Female Founders: Afton Brazzoni of Scribe National On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Envision a bold future for your company. Once you remove the distractions of comparison and scarcity mindset (and any other distractions that may pertain to you) from your role as a founder, you will be able to step into possibilities that seemed out of reach before. You’ve come this far — you have the potential to achieve your next goal, and the next one and the next one. Believe in yourself, your team and the work you are doing in the world.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Afton Brazzoni.
Afton Brazzoni is the founder of Scribe National, a B2B content strategy and writing studio. She helps companies serve their audiences and grow their revenues through storytelling. With 12 years of experience in marketing and communications, Afton’s mission is to deliver her clients across North America and Europe excellent content that drives their companies forward.
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’ve been a storyteller since childhood, when I wrote my first “book” about horses in a hardcover notebook, in pencil. I knew from a young age that I wanted to pursue a career in writing and began my bachelor of journalism degree when I was 17. The summer before graduation, I started working as a freelance reporter at a small town weekly newspaper 3,000 miles away from home — a beautiful mountain town in the Canadian Rockies where I met my husband and where we ended up living for 7 years. A year after finishing my journalism degree, I decided to go back to school for public relations. The media industry was going through a tough time, still feeling the effects of the 2008 recession, and jobs were scarce. My public relations diploma opened the door to the marketing and communications industry, and I worked for several organizations over the years, ranging in size from 5 to 5,000 staff. In 2019, I was working full time and freelancing on the side when I decided I wanted to spend more time doing what I loved — writing — and that I was ready, with 10 years of experience under my belt, to start my own content writing company. The rest, we’ll get to next…
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One of the most significant moments was after I’d been in business for six months, but was still working at my day job. I’d reduced my hours from full time to 20 hours a week so I could focus more on Scribe National. I wanted to quit entirely, but felt guilty that I’d be leaving my team in the lurch, which I think is a common feeling among women. Low and behold, March 2020 rolls around, I’m working from home one day, and I receive an email saying the organization I was working for was laying off over 250 staff, myself included. I was shocked. It was the beginning of the pandemic, and no one really knew what was happening. That same week, my husband and I had a real estate deal fall through. Although the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was an especially trying time — and my family didn’t experience the worst of it by any means — it was truly a blessing in disguise that I was laid off. I immediately began to focus my full attention on Scribe National and managed to reach six figures in revenue that very first year.
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?
This was actually before I started Scribe National and wasn’t funny at the time, but is good for a chuckle now. One day many years ago when I was promoting my freelance writing services, I was emailing prospects and used the wrong company name to address a prospect in one of my emails. He wasn’t impressed and I obviously didn’t earn his business. The lesson here: always take the time to proofread!
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?
When Scribe National had been in business for almost a year, I had so much client work that I could barely keep up. I was working from the early mornings through to the evenings, and every weekend. I was also watching the very short Canadian Rockies summer slip by, and although I was grateful to have the business, I wanted to do more than work all the time. So, I called up my good friend Jenny Spurr who I’d worked with at my previous job before I started Scribe National and asked her if she wanted to join my team as a writer on a contract basis. Jenny is excellent at what she does and she has been an integral part of Scribe National’s success. I am so grateful for her!
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?
