Select Page

The Real Story

Click the play button below if you would rather listen to this article.



About Me (Samantha)

In preparation for a website redesign, I revisited my bio for the About Us page.

Samantha Hartley of Enlightened Marketing works with socially-responsible small businesses and solopreneurs who are fed up with lack of clients, too many rotten apples or peaks and valleys in their revenues.

She teaches them to create jaw-dropping, client-getting messages, and offers effective marketing techniques that align with their values. As a result, Samantha’s clients routinely fill their practice with perfect clients, including some 6 and 7 figure contracts. They also raise prices from 30-800% and of course, start to enjoy their businesses more.

Before starting her consulting business a decade ago, Samantha worked in international marketing for The Coca-Cola Company in Moscow, Russia, Asia and at Coke headquarters in Atlanta, GA.

It’s concise, and it’s true, but it was missing something. So I wrote down the real story.


Warning: unpolished version

I decided to write this because …

1 . The idea of telling my real, unvarnished story was both intriguing and terrifying, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

And also because ….

2. Snapshots of Success are distorting the truth. Like airbrushed celebrities who become the standard for beauty, a snapshot of a business looks like this:

“Once upon a time someone decided to start a business. Now – voila! – he’s making a zillion dollars. The end.”

Now, we all know there are plenty of liars and thieves intentionally putting out information like this. That’s NOT who I’m talking about. The bizarre spin here is that it’s not the marketers but the readers who are doing the airbrushing.

So often a small business owner reads about another’s success and thinks, “Why isn’t that me? Why can’t I learn this? Why is it so hard for me when others seem to get this so quickly and easily?”

Tuning into a story at the success point and assuming the snapshot is the whole truth is like thinking about how ingenious the light bulb is without the 3,000 failed attempts that led to it.

When most entrepreneurs start, or get serious about growing, their businesses, they face some shocking realizations:

  • Success is almost entirely about marketing, selling and running your business, and not nearly as much about “doing what you do”
  • Getting to the first $100K in business is about strategy and skills; growing beyond that is almost all about mindset
  • Staying positive, focused, motivated and in joy with what you’re doing is harder than anyone will tell you
  • More things you do will fail than will succeed. Over time, you learn what works and repeat it, and then it almost always works. But there’s a lot of failure leading up to that, which is good, because you need to learn to bounce back from failure.

I didn’t know ANY of that my first year. I started catching onto it a few years in, and now in this, our biggest year so far, I thought I needed to share my journey with you.


Let’s get real

If I’m going to tell the truth here, I might as well start with some truths about me.

  • Marketing and selling is not easy for me. Remember those kids who sold candy bars or gift wrap to raise money for school? I wasn’t one of them. Every marketing thing I do feels like a big personal risk. I dread making outreach calls (and then adore them the second I’m on with someone). A big event I did recently (resulting in over $60K of sales) was brutal. This makes it easy for me to help those who (believe they) hate marketing.
  • I sometimes say exactly what I mean and it doesn’t always sound nice. But I notice that my clients really appreciate it and get more value that way. Life is just too short for sugar-coating.
  • I’m not motivated by money. Freedom, joy and love are all higher values for me, which is why I could leave a high-paying job as (relatively) easily as I did. What really motivates me is achievement and service, and because money is a way of scorekeeping both of those, I’m interested in it. If you’re a business owner, you need to focus on it.

But no amount of money could lure me into doing something I don’t find joyful, or incentivize me to do something I don’t want to do. A lot of well-meaning advisors have been very frustrated at me for not pursuing highly-profitable directions for my business. Yes, I get that there are ways to make more money which are not in joy for me. Sorry, I don’t care.

  • I have very distinct public and private selves. (That’s one reason this is hard for me to write.) Most everyone knows my public self, which is a classic extravert: big personality, laughing, thinking out loud and social. I might present a workshop, perform or tell jokes, and usually everyone around will know I was there. I don’t need to be the center of attention, but often I am.

My private self is so different as to be mistaken for a totally different person – yes, an introvert! I spend a lot of time alone or with my husband, close friends and our furry children. In blissful silence (no headphones) I cook, work in my garden, walk my dogs and meditate. It’s beautiful, soul-refueling and essential to my sanity. The worst times in my life were when I lacked alone time.

These are both completely authentic versions of me; just two sides of a coin. Without the fun of engaging with people, I lose touch with the creative flow of the Universe; and without alone time I lose my center. I didn’t learn this the easy way …


Stuff I just couldn’t make myself do

I was always a creative person and a communicator, from my earliest memories. I started
learning my first foreign language (Tagalog) at 2, was reading by 3 and told the high school kids who interviewed me for the yearbook in kindergarten that I wanted to be a singer when I grew up.

