Featuring Rebecca Leder: Chicago Strategist & Influencer

Rebecca Leder is first and foremost a connector. She helps people, customers, and organizations with a mission to build relationships both online and offline. By day, she is a Marketing Strategist at Salesforce. There, she develops cross-channel, automated digital marketing strategies to support the awareness and adoption of the product suite. I actually first met Rebecca at Salesforce, when our paths crossed when I joined the same organization she was in. I had the pleasure to work with her closely last year on a multi-channel strategy for one of our clients. Through our strategizing and collaborating, I got to know Rebecca better and was so inspired by her work ethic, her smarts, and most of all, her way to articulate a concept perfectly.

Not only that, I’ve been so impressed with how much she does outside of her day job! She is also a blogger, speaker, and teacher. She shares digital marketing, technology, career, and personal branding insights on her blog, TheRebeccammendations® and at events and institutions such as Salesforce World Tour, Loyola Quinlan School of Business, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, BlogHer, Startup Institute Chicago, University of Indiana Kelley School of Business, and DePaul University. She was also named an Austin Business Journal Women of Influence Profiles in Power Rising Star Finalist in 2012 after founding her own marketing consultancy at the age of 26!

Whew, that is quite a resume! Continue reading for my interview with Rebecca and her advice to other like-minded businesswomen out there.

Rebecca Otis Leder sits on a reddish brown leather couch looking off into the distance as she styles a navy blue long dress and heels.

Rebecca, tell us your story and how you got to be where you are today in your career.

I majored in Business and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business (Hook ‘Em!). Marketing was a natural fit since I was always interested in brand slogans and jingles, and have both a creative side and a business side to the way I think. I was fortunate to have an internship that led to a full-time job at Texas.gov, the state website, after college and stay in the fun, musical, unique, and entrepreneurial Austin for about 5 years.

While working full-time in 2009, I developed the first social media strategy for the company, and simultaneously started my blog on the side, TheRebeccammendations®. As I learned how to build my website and social presence, as well as a network of local business relationships, my creative side took over! I met with an amazing business coach to determine a plan of action to monetize the network and experience I had built blogging about local businesses and my business acumen in marketing.

At age 26, I founded LocalizeAustin, a small business consultancy, helping small businesses, non-profits, and start-ups with social media, PR, and event marketing. During this time, I got to work with amazing local brands with extraordinary products and services, as well as non-profits serving important causes, with a client portfolio including Autism Speaks, Rise Austin (a week-long entrepreneurial conference), and Austin Restaurant Week, to name a few. I learned invaluable career and life lessons during this time, like how to drown out critics when leaving a full-time job to follow my intuition and help businesses in the process.

I juggled building business to find new clients while fulfilling the work of existing clients, attending frequent networking events and hosting client events, and learning how to build and promote a brand online and offline. I learned how to value my time and skillset to establish pricing for my services and how to set up payment methods to make sure the process was efficient (and that I got paid on time). I also learned how to be creative, patient, and focus on the brand when business was slow and find and hire help when business was bustling. I was honored to be named a Rising Star Finalist in Austin Business Journal’s Profiles in Power Women of Influence in 2012!

Fast-forward a couple years after starting the business. [I decided] to expand my horizons to Chicago, having lived in Texas my whole life. I have a strong gut and I followed it. I knew that to build a network in Chicago, to have a social life, and to gain reputable marketing experience, I’d take the experience from my own business with me. I sincerely thanked the community of supporters and clients who believed in it and eventually, made my way to a marketing technology industry leader – Salesforce – where I currently am beyond fortunate to work.

In my present role, I develop automated communications and marketing strategies to help our customers adopt and implement our technology after they buy from us to keep them happy and build loyalty. When I graduated college, this job likely didn’t exist, so I am thrilled to be at the forefront of digital marketing in this role!

Rebecca Otis Leder happily stands in downtown Chicago as a cab drives by.

Wow, that’s quite a journey! So amazing and inspiring, Rebecca. What would you credit your success to?

If you believe in something and you keep hearing “no” or face barriers, get creative and find a way around. Also, try adjusting your approach or the way you craft a message as your audience, manager, or team may not understand the value of what you’re trying to achieve. Being self-aware and staying in check to make sure where you spend your time is important to me. If it’s significantly misaligned, I seek mentorship and advice, and explore making a change.

Don’t be confined to your job description. If you have other talents, skills, or passions that can add value, work with your team to find the best way to bring them to the table. This also helps to ensure you’re using the skills that motivate you and that may come naturally to you. I’m always thinking about my next goal and how I’ll get there – in other words, I try not to be complacent and always challenge myself to try something new or apply my skills in a new way. At the same time, it’s important to know when to stop thinking too far ahead and immerse yourself in the present.

I totally agree that we have to consistently challenge ourselves. I wrote about that and how to get out of the comfort zone a few weeks ago. Anyways, what would would you say has been your best career decision? Any tough decisions you’ve made along the way?

While accepting a role at Salesforce has hands down been my best career decision, leaving the corporate world to start my own business in my mid-twenties is a close second because I learned the fundamentals of business to make a living, as well as how to build a brand and business from the ground up. These skills have been transferrable as I apply them to client work, being able to relate to business owners or team members and those I’m marketing to, and I value each and every client and potential client relationship because I understand the work it took to form that relationship. The path for many is to work for a large, industry leading company, then start a business. I may have switched the order, but this makes the career background I bring to my team unique and it’s part of my story – I’m proud of it!

One of my [toughest] career decisions was closing my business before I truly got to see the heights it could have reached. In fact, the day I told the owner of a company I’d partnered with on an event that I was moving, he brought me to tears as he was so excited to work together, he had a check for me in his pocket and was ready to sign. I knew the wise choice was not trying to sustain a business primarily centered around a city I’d no longer be living in, and I needed to truly immerse myself in the Chicago marketing industry and community to begin a new chapter. My decision to move to Chicago and build my marketing career portfolio has proven that when I follow my gut, it leads me to the right place. I do not regret this decision, but I often wonder what could have been.

