Empowering Women To Write Their Own Story
Empowering Women To Write Their Own Story
In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Jess Ekstrom. Jess is on a mission to help women tell and sell stories through writing and speaking. She's the creator of an organization called Headbands of Hope. Jess has also written a book called — Chasing the Bright Side: Embrace Optimism, Activate Your Purpose, and Write Your Own Story.
John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the MarTech Podcast, hosted by Benjamin Shapiro, and brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network. Ben's episodes are so awesome. They're under 30 minutes, they share stories with world class marketers who use technology to generate growth, and achieve business and career success. Ben is a great host. I've been on his show, he's been on my show. He always really digs down and gives you actionable stuff that you can take away and do. And, he's always bringing up new stuff. The science of advertising, how to figure out what to automate, just things that marketers are wrestling with today. Check it out, it's the MarTech Podcast. Find it wherever you listen to your podcasts. Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Jess Ekstrom. She's on a mission to help women tell and sell stories through writing and speaking. She's also the creator of an organization called Headbands of Hope. And, she's also written a book called Chasing the Bright Side: Embrace Optimism, Activate Your Purpose and Write Your Own Story. And, let's just throw on top of it she's also got some software called Bright Pages. So Jess, welcome to the show.
Jess Ekstrom: Thanks for having me, excited to be here.
John Jantsch: A lot of ground that we can cover her. In your intro, I was-
Jess Ekstrom: I know. Which direction do you take?
John Jantsch: I want to start with, I love just hearing entrepreneurial journeys. How can you package yours up in a couple minute story?
Jess Ekstrom: Oh yeah, I got you. I first started when I was in college, I was interning at Make A Wish and seeing a lot of kids that would lose their hair to chemotherapy. They'd immediately be offered a wig or they'd be given a hat. A lot of the kids weren't really concerned with covering up their heads, they just wanted something to feel good after hair loss so I would see a lot of them wearing headbands. I just thought it was such a cool gesture of confidence, that they would just wear a headband. So I went onto Google and I think I literally typed in" headbands for kids with cancer," and nothing came up. I call it the dumbest smartest moment of my life, where being 19 years old I was like, " Oh, I could tackle that." So I started Headbands of Hope, for every headband sold we'd donate one to a child with an illness. The funny part that I haven't really shared a lot before is that the founder of Tom's Shoes, who's named Blake not Tom, surprisingly, spoke at my school about a week prior. So after hearing him speak and hearing his story of starting his one- for- one model, I had that fresh in my mind and thought that maybe that could be me. So unknowingly, I realized in that moment the impact that storytelling and speakers can have on audiences as well. So I grew Headbands of Hope, and then eventually realized that the story of how Headbands of Hope started and the scrappy beginnings going to a million headbands donated was a really impactful product in itself. I started speaking, and writing, and got book deals and all these amazing things and realized that there was not a lot of women out there doing the same thing. I would be the token woman on a panel, or not a lot of women on the shelves that I wanted to see. That's when I started Mic Drop Workshop, which is my online course and community to help women tell and sell their story. There it is. I don't know if it was two minutes, but I tried.
John Jantsch: Tell me, where does Headbands of Hope stand today? Is that still an active eCommerce business that then has the one- for- one model?
Jess Ekstrom: Yes, more than active. Headbands of Hope is going extremely well. We just reached one million headbands donated, which is awesome.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: But, it was something that was not fire right out of the gate. I was a one woman show, teaching myself everything. It was just trying to use all the resources that I had. I would literally hire college students to help me build my website and pay them in Chipotle burritos, and that was how I got started. And then, using tools like Canva, where I have no graphic design experience, I didn't have the money to hire designers, helping me create social media posts or banners for the website. It was really small beginnings that has come quite a long way.
John Jantsch: So you mentioned that you were a token woman on a panel, I certainly see that play out in large conferences and things of that nature. But, I will say that there seems to be, now, an entire industry of women helping women maybe take that to the next level. What would you say is unique about your point of view? I saw Marie Forleo blurbed your book. She's obviously been doing a similar model, of having courses and teaching women, not exclusively women, but primarily women, to start and run businesses. What would you say is unique about your point of view that you're trying to bring to it?
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah. I would say that, with Mic Drop Workshop, it's really about helping figure out how your story can help people in their story. A lot of speaking courses out there, first of all, are not focused on women and ours is exclusively for women or people who identify as that. And, they force you to be an expert. What's that thing that would name a library after you, or something crazy. And, the course starts with storytelling and then we do something called The Moment to Meaning. Where, what are the moments in your life, how can you pull the meaning out of them, to teach to others. I would say the other part of it, too, is that speaking is one of the industries that can be highly collaborative and beneficial in that collaboration, if you let it be. Sometimes, as thought leaders or entrepreneurs, you really want to compete. But with speaking, so much of my growth as a speaker has come from people referring me to gigs. Other women saying, " Hey, I just spoke, Jess would be a great speaker." In Mic Drop Workshop, we have a closed community for all the students who refer gigs after they've done them and create that referral system.
