September Spotlight: Nick Farrell of Sovana Bistro

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9-to-5 grind. 

Nick Farrell, restaurateur and owner of Sovana Bistro, has brought fine dining and catering to the quaint town of Kennett Square, PA for over two decades. Blending locally grown and sourced food with the tastes and cuisines of the world, Sovana Bistro is a dining destination for those near and far. 

LG: Thanks for being with us today! We’d love an introduction. Tell us about yourself. 

Nick: Hello Lauren! I grew up in Glen Mills, PA, as the youngest of five in a family where food was always at the center of everything we did. I spent a lot of time as a teen playing sports and working part-time at a neighborhood restaurant. After high school, I attended West Chester University and then went on to Culinary School at The Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, PA. After graduating in 1995, I spent some time working in Malvern with my brother Tom at The Classic Diner. In January of 1998, I opened Sovana Bistro. It was there that I met my wife Linda! We now live in West Chester, PA, and have four amazing kids with one on the way in November 😊 along with our 2 dogs.

LG: How was Sovana Bistro created? Where did the name come from? 

Nick: I began the process of looking for a restaurant location at the age of 22 (in 1997). I was told by a friend about a spot in Kennett Square not too far from Longwood Gardens. I met with the landlord and we discussed the idea of a small Italian-style restaurant. He liked my proposed menu and vision and agreed to lease me the space. The name “Sovana” comes from a small town in southern Tuscany. I had grown up cooking simple, rustic, Italian food and the quaint village town of Sovana seemed to resonate with me.

LG:  Almost 22 years later, how has Sovana grown? Where do you see the restaurant going in the next 5 years? 

Nick: Sovana is continually evolving and changing. We have expanded on and upgraded the facility year after year. Highlights would include adding a 65-seat patio, getting a liquor license and two bars, adding a pastry, bread, and pasta kitchen. Our goal is always to continue to add value to our loyal guests and staff.

LG: How did you build Sovana Bistro’s marketing strategy? What tactic has made a difference in your marketing goals? 

Nick: We focus very heavily on guest experience to drive visitation through word of mouth. We are part of an intimate community and have been heavily involved in supporting our schools, churches, and local organizations. Our marketing has been mostly “grass roots”. I believe Social media has helped us stay connected to our fans.

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Nick: I would say our success comes from building a healthy and positive environment and culture around key principles of life that seemingly attract the best people to our organization. We spend a lot of our time keeping the core values and mission in focus.

I have failed at many things over the past 22 years. Each and every one of them has made me better and provided insights that I would not have had.

LG: How do you manage the balance between your role as a father/husband, an entrepreneur, and a co-founder of Dineable

Nick: I love it all. I am grateful for each role that I have been given. I did not always have the right balance as a young husband and father. Building a restaurant required years of sacrifice and it was difficult for many of those early years. My wife Linda focused on the home and I focused on keeping the restaurant going. It took about 12-15 years to get things to a point where I  could see more balance in my life and start to spend quality time with Linda and the kids. The core team at Sovana is amazing and they are quite capable of executing at the highest-level whether I’m there or not. This level of flexibility has been a wonderful thing to have in my work/life balance.

I really love being an entrepreneur and building things from the ground up. When the chance to be a part of a young start-up Dineable crossed my path, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s been a great experience and I get to use my life’s work to help build a tool that I believe can seriously improve and better people’s lives.

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there? 

Nick: There are moments when it’s so heavy and you want to quit. You are capable of so much more than you think. Nothing comes without a sacrifice and a willingness to give up comfort in the moment for the results you are driving towards in your life. 

LG: What’s the one thing you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?

Nick: Stop feeling sorry for yourself when it gets hard and be thankful for what you have in every moment.

LG: What has been the most rewarding part of Sovana’s journey thus far? 

Nick: Going to the restaurant and seeing it all come together every day the way it was designed and enjoying the relationships with the folks who bring it to life everyday. They are my family. Hearing people share the moments of their Sovana experience is a way that says we nailed it.

Come one, come all! Sovana Bistro would love to host you for lunch, dinner, and your next big event! Make a reservation today. 

Author’s Note: A special thank you to Nick for participating in this spotlight and his support of me through many different roles at Sovana over the years.

August Spotlight: Aimee Beam of Top Knots by Aimee

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9-to-5 grind. 

Aimee Beam, Founder of Top Knots by Aimee, is an award-winning bridal hair specialist creating beautiful looks and helping women feel their very best for life’s most special moments. Aimee’s passion for all things beauty began early on and after almost a decade in the marketing industry, she’s become a full-time entrepreneur traveling from big day to big day with hot tools and her signature “Top Knots” look. 

LG: Thanks for being with us today! Tell us about yourself! 

Aimee: Thanks for having me, Lauren! I’m the owner and founder of Top Knots By Aimee (@topknotsbyaimee) – I have the pleasure of styling more than 100 brides a year with my team of 7 stylists in the greater Philadelphia, Jersey Shore, and New Jersey areas. I really love what I do – and pinch myself every day that styling brides on their wedding morning is the full-time job I created for myself. In addition to my NJ cosmetology license, I also have a degree in Journalism from Lehigh University. I live in the Philly ‘burbs with my husband Jon and 2-year-old son Max! 

Haley Richter Photography

LG: How did Top Knots by Aimee begin? 

