Growth marketer and event co-founder, Stef Grieser, is the guest for the 195th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Kira met Stef and Shine Bootcamp late last year and immediately knew that she had a lot to share with our audience. But we didn’t just talk about speaking. We covered a lot of ground—and went a little longer than usual. Here’s a taste of what we talked about:
• Stef’s career path and how she came to co-found two big events
• how she used meet-ups to “test drive” CTA Conference
• how the first CTA Conference line up led her to focus on diverse voices at conferences
• the mix of speakers and why up-and-comers are just as important as stars
• what she did to turn herself into a conference speaker
• the difference between “growth” marketer and “regular” marketer
• how Stef scaled her team and community as she built CTA Conf
• what makes a good speaker pitch and how to get accepted as a speaker
• the cues that let conference organizers know you are a fit for them
• what she did to connect with sponsors and what makes a good sponsor
• the importance of being a subject matter expert
• the other skills you need on stage… in addition to content
• when you should reach out for help from a speaking coach
• Stef’s thoughts on the importance of copywriting as a business skill
• what Stef would like copywriters to do differently
• how she’s developed her leadership skills and built a team
• the stuff that hasn’t gone very well and how she fixed things
• her advice to anyone who wants to do what she’s done
• product founder fit and the importance of finding it
• Shine Bootcamp—what it is and how to find out more
If you’ve ever thought about getting on stage (or presenting workshops or webinars) as a way to build your authority, you won’t want to miss this episode. To hear it, click the play button below or scroll down for links and a full transcript. Or subscribe using your favorite podcast app.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Shine Bootcamp
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground
Kira: This episode is brought to you by The Copywriter Underground, the place to find more than 20 templates, dozens of presentations on topics like copywriting and marketing your business, a community of successful writers who share ideas and leads, and the Copywriter Club Newsletter mailed directly to your home every month. Learn more at TheCopywriterUnderground.com.
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at the Copywriter Club podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 195 as we chat with marketing specialist and public speaker, Stef Grieser, about growth marketing and what copywriters need to know to help their clients grow, Shine Bootcamp and what you need to know to land a speaking gig, the lessons she’s learned after co-founding two big events, how she looks at and solves business problems, and her biggest career struggle.
Kira: Welcome, Stef.
Rob: Hey, Stef.
Stef Grieser: Hi.
Kira: Hello. It’s great to have you here. Last time I saw you was at Shine Bootcamp in Toronto last September, so it’s such a pleasure to have you here so we can dig into everything that you’re doing.
Stef Grieser: I am so excited to be here and excited to dig in.
Kira: All right. Why don’t we start with your story? How did you end up as a growth marketer, founder of Call-to-Action Conference and co-founder of Shine Bootcamp? How did you get into all of it?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, that’s a really, really great question. I’ll go way back when I was graduating university, I had worked internships and industries that were established for decades and really, really big companies, like I’m talking some of the biggest in the world, like Exxon Mobil. I 180’d, not 360’d because that would mean I was right back where I started, but no. I 180’d and I decided that I really just wanted to get on the ground floor of a growing startup. That landed me at a little software company at the time called Unbounce and I started there as their second marketer who was really primarily in charge of our community and our blog. That looked at a bunch of things that essentially working with guest bloggers, and then also cultivating community over social media, but for the most part, it was very digital. Like, software is very digital and it was a very digital play.
I remember about one year in, and I remember this so vividly, I went out to lunch. It was this tiny Lebanese restaurant. It was in a basement with our CEO, Rick. We sat there and I pitched him on the idea of taking this community and this content that we cultivated and turning it into an event and going IRL, so to say. We were a software company and everything is so distant when you are a software company and I felt like an in-person event or in-person events, plural, or conference could really help strengthen the brand, give us a lot of great industry relationships, but also it was just an extension of our content because we had such a great blog at the time. It was well known in the industry and it was just taking the content on the blog and basically pulling it into another medium.
Rick took the bait and I started really MVP and started off with a bunch of little meetups. As those meetups were successful, we started our first conference and the first conference was Call to Action Conference. It was 300 people and I remember I was so heads down creating this conference that when I sat and watched the conference when it was all said and done, I saw that there was two women up on stage and there was about eight dudes. That was because I was relying heavily on the network of the six co-founders of the Unbounce, all who of which were six white men and that didn’t really sit well with me, so year after year, we got better.
We brought more women in, but then also just other diverse voices. I also had this big feeling that we needed to bring in people that weren’t “speakers.” Like, they wouldn’t self-identify as speakers, but they were really smart. They had something to teach and if you gave them that spot at the conference, they were going to step up to the plate and then deliver. What I call that is the Underground or the Underdog Speaker or the Up and Coming Speaker and I really, truly believe that if you… Of course, you want the big names, but if you sprinkle your conference with speakers that aren’t well known but are up and coming, that have something share, your conference will be better for it and that’s actually how Shine Bootcamp started.
I grew that conference from 300 to over a thousand and I actually grew a team of people that put on the conference as well and then the one year, I raised my hand and I was like, “I think I have…” It’s funny. I had so many people knocking on my door asking me like, “Oh. How did you sell tickets? How did you do this conference thing and how did you even market it? How did you get people to show up?” They had so many questions about the event and how I built CTA Conf, so after the 20th coffee date, I was like, “I think I have something to speak about. I think I could speak.” I raised my hand and I spoke at the conference that I created, but I realized that being a subject matter expert is really different than being a speaker. It’s just a different skillset, there’s little nuances.
