Behind the Biz: Cherie Clonan
This week’s post was a little unconventional in the way it was organised…
In a mild panic, I took to Instagram to see if anyone had the time to do a (relatively) quick email interview for our Behind the Biz series. The response was beyond what I expected, and it was further proof that the community we have with Rust is flipping amazing.
The first to respond was none other than my dream girl – aka Cherie Clonan – aka boss lady of The Digital Picnic – aka everyone’s favourite founder. Cherie’s story is one of grit, long hours, sacrifices and breakthroughs, and it’s been such a pleasure following both her and TDP on Instagram (they really make you feel like one of the team – which when you’re current coworkers are two uninterested cats, is really bloody nice). I’m sure you already love her as much as I do – but if you’re newly acquainted, prepare to be subscribing to her Insta accounts before the end of this interview.
Who’s That Girl?
Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Cherie, I’m 36yo, and I’m the Founder and Managing Director of The Digital Picnic [we’re a digital marketing agency in Melbourne who don’t just manage social media for a living … but train business owners how to manage their own socials via regular one-day workshops].
I married my childhood sweetheart, who I mostly love [minus when he nags me. He’s a *serial* nag. GAHD], and we have x2 children together: Max, 8 years old, and Frankie, 5 years old.
I’m a really geeky, seriously-not-cool [but also don’t try to be cool, nor pretend that I am] geek-girl, who spent most of my schooling life in and out of libraries [a safe place for me], and then grew up to realise … geekery ain’t all that bad, really, and so I properly embraced it.
My happily ever after has been landing on my feet in digital marketing, and doing what I love every day [minus Xero reconciliations, and payroll. #vom. Thankfully though, I outsourced that this year. #yayme]
How is 2019 going for you?
Oh my God.
Can I tell you something? … I’m having the best GD-year of my whole GD-life.
I became sole Director of my business this year, and every day since has been some of the happiest days of my entire life.
I remember one time at an Adelaide workshop, someone said to me, “so what aspect of the business do you manage? Just the copywriting yea? That’s it?”. I nearly … died. I couldn’t believe that I’d allowed the perception to be that I *just* did the copy, because Jesus … the copy in itself? It makeths the brand, but also? I was working 60-70 hour weeks: week in, week out, legitimately growing this brand, right down to the very minute details.
That simple comment really helped me to begin to command the respect [and authority] I deserved, moving forward, and I’d say it was the beginning of a legitimate transformation for me re: what I was willing to accept / put up with, but also? Every day beyond that comment, I ensured that folks knew what my contribution was, because it was a *big* one.
Since becoming sole Director, the business has grown in ways I didn’t think were even imaginable, and it’s helped me to realise, this business was always me: the branding, the creativity, the strategy, the innovation, the scale, the business smarts, the business not-so-smarts [#lessons], the scale, the short-term vision, the long-term vision.
What’s it like living in Melbourne?
Of all the cities I’ve ever lived in? … this one is – by far – my very favourite.
Are you a podcast or book kinda gal – or both?
What is home to you?
I’m an extrovert, that – upon deeper analysis – has all lines pulling *so* very far towards introversion, so home to me? Is just actually being at home.
I just want to wear daggy, oversized clothes. Zilch make-up. Bra optional. And I wanna genuinely be around my kids, I’m positively obsessed with them. And when my husband isn’t nagging me? … I like hangin’ around him too, ha!
I get invited to a lot of things, and I’m like … “nah”. And that’s ok. Because my cup is filled [and my energy restored] by being at home, in my double-fronted 1900’s cottage, actually.
What was your professional background prior to launching The Digital Picnic?
Law degree > dropped out.
Marketing > loved it.
And then ultimately? … specialised in digital marketing, and long story short? I was “home”.
Did you complete any formal studies or are you self taught?
But I’d say the self-taught elements were where I learnt the very most, and really fine-tuned my craft, i.e my content marketing #skillz? Not from the formal studies, but instead? … writing a personal blog, and sharing it to the Australian blogosphere [it went on to win awards, which shocked me, but also … made me realise I really understood content / good content].
