Follow-up Friday: International Women’s Networking Group

Previously I wrote about the International Women’s Networking Group in Rotterdam, and how they’ve helped me find my way here in the Netherlands.

On January 25, 2019, we hosted a networking event for women to eat, learn, and most importantly, make meaningful connections for both their professional and personal aspirations.

left to right: Ria van Doorn, Yustine Alvares, Sterling Schuyler, Kristina Jackson. Photo by Sharon Salerni

What Women Want: Women Who Get Shit Done


The day of the event, I realized I was truly supported by women who knew how to get things done.

I previously found myself managing events because most people involved simply didn’t care, or were too afraid to take responsibility. No one was willing to commit to solving a hard problem, but they were eager to take credit for any aspect of success.

I’m not a big fan of failure, and I will do my best to prevent it. I am a person not only willing to take the credit for a successful event, but also to take the blame for a bad one. Someone has to get it done, right?

But for this event, it wasn’t necessary for me to carry the whole burden. None of these women were afraid to take responsibility, and none of us were willing to let it be a bad event.

In fact, I found that I was able to enjoy the event because we had all the pieces in place from the start. Early in the evening, I said to Kristina, “I’ll be running around during the event. There’s no way I can just sit down and enjoy myself. That’s just part of managing an event, right?”

Turns out it doesn’t have to be when you have the right team.

Motivated to Create Me-Time and Meet New People


We had two program blocks – Achieving Success and Personal Branding – as well as a networking activity prompted by Ria van Doorn. This was my favorite part of the evening because during the 30 minute break, I never saw a woman alone.

Ria van Doorn leads an exercise about establishing Me-Time. Photo by Sharon Salerni

Meeting new people is hard, especially in a roomful of strangers. But it became clear that these women were ready to start relationships, and the questions Ria provided were a comfortable way for women to initiate purposeful conversations with each other.

Have you ever been in a room with that kind of energy? Where everyone present wants you to walk up to them and introduce yourself? By the time the event had well-passed its conclusion, there were still women connecting and getting to know each other.

We had attendees asking how they could get involved with the next event, eager to continue making meaningful connections. I’d say my only disappointment with so many people attending was that I didn’t have a chance to meet them all.

Our Support Team: The People Who Make the Event Memorable


While we worked hard to make this event happen, we also had incredible support from both inside and outside the International Women’s Networking Group.

The Event Planner

Anna Gallo came on board at the last minute to help us create the ambience. I’ll admit: I was nervous about bringing on an event planner a week before the event who hadn’t seen the event space, and hadn’t been part of the event planning process.

But she was truly professional. She arrived with an armful of fresh flowers and a suitcase packed with magic, and she transformed that space from a co-working paradise to a cozy experience.

Attendees break the ice at Business, Bubbles, and Bites: A Women’s Networking Event

Again, I hate that my previous experience with event management has made me so jaded. But Anna truly restored my faith in working with professionals.

The Location Manager

And speaking of the space, Leon and his team at Progress Bar were simply amazing. Progress Bar is a co-working office that offers space to gather with like minded peers, so that members can achieve progress together. It was a great environment to host our first IWNG networking event.

Cintia Taylor talks about the power of storytelling. Photo by Sharon Salerni

We didn’t give Leon much guidance for a menu, other than a general ratio of veggies, fruits, cheeses, meats, and breads that we wanted (i.e. more veggies than meats). We also knew we wanted red and white wine, as well as a welcome drink.

It was a bare amount of information, but Leon transformed our request into a varied spread of snacks, beverages, and cocktails. He even made guacamole from scratch to go with the tortilla chips.

And beyond just our food and beverage needs, he made anything and everything we needed easily available to us, from kitchen equipment to music streaming. It was such a delight to not stress about these seemingly small components.

Nigerian meat (and veggie) pies by Kajose Culinair

The Featured Chef

While there wasn’t a full kitchen available for Ediri Sobotie of Kajose Culinair to warm up her meat (and veggie) pies, Progress Bar still offered everything they could. Speaking of those meat pies though, if you’ve never had Nigerian food, it needs to be on your bucket list.

It may look like an empanada, but the spice profile is unlike any other cuisine (at least as far as I’ve encountered). If you have an event to be catered, consider hiring Kajose Culinair. Not only will the food be a crowd pleaser, but you’ll also have Ediri’s bubbling personality to accompany it.