I remember, I got help. I got coaching because I was going up on stage with industry heavy hitters and I really didn’t want to fall flat on my face. Also, this was the conference that my entire company was at. That’s scary in and of itself. I think sometimes the scariest thing about presenting is presenting to people that know you and that you have to go back to the office on Monday and they’ll see you again. I just remember being like, “What have I done? I just signed up for this and now I’m part of the speaker line up, but I am in no way, shape or form ready.”
I ended up getting coaching and I remember, I remember this so clearly, after my first dry run, Oli Gardner, who was my coach, said to me… I remember asking him the question, “So, do you think I’m good enough to speak on stage?” He said, “Uh, not yet, but you will be.” It was really, really awesome because I basically took that and just built upon it and that’s basically the earliest forms of what Shine was. Essentially, fast forward the next year people asked me at the company, “Oh, are you going to speak again?” I was like, “No, I’m not going to speak again,” but it kind of clicked in my head that we should have this open speaking spot. Hey, let’s have this open speaking spot for people internally, like me, to raise their hands. They’ll have to pitch and then we’ll take one of them.
The first year, I remember all four people who pitched to speak were all women and at that time there was two people who spoke on behalf of the company and they were two men. I was like, “This is awesome. We are giving people a shot to get up on stage and share their knowledge.” Anyways, that speaker behind me, she went up on stage and absolutely killed it. She got invited to speak at, I think, 10 conferences right after CTA Conf that year and then we wrote about this in a big, lengthy blog post, myself and Amy Wood, who’s one of the co-founders of Shine, we wrote about this whole journey. About how conference organizers, it’s an excuse to not have diverse speaking lineups and what you can do. It hit a chord because at that time it was kind of when the Me Too movement was heating up. It was very timely and there were so many comments. The post was shared so many… So many good conversations came out of it.
What we realized was we didn’t want to just be saying stuff about it. We wanted to do stuff about it. That’s where Shine Bootcamp happened and created. That’s my story, what has led me to this very point so, yeah.
Rob: Love it. I have written down about eight different questions that I want to ask about events and the diversity thing, your coaching, so much, but before we get to all of that, I do want to ask a question that came to me just as I was listening to you start your story, when you started talking about being hired as a marketer. I know you also use the term growth marketer in things on your website where you talk about yourself. What is the different between a marketer and a growth marketer? What does a growth marketer do that makes them something special?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, and I think I say I’m part growth marketer and part brand marketer because I think sometimes when you swing on the side of growth marketer, it almost becomes too much acquisition focused and you don’t even think holistically about the business. It’s all about hitting the numbers, hitting your caps, hitting your LTD, and almost taking some shortcuts. I do think all of that is really, really important, but I think it’s a blended approach that makes you a great marketer.
I mean, I was talking the other day to a friend who works at a meals kit delivery service and we were chatting about this very thing about acquisition. Her old boss or CMO was more of the growth marketer mindset where, for example, their influencer strategy was all about post the referral code. Just talk about Fresh Prep as a meal kit delivery service and then make sure they post the code and track it all the way through. I talked about how it was two years before I signed up for their delivery service. Two years. I heard about it from one of Ben’s, I heard about it through a friend, I actually even tried one of their free meal kits. Then it wasn’t the right timing.
Then, finally, I signed up and now I’ve been a customer three or four months, but I think that sometimes it’s just us marketers, we want to make the path to acquisition so clean and tidy. Like, they do this, they do that, and then they became a customer. I think that that is actually so flawed and I think you need this balanced approach of being a growth marketer and doing a lot of what you call bottom of the funnel tactics, but then I also think that you need to build your brand and we were even talking about the influencer strategy. I was like, “Hey, have you guys ever just told your influencers to talk about the why? Like, why Fresh Prep, why they like it? Is it the recipes? Is it the fact that they’re local and they’re not being shipped all the way from the east coast, which is totally bad for the carbon footprint? Have your influencers ever talked about that?” She was like, “No, we’ve only ever just… This is, you know, I’m a Fresh… I’m doing Fresh Prep and here’s my code if you want it.”
I think there’s just this blended approach in marketing and you just can’t look at it as linear. I call myself a growth marketer, but honestly, I call myself half a growth marketer, half a brand marketer because I think you need both and I think at companies, people even, I see this. They get into this mindset where it’s like one versus the other and it’s really, it’s really both. You need both.
Rob: Yeah, I agree with that.
Kira: Yeah. I’d love to talk about CTA Conference and how you’ve grown it over the years. You mentioned starting at 300 people the first year, which to me is a win in the first year, and then scaling it up from there. There’s a lot that you’ve done right around growing a team, building the community. Can you break it down, especially for anyone else who’s hosting events? Like, we’re hosting events every year. What are some of the core ingredients or just areas you really need to focus on in order to have that type of growth every year and to build a strong community and that reputation of the industry event everyone wants to attend?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, that’s a really, really good question. I think the two most essential things to your event, and I think event organizers can get carried away, myself included, with all the bells and whistles, but the two things you need to focus on the most is your content and if it’s valuable and helpful, and that can be in the form of a speaker speaking to an audience, it can be in the form of workshops or it can even be at like with Shine we have coaches, one on one coaching. Everybody goes… Kira, you know this. You go off into a war room for a day and basically get your talk torn apart and then you have to build it back up.