Totally. I think it’s normal to question “what if?” but you’ve really established yourself in your career. What do you think has been the biggest challenge in your career or in your life? How did you push through it?

At one point in my job search, I struggled because I thought I’d have to choose between a stable job, and one that is associated with a cause or a mission that I believe in. I questioned, “Do I work for a non-profit where I believe in their mission, even though the salary may be lower than my skillset warrants, or do I work for a corporation where I may not be as passionate about the products or services, but the salary may be higher?” I realize now, I was looking at the situation the wrong way!

Now, not only do I see that all kinds of companies have the resources to make a difference in this world, I seek opportunities to spend time where I feel I can make a positive impact at work, and outside of work. For example, my current company is a leader in helping communities all over the world and we are encouraged to take several days each year to volunteer for any cause important to us. Now, I look at the big picture, and dedicate time, skillset, and resources to causes that are important to me, like education. My job and company allow and encourage me to do so, and the question of – Will I feel fulfilled in my job? – becomes – How will I make sure I’m making a difference throughout my life, knowing that my job is just one part of the puzzle?

That’s such a great way to look at things! I love people that have such a positive perspective on things like that. Speaking of making a difference, can you elaborate on how you’re involved in our industry outside of Salesforce? Any tips or advice you can share there?

When I was in a full-time job search several years ago, I attended the Advertising Week conference in New York. It was one of the best decisions I made because I immersed myself in the marketing industry. I learn[ed] about the latest campaigns and trends from large brands, as well as built relationships and had networking conversations about jobs. I was able to talk about this experience during interviews when I was asked what I was currently doing besides job searching – and I had an answer! Turns out, it also gave me some balance and a break from the daily job applications and I received a call back from what is now my current employer while I was in New York, so there was a bit of luck there too!

Locally, in Chicago, I have attended Social Media Club and ANA Business Marketing events. Others I’m a fan of are Content Jam, General Assembly, which hosts professional classes that I teach periodically, and free panel sessions and paid workshops on topics like Personal Branding and Digital Marketing – check it out! I also subscribe to email newsletters from leading companies in the field, including MMA SmartBrief, and FORTUNE Data Sheet.

Girl, you are a power house and I love it! How do you stay motivated through all of this?

When I present marketing ideas and I see the light bulb of inspiration go off in a client or team member, I get excited about innovation and business growth! There have been many mentors and professionals who have helped me along my career path and now I feel fortunate to be in a position to help others through mentorship in programs like YearUp, and teaching in university classes like a recent one at Loyola Quinlan School of Business, and workshops like Digital Marketing at General Assembly. We are lucky to live in an era where technology is at our fingertips. This allows us to connect and build relationships much more easily. I am motivated by the ability to connect on Linkedin with a new contact at a networking event on the spot with my smartphone, follow a blogger on Instagram at a community event, or stay in touch with students who reach out after a class I’ve taught through email to keep the conversation going!

You have a lot going on in your professional life. How do you balance your life and work responsibilities?

Balance is a lifelong effort. I try to think in week intervals instead of day intervals to give myself several days to tackle different activities. I’ll set goals for the coming week – big picture things I’m prioritizing, and week by week, they vary a little bit. Lately, each week includes: yoga or running, date night with my husband, top work priorities or deadlines, helping at least one person in some way (a mentoring phone call, a community event, or teaching, for example), connecting with my family, social time with friends and having FUN, progress on travel plans, trying something new (like attending a cookbook launch where I didn’t know many people this past weekend), and writing on my blog/a creative outlet. I think balance is about reshuffling priorities on the regular, and each day and week brings new opportunities or may warrant more focus in a particular area. Health and relationships always come first.

Through all of your success, I assume you’ve had a lot of people who have inspired you over the years. Who would those people be?

My grandfather was a business owner, so entrepreneurialism runs in our genes. My parents are business owners and have inspired me to be disciplined, work hard, and carve my own path and build ideas into realities. They also introduced my sisters and I to travel early on and as a result, I’ve had the curiosity and courage to visit many amazing countries throughout the world, and pick up and move to a new city and state without knowing too many people!

Rebecca Otis Leder smiles in her leather jacket.

Knowing where you are today in your career, what advice do you have for other women out there?

Immerse yourself in your industry. Whether that means reading industry blogs, signing up for newsletters, joining trade organizations (like Social Media Club, which has global chapters, AMA, PRSA), or attending events and conferences. Learn by doing. These events and activities help you learn about the latest trends (or flops), where the industry is headed, what kinds of roles are in demand. [It also allows you to] meet others who have a similar interest in your industry to help you add to your network. They also give you ideas and topics to discuss in interviews and showcase your expertise and dedication to the field. [I recommend subscribing] to Harvard Business Review – The Management Tip of the Day!

Any parting thoughts or advice for the women reading this?

Generally, people genuinely want to help others be successful. If you’re hesitant about reaching out to someone who you admire, or you want to connect with – don’t be! Research their career or background, ask for an introduction, or just simply reach out with a heartfelt message about why you think connecting is a good idea! You’re only one message away from connecting with that someone. If you’re interested in learning more about my 8-step method for building strong relationships in your career network, contact me at Rebeccammendations@gmail.com with the subject line “Networking Workshop” and I’ll let you know about upcoming workshops!

Big thanks to you, Kelly, for taking the time to share a bit about my career. What an awesome community you’ve created for open dialogue and inspiration!

Thank you, Rebecca! If you’re interested, you can connect with Rebecca at her channels below:

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