Little things like that, ya know? 😉
What inspired you to choose a path in writing/social media/digital marketing?
I don’t think I could have escaped it, tbh.
I was making up stories / crafting stories in my head / putting them to paper since I was … 8yo, or something? Gosh, even earlier. I spent my early years in a [seriously brutal] foster care home, and so I used to make up stories in my head like, “one day? A beautiful couple who couldn’t have children is going to visit me, and they’re going to fall in love with me, and they’ll adopt me … and I’ll live happily ever after”.
Little scenarios like that, ya know? I’d create stories in order to cope, each and every day. It was the only way my 4yo brain knew how to cope.
* spoiler alert? My Dad ultimately won full custody of my sister and I, and he gave me the happily ever after I spent 4-5 years yearning for. Most incredible Dad. Honestly.
What was the catalyst that led you to starting TDP?
14 hour days in an entirely thankless role with sh*t management, that had me leaving for work before my son woke / arriving home after he’d gone to sleep.
I used to just look at him through his cot while he was sleeping and I’d think, “nope. It’s time. I’mma go out on my own”, ya know?
It was scary though, because I was in Senior Management, and an *incredible* salary, so … massive leap of faith.
You have built such a loyal, engaged community over on Instagram – what are some of your top tips for brands wanting to grow and nurture a connected audience?
[let me at it]
So … a loyal, engaged community? My top tips are;
- Categorise your followers,
- Pair “pain points” and “pleasure points” to each category,
- Design content that speaks to both the pain [i.e problems you can solve for that category of follower], and the pleasure [i.e what lights their insides up],
- Take *risks* with your content [please. For the love of God. Stop looking at your competitors, and sharing content similar to what they share / what you think everyone’ll expect to see. When you’re meeting expectations? … you’re not as exciting],
- For that reason? … I like to take risks with my content marketing [it pays off. Dividends. Promise],
- Also, engage with your people. No wam-bam-thanks-Mam’ing, please. Show up. Drop time on replying to folk / seeking out engagement / actually giving back to your community,
- Know your businesses values. Stand for them. Online. Regularly.
- Humanise your brand online, as much as feasibly possible. Its 2019 … humanisation is where it’s at.
And on the flipside – what’s the worst mistake that you see brands make with their social content?
So many business owners think they are their own demographic, and so the content they’re sharing is just pitched … all wrong. They show up daily, thinking they’re their own consumer, and I just wanna DM them and say, “who are you talking to here? I’m so confused?”. But I’d never do that. Jesus. #rude #lol.
What was it like deciding to take the leap from working full time at an agency, to going out on your own (particularly when you had a lovely fam to factor into the decision)?
At the time, I was in-house. Managing a large team. On a bloody decent salary [ha!]. With a brand new mortgage [we went *way* over our heads with it, too]. And a husband who manages risk for a living. Like, professionally. So he was just … properly convulsing at the thought, ha! But unfortunately for him? He married a spontaneous, leap-taking, risk-taking entrepreneurial-spirited lay-dee, and so them’s the cards he’s had to deal with.
I’d say the second year was the worst. Wurst. $200 per week. Broke-beyond-even-comprehension. I remember needing baby wipes for my youngest, and we didn’t have enough money, so I scrounged all of our silvers together … and we were still short. I slumped in the hallway, and properly bawled my eyes out. I felt like I had failed my little fam. bam., ya know?
And then? I posted about being $4 short for wipes in a private Mother’s group on FB.
I subsequently had baby wipes delivered to my door in 4.5 minutes, and this my friends? Is why women are the actual shiz.
I’m not on $200 per week any more, and it was all worth it. Also? My risk-management-huz has just begin breathing again / stopped massaging his pulsating temples re: how on Earth we gon’ get from one week to the next, ha!
