In Conversation with Author & Podcast Host Lauren Ellman
Describe your business in a few words?
I am a published author and podcast host who explores the intersection of mental health and social media use. My new book, BRB: Coming of Age in the Digital Age, will be out May 2021. And my podcast, the Perfcked Podcast, is in its fourth season. I interview influential content creators and ask them about the parts of their lives that don’t show up online. I also use my Instagram, @laurenellman_, as a microblog to share my writing.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I knew that if I failed, I’d be right back where I was starting. And where I was starting wasn’t the worst place in the world, so why not give it a try?
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I graduated Cum Laude with my Bachelors in Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in Writing. After college, I got a job at a creative advertising agency in Miami and l learned so much there. Mostly how to hold my own as the youngest person (and only female) in the company. I grew a lot through that job and accredit most of my audacious confidence to my time there.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No. It was never really presented as an option. I was told to get good grades, get into a good school and get a good job. After doing all of those things I found myself really dissatisfied. It wasn’t until my boyfriend (now husband), who is an entrepreneur himself, talked me into doing my own thing that I began considering it.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
At first, I would pitch articles to every email I could get my hands on. I’m very comfortable with rejection. That was helpful, because I faced a lot of it. I wrote freelance for a while, writing content for other people. But I knew I inevitably wanted to write and publish my own stuff. And I’ve just kept that goal in mind and worked with relentless perseverance. I try to be as authentic and vulnerable as I can be, because I find my audience responds the most to that content. Most of my marketing has been organic. I take a real grassroots approach to the whole thing. And I just keep trying. I can’t stop myself from trying. And step by step, it comes together. I’m stubborn with my goals. Once I decide I want something, not much can stop me from getting it.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
While I was freelance writing and publishing my own work here and there, I decided to start a coaching business. I saw a lot of other women doing it online and it seemed like something I’d be good at. So I hired my own coach, did what she did, and booked some clients. It went pretty well at first. But about a year into it, I learned that it was a mistake. I was coaching entrepreneurs on how to brand themselves and their businesses on social media, meanwhile I was becoming more and more mentally ill at the hands of social media. I felt like such a fraud, teaching other people how to use social media while I cringed every time I signed on. It finally came to a head when I got pregnant and I decided I needed to quit social media altogether. I shut down my business, deleted my accounts and spent about a year offline. During that time off, I learned that it wasn’t social media itself, but my relationship with it, that was toxic. So, when I inevitably came back (like we all do), I set firm boundaries with how I use the apps and what content I consume. Now I genuinely enjoy social media, both consuming content and creating my own! Instead of coaching others about how to use social media, I share my own experience with the apps through my writing and I interview influential content creators about their experience on my podcast. I learned that coaching was never my path. I’m meant to write, share and connect. And now, that’s exactly what I get to do!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Aside from the birth of my daughter, I am most proud of finishing my upcoming book. I started the manuscript soon after my daughter was born and I still can’t believe I finished it. I knew I had a book in me but it took a long time for me to unearth it. I finally took everything I had ever written and put it all in one document. Writings from college, articles I’d published, blog posts. Everything I still had access to. I put it all in one document that ended up being hundreds of pages long. I read through each thing and noted in the margins what the common themes were. And it turns out that for the past 10+ years, I have been writing about my lived experience as a millennial exploring the intersection of mental health and social media. And soon after, the book was written.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I’m not going to lie. Outsourcing is something I struggle with. I’m very much a one-woman-show. I do my entire podcast on my own. Run my blog. Create and share content online. It’s all me. But when I finally got to a place where I had decided I’d be self-publishing my book, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. So I hired a professional editor, book designer, cover illustrator and media team. I knew these investments would show significant ROI. And I think that’s the biggest factor for me. I’m careful not to throw money at problems I can solve myself. But when I get to a place where I’ve exhausted my options and have gotten something as far as it can on my own, that’s when I know it’s time to invest in support. I don’t have a go-to interview question, but I do always suggest meeting people face to face (or zoom screen to zoom screen). I think it’s super important to vibe well with the people you work with. For me, it was important that the people I hired on to help with my book resonated with the content and understood my vision for it.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’m very lucky that my work exists entirely online. I’ve always done my podcast interviews virtually, so I was able to continue on without issue. My writing is published online. My book will be available to purchase and even read online. I did have some in person events lined up that needed to be postponed, but I’ve recently started working on turning them into virtual events and that seems promising.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
