Carla Williams Johnson of Carli Communications: How To Take Your Company From Good To Great
An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski
Giving back — I’m all about promotions but true staying power comes from what happens when you’re not in ‘launch mode’. Business is about helping people, even if it’s not for monetary gain. Giving back makes you feel good, puts your business in the best light.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carla Williams Johnson, CEO of Carli Communications LLC. Known simply as Carli, she is extremely passionate about helping others and giving back, volunteering her time and skills wherever she can. When she’s not working, she can usually be found in the company of her adult daughter and infant son in the beautiful Caribbean twin island Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I just always knew that I wanted to get into the field. I think I was the only person in the world who would get excited when commercials would come on during a program or rush to get the latest magazine to see all the creative ways print ads were displayed. Even at a young age I was always in awe of creative executions and how absolutely brilliant one must be to convince someone to purchase from just a few words and an image.
As time went on, my passion grew and it landed me to work with some of the most prestigious advertising companies with global brands. It was there I learned that there was so much that went into the final product and I was finally part of the strategic process.
I realized that there was so much brainstorming and creativity that went into a single campaign and, working in media, I had the single most important job of getting that creativity out to the right people. Plus I noticed that the more innovative the approach, the more of an impact the campaign made, which resulted in increased sales.
Fast forward, now I have my own company where I help entrepreneurs and business owners increase their visibility through the creative and strategic uses of media.
In my years, the one thing I saw regularly that really upset me was businessmen and women being ill-advised by greedy coaches and consultants looking to make a quick buck. These ‘so called’ gurus would use the client’s lack of knowledge against them to sell them a product or service that made no sense and gave absolutely no returns on investment. That’s when my business was born.
I feel like a superhero sometimes, to be honest. Like I’m saving the day (and the dollar) of people who are in danger of wasting their money. On the surface, I help clients with promoting their business, but what I do is assist my people with finding the best and quickest ways to truly connect with their ideal clients so that they can serve them and, of course, make some money in the process.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think we all as business owners have been put down or told that we wouldn’t make it at some point in our journey. What sets apart the successful entrepreneurs from the rest is what we do with that information.
When I first started on my journey, I was outright old my numerous people that I should
- Forget my ‘stupid business venture’ because no one would take me seriously anyway
- Why even bother, the industry is dominated by a certain type (aka white males)
- Get someone ‘lighter skinned’ to be the face of my company if I’m ever going to succeed.
To get specific, I remember this one time that I was working with a group of entrepreneurs to produce what was supposed to be an event that would take all our businesses ‘to the next level’. The speaker of the event who happened to be a business coach started making demands of us which initially were fine but when she insisted that she AND HER HUSBAND (who was not a speaker but his expenses to attend the event needed to be paid as well) needed to be featured prominently to the top of the landing page, I pushed back. I stated that firstly, we compromised to place her at the top of the page granted she was not as well known to our target, and it was not her event but that she was a guest but I was totally against her husband being up there when he’s not even a featured speaker. Her response was a condescending “Well if you want to have a sold out event, you’ll need to have someone white featured………it’s just how things are……if you want to make it and be successful.” Then she added “I’m just telling you what worked for me…you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to…but this is what made me successful so if you want to sell tickets you should do it. ”
So basically, the color of my skin was directly related to my success or failure rather? What’s worse there were others who agreed with her……like this is some kind of unspoken rule that just needed to be accepted.
Well I washed my hands of that event, needless to say it never materialized, but I was determined to prove that the very thing people said would cause me to fail would be the very thing that will make me succeed!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Funniest…..well at the time it wasn’t funny but now I laugh because I definitely learned my lesson. When I first started my business, I would meet with potential clients at their offices regularly. Not a fan of driving, most times I would take my significant other with me……(and I would tell persons he was my driver).
Anyways while at a meeting with a gentleman, we got into a discussion about what was best for him and how he should proceed. He had gotten some bad advice before and I really didn’t want him to keep wasting money on promotional packages that weren’t working.
Now, I’m not saying that he pushed back and argued with me because I was female but he gave off this ‘know it all’ vibe and literally challenged everything I was saying……..to which my boyfriend said “Listen, Carla knows her stuff and whatever she says to do, just do it! You won’t regret!” Eventually I did book the client, but unfortunately his misogyny started to show and just couldn’t work with him anymore.
