Female Founders: Channing Muller of DCM Communications On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Trust in your gut. I’m not talking about making decisions based on how you feel about a situation at a moment in time. Rather making decisions that you feel so strongly are the right ones, even if it’s not apparent on the outside or logically to anyone else. If you KNOW truly in your gut it’s the right decision, then you will succeed.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Channing Muller of DCM Communications.
Channing is an award winning marketing & public relations consultant and coach at DCM Communications. She works with event professionals and business owners to increase their brand awareness and scale their businesses with refined marketing and sales strategies developed through one-on-one and group coaching, customized marketing programs and public relations.
Channing has more than 20 years of experience in the communications industry serving in top roles within marketing, magazine & web editorial, advertising, and business development.
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?
Absolutely! The best career advice I received as a child came from my dad who said: Figure out what you are good at and what you like, then put them together. That is how I found myself focusing on a career in journalism to start. I liked seeing my rather unusual name in print, vain but accurate, and I had a knack for writing.
Fast forward to high school I started working at the school paper, became editor and then decided Journalism, print specifically, would definitely be my focus in college. During those four years I worked at any outlet I could! A newspaper let me write a regular column, a magazine gave me the opportunity to do feature interviews, and yet another magazine had me building a standing for the editor and mailing out new print editions to VIPs. (Can’t win them all!) The work varied but I remained in the environments I wanted to be in.
At the same time I decided to round out my communications work experience and get internships doing anything in the arena I could do even if I didn’t love it. That served me well because after I graduated and worked a few years in journalism, including making my way to editor many years before I thought I ever would, which meant I needed to figure out my next step. I fell back to that experience in college and started to pursue jobs in any area of communications where I thought myself capable of the work. Maybe I would fall in love with it, maybe I would just grow my skill set. Either way it would be a win-win.
Sure enough, a few years of advertising, project management, marketing and sales training later I combined all of that corporate experience into the agency I have now: DCM Communications.
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?
He will probably be surprised to hear this, but the most impactful person in my career has definitely been a former editor, Chad Kaydo, from my days at BizBash — the largest trade publication in the event industry. Oh man did he seem to know exactly how to make me cry. HA! I say that with a bit of humor now. It was never his intention but happened more times than I care to admit when I got one of my stories back for edits. I would submit stories and reports, confident that I had nailed the edits he provided last time, and sure enough it would come back to me with SO many comments and questions written in all caps — and red all caps at that!
I would go back to the drawing board, reference my notes and try to address all of his questions in my next draft. Oh, and did I mention this would all be on a deadline of a few hours? Yeah, nothing like pressure to make the hands type faster and the brain work in overdrive. For months I felt like I could never get it right. Ev-ery-thing came back with edits.
Until one day, I submitted a story and next thing I knew it had been published to the website. No edits! Sure, the copy editor probably had a field day with it, but the content and the story arch had been on point.
While I did not love seeing my stories torn apart with red and questions in all caps and numerous revisions needed, I fully believe I am the writer I am today because of him. Chad taught me how to become a writer. He didn’t just make the edits and have me review and hopefully learn how he did it. He challenged me to become a better writer because, I assume, he knew I had it in me.
Funny enough, I have used his same approach to editing with all of my clients that I am teaching to become better writers. The lessons learned made me a better writer, but they also made me a better teacher, manager and coach. Now, I don’t just have a method that works — and numerous bylines to my name to back it up — I also know what it’s like to be the one receiving those edits so I can be a more empathetic instructor and editor.
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 think there are a few things:
- There is still so much archaic societal pressure for women to be the one to raise the family that the idea of doing that AND starting/growing a business can be daunting, not to mention a financial risk when there are more mouths to feed.
- Even without the societal pressure, it’s still women who are responsible for actually bringing the babies into the world and many of us want to! It’s very comforting to know that you’re getting a steady paycheck, healthcare, maternity leave (even if it’s too short in my mind), and a job to come back to after having a baby. None of those things are guaranteed with entrepreneurship. In all honesty, that’s one of my concerns about entrepreneurship as well. I thoroughly love my job, but I have yet to create a maternity leave policy (and bank account to fund it) for DCM Communications. Building up enough savings and recurring revenue to sustain me and keep my contractors working during that time while continuing to keep an active brand presence is a beast of a goal.