I think you just have to focus on the content and the value of that content first and foremost. Then, I think with live events, you do have to think about kind of… I guess, for me it was all with matching the venue and having a goal of how many people I wanted there just because if you walk into a conference hall that’s supposed to a thousand people and there’s 300, the atmosphere, it just doesn’t feel right. I always really start small. My first meetup, I was like, “Okay, we’re going to have room for 50 people,” and I was like, “That’s, you know, is great.” If we have room for 50 people and there’s 50 people in the room and it feels like it’s a great environment, awesome.
I remember we sent an invite out and 200 people signed up, so we needed to get a new venue that matched that. Obviously, with COVID and everything going on, that’s less of a concern, but I would say you do want a certain amount of people. I even think about Shine, for example, and we’re at this space where we just want to focus on the quality of people, so we have an application program and not everybody gets in. There’s people that have applied to be part of our bootcamp three times and they got in on the third time. I think, it’s just… I guess it’s just a matter of A, your content and getting really, really clear on that and focusing on your programming. Then, B, for live events matching that with the venue, for not live events, it’s maybe just make it, cultivating that community, and making sure that the people there are really good, are really like match who you want to drive value for because the last thing you want is somebody to show up, and I remember this.
People applied to Shine and I was like, “Yeah, I think you’re… apply in a year, apply in two years. You’re not quite there yet or you’re looking for something else and we don’t really deliver that.” Anyway, yeah, that’s what I would say in terms of some things I’ve learned. I think that it’s so easy to get carried away with all the event bells and whistles. Like, oh my God, the food trucks or what are we having for catering or swag, and I have my whole philosophies on all of that. I just think that if you’re really focusing on an event, focus on content and the value you’re giving attendees and the information and knowledge first.
Rob: While we’re talking about that content, I’m really curious what you look for in a speaker pitch. When somebody wants to speak at your events, what are the things that you’re looking for in addition to diversity?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. I look for… I mean, I think it really depends on the conference, but I mean, just take Call to Action Conference for an example. I really looked for practitioners, I looked for people that had maybe written a really great blog post before on something. That they, when they pitched me, they had a unique angle or something that was a little bit different that they would bring to the table. I got so many pitches from people that put no effort in or it was a PR person applying on somebody else’s behalf or they would be like pitching somebody that was a technical SEO speaker, when that’s literally not what our conference was about whatsoever. I think it’s just like if you put the time and effort into researching the conference, you are so much more likely to get through to that event organizer and I think that just pays off in spades.
I remember this one woman, she’s a copywriter, Lianna, Lianna Patch. She pitched to speak and it was like she attended the conference two years in a row, she knew what topic performed well, she came with the pitch, the pitch email was so tailored and it was like, yeah, of course you’re going to speak. You know what our conference is all about. I think people think so short-term, too. It’s like, “Oh, I’m going to pitch to speak at a conference,” and like, “Okay, I didn’t get in this year.” It’s like, play the long game. Speaking is a career. You might not get the speaking gig this year at the conference, but why don’t you show up and attend the event? Get to know the event organizer. I think that there’s just so much you can do.
Also, I mean, it’s funny. I’m building out Shine in the background a little bit more than just the once to twice a year speaker bootcamp and one of the things I want to do is actually interview event organizers because I think they’re a little behind the scenes and nobody knows who they are. Who runs this event again, and who’s in charge of the speaker selection? I’ve been interviewing a couple and it’s just like, who are you looking for in a speaker, so that if people want to apply to speak at X conference, they can hear from the event organizer exactly what they’re looking for and then they can go pitch them in a great way that resonates or self-select that they’re probably not a good speaker. There’re some conferences where you just might not be the best speaker for that conference, so if you pitch yourself, it’s just probably going to be a no. Why don’t you save yourself… I mean, I’m always one for pitching, but I also think there is a little bit of self-awareness of which conferences would be good for you and you’d be a good fit for. Does that make sense?
Rob: No, totally. I love the advice to go to the conferences. It’s probably close to a third of our speakers, our second year and third year of our event, were people who had been at the event the year before because you get an opportunity to meet them, to see what they’re about, to get to know them, and I think it’s a huge leg-up to getting on the stage in a year or two.
Stef Grieser: Totally. I think, I mean, conference organizers want to see cues that you’re… maybe it’s a blog post, maybe it’s a podcast interview, maybe it’s you videoing yourself, maybe it’s a sample slide deck, I think all these little things. I know at Shine, that’s why we created the program as it is, so you have a video, so you have a slide deck, so you have shots of you speaking, but anything you can do to prove that you would be a good fit for that lineup, like a little speaker reel, that just goes so far because if you don’t see any of that, it can be really, really tough.
Rob: Yeah. I want to ask a question, this is maybe a selfish question from the organizer’s standpoint, and that is, how did you connect with sponsors and attract sponsors to your events?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, this is an interesting one. I think it’s about finding the sponsor where they get a lot of value out of it and it makes a lot of sense, so the best sponsorships have been where it’s just like a very seamless partnership and I think that you… I’m just going to take an example and get tangible. For example, with Shine, I felt like Wistia was such a good sponsor because, one, we ask everybody to apply to Shine Bootcamp with a video and how could they record a video for themselves? They could use Wistia’s product, Soapbox, so we put a little plug in for Soapbox. “Hey, you don’t have to use Soapbox, but use it if you want to apply. They’re our sponsor.”