You are refreshingly honest and open when it comes to sharing the ups and downs of running a company and being a mum – how important do you think it is for leaders to share their reality and experiences with their team/community?
Obviously, it’s hugely important to me, but … I also understand it’s not for everyone.
I say? You do you, boo. [ok, I don’t always finish off with “boo”].
Share what you’re comfortable sharing. For me, and TDP? It’s a lot. But it’s not all. To me, that makes me feel *too* vulnerable. I’m authentic, but not vulnerable. I’m transparent, but I’m not vulnerable.
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You. Well … me. That’s today’s prompt for @leahladsonphotography #llp30days. As for me? … I don’t think I’ve been this happy in a really long time. Everything is falling into place. I like who I am as a person. I’m kind, and smart, and good to people [the most important value to me]. I know I’m an incredible Mum, raising my kids to the best of my abilities. And I genuinely think my husband is lucky to have me, and I him. Lately? I can’t stop smiling. And laughing. My happiness has returned, and so too has my sense of humour. 2019 has been incredibly kind to me. Image credit — @goldandgrit via my headshot day with @gooddayclub_au
Soo…TDP looks like the dream work environment *snaps* – what were some of your nonnegotiables when it came to building the brand values, ethos and company culture?
I never wanted to duplicate a single element of what I experienced in some of the not-so-great workplaces I had the displeasure of working in.
I wanted to be people-centred. I wanted to be anti-hierarchy. I wanted to be collaborative. I wanted to lead with empathy, because I believed in it then, and I especially believe in it now.
I wanted my success measures to be people first, profit second, and the beautiful surprise to me has been that profit comes when your people are happy.
And finally? I wanted our HR policies to be as progressive as possible for a small business: parental leave that allows parents to be parents [i.e x3 months paid leave. I wish I could do more, but #smallbiz]. Monthly mental health days, because #mentalhealthmatters. Flexible work. Work-from-home, where it works for all.
You know … just … treating people like people.
Do you have any advice for those just starting out in social media/digital marketing?
Yep … get yo’ self a mentor.
Seriously. It’s a baby industry, and it’s incredible undervalued, so a really good mentor will help you pitch appropriately / value yourself / value the work you do.
Also? Be prepared to commit to lifelong learning, because it’s a fast-paced, ever-changing industry.
Do you have a favourite/most memorable project?
Oh yes, definitely.
The pro bono work we do with NFP’s who are dedicated to advancing our gender.
It lights my insides up so hard.
What is the best part about running TDP?
Oh my hat, this one is easy.
It’s the concept to completion stuff, ya know? In that, I dream up big concepts [I’m a perpetual dreamer / big-time #goalsjunkie] … and then I get to see them come to life / reach completion status.
That stuff just gets.me.high.
Also? One of my big big goals is to disrupt this industry / make some of the folks within it feel uncomfortable about their practices, i.e the agency owners who resource client activity with all junior staff / unpaid interns. I want to share the kind of content that makes people want to work with TDP / boycott the “profit first, and above everything else” agencies, which could ultimately shake this industry up.
Heck … even just a little bit.
And finally? It’s the people. My people. As in, they’re their own people, but they’re the ones who’ve chosen to work here, and they make my day: day in, day out. I properly adore them.
And the worst/most challenging?
The 720k per annum pay run.
Keeps me awake at night sometimes … or even often, ha!
BUT … it also inspires me to continue to innovate so that I ensure that enough revenue streams are coming through to cover that / bring in profit as well [more importantly].
So, whilst it’s a challenge? … it also forces me to show up / work hard / rise to that challenge.
What’s something that people don’t see/realise that you do (the nitty gritty, behind the scenes stuff)?
Haha! Oh man, ok. So up until last year? It was me coming in every Sunday night to clean the offices. I remember once, someone in the team complained that the cleaners mustn’t have done a very good job, and I was sat there gritting my teeth thinking … “mate, the cleaners are feckin’ meeeeeeeeee, and I was TIRED!”, lol.
