Hello SOTGC Community!
One of the main reasons I became a contributing writer for SOTGC is to introduce readers to many of the amazing people whom I’ve met over the years. I feel very blessed to have such an amazing network of colleagues and friends and I hope you will find inspiration from insights they provide about their personal and professional journeys.
One such woman is Shannon Jones. Shannon and I both worked at Starbucks and when I first started in the communications department, she was the regional marketing manager for Starbucks in the greater Washington, D.C. area. She and I left Starbucks around the same time and in the couple of years since then, Shannon has accomplished quite a bit!
This particular column is about following your dreams. And Shannon has done just that. She has lived and worked abroad. She is the author of a successful children’s book series based on her cat. She created a blog about her personal passions of wine and travel. And she partners with her husband on projects for his own firm specializing in marketing for restaurant and retail leaders.
Below you’ll find a Q&A from a recent conversation with Shannon about how she went about defining and following her dreams:
1) You have a background in marketing, having spent time at two amazing experiential brands, Discovery Channel and Starbucks. What spurred you to start Grape Occasions wine, travel and spa blog?
My passions are wine and travel, and who doesn’t love visiting a spa when traveling (or anytime!). I was ‘bitten by the travel bug’ in 5th grade. My mom was a flight attendant so growing up we had great, free flying privileges. My appreciation for wine began in 1995 working for an event-planning firm in the Washington, DC area. Then in 2006, working for Starbucks, I had the great opportunity to move to Amsterdam to head marketing and product. Living in Europe, I decided to start Grape Occasions to share my passions and experiences with friends and others to help them in their explorations!
2) I also see that you partner with Idea Sandbox. Can you tell us what Idea Sandbox is and how it got started?
Paul Williams started Idea Sandbox in 2005 after spending his early career building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company. Idea Sandbox was founded on his a passion to help others create remarkable ideas and help brands solve challenges, grow their brand, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation.
I joined Paul in 2012 with that same passion…to share my 20 years of marketing experience with other companies to help them achieve their goals and dreams!
We’ve also launched a membership based website, LSMGuide, to help small and franchised restaurants and retailers build their marketing and sales driving plans at their own pace. Many businesses don’t know where to start and it’s exciting to share our expertise in this way.
3) And in case any of our readers thought you were not busy enough, you are also the author of two children’s books: KeeKee’s Big Adventure in Paris, France and KeeKee’s Big Adventure in Rome, Italy. How did you break into the crowded children’s literary business?
As I mentioned, my love of travel began at a young age. It opened my eyes and ears to the world. The idea for KeeKee’s Big Adventure came together living in Amsterdam with my kitty, KeeKee, and my husband, Paul. As we traveled across Europe, in every city we saw so many cats and dogs.
And our friends’ children back in the U.S. had so many questions about where we were and what we were doing. We thought, “wouldn’t it be great to expose children to other cities and cultures through the eyes of KeeKee…the adventurous calico kitty traveling the world in her hot air balloon.”
Returning to the states in 2010, I took a sabbatical from Starbucks and set out to write the books. In 2012 we started our own publishing company, Calithumpian Press, to bring KeeKee to life.KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Paris, France came out Spring 2013 and KeeKee’s Big AdventuresRome, Italy in December 2013. Our third book, KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Athens, Greece lands Fall 2014!
4) Many of our readers are also budding entrepreneurs. What advice do you have for people thinking about going into business for themselves or for those just starting out?
Follow your dreams! While it may sound cliché, I was tired of having ideas and not doing anything with them. Thankfully, I’ve had a great career that has afforded me the opportunity to take the leap into building these businesses.
I’m an adventurous person by nature, but also cautious, so I definitely needed a plan before jumping. I truly believe that if you do what you love and share it with others, success will follow.
5) What is some advice that you wish someone would have given you before you decided to create your own businesses?
Starting your own business, you have to wear all the hats. You need to flex your muscles in areas that you may not have experience in or areas you may not want to experience. For me, I never worked in publishing so that’s been an entirely new business to figure out. And while I may not thrive on managing the financial aspects of the business and paying the bills, I’ve had to take it on. You work at all levels starting out.
6) To get your businesses off the ground, were you self-funded, did you seek investors, or did you look for a business loan? And would you recommend this course for others?
To get started, everything has been self-funded. That was the plan I felt most comfortable with. Now with success under our belt, we’re looking at other sources of funding to help take things to the next level. My feeling is you need to have a plan…don’t just quit the day job when you have your first idea. We’ve all heard the success stories about those people who just did it, but there are many more who didn’t have success that way.
7) How do you juggle three pretty different careers at once?
It’s definitely a time management challenge. What I’ve found is that at different times, different projects are more important than others. Some months it’s Idea Sandbox client work. This month it’s finishing up our third KeeKee’s Big Adventures book to get it to the printer. It’s stressful but I also find reward in that stress. What we’re building is ours.
8) What’s next for KeeKee? Will we see her going any other places?
There’s no limit to the places KeeKee can go in her books! We’re just about to ask our KeeKee Club to vote on KeeKee’s fourth adventure destination. We have big plans for KeeKee. It starts with great books and a lovable character, then there are so many great extensions, from travel to toys and games to TV and movies!
9) How do you use social media and marketing to promote your businesses and what do you find most effective?
Marketing is key to a successful business, and it can take on many forms, depending on the business and the goal. What I’ve found most effective across the board is building authentic relationships. Whether it’s using social media to connect with fans or link-minded bloggers, having your clients refer you to others in need of your services, or starting The KeeKee Club to engage and build loyal fans.
Now it’s your turn…if you have a story about following your dreams, let me know and I may include your story in an upcoming post. Just connect with me on LinkedIn [Lara (Bradley) Wyss] or Twitter [@LaraWyss] and we will get the dialogue started.
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