As the founder of REBEL & REASON, a marketing/innovation consultancy, and training company, Nic Smith provides solutions for established businesses and startups, offers her expertise and knowledge through in-person and online workshops, and is regularly tapped to speak on the emerging tech trends, content marketing and innovation.
Additionally, Nic is currently the Director of Programming for SuperNova South, a technology conference based in Atlanta, Georgia and a founding member of Digital Divas, a community organization focused on promoting and mentoring women in digital and technology-based fields. She is also on the Advisory Board for the Alliance Theatre, leading producing theatre in the Southeast and recently started a new technology and innovation event series in Georgia called Silicon Peach.
Nic lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two young daughters. They’re currently in the process of selling their house and she’s not at all stressed about it.
Shantel: Hi Nicola, welcome to the Imagine More Podcast.
Nicola: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Shantel: Of course. We are excited to learn more about your adventure and what sparked your entrepreneurial journey. Can you kick it off with telling the listeners a little bit about your backstory?
Nicola: My backstory is a winding path versus a straight line. I've done everything from work on film sets and do production design to work at a radio station to working with bands, but for the last 15 years or so, I have been working in marketing and advertising, really focused on digital strategy, brand strategy, and innovation.
Shantel: Well, let's talk about your company, Rebel & Reason. How did you start that? How did that come about?
Nicola: I started Rebel & Reason about a year ago. I'm a relatively new small business owner, and it came about because I had always seen opportunity in the space. I had worked in many different environments from a marketing perspective, so big agencies at a holding company, small independent agencies, on the client side, on the publisher side, and I felt like there was an opportunity for me to take that expertise and really turn it into a consulting business and start to work with not just big Fortune 500 clients, which is what I had been doing, but also with mid-sized growth focus brands as well.
Shantel: That's really neat. Was there that pivot moment for you or a moment in that more corporate environment where you were like, "This is just not for me. I need to get out of here right away." What did that moment look like for you?
| THE PIVOT MOMENT |
Nicola: For me, that moment actually happened not in a particularly corporate environment but in another small company that I worked for, and there was a point in which I realized that I had a better sense of the business opportunities than the owner of that company, and it dawned on me that if he could have a successful business without understanding some of those elements or without seeing those opportunities that surely, there was a chance to make a go of it. I've approached it kind of as an MVP from the very beginning and have just understood that what I started out thinking I was going to do was probably not what the company would end up being and that has been pretty accurate so far. But that's part of what I learned throughout my career was that ability to adapt and to test and experiment with what works and what doesn't and go from there.
Shantel: Nice. Well, what is the current iteration of Rebel & Reason look like and who do you serve, what do you do day-to-day?
Nicola: Rebel & Reason is a consulting company. I made the decision that I definitively did not want to become an agency. I didn't really want to get into the production side of things. I wanted to focus on the strategy components, of brand strategy, general marketing strategy, digital and social media strategy, and innovation strategy. Primarily, that's what I'm focused on throughout Rebel & Reason is working with a variety of different consulting clients, some of them on ongoing basis and some of them more project focused. That's been really interesting because my job is different every day. The clients I work with span everything from gaming subsidiaries in Latin America to some of the biggest financial brands in the world to working with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce on a really, really interesting project to drive economic development.
Shantel: That's really neat. How have these new clients of yours, how do they hear about you as a new small business owner?
Nicola: They all came through networking. It's primarily been through word of mouth. It's been through my network and people I know, but when I started the company for the first three months, I actually took a page out of one of my mentor's books, Jeff Hilimire who is a local serial entrepreneur here in Atlanta. I met with somewhere between 10 and 15 people per week that were just networking, coffees, lunches, breakfasts, sometimes dinners or drinks, but really laying that foundation of asking people for their input on what I was creating, what I was trying got do, and ultimately, that leading to business a couple of months down the line.
Shantel: That's amazing, and I'm glad that you mentioned that. We haven't talked about this offline, but Jeff I would also consider a good friend and mentor and heard that very early on as well, or within the past year, and I've also been doing the 10 to 15 meetings per week, so we must have a similar process behind that. I completely agree. I think it's shifted the business and helped us grow just by focusing on that one metric.
| IT COMES DOWN TO RELATIONSHIPS |
Nicola: Yeah, I mean, it's pretty astounding. I think ... I'm a big proponent of digital and of technology and of the global nature of these things, but from a business perspective, it's very interesting to see how it ultimately does come down to relationships and these are all just tools to help us build and develop those relationships in a more focused and strategic way. I mean, it's been pretty astounding to me to just see that one element really change the way I think about business and business development
Shantel: Certainly. He should ... We'll have to pay him and say that he needs to create a whole lesson or book or something about this process because there's actually another podcast guest of ours, Adam with Sideways8, and he does the same thing. I've got a little community around it, I guess.
