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The (Seemingly) Lost Art of Running a Business Like a Human Being

The (Seemingly) Lost Art of Running a Business Like a Human Being // jenniferesnyder.com

Can we chat for a few minutes? I've been thinking about how things are going around here and I've come to a few conclusions.

At the end of August, I sent out an issue of my weekly Creative Digest that ended up serving two purposes. You can read the full email here, but let's talk about those purposes.

The first purpose was intentional: I wanted to communicate to my most dedicated readers and listeners that I needed to put things on hold for a bit. My family and I were watching my stepmom's health deteriorate rapidly and I felt the need to press pause on the elements of my work that I knew could survive my leave of absence.

The second purpose was slightly less intentional, but was—dare I say—more important: I was really honest with subscribers. I was emotional while writing, I dropped a curse word (which aligns pretty seamlessly with the real, everyday me), and I didn't censor myself. My stepmom was dying and, to be honest, censoring myself didn't even come to mind. Bottom line? I showed my humanity in that email.

A few things have happened since:

  • Immediately after hitting send, more people unsubscribed from my Creative Digest list than ever before.
  • Within hours, dozens of subscribers checked in with me by replying via email, texting, calling or reaching out on social media.
  • To date, that issue has a higher open rate and click-through rate than any other Creative Digest issue.

Here's the thing: I was initially a little disheartened to see subscribers dropping like flies. It's never fun to have quantitative evidence that shows people opting out of your humanity. However, I got over those vanity metrics pretty quickly because I knew, in my heart, that those who read my words, reached out, and engaged are the people who matter.

You see, I'm not a brand. I'm a human. I'm a person who has feelings. Those feelings are likely to surface on occasion.

Sadly, there seems to be an enhanced (and sometimes aggressive) focus on cutting humanity out of business, altogether. So much of what we see in this strange, amazing, creative world of entrepreneurship has to do with building a perfect brand.

"DON'T share your personal story," they shout.

"You've got to have consistency," they demand.

"Here are the seven things that will guarantee your success," they promise.

If you run a business, freelance full time, or have a side gig, it's important to think about how you present yourself, your products and/or your services to the world—no doubt about it. I am here to tell you, however, that being a human and running a business aren't mutually exclusive.

Take me, for example. I'm in the business of sharing stories. Some of the stories are my own and some are the stories of others. Sometimes I share via my podcast, sometimes I share on behalf of clients, and sometimes I share through various print and online publications. Depending on the medium through which I share a story, the presence of my voice tends to vary.

However, if you've opted into a medium I own and produce—like the Creative Digest, the podcast, or this space—you will likely notice that my voice has a strong presence. You have a front row seat to my humanity, my thought processes, my emotional state, my vulnerability, and my flaws. Take it or leave it.

I am not running this side of my work—my business—like a brand. I'm running it like a human. In a world full of deeply edited, perfectly staged brands, I hope many of you will find that refreshing.

Those only interested in a one-dimensional experience, free from any and all human traits, can opt out at any time. It's completely okay—encouraged, even. I realize that my brand (ahem) of humanity isn't for everyone. My life is real, my work is real, and sometimes the two collide in sad, wonderful, frightening, and exciting ways. 

My hope is to recapture and revive the (seemingly) lost art of running a business like a human being and, thanks to the kind souls who make up the last two bullet points in my list above, I know many of you are with me.

I'm so incredibly honored to have you along for the ride. 


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Creating Your Own Path

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So much has been written about the path to success. Just head to your local book store or type "career" into an online search field. You will come across hundreds of books about how to be career-oriented and have it all -- all while mastering a healthy work/life balance.

As we know, the quest for the perfect career doesn't begin in our 20s or 30s. From a young age we're often herded into one corral over the other. "Suzy loves her science classes, so we'll tick that box on the 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' form. Billy, on the other hand, can't keep his nose out of books, so let's assume that he'll be a teacher someday."

It seems as though things have changed since I walked into my high school counselor's office to decide on a career before I had even taken my driver's license test. I'm coming across more and more people who are learning to create their own career path. Many haven't necessarily followed the dotted line they set in motion at the ripe old age of 16 and most would argue that they're better for it.

Everyone I've encountered has an amazing story to tell. Because these innovative, brilliant beings inspire me on a regular basis, I'd like to share their stories with you all.

Yes, there's a new series in the works, my friends.

Stay tuned.

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Tag: Creating Your Own Path

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Cover to Cover: Off Switch Magazine {+ an interview with Founder and Editor-in-Chief Katie Michels!}

It's not often I find myself walking hurriedly to the mailbox. We usually get our fair share of junk mail and bills. Sometimes we'll get nice cards from friends and family members. On Saturday, however, I was expecting a copy of Off Switch Magazine's fourth volume. So, I walked quickly, heel to toe, to the mailbox.And there it was...

