I pride myself on adapting to cities and cultures; I've lived in several including two international cities. My latest move took me from the center of everything, NYC, to the center of the United States, Omaha, Nebraska. My move spurred by the crashing economy in 2009 and loss of my dream job as the Creative Director of a Turkish fashion-denim brand, I landed smack in the middle of the country.
After losing my job on Fashion Avenue I was going into debt keeping up with rental payments of $2,500 a month for my 350 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side and car payments for a vehicle parked at my grandparents in Queens. Like so many others who couldn’t get work, I too decided I had to leave “my” city. My choices were to move back home with my mother in Charlotte, North Carolina or trek out to Omaha, Nebraska to pursue a budding relationship with someone I went to high school with while growing up in Iowa. I chose love over location and have never regretted it.
I always remark how this city has taken care of me when I really needed the help. It's allowed me to dig myself out of a financial and emotional black hole. Except, I really had to put myself out there in my new city to meet people – doing everything from volunteering in the community to fight child hunger, and joining the board of a national design organization to feeding my design addiction. But for all the years proudly displayed on my resume as a highly recommended design creative, I could not get hired for one of the many full-time jobs I interviewed for. I guess the interviewers could see through my enthusiastic nods and positive attitude to know I wouldn't have been happy working in advertising on agriculture or insurance. I was trying too hard to “fit in”, to conform. It’s something I’m very conscious of no matter where I’ve lived – not to lose myself, but to continue to find new experiences that provide personal and professional growth.
In 2013, before my son was born, I was working 10-12 hours a day as a set designer for a film production company and as a photo stylist for an e-commerce site headquartered in Omaha. I was grateful for the consistent freelance work and loved the flexibility. In the span of my creative career, I have lost three jobs due to company shutdowns or downsizing so I don’t see stability in a full-time corporate job as a career motivator. I’m also one of those who thrives on change and the challenges of the unknown.
After becoming a mom I wanted that same flexibility in my work to be home to raise my son. Having him at the age of 40, this was my one chance to be a mom and I wanted to experience it to the max. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose my professional edge and connections with the design community, so I started applying my skill set to residential interiors.
My projects were successful and I had happy clients. Then one evening after preparing digital design files to email a client I thought, “Maybe I could do this for others across the country?” I could work while my son napped during the day and in the evenings when my husband was home. But left the idea there. While entrepreneurship was in my DNA, with both parents building their own businesses, I saw their failures and I already had one failed business of my own. I was also finally recovered financially since leaving NYC and I was not comfortable putting my family in a position of risk.
A few months later after a trip to San Francisco and a heart-to-heart with a couple of college girlfriends, I felt my hair on fire. These ladies knew me well, my strong work ethic, talents and tenacity. They not only encouraged me to “do my thing,” but kinda gave me permission to apply my creative talents to something exciting of my own creation. By that point, I had been living in Omaha for several years, and it was clear that it was up to me to pave my own professional path in order to have the lifestyle I wanted. My very supportive husband agreed. And that’s when YouthfulNest was born.
Lisa Janvrin. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Wisdom
YouthfulNest is an online virtual interior design experience and the most convenient way for modern parents to design a stylish room for their baby or child. Millions of Millennials are already taking advantage of similar eDesign sites, but there is not one like YouthfulNest, dedicated to native tech-savvy parents. Since the beginning, I have been the sole founder, creator and operator of YouthfulNest. I invested $3,000 of my own savings to start the company. I work from a home studio with direct access to the living room where my son plays most of the time while I’m feverishly working away.
Working from home and being a team of one often feels like I’m working in a bubble. It’s also hard to feel connected when your big idea isn’t in a big city that gets all that entrepreneurial fanfare and attention that it might if it were in say NYC or LA. So I’ve learned to embrace the advantages I do have of starting-up YouthfulNest in Omaha.
Lisa Janvrin and son. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Wisdom
With significantly lower costs of living and business development compared to big cities, I do so much more with less. It affords me the luxury of time, where I’m not freaking out about making money and being profitable this week or month or even year. I’m able to enjoy the process of honing my brand and product without the stressors of profitability. Part of that is having low overhead, working out of a home studio with a monthly mortgage costing about half that of my tiny abode in NYC. My advisors and cohorts living in these big cities are blown away by the rates I get for experts services like technology development and talent. Whenever I talk to someone on the coast and they offer a reference for an amazing expert with low pricing I stop them right there with a, "Thank you, but I can do better with local resources".
Living in a smaller Metropolitan city is not completely advantageous. I pretty much knew from the inception of YouthfulNest that Omaha was not the right product-market fit. With just a cluster of fashion retail and home interior companies here I've had to be nimble and persistent in my pursuit to build relationships all over the country, aligning myself with other trendsetters and visionaries. Fortunately, we've been well received by top-tier brands and trending newbie’s like myself in the baby and interior’s industries who live in those bigger cities. It was also completely intentional that I established a tech company focused on national reach, versus local. Of course, I loved the kind of flexibility that an online company allowed me – working wherever and whenever. More importantly, my brand has proven to appeal more to a target audience who’s constantly surrounded and influenced by design and latest lifestyle trends – the goal is to reach those eating in the Brooklyn Heights or shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. In fact, our analytics confirm that our largest site users live in those two trend conscious cities, NYC and LA.
As a result of my experience living in big cities and small cities, I have built a tech brand that is a combination of both types of places I’ve lived – it is on trend and savvy. Every location has pros and cons, but embracing your location’s strengths and looking beyond it for others is key to the success of any business.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.