John Jantsch: Yeah. No, I've experienced that over the years as well. If you think about it, if somebody has me speak at their conference, probably going to be a couple years before they want me back.
Jess Ekstrom: Exactly, so you might as well tee it up. Yeah.
John Jantsch: I tee it up and I also, quite frankly, it's that whole reciprocation thing.
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah, for sure, what goes around comes around.
John Jantsch: That kicks in, exactly.
Jess Ekstrom: It's so true in speaking.
John Jantsch: Let me push a... I just want to hear a clear answer on this, I'm not debating it.
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah.
John Jantsch: But, I want to push back a little bit on this idea of your workshops are for women. What's the difference between a woman storyteller, a woman speaker and a man speaker, or a man who's trying to go out there and tell stories?
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah. No, I think that's a great question. I think that what we're trying to do with Mic Drop Workshop, making it exclusive for women, is one, I hate when people say safe space but it really is. It gives women the opportunity to go out there, share feedback, test their keynote in a really safe environment where they don't feel like they might get pushed to the side, or spoken over or they just feel like everyone in here is on that same page. But, the other thing that I've noticed, too, is I've done research around it with why aren't women getting the big keynote spots, what is that? Yes, there are opportunities for more women to be on the selection committees. But, I think the other part of it is, I was at this event once and they were talking about diversifying lineups, and this woman who's the meeting planner for a huge corporation said, " Look, I want to book more women speakers, they're just not applying. I'm not seeing them in the application." I think a part of Mic Drop Workshop that I want to teach is not just obviously the business side of speaking and telling your story, but how do you put your name in the hat, even before you feel ready sometimes. There's so many studies that show that women won't apply for jobs unless they hit 100% of the qualifications and men will.
John Jantsch: Yeah, yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: It's the same for speaking. So there's a confidence factor to it, that we're also tackling at the same time.
John Jantsch: Yes, men will definitely fake their way through it a lot sooner, I'll give you that. You don't do any men bashing in your communities, do you?
Jess Ekstrom: No, not at all.
John Jantsch: Okay, good. Good. No, no.
Jess Ekstrom: I think when you do women focused work, some people might construe it as anti- men and that's not the case at all. It's just how can we use a community of women who aren't getting these gigs, who haven't been selected and come together and do that. It's definitely not anti- men, at any cost.
John Jantsch: I have four daughters.
Jess Ekstrom: Oh, you've got your hands full. Yeah, for sure.
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Jess Ekstrom: I would say during the pandemic, there was a lot of pivoting, like a lot of businesses had to do.
John Jantsch: Sure.
Jess Ekstrom: But, to add another layer on it, my husband and I had recently moved into an Airstream trailer and had been traveling around the country. What started as a book tour, and then we just stayed in it. So being able to be connected with my team, who's all over the country, was a struggle. Using things that are collaborative, different softwares, again like Canva, when we were working on a new look book for fall for all the stores. Or working on different social media posts, being able to have those collaborative features where we're not in an office has been really helpful. But additionally, I would say and I touched on this before, one of the blessings and the curse of being an entrepreneur is you really have this something in your brain that tells you it's not enough. No matter what you do, no matter podcast downloads you have, no matter how many headbands you sell or books you sell, you always feel like there's more in you. Which can be great, because that's the fuel to your hustle, but it can also be really detrimental to your mental health and how you feel about yourself.
John Jantsch: inaudible.
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah, exactly. I think that that's additionally a struggle that's tough for me, is I like having my hustle muscle on and always wanting to do better. But then it's like, when is the time where you say, " Good job?" That's sometimes hard, to do yourself.
John Jantsch: No question. Entrepreneurs tend to always be looking at the horizon rather than looking back behind them and seeing how far they've come.
Jess Ekstrom: Exactly. Yeah.
John Jantsch: Let me ask an age question. You started at a very young age. Have you felt ever that that's held you back? Or, have you felt that that's actually been a real positive strength for you?
Jess Ekstrom: That's a good question. I would say in the beginning, I was naive to the point of a benefit.
John Jantsch: Yeah, sure.
Jess Ekstrom: I was like, " Oh, no problem. I can start a headband company." I had no idea what a PNL was, I couldn't even spell entrepreneur and I think not having the data-
John Jantsch: Most people actually can't spell entrepreneur so you're okay.
Jess Ekstrom: I was going to say, I still can't really spell it. I'm not going to lie to you, John. I would say not having the data was really great for my fearless leaping and just saying, " Yeah, I can do it."
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: And then, also just your energy level. I don't know what I was on, but the amount of things that I could get done in a day was limitless. And then now, having the data, and having these life experiences that you can pull from and saying, " This might not work because of this," can be harder because you're leaning more on strategy than gut instinct.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: I definitely, any time I speak at schools or colleges, I'm like, " You're in the biggest do over period of your life. Even if you start a business and it utterly fails, you have more information than you did before."
