Erika Napoletano holds no fancy titles and is an expert at nothing except screwing up royally and learning from her mistakes.
As the person behind the very successful blog RedheadWriting online persona, she’s been hailed by Forbes as a “spinless spin doctor” for her BS-free perspectives on business, marketing, branding, and life in general.
She’s the Head Redhead at RHW Media, a Denver-based marketing consulting firm, where she works with companies from all walks of life to keep them from looking like idiots online (and whatever that might entail).
She’s a twice-pulished author, including The Power of Unpopular (Wiley 2012), a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine, and speaks at conferences across the U.S. on the inherent power of truth in business… or as she refers to it, the power of unpopularity.
In spite of lactose intolerance, she remains a fan of grilled cheese sandwiches and banana milkshakes. You can connect with her if your modern sensibilities allow on Twitter or Facebook and learn more about her at www.erikanapoletano.com.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello. I’m Johnny Cash.
What were you doing before you started the Redhead Writing?
Wallowing in a series of other people’s Shoulds. Like I should have a corporate job. I should just take the paycheck. I should be glad I have this job. I should learn to fit in. You know…Shoulds. Here’s a list of select jobs I’ve had since I graduated college if you’re interested:
- Financial Advisor for one of the top 3 wirehouses in the world.
- Daffy Duck at an amusement park in Houston, Texas.
- An answering service operator.
- An engineer for a telecommunications company (I designed and built DSL/fiber optics installations) in the late 90s.
- A waitress at a cocktail bar (it’s not just a pop song).
- A personal trainer.
- A working actor (not a waitress — a full-time actor).
- An executive secretary.
- A stagehand.
- An English teacher in Japan.
- A financial specialist at a real estate investment firm.
- A sales associate at a diamond brokerage.
Why did you decide to start the Redhead Writing and build a business around your personal brand?
In late August of 2009, I worked for a startup where I was also an investor. After not drawing a paycheck for nearly three months, I asked the CFO and CEO when they thought I’d be able to make a small draw to cover rent.
“Oh, yeah — we were going to talk to you about that. We’re out of money.”
That was a Thursday. The following Monday? You guessed it: Sofaville. It was either be a stripper or do what I do best (talk to people, not stripping). I chose talk to people. That’s when RedheadWriting went from a Twitter account and blog to a full-blown brand. I never wanted to rely on anyone else for my livelihood ever again.
How do you decide what kind of content you should create and publish on your blog so it would fuel the growth of your business?
I didn’t think about growing my business. I thought about talking about what I know and being me in the process. I don’t believe in concepts like B2B and B2C business. Business is always H2H – Human-to-Human.
And the cool thing is that’s something we can all be: ourselves.
Damn fine thing, too – being yourself. Everyone else is already taken. Seems that people liked what I wrote about and I told stories that other people could see themselves in. They kept coming back. So THAT was the right content.
Aren’t you worried that you might lose potential clients because of your personal style (..like dropping F-bombs and such..)?
No. I’d even be happy to hold the door for them so they can make a gracious and swift exit.
You’ve managed to build not only a popular website, but also a solid community. How did you do that?
Ask my community. I’ll venture to guess it has something to do with being a real human being. I have raging successes, wild and ridiculous failures, typos. I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older that perfection is the one thing we’ll strive for yet never achieve. So I celebrate the little victories and encourage others to do the same.
Folks seem to dig that. A big key to my audience is that I love them. I love them like chocolate syrup rubbed all over my thighs with a side of little sliced bananas I can dip in it. They’re the only reason I get to wake up every day and do something I love. I never forget that and thank them for it often and with Charlie Sheen on a coke binge-style enthusiasm.
You have a column on Entrepreneur’s magazine. I bet many bloggers would love to land a regular writing gig on a popular magazine in their niche. How did you do that?
Honestly, the Editor-in-Chief came to me. I woke up one day to an incredible email in my inbox from Amy Cosper asking me to be a columnist for them and it evolved from there.
But here are some ideas to getting a byline if that’s what you’re looking for. To write for major publications, you need some assets. Maybe that’s a rabid audience, a popular book, a well-trafficked blog, or a respectable collection of guest posts on other outlets.
Bring that to the table. Find out how to pitch the editors and send a short and respectful pitch that speaks to your personality (have one, for the love of god). Open a line of conversation.
You also happen to have a published book under your belt. This is another dream many bloggers have. What role did your success in blogosphere played in getting a book deal?
Everything. Publishers do less and less every year to market new titles, so they’re looking for potential authors with a sizable following.
This is called your platform.
And you can’t blame publishers for this — it’s a rapidly changing industry and they need to know that if they’re going to take a chance with you, that you’re going to be able to move some books. Platform is key.
I can’t help but notice that you know quite a few people here in blogosphere. How did networking with other bloggers influence the growth of your business?
Other bloggers are a part of my audience and I’m a part of theirs. We comment on one another’s blogs, share one another’s stuff — we’re friends.
Every year, I get to meet even more of these faces in person and my life is better for it. This year alone, I’ve met C.C. Chapman (uh-maze-zing!), FAKEGRIMLOCK, Brad Feld…adding a live human to the equation is just taking an online familiarity to the next level.
You don’t “use” anyone to build your business, though. That gets old and transparent pretty quick. Relationships get things moving.
And I can’t say this enough — introduce yourself! Get your ass up from your keyboard and smartphone long enough to make eye contact and introduce your damn self. People grow your business. Technology is just a tool to help connect you with more people.
Last, but not the least, what would be your advice to freelancers who want to build their businesses around their personal brands just like you did, but are on the very beginning of this path?
Simple – I already said it, but be you. There will be plenty of people who don’t care for your brand of you, but is that any different than your life now? Be you. Everyone else is already taken and imitation is just a waste of time and your talent.
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Erika!
- It’s not wise to rely on someone else for your livelihood. I think this is a really important point, because too many people have this idea that having a job equals safety and running a business equals risk, completely ignoring the fact that when someone else (boss) has a complete control over your income, it is not exactly the best situation security-wise, especially if you have financial obligations and dependents to think about.
- All business are H2H: Human-to-Human. It’s very important to keep this in mind, especially if you’re running an online business, since it’s so easy to start seeing people as numbers and dollar signs.
- In case you want to land a column on a major publication or get a book deal, it’s much easier to do once you have your own platform and a decent following.
- Be you. It’s a fact of life that no matter what you do, there will be people who will think that you’re wrong and won’t like you, so you can as well be yourself. Don’t try to please everyone, focus on keeping “your” people happy.
What did you guys learn from this interview?
Share in the comments!