From my own experience, the thought of leaving a full-time job to pursue something where you are responsible for bringing in revenue can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a financial or sales background and you don’t have as good of a grasp on the numbers side of the business as you do on your own craft — in my case, writing. There are many other potential factors, but speaking for myself rather than for other women, that was the biggest obstacle for me. I had what I thought was a stable full-time job, until that stability went away and I realized that as an entrepreneur, I actually had more control over my circumstances.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I would like to see grant funding available for a broader range of companies. There is some funding available to female tech founders, which is great to see and I’d love to see even more, but I would really love to see funding available to more traditional businesses as well — for example, in the professional services sector. These kinds of businesses are also making an impact in the world. In addition, in Canada, certain provinces offer grants to women entrepreneurs readily while others do not. I’d like to see the playing field leveled so that where you live doesn’t dictate the support you’re eligible to receive.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Starting my business was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Everyone’s experience will be different, but for me, this journey has made me so much more confident in my own abilities — and I think that is a gift. It has also given me greater economic power than I ever had working for someone else. I get to do what I love every day and make a difference in clients’ organizations. On a broader societal scale, I’d point to the saying that “empowered women empower women.” When more women become founders, greater numbers of women will gain economic power and will refer, hire, promote, invest in and collaborate with other women.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
It is absolutely hard work, but not every founder works around the clock. Our society is finally starting to push back against “hustle” culture. Again, this isn’t to say you don’t have to buckle down and put in the work — I worked long hours during my first year in business — but the key is to set up your company in a way that is as systematized and efficient as possible. It really makes a difference.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
You need to believe in yourself and the mission you’re trying to achieve, which is bigger than you. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You need to have a desire to constantly learn and grow. I’m sure there are others I’ve missed, but I want to point out that even if you’re someone like me who never thought they’d have their own business, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a founder if you feel called to start a company. Having my own business changed me greatly as a person — I had to quickly get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Don’t put yourself in a box if you don’t think you have certain traits at this moment in time. We all evolve. Be open to possibilities.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) You need an excellent team and a strong network, and you need to invest in your relationships with both. My business was built on referrals thanks to the relationships I made over 10 years of being employed with different organizations and building a positive reputation. You are not an island — you need a strong network and reciprocal relationships with the people in your network. As for your team, you can only go so far on your own. When I was approaching my first year anniversary in business, I had the opportunity to take on a large contract that I never would have been able to execute on my own. I am so thankful I had started to build a team two months prior to that opportunity coming along.
2) Prioritize constant learning, self-discovery and self-improvement to develop yourself as a female founder — which includes learning from your mistakes. Digital transformation means that virtually every industry is undergoing change nowadays, and you need to seek out new knowledge so you can keep up and offer the best products and services possible to your customers. Learning from your mistakes is also part of your evolution as a founder. You will inevitably make mistakes. This could be anything from agreeing to take on a rush project because you wanted to please a client, even though you didn’t really have the bandwidth, to bigger mistakes like hiring the wrong person. Accept that you will make errors, and learn from them.
3) Be clear on who you do and do not serve, fill a gap in your industry and dedicate yourself to serving your clients while setting boundaries around your time and pricing. Your business cannot be for everyone. The importance of niching down is undeniable. It can seem daunting to turn down customers, but it really is true that the wrong clients — or worse, bad clients (the kind that don’t respect you) — suck time and energy out of your business. Become as good as possible at clarifying your marketing messages, properly qualifying leads and saying no to projects that aren’t a fit for your company. You will experience revenue growth as a result, and greater peace of mind, which is priceless.
4) Work to overcome common challenges like “comparisonitis” and scarcity mindset. There is a fine line between doing research on your competitors and falling into the trap of comparing yourself to them. You do need to be aware of your competitors, but once you’ve completed your research, get back to doing what you do best. Keep your focus on the unique value your company offers, and on serving your customers. This will get you farther than worrying about what another entrepreneur or company is doing. In addition, on the topic of scarcity mindset, if you grew up in a lower income household, it can be very difficult to break the pattern of thinking that there is “never enough” and worrying about sales in your business. I would highly recommend investing in coaching to help you break through the barrier of scarcity mindset — when it has been in place since childhood, you may need some help to overcome this.
5) Envision a bold future for your company. Once you remove the distractions of comparison and scarcity mindset (and any other distractions that may pertain to you) from your role as a founder, you will be able to step into possibilities that seemed out of reach before. You’ve come this far — you have the potential to achieve your next goal, and the next one and the next one. Believe in yourself, your team and the work you are doing in the world.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have had the opportunity to hire, refer and collaborate with many other women who are excellent at what they do, and I will continue to try to lift other women up in whatever ways I can going forward. I also believe the work we do at Scribe National, helping companies create meaningful connections with their audiences through storytelling, positively impacts their business growth and the discipline of marketing overall.
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 would inspire a movement to empower people to step out of the echo chambers that are harming our society and listen to one another’s perspectives with empathy. Differences of opinion are not something to be afraid of or stomped out.
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.
In the first year of running my company, I listened to Kelly Roach’s business podcast, The Unstoppable Entrepreneur Show, every day. As an entrepreneur, if you don’t have many (or any) other entrepreneurs around you, you can often feel like you’re muddling through things and it can be hard to know what your next step should be. Kelly’s podcast and teachings were immensely helpful to me during this time.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.