My family encouraged me to pursue my interests, whether academic, spiritual or theatrical. Though I was a great student, who never had to study much, I wasn’t always as compliant as I maybe should have been. I got a D on a test because I refused to read an offensively boring book on mythology; and I once paid someone to give me their old Biology homework, because I found it less repugnant to cheat than to kill and mount a bunch of insects on cardboard.

A few years down the road, that noncompliance dead-ended my career (more on that later).

What I treasured most about school were teachers who could really fire you up about their specialty. (I love passionate experts.) But socially, I blossomed when I found theatre. It was a place for creative expression. By the time I went to college, I was directing plays, flourishing in language study (sign language, French, Spanish, Russian) and preparing to embark on a 7 year stay in Russia.


Finding my voice

Directing is about taking something that exists on paper and bringing it to life on the stage. To do so you must discover the essential message of the play and then, working through the actors and crew, clearly communicate it as an experience for the audience.

Can you see the parallels to my current work and why the transition to marketing made sense to me (if not to anyone else!)? It’s obvious, right?

My insatiable curiosity about messages and meaning made it possible for me to draw out the best from others, (including dead playwrights). And after years of expressing myself in foreign languages, I could always find a way to craft any message so that others “got” it.

And suddenly I had all I’d (n)ever wanted!

The funniest thing about Me Back Then versus Me Now is that I was never the least bit interested in business. I wanted to be a filmmaker, or theatre director or a diplomat. It wasn’t till one of my early jobs after college that the thought of owning a business appeared.

We were in one of those development seminars where the facilitator talks about goals. I found myself writing down one year, 5 year and 10 year goals. And sure enough I wrote that I would like to have my own business, while simultaneously wondering, “Where did that come from?”

A year or so later I was working for the premier marketing company in the world. With no real marketing training, a Liberal Arts degree and fluent Russian, I was hired as the Marketing Manager of Coca-Cola Refreshments Moscow. I loved it.

And it wasn’t an unnatural transition!

Instead of distilling the messages of plays, I was working with world-famous beverage brands and communicating them to an “audience” of consumers who’d never tried them before.

I once told a visiting big-wig from Atlanta who asked how they heck I got into marketing from directing, “To me, you’re all actors in my play.”


If I’m honest (and I think we know I am!) … before it was awful, it was amazing

I had a very tough boss whose favorite phrase gave me a stomach ache: “A manager makes mistakes; a failure repeats them.” It seemed like most things I learned required botching up over and over. But he wasn’t just strict; he was fair. He helped me hone my directness and pushed me to achieve (sometimes out of sheer terror) more than I ever thought possible.

While in Moscow I managed a territory of 20 million consumers and a $12 million marketing budget. My team helped increase revenues from $48 to $120 million and drove company market share from 21% to 47% over three years. We also sold into key accounts like the Kremlin (!), launched Russia’s first under-the-cap promotion and put up a giant sign in the Russian “Times Square.”

Don’t get me wrong: there was stress and vicious political battles, but my skills were acknowledged, tested and expanded.

And then, after a visit from the Chief Marketing Officer …

I got promoted to Headquarters!

The Russians have an expression, “The fish rots first at the head.” When I say that to anyone who worked first in the field operations before moving to headquarters, they always know what I mean.

I had two amazing mentors at corporate. The first had come from a finance background. He taught me how to read a spreadsheet – “Your eyes should look HERE” (bottom right of the page) – and how finance was creative (“you can manipulate the nums to say anything.”) Once when we left a sales meeting, he called me a Rainmaker. After years of resisting labels, I reveled in that one.

My other mentor was a European genius who’d rocketed up the ranks. He was about the most gifted communicator I’d ever known, and he made seasoned executives’ heads explode with his ability to out-argue them. It drove people crazy not knowing how old he was (10 years too young to be a VP), since his age was a secret like his being gay. It was funny to watch people speculate but not at all amusing to work in a place where it wasn’t safe to be yourself.

My boss at corporate once said to me, “I want you to use your thee-AY-ter skills and be more creative.” I said nothing but thought to myself, “You will never get that from me.”

Creativity requires vulnerability – opening yourself to receiving ideas from the Universal current. Doing so in that environment was impossible.

New ideas meant the old way was wrong. I was once scolded for presenting a suggestion I’d sketched out over lunch, because my boss thought I’d been conspiratorially working on it for weeks.


The leap

The problem with stifled creativity is that it’s deadly.

When you flow ideas from Spirit, through yourself and into the world, you’re plugged into a powerful current. If it has no place to go, it stagnates and gets toxic. All around me smart, talented people were getting physically ill (wig out or burn out). That’s what started to happen to me.