Then, we had speaker videos. Speaker videos were great. Where could we host those videos? Oh, on the Wistia platform, their video hosting company. Oh, and Wistia really cares about diversity, equity and inclusion. Oh, that’s awesome. Then, they’re also tied to Shine and our core mission, which is elevating voices that don’t otherwise get heard and they’re tied to us from a DEI standpoint. I just felt like that was the perfect trifecta. It was like, “Great, here are all the reasons why you fit seamlessly into Shine.”
We have Logitech. Logitech is a massive company and they sponsored, not in dollars, it’s not all about dollars, they sponsored by giving our Shine participants a speaker… sorry a speaker clicker, a remote… it’s called like the Presentation Spotlight Remotes or something, but it’s like the best presentation remote. Kira, you have one, you can probably vouch.
Kira: It’s fancy, yes. It’s very fancy. I love it.
Stef Grieser: It’s very fancy. It kind of looks… yeah, it’s like gold or silver, they have really nice colors, but essentially, they gift that to all people that are going through our bootcamp and it’s like such a great sponsorship for us. I think it’s just finding that… I think that’s the sweet spot of it. It’s like finding the people where it makes sense for their business and it’s not just this stretch. I think there’s another sponsorship example is like Charlene Kate Events. She is an event consultant, she puts on events and conferences for other companies if they don’t have somebody in-house, so she partners with Shine because she’s like, “Oh, this is a great opportunity for me to find out about up and coming speakers. Great.” I think the best sponsorships are the ones where you can really integrate it into your event, but into… It’s also the partnership in general. It just makes sense, but yeah, that would be my advice there.
Kira: That reminds me of when I sent my speaker application video for Shine, using Wistia, and I had just moved to Washington DC the day before. I think I was surrounded by boxes in my video and didn’t think I had a chance to actually get in and I did. I know we’ll talk a bit more about that experience in Shine, but before we move on to that, I’d love to hear more about what you were saying about being subject matter expert and how that’s different than being a speaker because I think that’s something that isn’t always talked about and I’m just curious to hear what transformation looked like for you as you were working with your coach, with Oli, and you were working through it. What were some of the critical areas that you focused on together to take you and to help you transform into that speaker?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. I think the thing is that you already know so much about the topic that you forget to break it down or you forget some steps. You’re like, you got from A to C, and you forgot the ABC. It’s so easy for you to say that and you’re in your own head and you’re explaining it and you’re thinking, “Well, duh, this is obvious. Obviously, you do that.” Then, I realized, “Oh, it’s not obvious. I need to break it down even further.” I think that even with copywriting, there’s things that you do that you don’t even know why you do it. Like, what? I just did that, I just pulled those words out, but there was actually a conscious decision, you just, you are so good at what you do that it’s unconscious. I think it’s actually really tough to then transform that into something tangible. I think it’s just like a thing that people struggle with. I’ve seen it every… every speaker journey I’ve seen it multiple times now and it’s the same thing and I think that it’s so much easier when somebody else listens to your talk and coaches you and just says, “Wait a second. Can you actually break it down further? Wait, I have another question.” You almost end up teaching your coach what you mean, but then it pulls out your talk. Does that make sense?
Kira: Yeah, no it does and I think that’s even my experience from Shine, working through my content was just, it was hard to figure out as the copywriter what I do when I work with clients because it’s just part of my internal process. It forced me to go in front of my peers in that room and to look at them. They were confused half the time because they’re like, “How did we get here? What are we doing?” Yeah, I think the coach can really help with that. Is there anything else, even just as far as moving on a stage or those other skills that help with the presentation that you worked on with Oli?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. I definitely think so, but I think people jump steps. I think you really need to focus on your content, content, content first and then, when it’s really solid, then you work on the pauses or… and I’m notorious for A, speaking too fast, I’m probably speaking too fast in this podcast. I also have this nervous tic and I smack my lips when I’m nervous on stage. It’s terrible. Every speaker has something, but I think, again, I think it’s just like knowing your content, but then working on those things afterwards. It’s almost like your deck is ready, it’s good, you’re not changing the content part of it, you’re not switching slides, you’re not figuring out your flow, you know it, and then that is the moment when all of a sudden you add a joke or you add a dramatic pause or you’re slowing down.
I think too many people almost jump and think about delivery and I think there’s just a lot you need to do to focus on the content and then, you need to focus on delivery. The best thing for delivery is just videoing yourself. We do it at Shine and then, when you watch yourself, you’re cringing, but it’s really good. You’re like, “Oh, okay,” but it makes you stop your bad habits quicker than if you didn’t.
Rob: I know you do this with Shine, but if you were teaching a speaker or two, when would you recommend that they really need to connect with a coach.
Stef Grieser: That’s a really good question. When you feel like you have something to share, when you’re itching to get on that stage. I think the light bulb moment for me was, wow, I think I have something to share. I think that I have some value to bring to the world, I think I have a story and I think when that light bulb goes off, I think that’s when you could go down the path of getting a coach. It doesn’t have to be you’ve already spoken at five events or you polished your deck. I mean, honestly though, in saying that I think that even seasoned speakers that have spoken at tons of conferences would benefit from going through a process like Shine or getting a coach because it just sharpens them, their skills, and especially if you’re doing a new deck, it’s just really, really helpful.
