I've never been much interested in being in the spotlight. I'm generally friendly in small groups and among friends, but put me in a room of strangers and I quickly find an excuse to leave. My idea of a fun day is hanging out at my local coffee shop, catching up with friends or daydreaming. I don't like going to big parties, talking about the weather or networking.
And before I started LocalShops1, that all worked out well. My personal life revolved around a small but close group of friends; my work life was behind-the-scenes work as a copy editor and designer at the Tampa Bay Times. Everything was fine.
• • •
When I started LocalShops1 I was able to stay in the background and grow the organization by building support through Facebook, Twitter, email marketing, and so on. I quoted stats that showed why buying local matters, I wrote stories about interesting business owners, I posted pictures that showed the cool things we can find at the local shops.
And then a business friend suggested, Let's do an event! Bring shoppers here to show them what it's all about! Send press releases! Get the local media to notice!
It worked. And lucky for me, I had several extroverted friends. One in particular, Pat Largo, stepped in as LocalShops1's spokesman.
But Pat couldn't always be there, and these are two painful days I will never forget:
December 2008: WMNF, the local community radio station, showed up to cover one of our events and Pat Largo wasn't there. I fumbled my way through the interview. I was miserable and it showed.
February 2009: I had plans to go with a friend to a somewhat-swanky networking event in south Tampa. At the last minute my friend couldn't make it, and I decided to go ahead on my own anyway, since I had already paid for the ticket and taken a vacation day from the Times. I went in, ordered a glass of wine and wandered around the room for maybe 10 minutes. I walked out without speaking to anyone, without even finishing the glass of wine.
• • •
Since then I have gotten better about the networking stuff, but I still tend to flock to the people I already know and like. On the public speaking front, I haven't made much progress, but I have more people I can rely on, especially my brother, Mo Venouziou.
"Why are you hiding?" Ebony Grimsley, founder of Above Promotions and one of my trusted Advisory Board members, asked me recently.
"I never thought of it that way," I told her.
"You're hiding," she repeated.
I was about to start tuning her out, but then she brought up the Buy Local movement. To truly make a difference, she said, I need to show that it matters. And that means talking about it to strangers, to groups, to whoever will listen.
What she was saying was remarkably similar to things Mo had been telling me for the past few months. ...
So, Project Ester 2.0 is under way. This all takes me way out of my comfort zone, but I figured if I write about it publicly, I'm more likely to follow through.
Much thanks to Mo, Ebony and presentations coach Bob Turel for the push and guidance. If you don't like 2.0, you know who to blame ...
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Venouziou, founder of LocalShops1, is available for freelance projects:
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firstname.lastname@example.org or 727.637.5586