Aimee: Almost every client asks me this! It happened by accident, but once I got a taste of the on-location wedding life, I was hooked! I had gone back to Cosmetology School after college with the aspiration of owning a hair salon, but once I was in school, I hated cutting and coloring! I was too far into the program to step away once I realized this (I went two years every night from 5-10 pm), but I was thinking about how I was going to use the skills I had learned. I always loved the beauty industry, my Mom was a manicurist, and I grew up around the salon. I got my first client by chance after meeting a makeup artist at a social event in Philadelphia, and she recommended me to the bride. I sweated my whole way through that first hair trial the only photos I had to show her were of my mannequins! But she ended up loving her hair, and hired me, that was in May of 2013. After that first wedding at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia, I was so energized by the “job” and the experience of delivering an exceptional wedding morning for a bride loved everything about helping a bride get glamorous for her wedding day! I went home and started researching how to set up an LLC and built a website later that month. I had a clear vision of the dream job I could cultivate for myself! It would take me many years to make it my full-time job, but I moved forward slowly to ensure it was truly the full-time path that would make me feel fulfilled. 

LG: We love your logo, website, and amazing photography. How did you decide on your brand? 

Aimee: Thanks! Here is where I use my Journalism degree I had learned how to build a website in college and I use SquareSpace. Our photos are all used with the permission of our client’s wedding photographers so we always have fresh photo content. The wedding industry is all about sharing sharing content, sharing photos, and tagging each other for as much exposure as possible. As far as our logo, I wanted something clean that used my name and our photos speak to our level of hair artistry, so I didn’t want anything overly complicated for our logo. A “top knot” is a signature bridal look obviously we specialize in countless hairstyles beyond this updo but that is where our name came from. 

LG: How did you build Top Knots by Aimee’s marketing strategy? How do you attract and engage your clients? 

Aimee: The wedding world is so unique! So much is vendor referrals and client referrals! I always stress to my team that every client is the most important client not just the bride. So many of our brides hear about us because their friend was a bridesmaid loved her hair just as much as the bride! My inner circle of vendor friends in the industry are called “friendors” these are talented wedding-related business owners that specialize in areas outside of hair some are photographers, some are makeup artists, some are bridal dress shop owners…we all refer to each other and work together! When brides hire a team that has all worked together before we can collectively deliver a truly cohesive and special wedding experience! Putting time and energy to these relationships has been the best “marketing strategy.” As far as traditional marketing we spend the most time of Instagram – hair is so visual! We get our largest percentage of non-referral clients from Instagram. You can follow along over at @topknotsbyaimee

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Aimee: As a business owner, I fail often! But when you’re wearing so many hats, you get really good at fixing any of the said failures and work to find a solution quickly! As I’ve expanded my team, and am not on-site for every wedding anymore, I’ve learned you can never over-communicate enough when it comes to timelines and what is included in the services. I’ve also flat out have had clients want a total hair change and my rule is no one leaves unhappy. We always offer to start over and take everything out if a client isn’t 100% happy. There is so much I’m proud of about this business! I’m most proud that I’ve created a culture and clientele that other super talented hair artists want to be a part of I seriously love my team of crazy talented bridal hair specialists!   

Lauren Fair Photography

LG: How do you manage the balance between your role as an entrepreneur with a growing team and your home life (including Max. . . the cutest toddler ever)?

Aimee: I’m still searching for the balance… in my opinion, you have to love what you that much because my business is a lifestyle, it’s not just a job. I get a lot of help which I’m eternally grateful for from my husband, parents, and in-laws. Their support is what makes me running full steam ahead possible! And Max, Max man gives me so much energy! He’s the best baby in the world! 

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there? 

Aimee: I’ve never had one regret from leaving the traditional 9-to-5 world – if anything I wish I had the guts to do it sooner. I really feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing, and am grateful for this adventure I’m on! Also, this life is a hustle – you really have to love it in your bones. It’s harder than any job I’ve ever had, but it’s the best. 

LG: What’s the one thing you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?

Lauren Fair Photography

Aimee: There is a crazy-beautiful SUCCESSFUL life outside of the 9-to-5. I was always so afraid to “break” the norms of what everyone else defined as success as far as climbing a traditional corporate ladder.

LG: Your work is amazing! What’s been the most memorable wedding or event you’ve worked so far? 

Aimee: Recently, I was invited to be a part of a styled shoot at Terrain in Devon, PA alongside all the top wedding vendors I admire in the Philadelphia region. My first job out of college was at Terrain at Urban Outfitters Headquarters and it was a very “life coming full circle” moment for me. I moved to Philly for the Terrain job 10 days after graduation 11 years ago, I got the idea to go to beauty school while working at Terrain, and now I was the hired wedding hair stylist for a shoot that was going to be featured on Ruffled Blog at Terrain alongside every vendor I admire in Philadelphia.

Know someone planning a wedding or special event? Be sure to use Top Knots by Aimee and her incredible styling team! 

Author’s Note: A special thank you to Aimee for her time and helping me grow as a marketing professional while we were colleagues!

June’s Spotlight: Mark Surkin of Dineable

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9 to 5 grind.

Mark Surkin, CEO and Co-founder of Dineable, brings tech to the dining room table in the best way possible. Created with the customer in mind, Surkin blends his background in IT with his dedication to living with dietary restrictions in our world today.

LG: Tell us about yourself!

Mark: Anyone can probably get a pretty good read on me by knowing 4 things:

  1. When I was 13, I asked my parents if I could spend some of my bar mitzvah cash to buy… WINDOWS 95. Seriously. My idea of fun was sitting at home installing an operating system.
  2. Baseball is the greatest sport in the world and I dare you to try to prove me wrong.
  3. I believe that reading is one of the most important things anyone can do with their free time. Sci-fi, romance, self-help, history, whatever. Just read.
  4. I love to travel and have been lucky enough to do a lot of it. But even when it’s not possible, anyone can go anywhere with a great recipe. Food is universal, and even when there is no common spoken language, all it takes to make a friend is a taste and a smile. That’s why Dineable exists: to give everyone a seat at the table.