I think a coach is kind of… it could be as early on as, oh, I have this idea and this thought of what I want to say and then, also, somebody who’s been on the “speaking circuit,” or who has spoken a lot, but just wants to sharpen… maybe it’s a new talk or maybe they want to sharpen their skills, so I think there’s not a perfect place. I think getting a speaker coach, it can be valuable early on or later on in your speaking journey.
Kira: Before we hit record, we were talking about how copywriting is such a big part of what you do as a growth marketer and you have a lot of experience in that area. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like to work with other copywriters and what that collaboration process looks like, especially considering you’ve worked with in-house copywriters, you’ve worked with freelancers, what does it typically look like in both of those categories?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. I love copywriting. I think copywriting and marketing are synonymous. I think to be a good marketer, you have to be a good copywriter. I don’t identify as a copywriter, but it’s because that’s not my business. I not like, “Hey, I’m a copywriter. You can book me.” I’m very much a marketer, an entrepreneur, a maker, but I… just copywriting is so core to business, to marketing, even to speaking. You have to write your speaker abstract, you have to write your bio, so I think in terms of working with copywriters in that process, I think copywriting is a team sport. I think when you collaborate on copy, it only gets better. That’s why I think when you work in-house, it’s so lovely.
I remember the early days at Unbounce, we would obsess over the title of a blog post and we would… I’d write something, Oli would chime in, Gia would chime in and we’d have this thought channel going. We would build on each other’s ideas and I think it was so awesome. I think sometimes you have the copywriter and that’s their job. It’s almost like they write the copy and that’s the final say. I think it’s just so much better as a team sport, so that’s one thing about working in-house that’s great. I find that, obviously, when you are hiring a copywriter, there’s a little bit less collaboration. I mean, you kind of assign them something and they deliver that and maybe there’s a little bit of collaboration, but it can be a little bit different. I wonder, I genuinely wonder, how we can bring that kind of collaboration back.
Maybe you have to be a marketer or somebody that loves copywriting and then hires a copywriter, but yeah, it’s usually you hire a copywriter, they give you whatever it is that you assigned or the deliverable. Then you might have feedback and then they might implement that feedback, but it feels less collaborative. I would say that’s… because that can be a challenge at probably for somebody who is a freelancer, who maybe doesn’t know the business as well. The little nuances, the words because again, I was on a… I was on Twitter the other day. It was a little bit of a battle and I was like, “I don’t want to get in a Twitter battle,” but I felt like… and he was like, “Well, I didn’t really say that.” I was like, “But that’s what it felt like.”
I feel like with copy, and copywriters you probably know this, there is connotation and denotation and then there’s like the literal meaning of something, but then there’s like this feeling that you get from that and I think that there’s just so much, I don’t know, work that goes into copy and all those little nuances. I just find it so great as a team sport and I just wonder. I don’t have the answer to this. It’s just how can freelancers and in-house people be a bit more collaborative because the in-house person knows a lot more about the business. I think that collaboration could be really key. Yeah, it’s interesting.
Rob: Aside from collaboration, are there places where working with copywriters goes wrong or where you look at it and think, “I wish the copywriters did more of this other thing, so that the work would be better, or my job would be easier?”
Stef Grieser: Yeah. I am, I mean, I’ve worked with… I’m just trying to think. I’ve worked with a couple of freelancers over these past two years and before I was working primarily in-house with people, so the collaboration piece was easier. When I work with these freelancers, it’s interesting because I think I’m in the camp of like really clear, concise, short, choppy sentences followed by maybe long sentences, but I’m really in the short, choppy sentences, right, how you speak kind of thing and I think when you get a copywriter that’s a bit more long-winded it can be tough.
I know one of the tricks that I have used is, just in copywriting in general, is voice notes. I’ll go for a walk; I will record myself talking about the subject and then I’ll shoot it over to a copywriter. I think getting to know the customer and the words that the customer uses in doing the Joanna Wiebe method, which is very much like mining reviews, mining data, getting customer testimonials and using those words, I think that there’s always room for you to do more of that, like more research before you write because then the writing’s easy. Yeah. Yeah. Those are some of the things that I would say that I maybe struggled with freelancers or would say that those were some of the things I did that would help freelancers and help me ultimately get a better end product or end result working with them.
Kira: Yeah. That’s kind of the ideal client, at least for me, is the client who will send those voice memos and I can ask a bunch of questions, they can record the voice memo and send it over. Then it makes my job as the copywriter so much easier to capture their voice and their thoughts and even their sense of humor, too, from that voice note.