John Jantsch: Sure.
Jess Ekstrom: "You're more qualified to go after a job or whatever it is you want to do next, after having done that."
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: There's definitely pros and cons to both, but I am definitely pro starting young just for the learning experience at most.
John Jantsch: Right, absolutely. I hate to say it but those books don't contain the lessons that you learn when you start trying to do it, do they?
Jess Ekstrom: Exactly.
John Jantsch: It's funny. I want to highlight something that you kind of said, was that if you'd had known how hard it was, you might not have done it.
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah, for sure. I think about that all the time.
John Jantsch: I think that's a real benefit. Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah. Do you ever feel like that, if you had known what you were in for?
John Jantsch: I never really do, but I've been doing this for 30 years. I love it still. I don't know that I would. I'm the same with you, I never feel like I know when it'll be done or I'll be done. I'm always there's got to be better, more ways to do stuff. But, I'm having too much fun to really worry about it.
Jess Ekstrom: That's awesome.
John Jantsch: You've developed some software. Going from shipping headbands to developing software is a bit of a leap. What was your process for doing that? I'm assuming you aren't a programmer yourself and you had to go, " I wish the world had X," and then got it done?
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah. I think if there's one policy that I live by it's create what you wish existed.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: I think it's the most simple way we can approach entrepreneurship. So during the pandemic, like I said everything was upside down, and I found the thing that was really helpful for me was writing. When I was writing Chasing the Bright Side and I had a manuscript deadline, I had to write every day, I had a certain amount of words. It was probably the healthiest head space I've ever been in, and also clearest on what my priorities were, what I wanted to do and realized that there's a lot of science behind journaling.
John Jantsch: Yes.
Jess Ekstrom: Your head can only hold seven pieces of information at a time. So it really gives a way to download and digest what's going on, and also set goals and what you want to do. I found that the journals out there, whether it was online or tangible, physical journals, were very gratitude driven and very introspective. Which I can appreciate, but that's not what I need every day. I wanted a journal that helped me pursue the things that I wanted to create. Again, same thing, typing headbands for kids with cancer into Google, it's something that I couldn't find. So I started Bright Pages, but we're actually going to be rebranding to Prompted. We're the first and only journal to create what we call prompt pathways. You can select a topic, a goal, whatever it is you're interested in, and get prompts based on that. If one of your listeners wanted to start a pathway, they could take John's pathway of how to start a podcast and get journaling questions guiding them through that.
John Jantsch: That's awesome. Do you have contributors that are contributing those pathways, so to speak?
Jess Ekstrom: Yeah.
John Jantsch: Oh, that's awesome.
Jess Ekstrom: They're all created by guides. It's really cool. We have an NBA coach on there, we have someone who has their own Netflix show, we have podcasters, thought leaders from all over, creating these pathways. They're anywhere from seven to 21 prompts.
John Jantsch: Oh, that's awesome. That's awesome. What's the future hold then, for you?
Jess Ekstrom: That's a good question, John. I ask myself that every morning. But, I think I want to do things, and you hit on this which I love, and not a lot of people talk this way, but I want to do things that are fun to me. I think life is too short to not enjoy what you do. I've definitely gotten involved in some things in the past, where the price tag that I would get from it looked really good and it looked good on paper, but it just wasn't fun for me.
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Jess Ekstrom: I think I'm really grateful to be a point in my career, pretty early on, where I have the privilege and the luxury of choice as to what I do next. The things that I know I love doing are writing and speaking, and helping women do the same. Or, just really unheard voices. There are so much stats out there with women of color not getting gigs, so I really want to figure out how can I use what I've created and help change who holds the microphone.
John Jantsch: So tell people how they can find out more about any of your various ventures. I know they can start at your namesake homepage. But, go ahead and invite people to connect with you any way you wish. And, tell us the name of your dog too, by the way.
Jess Ekstrom: I was going to say, of course the mailman came by right then. My dog's name is Ollie.
John Jantsch: Awesome.
Jess Ekstrom: A 70 pound standard poodle. But if my husband was on the call he would say, " Oh, he's a man's poodle, though. You can just say standard poodle." Yeah, I would love to hear from you. You can head to my Instagram, @ jess_ekstrom. Same with my website, jessekstrom. com. If you want to learn more about Mic Drop, you can go to micdropworkshop. com and brightpages. com. I think that's it.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Jess, thanks for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast and hopefully we'll run into you in your Airstream some day, out there on the road.
Jess Ekstrom: I would love that. Thanks, John.
John Jantsch: All right, that wraps up another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. I want to thank you so much for tuning in. Feel free to share this show, feel free to give us reviews, you know we love those things. Also, did you know that we had created training, marketing training, for your team? If you've got employees, if you've got a staff member that wants to learn a marketing system, how to install that marketing system in your business, check it out. It's called the Certified Marketing Manager Program from Duct Tape Marketing. You can find it at ducttapemarketing. com, and just scroll down a little and find that tab that says Training For Your Team.