Building a Company in Your 20’s: An Interview with Influence & Co.’s Kelsey Raymond

Kelsey Raymond

We are thrilled to have landed this interview with Kelsey Raymond, co-founder and president of Influence & Co — an agency built on the belief that great content has the power to build an individual’s presence. Kelsey started this journey shortly after college in 2011 and navigated a wide range of challenges, peaks and valleys. (You’ll likely see yourself in her journey). She has most generously shared some of these moments with us and some solid advice — so we might learn from her experiences. (BTW, the topic of confidence does come up.)

As a team, Influence and Co. is committed to “keep it real”. They develop an individual’s presence authentically, through crafted content that retains a true voice —  transforming a client’s knowledge base and experience into credibility. Their work is rooted in a “sharing not promotion” vantage point, where their clients offer something meaningful to their potential audience. This action in turn, could serve as fertile ground for a future relationships. (They really intended to leave the whole “ghost-writer” concept buried in the dust.)

Like many successful leaders, Kelsey has a firm belief in mentors and mentoring — along with a strong strategy to invest in people. She relishes the opportunity to help others grow within Influence & Co’s culture.

I have always loved the fact that she employs so many great journalists many from the mid-west. (I’m a Detroiter.)

Who says that you have to be on the coast to rock a start-up?

I’ve watched this group grow over the years — and I couldn’t be more excited for them. Since 2011, Influence & Co has grown from 2 to 70 members, earning a coveted place on the Forbes Most Promising Companies in America list.

Outstanding.

As a note, I’ve barely edited Kelsey’s responses to our questions. (I didn’t want you to miss a thing and honestly, I couldn’t really improve upon a journalist’s unfolding story.) If require guidance in building influence through content, learn more about Influence & Co. by visiting their site here:

  1. What key factors came together that helped you to find your current path?

There were a few factors that led/helped me to start & run my current company, Influence & Co.

  • Family Influence: First, I was raised in an entrepreneurial family. My Dad ran a real estate business (as did my sister) and my brother ran a music venue. I grew up knowing that entrepreneurship was a valid career path — not some kind of crazy dream.
  • School: At the University of Missouri I studied Marketing & English, but the majority of my knowledge base came from my experience with an Entrepreneurship club called “The Entrepreneurship Alliance” (EA). Through this group, I was able to meet with entrepreneurs, pitch ideas, win seed money and start a business with a friend.
  • Testing Entrepreneurship as a Path: Because of EA, I was able to start a small marketing company. We learned much about sales, writing contracts, good customer service, and even hiring and firing employees. It empowered me to feel confident to start another company after college.
  • Mentors: More on this below!
  1. Did you have a mentor? A teacher, boss, relative, etc. — that impacted your career/life direction?

Absolutely! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have two fantastic mentors in my life.

  • My Dad, Jerry Meyer — He was my first mentor and taught me a lot of what I know about managing people (treating them right) and a good work ethic. Throughout my career, I’ve been able to ask him for advice — knowing that even though our companies are very different, he understands people and what truly matters.
  • My Entrepreneurship Alliance Professor, Dr. Greg Bier: Greg introduced me to the world of entrepreneurship through EA and has been an incredible support system to me throughout my career. He challenged me, supported me and most impactfully – he opened doors. He introduced me to the people who would become my first clients, my first investors, and even my first employees. Oh and he introduced me to my husband. Greg was the officiant at our wedding in May.
  1. None of us are perfectly suited for our own path. What aspect of your own personality or work style serves as an obstacle? How do you manage that challenge?

One aspect of my personality that did serve and currently serves as an obstacle is insecurity. I was 22 when I started Influence & Co. — and I would frequently feel like I didn’t have the right to be in the position I was in (imposter syndrome big time).

Mentors in my life have helped me build confidence. However, it is still something I struggle with. One thing I have started to manage this (which may sound incredibly cheesy) — is to remind myself that I have earned the recognition I’ve received. That I have worked very hard — and that I have earned the right to be in the room or conversation or at the table (wherever that might be).

Literally saying these things out loud — helps me overcome an insecure moment.

I’ve also realized that my expressed confidence helps other young women on our team gain their own confidence, so I can help them.

  1. If you had an observation concerning what separates those who love their work, from those who do not — what would that be?

One thing I do notice, is that people who don’t love their work, frequently do not enjoy the people they work with. Even the most tedious jobs can be enjoyable if you’re working with people you genuinely enjoy being around. For this reason we invest a lot of time in the interviewing process to make sure we are hiring people who we will enjoy working with.

  1. With success can come complacency. How do you draw energy from your successes and stay grounded. How do you stay sharp for what might come next?

It’s all about what motivates you. What motivates me is helping companies connect with their audience on a human level (which helps grow our client base) and creating jobs for the most people possible, so that they enjoy coming to work every day (which means growing our team).

With those two things being motivators, it’s not difficult to avoid becoming complacent. I don’t have a 5 year goal of numbers I’d like to hit — it’s more about continuous growth and improvement.

  1. In your world, what activities or tasks most energize you? What advice would you give to young women in college concerning finding the right career path?

The activity that energizes me, is working with people to help them come to their own conclusions – so in a sense, coaching my team members. I’m thrilled that as we’ve grown, I’ve been able to spend time on this. However, it didn’t start out that way.

The advice I would give to young women in college concerning finding the right career path, is to think about something you’d love to be doing five or ten years from now – talk to someone who is in that role, and ask them what skills, experiences and responsibilities you need to have developed over that 5 years to get there.

Don’t discount the importance of understanding financials if you want to be in management, don’t discount the importance of meeting deadlines – realize how each of those things will help you get to where you want to go.

  1. Whose life or career do you most admire? Why?

I admire Sheryl Sandberg – I’ve just finished reading her book Option B — and admire her resilience and attitudes toward life. I’ve also read Radical Candor by Kim Scott, and she tells a few stories about Sheryl as a boss at Google. I was simply floored by how Sheryl was described as a boss. From Kim’s stories, she seems to have the perfect combination of empathy and willingness to provide critical feedback. She earns the trust and respect of those she supports.

  1. Lastly — what is your favorite book and why?

Such a hard question!! Since my list of favorite all time books is much too long, I’ll go with my favorite from the last two months, “Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?” by Alyssa Mastromonaco.

Thanks Kelsey. I know I learned a lot.

Please note: Don’t miss our interview with Influence & Co.’s employee #3 — Alyssa Patzius,Vice-President of Client Experience — as she explains what it’s like to be a part of a growing start-up!

Kelsey’s Book Picks* (Click on the photos to learn more):

Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from running a company — to the fragrance. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.

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