LG: You’ve launched Dineable. How did it all begin?

Mark Surkin, CEO of Dineable

Mark: Like most IT people, I can’t help myself from trying to solve problems with tech when I see them. I’m food-restricted. So are many of my family and friends. Getting together over a meal always began with exhausting conversations about who can’t eat what – sometimes among ourselves, sometimes with a server or chef.

There had to be a better way, and I wanted to find it, because I was tired of repeating myself and tired of feeling isolated, frustrated, or just plain hangry when there was nothing around for me to eat. I knew others shared my perspective, and I was lucky enough to be in a position to try to fix the problem.

LG: Describe the Dineable brand.

Mark: We get that food counts to everyone, each in their own unique way. Dineable helps anyone get food right for them, and we help anyone serving food to get the information they need to serve each guest at the highest possible level. We are all about hospitality – the simple act of knowing your guests as well as possible enables anyone to create magic moments.

LG: How did you build your company’s marketing strategy?

Mark: Marketing has always been kind of nebulous to me. I’m fascinated by it, but it’s not something I’ve ever figured out how to do effectively on my own. I watched Mad Men but whiskey didn’t seem to help much! So instead my team and I worked hard to define the segments we wanted to go after, and the order in which to go after them, and we hired you (Lauren) to help us get to where we want to be. In the end, whether it is marketing or sales or building software, it is all about having a great team.

Dineable

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Mark: Our first major LOI was with one of the biggest auditing firms in the world. Talk about starting with a major success! From a company perspective, it is humbling to consider that most startups fail and that Dineable is still here, finding new successes each week. A few weeks ago we had to move our team meetings to a larger room. Walking into that full room was an amazing moment.

We failed a ton as we’ve been building this company. It is the nature of new things and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Remember my story about installing Windows 95 when I was 13? The most exciting moments for me was when an error message popped up, and I got to figure out how to fix it. Specific to Dineable, the initial product we rolled out had incredibly poor UX. We were so focused on building something functional and keeping it secure, that we lost sight of the core value of our product, and thus it was not presented directly to new users, and we provided very little guidance to existing users. We had a great team of software developers but only a part-time adviser keeping track of UX. If I had that to do over again, I’d have adjusted that balance.

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there?

Mark: Talk to everyone you can, and be gracious and helpful. You never know who someone knows or where they can take you.

LG: How do you manage the balance between your role as an entrepreneur with a growing team and your home life?

Mark: Honestly I don’t manage it very well. I’m lucky to have my wife, Katie, be so patient and supportive of me, even while I spend most nights working until past midnight. I’m writing this interview at around midnight on a Saturday night, in fact, after getting home from date night. We don’t have kids and I’m not sure how anyone does this with kids. They deserve a ton of respect. And probably a few naps. For myself, Dineable could be the most important thing I ever do professionally. I truly believe the world needs a system to help get food right, that this is an incredibly rare opportunity to help a lot of people on a very large scale, and I’m super passionate about the work we are doing.

I do try to just ignore the pile of work once in a while and spend time with family and friends. Even a few minutes with my cat, or an afternoon with my nephew can rejuvenate me and fuel me through my next late night of work.

LG: What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself as a young adult?

Mark: “Stop and think.” Also, a bonus: “Stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.” I think I read that second one in an airplane magazine interview with Rob Lowe (the actor), and it’s really stuck with me.

LG: We’re all ready to use Dineable! How do we get started using the app?

Mark: If you’re food restricted or have a special diet, click here to create your own, free, personalized food profile and start sharing today!

If you’re an event organizer or food preparer, click here for the easiest way on the internet to ask guests if they have food restrictions or a special diet.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dineable, visit dineable.com.
Author’s Note: A special thank you to Mark and his passionate team for bringing me on to learn more about marketing in a tech start-up setting!

May’s Spotlight: Lynn April of Fresh April Flours

Each month, I’ll be featuring an entrepreneur, an industry leader, or expert in the field here on The Talk About Town with the focus on marketing, storytelling, and balancing dreams and the 9 to 5 grind.

It seems fitting to kick off my spotlight series with my first client, a business partner-turned-friend, and hardest working woman and recipe master in all of Philadelphia. My inaugural feature begins with Lynn April, the creator lady boss behind Fresh April Flours, a food (with sprinkles of life and family) blog bringing easy and delicious meals and treats to your kitchen with simplicity in mind.

LG: Tell us about yourself!

Lynn: I’m Lynn, full-time mom, full-time antibody purification technician, and self-taught baker. When I’m not wrangling children or at work, you can find me in the kitchen or behind my camera lens photographing food.

LG: How did you get started with Fresh April Flours five years ago?

Lynn: I started Fresh April Flours as a place to share my recipes. From 2010 to 2014, I baked and decorated custom cakes. It was really fun until it just wasn’t anymore, so I stopped. I wanted to continue sharing my cakes with people, but I also wanted to branch out into other desserts, so I started the blog to sort of “document” that. What started as a place for me wound up a place for all of my readers.

LG: Describe the Fresh April Flours brand.

