I’m a big fan of Laura Roeder. She’s doing a lot of things right and she has a great attitude. Her business is making social media easy, so you can create the business fame we all dream about.
In this interview Laura shares some super smart insights into learning anything you want, coping with setbacks, dealing with trolls and lecherous business men. And she shares her amazing philosophy on living the life you want…
Paul: What were your early talents and interests?
Laura: I was kind of a typical only child creating my own worlds a lot. I liked to write, and even better I like crafting personalities and relationships between them. One of my favorite things to do (which still sounds fun to me!) was to create profiles of girls and then document their interactions between each other. So I would draw a girl and name her and make a little profile of what she liked and her interests, and draw clothes for her, and then I would form a little collection and make a fantasy world of their interactions with each other – who hated each other, who was best friends, how they knew each other and how they met.
Paul: What do you think was behind your profiling game, what did you learn from it?
Laura: Hmm I’ve never considered that I may have learned anything from it until now, but maybe to think from other people’s perspectives? The fantasy was putting myself in other people’s shoes and seeing the world from their eyes. That’s what marketing is. Being able to think from your prospect’s perspective. I also consider myself really successful at managing a team, and considering a situation from the other person’s perspective is really crucial there as well.
Laura: I also loved design, I loved making cards and banners and things in PrintShopPro. And I’ve definitely always been a leader, I’ve learned to consciously hold back from bossing people around all the time! Whenever there was a group project I would run it, whenever there was a chance to be called upon my hand was raised.
Paul: So what have you learned makes a great leader?
Laura: I think there are many different types of successful leaders. Some people can lead “from behind”, kind of urging the crowd forward from the back but I’m really not that person. I’m very vocal, and I have a strong point of view that I very happy to share! But if you want your ideas heard you can’t bulldoze people. You do need to be very confident in your ideas, and I think there can be a fine line between the two, between being confident and speaking over people instead of to them. A great leader inspires with a vision but includes others in that vision as well, makes them a part of it.
Paul: And do you think there is any connection between you being confident enough to put yourself forward as a leader and your profiling game?
Laura: I guess there is a connection, part of the fun of the profiling game was being “god” of my own little world!
Paul: Who were your influences growing up?
Laura: I’ve never been one to idolize others much, when people ask me who my influences are now, it’s my friends. It makes so much more sense to me to look up to someone you know, someone who is a “real” person that you can interact with. I never really had other people that I dreamed of being.
Paul: It sounds like you have a lot of confidence in yourself. Like you were raised with a high sense of self-esteem, would that be fair to say?
Laura: Yes, I was definitely raised with a high self esteem. I am that classic Gen-Y person that everyone complains about, people say Gen-Y is too coddled, too confident, thinks too much of themselves. I don’t think it’s possible to give a child too much support or encouragement. I recently attended a Q&A with actor Jason Alexander and someone asked a question about dealing with your family when you want to go into entertainment, dealing with people being unsupportive. He said he believes that parents should never discourage their children. He said “the world shits on you enough, you don’t need it from your family too.” My parents are incredibly supportive of everything I do and always have been. I think that’s been a wonderful thing for me.
Paul: What was the most exciting thing you remember growing up?
Laura: I really liked going into my dad’s office, I still do. When I was older I would work there, he is an architect. I loved going to houses he had designed, especially when they were not quite done and you got to see everything kind of half-finished and raw.
Paul: I want to try and understand how that self esteem works for you. Whether we are confident or feel like we’re lacking in confidence, we all come up against obstacles and set-backs. What is it that you tell yourself when things go wrong?
Laura: I can’t think of a good answer for this, I just genuinely don’t worry about it. Stuff happens. Things don’t go the way you planned. I believe you have full control over your reaction to any situation, so why choose to spend time upset about it.
Paul: I think there’s a whole world of wisdom in that answer, even if it seems normal to you. But haven’t you had to overcome any major challenges?
Laura: This is interesting because it’s a question that comes up a lot in interviews and I always feel like I have to “come up” with something good. Maybe I haven’t taken enough risks to get huge setbacks? Or maybe it is just a matter of perspective. I just don’t see anything that’s happened in my life as that devastating. Everyone goes through things, everyone has ups and downs, that’s life. So I guess it’s accurate to say I don’t give them much attention.
When a problem needs to be solved, you solve it and move on. But honestly I find that most mistakes, or set-backs or whatever don’t even really need your attention. It’s just a bump in the road and you keep moving forward. I think we can create a lot of anxiety obsessing about what could have been, or could have been done differently but you can’t recreate the past. Maybe I don’t learn enough from my mistakes? That stuff just doesn’t register for me very much.
Paul: When did you start to learn the skills that allow you to do what you do today?