I learned pretty quickly that just because someone can pay for my services doesn’t mean they’re my ideal client. Sometimes I have to say no for sanity sake. I saw the signs and I still pursued thinking that my knowledge and expertise would win him over, but all it did was encourage him to comment on how my legs looked every time I had to pick up the cheque.
From then on, I always understood that it’s a relationship I’m building with clients so I have to ensure that our values are aligned.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
A colleague said to me: “I see everyone selling different things but I always consider you to be a true marketer because you’re the one who puts it all together.” That pretty much sums it all up honestly.
I see people selling all different aspects of marketing, whether it be Instagram tips, LinkedIn selling, copywriting, branding whatever……and all these things are great but what is the benefit to the recipient if they have no idea how to use it effectively or do not need it right now in their business. I like to look at marketing as a whole puzzle and advise persons what are the specific pieces they need to build their brand right now based on what they’d like to accomplish and what’s happening in the market right now…..and if that looks like me recommending them to someone else who can help them achieve those goals then so be it.
There are too many people out here looking to see how fast they can make a sale; driven by money instead of the desire of helping others. What sets me and my company apart is that I am the exact opposite. I believe the sale will come if my focus is giving value and helping others succeed.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Schedule self-care like your life depended on it because it does. There are times I get so focused and engrossed in what I’m doing that I forget to eat. It’s crazy! I had to learn the hard way that being unkind to my body and not giving my brain time to recharge can have terrible consequences. Being a marketer means you have to always think of the best ways to connect with your customers and you cannot think creatively or strategically if you’re tired all the time, so do yourself and your business a favor and take a break every once in a while.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people who have helped me in so many ways, but I would have to say my best friend who has been cheering me on from day one! Odessa Laulys has been by my side and is literally my rock and really, she’s more than a friend, she’s my big sister. She’s been there for everything in business and in life and I have no idea what I would do without her.
Another person I must shout out is my good friend Marlena Cole. She’s a Relationship Coach and she actually reached out to me because she knew I could help her build her business. Little did we know at the time that such a close friendship would emerge. She saw in me what I was so afraid to see in myself and truly gave me the confidence to step out and do what I’m good at.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
For me I think a good company is one that reaches the goals that are set, makes money and serves their customers efficiently but what makes a GREAT company is going above and beyond that. It’s reaching out and helping their customers even if it means partnering with another company to give them what they need; it’s giving back to the community and helping them thrive. A great company understands that it’s not just about business but it’s about life.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Leadership — This is a must because good leadership trumps all….and not just leadership of others but leadership of self. Are you willing to take the risks and do what you need to do? Are you willing to invest in the things that most people will see as ‘unnecessary’ or ‘unimportant’ Are you willing to listen and not let your ego get in the way? Are you willing to get down in the trenches and get stuff done instead of just ordering people about. Great leadership is the pillar of a great business
- Values — Staying in alignment with you values will definitely help you make better decisions that work best for your brand and, by extension, help you attract the right clients and the best business opportunities.
- Giving back — I’m all about promotions but true staying power comes from what happens when you’re not in ‘launch mode’. Business is about helping people, even if it’s not for monetary gain. Giving back makes you feel good, puts your business in the best light.
- Technology — Utilizing the right technology effectively will help you be much more efficient but don’t forget to also use it to form deeper connections with your audience as well. Especially now, I believe this is a time to use technology for its intended purpose…..to connect with and serve our communities.
- The right team — Surrounding yourself with the right people and by extension the right energy will help your business soar higher much faster. People who are passionate, can respect your vision, with similar values and are willing to work with you to achieve those goals are a sure way to take your business from good to great
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
I’ve been learning this as well….being in alignment and more purpose driven is the way to truly build a successful brand. I have found that working in this way has allowed me to attract the best employees, the most lucrative business deals and has really allowed me to show up and connect deeper with my audience. It’s a work in progress but the more aligned you feel, the easier it is to make decisions that are best for you and your business.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Things change over time…….the way people think, their preferences, etc.
Just look at Covid-19: People are definitely thinking differently, acting differently and are abiding my new and unfamiliar protocols and this has affected the way people buy and even how they consume information.
As we market our business we need to understand these changes can help us create campaigns that will resonate more effectively.