Lynn: Since I’m self-taught, you won’t find anything super fancy on my blog. Instead, you’ll find real recipes from a real person. I love taking the time to learn something new or challenging and teaching someone else how to approach it from an amateur standpoint, but I also know that sometimes it isn’t realistic to want to make croissants from scratch because they take literally all day and you get 8 of them. What I do want FAF to bring to the kitchen, though, is quality, tested recipes that make you feel good about what you’re putting into your food. When you make quality recipes, and something you put time and effort into, sharing it with others becomes a celebration. My favorite thing to hear is that one of my recipes reminds someone of their grandmother’s or makes them nostalgic for something they had growing up. Helping people learn how to get back into the kitchen in a fast-paced, instant gratification world is what I aim to do with FAF.

LG: How did you build your company’s marketing strategy?

Lynn: Honestly, I’m still learning this one. My husband’s background (before he became a personal trainer and gym owner) is in marketing. For the most part, he helped me figure out what to do prior to my outsourcing of marketing, which was the best thing I have done for my brand thus far. Marketing is probably the hardest part of owning this brand, as the digital world we live in is constantly changing and moving a lightning speed, and all I know how to do is bake, take pictures, and write about my recipes. What I depend most on is word-of-mouth and sharing on social medias from my readers. Pinterest is my #1 traffic source followed closely by Google. I didn’t put myself there – other people did. The brand, in a way, markets itself!

LG: What has been a major success in your business? A fail?

Lynn: As far as success goes, when I realized that blogging was actually making me decent money, I started paying for things like vacations with that income. We’ve been on a few vacations in the last few years paid for solely by the blog, and that’s liberating. Overall, the blog itself making it to the 5-year mark is a major success in and of itself, considering this is not my full-time job AND we have two young kids. When it comes to fails, I actually can’t think of a single one. Nothing I’ve done along the way has set me back or broken me down. Everything has been a step forward. Except my baking fails. I have a lot of those. Do they count?

LG: What’s your biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs out there?

Lynn: It sounds cliche, but do not compare yourself to other brands. The food blogging world is humungous and quite saturated. There are food blogs out there I could only dream of being as popular as. And some of my most loyal and regular fans/readers have no idea what those blogs are. I say the same thing to my husband whose gym is within a few miles of some major “big name” gyms — your people are with you for a reason. You are their person/brand. While quantity is important in the business world, so is quality and loyalty. If you can build your brand to be trustworthy, necessary, significant, and timeless, people will stick with you. And that can take you far.

LG: How do you manage the balance between your roles as a full-time scientist, blogger, wife, and mom?

Lynn: Coffee, a supportive spouse who gets it, non-negotiable me time (the gym), and regular quality time/dates with my husband.

LG: What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself as a young adult?

Lynn: You’re going to marry someone who loves to talk about business strategies and ideas. Listen to him in those early years… He knows what he’s talking about.

LG: We’re dying to know. . . what recipe must we try from your page?!

Lynn: Oh my goodness, you’ve got to try a yeast bread. They’re so NOT as intimidating as people make them out to be. My Italian anise bread, cinnamon babka, or funfetti cinnamon rolls are great places to start. As far as my most popular recipes: blueberry lemon pie bars or, believe it or not, my make-ahead breakfast casserole are fan favorites!

Interested in exploring Fresh April Flours recipes? Visit freshaprilflours.com. Want to know more about Lynn and her company? Visit https://freshaprilflours.com/about/faq/.

Author’s Note: A special thank you to Lynn who will forever be my first marketing client, her eagerness to support this new venture, and her willingness to be spotlighted!

How To Understand Your Value and the Worth of Your Time

I’m back! The end of February and the entire month of March was one big whirlwind. Between work and personal travel, new and fast-growing clients, and the last of my graduate school classes, the last 6 weeks have flown by in a blink of an eye. My travels took me north to Boston, south to Charlottesville and Nashville, west to Los Angeles and seemingly everywhere in between. I toted my laptops along my travels, checked email constantly, and tried to keep up with the world I was separated from back home in Philadelphia. Along the way, I walked the fine line between living in the moment and concerned about my to-do list. It hit me. . . our time in minutes, hours, days, and weeks is so precious. I’ve learned a few things in the last few months that I’d like to share with you:

1. Be Present

Our world moves faster and faster each day and as I get older, it seems like the years pick up speed. Put your cell phone down, avoid checking your inbox for a few hours, do something you love, and celebrate time with your co-workers, your friends, and your family. Exercise your best time management skills by carving out time to work and carving out time to be more present. We only get so many trips around the sun.

2. Be Clear, Honest, and Concise

My safety net when working on projects with clients and co-workers is to not communicate until a project is done. Although it strays from my comfort zone, I’ve found that I build stronger, more personal, and mutually-beneficial relationships when I’m clear, honest, and concise about what’s on my plate, what I’m prioritizing, and what I’m able to do. For example, a client sent me a project that I knew would be a time commitment, and one that I wouldn’t be able to focus on for a few days. Although it was challenging to admit I didn’t have to immediate time to dedicate to the project, I shared that I’d be able to finish by a specific date. By doing so, I gave the liberty to the client to decide the sensitivity and urgency of the project while setting a deadline for myself. I was also able to avoid potentially taking far longer than the client expected me to complete the project or rushing to get it done when it wasn’t a client’s priority. Never underestimate the power of asking, “what’s your timeline for this project?”.

3. Say “No”

Yup, it’s as simple as that. Women, far more than men, find it challenging to say “no” when asked for favors or more work in fear of being viewed as weak, powerless, and ineffective. Humor me. . . what’s one thing that’s been heavy on your mind or pressing of your time in an unpredicted way? Now think, what would have happened if you said “no”? Let’s practice saying “no” more. Your time is more valuable than you give credit to.

