can probably relate to this, but there's a lot of people who work in marketing that will. A lot of people don't get it, for lack of a better term. They don't see the value in the investment, and it's hard to work with someone when you're just proving that what you're doing is valuable to begin with, much less your business specifically over other people's. I'm moving away from having to convince people that marketing is important. I want to work with people who get that.
Shantel: Yes, and I bet that e-mail funnel will help start to educate those customers that may be right on that ridge and right over the hump of, "Okay, I get it," which then may make our job easier in the long run as well.
Alex: I think it's a lot of people I can ironically relate to because I wasn't thinking big enough for my business, or maybe a lot of these business owners aren't thinking big enough goals to realize that marketing could help them.
Shantel: Mm-hmm, yes, that's a very, very good point. Do you feel like you'll always still be passionate about food and beverage, working so closely in it every day?
Alex: That is something I ask myself every day. I eat a lot of rich meals, and I definitely have learned to appreciate dining at home more if I have the option to have free time. I like to stay at home now versus go out because it's become part of my work, but I still love it so much. I think if something's going to change, I don't know when it will be because I have my happiest and best moments when I walk out of a restaurant after touring the kitchen and talking to the staff. It's such a great industry because nobody is passively involved. Everybody is whole heart, body, soul, mind into what they're doing, so you just work with these incredibly passionate people all-day long, which I love.
Shantel: Yes. Did you grow up in an environment that really fostered the relationship with food, or did this come something when you were in college or later in school that you really realized and recognized that passion?
Alex: Kind of both. My mom was a great cook, and my dad loved to eat out, and they always joked that if I wasn't eating, I was talking about it, planning my next move and what I was going to do next, food-wise, but no, it didn't really turn into an option as a professional career until college. I studied abroad in Italy. I took a food writing class, and that was it.
Alex: I realized I couldn't do anything else in my time.
Shantel: How have you balanced the administrative work of having a business? Have you been able to outsource book-keeping or the things that maybe you're ... I'm not assuming, but if you're not as passionate about these things, how do you carve out the time intentionally every day to do some of that stuff?
| THE CONCEPT OF PAIRING |
Alex: Totally. Yes, that's a struggle, for sure. I am not outsourcing anything yet. Shocker, but my husband helps me with my taxes, so I guess I'm outsourcing it to him, but other than that, I learned. I listen to Gretchen Rubin's Happier Podcast, and they talk about this concept of pairing. If you have something that you really don't want to do, pair it with something you enjoy doing, so sometimes, I'll take some of those more, not mindless, but a little more hands-off tasks that I don't love doing like book-keeping. I'll watch some crappy TV while I do it to make it a little bit nicer.
Shantel: I have never heard that concept, but that is genius.
Alex: Yes, so now, I do this. A lot of people do it with exercise. I can only watch this TV show on the treadmill, so I do that. I can only watch this TV show while I'm looking at my finances.
Shantel: That sounds like a great ... I mean do you find it's a little bit distracting, or are you really able to focus and hone in on it?
Alex: I find that after a little bit, I realize I'm not watching the TV show anyway, and I'm into what I'm doing, but I put myself in a comfortable place. I feel like half the battle is getting started, so if I can say, "Oh, you're going to get to sit on the couch and have this on in the background while you do it," then, it's okay if it takes a little longer.
Shantel: Well, that's a good little piece, nugget of information that I think everyone can apply to those things that they don't want to do. I, at least, have found myself. I'm sure everyone, you cross off the easier thing to do on the list when really, that daunting thing that needs to be the priority sometimes falls last.
Alex: Oh, absolutely.
Shantel: Yes. What are you doing everyday, or days that you're feeling drained to recharge?
Alex: I love this question because I'm such a nosy person. I love to know what other people do. I have two modes, I think. If I'm wanting to actually relax and shut down from work for the day, I like to have a glass of wine and watch Law and Order: SVU, but if I'm feeling unmotivated and I need to get back and reconnected with my purpose in working hard for the day, I read a lot. There's this quote I read the other day that my friend sent to me that said, "For writers, reading is an inhale and writing is an exhale." I have a bunch of blogs I keep up with. I try to read two books a month. I usually just pick something up, and usually, reading someone else's writing gets me inspired enough to get back with what I was doing.