I turned one day to a colleague and said I was thinking of taking a leave of absence. “You could do that,” he said, “but it will destroy your career.” I was gone within days. Forever.

I left behind the prestige of that job and that company. I left a LOT of money and stock options. People were NOT supportive. They didn’t care that it was smothering me, or that I couldn’t flow my Divine gifts. They thought I was crazy and stupid and biting the hand that fed me.

About a year later I started getting calls from others who’d left or gotten laid off in a big round of cuts no one saw coming. They invited me to consult for their new companies.

And just like that, I was a director again

Or rather: I was a “marketing consultant, “helping small businesses discover their brand message and articulate it in ways that bring an audience to them. In other words, branding and marketing. :)

I had some brilliant creative ideas, enjoyed prestigious clients and worked in sexy locations like Brussels, London and the Greek Islands. My first project out of the gate paid over $75,000 plus a pet-friendly apartment in Manhattan.

But after the initial years working for former colleagues, I realized I had a little problem: I didn’t know how to find more. I had never looked for a job in my whole life, much less clients. Things had always just shown up for me, it seemed.

I went through all the troubles THEN that I hear about from my clients now:

  • Not enough clients
  • No idea how to find more clients
  • Peaks and valleys in my income
  • FEAR! Owning a business was a lot harder than it looked.

Talk about an “Impostor Syndrome”! I felt like such a fraud – a marketing consultant who didn’t know how to market herself.

The part I usually leave out

There may be no crying in baseball, but in my business I had a great big spiritual temper tantrum. I felt pranked.

In my mind, I’d been called – like a priest or a doctor gets called to serve – and I’d answered it. I made a deal with the Universe: “I’ll do my best, and you’ll send me the clients.”

I’d taken a leap of faith (off a cliff, practically, by leaving corporate) and worked with clients who’d never done anything like it. (One of the earliest ones actually got a client at the printer’s who saw just the mock-up of his new marketing materials! )

So why wasn’t the Universe doing its part of our deal and sending throngs of clients to my door? Wasn’t it enough that I’d shown up, declared my intentions and stood there at the ready?

Of course it wasn’t enough! And I’m sure someone in the Universe was like, “Did you make a deal?” “There was a deal?” “I didn’t see anything. I’ll check with Fred.”

When I realized I was experiencing the exact challenge so many small business owners face (“If this is the right path for me, why can’t I get any clients?”), I stopped focusing on my own martyrdom complex (ha), peeled the blinders off and looked around: there were clients everywhere for me to serve, and I knew just how to draw them to me.

I teach a lot of very specific marketing techniques I tested and honed over the years but nothing is more powerful than getting clear on what you’re here to do, how it helps your audience and how to express it so they get it the first time.

Doing that for my clients just happens to be my not-so-secret superpower. ;-)

I thought you should know

There are some awesome and a few awful details to my story, but the journey is not so unusual.

  • Like me, you have an essential gift that can show up in seemingly dissimilar ways, like directing and marketing. When I retire and dedicate myself to teaching tricks to shelter dogs to help them get adopted, I will still be doing my essential gift. As long as you’re in flow, you can’t NOT do yours.
  • Someone somewhere is hoping and praying for you to show up and help them with that thing you do. Don’t let any fears and doubts get in the way of you changing lives. Have your tantrum and get over yourself. Then get back out there so you can find each other.
  • No, it isn’t easy. There is no one out there with a credibility-building About Us page filled with achievements and testimonials who didn’t deal with all the same stuff as I did and you do.

But when you focus only on the airbrushed Snapshot of Success – “Wow, Samantha went from 6 figures at Coke to 6 figures at her own business!” – as if it’s a time warp, you miss the part of the story you need to hear: it may be challenging at times, and you may fail, but it will make you stronger and more prepared.

When you’re strong and prepared – and when you know what works – you can make a bigger contribution. Our clients are constantly impressing me with stories of new clients and higher revenues:

Like my client Jan who works in medical services and wrote, “Our numbers this month are absolutely incredible. It’s like I can’t NOT get an order!” Or Steve Moulton: “I worked with Samantha to define my marketing message … it has given me a lot of confidence and this week I started working on the largest customer project I’ve ever closed, worth over $150,000.” Or Dr. Tom Wilk, who happily reported he’d had double-digit growth both years since we worked together. (Over 20 times return on his investment!)

This stuff WORKS.

Would you mind … ?

Now that you know a LOT about me, I’d really like to hear more about you. Introduce yourself in the comment box below and tell me a little about your story. Don’t feel pressure to produce a novel; I just want to get to know you a bit better. :)