“Career Diaries” is a new column from Step Up Magazine where we feature established professionals on what it’s like--and what it takes--to enter their field. Today we are excited to learn from Melanie Deziel.
Industry: Content Marketing
Job title: Brand Storytelling Consultant & Speaker (Founder of StoryFuel)
Years of experience: 5
Where Melanie went to college: University of Connecticut (B.A. Journalism) and Syracuse University (M.A. Arts & Cultural Criticism).
Melanie Deziel is an international keynote speaker, a lifelong storyteller, and the founder of StoryFuel, a consultancy focused on teaching marketers how to think like journalists and tell better brand stories. Melanie was the first editor of branded content at The New York Times, sits on the board of the Native Advertising Institute, is a member of the National Speakers Association, and teaches Content Marketing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. When she's not traveling to speak or lead Brand Storytelling Salons with clients, Melanie can be found in Jersey City—where she lives with her husband Yasin— searching for a great cup of decaf coffee and scouting Instagram-worthy tile floors.
In a few sentences, please tell us what you do and what your job involves.
I studied journalism and always thought I’d be a journalist, but I quickly found that the journalist’s skillset is particularly useful in the world of marketing and content marketing, more specifically. As a consultant, I work with brands and marketers to help teach them how to think like a journalist to tell more authentic and valuable brand stories through competitive reports, internal trainings, and content strategy work. As a speaker, I travel the world giving keynotes and workshops teaching the same tools and tactics of journalistic storytelling to marketers.
What is something you wish you knew about your industry before you entered it?
Starting my own company 2.5 years ago was such an adventure. I’d never been my own boss before, and as much research and prep as I’d done, there were a lot of lessons I had to learn the hard way: by doing. One thing I wish I knew before I started my own company was how much time would need to be spent on the small logistics that it takes to keep things running -- that is, how much time I would spend working ON my business, instead of IN it. Small tasks like managing email, sending invoices, tracking payments, updating my marketing materials, and more are “must-do things” that don’t particularly feed my creative side, so I had to learn how to optimize those tasks, how to batch them together to manage my time, and how to outsource them. If you’re starting your own company, think about which tasks feed you and which drain you, and have a plan to keep those draining items from sapping your creative energy!
What has surprised you about your industry?
Speakers and entrepreneurs are some of the most open and helpful people. In a corporate environment, like the ones where I worked before, things can be fiercely private and competitive, but so many of my fellow speakers and entrepreneurs have been instrumental in helping me and my business grow. By opening up to fellow entrepreneurs and speakers, asking for advice, being open to feedback, and more, I’ve been able to grow a network of amazingly talented peers that support and encourage me to be my best!
What does an average morning look like for you?
I split my time between working independently from home or a local café and working on the road while I’m traveling for speaking gigs, so my mornings vary. Regardless of where I’m waking up, I like to get up around 7:30 and have a leisurely breakfast and morning routine because it puts me in the right mindset. I get a coffee to start my day and then I usually spend some time examining my calendar, to-do list, and inbox in order to get a sense of my priorities for the day. Once I know what to focus on and what needs to be done, I start right in on any quick tasks, to clear out the task queue. That momentum of completing small tasks helps me build up to bigger tasks.
What does an average afternoon look like for you?
My afternoons are very similar to my mornings once things get rolling. I often have video calls, phone calls, and in-person meetings sprinkled throughout the afternoon, and I try my best to cluster these things so I don’t create odd blocks of time. I know I do my best creative work when I have time to think, so I’d much rather have an hour and a half of phone calls in a row if it means I create a block of 2 hours of uninterrupted time afterward to work on other projects. Depending on my meetings and calls and whether I’m on a roll, I’ll often head home around 5 o’clock to have dinner with my husband, and then we either work together for a bit - since he’s an entrepreneur too - or we relax for the evening.
What are some of your favorite parts of your job and what are some of your not-so-favorite parts?
I love that I have full control over my clients, my projects, my priorities, and my schedule. I get to choose to work on things that inspire me or to work with people that I enjoy collaborating with, and I’m able to create the type of schedule that best serves my productivity and creativity, which is really important to me in order to feel fulfilled.
As a speaker, I also love that I get to travel the world. As of right now, I’ve spoken in 12 countries, most of which I’d never been to before. I get to explore new parts of the world, meet all kinds of talented people, try new foods, and collect so many unique memories while traveling. This is such a blessing, and I feel so lucky that I get to share knowledge in so many wonderful places.
On the other hand, being the boss means I have to do the unpleasant or “unsexy” tasks too, like managing the invoices, handling contracts, tracking hours, and things like that. I enjoy the creative and collaborative work so much that it’s hard to switch back to those sorts of tasks sometimes.
The other thing that’s challenging about entrepreneurship vs. a salaried job, is that it can come with very unpredictable cash flow. Some weeks and months are better than others, and being prepared for that means you have to do some careful planning, detailed tracking, and diligent follow-up to make sure everything is coming in when it’s supposed to.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I forget where exactly I heard this, but I remember hearing that when you’re faced with a challenge, a problem, or something unexpected, you should ask “how is this a good problem to have?” This kind of perspective helps you see the positive in what could otherwise be a negative situation, and it helps you quickly find solutions and “silver linings.” This is, of course, great advice for your overall life, but in your work or business, this really helps you avoid negative thinking, unnecessary stress, and interpersonal conflicts by seeing how you can learn, grow or benefit from any unexpected situations you encounter.
What is your advice to a student who is interested in entering the industry you work in?
If you have aspirations of starting your own business or getting into marketing, one of the best things you can do is feed your mind with so many diverse information sources. Read books, listen to podcasts, meet people outside your immediate sphere, watch documentaries, whatever works for you, but focus on diversity. You’re going to be expected to wear a lot of hats in your own business, and so the various skills, tips and tricks you pick up in unexpected places will help you think differently, rise to the occasion, and gain a confidence in new topics and tasks.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
I use ToDoist to manage all my tasks and business, and I use Freshbooks to manage all my invoices and payments. TripIt is my must-have app for managing all things travel-related.
I also LOVE podcasts! Here are a few of my favorites in the marketing, speaking and general knowledge spaces: The Speaker Lab Podcast (which I co-host sometimes!), Entrepreneur On Fire, TED Radio Hour, The Wealthy Speaker Podcast, Steal The Show, 99% Invisible, Smart Passive Income, $100 MBA, Hurdle, and The Tim Ferris Show.