- Imposter syndrome. I’m sure there are men who suffer from this as well, but on the whole it’s more of my female clients who worry, “What if no one buys from me?” “What if I’m not good enough?” “How can I justify charging that much?” Even if someone’s business idea is exactly the same as what they are being paid to do for someone else, those fears still creep in when it’s time to take the leap to entrepreneurship. Those feelings are imposter syndrome at work and it’s a killer to the mindset you really need to be a successful entrepreneur.
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?
Oh absolutely! To start with, leave a woman’s choice on how she wants to create a family and the shape of what that family looks like (adoption, surrogacy, spouse only and no kids, etc) to that woman alone. Period full stop. Being a grown adult is hard enough without other people’s opinions on what I should or should not be doing with my uterus.
I have friends who have kids and a career, others who choose raising kids to be their career and still others who have zero desire for children. Each one made her own choice and there should be ZERO shame projected onto any of them.
This means all companies need to have fair leave policies for those who do choose to have children AND a respectful workload for those who do not. Just because one woman decides to have a baby and another does not, shouldn’t mean the one still at work takes over the workload of the mother in addition to her own.
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?
I think it goes beyond just women and any PERSON who wants to take the ride of entrepreneurship should do just that. Got an idea? Fantastic! Does it solve someone’s problem? Perfect! You’ve got a viable business opportunity.
Our gender shouldn’t determine whether we start a business or remain working for someone else. The viability of our idea, dedication to making it successful, however we determine “success”, and fortitude to handle the rollercoaster of emotions that is entrepreneurship are the only factors that should determine whether someone starts a company.
That being said, one of the most appealing factors of starting my own business is the ability to set my a schedule that would allow me to be intellectually challenged on a daily basis and yet still there for school pickup, soccer games, and other important events in my children’s lives when they eventually come into the picture. I think this desire can easily apply to men (my dad worked from home when I was young and did the school pickups), but it is often categorized as “women’s desires” in our current society.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth I see out there is if a founder is the face of the company, that’s all they do. Press appearances, photo shoots, video shoots, and jetting from one meeting to another to make big sales that their team will execute on while they go about more “face” related activities.
NOT TRUE! Being hte face of a company is just adding another role on top of being CEO/Founder/Visionary, etc. There may be an entire team supporting your efforts and able to execute on the deals you are selling. There also could be just you with or without a great team of contractors. In either case, the founder is ALWAYS working more than you see. They do the public relations elements then spend time creating new ideas, outlining project plans, delegating tasks, and — most importantly — figuring out how to continue to GROW the business.
That is job number one of the founder: how can I continue to grow, or scale, the business. Then going off to do whatever that entails. There may be years where sustaining current business levels is the focus, but growing the business through increasing headcount or revenue is the goal of any company and responsibility of the founder.
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?
100% not. Harsh answer but it’s true. You have to not only really want it, but you need to have another level of resilience inside you to get through the tough times because let me be very clear: there are ALWAYS tough times even with the best of business ideas.
That is not something everyone is willing to do, and that’s totally ok. Being a founder requires so much grit, self-confidence and adaptability on a daily basis. Those are not muscles everyone wants to flex each day, which is when the safety and consistency of a corporate job — and consistent paycheck in particular — is the way to go.
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. Grit. Take determination, perseverance and confidence, roll them into one and you’ve got grit. As a founder, you will hit barriers and have to find a way to push through them or climb over them in order to succeed. As a woman founder, you may very well hit even more. ForWhen those times arise, you have to be able to
2. A rational head. I am an emotional person. I know this and I fully embrace it. That being said, I have always been able to see an argument or issue from both sides: the emotional one and the rational one. This has proven infinitely beneficial in business because in that arena, the rational one must win out if you are to survive, let alone thrive. There are times and places for emotions, we are all humans after all, but when it comes to making decisions that affect your livelihood or the ones of others on your team, rationality should win out.
3. Trust in your gut. I’m not talking about making decisions based on how you feel about a situation at a moment in time. Rather making decisions that you feel so strongly are the right ones, even if it’s not apparent on the outside or logically to anyone else. If you KNOW truly in your gut it’s the right decision, then you will succeed.
For instance, when I decided to take DCM full a side-hustle to full time, I had more than one person tell me, “Maybe you should still apply for full time jobs just in case it doesn’t work out. You have a mortgage after all.”
