Quantcast

Leading Ladies - Nikki Sunstrum

NikkiSunstrum_LeadingLadies

If you ever wanted to see a woman who must hear "I don't know how she does it" anytime she talks about her career, her public service, as well as her family, this is Nikki Sunstrum. Nikki has gone above and beyond in her quest to "never be bored" with her career and yes...even her family life! With five children, being bored isn't really an option. However, in her career, she has been quoted as saying, "each year I ask myself how I can raise the bar higher" and well, this girl isn't scared of heights. 

Inspiration is coming your way from this next powerhouse! Meet, Nikki and connect with her on Twitter!

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START?

An interest in politics and government led me to a job with the State of Michigan following my undergraduate degree. In my spare time I was also coordinating events for non-profits, municipalities, and held public office. Leadership took notice and I transitioned into a special projects role. Social media began as just one of those projects. There was an existing flow of conversation taking place by our constituents that we were not participating in. By translating teaching techniques I was learning in graduate school into a facilitation forum, I began training departments and programs on how to utilize social platforms to disseminate dynamic messaging where a large audience was already gathered, for free. As social media gained momentum, a statewide board was formed and I was asked to serve as chair and primary liaison to departments and Governor's Office staff. After four successful years of establishing the State of Michigan as a leader in government constituent engagement I was sought out by the University of Michigan to do the same. Moving into the higher education space was a perfect opportunity for me to enhance and combine my skill sets, allowing me to not only create and implement best practices but educate and teach others how to as well.

WHAT RISKS DID YOU TAKE?

I used to say ‘my role didn't exist five years ago, and may not five years from now,’ but only the latter part of that may now hold true. Still, choosing to blaze a trail in an often-undervalued medium has been a risk. Not just in the terms of my potential career path, but in the way in which your expertise or knowledge base is valued in a professional setting. Be innovative in the ways in which you approach and apply your education, trainings and surroundings. If you find worth in something, make it the best something you can possibly do -- and prove its necessity to others.

WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU?

Most often, I'm awake thinking about the challenge of balancing daily requests with innovative, creative ideas that will continue to establish us as a thought leader in social engagement. If I really take a step back however, I often worry too about how specialized my career has become and how that will translate into my next professional pursuit.

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

I’m often asked about what I studied in college in order to pursue a social media career. The funny thing is social media wasn’t even prevalent until I was midway through graduate school. I’ve based my professional life on a foundation of solid communications principles, dynamic leadership and a passion for success. Social media emerging as a new and popular way in which I could disseminate and apply those skills completely altered my career irrevocably and I’ve been riding that wave ever since.

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

While I’m not certain any of these have truly been advised to me, they are some primary guiding examples of my daily life:

Dress for the job you want: My children particularly hate this one, as I’ve often been known to say, “I don’t get to wear yoga pants to my job, so you can’t wear them to school either.” What we wear and how we are visually perceived plays a very large role in our professional aspirations.

You should write a book: Not really typical career advice I know, but the fact that people might find value in both my life and professional experiences has empowered me to be more dynamic in my pubic speaking. As a mother of five and a Director of Social Media, I’m able to combine two really important careers in order to help parents protect their children online, children and young adults build and curate respectable digital footprints, and businesses and organizations learn how to engage younger demographics.

Carpe diem: I’ve been told an exorbitant amount of times, “I don’t know how you do it.” Want to know my secret? I just DO! Why not? What is stopping you? Each day for me is another opportunity to do something spectacular, make an impact, and set an example.

BIGGEST MISTAKE?

I know it has been my personal experience, that too often we devalue all that we actually do, and the impact it makes. Particularly, in a developing industry such as social media, there are no existing parameters for success. Recognizing and championing the importance of my craft and taking pride in my work have been huge factors in my success.

Leading Ladies - Ebony Combs

EbonyCombs_LeadingLadies

When Ebony Combs walks in the room, she immediately gains the attention. Not because she is loud or demanding, but her presence just pulls you in. It was such a pleasure meeting Ebony for the first time last year at the Texas Conference for Women. We met as we were both a part of the press and we instantly bonded over who we were interviewing that day and of course, helping each other take pictures. The inspiration that comes from Ebony as she speaks shows that there is no question that she is a strong, successful, and amazing individual. 

I'll let you enjoy her story below because I feel like I'll give too much of it away if I keep talking about her. Don't forget to connect with her on Twitter as well!

HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START?

I got my start by being chosen one of six women to become the first-ever national ambassadors for My Black Is Beautiful (MBIB)—a Procter & Gamble initiative designed to empower and encourage black women and girls. From this opportunity birthed a two-time best-selling author, speaker, creator of BARE Brunch - an initiative that empowers single moms, and CEO of iamebony, a women’s lifestyle consultancy that empowers women and positions them for purpose and prosperity.

WHAT RISKS DID YOU TAKE?

I've taken several risks, from leaving my child's father and becoming a single mom to starting my blog, but the most profound was the day I said goodbye to my corporate job in order to walk in my purpose. I had a false sense of security in an every two week paycheck that kept me imprisoned and thinking small; the day I took the leap of faith to walk in my role as a national Procter and Gamble MBIB Ambassador, my life became unrecognizable. I took the leap all while being a single mom, serving as my daughter's living example. She now knows what a tenacious spirit looks like because her mom showed her through action.

WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU?

Something that scares me would have to be someone telling my daughter what she can't be or do because I had someone do that to me and I know how long it took me to get over it. I strive to positively pour into her each and everyday so that my encouragement far outweighs the noise of the world. I don't want her to fear her greatness but walk in it- knees knocking and all.

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

Looking back on my career, the major turning point has been the moment I realized that I was good enough, more than enough, and was going to be who I was created to be. I had a light bulb moment when I stopped replaying the noise of the world on my mind's soundtrack and began to create my own music.

WHAT ARE THREE PIECES OF ADVICE YOU'VE CARRIED WITH YOU THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER? 

We were at our media dinner, hosted by Lisa Nichols, in New Orleans and I remember sitting at the table with her afterwards, telling her how I'd just resigned from my corporate position and was nervous about it. She looked me in the eyes and said, "Baby, you and your daughter are going to be just fine, trust me." I recall not knowing what that meant but feeling good just from her encouragement. I told her how I'd gone by Danielle (my middle name) professionally and my reasons why - she said, "Stop going by Danielle, dimming your light for them to be okay and you're dying inside." From that birthed iamEbony (I Affirm ME, Ebony) Danielle was buried on July 4, 2014 and I haven't looked back since.

  1. Always be true to yourself, there's no one like you nor can they beat you being YOU.
  2. Don't ever dim your light for small minds and small dreams.
  3. Never allow your bank account to be filled from one source of income. Always think multiple streams.

BONUS: Tell your truth. I vow to always tell my truth and see myself naked.

BIGGEST MISTAKE?

My biggest mistake was not listening to myself sooner.

**Quick add: Ebony and I will both be at this year's Texas Conference for Women, so we would love it if you would join us on October 15 in Austin, Texas!**

Leading Ladies - Ann Handley

AnnHandley_LeadingLadies

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. :-)