When I think of Diane Danielson, Brave, Bold and Pioneer come to mind. I always learn from each interview that I conduct, but there were many lessons in this one and I’m sure that you’ll agree. Some important lessons are: make sure that your career suits your personality, separate your emotions from the facts, figure out your passion and what you are good at and be at the forefront. And be flexible because your life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect, but change often brings lovely presents so be open.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am the founder of the Downtown Women’s Club, which is a women’s business network and career website. I’m also Vice President of Business Development for a social media consulting firm called Convengine. I try to combine the two because a lot of what I do at the Downtown Women’s Club is the social media strategy and a lot of our online networking program. I’m also recently remarried, I have four kids and a huge dog and I live outside the Boston area.
What’s a typical day like for you?
They differ from day-to-day but some days I spend the entire day giving several speeches, mostly talking about social media, networking and the different skills you can learn. And other days I’m doing a lot of writing online and doing some strategy consulting for clients. It does vary from day-to-day but it’s a nice mix and I like the idea that there are different days for different things.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
To make sure that I stay motivated, every day I mix in some fun projects and fun for me is creative writing, so if I’m having a big accounting and bookkeeping day, because I’m a small business, the Downtown Women’s Club is run by a couple of employees and we all do a little of everything but I always make some time for something that’s really motivating like writing, or speaking and the speaking really does motivate me when I go out there and actually get to meet people.
If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I would be better at delegating things and I would have spent my money more effectively with the Downtown Women’s Club when I was building the company. There was a lot of stuff that I couldn’t control, we built technology that was later cheaper and that’s usually typical with technology, but I also spent some money in areas where I probably could have figured out cheaper alternatives. I did some traditional marketing things that didn’t have as much bang for the buck. I think it’s just something you learn from experience. Anyone who starts a business knows that you are going to make these mistakes along the way and mine weren’t costly but those are stuff that I would definitely do differently.
What’s the most important business (or other) discovery you’ve made in the past year?
I’ve gotten more cognizant that people are afraid of change, and a lot of what I do in social media and forcing women to network and learn technology, is a big change, and they are going through a scary time right now and my important discovery is that their reluctance, it’s not that they are dismissing it, there is this fear of change and I have had to figure out how to help them through it, and I think for me that is a big discovery because I used to walk around thinking why people don’t get this.
What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Clearly it’s social media and social networking, it’s just huge – facebook, Twitter. People still discount how big it is but it’s not going away and it’s something that has changed every business model. I don’t think that anyone can name a business model that social media and social networking doesn’t affect in some manner.
What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
- The economy in general. We ask people to join but they are wondering if they should spend the $49 here, or is that four cups of coffee at Starbucks, or whatever it is. People are questioning where to spend their money, but on the flip side people are spending their money more wisely. They may see that investing in their career is a good thing. I’m trying to explain how this has long-term dividends.
- Our competition is always a threat in some manner, and I try not to see it as a threat because everyone does it a little differently, they have their own style, but that’s always a threat.
- The other thing is being able to scale appropriately because sometimes we get caught when we do not have enough staff, we need to staff up more yet we do not want to bring on more people until we can be sure that the growth is continuous. It’s a big guessing game, and trying to make the big decisions and being aware of what’s out there and how we try to handle it is being open-minded about what can affect us.
What’s unique about the service that you provide?
At the Downtown Women’s Club we were always at the forefront of social media and social networking. We were the only club that was on email 10 years ago when we were founded so we always had this little edge and we’ve always attracted people who are interested in pushing into new areas. That’s very unique. And on my social media consulting side I’ve partnered with Lena West who is phenomenal and is a social media guru, and what we offer that’s unique, and I think some of it for me for my clients is my marketing background. I’m not coming from a technology standpoint, I am coming to social media from marketing and I understand the technology thoroughly, so that’s a unique mix.
What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
I think that I’m a little less ego driven than others. I don’t want the Downtown Women’s Club to be Diane Danielson’s club even though I founded it. I try to really empower local directors and try not to have my face be the face. We went through a phase where I was the face because that’s what everyone was doing and I decided that that doesn’t work. I try to step back out of it. I think that that’s something a little different and it empowers other people to make the Downtown Women’s Club their own. When we start a local chapter the local director is the person who is in charge and makes the decisions.
Describe a major business (or other) challenge you had and how you resolved it.
One of the challenges we had two years ago is that we used to get a lot of website traffic from LinkedIn because we were listed as one of the first LinkedIn Groups and they actually posted a link to Downtown Women’s Club page from their group’s page. So we were always on the front page so if someone went to LinkedIn Groups they would see the Downtown Women’s Club so we had huge traffic, and then two years ago they corrected that, as they should and made it more of a directory so it was always different, and all of a sudden our website traffic went down. I was ready to shut down the shop. I was ready to close the Downtown Women’s Club, I mean, oh my God we’re not getting that website traffic. But what I did, I went and looked at the numbers and tried not to be so upset about it, and sat down and said before we shut down, let’s take a look at what’s going on here. And what I found out was that there was another site that I didn’t know very well, and it was facebook that was sending us a trickle of traffic, we didn’t put any effort there but it was converting into paid members at a higher rate than any other place, so I took that little bright spot and said let’s grow that bright spot and see if we can make it up, and within four months we were back to where we were with the LinkedIn traffic. We found that we got a lot of traffic from LinkedIn but it wasn’t converting to paid members. That was a big challenge.
