Carla Williams Johnson of Carli Communications: Why We Need More Women Founders & Here Is What We Are Doing To Make That Happen
An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski
Normalize women helping women. There is a lot of negativity around women working together; somehow too many women is a ‘bad thing’ or will ‘never work’ because we’re ‘too emotional’ and I can go on and on. We have been taught for so long that we’re best on our own but nothing can be further than the truth. Not sure where this all originated from but that needs to end. Let’s normalize women being supportive of and helping other women. Women have shown that they are stronger together so let’s not continue to fall into the trap that someone laid out for us but see it for what it is….a futile attempt to keep us down.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, 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 doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
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 share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Interesting you say? Hmm …well I do remember this one incident. At the time I was pretty upset but now looking back I tend to laugh and ponder on the lesson learned from it which is to always follow my instincts.
I remember when I had only just started, myself and a few other entrepreneurs were contacted by my then coach to work with her on a major project that was supposed to ‘take my business to the next level’. This was someone I trusted, because she wasn’t just a coach, she was a friend…or so I thought. She was there when I was going through my stress in my job and wanted to leave, she was who I called when I needed to vent, or cry or whatever…so when she presented this life changing opportunity, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
It wasn’t long before the cracks started to show. She was no leader and did not practice what she preached. She mobilized a team to do her work while not sharing the responsibility. She exploited us all for our expertise and refused to listen to advice or feedback. We were treated more like bad employees. Worse yet, she expected all of us to put working on her project above all (mind you we weren’t being paid), while she went off to build her second and third business ventures.
I was crushed…the realization that this person I admired was not who she said she was. I did not want to admit it but I was sold a dream and was being taken advantage of.
Unhappy does not accurately describe how I felt, but I had to face the fact that she was exactly the type of person I vowed to save others from and I got duped myself. I called her ‘friend’ so I didn’t see it coming. I mean, I really expected a lot from this person and, even when the truth was revealed, I still didn’t want to believe that I was being used.
Luckily for me, I realized my worth before it was too late. I learned very quickly that there are some people who would use your weaknesses against you. She knew that deep down inside I did not truly believe in myself. Yes, I spoke a good game and told people how fabulous I was but deep down inside I felt unworthy. It’s weird because I know (in my mind) I am the freakin’ boss when it comes to creative ways to use media to advertise and promote a brand, but I felt (in my heart) that I still had to prove it.
One day, I snapped THE HELL out of it! I did not leave the corporate world and open my own business for someone else to use me once again to build THEIR dreams on MY shoulders…it was time I built my own empire.
I realized that I am good enough…DAMN GOOD AT THAT!!!
I was my own problem. I was blocking my own blessings because I was not courageous enough to stand in my own genius. I didn’t need validation from anyone, I needed to embrace my own truth. So I let her go and when I did things started to flow. I felt happy; I felt free; I felt like the architect of my own dreams.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson 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.
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 about that?
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.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Essentialism. The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Every CEO and entrepreneur needs to read Essentialism by Greg McKeown because it’s a life saver to anyone who finds that they’re just too busy.
My favourite line: What if we stopped celebrating busy as a matter of importance?
The author walks us through his four step framework on focusing only on what’s important to achieve success. I have to say that so many of us get caught up in the trap of being busy and as business owners, we have to remember, it’s not about getting more done but getting more of the RIGHT things done (….and maybe asking for help when we need).
Truly a great book and it has helped me become much more focused and productive.
I always understood that there’s no way one person can do everything, however I have a tendency to want to control everything. This led to stress, frustration, anxiety and of course, nothing really got done.
In my head I knew what I was doing was not productive but I really didn’t know how to change things for the better. I would find myself running around doing many little things but not completing the bigger goals.
Since reading the book I have found that I’ve been able to streamline my tasks to be a lot more effective. Instead of the traditional ‘to do’ list, I would make a list of all the tasks that had to be completed and under each task I would put all the things I needed to do. This may include developing social media content, having my IT specialist develop a web page, create copy for my email listing, etc. I would then put realistic timelines on each item and work from there.
This helped me stay on track and disciplined to not begin any new tasks until the previous one was completed.
The book taught me to be more focused, to say ‘no thank you’ or ‘not at this time’ to opportunities that didn’t fall into my current goal and to help me feel more in control of my time and energy.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“I did then what I knew how to do.
Now that I know better, I do better.”
This quote from Maya Angelou really helps me understand that I am doing the best that I can and learning & growing is all part of the process.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Generosity has always been a part of my business; it’s not only about selling but also who we can help, even if that help is not for monetary gain.