4. Prioritize the Right People and the Right Things

In one of my graduate classes, we practiced an activity of active listening during a conversation with one of our classmates. We were held responsible for engaging with the person through eye contact, appreciative question-asking, no distractions, and full comprehension of what the individual was sharing. Seems simple enough, right? Think again. The exercise was a reminder of how frequently we enter a conversation or sit down at the dinner table with a mind full of distractions and our phones in hand. This goes along with being more present, but always focus on the people and things who matter. When you come home from work, refocus your energy to your loved ones and leave work at the door. When you’re out with your friends at dinner, put your phone down and talk. It’s simple.

5. Understand Your Worth

After working in the freelance sector for over a year and a half now, the time to bill my client’s rolls around and I get a pit in my stomach. I’ve done the work, done it well, everyone is happy, and I still shave a few billable hours off the invoice or don’t charge the full value of my work. Why? It’s the same premise of why I show up early to work or stay late in my full-time job. I feel like I owe something more to my company than it gives me (literally, in pay).

As a business professional and woman, it’s important to remember the value of your time, your thought, and your attention. You are not a volunteer for your client or for your full-time employer. Fight for your salary, your hourly wage, your next job or promotion, and what you deserve. It comes with the territory. . . if a client has an issue with the way you bill, it opens the possibility of a discussion or the end of your partnership. Regardless, you’ll be proud that you defended your worth and your time.

I hope you find value in these easy ways to be more defensive of your time and value while being more present with those that matter.

Until next time. . .

Lauren

25 Conversations with Strangers

A few months back I was feeling rambunctious, uncertain, and directionless. I had applied to a government program down in Washington for after I completed my masters. I had prepared my application over the course of six months, spoken to people within the program, and completed the intensive exam prior to hitting “submit” with a wing, a prayer, and a dream. I was ultimately denied and received no feedback or reasoning behind the verdict. The path I thought I was on was on had just come to a dead-end. . . Now what?

I wish I could claim to have more of an understanding or give you (my lovely reader) an accredited recommendation on how to move on emotionally and psychologically from disappointment. . . but I can’t! I can, however, tell you that having conversations with strangers in coffee shops helped me come to terms with the fact that everyone has a crisscrossing, up-and-down, crazy life journey and departing from the expected is okay. Most importantly, an understanding that failure was fine and inevitable.

In November, I drew twenty-five blank lines in my journal and promised I’d fill the lines with names of people I’d have a cup of coffee with prior to May (my graduation month). And before you pass judgment, yes, I know that quantity and quality are very different things. I was thoughtful about who I spoke to and asked of their precious time. The number “twenty-five” felt like equatable to the number of minutes, effort, and uncomfortable-ness I wanted to dedicate to myself in search of answers and insight. Now, as we reach the end of February, I’m about half-way to my goal. I want to share with you what I’ve learned thus far from my journeys.

1. People are willing to help

When I made my list, I knew I’d have to reach out to people I had no connection with. I found their email or LinkedIn inbox and explained why I was interested in speaking to them. I was overwhelmed by these stranger’s willingness to help another stranger – blocking out time to talk and going as far to buy my cup of coffee. Some of the people I “cold-called” were my best conversations because there was so much to talk about. As I got into the rhythm of networking, people began recommending their friends, colleagues, and acquaintances – near and far. Through my conversations, I realized people are so willing to help and “give back” to young professionals in exchange for the help they received along the way. You just have to be willing to ask and show up to the table.

2. No one predicted their path

I spoke with vice presidents, major gift officers, marketing professionals, consultants, entrepreneurs, and everything in between. Despite varying careers, everyone shared the same sentiment. . . no one predicted their path or ended up doing what they sought out to do. It’s okay to begin your career one way and hop to something different. Likewise, it’s okay to have not a clue what you’re doing. Everyone starts somewhere.

3. Education is key

Education is a constant theme in my writings, but one that was present in many of my networking meetings. The professionals I spoke with encouraged education, had graduated from prestigious programs and universities or were on their way to returning to the classroom. Taking classes is an investment in yourself and your organization/employer. Education is key to your career and personal growth.

4. Relationships are priceless

I’ve heard and read so much about relationship-building and its importance in the workplace and professional world. I frequently see people view relationships as strategic moves on the game board of the corporate/nonprofit world. I’m here to remind you that people thrive on connection. . . and authentic connection at that. Meeting with the vice president of your company is valuable, but building a relationship with your colleague who sits next to you in your cubicle is just as important. Relationships are priceless, but it’s clear to others when your networking is inauthentic or transactional.

5. Questions need purpose

Since I was little, I’ve been “the planner” in every group. I’ve come a long way in living life more in the moment, but I take the good aspects of being a planner to my work and professional development. Before meeting anyone for coffee, I did research on their background and came prepared to ask meaningful questions about their career and journeys. I brought my notebook to each conversation and shamelessly took notes and did so afterward, too. Take the time to ask questions with purpose and intent.

6. Everyone has been where you are

I’m 24 and feeling the growing pains of my mid-twenties. The funny thing about age is literally everyone who is older than me knows exactly what it’s like to be in my shoes. Everyone knows what it’s like to be where you are. Whether you’re doubting your next move, unsure you’re in the right profession, or even in the right city, a stranger or fellow professional might provide guidance your friends and family can’t. You’re not alone on the journey to find your “dream job” or simply happiness in your day job.

7. Follow-up can vary

Many of my conversations thus far have ended with emails filled with resources, further connections, job application links, and promises for follow-up. On the other side, many ended with a “thank you” and well wishes. I found that not everyone has the capacity, interest, or inclination to keep expanding on the relationship – which is FINE! I left many conversations feeling like I got the most out of it being present in the moment and soaking in time with another person who has experiences and knowledge to share with me. I recommend to anyone beginning their networking journey to be thoughtful in follow-up and read whether or not the person wants to continue the relationship past the initial meeting.