What lessons did you learn in the process?
- Before you throw in the towel, separate your emotions and focus on the facts. If 100 people are coming from facebook and 50 are joining as paid members, that’s more important than having 5,000 people of which 50 converted to paid members.
- Work in small increments and say if things do not improve in three months then we’re done
Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
I don’t know if it was necessarily a big break, there are no overnight successes, but there have been lots of people throughout my career, even when I was in a bad situation as an attorney early on, or in real estate companies, there always seemed to be people who I call my guardian angels. They just showed up out of nowhere and gave me some advice and helped me through a bad position. I can think of a single mom who helped me out when I first became a single mom, I haven’t seen her in 10 years but she came into my life when I needed her and then she moved on. I have had people take me aside and say, “Here’s what you need to do with your career.” I’ve had these wonderful mentors, men and women that for some reason I got their attention without me even noticeably trying. I think by being outspoken people came along and picked me out and said “here.” So there have been many breaks and thanks for people who look to help younger people.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
I was not a good attorney, but I was in a very tough place, and when my boss left for another firm he left me holding the bag and so I got fired. I thought that my life was over. I actually remember thinking that I was going to step in front of a bus or something because I couldn’t believe that I just got fired. I thought that I was such a good employee and some of it was my fault because I was not the best attorney. I mean I was better than average but it also didn’t fit my personality and I really thought that my life was over. I’d gone to law school and I was in debt for law school. I looked around and felt sorry for myself and I interviewed with other law firms and it dawned on me that I didn’t want to work in another law firm, so I started looking around for jobs that were in marketing and sales and I found one and had a great run. I had fun being VP of marketing in the commercial real estate industry. It was one of those things where I felt it was the most horrible point in my life and I ended up finding a career that was wonderful.
What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?
Not having more children when my son was younger. Of course now I have three step-kids who are wonderful and we have a wonderful house, but I did feel that I missed out on doing the big family thing, because it was just me and my son for eight years.
What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Getting divorced while pregnant and it impacted my life because I embarked on being a single mom for eight years. I remarried when he was eight years. That was a tough decision because to walk away from a marriage that wasn’t working, and clearly neither of us wanted it to work anymore. That was a tough decision and I’m not sure that I had a choice. Even to this day I still refer to myself as a single mom and I think that I’ll always identify with single moms even though I’m remarried and in a wonderful family situation. I’ve developed a strong community with some of the best people that I’ve met.
What are three events that helped to shape your life?
- Getting fired from being a lawyer. I have many friends who say they were glad that I worked at such a tough law firm because I would not have done all the things I’ve done for women in business had that not happened.
- Becoming a single mom. It forced me to be a better mom and I suppose had I been married I would have had a nanny and all that other stuff but by making that choice because my son was in a weird situation, I would have to be the all round parent. That changed my view on a lot of things and I discovered that I was a pretty good parent, hopefully my son will agree with me. It also forced me to seek out flexible employment situations and make choices that were different than I otherwise would have made. I always thought that I would have been a big executive and head of a major company. Now I’m running a small business because it allows me to be entirely flexible for my son.
- Discovering social media. I’m not good working at home alone because I like interacting with people and social media made it less lonely. It kept me going, it provided me with a skill set that was at the cutting edge, I started blogging back in 2003 for the Boston Globe. And now social media affects everything so it means that I was able to join my friend’s consulting business. For me it ensures employment going forward and it ensures me helping people going forward.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
The Downtown Women’s Club. The fact that we have 12,000 women involved in it and finding help and value in it, and doing any bit we can do to help women to get ahead. On some days it’s really tough and I wonder why I do this but I’m still really proud that it exists.
What can you learn from Diane’s experiences? Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. Many readers read this blog from other sites, so why don’t you pop over to The Invisible Mentor and subscribe (top on the right side) by email or RSS Feed. I created a Mini Learning Toolkit and you can grab a copy by clicking here.
About Diane Danielson
Diane K. Danielson is the founder and chief social media strategist for the Downtown Women’s Club, a professional network and career website. She is the author of The Downtown Women’s Club Beginners Guide to Facebook ebook (2009), the co-author of The Savvy Gal’s Guide to Online Networking (or What Would Jane Austen Do?) (2007) and Table Talk: The Savvy Gal’s Alternative to Networking (2003). Diane blogs for www.womensDISH.com, and Entrepreneur magazine and serves as a workshop leader and social media coach for companies, non-profits and individuals.
She is a former vice president of business development for Spaulding & Slye Colliers, a vice president of marketing for Meredith & Grew, Inc./ONCOR International, and an environmental attorney. Diane is a graduate of Colgate University and Boston College Law School.