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Leading Ladies - Ann Handley

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I've always been in awe of Ann Handley and her amazing writing style (love her humor!), but especially her career. Cited in Forbes as the most influential woman in Social Media and recognized by ForbesWoman as one of the top 20 women bloggers, Ann is the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, a training and education company with the largest community of marketers in its category. Her book, Everybody Writes: Your Go-to Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (Wiley), is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. 

Find out more about Ann in this feature, but also reach out on Twitter at @annhandley as well as @MarketingProfs!

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START?

I started my career in publishing when I was 8, and I launched a weekly neighborhood newsletter with a construction-paper cover. It was limited circulation because my street only had a handful of houses. But the open rate was an astonishing 100%.

Later I branched into direct mail and invented blogging and I dug into audience personas.

Eventually that led me to journalism, which led to co-founding ClickZ back when “internet marketing” basically meant banner ads.

WHAT RISKS DID YOU TAKE?

I just had to think about this for a minute... because I’m trying to imagine a time when I thought that something worth doing was not risky. No outcome is ever certain – at least, not for anything big.

Deciding what college to go to. Accepting your first job. Getting married. Having children. It all has an element of risk, doesn’t it? You never quite fully know if you are making the right choice.

The key is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and learning to understand that your comfort zone is your dead zone.

WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU?

Hmm. Another question that makes me pause. I used to be terrified of a lot of things most people would have zero issues with. But these days, I’m not really scared by much.*

Which isn’t to say things don’t still make me nervous – they do. But I’ve learned to not let fear derail me. Instead I use it as a kind of resistance to fuel growth, not unlike a sailboat uses the wind to propel itself into new water. If you’re standing still you aren’t moving forward.

* I do hate flying. And I worry irrationally about my children’s well-being when they’re away from home. (“Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating?”) Because mother.

LOOKING BACK ON YOUR CAREER, WHAT WAS A MAJOR TURNING POINT FOR YOU?

Learning to poke my nose out.  Because no one is going to invite me. This wasn’t a specific moment, but something I realized gradually over my career.

It took me a long time to get up the guts to poke my nose out, to advocate for myself, even if I was terrified of the consequences of sharing my own ideas. Of public speaking. Of being accountable for my own thoughts and actions and ideas.

Accidents occur most frequently at intersections. It’s a risk to poke your nose out. But it’s a risk you have to take.

There’s also a nuance to poking your nose out, because poking your nose out doesn’t mean shameless self-promotion or brazen aggrandizing or out-of-the-blue asks of people who can help you... with little regard for why they should.

And it doesn’t mean you take a dumb risk you haven’t prepared for.

Poking your nose out means you’ve invested the time learning what you need to learn, and understanding what works and what doesn’t and why.

And it means that you’ve figured out your story. You’ve identified why others should care and where you fit in: Why do your ideas matter to them? How can you help them?

So: Poke your nose out. Raise your hand. Join. Take a seat. Take your turn. Try. Launch. Tell your story. Tell others why it matters to them. Because no one is going to invite you.

WHAT ARE THREE PIECS OF ADVICE YOU'VE RECEIVED THAT YOU'VE CARRIED WITH YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?

1.     Learn how to write simply and write well.

2.     Never stop growing.

3.     Be grateful to your parents.

4.     Can I add a fourth? Don’t take things quite so seriously.

BIGGEST MISTAKE?

I’m tempted to say I didn’t trust my own instincts enough. But I suppose most people have to learn that the hard way. (And those who are born ultra-confident in their decisions from the get-go probably turn out to be insufferable human beings.)

In other words, I’ve learned a lot from the mistake of not trusting myself (and other mistakes I’ve made).

So not to get too philosophical, but would that still categorize them as true mistakes? Or are they now instead small turning points that have accumulated into a kind of wisdom?

I guess I’ll have to ponder that on my time… not yours. :-)