Let’s talk about growing a team and your leadership role on your teams. As I was checking out your testimonials on your site, a lot of the comments were about your leadership skills and I feel like this is something that a lot of freelance copywriters stumble into as they reach success and they’re building their team or maybe adding some VAs or maybe working with other subcontractors and other copywriters. We just kind of jump into it blindly. Can you share a couple lessons you’ve learned about growing a team and stepping into that leadership role about what to do, even maybe what not to do, as you start to step into that new role in your business?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, it’s so easy to jump to explaining how things are done and I think I learned that asking questions is just key. It’s just like asking questions about why somebody approached it that way or how come they did it. It’s genuinely out of curiosity, but to know what their thought process is and then, maybe following up with, “Okay, okay. Would you mind if I tell you where my thought process was at?” It’s more collaborative. I think the biggest word for me, and I’m a big advocate of coaching obviously with speaker coaching, but also when I started growing teams, I struggled. It wasn’t easy because I felt like I knew how to do it and I just… I guess I struggled, so I actually got a leadership coach.
She was amazing, and in our sessions it was all about slowing down, asking my team questions, and leading with curiosity. Curiosity was my main word that I wanted to work on and focus on. When I led with curiosity and when I asked more questions, it just… it was a game changer. I think it’s probably easier that had been done, but I think that really, really helped me grow and lead a team. Yeah, that’d be my biggest, biggest piece of advice.
Rob: What other things have you struggled with in your careers? You’ve done some pretty amazing things, worked for some amazing companies, but where have you had some failures?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, there had been a lot of failures. I mean, one is leading teams and fumbling with some of that. I know that it was a year or two before I got a coach and really slowed down and asked more questions. Sometimes you can be so set on your vision, but you need to take time to slow down and bring other people along. Yeah, I mean, I would say that is the biggest one simultaneously that comes up is stepping into a more… like a leadership role and really owning that. That’s just like a very different thing. Yeah, I would say that was my biggest, my biggest struggle, the one that comes up in my mind the most.
Kira: Can you dig into that before picture? I think it’s really cool that you worked with a leadership coach, I think it’s a good reminder for many of us that there are different types of coaches we can work with on these challenges. What did it look like beforehand, before you were leading with curiosity what were some of those red flags for you where you’re like, “Oh, this is not working. The way I’m approaching this is not working at all.” What did that look like and feel like at that point?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. Let me go through what happened. Essentially, I was like, “You know what? It’s just that I feel like I’m not getting to where I want to go,” is the thought that I had. I remember going on a walk with… We’d done group coaching, but never individual coaching at the company and I remember walking with Rick, our CEO, and he’s like, “Have you ever thought of a coach? I mean, I have a coach.” I was like, “No, am I allowed? Is that okay?” I went and got a coach and what we did was this. She did a very, very intensive leadership assessment and before that, there was just things that I didn’t know that I did and it was like if I had blinders on. I think that it’s like 25 people who answered a 30 to 40-minute survey about me. It was very intense. It was…
Kira: That’s terrifying.
Stef Grieser: Yeah, it was terrifying. It was my bosses, previous bosses, it was my direct reports or my team, it was my peers, it was people outside of the company. It was like this holistic view of who was Stef as a person and it was mapped out specifically on this… it was called like a compass. Then, I also answered all the questions. It was super interesting because, for example, there would be one element where it was like strategy. It was like, I thought I was really good at this, my bosses or the people that I reported to thought I was really good at it, their line was even higher than my line, and my direct report, it was lower.
Clearly, I was having a disconnect of sharing the vision and the strategy with them. I was like… and that made total sense and then we broke it down. It was like, “Why Stef, why is that so?” It was like, “In the meetings with direct reports, we didn’t focus on that, I spent more time communicating the strategy to the people above me, not below me,” and I hate saying above and below, but you know what I mean. It was like I spent so much time and I just didn’t even realize I was doing it. Then, I consciously changed that.
Yeah, so I think there’s those type of things and I think it’s just like you don’t even know what you don’t even know. I found that seeing all my… like how I saw myself, how my peers saw myself on… basically, charted out with data, was very interesting, and then we could pinpoint it and dig in as to why because I think there’s lots of things that people do that they don’t even realize. Again, it comes back to the subject matter expert thing that we were talking about before. You don’t even realize you do something until you break it down. I think that’s the same thing with leadership. You might not realize you’re doing something that really annoys somebody and then, if you find that out and you break it down and then, you move forward, it will make you become more, A, self-aware, but B, able to address that.
Rob: I can imagine that somebody listening to the podcast might be thinking to themselves, “Hey, Stef has done some really cool things and I think I might want to do something similar,” maybe start an event or do some of the things that you’ve done. If you were advising them or maybe talking to Stef from five or 10 years ago, what advice would you give them, so that they might get to where you are today?
Stef Grieser: I feel like you need to figure out what do you… I mean, I’ve never been like, oh, well, I’ve now done all these cool things. It’s not like I ever approached it that way. It was because I wanted to solve a problem or because I had an idea, so I don’t know. My advice is like, ask questions, fuel… I remember going out to coffees with so many people and just asking them questions even about events. I’d never started a conference; I’d never even done events before and I just took out five people to coffees or just asked what their experience was like and what they would do and what they wouldn’t do. Then, I went from there. It was always fueled by like, oh, I wanted to create this cool thing or I wanted to solve this problem.
I think if you start there, you’re just going to end up in places that you wouldn’t even expect. Like, I didn’t expect that I would run a speaker bootcamp. It just kind of like, you start taking the path and then, all of a sudden, here we are. It was because that it’s just like, oh, I want to create value for other people because this was my situation. Yeah, I guess that’s how I’m approaching it. It’s just like, it’s not about, oh… and you know, it’s so funny I think, “Oh, yeah, I’ve gotten to a place in my career, but I have so much, so much more stuff I want to do.” There’s so many other people that I look up to and I think, “Oh, my God. I need to get to this place in business.”
