Like many women who grew up in the “Barbie generation” believing that “we girls can do anything,” Alaina Shearer was surprised that the workforce she entered wasn’t fully prepared to reward her hard work or value her professional contributions. When the glass ceiling turned out to be a prescient reality, rather than a thing her mother’s generation broke through, she fought back. She left the corporate world and started her own company, a digital agency, but then she did something remarkable, she beat the odds and joined the just 1.7% of women who grew her business to over 1 million dollars. Oh…AND She didn’t stop there, she decided to take what she learned and help other women to do the same so she founded Together Digital, a professional organization for women like her, and now she’s running for congress.
Cement Marketing: https://cementmarketing.com/
Alaina Shearer for Congress: https://www.alaina2020.com/
Tracy Graziani: Hey everybody. Thanks for joining me on the humble brand podcast. Every week we talk to cutting-edge marketing leaders who worked with purpose-driven brands. If you believe that business can be a force for good in the world and marketing can be more human, honest, and fun, then stick around to learn from the pros that are doing good at scale, they’re helping grow thriving companies without selling their soul. If you want to be a better marketer than you’ve found your tribe, you can keep the conversation going on social media using #HumbleBrand.
[00:00:30] This podcast is produced by me and the team at Graziani Multimedia. and we specialize in working with triple bottom line businesses who want to amplify their impact in a world increasingly craving companies that care. If you’re curious about who we help and what we do visit GrazianiMultimedia.com. And now for our show,
[00:00:51] Braxton Daniels III: You are listening to the humble brand podcast, the marketing podcast about brands that do well by doing good. Here’s your host, Tracy Graziani.
[00:01:03] Tracy Graziani: Like many women who grew up in the Barbie generation, believing that “we girls can do anything.” Alaina Shearer was surprised that the workforce she entered wasn’t fully prepared to reward her hard work. Or value her professional contributions. When the glass ceiling turned out to be a prescient reality, rather than a thing her mother’s generation broke through, she fought back.
[00:01:24] She left the corporate world and started her own company, a digital agency, but then she did something remarkable. She beat the odds and joined the just 1.7% of women who grew her business to over $1 million. Oh. And she didn’t stop there. She decided to take what she learned and help other women to do the same.
[00:01:43] So she founded together digital, a professional organization for women like her. And now she’s running for Congress without further ado, our guest and quite possibly superwoman Alaina Shearer.
[00:01:57] So I saw Alaina speak and it was to a group of women. And as she was speaking, the women in the room kept nodding and turning to each other and whispering and saying that happened to me.
[00:02:11] I’ve had the same thing, you know, everybody who was there and they were mostly professional women. It was this really interesting experience where here these ladies get together once a month and have never had those conversations with each other. And so I thought it would be really great to start with you telling a little bit of your story.
[00:02:33] I’ve already heard it. Some other people have heard it, but our listeners may not. So how did you become a agency owner and eventually create a movement?
[00:02:44] Alaina Shearer: Yeah. The first, the first key to that was being born a woman. And I, you know, I think, yeah, so that was the first step and actually graduated from college with a degree in journalism.
[00:02:59] And I was so fortunate to grow up in a household where my mom and dad were absolutely in love with each other. And I had an egalitarian role model relationship for my father who not only you know, respected the fact that my mom wanted to do her own thing. And she actually had her own business. She started a retail shop.
[00:03:18] He encouraged it and it was hard, you know, but he would take care of us and the kids and let her rush off and do her thing and I grew up witnessing that. So I didn’t know there was anything different. And when I graduated from college, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed and I thought, you know, sexism is a thing of the past.
[00:03:34] The women’s rights movement is ancient history. Off I go into the world to conquer and do everything a man can do. And then reality, of course, within the first few months being on the job at my first newsroom, inappropriate comments from coworkers, just very inappropriate. Like I can’t even repeat. You know that here, I wouldn’t want to, but things that just shocked me that this was happening.