Nicola: Yeah, well, I know Jeff is actually working on a book. I don't know if that's secret or not, but he's definitely going to be imparting his wisdom to a broader crowd, so yeah, maybe we can start a club.
Shantel: Yeah, absolutely. That's really exciting. Speaking of personal network and building those relationships, have you found any tools or software programs that have really helped you keep all of that information in one place that you love?
Nicola: Unfortunately, I haven't. I'm using all of the basics. I'm using Hometown Hero and MailChimp for list building. I'm using Hootsuite for social, but I tend to just use a variety of smaller tools and again, I experiment a lot. I'm currently experimenting with lead pages for some AB testing, and then I also use everything from Calendly to Timely to, you name it. I've probably played around with it to see if it has some application to my business.
Shantel: That's great. Have you heard of Contactually?
Nicola: No, I haven't.
Shantel: I'm happy to share the link offline about this, but it's a really, what I found, great way to, it syncs with your Gmail and your calendar. You essentially categorize your contacts into buckets, so you could have a general networking of friends and family, website developer buckets, and then you get to determine how often you'd like to speak to that particular bucket or stay in front of them. Maybe every 90 days, I'd like to touch base with this bucket, and every five days, I'd like to somehow find a way to add value and talk to these people, and it help ... It's a dashboard, essentially, that says, "You haven't talked to this person in 31 days. May be a good time to reach out," but yeah, sounds like we're kind of on the same wavelength with how we touch base with people and it's a really good tool that, at least, I found so far.
Nicola: Yeah, I'll have to check that out. Thank you.
Shantel: Yeah, of course. We talked a little bit before the show about training. Can you tell the audience what that project is and what that looks like for you?
| SCALE YOUR EXPERTISE |
Nicola: When I decided that I was going to go the consultant route versus trying got build an agency, one of the things I ran into pretty quickly a scalability issue, and there are clearly two primary ways to solve that. One is I can take on more clients if I hire more people. I've managed large teams, and I'm at a point in my life where I don't really ... Part of the impetus of starting my own company was financial freedom but also location freedom and the ability to move around or not be in one physical space and the idea of managing a team, even a remote team, felt like an obligation that I wasn't willing to take on as I was really figuring out the mechanics of the business. I realized that the only way to scale was to really scale my expertise. I started looking at the training and coaching model and realized that that model was really the best way for me to grow my business and to be able to reach more clients and help more people. I've started building out a training company. It's The Nicola Smith at theNicsmith.com. It's separate from the consulting arm. I want to still be able to take on some really select consulting clients, but what I'm looking at doing is building out an online training curriculum and then an in-person workshop format as well. That's really what the training business is focused on is getting that information out there. I'm starting with a brand building for small business training course that will take a small business owner or a marketing team for a smaller company and really guide them through what a brand is, how to develop their brand, how to develop a social media strategy, content themes, and basically all the way through measurement and analytics of understanding your competitive landscape and how your brand is performing in the digital space. One of the things I really focused on there is I've worked with some of the biggest brands in the world helping to craft and run their social media strategies and campaigns. While there are certainly best practices that we can learn from those brands, I can attest, as a small business owner, to the fact that not all of those best practices are immediately applicable when you're starting out. I've tried to balance my knowledge of what big brands do with my understanding of what it's like to actually start a business from scratch and giving people really tactical ways that they can phase up through different elements of marketing and branding so that they don't feel like have to do everything all at once because that is not really achievable for most small business owners.
Shantel: I love that. The course and the curriculum and the workshop, will they tailored toward small business owners specifically?
Nicola: Small to mid-sized business. Really, if you have like a two to three-person marketing team, this would probably be a good course for your marketing team to go through. If you're just starting out and trying to build your personal brand, it would be great for you, too. If you're an enterprise-level brand or if you work at an enterprise-level brand, you might pick up some tips and tricks, but you probably have a whole team of people as well as multiple agencies who are doing a lot of the things that we'll be covering. It could be a good refresher course, but definitely is a little more focused on mid sized and small business.
Shantel: That's really exciting. I'm excited to hear how that grows and how it's rolled out. However I can help promote it and get the word out there, please let me know.
Nicola: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, and for enterprise-level businesses, I've actually just started pulling this together, but I'm going to be focused more on training around women's leadership and diversity within organizations. There will be an offering for enterprise, but that stays too and will definitely be different types of content, not so much focused on the marketing component as culture and leadership.