I think it all just starts with little baby steps and it just starts with wanting to create value just for value’s sake and not doing it for anybody else or for a job title or for an award or an accolade. It’s genuinely the value you want to create for other people. Maybe it’s a maker mindset, like what do I want to make that would help other people? That’s the question I would ask.
Kira: As a follow-up to that, I would like to know how you shape your life and your non-working hours for this problem-solving approach to business and to life and the maker mindset? What, when you think about even your week ahead, your weekend, your time, how do you look at it and approach it, so you feel energized and excited about your work and you’re not depleted and you have some type of boundary, too? I’m not really asking about the boundaries, but how do you shape your life?
Stef Grieser: Right. I’m just thinking about the next week and I think about what are the top two, maybe even one, things that I want out of that week and what problem do I want to solve, and I don’t try and take on too much. I mean, this is a funny thing. Talk about struggles. I go back to that question. I think I have a problem saying no to things, but I do, I’m consciously trying to… just if there was that one problem I would solve because then you pick up momentum.
I find that sometimes people, if you don’t finish something or you have 10 things to do and then you don’t do any of them or you do any of them half-assed, then you feel like your momentum slows down. I find momentum is big for me, so I try and just capitalize on that. Even a little small win, like it’s so funny, I’m creating this other thing and it’s going to launch hopefully in June, maybe July, who knows? It’s slow going at first. Sometimes starting things is like giving birth to something. It’s just like, oh, you’ve got to push the boulder up the hill, but I just know that consistency in pushing that boulder and just small wins repeated over and over again will… you’ll look back and be like, “Whoa, I got there.”
I love the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. It is literally the Bible to my life because I think I used to be, and still struggle with this consistency. I would sign up for a marathon or a half marathon and train, train, train, and then do the half marathon and then quit after. It’s just like that I had these huge swings and ebbs and flows and I’m just trying to get consistency and little wins and celebrate those little wins and get momentum. I feel like those are the things I’m trying to cultivate. It’s like, great habits, consistency over time that ultimately will give you momentum, but they can be very small wins.
Rob: You’ve mentioned you think of yourself as a maker and that you’re always looking for problems to solve. Do you have a process or even a framework that you use as you encounter a problem and think through, okay, how am I going to solve this and come up with something that’s going to work?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. I mean, I think if you are in a maker mentality, there is no shortage…their will be something that annoys you and you’re like, “Oh, this is so annoying. I wish that this existed,” or you pick up on other people saying that, it doesn’t have to be just you. You’re like, “Oh, really. That’s an interesting… You have that problem? Let’s dig into it.” I think there’s… I probably have a ton of those moments, but then I think it’s about choosing the problem that you want to tackle and actually doing it and choosing those very carefully because you could end up in the, oh my god, I’m solving 10 problems. Which one are you best to solve?
For Shine, for example, I feel like I would never identify even as a speaker myself. I could use help speaking, but I know that my path to speaking is what led to Shine being a successful bootcamp and I genuinely feel that solving the problem of bringing more diverse voices on stage and giving people that kind of training and experience, I know that I can solve that problem, so it’s almost people talk about, and I just read an article the other day, this isn’t new, but it’s product market fit. It’s also about product founder fit. Like, are your skills, talents and experience, do they line up with the problem you’re solving? Yeah. I think you need to think about that.
I also think you need to think about the industry you want to be in. Like, there are some things… Last two years ago, I traveled in India and my thing every day was to write business ideas down, like problems to solve, just like spitball ideas, and there is one idea that I told everybody. It was like, “Oh, I want to create this dip restaurant,” because I really love dips. Like, dips, like pizza and dips or chicken wings and dips. I thought there was a really cool concept there, but I also know I don’t want to be in the restaurant industry. There’s no way I was going to go chase after that. I loved the idea of it, but do I want to be in the day to day? Absolutely not.
I mean, yeah, even talking to restaurant owners, it’s like the margins are terrible, things like that. It’s also choosing the business that is right for you and also, again, your skills, talents, and experience line up with. I think when you’re thinking about making something, and not just an idea, but actually putting pen to paper and executing on it, it’s like, what are… think about some of those filters.
Kira: Now I’m hungry for some dips. I want some dips right now.
Rob: And some chicken wings, that would be good, too.
Kira: Yeah. Oh my…I need some lunch. We talked a lot about Shine Bootcamp and, as you mentioned, I’m an alumni member. I think for me it was applying to Shine Bootcamp in 2019 was one of the best moves I made, especially for my personal brand. Can you just talk through… we talked around it, but what do we actually do at the bootcamp and then, what is next for you? You mentioned that you’re adding to it and growing it in other ways, so you can talk about that, even for someone who’s interested in applying, what they should look out for if there’s another cohort anytime soon?
Stef Grieser: Yeah. Such good questions. I think that first question you could probably answer it just as well as I could, so feel free to chime in, but essentially, with Shine, there’s a couple of things. One, building a good conference deck or a speaker deck, it does not happen in two or three days. In reality, it happens in five weeks, so really, when you apply to Shine, you should be prepared to put in the work of six to eight hours a week. You need to think about little things, like the title of your talk, the speaker abstract, your bio, even your conference bio. Then you need to think about all the content that goes into it, like what you’re going to talk about, but then what examples you’re going to include in your slide deck or your presentation. What examples, what stories, how they all weave together. It takes time. It takes good speakers time to build a conference deck. That’s one thing.