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{All photos in this post are courtesy of Katie Michels.}

I had read online previews of back issues, but I had been dying to get a print copy in-hand so I could absorb all of the stories and interviews at my own pace, away from the screen. I found Off Switch Magazine several months ago through the powers of the internet and when I heard that the publication was using Kickstarter to help move forward with Volume 5, I didn't hesitate to contribute. I have a deep respect for those working in print publications. My papa was a newspaper man and I guess I've always viewed print as something special.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love the internet. I do. However, there is just something about physically turning paper pages midway through an article that gives me a feeling I simply cannot get from turning virtual pages.

After watching the video and pledging what I could, I reached out to Founder and Editor-in-Chief Katie Michels. I knew that I had to try to get a copy of the latest volume and feature it here on the blog. One special order of volume 4, multiple emails, some lovely photos shot by Katie, herself, and here we are!

Let me tell you: the magazine is beautiful. It's not only well-designed, but the content is also thoughtfully curated. Each issue is themed and offers everything from photo collections and book recommendations to interviews and creative non-fiction pieces. Volume 4 focuses on "Lessons Learned" and was a treat to read.

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From one couple's story detailing lessons learned from six weeks on the road to an interview with Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers, it was clear to me why so many others were supporting the Kickstarter campaign. While back issues aren't currently available for regular orders, several levels of contribution in the campaign will get you the entire collection and many include a copy of Volume 5!

Katie was kind enough to answer a few questions about herself, the publication and the Kickstarter campaign. I hope you enjoy her candid interview as much as I did!

1. How would you characterize Off Switch Magazine? What can people expect to find between the front and back covers?

We're relatable. Sure, we do our best to make things look good, but in the end our message — words, photos, and stories — is both human and honest. We want everyone who reads Off Switch to come out of the experience with a smile on their face and a stirring in their heart. A stirring that both inspires and motivates them to live passionately toward their dreams, big or small. At least, that's what we hope you'll find within our pages! If you like, you can simply enjoy the pretty pictures!

2. Tell us about your educational and professional background and how it prepared you for the challenges of the world of magazine publishing.

I am a twenty-three-year-old Midwesterner born and raised in a suburb west of Chicago, Illinois. I hold a bachelor's degree in graphic design, which beyond learning how to put together an editorial layout, didn't completely prepare me for running a quarterly magazine. School can be a great launching pad, but in the end observation and trial and error are the things that have taught me the most with regards to magazine publishing. I'm a strong believer in finding something you love and working hard to see it through. Trust your gut, know your limits and get ready to discover your capabilities!

3. What inspired you to launch Off Switch Magazine? Was it a single moment/incident or a collection of happenings that led you down this path?

Funnily enough, there was a single moment (or day, rather) where I decided to do this: my last day of college. While in school, I had taken a course in magazine layout/editorial design and fell in love with it. That passion for layouts and photos was the starting point. The hard part, I thought, was deciding what the yet-to-be-named magazine would be about. After tossing around idea after idea, I finally realized that the answer had been lying in front of me the whole time. I had kept a blog for the past couple years called Off Switch, a name that originated from a childhood phrase illustrating my inability to keep quiet. Over the years the term "living without an off switch" morphed from being about a chatterbox to living life fully and wholeheartedly. The blog chronicled my own pursuit of a life without an off switch, and now this magazine helps to chronicle not just my journey, but the journeys of my friends around the world. Looking back it's humorous to think I could have named the magazine anything but Off Switch.

4. You've launched a Kickstarter campaign for your next volume. Can you tell us what you hope to accomplish with a little help from readers and supporters?

With our Kickstarter campaign we will be able to give Off Switch Magazine a true shot at being a sustainable and profitable print magazine. Currently we print Off Switch in very small runs with an online-based printer, and have very little room to allow for markup, let alone be able to sell copies to boutiques at a wholesale price. Basically, funds generated through Kickstarter would help us to print the spring volume of Off Switch with a traditional printer at a higher overall price, but a much lower per copy price. As much as our dream is to be a quarterly print magazine, I am fully aware of the realities of life and money. I have plans in place should we not reach our goal. Let's just say things happen for a reason, and sometimes we have to adjust our plans and show a little patience. I'm open to whatever happens as long as I can keep working on Off Switch, whatever format that may be. Plus, it's a special thing knowing I've got the support of so many friends!

5. Tell us what we can look forward to in Volume 5. How will this volume inspire us to live life "without an off switch?"

Oh gosh! This volume is based on the super fun theme of "Come Celebrate." It's our second volume where we really adhere to a theme throughout, and that aspect very much makes each issue of Off Switch feel like complete and unique volumes in a growing series. Besides, who doesn't enjoy a good celebration every now and again? I have a feeling you will all LOVE volume five.

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I have a feeling she's right, don't you? If you'd like to learn more about Off Switch Magazine, please visit their website here. If you're as inspired as I am and would like to help, you can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign here (it wraps up on February 27, so hop to it)!

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