Shantel: Nice, okay. Over the past year of having Rebel & Reason, and now, also starting thenicsmith.com and the training, what's one thing you wish you knew when you had first started as an entrepreneur?
Nicola: Gosh, all of it. Everything. I feel like I had really big deficiencies in my knowledge on the actual mechanics of starting a business. It's easy as someone who comes from a digital background to find a way to get a website up or to create my Facebook Page and come up with the marketing messaging for what my product is going to be because I'd live that for a lot of other brands. What was more the piece I think I was ignorant on was, really, the business logistics of getting set up to pay your taxes accurately and getting set up with a payroll system and, really, the operational components, but I think that that's because that's my weakest area and the place where I have the least experience. The learning curve on that has been massive. I would say that that has been the biggest piece, but I just wasn't aware of how much goes into creating a business and doing it right from the start, from a legal and government perspective.
Shantel: Yeah, there is no handbook of how to navigate those government websites. I wish there was kind of a resource to be like, "We're going to be figure it all out for you," because sometimes, those sites are just a mess.
Nicola: Yeah, they're very difficult to navigate, and there isn't a comprehensive place that lets you know if you're in compliance, which is difficult to wrap your head around. I just had a situation where I thought I had set myself up properly with payroll tax. Turns out, I never actually submitted the form, so you live, you learn.
Shantel: Yeah, that ... I have learned after a few mistakes that I'm just, try to hire people that know more than me in those areas or outsource as much as possible so you don't have to wrap your head and try to understand all of those logistics.
| OUTSOURCING VS. DOING IT YOURSELF |
Nicola: Exactly, and that's where I am now is outsourcing. I think, now, the hardest thing as a small business owner is figuring out which things are worth outsourcing versus me just doing myself. As a sole proprietor, I don't have a lot of folks to bounce feedback off of for those types of decisions, so it can definitely be a little isolating at times, but again, always learning, which is one of the things that really interest me about entrepreneurship.
Shantel: Absolutely. If you don't mind sharing, what are a few of those buckets, if you will, that you're considering outsourcing and the priority that they've taken in your first leap of who you'll outsource to, so is it a bookkeeper first or is it an ... What does that list look like for you that you're still walking through?
Nicola: Bookkeeper was the first thing I outsourced. She is going to be handling my taxes as well, which is wonderful.
Shantel: That's great.
Nicola: I have also outsourced some content development, so as I think about especially building out the training business, a big component of that is proving my expertise and my knowledge. I have a lot of the content in my head. The amount of time it would take for me to design a piece of content into an infographic is exponentially longer than it would an actual graphic designer. Those are elements I'm looking outsourcing, too, and then the same applies to copywriting. If you give me long enough, I can write something relatively acceptable, but for anything that really needs a little bit more flare, I've been outsourcing that to a copywriter as well. Trying to outsource some of those bits and pieces, and then as I move more into the training business, the biggest component of that, especially with the online training and then even in-person workshops is really lead generation. I've actually hired a contractor who is really focused on lead generation strategy, and she'll be doing paid media buying for me as well and optimization. Trying to outsource what I can and be scrappy at the same time.
Shantel: Well, and I'm ... Thank you for sharing those pieces. I think as we all grow and figure out what businesses and how we can pay for this and X and, I think it's very wise to think, okay, what are the things that I need to be doing, what is the most important priority, and the things that should take the backseat, can I pass that off to someone else who will complete them quickly and maybe even better so that it doesn't bog down your day-to-day.
Nicola: Well, I mean, how are you going to fit in your 10 to 15 meetings a week if you're doing your own books, right?
Shantel: Very, very true. You have two little ones, and you're-
Nicola: I do.
Shantel: ... the process of a house move, which, hope you don't mind me sharing, but I would love to get your take on the word balance.
Nicola: I struggle with it because, for one thing, I feel like as women, it's a conversation we've been having for a really long time now. I also think that too often when we talk about balance, we talk about it in this vacuum of female conversation or as a female issue, and clearly, to me, balance isn't an issue for women or for just the working parent. I think it's an issue that needs to be discussed amongst partners, and regardless of how those partnerships are made up, to me, if you don't involve the other half of the relationship in that discussion, it's not really a discussion about balance, it's a discussion about prioritization. That's the first piece. The other piece of it is that I think balance in the way that we have generally discussed it is a myth. I think any of us that are dedicated to our careers, it isn't so much about how do you balance things in your life and make sure you're giving equal time to your kids and your career, I guess the best way I've heard it explained is imagine your juggling glass balls, and every day, you have to make a decision about which one of those balls, that day, you're not going to let drop. I felt that was a much more apt description where you have a big meeting with your CEO or with your biggest client, on that day, that's the ball that can't drop, but if the next day, your kid has a dance recital or is going to be playing some big sports match, that day, that's the ball that can't drop. It will change depending on the day and what you have to prioritize, which again, to me isn't really about balance. It becomes a very different discussion.