Shantel: Are you an audible fan, or you have to physically read?
Alex: I don't have audible yet. I usually do most of my listening to podcasts, but it's definitely something I look at and think about a lot, but sometimes, I just like the quietness of sitting down with a book.
Shantel: Mm-hmm, I do too. I have a huge stack on my bedside of books I still need to read.
Alex: I know. I love swapping recommendations with you. Another reason I love the books is because I write all over of them. I circle words that I would like to use. It's a copywriter thing, but I can't even really lend my books out because they have so much writing all over them.
Shantel: Well, I recently heard of a book called the Principles, and I'm linking on the author, but I can send you a link, but just even breathing through it so far, I've really enjoyed what it talks through and the highlights. I'll send you the link.
Alex: I'll add that to my list.
Alex: For sure.
Shantel: If you're ever feeling crunched for time and want to read through or listen through a book, there's a great app called Blinkist. Have you heard of Blinkist?
Alex: I have it. I have it.
Shantel: Oh, you have it, or have not heard of it?
Alex: I have it.
Shantel: Oh, okay.
Shantel: Isn't it a good one where you can listen 20 minutes?
Alex: Oh my gosh, I love it. I love it.
Shantel: Yes, it's great to be able to listen to a book in 20 minutes or scan through the highlights, so you don't feel daunted by the big, big stack by your bed.
Alex: Yes, except half the time I read the summary, and I'm like, "Well, now, I want to buy it." I end up getting the book. Like I said, a win, win.
Shantel: I know. We need a shared lib, some shared library if only you lived closer.
Alex: I know.
Shantel: Yes. How has your husband and family and friends responded to you owning your business and starting it on your own?
Alex: They've been really supportive. I definitely think while my family and friends are supportive and again, I think a lot of people could relate to this. Sometimes, it's hard because you don't really have those co-workers to talk about work to. Sometimes, I feel like that part is lacking, having a sounding board, which I've filled with the business coach, but no, my family is super supportive. My husband and I are in the middle of cooking dinner last night, and I was answering e-mails with a potential client on my phone, which I hate to do, but I looked over. I was apologizing. He was like, "You don't have to apologize to me for trying to make money."
Shantel: Sounds like a good husband.
Alex: Totally, absolutely.
Shantel: Yes, and I ask that question, and I'm always curious just to see how I think sometimes, entrepreneurship can be lonely. You feel like, "Okay. Maybe they don't get the day-in and day-out because they're just going to the office and getting a paycheck and different types of problems." It's nice to hear that. Usually, there's a really strong support system behind these people, or they turn to other people to talk to, whether that's professional conversation or a network of coaches or other entrepreneurs.
Alex: Totally. You know, it actually was a piece of marriage advice that the man who married us gave us about marriage. He said that it was important to always share the mundane parts of your day when you get home, so that if some huge problem ever arises, you feel like you can communicate it to them clearly because they're already up to speed. I always try to keep Brooks up to speed with everything in my business because I don't want it to get to a point where something's happening. I'm like, "Well, you won't even understand." I always want him to be able to understand. He is my unofficial CFO in a way, so we try to tag-team that as much as possible.
Shantel: Yes. Is there anything you wish you would have known when you first got started?
| SOMETIMES THINGS DON'T WORK OUT |
Alex: I guess my biggest thing is I wish I could go back and tell myself that sometimes, things don't work out. It is your fault. Sometimes, things work out, and it isn't, and being able to step back and having people in your life who can help bring that honesty to you and see from the outside. You couldn't have kept this from coming, or maybe you could have done this differently. Sometimes, I think people can be too easy on themselves or too hard on themselves, so it's about finding that balance. When something's you're own business, it's easy to take downsides personally and like it's a reflection of who I am as a person instead of a bad decision for my business. I guess I would go back and try to explain that to myself before I had to learn it the hard way.
Shantel: Yes. Well, do you have any examples of either of the scenarios that you've learned something really big that's changed the way or shifted your business in some sense, just because you made a mistake?
