Humanity at the Heart of Business
Or Why Following Your Dreams and Making Money Aren’t Mutually Exclusive
When I was about 7-years-old, I had a revelation of sorts that has defined my life from that point forward. It was nothing mind-blowing, or seemingly so at the time, but it has come to be a cornerstone of every single decision, action and dream I’ve had ever since.
Here it was: I want to be a writer.
Now, I knew nothing much about writing at the time other than I liked to do it and I was semi-decent at it. When my grandmother died, I wrote a eulogy that brought even the family pastor to tears. The same happened years later, a few days after 9/11 in my 8th grade English class. We were each tasked with writing a thank you letter to a fireman, like many American schoolchildren at the time. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to read theirs aloud and I volunteered. I was the first and only one to read their letter, many students in the class choking up for the rest of the 90 minute period.
I had a penchant for something and I liked to do it. You’d think that would be enough to make a major decision that would determine and ultimately fund my livelihood. But, my reason for choosing to chase after a writing career was much, much more selfish than that.
I wanted to be an astronaut. And a teacher. A real estate broker. A dog walker. A ballet dancer. You know how it goes. You were 7 once, too.
At 7, I wanted to be an astronaut. And a teacher. A real estate broker. A dog walker. A ballet dancer. You know how it goes. You were 7 once, too. So, my decision to become a writer was based on this realization alone: if I write, I can be all those things through my stories. If I don’t, I can only choose one.
Two years later, I declared to my mother that one day, I’d be the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, a lofty goal for anyone, much less a tomboy living in deep East Texas. My mother wasn’t even sure where I’d ever gotten an issue of Vogue.
Since then, I’ve received a bachelor’s in English, was called a college-aged Maureen Dowd, for better or worse, when I wrote op-ed for Texas A&M University’s newspaper, had an interning stint at ELLE, then went on to become the Director of Content for Shoptiques, a dream job of sorts for someone setting sights as high at Vogue. In fact, in 2014, the day after I made my move from New York City to Austin, Texas, I got a call from Teen Vogue inquiring about my interest in an editor position. It wasn’t nearly as heartbreaking as I thought it would be telling them no.
The Shoptiques team in 2012
See, thanks to the influx of B2C and B2B interest in inbound marketing, I’ve found quite a niche for my writing-self in the business world. In fact, it’s possible you’ve read some of my writing if you read Mashable or Forbes, especially on topics of big data or digital analytics.
My Vogue days are long behind me, but that dream has been replaced with one that I find just as challenging and ambitious: helping business owners understand how to be successful with ecommerce.
This goal is not new. My grandfather started a company after he dropped out of Texas A&M many years ago. It happened as he and a friend ran across an old, run-down cotton gin in the ‘50s, decided to fix it up and work with local farmers to clean their cotton. Now, nearly 60 years later, my family continues to run Fred Clark Felt, a cotton cleaning business as well as a pillow and mattress business, the latter of which has been oddly booming in the ecommerce world.
It happened as he and a friend ran across an old, run-down cotton gin in the ‘50s, decided to fix it up and work with local farmers to clean their cotton.
Except it hasn’t been my family’s business that’s booming. Casper and Tuft & Needle, two ecommerce sites leading the mattress supply industry, have created a B2C experience my family in East Texas would have never considered possible. They sell wholesale, and don’t even have a website. And they won’t, at least not for a while, despite everything I do in my power to convince them otherwise.
To them, I’m an Austinite who has lived in New York City, Paris and Quito, Ecuador, who writes for companies and likes what she does — though they can’t quite fully understand what business benefit it offers my employers. They’re happy I’m happy, though. After all, that’s what matters most for families.
It’s interesting, though, that my work so overlaps with theirs, especially at a time when ecommerce sites are becoming the new brick-and-mortars. The Abercrombies and American Apparels of the world are shuttering their retail doors, and the likes of Warby Parker and Birchbox are moving in. The internet has officially disrupted retail, but not in the ways anyone really thought it would.
People still want to buy from people, and in-person nonetheless.
People still want to buy from people, and in-person nonetheless. But, they want to do so from a brand they have tried out, a voice they recognize, a company they feel understands how they live their lives. And consumers live their lives online.
I’m finally making ground with my cousin, who is only a year older than myself, and whom is poised to take over the business hopefully at least a couple decades from now. I’ve introduced her to coworkers at Bigcommerce, a SaaS platform for ecommerce, helping businesses just like my family’s open an online store, and she is beginning to see the light — and the benefit. Of course, she isn’t the decision maker quite yet. And the current decision maker simply doesn’t see the benefit of selling to a digital audience.
The three sisters who today run Fred Clark Felt Co.
When I bring the topic up to my mother, also not the decision maker, she immediately goes digging through old boxes for old photos in the closet that used to be my grandparents’. She bought their house when they passed, and we all still have Christmas in that same living room, like her and her sisters have for decades.
She’s looking for photos of my grandpa when he first opened the business, though. Photos from the newspapers and from family albums. She wants to tell his story, educate people as to what they are buying, from whom and why. Tell them how it supports a long history of a family fight to overcome a Depression-era mindset in which my grandfather just wanted to build something lasting so none of his kin would have to live through what he did.
We still have the picture of the old house he grew up in hanging above our mantle. It’s a family-wide reminder to always remember where you come from.
In fact, we still have the picture of the old house he grew up in hanging above our mantle. It’s a run down shack in North Texas where him and his six brothers and sisters ate orange peels and pig’s feet, because they couldn’t afford to waste a thing. It’s a family-wide reminder to always remember where you come from, and to never take it for granted.
I’m turning 27 on Monday, and I still call myself a writer to anyone who asks. I haven’t written any novels. I don’t typically write for media outlets nor do I consider myself a journalist, though I have deep respect for all of those who fought the good fight to do so. I, instead, meandered down a different writing path. One that wasn’t necessarily a possibility years ago. One that definitely wasn’t a possibility without the invention of the internet.
I write content to educate, inform and inspire businesses across the globe to embrace ecommerce and realize that whether you’re based in Beaumont, Texas or San Francisco, there’s room for your voice, your perspective and your product in the market.
In the end, you’re still selling to people who have a love for quality and kindness, for trustworthy business partners and for supporting people’s dreams.
After all, ecommerce hasn’t really changed retail, at least not in the ways anyone really thought it would. It has leveled the playing field, sure, but in the end, you’re still selling to people who have a love for quality and kindness, for trustworthy business partners and for supporting people’s dreams. That’s what first appealed to me about writing, and it’s what appeals most to me about ecommerce.
Because each of us, as consumers, gets to vote each day with our purchases. And I’d always rather vote for the underdog, the good guys, the businesses with purpose beyond Wall Street. We just have to be able to find them when we search, and today, that means via Google.
Soft sell: Bigcommerce can absolutely help you out. And don’t worry, I’ll update this post when my family’s business finally hops aboard the ecommerce train, too. In the meantime, this is pretty much the only internet mention of our company.