I would highly recommend market research because having that data can help us understand when and how to launch, what would be the best products to promote and how best to communicate with our people.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Right now businesses need to be even more strategic with limited funds and what I found is that during this time is that we may not be in control of a lot of things but we are in control of our brand’s visibility to ensure that our customers see, hear and remember us.
Publicity is the one simple tool that has increased both online engagement and offline sales for myself and for my clients as well. I always say the media helps you stay in front of your customers and ahead of your competition.
Since we’ve pivoted to use more of the media in our strategies we’ve found that it’s a great way to stand out from the noise and clutter online and has truly helped us build credibility allowing our customers to trust us more and ultimately invest their time and money in our brand.
Getting featured in traditional media has helped many of my clients increase their online engagement by as much as 80% when the links are shared on their social media pages, while others have experienced an increase in opt-ins and have even gotten requests to be paid to share their knowledge. Many have noted that the day they’re featured they experience a marginal increase in sales of their programs, packages and masterminds.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
No one said it was going to be easy but no one said it would be THIS HARD!! I mean I love the challenge; the roller coaster ride of being in business is enough to get the blood pumping but someone could have warned me!
I was ready for the exhaustion but not so much the loneliness;
I was ready to lose some friends but not some of my closest confidants;
I was ready to give up some things and juggle a few others but I was not ready for the emotion and guilt that would follow from my actions.
It’s a lot and sometimes the people closest to you won’t get you but that’s all part of it.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Consumers want to trust the businesses they give their hard earned money to which includes you and the best way to build trust and have that deep connection with your audience is through the use of the media. Using the press and traditional media is really the best way to show up authentically as well as give your business the credibility you need to stand out. I’ve found this to be one of the best ways to convert a potential client to a sale.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Branding is the emotional connection that your business makes with your customers before they even do business with you. More than just a fancy slogan, many of the big brands have embodied the very essence of what they stand for and evoke a particular feeling whenever you see, hear or purchase from them.
Building a brand isn’t just about what you do but how you are viewed by others so you have to do things to truly connect with your audience. Show them you care and it’s not just about the money. Using PR and the media is a great way to do just that.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
I think making your customers feel like they’re opting in to be part of a bigger community or movement is a great way to really wow your customers. So making them feel great before, during and even after the buying process and not just abandoning them after the purchase. How can you make them feel like part of something bigger….like part of your family even after the purchase has been made? What’s your fulfillment sequence/process?
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
It’s very true that social media can shine an unwelcome spotlight on a crisis if not managed effectively and while I don’t see social media as a ‘necessary evil’ I do understand the connection between the company’s image and reputation. As a marketing expert I’ve found that too many business owners and entrepreneurs don’t really understand that it’s a tool to help them connect with their people and reach their goals.
Social media, by itself cannot demonstrate what the business stands for and, therefore using other forms of marketing can help in this area. Social media is just one part (and in some businesses a very small part) of an overall strategy designed to help position a brand in the minds and hearts of their target audience.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
What I’ve noticed is that many people think that when they’re the CEO, they’re ‘the boss’ which entitles them to:
- work when they feel like it;
- hire persons to do things that they don’t ‘feel like’ doing;
- order people about because they need to ‘do whatever the boss says’;
Being a CEO and building business requires a lot of work and sacrifice.
Late nights and early mornings, planning, strategizing and a lot of other things. To actually build a profitable, sustainable brand takes guts, a strong will and an understanding that it’s not all about you but the people you serve. Some people need to check that attitude at the door; there’s no place for ego in business!
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I honestly feel that men are ‘groomed’ (for lack of a better word) a particular way and therefore they are ‘expected’ to act and react in situations that can be really unhealthy for them and the people around them. Society still expects them to be a certain way which is counterproductive to how the world is progressing. If I could I would create a movement to address this because while women are becoming empowered, men are still being held to the same outdated stereotypes with their worth measured by an old-fashioned value system. I think helping these men unlearn some of the traits they were exposed to can truly help the world become a better, less violent place.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Find me on my website at www.carlimedia.com
or on social media:
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
About the interviewer: Jerome Knyszewski (Kenchefski) is the CEO of HeavyShift. Jerome serves as an advisor to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as well as entrepreneurs who disrupt their industries and therefore tend to be targets of malicious online attacks. His company builds, protects, and repairs the online presence & reputation of many celebrities, products and beloved brands.