When I started my career in social media years ago, I had a target list of people I wanted to meet in real life. Since many of my clients were travel and hospitality-related, I gathered a list of social media, PR, and marketing pros in the So Cal area, and reached out to them. One of the savviest professionals who heeded my call was Debbie Miller.
Meet Debbie Miller, founder of Social Hospitality. We met up down in Orange County, and I peppered her with questions. Before we do this thing, I wanted to note that Debbie has recently co-founded a new venture – Rooms for Cause. Book your hotel stays through RFC and know that 30% of the final auction price will be donated to a nonprofit organization. (The nonprofit changes regularly to spread the love!)
Ready? Read on about Debbie and her path to being a woman-owned business!
1. Outlets: Can you list out the places we can find you (or your business) online?
Website, blog, Twitter, Pinterest, etc:
Personal: Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
2. What did you do before your business?
A couple years ago, my employer was going through a transition period and I knew that my layoff was imminent. As I began to prepare for this major life transition, I consulted many business associates for feedback. The organization I was with had been my first job out of college, so this was a substantial and awkward period, contemplating spending my days in a different atmosphere than the one which Iâ€™d become accustomed in my only post-school experience.
Some of the most valuable advice I received was to generate something that was â€œmine.â€ I had done so much and created a name for myself under the guise of my job, though I didnâ€™t have anything to take away with me when my time at that job concluded. As I began to brainstorm with peers, ideas began bubbling to the surface, and thatâ€™s how Social Hospitality emerged.Â
3. What was that moment (or moments) that made you take the next step in going into business on your own?
I knew I wanted to start a blog, but I wasnâ€™t sure on what. I enjoy dining out, and food blogging is a popular niche, but I wasnâ€™t sure I could articulate my experience with food in a unique way. That said, since my former full-time job had involved working with hotels and restaurants, one person suggested doing a blog on marketing for the hospitality industry.
I was already reading social media blogs regularly myself, but I hadnâ€™t yet come across one geared specifically toward hospitality, so I thought this was a great and a perfect fit. I was immersed (both online and in person) in the culture of social media, and fortunately, it came naturally. I also was an English major in college, so articulating things in writing wasnâ€™t intimidating, either.
The blog debuted in early 2011 and, luckily, I was able to land a new gig doing search and social marketing at an emarketing company right after I was let go from my former job.
4. How long did it take you to go from working from someone else to working for yourself? (Or looking for a job and then deciding, I’ll create my own job.)Â Were there steps every few months or years or was it a clean break?Â
I still work full-time for â€œthe manâ€ (the company noted above), so I havenâ€™t completed the full transition yet, but I know I will someday. That said, I am regularly grateful to have a job I genuinely enjoy, with people I enjoy, and Iâ€™ve been able to grow my own brand while still having the â€œsecurityâ€ of a full-time job. Plus, theyâ€™re completely aware of my blog and side business, and not only are they okay with it, theyâ€™re totally supportive.
I get asked all the time how I have time to manage freelance clients, in additional to my full-time job, in addition to maintaining a social life. And my answer is always the same: I love what I do. I feel so fortunate to get to make money doing something that I honestly enjoy. Whatâ€™s interesting about it, too, is that the path that brought me was a series of accidents; none of it was planned nor anticipated. When you honestly enjoy what you do, it doesnâ€™t get (as) stressful having to stay up late to work, or having to go into an office every day. It remains fulfilling. And amidst constant horror stories of tense workplaces and horrible bosses, being able to make a living doing things you love to do is tremendous blessing.
5. Name something that went wrong/that you learned on your way to being a one-woman show. What was the result of this?
Overcoming fear was probably one my biggest difficulties, though, of course, one that has now reaped numerous benefits. I think it was a personal evolution that took place over time, even still, that has made me more confident in my â€œexpertise.â€ I used to be incredibly shy when it came to any form of speaking out in person (and in a lot of ways, I still am), but now I can comfortably talk about business, social media, etc., and not feel as self-conscious about sounding naive.
And, if I donâ€™t feel naturally confident enough to speak about something, I donâ€™t. It came down to realizing that the knowledge and experience Iâ€™ve acquired gives me something to offer others who may be in the beginning stages, just like I was.
There also came a sense of learning to approach it from a different angle. A wise coworker made an interesting point to me once, after a meeting in which I was silent. He asked, â€œwhy didnâ€™t you speak up in the meeting?â€ and I responded, â€œI didnâ€™t feel qualifiedâ€ (being around much more experienced business peers). His response was, â€œdo you know how incredibly selfish that is?â€ and that, too, helped alter my perception of keeping things to myself when I really should speak up.
6. Name something that went fantastic, either expected or unexpected that you experienced as a result of owning your own business.
I have a tangible answer for this one: I was able to buy a condo. 100% by myself. At age 25. Last year, I put all my â€œsideâ€ income into savings. That covered my down payment and closing costs. This year, since getting the condo, my â€œextraâ€ income has gone into fixing it up and making it my own.
7. Top 3 lessons learned in the process of being your own business? (Examples: Time mgmt, learning from others, leaning on others, support group, do your homework, learn your competitors, where is your market, etc.)
- Know your market. This can be semi-difficult to do since there are so many people out there trying to cover the same bases. When I began, there wasnâ€™t much out there in terms of social marketing resources specifically for hospitality professionals. There are several other hotel-based sites out there currently that are all excellent, and itâ€™s refreshing to be in excellent company. But I think whatâ€™s important to keep in mind is that everyone comes at a topic from a different place (experience, background), and therefore all the perceptions are capable of providing some sort of new insight, different from the others. As long as you know your market, youâ€™re capable of being a resource and shedding new light on the subject.
- Network! Iâ€™ve made so many amazing connections from coming out of my shell and going to events and being open to meeting new people. It was terrifying at first but Iâ€™ve seen over and over the value of â€œwho you know.â€ Iâ€™ve also been able to help get several friends jobs this year and I canâ€™t tell you how fulfilling it is being able to connect people to opportunities, and the joyous effect that has on their lives.
- Never stop learning. With social media in particular, things are always changing. Be open to adapting trends and new ways of doing things as the industry continues to evolve. Let your work speak for itself â€“ if youâ€™re good at what you do, it becomes evident, and attracting clients becomes virtually effortless.
8. Any last words? What do you do when you’re not working and building an empire?
Donâ€™t be discouraged by circumstance. Even if you have other things going on, start a blog on the side on a topic about which youâ€™re passionate. Build it slowly. Be patient. Things will evolve naturally from there.
How amazing is Debbie?! Why are you not following her on Twitter or bookmarking her blog? Do that right now.Â Traveling? Make sure you check Rooms for Cause before you book through other sites!
A big thank you goes out to Debbie for her patience and enthusiasm to meet with me. It takes ovaries to share one’s origin story publicly.Â
If you know of a fantastic woman-owned business that should be showcased, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Debbie Miller says
Aw, thanks for the kind comments, Beverly, Melissa, Jamie and Melanie!
Great interview! Now I’m even more impressed by Debbie.
Love this and this series… and loved learning more about Debbie!
Melissa Dell (@Melissa_Dell) says
Love this interview. And such a SMART move to use your “side” income to something tangible.
It takes (big? strong? powerful?) ovaries to start your own business and talk about it. Kudos to you, Debbie, and thanks for a great interview, Chris.