The short of it? Get out there, order yourself a cup of coffee, and talk to a stranger. I guarantee you’ll learn the world is a lot smaller than you think and six degrees of separation is a very real concept.

If you’re interested in beginning your own networking journey, please don’t hesistate to reach out. I’d love to help you make your plan and get started! Email me at lauren@talkabouttown.org.

⏱Skincare for the Girl Without Time⏱

We all struggle with the occasional breakout, dry spot, zit, or straight-up frustration with our skin. I know I do, at least! Between late-night class, workouts, travel, harsh East Coast seasons, and hormones, skin often times comes dead last on my list of want-to-deal-withs. After trials and tribulations, I found a simple set of products that work for me and my routine. I might not use each and every day, but I always have them on hand and in stock. Here are my recommendations to my favorite busy and working ladies!

Night cream, under-eye serum, and good ole fashion cold cream are a few of my favorites.

1. Philosophy Purity Face Cleanser

My mother is one of four sisters and philosophy has been a trademark at every Christmas for years. Trust me (and us), this stuff is GOLD! There’s a reason this is #1 on my list with half of my friends using it religiously. Their products are pricey but undeniably good. I use Purity every day in the shower to clean off my makeup and wash my face of the day’s dirt and dust.

2. Philosophy Purity Renewed Hope in a Jar (day and night)

These two are newer to my list, but they smell delicious, leave my face feeling hydrated and smooth, and I feel assured I’m taking preventative measures for skin aging. There is a day version and an evening version of Hope in a Jar – one of Oprah’s favorite products!

3. Beekman1802 Charcoal Face Scrub

I am pretty much obsessed with the Beekman Boys, their lives, their goats, their products, their home. . . everything (and so is my mother). We’re planning a trip to their historic estate when the spring rolls around. Their products are natural, extremely fragrant, and made with goats milk. Their lotions moisturize, their soap suds, and their scrubs clean. . . what more could you want!? Beekman1802‘s charcoal scrub made my list because it gives me a deep clean after a long week of city air and workouts. Its gritty texture and gel-like form are THE perfect combo. I’m doing a dedicated post on their products in a few weeks. . . here’s a teaser.

Beekman1802’s product lineup in my bathroom and bedroom.

4. Pond’s Cold Cream

In 1888, journalist Nellie Bly traveled the entire globe and won awards for sharing her accounts with the world. I learned about her from one of my favorite podcasts! The only (and largest) beauty item she took on her travels was cold cream. Both my mom and grandmother use(d) cold cream religiously and I really don’t think there’s a more versatile product. It can actually take waterproof mascara off without water or soap. . . it’s insane!

5. Purity Renewed Hope in a Jar Eye

One of the worst things EVER about getting older is noticing dark circles and lines around my eyes. . . especially after a crazy long week. Philosophy’s eye serum helps fight puffiness and makes me feel like I’m doing my due diligence against aging and crows feet.

6. Purity Time in a Bottle

I’ll admit. . . this came as a free product along with other Philosophy products I’ve purchased along the way, but I’ve come to love its natural nature of preventing aging and fighting against the toxins of everyday wear on your skin. A little goes a long way with this serum and applying right before bed makes me feel refreshed and clean.

5 Ways To Listen, Multi-task + Learn

There are about one million opportunities throughout my day where I’m typing, drinking coffee, talking, writing, listening, and brainstorming all at once. Simply put, it’s my talent. My commute into Philadelphia is HEFTY and I spend my train time wisely. . . often listening to my favorite podcasts. Here’s my run-down and recommendations for YOU to learn, listen, and continue your drive, your walk, your typing — what have you! The best part? They’re completely free on the Podcast app on your phone OR on Spotify (or however you choose to listen to audio).

1. Wall Street Journal’s Secrets of Wealthy Women

Wall Street Journal Secrets of Wealthy Women

There are some badass women in this world and host Veronica Dagher spills the tea with them on how they built big business while investing, saving, and living — and through the curveballs life knows how to throw. Get inspired every Tuesday to take risks and look out for yourself financially and in your career.

2. The Goal Digger Podcast

I’ll give credit where credit is due. . . Jenna Kutcher is a #bosslady in all things marketing and management. She grew her photography business to a seven-figure cash cow and she shows you how to, too. Her guest speakers range from creatives to her virtual assistant. She’s got curves, a supportive husband, and a new baby. . . what more could you want?!

3. Work Life with Adam Grant

I am a sucker for psychology and organizational dynamics and when it comes to the expert, Adam Grant is at the top of the list. My claim to fame is I’ve seen his office at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and actually worked on a project with some of his researchers. . . #NERDALERT. It was nothing short of amazing. Anyway, his podcast reaches into the challenges, opportunities, and mind trip that is Corporate America. I find myself listening with light bulbs floating around my head as I realize why my co-worker emails a certain way and how to temper my own bias during my day.

4. This American Life

This American Life exposes you to people from different times, places, and worlds all through your headphones. This particular podcast has made me realize life for me looks a lot different than others. It’s not necessarily professional development, but it will teach you some empathy along the way. . .

5. Secrets of Saving and Investing by NPR

Money talks and so does NPR! One of my goals in 2019 is to learn more about investing and begin putting more money in the market than my 401K. Learn everything from the basics to the intricacies about the ways you can save and the balance you should have in your investment portfolio (down to stocks and percentages).