I personally have given back by mentoring up and coming entrepreneurs;
I’ve shared my wealth of knowledge with volunteer groups and schools;
I’ve used my skills to help raise thousands of dollars for various projects for the church and other non-profit organizations.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I feel that women have to try that much harder to get taken seriously: the way we look, the way we dress, if we smile too much or not enough, if our hair is long, or too short or whatever.
There are too many measuring sticks to judge women and they’re almost always negative when compared to our male counterparts. Men are friendly versus women who are flirty; men command attention versus women who are bitchy…..well you get it…..what’s worse is that sometimes it’s women who say these things about their female counterparts. Instead of saying she worked hard for that position, they speculate and even spread rumors that maybe it was another type of ‘position’ that got her that promotion. It’s sad really. I feel like men don’t have to face those types of things or be subjected to that type of ridicule and as a result women are intimidated or feel afraid to make that step.
The fear of being judged or ridiculed or even walking into a situation where your gender somehow equated whether you’d be taken seriously or not can feel like a burden.
Things are changing slowly but surely but women are almost always second guessed whenever we give direction or offer guidelines. Sometimes to get people to do what we asked we need to change our tone and language. It really shouldn’t be that way. As a woman I do feel like there’s more “against” me than there is ‘for me’ but I rally through to make my mark on the world and implore others to do the same
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
Every single thing I do is to empower women….from the platforms I choose to speak on to the advice I give is to help women take up their rightful place at the helm of business. Some women are afraid and others may be overly cautious but I am yet to hear any man second guess himself the way we women sometimes do.
Coming from the era of ‘girls should be seen and not heard’, it was pretty difficult for even me to make that step myself. I had to fight against what was drilled into me for so long and now I help others do the same.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Because the world is ready for us!!
We are EXACTLY what someone is hoping and praying for every day; that our gifts and talents are precisely what someone is in desperate need of which is why we need to show up and live our purpose. We can touch the lives of so many just by doing what we love.
I say to my clients all the time that without a doubt you are precisely what someone is in desperate need of what you offer and you would truly be a life saver.
Someone out there
Would be thankful just to meet you;
Would be thankful for the opportunity to know you;
Would be thankful if you came into their lives;
Would be thankful to hear your message;
Would be thankful for your knowledge & expertise
Would be thankful that they found you because you have exactly what they’ve been searching for…
…..they just haven’t met you yet,
That’s why it’s so important to show up and live your purpose. You can touch the lives of so many just by doing what you love to, best of all, you can get paid for it too. The world needs you, your people are ready for you, all you have to do is show up.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.
Make room, we’re coming through
I remember reading many years ago that men tend to take up space while we women tend to shrink to fit in; in the physical sense and otherwise……from now on there will be no more of that. We need to encourage women to not be silent because ‘God forbid’ we ruffle a few feathers. Men need to allow their female counterparts to shine through and women need to encourage their sisters to forge ahead.
Normalize women helping women
There is a lot of negativity around women working together; somehow too many women is a ‘bad thing’ or will ‘never work’ because we’re ‘too emotional’ and I can go on and on. We have been taught for so long that we’re best on our own but nothing can be further than the truth. Not sure where this all originated from but that needs to end. Let’s normalize women being supportive of and helping other women. Women have shown that they are stronger together so let’s not continue to fall into the trap that someone laid out for us but see it for what it is….a futile attempt to keep us down.
Be the voice for your sisters in business
There are still a few women out there who are afraid or who have been taught for so long that speaking up only leads to stress so they choose not to but let’s be the voice for our sisters. I for one tend to choose platforms that can put me in front of female entrepreneurs to inspire, motivate and educate. It’s also important that we mentor our sisters in business to help them realize their full potential.
Give back where you can
Volunteer, donate your time, money or even items such as clothing or accessories that you may have to help other women build themselves. Some women may be suffering from things that we cannot even begin to understand but giving that helping hand can go a long way.
Promote and support other women
Support doesn’t have to be in the form of buying from them (although that would be fantastic), but you can:
- Offer a testimonial
- Refer them to others
- Share their posts, videos or blogs online
- Quote them when you offer advice
- Tag them to show your appreciation for something you learned
- Chat with them over lunch to see how they’re going
There are so many ways you can show some love
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number 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.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would absolutely love to sit and chat with Michelle Obama. I just love her….she’s such an inspiration to women, particularly women of color. Meeting her would be a dream come true.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Find me on my website at www.carlimedia.com
or on social media:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.