Final Thoughts


It was heart-warming to see my notifications full of praise for the event, the group, and all the women who attended. I am so proud to be part of this team, and I’m humbled to know such incredibly inspiring women.

This was the first large event that IWNG has hosted since its founding in November 2017, and I will say it’s the first of many. I can’t wait to see what we come up with next.

7 Things I Learned My First Year of Freelancing (and What I Want To Do Better)

In 2018, I made two major life changes: I moved to Rotterdam, and I started my career as a freelance marketing consultant. (Because why make only one stressful change when you can make two?)

For years I have read a plethora of articles, listened to a variety of podcasts, and followed some informative yet entertaining bloggers, always trying to learn about (and prepare for?) freelancing. Spoiler alert: nothing can prepare you for the freelancing life.

Regardless of that fact, I still want to share my experience, with hopes that it either eases you into your freelancing career, or that it provides comfort to you if you’ve already taken the plunge.

1. Being an independent worker isn’t the same thing as working alone.


Previously I decided this was the hardest thing I’d experienced as a freelancer. As a full-time employee at a company, I prided myself as someone who could be trusted to get the job done, with or without help.

This is certainly an important trait for a freelancer, but it isn’t quite the same experience. At a company, I was able to lean on other team members and ask questions if I didn’t have all the answers. But as a freelancer, I find I’m the only one around with any answers – otherwise, why would I be confident enough to freelance?

Additionally, as an independent worker, I could still talk with my colleagues and brainstorm with them whenever I needed. And while there are Twitter chats, co-working spaces, and Meetups, I haven’t yet found a true substitution for workplace camaraderie.

And maybe that’s just something I left behind at the standard workplace. But in place of workplace camaraderie, I enjoy late morning fitness classes and casual networking lunches. Not the worst trade-off.

2. I want to continue building my network, both on- and offline.


I’ve listened to podcasts and subscribed to newsletters about what will make my website capture more leads, but I’ve found that the best way for me to glean clients and close deals is to meet people in person.

I’m a gregarious, extroverted woman, so human interaction is a strength of mine. While I may be hesitant when entering a room full of people chatting, I can usually overcome my shyness (especially when food and beverages are present). And because I genuinely enjoy listening to people, I can better identify how to meet their needs in person, rather than reaching out over the internet or even the phone.

I find it’s also harder for people to say no when they have to say it to your face.

It may not work for everyone, but if having a “perfect” website and active social media aren’t converting, maybe you need to get out of the house, too.

3. The first clients will likely be people you’ve already met.


Work is always about who you know, regardless of whether you’re a freelancer or a paper pusher. It’s a reality many of us have faced when searching for full-time employment: if you don’t have a personal connection at the company, who knows if your CV was even read.

It’s hard to convince someone you’ve never met that you are capable of getting the job done, especially as a fresh freelancer. But if you already know someone who may need your services, reach out to them.

It’s much easier to continue building on a relationship that already exists, rather than laying down a brand new foundation. Your potential client already has a sense of who you are and what your work ethic is, so it takes less work to convince them to hire you.

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s just easier than convincing a stranger that you – a brand new freelancer – can solve their problem.

4. The hustle never stops.


This is another piece of wisdom I heard constantly but had yet to fully grasp when I started. Training never stops. Networking never stops. Improving never stops.

I always have to be ready to make my pitch. I have to be conscious of everything I’m posting on various social media platforms. I am constantly searching for more opportunities while simultaneously balancing my plates.

I evaluate and re-evaluate what I charge compared to my costs. I determine which projects I will invest my time in, and which ones I can turn away. I prioritize my pitches based on my current motivation and level of knowledge.

I look for conferences or networking events to learn about a variety of industries. I send emails and follow up on those emails. I seek connections with people – online and in person – to learn tricks of the trade.

This may sound familiar to anyone working anywhere, but what makes full-time employment different from freelancing is that there is no one pushing you (me) to accomplish any of this other than myself. A company may enroll you in training and even cover the costs, or the business may send you to a conference with a few colleagues to open new accounts. As a freelancer, I’m a company of one.

Almost every waking hour of my day, I’m thinking about how I can be better. It’s exhausting, but just like the rewards that follow, it’s all part of the hustle.

5. I want to be better at evaluating a situation (and saying no).


It’s really hard to say no when you’re embarking on your freelancing career and want as much work as possible. But the truth is that you probably can’t do all of the work well.

We’ve all accepted an assignment or five that we didn’t love. Bills need to be paid. Portfolios need to grow. Experience needs to be gained.

