In the latest of our profiles of women reinventing themselves in midlife, we talk to Jen Lehner, who went from full-time mom, to being a social media marketing consultant from home, and then moved her whole business online. She now runs online courses to train people anywhere and everywhere how to make the most of social media.
An interview with Jen Lehner
What made you decide to do what you do?
I’ve always been interested in gadgets, technology, and marketing. Even at a very young age, I paid attention to the way things were marketed on TV, on the radio, in magazines. I studied sociology in school, but after I graduated, took a fundraising position at a non-profit organization. That’s where I really learned how to be a strategic marketer. It’s amazing how resourceful you can get when you don’t have a big ads budget!
Why did you wait until you did to make the change?
I have three children. When my oldest child was born, 15 years ago, I left my career in fundraising/non-profit to be a stay-at-home mom. I really had no aspirations to go back to work, because I was very fulfilled in this role. Although I wasn’t being paid for any work I was doing, I was always busy volunteering, and I was almost always the person assigned to marketing, social media, setting up web pages, etc. And I enjoyed it.
I helped start a farmers market, and created a local cash mob. This was just a passion project and I didn’t monetize it at all. It was simply an initiative to help support local businesses in my community. It was very well received and powered entirely by social media marketing.
How did you make the change? What or who helped you?
It happened very organically. People began asking me to help them with their marketing. So I decided I would start a business. I didn’t know exactly what it would be like, so I kept it very broad. I offered everything under the sun: social media management, special event planning, strategic planning, training, etc. The name of my company was The Posner Lehner Group, LLC, because I literally had no idea where this would all end up. I wanted it to take shape by trial and error. I wanted to see what worked, and what didn’t. Most importantly, I wanted to see what I enjoyed.
With no portfolio, no clients, zip, nada….I decided I would offer my services for free, to one client who I carefully selected. I approached a local business that was a good business (sold great products) but had no real digital presence. I asked if she would be willing to let me set everything up for her (website, social media, CRM, special events) and in return, she would write a testimonial and I could use my work with her brand in my portfolio.
After that, I really did very little to market myself, because word spread and people were calling me. I also made sure to say “yes” to just about every opportunity that came my way.
How did your family and friends react?
Everyone has been very supportive. especially my husband. But it hasn’t all been rosy. In my mind, when I started this business, I imagined that I would close my laptop at 3 PM, when the school bus pulled up, and then I would resume my previous role as “stay-at-home-mom”. I was, after all, at home and I was still a mom. But that’s not how it went down. The kids got off the bus and I was still glued to my computer. I tried to tell myself it was OK, because I was home with them, and that was enough. But actually I wasn’t there for them at all. I found it very hard to balance both roles.
Then, one day, my oldest son, who was 13 at the time, pulled me aside and told me he missed me, needed me, and that I really was no fun to be around any more. This was a huge wakeup call for me. I needed to hear it however, because I too had been missing my kids and the fun mom stuff I did with them.
That day I set up my Google vacation responder to auto-reply each day after 3PM a message like” thanks for your email. My office hours are 9:30am – 3pm Monday-Friday, I will reply to your message when I return to the office”.
This made a huge difference in my lifestyle, and my clients were very understanding.
But I also decided I no longer wanted to work one on one with clients. I had been following people like Amy Porterfield, an online marketer, for a while and I decided that I wanted to continue to teach what I knew and empower other entrepreneurs by creating online courses as she does. I didn’t take on any new clients and I didn’t renew contracts with the clients I had. I focused entirely on course creation, and that ‘s what I’m doing today.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
Aside from the obvious financial rewards, my life is just a lot more exciting and fun. I love setting goals and achieving them. I am so passionate about what I teach, I would honestly do it for free (and often do!). So many of the people I work with are doing such amazing things in the world, and to be able to help them get their message out there fills me with joy. I also love to show women my age and older how very capable they are of learning new technologies. It can be so intimidating and it is my mission to strip away the fear and simplify it as much as possible. I suppose you can say that going down this path has added a whole new purpose to my life.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
Make it happen. Don’t wait for things to be perfect. Just start. Things will unfold the way they’re meant to. Create your own opportunities by reaching out to people and offering to help for free for a bit, but select these candidates well. Their testimonials and results will be very important to you down the road.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
For the most part, I don’t care what people think. It’s so freeing. I wish I ‘d had this attitude in my 20s and 30s. I don’t waste time doing what I don’t want to do. I don’t spend time with people who bring me down. I feel no obligation to explain myself
when I say “No thank you”.
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
I’m not as cute as I used to be!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
Sunbathing is bad. Apple stock is good.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
- Listen first. Talk later. Practice empathy.
- Say no without excuse or apology.
- Take care of yourself, or you are useless to others.
- Wake up early.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
I have a few! First the 555. Basically, when something goes wrong or isn’t planned, or if I have to make a tough decision, I ask myself, will this matter in 5 weeks? 5 months? 5 years? Usually this helps me to keep my perspective on things.
Also it’s not a formal quote or anything, but it’s an overall philosophy that has always been inside of me. Something like “each day is an opportunity to be better”. I’m quite the optimist. I’m easily inspired and generally optimistic about life.
My favorite quote is by Seth Godin talking about social media and the internet: “How can you squander one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable”.
Which woman do you most admire and why?
My mom. She has had some big upsets in her life but in spite of it all has maintained such a wonderful optimism, and joie de vivre. She’s the only person on earth who I can say honestly cares about anything and everything I have to say. If I call her to tell her I tried a new recipe, she wants to know every single detail. Unconditional love is a beautiful thing.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
Mutton Club note: Jen also has lots of great YouTube video tutorials including how to accept friend requests from anyone on Facebook without worry and how to host a Google Hangout/webinar.
You may also like Sally Hendrick – Midlife Reinvention and Silicon Valley or Bust – Louise Chunn’s Digital Adventure.