[00:03:59] And so I was in the radio industry originally and there were some incredible, incredible. Coworkers men in that industry that were so inspiring. And it was actually a man, my boss, my news director, and my mentor who told me to try to win the best reporter award for the associated press and the other men.
[00:04:19] And a couple other men had said you can’t win, you’re a woman. And I did it anyway and at the encouragement of my mentor and I won and I just had such a bright future in radio, but then I quickly found that there wasn’t much room for women in radio. And it was actually in 2003 when I walked into work and was fired without cause and without reason.
[00:04:44] And that was a startling experience for me. Having worked for seven years on night shifts and dedicated my life to this career to be fired without reason. And it was because my strong female personality did not jive with the personality that they wanted on their morning show. They wanted, you know, I just wasn’t a fit.
[00:05:03] So I switched careers entirely got into marketing and advertising started over because I was interested in and I’ve always liked storytelling and I was a writer and I thought this would be nice. Let’s try this. And I did not. I ended up finding myself, I have my first marriage and I got pregnant and did not have a paid maternity leave.
[00:05:23] And this was the first part where I still wasn’t thinking about it. I still wasn’t thinking this right now is the beginning of what costs women so much in opportunity and equal opportunity and pay. And I knew that I had to save my money. So I saved a bunch of money. I paid myself through the maternity leave and then maternity leave ends.
[00:05:46] And I find my marriage is falling apart. And my husband is actually physically pushing me around and I decided to leave. And leave him with a four month old baby. And I find myself a single mom living with my mother and Southeast Ohio. And you know what? I had a job waiting for me at my first radio station as a secretary for $8 an hour.
[00:06:09] And it was an incredible, incredible thing then, because I had a job. But there I was starting over completely at like that, that rock bottom, um, which was still, I should say, and much more of a position of privilege than most, because I had an education. I had a college education. Right. And I got out of it.
[00:06:27] I learned digital all on my own. I got my hands on my first website, working for a local visitors Bureau and helping them with a website redesign. And I discovered digital and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with everything about website work and SEO and social marketing. And I just, it was you all.
[00:06:46] If any of you have ever gotten into it, you’ll, you know, something that you love, you fall in love with it. And I had an amazing job opportunity and. Jumped at it and went back to Columbus and I became a digital copywriter at a big agency, and I loved my job and I was supporting my son and we were so infinitely happy with just life, you know, just living our lives as single mom and son.
[00:07:13] And I walked into work one day. And my boss who was twice my age said, I can’t be alone in a room with you because I don’t know what will happen. And he was serious and he couldn’t meet alone with me. And it was quite uncomfortable for both of us. And then I started my own agency. They instead of reprimanding him, they tried to move me to a different department.
[00:07:33] So I set out to start my own business in the middle of a recession, which was not, I do not advise. And I grew it and grew and grew it case-by-case and client by client. And then it was in 2015 at the end of the year. When we had a breakthrough, a new business. When I brought a man to the new business meetings, I noticed that if we were selling to men, we sold twice as much in half the time.
[00:07:55] If a man was sitting next to me. So instead of being thrilled at our increase in sales, I was devastated. I was pretty depressed, which is what happens when we do come to the awakening that sexism exists, racism exists, classism exists. These things exist, and it is so incredibly hard as individuals to come to the reckoning that you’re at a disadvantage.So instead of being thrilled at our increase in sales, I was devastated. I was pretty depressed, which is what happens when we do come to the awakening that #sexism exists, #racism exists, #classism exists. -@alainashearer… Click To Tweet
[00:08:23] And it’s not just a little disadvantage. You’re at a distinct disadvantage. It is going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career. And there’s literally nothing you can do about it. So I felt helpless and powerless, and that’s when I called. I said, I just want to meet with women.
[00:08:38] I had never really been close to women before on a professional level. Of course, I have my girlfriends, but I hadn’t really connected did with women at work. And I called this meeting and I just called it women in digital. I said we’re going to meet. And you know, let’s just meet in the morning. Let’s have some mimosas, dropped the kids off at daycare, and let’s meet the things sold out.
