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.

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!

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.

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