Yes, I had a mortgage. Yes, going balls-to-the-wall on entrepreneurship is a risk and a scary leap to take. However, I knew in my gut this company would be a success and the right path forward for me. I also knew I would do whatever it took to make it so. Not only did I end up outpacing my corporate income with year 1, I am continuing to grow YoY five years later funded 100% on my own. Always trust your gut.
4. A strong backbone to make tough decisions. Following up on that last point, sometimes your gut will tell you to do something really hard like fire a client that will lose you a sizable amount of revenue. Case and point: a new-ish friend of mine referred their company to me as a potential client for branding and website redesign. I talked with the owner and it seemed like a good match so we signed a contract, I sent the invoice and branding commenced.
However, their deposit never seemed to arrive. Red flag #1. I had to send two follow up emails including a late fee addition before I got it with a variety of excuses about why it had been late. I finally sent over the branding proofs with utmost confidence one of the five we created would be a hit. Radio silence for weeks. Red Flag #2. Multiple follow ups again and finally got a short reply with lackluster feedback.
Delays in payment, combined with ignoring my outreach and poor, non-constructive feedback on the branding all told me one thing: this is not my ideal client. I had to fire them. Even though I really wanted the revenue from the website project that would come next, this client ignored me, delayed payment, and had been short with any feedback I managed to get on the design. All of this added up to an utter lack of respect for my business, my time, or my work. Time to move on and let thousands of dollars go. A tough decision to make though the relief I felt after I sent the email and returned the website deposit told me it really had been the right one. AGain, trust that gut.
5. Passion. I am not one to subscribe to the “If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” mentality. Running this business is work that I love to do, but it is still work. What makes the rough times, design challenges, and worries over money/staffing/leads, etc all manageable is because I am passionate about the work itself.
I love seeing and hearing my clients understand a marketing concept that previously baffled them. I love the Thursdays where I talk to no one and write, design and build an entire website in a single day. I love seeing my clients’ names in print when a pitch gets picked up by a media outlet. Even better: I love the look on their faces when THEY see their name in print knowing I helped get it there.
Seeing my clients in love with their branding and truly feeling confident in their marketing & sales approach, that is what fuels me through any growing pains. I am growing through the pains because I want more time to make an impact in their businesses.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I believe every company, and every person, needs to have their own version of a corporate social responsibility program because at the end of the day, we are all members of the same society and we need to give back to it to make it flourish for all. To me, that is the American Heart Association.
As a two-time heart attack survivor I have dedicated much of my personal time to sharing my story with the hope that hearing it will encourage people to evaluate their own lifestyle and family risk factors and make changes to avoid the experience I had. If it could happen to me with zero risk factors, then it can definitely happen to someone with a family history or poor lifestyle choices.
It’s because of the success of DCM that, in addition to donating my time, I have been able to put my money where my mouth is and help fund the research and awareness work that AHA is doing in my community as well as nationally.
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.
My movement would be movement itself. I know what it feels for my brain to want to bea active and my body is just not interested in cooperating. Post-heart attacks I couldn’t walk a block without needing to sit down and catch my breath or take a nap to get through the day. My head wanted to do much, but my heart’s complete lack of endurance stopped me.
That is a feeling I never wanted to have again so I take full advantage of what my body can do now that it’s healthy. On those days when I don’t want to go for a run, or train for a race as I am now, I remember what it felt like to want to do those things and be limited by my ability. Every time, it gets me out the door and I tell myself, “You can do this. However long it takes, it takes. Just keep going.
That’s a mindset I’d want everyone to adopt: It doesn’t matter how long it takes you, just keep going and move. In fact, that’s precisely the reason I stopped sharing my pace times on my Instagram account. I never want someone to be intimidated by my pace, or feel they are falling short by carompision so they stop. No no no friend! Just keep going. Slow(er) movement is still movement. It counts!
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.
That would most definitely be Brené Brown. Her research and approach to life totally transformed what I prioritize, including whose opinions get to have a place in my head. I fell down a rabbit hole of all things Brené a few years ago on a personal growth journey. I just couldn’t get enough!
And good thing because as I learned more and felt myself growing and evolving as a person, those shifts in mindset easily translated to my business life as well. In fact, one of the most important things I’ve learned in entrepreneurship is how important mindset is to success. The wrong mindset can ruin a business even if you have the most amazing services/products and the right mindset can make the entrepreneurship train a much smoother ride.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.