BONUS: 6. Lore

And for the times that I don’t want to hear any more advice, marketing talk, and investing knowledge, I turn to Lore. . . an amazing, detailed, storytelling podcast based on folklore and times gone by. It’s not scary, it’s beautiful. I listen every other Monday religiously.

What We Can Learn from the Philadelphia Eagles

If you’re from Philadelphia or have watched any second of the NFL this year, you know the Eagles have given our city a rollercoaster season. We kicked off the season in September as Super Bowl Champions and have landed ourselves back in the “underdog” spot in the playoffs race. I’ve watched every week (sometimes with one eye open) and ended each game with my mouth wide open in shock #DoinkDoink. I had to stop and think. . . there’s something here to learn from this crazy green team.

1. Get Hungry

In the first years of your career, even in the first decade, you’ve got to be roaring for experience, knowledge, money, achievement, and whatever success is in your own mind. The Eagles won their first-ever Superbowl in 2018, and not without years of failure, learnings, and hustle. When their time came to shine and score, they executed. Treat every day like your championship is on the way. . . get hungry for your goals.

2. Trust Yourself & Your Team

I get chills every time I hear Coach Doug Pederson recount the famous play that changed Philadelphia forever. . . Philly Philly. Quarterback Nick Foles and Pederson huddled for moments before the Eagles secured their spot as World Champions, but only after Foles offered an idea to try a creative and gutwrenching play — one that could have gone very wrong. Without hesitation, Pederson agreed to the risk that made all the difference.

Take a page from Foles’ book and trust yourself to follow your gut, your experience, and those around you. And if you’re a manager, give a nod to Pederson’s honest trust in Foles and the Eagles to execute and let your team make big decisions with trust. One moment of trust between individuals can lead to a ton of confetti, a trophy, and celebrations, right?!

3. Be the Underdog

The best part of your twenties, in my experience, is that no one (literally no one) is expecting you to be perfect and it’s an expectation that you’ve got a whole lot to learn.

Lean into it. Get hungry, trust yourself, and know you have obstacles ahead that will give you the chance to prove yourself.

4. Be a Teammate

There’s a love-hate relationship going on in Philadelphia with Carson Wentz. He struggled in the beginning of the season, became injured, and Foles entered the spotlight for the second year in a row. Those two players should write a book on how to endure the press, an entire city, and the best defensive players in the entire NFL each and every week with grace.

Wentz has watched Foles take the role of savior these last few weeks and he’s done so with quiet support from the sidelines. And Foles, the comeback kid, has carried Philadelphia into another playoff season in twelfth hour yet again.

Every dog (underdog pun, get it?!) has their day. Both QBs have shared moments of glory and failure, but as teammates. It’s important to remember to support your team members through glory and guts and keep your eye on the prize.

5. Love Your Fans

Philadelphia has passionate fans. . . I think that’s the nicest way to phrase that. In every interview with an Eagles player, they thank the enduring and evergreen support of their fans. Never forget those that have been alongside you all these years as you find your way in your career and life. They’re the ones in the stands on the day of your championship. And never forget to say “thanks”. . . it never gets old.

GO BIRDS!!!!

Back to the Books: 19 First Days of School

I remember sitting at my college graduation thinking one long, life-changing, and priceless chapter of life was coming to a close. I had a sneaky and overwhelming feeling that I had a lot of learning left to do. I would have never (literally, never) thought I’d find myself in a desk at Penn only a year and a half or so later.

Lauren Grow and The Talk About Town

When I was working at Longwood Gardens, I was assigned a project with graduate students who were working on planning a conference on public horticulture. I remember being beyond jealous of their educational experience and slowly realized the nonprofit space was where I saw myself long-term. I don’t remember the exact moment when I decided to set sail on my not-so-straight path, but I found myself studying (and paying) for the GREs, writing my application essay, and deciding to send my application straight to Penn for their nonprofit leadership program.

I interviewed and to my shock, I was accepted on January 21, 2017. I’ll never forget stepping out of my office after getting word to call my mom and dad. I rode the wave of excitement for about 48 hours and then realized I was absolutely enrolling, but I was absolutely unsure how I’d pay for it.

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School Acceptance

I had a trusted mentor, and to this day my most adored role model, sit down with me at lunch one day. She told me to stay working full-time while attending school and to this day, her advice is what made the difference in the long run. I decided to target my job search to Penn, knowing if I could become an employee, my tuition would be covered. Fast-forward to August. . . I started my job at the University of Pennsylvania on August 21, 2017, and on the same night, I walked to my first class on campus for the 19th first day of school. So, yes, it worked out for me, but not without a lot of elbow grease, a lot of praying, and a lot of happenstance. I include this because paying for your education is possible – whether it be an employer’s benefits, scholarships, working at a university, or performing research. Don’t rule a masters program out simply because of cost.

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

-Benjamin Franklin, Founder of the University of Pennsylvania

A masters program, or any supplementary education that will make you open your wallet in a big way, isn’t a decision that happens overnight. What I will say, however, is I often look back and wonder how in the world I found myself working in the nonprofit sector and making an investment in doing this work for the long run. I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey thus far, but trust your gut if you love something enough to invest in your educational experience. To anyone considering going back to school, do it. My path has provided me with unimaginable experiences, lessons, challenges, and accomplishments. I’ll graduate in May. . . I often wonder if I’ll find myself on the morning of my 20th first day of school? That’s a song for another time.