Alex: Absolutely, yes. I mean I think a lot of it goes back to what I was saying earlier about finding the right clients. Sometimes, a contract would fall through or both parties would be unhappy with the situation. I wish that when those things fell apart, I would always take the time to evaluate it and say, "What could I have done differently? What was maybe out of my control? If it was out of my control, how can I spot this in another potential client sooner," and just being as transparent about who I am and what I'm offering and what I do from the get-go, so that there's no confusion or miscommunication along the way.
Shantel: I think that's really honorable that you're taking the time to reflect on what you could have done differently or how you can spot it in the future, because I think any business will be stronger by just taking that time to reflect. It's not a downer conversation but just like, "Hey, I'm owning up to, now I know I can do this process better or differently in order to be effective."
Alex: Absolutely. I always want to do my best to be as honest about that experience as I can. I always told you I'm an open book, but I remember when I first started, I listened to a lot of podcasts like this. I read a lot of articles, and a lot of people don't talk about that aspect, you know, because I guess they don't want to come off like they're touting or highlighting on negative client experiences, but I feel like that's something that everyone's experienced to some degree. It's not embarrassing to say this wasn't a right fit. It doesn't mean you did a poor job or whatever. It's just like dating, you know? Some things aren't going to click, and I think more people should be honest about that.
Shantel: I agree. We just integrated a debrief process into our day-to-day, and so every week, after we have a big quarter meeting or renewal conversation or a contract ends or starts, we have a debrief. We talk through, what could we have changed? What's feedback for each department? What can we do better next time? It's tough sometimes because you have to own up like, "Oh, I dropped the ball on this. We could have done this better," but I think it helps us grow because if we're not talking about it, then, we're not learning from those mistakes and being open to finding a solution.
Alex: Absolute. You'll just keep running into the same problem over and over if you're not honest with yourself about what it is and what you could have done to make it better.
Shantel: Definitely. Okay, well, just a couple more questions to wrap it up. I don't think I would be doing the listeners justice if I didn't ask what your favorite food and/or restaurant is.
Alex: Oh my goodness. Well, cheeseburgers, 150%. I think because of my job, I got to a lot of nice dinners, which sounds so trivial to act like that, to complain, but I eat a lot of rich and fancy food sometimes, and really, the best way to make me happy is to just have a really solid cheeseburger, Shake Shack style.
Shantel: Okay. That does sound delicious. Do you have a favorite tool, piece of software, a technique to stay organized and focused as an entrepreneur?
Alex: You know, I'm much. Other than Google Calendar, I do a lot by hand. Again, why I'm getting a business coach to evaluate a lot of those parts of my business that maybe could become more efficient using a little bit more technology than I do. That being said, as a writer, this sounds like such a silly example, but Google Docs can do so much more than people realize. It's made being a writer such a better job. I can work with any client from anywhere because there's such collaborative things. You can leave comments. You can pre-write H1 and H2 tags for SEO, so that's made my job a lot easier. Other than that, no. My biggest tool is reading. I want people to read more books.
Shantel: What's your favorite book you've read recently?
Alex: Well, this weekend, I started Permission Marketing, Seth Godin.
Alex: I read it in a day and a half.
Alex: It was so good. Basically, Permission Marketing, he wrote it in 1999, which is crazy because the internet was just starting. Amazon only sold books at that time. He was talking about his palm pilot and his beeper in it, but so much of what he talks about is still so relevant because it was right on the cost of the internet that he was talking about interruption marketing like a commercial versus permission marketing like an e-mail list where people are signing up and saying, "I want to hear from you. I want you to tell me what's going on with your business and when you have new offers." It's a great read, and it's like a nice blast from the past in some parts, but the fundamentals are absolutely still relevant. I would suggest it for anybody.
Shantel: Okay. We'll have to check it out. Thanks for that tip.
Alex: You're welcome.
Shantel: How can listeners get in touch with you if they'd like to learn more about your company and/or your experience?
Alex: Listeners can get in touch with me on my website, which is the5thsense.com, 5-T-H. I guess you'll have it linked on your site, but I'm also on Instagram. If you want to see more food in my day-to-day discovering and eating of Denver, my Instagram name is AHPalmerton.
Shantel: Great. Well, we will be on the lookout for some great burger posts. I really appreciate you being on the show.
Alex: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Shantel: Of course. Thanks, Alex.