Of course, turning down work is much easier said than done (like most things I’ve mentioned so far). I’ve read in books and on blogs about the importance of saying no. I’ve talked with other freelancers and friends about it.

But if a project or client just doesn’t quite feel right, you (I) need to learn how to let it go as smoothly as possible. This is where treating other freelancers as teammates can help.

6. Treat other freelancers as teammates, rather than competitors.


This is one that I’ve also read repeatedly, but didn’t embrace until recently. (Looking at you, #contentclubuk.)

When I first started freelancing, I wanted any and every potential lead that I could convert. I didn’t want to share too much of my skill knowledge with others because I was afraid they’d be better at it than I am.

Maybe they will be. And maybe that’s a good thing.

I found that, more often than not, a client needs more than just what they asked for. That may be due to the fact that I am a marketing consultant, so I invite people to ask me for more than just one problem to solve.

But depending on the size of the project, sometimes it’s just not possible to do all of the things well. Or maybe you have enough work. It’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses.

This is where other freelancers are valuable team members.

We all have areas of expertise or enthusiasm, and sometimes it’s worth your time and sanity to pass a lead to another freelancer – a win for everyone involved. And then maybe down the road, the favor is returned.

Or maybe a client approaches you with a big project: a marketing strategy that requires a social campaign, graphic design, copy writing, event promotion, and web support. While you could do all aspects of the project, maybe it’s worth bringing in an extra set of hands to achieve the best possible outcome.

And who knows – maybe you’ll achieve a sense of workplace camaraderie.

7. I tied my self worth to my employment status.


This was an unbearably painful realization I had around 5 months into freelancing.

I had been working for other people (companies) my whole professional life. Every weekday morning I woke up and knew exactly what I needed to accomplish that day at the office. At the end of the day, I usually felt like I had achieved those goals (regardless of whether I felt fulfilled).

After nearly 10 years of full-time employment, I still kept that routine. In 2018, I woke up every morning and thought “What do I need to accomplish today?”

And often times, I didn’t have an answer. I just knew I needed work.

I built a website. I searched for work opportunities. I asked family and friends to send out my CV. I joined Facebook groups. I listened to podcasts and read blogs. I completed online training. I attended conferences.

And while I had a handful of clients, it just didn’t feel like enough. My billable hours were nothing like what I was earning previously. I would remind myself that I wasn’t necessarily working meaningful hours as a full-time employee, but it didn’t alleviate the itching, creeping despair.

And as the days became weeks, and weeks became months, I was really struggling to explain to others (and myself) what, exactly, I was doing, and whether or not I even wanted to do it. I was so hungry for work. I was starving for more value.

I started to ask myself

Am I worth anything?”


And that’s not a good place to be.

I believe in the value of hard work because it, in turn, has always made me feel valued. The key difference now? I have to grant that value to myself, instead of wait for someone else to define it for me.

In full-time employment, I could pin my value to the amount of invoices I created, the quantity of orders I fulfilled, the numbers of projects I completed, the hours I worked, or the revenue I brought into the company. I could list all of these things as reasons I am paid XX amount.

If I’m not doing any of that in a quantity I deem valuable, does that mean I’m a worthless employee for myself?

In the middle of 2018, I would’ve told you yes.

And even now, there are times I struggle to say no. I have to remind myself that there is so much more to being a freelancer than simply accomplishing the items on a daily checklist.

More than just giving myself worth, I have to decide what about myself is valuable.


To help me define my value, I started tracking all of my hours. Not just my billable hours, but the time I spend writing blogs, updating my website, networking, searching for clients, and even accounting. I don’t feel any of these activities give me value, but it’s been a helpful step towards finding it.

Final Thoughts


2018 was the year I decided to forge a new path for myself. One year later, I’m still building it, not even sure of where it’s going.

Becoming a freelancer is my first attempt at building a career path. I know it’s been done before, but not by me.

So this is my goal for 2019: to re-define my self worth, and use freelancing as a tool to find it. I’m ready to take ownership of this career path.


Interested in making me part of your own journey? Let’s chat!

Follow Friday: BlueCity

One of the hardest changes I’ve had to make since moving to Rotterdam is not having a compost bin. It breaks my heart to throw away my egg shells, my juicing scraps, my week-old flowers – anything that can be naturally broken down into soil, rather than trapped in a plastic garbage bag.

