Denise Brosseau - Building Well-Connected Leaders
Interview with Search Engine Marketing Expert Barb Coll, WebMama
On Friday, I had the good fortune to kick off the individual interviews for my new book adventure on The Well-Connected Leader with Barbara Coll, aka WebMama, one of my favorite people. I have known Barb for about 13 years, ever since she was a member of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs when I was CEO. She is not only one of the most fun people I know; she has also been an amazingly successful leader, in all the best senses of the word.
Barb incorporated her search engine marketing company, WebMama.com, in 1997, and later founded and was the first Chair of the Board and President of SEMPO, which became the industry association for the search engine marketing world. Never one to turn away from a challenge, Barb built both organizations simultaneously and eventually her company had over $4M in revenues and HP and many other Silicon Valley companies as clients. She also built SEMPO into a force to be reckoned with, leading her to ‘rock-star’ status among the search engine marketing folks all around the world.
Barb has lived the world of the Well-Connected Leader over the last 13 years, but with a twist. She was one of the first entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who adopted the completely virtual company model building WebMama into one of the top 5% of women-run companies in the US without any direct employees. Instead, her team was made up of top-notch search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) consultants from around the world whom she had on retainer to work on large-scale projects as needed. Her job was to land the projects, supervise the teams and deliver the results. Her connections within the Valley and within the search community were critical to her success, and it was these relationships that she nurtured and built through the volunteer work she did running SEMPO.
Starting SEMPO came about as a result of Barb’s disgust with the direction that the nascent search engine marketing industry was heading. Most of the better-known entrepreneurs in search were actually spammers, based in London, who built their fortunes in ways that brought their industry into wide disrepute. Barb was convinced that by bringing together the other search engine marketing experts around the world, including some of the best who were at that time in their early 20’s, she could take the industry in a whole new direction. Over time, SEMPO not only succeeded in building a whole new reputation for the industry, it also built Barb’s reputation as a sought-after speaker, search consultant and expert. By leveraging this brand, she was able to bring in more business for her company, while at the same time attracting more and more of the right people to SEMPO’s board and membership.
Barb also adopted another tenet of the Well-Connected Leader -- she gave everything away. She made a point of taking everything she knew about search and shared it widely -- on her website, in white papers, in talks at conferences and through seminar series. She completely understood that it was only by becoming a go-to resource in her industry that she could build the expertise of those around her, which in turn would build credibility overall for this new and emerging field. She actively encouraged others to do the same and fostered a culture of giving at SEMPO that remains strong to this day.
I mentioned a twist, though, didn’t I? Well, let me tell you about that. What I discovered in my interview is that while Barb was busy building SEMPO, WebMama and her own career, she did not enjoy the other advantages of a Well-Connected Leader that I expected. She had few role models, she never had a mentor, and she specifically told me she doesn’t ‘do’ networking. She gives all the credit for the fact that she became a thought-leader in her industry to a consultant she hired to write her a five-year plan. Now that seems a little unlikely to me – it’s one thing to have a plan, but you still have to implement it – and no one can doubt that Barb implemented successfully.
But I don’t question that she found few many role models, particularly women entrepreneurs, in Silicon Valley in 1997 when she started WebMama. Barb is an engineer and she started a technology business and there were few others before her. There were also few people running large-scale virtual businesses and she didn’t know any of them. The search industry was predominantly made up of young marketers and they became the ones that taught Barb what she needed to know and they were the ones she relied on when she was building SEMPO. They were also the ones she ‘networked’ with – if you can call attending all of the industry parties and sometimes staying up until 2 in the morning networking! I guess Barb doesn’t, but perhaps I do.
Most books try to define networking rather narrowly and try to teach people the skills of attending events and asking for advice and tooting your own horn (in the best possible way). I have found those skills to be helpful, but networking, and being a Well-Connected Leader is SO much broader than that. It absolutely may mean attending industry parties where all the smart people are hanging out. It may mean sending emails every once in awhile to the people you know to provide them with an introduction or a resource that you think they need. It may mean being a champion on Twitter – offering great news or data or quotes and re-tweeting the best information that comes your way. It may also mean being on the podium at the industry conference, writing white papers and building a great website where people can find out what you know. It almost always means serving as a mentor to others that come after you. Barb found the way that worked for her and the fact that she was recently named #19 on the Top 100 Most Influential Marketers in the World by INVESP should come as no surprise to anyone.
What are you doing to build your own network and share your expertise with others? Do you think of yourself as a Well-Connected Leader? Your comments welcome!
Posted by Denise Brosseau on 8th March, 2010 | Comments
Tags: FWE&E, webmama, well-connected leader, Barb Coll, SEMPO, role model, mentor, networking
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