Melea Seward is a connector, idea identifier, and brilliant mind you’ll definitely want on your team.
Welcome to the latest installment of “I’m a Business, Woman,” a series of conversations with cool, entrepreneurial humans I love who are doing cool shit. Today’s conversation is with Melea Seward. We have collaborated on numerous projects and Melea is my hands-down go-to for my own marketing and communications needs. Melea was my neighbor for many years, then moved to Portland Oregon, but is thankfully back in NYC and now, even better, lives just one block from me (instead of two).
Melea, I’m so excited to have you back and have you here! Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about who you are, what you do, who you do it for:
I work where content, business development, and creativity meet for a lot of solopreneurs, small business owners, artists, writers, nonprofits / foundations, and some large businesses as well. I also often partner with branding and design firms to work with their clients. I provide the content strategy and ongoing help after a redesign of the communications of a website, a business, or both. I help people who are passionate and connected to their business organize their marketing and platform-building goals paying specific attention to how they attend to these resources: time, attention, money, and connections. Together, we design a way of integrating their goals and marketing using those things they have at hand coupled with the things they are particularly good at and enjoy doing. We help fold their big content sharing goals into their lives using a series of rules. We make marketing and content producing look a lot like play. I think of project- and business creation like a quest.
Let’s talk about The Quest.
Let me back up a bit and talk about the quest that started all of this for me.
I started my career in publishing. For seven years I worked in sales, marketing, and as an Editor both acquiring and developing Sociology books. This was my dream job sine I was a little kid. As a fifth grader in Houston, Texas, my teacher, Mrs. Atkinson, asked us to make a diorama out of a shoebox depicting what we wanted to be when we grew up. I wanted to be an Editor at a publishing company in NYC, and made my shoebox into an office with a window that framed the Empire State Building and sported a typewriter made out of an inside-out Sunmaid Raisin box. So when I became exactly that and after two years, it wasn’t quite the right fit, I left my job with a realization that if I didn’t do something quite different, I would end up similarly dissatisfied. So, I stopped looking for jobs and grad school opportunities and vowed to really spend some time paying attention to what I paid attention to. I lived my life by three rules:
- I followed an impulse every day,
- I had to work in the informal economy for cash,
- I couldn’t take a full time job out of fear
Those impulses turned into projects / experiments and provided a lot of meaning for me. I started to think about how to design serendipity. And how designing serendipity, is a lot like audience development, business development, or marketing, but elevated. Those impulse experiments were my first quest. And the 18 months I lived like that wholly changed my life. I talk about it in my TEDx talk from 2011:
The frames we create and the rules we choose to live by frame much of what and how we experience the world, how successful we are, how resilient, and what we can create with other people. That has informed all of my work since.
What tips do you have for business owners who want to approach their marketing and communications strategy in a creative way?
- EMPATHY: The best creative strategy always starts with significant empathy. Paying close attention to who your audience(s) are, how they feel, what they pay attention to, where they spend time (in physical space and online), what their experiences amount to, all of these things are key to developing something that will resonate.
- EXPERIMENT: Reframe communications strategy and marketing around the goal of experimentation. You’re not implementing a strategy, you’re testing hypotheses, and you’re constantly paying attention to the anomaly, the things you didn’t expect, the things you can double down on. That is usually where the magic happens. Great creative marketing requires flexible thinking — and good data. But you can build those things into the process if you frame your expectations around curiosity, rather than certainty.
- NEW BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES AREN’T ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS: Pay attention to how your customers use your products and services, particularly when their experience diverges with your expectations and assumptions. There are so many aha moments in that. And because there can be so much transparency on the web of how your customers see you, use your products, etc., that can be full of insight and new business opportunities if you choose to pay attention.
- NOTICE CONSTRAINTS: Ask yourself, “What are the constraints that my competitors are living under?” are they real / true for me?
- TELL MORE STORIES: All things are, at their core, stories. Human beings respond to stories, not marketing talking points. Share [more] stories. Show more, tell less. And most importantly, listen to stories.
- MOVE OUTSIDE OF YOUR LANE: So many people, in the interest of ‘efficiency’ only pay attention to their own fields. Magic happens, innovation happens, through divergent thinking, so turn your head, look around. Even better when designing divergent thinking is part of your day. I talk a lot about that in my quest classes.
Why are games/play important?
When you watch kids play, so much of what they “play” is occupational. They pretend to be a cashier or an astronaut or a teacher. They create scenarios and play within those scenarios; what can be fun and full of social learning for kids, can help adults transform problems into opportunities.
When we lose that lens, or put that ability on hold, we get stuck and routinized. How we interact with others, especially when we go off our social scripts, can be deeply creative—and often it isn’t. And work done thoughtfully and well can be a creative — and collaborative — endeavor. Games provide structure and a way of seeing that can be really helpful to organizing how we spend our work-lives. Games and play are also helpful at showing how so much of our lives are rule-based and changing a rule here or their can help us experiment with different outcomes. In that way, games and play can change everything.
Games also create shared language and culture, so making them a part of a team or a dyad even, can be transformative for problem-solving, conflict resolution and more. Play lets us see “serious stuff”from new vantage points and that can help transform the everyday.
How does one identify what “fun” is going to be ultimately productive?
I don’t think in terms of fun / not fun. I think, “what do I hope to learn?” Fun is often a by-product of experimentation. And experimentation is what often produces outcomes that are ultimately productive and often profitable.
We’ve been working together for years, both with each other on each other’s businesses, as well as in collaboration on client projects. What do you think are the most important elements for building and maintaining a mutually-beneficial referral network?
- Trust. When I refer someone to you, I trust that you will follow-up, be helpful and a fantastic partner for them and even if you can’t do the work, that you’ll be communicative and helpful in whatever ways you can.
- Complimentary Styles. Building a referral network that gives your customers or clients a seamless experience is rare and goes a long way toward building many successful businesses.
- Focus on Extraordinary Strengths. Understanding where the people / organizations in your referral network are extraordinary and where they are ordinary, is key to setting up the connection between a client and anther person in your network.
What are the ways people and businesses can work with you?
- I’m starting a new quest class — one is online and the other is in person. Details will be up June 15.
- Invite me to speak to your group about finding new ways of seeing, developing a quest, reframing problems into opportunities, the power of play in everyday life, and more.
- Reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) to set up a time to talk about what is possible.