To the chagrin of my husband (and possibly my neighbors), I am experimenting with making a compost bin on our balcony. Alternatively, I am also tempted to casually scatter my bio waste among the green spaces in the city. (Just kidding…mostly.)

While it may be difficult for me as a resident to dispose of my green waste in a responsible fashion, businesses and entrepreneurs throughout Rotterdam are working towards creating a new economy, also known as a circular economy.

Sterling Schuyler BlueCity

About BlueCity: The Circular Economy

Set up in an abandoned water park, BlueCity is working towards “Bringing Back Balance” by creating circuits of earth-friendly practices. Even its initial choice to re-purpose an abandoned water park set the tone for this incubator for innovation.

But it’s not your run-of-the-mill co-working workspace or collaborative offices. (Did the abandoned water park tip you off?)

Their vision is to create a no-waste economy, one that finds alternative uses for an industry’s waste, ideally coming full circle through various businesses. They want innovators – and the world – to produce waste that can be a building block, rather than unused potential.

BlueCity offers their space as a breeding ground for imagination. Here, businesses can test prototypes in a collaborative environment without fear of failure. It’s a space for trial, error, improvement, and eventually development of scalable solutions.

Environmentally-Friendly Innovation

BlueCity’s space and resources have allowed a variety of businesses flourish. Rotterzwam designs countertop mushroom kits that use coffee grounds so that users can grow oyster mushrooms at home. Their materials are recycled plastic, cardboard, and used coffee grounds from their partner Moyee.

KEES makes clothes from residual and renewable materials, while also employing people who may not be considered “useful” otherwise. They fight fast fashion with their thoughtful designs and uncommon uses of materials. KEES then makes an effort to hire people who have been recipients of social assistance for long periods of time – those who may not have the skill sets to secure a long-term job, but have the drive to work.

Better Future Factory offers prototyping and design with recycled materials. It can be challenging to make upcycling sexy and practical, but if anyone is winning at it, it’s Better Future Factory. From perfume to tiles, they are quite literally reshaping industries. They’re even making glasses frames from pogs (or as they’re called in the Netherlands, Flippo’s).

Final Thoughts

Reducing our impact on the environment can feel daunting, or even hopeless. But knowing that there are people out there working really really hard to curb climate change makes me want to contribute, too.

Sorry not sorry neighbors – my composting experiment is here to stay.

Follow Friday: Blocklab

In case you hadn’t noticed, I really enjoying writing about supply chain management. It’s a field that I didn’t know existed until I started working, and ever since, I’ve been interested in learning more about how goods move around the world.

Supply chain logistics affect everyone, from the raw material production to the end consumer. A single wrinkle in the chain can be disruptive to industries around the world. But as the industry’s inefficiencies have become an accepted evil, the world has allowed those wrinkles to accumulate.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could eliminate the redundancies and errors and unnecessary delays in the process of moving something from point A to point B?

Ironing out those wrinkles and making clients happy with a smooth shipping experience is one of the reasons I came to Rotterdam: to find the perfect logistics company.

Rotterdam is Europe’s largest port, making the metropolitan area a global logistics capital. With over 2000 companies providing service in some form to the industry, it would seem that innovation here is constantly shaping and re-shaping the supply chain world.

That is, in fact, not the case.

Rotterdam has only stepped up its game on the international stage within the past ten years. The city has invested in a variety of projects in order to attract talent and persuade businesses to establish a presence. One such project is Blocklab.

Blocklab

About Blocklab

Blocklab wrote a great whitepaper explaining how blockchain can (and will) streamline the logistics industry. It’s thorough but easy to read. In addition to its overview of how blockchain can improve operations and finances, the paper also touches on the environmental impact of making the industry more efficient. (Spoiler alert: it’s a good impact.)

A point that is elegantly touched on is the idea that blockchain may level the playing field for all companies involved:

Careful analysis of successful applications in supply chain management shows that they are based on managing the supply chain as a single entity as a result of one dominant member being able to impose his will on the others. However decentralized supply chains do not have such a dominant member and as a result the potential benefits of supply chain management have so far been much more difficult to realize in these systems. However, using smart contracts in combination with new advanced planning algorithms the (dis)benefits could be fairly distributed among the supply chain members based on actual and immutable transactions.