[00:09:00] I told my story to the audience and then the women stood up and told their own stories. And then from that moment, I knew. This was what I wanted to focus on. I said, what was that? That was incredible. That was an experience. We had found each other. And by me telling my story, I had suddenly freed them from their own stories and they told their stories and you know what?
[00:09:24] We went from feeling powerless to powerful. And from that moment I knew I should dedicate. I wanted, I couldn’t think about anything else. I just wanted more of that. So husband took over my agency for me so I could rush off and build this thing. And I did not, I don’t think I was able to pay myself for the first two years.
[00:09:43] Okay. And we, we just, we started charging membership dues to make it work. And every single bit of profit was spent on a staff, but we got to the two year Mark and finally I was able to draw a salary. And today the organization is actually surviving COVID. So our, our profits were cut by 40 to 60% because most of our revenue is from, well, 40 to 60%, depending on the year is from live events.
[00:10:11] And obviously those are all off. But what we do is we meet, we have virtual peer circles. So you meet with people who are going through a similar experience. So right now we have the recently laid off, which is, unfortunately, a very popular channel right now. We have small business owners. We have women like you, Tracy are building your own thing.
[00:10:29] And it’s, it’s really cool because you can get in on these virtual peer circles and they advise each other through. We’ve been meeting on zoom for years. So, so we’re going to, I think we’re going to make it and yeah, that’s how it started. That’s great.
[00:10:44] Tracy Graziani: So one of the interesting things is the type of organization that you created could have easily been a nonprofit and you selected to treat it as a business too, to make this for-profit.
[00:10:58] So can you talk a little bit about that decision? I’m sure you thought through.
[00:11:00] Alaina Shearer: That. Oh, immense immense amount of time. Thinking through that at the beginning, there were a lot of questions about whether or not we should be for-profit or nonprofit. I had run a business before I had not run a nonprofit.
[00:11:11] So first of all, I didn’t know how to do that. And I didn’t want another thing that I could potentially totally mess up. You know, if you run a nonprofit incorrectly, that’s not good. And also the other thing was, why should we be? Why should this be a nonprofit? Why, you know, I have seen a lot of nonprofits that are not thriving.
[00:11:33] You know, it’s really tough because they have boards and I don’t know, it seems pretty complicated. There is… there’s also the underlying thing that women do, where we feel really guilty about wanting to grow our careers or ask for more money or ask for a salary or whatever. And I felt that undercurrent with the women, when we were forming, the group said, no, we’re going to be, why not be profitable?
[00:11:55] And then we can take that those profits and invest them how we want in the company to make it stronger. Now I’ll tell you right now, it’s still a nonprofit. There is no like, you know what? You, you don’t. When you chase after something that you believe in there is there is an infinite amount, infinite amount of happiness and joy that it will bring you in fulfillment, but there is not no promise of an infinite amount of money, but I find I choose the, the fulfillment and, and change.
[00:12:25] So then one of the women, you asked me this earlier, one of the women in my group is the one who said, Hey, You live in Ohio’s 12th congressional district. And I was like, that’s weird. What’s it to you? Why do you care? What congressional district I live in? And she said, you should run for Congress. And suddenly everything that I had coached the women in my group through every book I’ve read about gender discrimination, just went out the window.
[00:12:51] And I had an immediate imposter syndrome, like frozen and fear. Nope. Not when I even thought about it. W fear, like the fear is the worst emotion you can have. And I have a thing that I tell myself, if I am scared of something, I need to run into it. I, if you’re feeling fear, it means it’s an opportunity to grow.
[00:13:13] And of course, with reason, you know, you’re not. I am a reasonable person driven by fear, but it’s something, yeah. You’re telling your body’s telling yourself something that you should try it your mind. So here we are. Thanks to Katie who just encouraged me to do this. And she said, you can run and you, you should run and you can win and you’re qualified.