Laura: In seventh grade I taught myself to code websites, which is not as impressive or complicated as it sounds. It was when “personal pages” or “personal sites” were really popular, before LiveJournal or Blogger or anything like that. You would make a site on Angelfire that served as a kind of blog and site about you, they were very popular with teenage girls. So at that time, if you wanted to participate in this world you had to learn how to make websites so I did. I learned just by clicking view source and modeling what I saw, making images for the sites in MS paint.
Paul: Wow, I think you’ve just shared my philosophy on education, growth, life itself. Click “view source” and model what you see. That’s how I learned pretty much everything I do. That’s what Subvert Magazine is about. You say it isn’t impressive or complicated. But it certainly isn’t common. Why doesn’t everyone believe they can learn anything they want like that?
Laura: It’s kind of funny to me. I’m constantly reminding people that none of us knew a single thing when we were born. Every person who knows how to make a website had a time in their life when they didn’t know. Every person who is great at negotiating big deals had a time when they’d never done a deal before and no idea what to do. Yet you often hear people say “but I can’t do that, I don’t know how to do that”. Of course you don’t! You haven’t learned yet! I think many people have a very negative view of themselves, and what they can accomplish. But we all have the capacity to learn.
Paul: I couldn’t agree more. I see so many people giving up because they choose to believe that they are competing with a world full of “naturally talented” people who were more “blessed” than them. But not only are we born with nothing but potential and a few primal instincts, that potential stays with us, throughout our entire life, we just have to choose to fill it!
Paul: OK, let’s go back to your teenage years, how did your online experience progress?
Laura: I think most teenagers have an experience where they realize the world is bigger than their own little town, and I got to have that experience online. I formed close friendships with other teenage girls online that I kept up with for years. Every so often I will have a random memory of one of them and look them up, but unfortunately I never knew most of their last names. You had aliases then. I really loved Tori Amos and got really into fan culture. My best friend and I both had our own fan sites, ran our own fan web ring, and I ran a postcard site where people could send fan art e-cards. This was in 98, 99. This was also a heyday when companies were figuring out how the internet worked, and you could actually make money and get a bunch of stuff for free. I used to get checks in the mail for writing reviews on epinions.com, stuff companies would never pay for now. I was always fascinated by the web and how it functioned.
Paul: What about when you left school, did you jump straight into the online world?
Laura: In college I forged my own career path as a designer. I wanted to be a graphic designer, but I didn’t want to go to art school so I studied advertising at the University Of Texas, but we didn’t learn anything about design. I mostly taught myself and got jobs where I could learn. After college my portfolio was terrible compared to people who had gone to design school, but I still managed to land an agency job as a designer which was kind of my second-to-best dream job. I really wanted to be a magazine designer, but I discovered that most magazines only employ one so there aren’t many entry-level magazine design jobs.
Paul: What got you through the interview with the agency, if your portfolio wasn’t competitive?
Laura: Because I sold them on the fact that it was rare to find a designer that understood advertising and marketing, which is true. Looking back I wouldn’t say I knew much about marketing at all! But I thought I did. I did have an advertising degree which I guess was enough knowledge and qualifications at the time! When I started my business I literally didn’t have any clients. And I didn’t know anyone who ran a business (which is who my clients were, as a web designer). I went to networking events to find clients, and I often got teased because I was so much younger than everyone else and looked even younger than I was.
Paul: We all have bad first time experiences of putting ourselves out there, but what interests me is what made you go back the second, third, forth time. What did you tell yourself to get over doing something that sucked. Most people just quit and go get a regular job. Why not you?
Laura: I just literally couldn’t think of any other way to get clients! It’s really as simple as that. I wanted to eat, I wanted to pay rent, so I had to go to networking events. I didn’t know any other way to meet people. I still get questioned constantly, people don’t believe that I run my business myself. There are a lot of realities of being a woman running a business that I don’t really see talked about. You go to business events and get hit on, and I hate that, but I have mixed feelings about it. I recognize that being female is an important part of me and of course people are going to respond to that. I’ve never been into any of the stuff about “bring your feminine energy into your business!” So I’m just now starting to figure out what that means for me, how that looks. When you’re a woman people constantly ask you if your business is a hobby or a side-gig. I have asked other young women about this and they say that they get this all the time as well. Or people will say “oh, so do you have a partner?” they think it’s my husband’s business or something.