Also, currently? I’m the lowest paid member in #teamTDP, and I’m ok with that. Not forever, but for now … it’s ok. I’m in a really great mindset about it, where I’m committed to growing legitimate wealth in the company, and to do that? I need to take a short-term hit.
And of course: what inspires you?
Hard-working, honest, authentic, transparent people, who are so kind … their kindness just oozes right on out of them.
They’re the kind of people I want to hang around, because I find that I just kinda … absorb their goodness, and they make me wanna be a better version of myself, ya know?
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In the last x3 months, two really big things have happened to TDP; ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Our Social Media Management department has become our most profitable department. Our corporate training department has become the next most profitable of our offerings, which is why we've created a brand new "corporate department", and lastly? Our online learning has almost overtaken our in-person workshop offering. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ So guys? This leaves us in a *really* beautiful position, i.e we'll be workshop'ing for the love of workshop'ing, and not necessarily because it's our most profitable offering. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Now, this is a really good thing for you guys, d'ya wanna know why? Well, it means we're going to cap our workshop pricing as it is now, pretty-much permanently [I mean, unless Scomo *well* and truly f*cks the economy, ha!]. The reason why? We're head-over-heels in *love* with altruism. Always have been, always will be. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The *only* bad news? We'll be dramatically reducing how many workshops we run each month, i.e we've always run x7 per month, because that was in line with KPIs set out for us by our beloved Accountant, but it's a rigorous schedule [lemme TELL you], and we need weekends back for fam. bam. time, and more week days free to oversee our other offerings. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Guys? All of our workshops up until now sell out with a waitlist. Basic economics tells us to maintain x7 per month, but we're going to ignore the supply/demand thing, and put our faith in the fact that a little less TDP workshop'n will ultimately just help the folks who've been sitting on the workshop-fence to get their butts into gear and book awn IN. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Be warned though. Workshops are Cherie's crack, so with an impending reduced workshop schedule comes the absolute likelihood that she'll roll into future workshops with the energy of an 18 month old. On a 26 hour straight flight to Scotland. Otherwise known as, someone *fernergen* that kid, ha!
How do you take your tea (or coffee)?
Hot chocolate, with a marshmallow melted into it. Bomb diggity.
Fave coffee shops/cafes at home
I’m basically never not craving chilli eggs from Alfa in Seddon [my local].
Go to outfit
Oversized culottes, and a bright happy knit [also oversized].
Loves me my oversized.
When my daughter defied neurological predictions [she was born with Apraxia and told she may never speak / never attend mainstream schooling], and she now speaks [actually … she never stops speaking], and she attends a beautiful local mainstream school.
She is THRIVING.
Home. With the fam. And if we head out? I just honestly really enjoy nature. A nice hike. Gentle, #becausekids. But I constantly have to remind myself, “Cherie, you really enjoy hiking once you’re out there in it, so do.it.more!”.
Actually, I’m really enjoying Pru Chapman’s new poddy ‘One Wild Ride’.
Ultimate travel destination
I’m so happy in Bali, but I also *really* love exploring Australia.
I want to go to Broome. I want to do Byron Bay properly. I love Apollo Bay / the Great Ocean Road in general. I love going deep into rainforests, and I love beaches [I don’t go in the water, I just genuinely like sitting at the beach / taking it in / watching the waves etc].
We hope you’re loving this interview series as much as we are! We are curious in nature, and very much enjoy learning the ins and outs of business and start up stories from other female entrepreneurs.
If you have another wonderful lady in mind that you’d like us to interview, drop a comment below or straight to email@example.com
Until the next brew,
What we do
Rust Creative write and manage words for creators. We work with clients to create authentic, engaging copy to use across their websites and social media channels. We also offer brand voice development, exploration sessions, blog writing and complementary cups of tea.
How we help you
We love working with small businesses and freelancers to define their voice and showcase their identity through words. Whether you're after a website copy refresher or in dire need of someone to take the reins of your blog - Rust is ready and waiting to help you out.