More books! I’m already working on my next one. I plan on continuing to write and share as long as people are willing to read my words. And, of course, to continue podcasting. I still can’t believe the amazing people I get to interview on my show. The topic of social media’s impact on mental health resonates with so many content creators, and I am very grateful they’re willing to take the time to come on my show and share with my audience about the parts of their lives that don’t show up online.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
There’s nothing wrong with a pivot. You’ll always get where you’re going. I’m very much a control freak and like to have every single thing planned out. I prepare for every possible scenario. If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that I’ll never be able to plan for *every* possible scenario and trying to is a waste of my time and energy.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
There’s room for everyone. I used to be so concerned that someone else was already doing what I wanted to do. Or saying what I wanted to say. I used to obsess over other people’s content and it led to my own content being all over the place. When I noticed this, I put a rule in place for myself. Always create more than you consume. This helps keep my work authentic.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
At first, it was tricky. The initial lockdown took a huge toll on my mental health, understandably so. I started treating myself and my body with less care, just trying to get through the “unprecedented time”. I started drinking to cope and it made me feel so much worse. Eventually, I had to make the decision to start taking care of myself. I committed to only drink alcohol when I was feeling good, instead of using it to feel good. I learned I don’t really want to drink alcohol when I’m feeling good. So I’ve been sober for a while now and it feels great. I also started dedicating time every morning to myself. I use that time to get outside in nature and do whatever feels best that day. Sometimes its journaling, other times it’s yoga and meditation, and sometimes it’s just sitting outside and having a good cry. I don’t judge myself. I just give myself and my body whatever it needs that day. This daily dedication to myself has really helped keep me grounded and manage my anxiety and depression symptoms.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Not really. Especially for entrepreneurs, because the line can be so blurred sometimes. Work can be life, life can be work. I would say the strategy that helps me most is setting boundaries and honoring them. Since my work lives online, I spend a lot of my day starting at a screen, scrolling through content or listening to podcasts. Knowing that, I set office hours for myself. When its screen time, its screen time. When it’s family time, its family time.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a pretty open book. Just take a look at my Instagram. But they might be surprised to know that as much as I talk about setting boundaries with social media, I often find myself scrolling the day away. Especially since downloading Tik Tok. Wow. That app is like a portal into another dimension, where everyone I meet has lived the same life as me and knows exactly how to make me laugh. It’s a beautiful curse. The truth is, social media can be so fun and inspiring and educational. But it can also suck the life right out of you. And the balancing act is a daily practice. Sometimes, I stumble. But for the most part I’d say I do a pretty okay job.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I try not to buy into the concept that my worth is somehow tied to my productivity. However, I do try to create a sense of routine in my day in order to get done what needs to get done. The one thing that helps me the most is keeping a list of everything I need to do. I keep a notebook next to my computer and use it as a dumping ground for every task that needs to get done. Crossing off the tasks as I do them is so gratifying. And it saves me from trying to keep everything memorized in my head. Another big help is taking time for myself in the morning. I find when I don’t do that, I resent having to work. But when I make space for myself and do whatever I “want” to do first thing in the morning, I’m much more available for any work that needs to get done. Lastly, understanding my work flow process. I’m the type of person who can sit down and get done in one hour what might take another person all day. I also procrastinate things that don’t interest or excite me. Knowing that, I’m able to organize myself and my work appropriately.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Opting out of societal expectations and designing a life around what’s best for you and your family.