Lauren Grow First Day of School at West Chester University 2016
My 18th “first day of school” at West Chester University

How to Create Your 2019 Resolutions 🍾

December is filled with light, the best of home-cooked meals and desserts, unwrapped treasures, cocktails, and busy social schedules. Each year, the end of the holidays approaches (I cry a bit that Christmas isn’t for another 360 some days) and I look to January for a time of fresh starts and a life in the right lane for the winter months. 

I never thought of myself as too much of a goal person (my fam and friends might disagree with that one), but I’ve found myself making resolutions for the last few years. I used to swear them off thinking they were silly to create just because a calendar filled a page. Now, I have a list as long as my arm. We have to aim for something, right? 

I’ll share a few of my resolutions for 2019, but I first want to share some recommendations and suggestions I used prior to writing mine down.

1. Money Talk 

At 24, my mind is on experiences, savings, and the future. Some of my closest (and most successful) friends use a strict budget or old school envelope system to save their hard-earned cash. I set a savings goal for each money by quite literally transferring a lump sum from my direct deposit checkings account to my savings on pay day. Is saving on your mind for 2019? Keep it simple and shoot for a number you want to put in your savings every paycheck.

Not saving enough? Find a side hustle whether that be babysitting, freelance work from home, a coffee shop gig, or walking dogs. An extra revenue stream of income is one I have learned is worth every minute when financial planning.

2. Career

One of my favorite authors, podcasters, and influencers, Adam Grant, says we should change our 5-year-timeline thought process to where we want to be in a year – just 365 days. I’m in the process of discovering the next move for me by networking with 25 professionals in Philadelphia, almost all of whom are strangers to me! Get creative with a vision board, a list of must-haves, or create a spreadsheet with research for the future if you’re not looking for a move right now.

3. Off the Clock

Volunteering is a big part of my life, but finding time to do so can seem daunting. Time is, after all, money! Before you volunteer, make sure it’s a commitment you can really make, for an organization you share values with, and understand why you’re doing it. I have found some of my most meaningful conversations and connections come from those I made during volunteering experiences.

4. The Body

Need I say more? Everyone is always looking to be healthier, look better, and feel better. I’m no expert on this matter, but I know setting reasonable and achievable goals for exercise will make for a happier you and a happier schedule!

5. The Mind

Our world is stressful and aiming to become a better version of yourself can be exhausting in itself. “Self care” is all the rage, but my friends and I have had long conversations about what that means. Self care isn’t just a face mask, a manicure, or buying yourself that long-desired treat. Self care is identifying what’s best for you. . . whether that’s four workouts a week, a social media cleanse for a week, reading, family time, or whatever it takes to bring your mind peace. Me? I’m starting with a January social media and alcohol cleanse.

6. The Spirit

I put this on here because this is relevant to me in 2019. I think the spirit and mind are similar in identifying what makes you feel “whole”. In our crazy world, I’ve let church and faith fall to the wayside. I’m hoping to get back into a religion routine (which makes it sound less meaningful than it really is).

7. Splurge

Now for the fun. . . and yes, I put this last! How much are you putting in your piggy bank for the perfect gift to yourself? I know I need a new car this year so my extra funding will go to the perfect set of wheels. And, I always try to fit in a beautiful handbag once a year. Who can blame me for that?!

Creating your 2019 resolutions that you won't fail at

My Resolutions

I’ll try to circle back come 2020 (Yikes! Do you feel old, too?) on whether or not I achieved these goals!

  1. New career
  2. Less time on social media
  3. Read a book a month
  4. Graduate from Penn with my masters
  5. Say “no” more
  6. Launch The Talk About Town
  7. Lose weight
  8. Smile
  9. Travel
  10. Get my behind to church

How I Started My “Side Hustle” 🙋🏼

You know when you’re humming through life, you make a few decisions, and a couple years later something small led to something much bigger? It’s a tale as old as time and one I know very well. Since beginning my “side hustle” about a year and a half ago, I’ve worked with incredible clients and people I consider friends and inspirations.

My freelance work began when my cousin’s Facebook friend, Lynn of Fresh April Flours, posted that she was looking for a virtual assistant for marketing and social media help. At the time, I was wrapping up my time working at Longwood Gardens, heading to graduate school, and actively looking for income to pay for my masters. I sent my application materials to this random human and the rest is history! Lynn and I have worked together now building her business while helping her spend more time with her adorable kiddos and entrepreneurial husband, Matt, who owns an awesome gym nearby in West Chester, PA! Our partnership is where it all began. I fell in love with what it meant to help creative, busy, confident, and self-starting people with what they love to do.

Since then, I’ve found myself working with a social media agency writing social media content for a Main Line painting and decorating company, John Neill Painting. I did some Pinterest work for an amazing food blogger, Krazy Kitchen Mom, down in Flordia. I helped launch a twentieth-anniversary campaign at Sovana Bistro, a restaurant near and dear to my heart, through influencer marketing, traditional marketing, and social media content creation writing. My dear friend and colleague and I have worked together to launch her blog, Corporate2Culinary, and I recently began working with the amazing and inspirational Shanna A. Hocking.

The best part about this all? It’s helped me afford my education, build relationships with incredible people, learn, and do it all from the comfort of my couch with coffee in hand.

There are days when working full-time, heading to class, and turning around to a list of to-dos causes me to chug coffee and take a deep breath, but I truly love it. I now have an LLC, a company card, a website, and more conversations brewing for potential projects. If you had asked me a year ago where I thought my “side hustle” was headed, I would have never thought it would lead me here — and I’m so grateful for it.

My advice to all looking for a “side hustle” or hobby. . . seek opportunity, do the job well, and never forget you’re working with people’s “babies” (for lack of a better word). You never know where one project will lead you! Go get busy!