Shantel: I think that rings true for a lot of people. There's different seasons of priorities, and there may be some weeks or months or days that a different focus, or you have to shift focus to something else but there's an ebb and flow of that, and I'm glad that you dove into that because I think the word balance is a little silly in itself, but I mean, I don't know if I personally believe in this perfect 50/50 life and work and ... I think it's going to be different for everyone.
| WORK/LIFE OVERLAP |
Nicola: Yeah, and I also think more and more, they overlap, and some of that is good. We talk about it generally as the negatives, but you also see things like more maternity and paternity leave or the ability to bring your kid to work, at least in the advertising and marketing space. If you bring your kid to your agency one day because you couldn't find a babysitter, no one's going to bat an eye. It's completely acceptable that those two spaces intermingle. In the same way, if you get a really important email from your boss while you're on vacation, you don't just ignore it for five days. You, at a minimum, say, "Hey, I'll jump on this as soon as I get back in the office." I just, I do think that we're looking more at a blended life, and again, it does feel like that idea of what's your priority today, what's the one ball you can't drop today is an easier way of even thinking about or looking at it that doesn't make you feel so guilty either as parent or an employee or a CEO or whatever your role is.
Shantel: Well, I appreciate you sharing that. I think that's great. When you ... You've shifted from working in larger agencies, smaller agencies, but certainly a team dynamic as you've gone to being a solo entrepreneur, kind of the only one on the team day-to-day, where do you learn and where do you bounce some of those ideas when you're struggling between two ideas?
Nicola: I feel I'm lucky enough to have a network of folks who, at the same time that I was starting my own company or within close proximity, a number of people that I had worked with for years decided to do the same thing. Many of them also actually worked for Jeff Hilimire. I actually have been joking that he has a whole slew of disciples that have gone off and started their own company because of him and that we should all have a Jeff Fan Club dinner one night. But in all seriousness, that has been really helpful for everything from big philosophical decisions to small tactical decisions like which company credit card should you get because of the points you get back or cashback? That's been really helpful. Then when I started doing that slew of networking, again, I was introduced to a number of people who were also sole proprietors or working as contractors. Though that network, there's a couple of people that I get together with on a pretty regular basis. One woman I work with, a wonderful woman named Jill, she's actually started a work club, very informal, every Thursday for three hours. There's about five or six people that will get together at a coffee shop and just talk about things or focus on their own individual projects done in a group dynamic. It's actually been really interesting.
Shantel: That's a really neat idea in just bringing people together so someone is there to talk to if you have something you want to talk through or just to be around other people working on the same passion or same problems. I think that's great.
Nicola: I also, I was a member at Switchyards for a little while. I'm actually over at WeWork now, but co-working spaces like that and industrious are all also really energizing. I feel like there, especially with the low-level memberships, it's almost like a coffee shop membership, but there's a lot of energy in those spaces and again, great places to network as well.
Shantel: Love that. Speaking of credit card, what is your favorite business credit card? I have not have that discussion with anyone else yet.
Nicola: I'm still making a decision, actually. I'm looking at Capital One and Chase, again, because some of the points and cashback systems that they have, but I'm personally an Amex user because of Delta SkyMiles, so-
Nicola: ... you know. Hometown brand. How can you not?
Shantel: Fair enough. Well, Nico, I have two more questions for you, first being what is next on the horizon for you? Is there anything outside of the training that you're feeling really excited about?
Nicola: I am ... I recently started a speaker series called Silicon Peach, and we will be having our second event on September 14th focused on Omnichannel commerce and customer experiences. The premise of that entire event series is really to highlight some of the amazing technological advancements that are taking place here in Georgia and the ways in which local government at both the state and city level are really helping to push new technologies through and to help new industries grow here in Georgia. That's been a really exciting thing to get off the ground and has put me in touch with a whole different group of people that are really focused on fascinating emerging tech.
Shantel: Neat. I'm so bummed to miss that event on the 14th, but I'm excited for future events, so I'll definitely ... Please count me in or add me to the email list for sure.
Shantel: Lastly, how can people get in touch with you if they want to learn more about Rebel & Reason or The Nicola Smith or the Silicon Peach speaking series?
Shantel: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for spending 30 minutes with us. We really appreciate your time.
Nicola: Thank you so much. This has been wonderful.
Shantel: Absolutely. Okay, thanks ...