Paul: When I started out, I experienced almost total rejection of my ideas as well. I did a talk once, at an event where I explained how the internet was going to change business. I was laughed at. And when the press were taking a picture of all the people who spoke, I was asked to move to one side. That happened more than once. 100% rejection. Isn’t that how all entrepreneurial journeys start. We are either crushed or forged. Male or female. Young or old? What I long for when I seek out new people, are smart, curious minds, who push their own boundaries. They are rare. Regardless of gender or age. What is more common are insecure people, who will use whatever obvious ammunition they can find to boost their ego by knocking you down. Is there an additional prejudice that women have to deal with on top of the regular prejudice that all entrepreneurs have to face?
Laura: I’ve had someone say to my face, 100% serious “women just start businesses because they’re bored and need a hobby, right?” There are additional prejudices that women face. Hands-down, no question, 100%. Owning a business is still VERY much an old boys club, and the higher on the food chain you go the more you see this is true. Most women can give you countless stories of how this happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Yes, many entrepreneurs face prejudice. But we have to recognize the judgements and assumptions we make about female business owners (in a word I would sum it up as massive underestimation) before we can bring it to light and correct it.
Paul: Challenges aside, you were tough enough to stick with it and keep going, so talk to me about the key lessons you learned when you finally started to get a handle on things?
Laura: Most people will give you terrible advice, and you don’t have to listen to it. I used to think that other people knew things that I didn’t know, but I don’t really think that way any more. That sounds really self-centered and odd, but I don’t need other people to figure things out. I just need to ask myself what I want to do. Some people believe you need a lot of research, but I don’t. I don’t think it matters what has been proven, or what has been done before. I don’t care what the stats say. I’d rather have a discussion than ask for advice, and I find that it gives you a more valuable outcome.
Paul: I think you’ve highlighted another really important way of seeing the world. In my 20′s I got to work with some super smart people and learned a really important lesson: The smartest people in the world are all muddling along, just at different levels.
Paul: So how did things change after you learned those lessons?
Laura: Another thing that I live by, is only spending time around people that I LOVE and think are absolutely amazing and incredible. I used to think that there were people that I was “supposed” to meet or it would be valuable to meet, like I would go to a conference and try to meet the “right” people that could be a smart business connection for me. But I’ve realized that people who you don’t really click with aren’t going to help you out anyway. The people that help you out are your friends, and it’s a win-win because then you just get to spend time with people you really love spending time with. So now I just hang out with people that I love hanging around, and now that I’ve done that I’m incredibly well-connected. But if I don’t feel like I have an incredible connection with someone, I don’t try to foster the relationship even if it would be strategic to do so.
Paul: Are you talking about people who are in close proximity to you or people who share similar values to you?
Laura: Share similar values. Most of my closest friends don’t live in my city.
Paul: You already know that half way through this interview, I paused to go update one of my sales letters. I’ve written lots of sales letters, and I’m highly self-motivated, but still, watching your interviews made me feel less stressed about various jobs on my To Do list and inspired me to take action. That’s a super power you’ve got there – help me understand how you don’t get bogged down with the stress and the haters and the fools online and you keep producing fun, positive work?
Laura: Well for one, I do NOT read any negative emails that come in. I don’t even want to see it if someone has written a negative blog post about me, I tell my team not to even tell me. If someone sends something to a channel that goes directly to me like twitter, I will just email a link to the tweet to my customer service team if it’s something that needs to be dealt with. But usually, there’s no need to respond. We have a zero engagement policy for trolls at my company. No public response, under any circumstance. If you refuse to engage, it fades very quickly.
Paul: OK, there’s one more thing I wanted to touch upon, I think it’s a value and a character trait that is extremely useful and you seem to have it in spades. I’m talking about a sense of humor. I’ve gotta say, in business, I’m not a funny guy. My clients respect my honesty, not my jokes. I’m pretty straight forward. I haven’t developed those social skills to make me great at things like networking and social media. I suck at social media, I offend so many people in my attempts to be honest with them. I suffer because of that. I see how powerful a laugh and a smile can be at diffusing the fear and pressure that comes with explaining new concepts and getting people to take action. Most importantly, in making something hard or technical sound easy. I think that is such a valuable skill. You’ve already told us that people hassle you at events, but I just can’t imagine you taking it badly. I imagine you laughing it off and charming them. Whereas I would want to punch someone out, and be worse off for it. So what’s the secret to laughing stuff off. What’s the secret to making everything sound simpler and easier and more doable?
Laura: I just believe that if I didn’t laugh stuff off I would choose to spend my time angry, and why would I want to spend my short life on this earth being angry? I choose light, and humor, and playfulness, those are elements I want in my life so those are the elements that I have.
Over to you
If the thought of Twitter and Facebook makes you shudder, then head over to Laura’s website, and join her newsletter “The Dash”. Then, while the iron is still hot, think about the insights that inspired you the most in this interview. What are the elements you want in your life? How can you make a better choice? How can you turn that inspiration into action, right now? Go do it. Have fun.