Toward the end of his retirement, John Shemo, former Vice President & Director of Economic Development at the MetroHartford Alliance, sat down with Nan Price to talk about her evolution over the past few years.
Nan has been Website Curator for Innovation Destination Hartford since June 2015—before the website’s official launch in September 2015. In January 2019, she transitioned into a new role as Content Manager for the Alliance. Nan still manages IDH. She also launched her own business last summer.
JOHN SHEMO: You spent the last four years at the helm of Innovation Destination Hartford. What have you gained from that experience?
NAN PRICE: I’ve learned so much from everyone I’ve met. It’s helped me become immersed in the Greater Hartford entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s shown me what it takes to be a business owner. And it encouraged me to start my own business.
JOHN: I remember early on you saying you never thought of yourself as an entrepreneur. Has that changed?
NAN: I remember that conversation, too. I still don’t necessarily think of myself as an “entrepreneur.” I do think of myself as a business owner now because, with the help of this community, I launched a business. In June 2018, I officially formed Uncommon Content, LLC.
I was motivated by all the entrepreneurs I had met and interviewed for IDH. Toward the end of 2017, many of my conversations gravitated toward people asking: Why aren’t you starting your own business? Many people encouraged me to start, it just took me a little while.
That’s what’s so incredible about our entrepreneurial community—it’s very encouraging and supportive. People are always willing to listen to your business idea and help you brainstorm ways to get started, collaborate, and market yourself.
I’ve heard that from many industries, from breweries to fitness facilities, it’s not a competitive market. Personally, I’ve been able to connect with other local writing companies and get advice. Another writer told me: If we succeed, the region succeeds. It’s true.
JOHN: You are plugged in and you’re right where you need to be. Can you tell us if there are any specific organizations you got in touch with starting out?
NAN: Right. Being in this role definitely helps. I’ve interviewed many different people in many different industries. I’ve listened and I’ve learned.
I also reached out to Business Advisor Lacey Banks, who I’d met through the Entrepreneurial Center and Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford. I was fortunate enough to be invited to be on a content writing panel for their Women’s Business Roundtable in 2017. That experience, too, helped me think about launching my own business. It was inspiring! The women were from all business stages, from just starting out with an idea to growing a business 10 years in. It’s amazing what you can learn from others.
I’ve built an incredible network of mentors, advisors, and new friends from all different industries—too many people to list. I have to give shout outs to Andréa Hawkins, Partner at The Clarion Group and co-owner of Berkins Blend and Berkins on Oak and Mike Keiser, Co-Founder at The Entrepreneur Circle. Both have become close friends and business advisors. They’ve been willing to help answer my questions, even when the answer isn’t necessarily what I want to hear. You need those people in your life to call you out—and be your cheerleaders.
JOHN: Based on what you’ve gleaned from others, what challenges have you faced as a business owner? This has got to be interesting, seeing as you’ve interviewed so many people.
NAN: Exactly. And you would think I would have learned from their experiences! As I said, I’ve listened and I’ve learned and I’ve heard so many people’s different challenges—what some refer to as failures or learning experiences. Of course, I thought that would help. It did, in some ways. But I’ve experienced challenges along the way just starting out. Just like others, I had to learn these things as I was going.
One business owner I interviewed was very focused on setting up processes—and that is important as you are starting out. However, my challenge was setting up a process without really knowing how the process should work.
Other challenges I encounter include writing contracts, figuring out how much to bill, and determining how much time a project will take. Again, being immersed in this entrepreneurial ecosystem helps. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to have a community of people I can reach out to with questions.
JOHN: You’ve asked so many others, so I’ll ask you: How are you marketing and building clientele?
NAN: I’ve been freelancing for years. I think IDH has been my best marketing tool. It’s helped me get my name out there. People can see how I can take a conversation and whittle it down into something tangible and relatable.
Honestly, that’s where my business concept began—the idea of being able to take someone’s message, crystallize what they are saying, and deliver the content.
As far as building clientele, I do a lot of networking. A lot of people ask how I answer, “What do you do?” It depends. I usually try and ask first—an occupational hazard for the interviewer in me! But that way I can tailor my answer.
Sometimes I’ll encourage someone to become involved with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. Sometimes, I think their business would benefit from being an Alliance investor. Often, I’ll find a good opportunity for a potential IDH interview to tell someone’s story. And, sometimes I find a great candidate for Uncommon Content or I have a feeling we could potentially collaborate.
I’ve been able to build rapport and relationships from those types of conversations. I think that’s the best way to network. Talk about what you do. Talk about what other people need and see where you can converge.
JOHN: Based on everything you’ve heard, what advice you would give to others?
NAN: I have heard a lot! I feel like the most common answer has been: Just start.
Many people talk about learning from their failures. Many wish they had done things differently, they’d started sooner, or they had known there were more resources available. Again, I’m grateful I started with that knowledge.
The biggest advice I would give is to be connected. Talk to people. Tell people about your ideas. Get out. There are so many networking opportunities available here in the Greater Hartford area—and throughout Connecticut. There are so many ways to get involved and talk about what you do with people who can help you plug in and find the right connections. And there are people who are genuinely interested in helping you become successful.
One of the things I love the most about the work I do with the MHA—and particularly with IDH—is my ability to connect people, whether it’s two business owners in the same industry who are starting out or trying to grow their businesses, or it’s two people I think could benefit from knowing each other.
I’ve said it before: You don’t know what you don’t know. But also, the more you know the more you know. You can’t know everything there is to know when you’re starting out. That’s okay. Find your niche. Find your people. Talk to them. Figure out what makes your business possibly successful. Ask for help—and know it’s okay to ask for help.