While any single player may dominate the supply chain process, blockchain will decentralize that power. As a result, SMEs may have a greater opportunity to thrive by emphasizing the value they add to the customer’s experience, rather than the price tag:

Picking up a container, unloading a truck in a CFS, stuffing an export container, sending an invoice to a client, booking an incoming invoice, custom clearance; hardly stuff to get excited about. Your next door competitor does exactly the same and the only way you can differentiate yourself is by being cheaper. The end result: ‘a race to the bottom’. What if we would develop a shared system for all these kind of ‘non-unique selling point’ type of activities? One in which all trust issues are resolved and automated? One in which all processes have been redesigned, made simpler or even totally obliterated? This would significantly lower the transaction costs in and around the port of Rotterdam, making it more competitive – increasing volumes and efficiency and allowing LSPs to compete on value – added, not on price.

This is the kind of talk that gets me excited about supply chain management.

Blocklab’s Blockchain Solutions for Rotterdam

Blocklab has developed solutions for the Port of Rotterdam to increase efficiency through the application of blockchain technology. Its application, however, is easier said than done.

This adoption of Blocklab’s pilot program will shake up all aspects of logistics, from operation to finances to tracking, and everything in between. By implementing blockchain technology, these processes will – ideally – become significantly more efficient and therefore cost effective.

A transaction to move product from point A to point B involves dozens of interactions. According to the Port of Rotterdam’s CFO Paul Smits, a shipment from China to Rotterdam can involve up to 28 parties. With the implementation of blockchain technology, that transaction can move seamlessly through those companies with digital documentation, immediate approval of transactions, and fewer delays.

Final Thoughts

Previously I have questioned the plausibility of the entire supply chain adopting the technology. If not everyone agrees to be so transparent, how effective can the application of blockchain be?

And taking it a step further: if the platform doesn’t offer an all-in-one solution, how agreeable will businesses be to adopt it?

If, however, the largest port of Europe chooses to implement it, it may be in everyone’s interest to accept blockchain technology as part of their futures. I look forward to seeing how Blocklab’s project with the Port of Rotterdam unfolds.


Change (and growth) is inevitable and often times difficult. I can make it easier for you. Let’s talk about it.

How I Failed and What I Learned

I can’t stop thinking about how I botched an assignment.

I know it’s not popular or common to talk out loud about your own shortcomings or how you failed at your job. While internet memes and online articles tell us to embrace failure as a learning opportunity, is seems we are rarely encouraged to actually share these shortcomings.

So, at the risk of deterring you from reading further, I want to tell you how I recently failed, and what I learned from it.

I didn’t deliver the product the client wanted. I struggled to communicate what their business was about. I realized afterwards what I was missing: the story.

 

The Story of How I Failed

The Story of How I Failed

The client’s business had changed its direction since it first started, and they needed to update their website.

In a meeting, they described the business as it currently existed and what they were trying to achieve. They wanted the copy to walk a fine line between corporate and familiar – refined but still a little sexy.

Sexy B2B copy? Quick, witty, punny, smart – those are corporate tones I love to play with. But sexy? For whatever reason I was so hung up on this idea. In draft after draft, defining this tone became my primary objective.

And that was my big mistake. I was too focused on how to shape this voice. I felt so lost in this goal that I ended up creating copy that

  1. wasn’t sexy; and
  2. didn’t sound like me or the company at all.

It wasn’t until after I spoke with someone else in the company about how the business started that I realized this copy was all wrong. Had I just focused on telling the story from beginning to now, I would have naturally found its voice.

I was so involved with nearly re-branding the business that I lost sight of the goal: to communicate what the client wants customers to know about their business.

What I Learned From My Failure

What I Learned

Writing good copy is important, but the craft shouldn’t distract from the goal. I took it upon myself to design a brand new voice for the client when they didn’t need one.

I also need to allow space for the story to speak for itself: leave out the flowery language and clever wordplay. More often than not, simple and straight-forward is the best way to go.

And while I usually embrace this method of writing, I was trying too hard to write something new, to be something that isn’t myself, and that’s not why I was hired.

The other important thing I’ve taken away from this experience? Being myself is the best thing I can be. That’s why I was hired in the first place. Had I just written the way I normally write, the client and I would have worked together to revise it, and the right voice would have emerged.

There’s just no sense in trying to be something I’m not when I’m hired to be me.


 

If I haven’t already scared you away, you should know this: I pride myself on being a good listener. It’s what I enjoy about copy writing – listening to what people have to say, and then translating it into what they need.

That’s what I want to do for you. Sometimes it’s not enough to tell your audience about the problem you solved with your product – you also have to tell them about where you’re going next and what you can do for them. Here’s how I help you do it.