[00:13:38] Tracy Graziani: Yeah. So when, when you think about other brands who have made that same decision, there are a lot of different ways to structure a company, but to structure a company from the beginning where your core values are baked into the design of your organization. How is that different than say the other thing, I’m sure you encountered it in the corporate world, the, the CSR model, you know, how, how does that make a better, more impactful, more successful organization?
[00:14:16] Alaina Shearer: It depends on what the person creating. It defines the success, right? So for me, success is that 48% of our members who are small business owners or one-woman shows, saw an increase in rates and revenue. That to me is success. So when you build those things in, within whatever we are creating and it is built from love and it is built from care and you’re listening to your community because in our case, it’s about the community.
[00:14:43] I, by no means created this by myself. There are nearly 2000 members who have helped to create it nearly 90% of our members after the first year of membership, feel more confident at work. Okay. And I think it’s 51% in our survey said that they had a raise or a promotion and 49% of contractors are small business owners.
[00:15:03] This network was built by a community of women across the country. And when you’re building anything and you’re in, you’re building a company, you, you know, you’re thinking about your community and your commute, unity is your customers. Right? And I think too often brands treat customers transactionally and take them for granted and take advantage of the fact that they’re loyal to that brand. And you’ve got to constantly feed and reward that loyalty with experiences in today’s world. Especially, it’s not about a thing that you’re selling. It’s about the experience that comes with that. And, and maybe it’s identity.
[00:15:39] If it’s something that, you know, it’s a physical thing that you’re wearing that it’s always for people. So much more it’s deeper, especially in today’s world, where we live post-COVID, you know, we’re going to be, be much more selective in how we spend our money. Um, you’ve got to make sure that when you’re creating something, it has a true value.
[00:15:57] And the reason together digital is survived and will survive is because right now it is more valuable than it ever has been. And, and. And they, they know this because they, it grows through word of mouth. You know, we’ve never had any major advertising. We’ve never had any major publicity. It’s literally all from word of mouth.
[00:16:16] And, and that’s the only reason I wanted to do it someday. Perhaps, you know, I think, I think what’s cool to see is so many other groups like it forming, you know, and women just need one another, we need one another. And you’re so right. When all those heads were nodding and the women who we were meeting with that night they’ve you said something so powerful.
[00:16:36] They’ve been together before, but they haven’t had these conversations before. And when you have these conversations with each other and suddenly you say, wait, it wasn’t just me. And then true change happens and we need to do that as a country right now. And that’s why I’m so excited to be running for Congress.
[00:16:51] It’s like, I know how to do this, this I can do. I can bring people together. I can do that.
[00:16:59] Tracy Graziani: Well, that’s very incredible. Thank you so much for your time. And we’ll include in the show notes, how people can check out your website, look into membership, and all of those things. Any last words?
[00:17:12] Alaina Shearer: The key takeaway.
[00:17:14] I hope for listeners and for everybody is, you know, that when you, when you do something for the right reasons, there is an infinite amount of bounty and it is not always money, but it is profound, happiness, and fulfillment, and, and those things that nothing else can give you. And it leads you down roads that you never would’ve taken me.
[00:17:38] Tracy Graziani: Wow. How do you sum up all the wisdom and heart from an interview like that? The world isn’t always what we imagined it to be. As Alaina and countless others have learned, but that doesn’t mean we can’t recreate it in new ways. By pushing back, pulling one another up and occasionally running headlong into our fears.
[00:17:56] We could all stand to stare down our imposter syndrome from time to time and take a bold leap like Alaina Shearer, who might just be the next Congresswoman representing. Ohio’s 12th.
[00:18:10] It brings us to the end of our time together today. I’m glad you joined us. Thank you. Our team has compiled detailed show notes with links to everything discussed today. And you can find those in the show notes section of your podcast app or on our website, humble brand podcast.com as always, you can keep the conversation going, using the hashtag #HumbleBrand.
[00:18:30] This episode was directed and produced by me, Tracy Graziani our editors Braxton Daniels III show notes and research by Lisa Stone. Our theme music was composed by Bryce Lucky until next week. I hope you give a damn make a difference and repeat.