Then, in terms of what actually happens is that you get coaching. You show up with a B one version of your deck and then you get a speaker coach. They’re very intimate and it’s designed intimately on purpose, so that you can get that one-on-one feedback. You basically present. You get a video taken of you in the presentation rooms and then, you hear feedback from your coach and from your mini group. Then you kind of… People have said that it’s like getting your talk totally ripped apart and then you have to build it back up in a day and it’s very intense. That’s kind of what people have described. Is that accurate with what you experienced?
Kira: It’s definitely accurate. Yeah. Your group is poking holes in your presentation, which is really helpful, but the great thing is you’re away. I was in Toronto for the whole weekend, so that’s all I was doing and I was able to put a lot of time into it, which was another perk because I have a lot of distractions at home. It was also nice just to be there in this bubble and just focus on one thing. I was just amazed at what we could accomplish over a weekend. It was just, what everybody accomplished over a weekend.
Stef Grieser: Yeah. Okay, yeah, so that is definitely a part of Shine. In terms of… there’s one other thing that I think is really important is that on the Sunday, there is a speaker showcase, so there’s a deadline. You have a deadline; you have to speak. You can’t just be like, “Oh, yeah. I worked on my deck.” It’s like, no, you have to go speak and it’s getting videoed and you’re getting head shots and it feels like mini conference, so there’s a little bit of pressure, but I feel like it’s a good kind of pressure because, in my experience, I’ve coached people and I swear their talks improve just by having that conference experience, like that mock conference speaker showcase experience, 10-fold. It’s like, it’s hilarious and everybody elevates their talk. It’s almost like game time. Right? It’s like, wow, we just practice, practice, practice, and now it’s game time. Then, you almost elevate yourself during the game. You do. You go there, you elevate, you get better. That’s one important aspect of it.
Kira, you asked me what’s next for Shine, so there’s a couple exciting things. One, well, COVID happened and we had four bootcamps lined up for the year. We’re about to press go on our website and then, the world of in-person events, even small workshops, like again, there’s not too many people that come to Shine. It’s only like a group of 30, but it stopped. A lot of people fly in to whatever location, so we obviously didn’t launch. This, too, shall pass. Hopefully, in a year or two, we’re running in terms of our in-person signature bootcamp, but the thing is, you can go through Shine and we’re putting together a virtual program, but it’s going to be really different than what you did, Kira. It’s going to be much more… you’re going to come in, it’s going to be five weeks, it’s going to be much more… we had homework assignments, but really, it’s going to be a to more collaborative and weekly workshops.
You’re going to have your coach and you’re going to have your coach coach you along those five weeks or six weeks. I don’t know if it’s going to be a five week or six-week program yet, but it’s going to be like five or six weeks. Then, at the very end, we are actually going to have a virtual conference and we’re going to market you. For example, week one, your homework and your task is going to be writing an awesome speaker bio, figuring out what you’re talking about, and writing a speaker talk title and abstract. You’re going to submit that to us and we’re going to create an amazing… basically, a conference website. We’re going to start marketing you, so people at the end of this are actually going to be watching. It’s going to be a conference; it’s going to be an online conference.
It’s going to be different than our speaker showcases, but I don’t know, maybe 200 people show up. Maybe only 18 people. Maybe it’s a thousand, but we’re going to create that because it’s really different speaking in-person, obviously, than speaking online. You’re speaking from the comfort of your home, but I want to create the feeling that this is a conference, so that’s one thing we’re going to do.
There’s still going to be tons of coaching and it’s going to be even more of a community feel and it’s going to feel like a five-week accelerator program, so that’s going to be launching. TBD on dates. Then the other thing that we’re doing is launching a little bit of a subscription, so I talk to so many people who are speakers, who have great tips. Then I speak to lots of conference organizers about what they’re looking for, so it’s going to be just a bunch of workshops, podcast episodes, just materials for anybody who wants to get into speaking and learn more, but it’s going to be a monthly subscription, kind of access some of that. Yeah, those are just some of the things we’re working on behind the scenes.
Rob: Stef, I can imagine a few people listening are thinking, “That sounds cool.” Where should they go to find out more about that or to connect with you?
Stef Grieser: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say go to ShineBootcamp.com, just enter your email in the newsletter or follow us @ShineBootcamp on Instagram, @ShineBootcamp on Twitter. You can connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, but yeah, @SMGrieser.
Rob: Well, cool. Thank you.
Kira: Yeah, thank you so much, Stef, for jumping in here with us and sharing more about everything you’ve done in your career and I’m personally excited to see how the new venture goes with Shine Bootcamp and hopefully, participating in that, too. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today.
Stef Grieser: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a lot of topics, I feel like we’ve covered a lot in the past hour.
Kira: We went over time. We went over time with you. There was a lot to cover, so thank you for hanging out a little bit longer than we had originally scheduled. We appreciate it.
Stef Grieser: Love it. Awesome. Thanks.
You’ve been listening to the Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive available at iTunes. If you like what you heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing at iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community, visit TheCopywriterClub.com. We’ll see you next episode.