THE BLOG
04/01/2013 09:16 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2013

Conversations With Female Forces of Nature in Small Business

Connecting with Adrienne Cornelsen, Founder & CEO of InSite Interactive

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Background

I first met Adrienne when I was Executive Director of a global non-profit Business for Diplomatic Action. I engaged Adrienne to join our mostly male board for several reasons not least of which included her different way of thinking. Adrienne is at her core an entrepreneur. And entrepreneurs think differently. They problem solve in ways that continue to inspire and perplex those around them. Adrienne also represented an industry, digital marketing, that is rapidly evolving and challenging business models in every industry. In addition to founding and running her own successful digital marketing firm she also serves as a Global Director of the Entrepreneurs Organization, travelling globally to help encourage and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and global citizens. In short, she is a force of nature, wise beyond her years, and I feel so fortunate to have her as a dear friend. I caught up with Adrienne recently and asked her to reflect on her business InSite which is celebrating its 15th anniversary next month, the lessons she's learned along the way, the takeaways, and insights she'd wish she'd known when she began.

Cari Guittard: What inspired you to start InSite and what kept you going?

Adrienne Cornelsen: I started Insite in 1998 because I wanted to rely my own abilities, and because I felt that there was a better way... a way that others around me were not seeing. I saw the intersection of technology and marketing as a powerful transformer of our world. I wasn't sure where it was going, but I knew in my heart that it was going to change everything with regard to how we communicate and connect. I wanted to be a part of that. As technology continues to evolve, and the applications of that technology continue to unfold, I have remain fascinated with how we are able to make our world smaller, be more connected, and remove barriers on a global scale. Just when I think we have maximized the potential, a new technology emerges that reopens my eyes once again.

Cari Guittard: You started InSite on your dining room table with many in your life telling you this was a crazy idea. Thinking back on that time, what do you wish you knew then, when you started your business that you know now?

Adrienne Cornelsen:
You don't have to do it alone. And you don't have to have all the answers. Like many entrepreneurs, I launched my company without much experience in many aspects of running a business, yet I felt the need to keep up the image of having it all under control. It is incredibly stressful. I soon learned that we are all learning as we go, and it is essential to find a supportive peer-to-peer community.

I was blessed to find Entrepreneurs' Organization in year 2 of my business. Since then, I have been surrounded by entrepreneurs just like me that are facing similar challenges and fears, balancing celebration with cautious optimism, and open to sharing their experiences. We learn from each other's mistakes and success, and we have grown together through the years.

I also wish I had known that I would be in business for 15 years. When I started, everything felt so urgent and short-term. I could never have imagined that Insite would sustain 15 years of ups and downs, and successes and challenges. Had I known that, and understood the journey I was on, I would have focused each day on a more long term plan. I would have not sweated the small stuff, and given myself permission to pace myself, and accepted wins and losses along the way without feeling like the world would come to an end if I made a wrong decision.

Cari Guittard: Many small businesses are trying to build and leverage their online and social media presence to save time and money but that rarely becomes the case as more often than not people try 'boiling the ocean' and put all their efforts and resources into an online space where they are having little real impact or traction. As an expert in developing compelling online spaces what are some basic tips that you'd share from the InSite perspective to help small business owners better focus their online efforts and/or streamline their brand(s)? Or perhaps there are some key questions they should be asking themselves first before they go down this road so that they are maximizing their resources?

Adrienne Cornelsen:
Many businesses jump into social media and online marketing because they feel it's the "next big thing" and that it will somehow transform their business by just stepping into the space. Untrue. It is a tool, like any other. It can be powerful, or it can be useless and an incredible waste of time and resources if you don't follow a thoughtful strategy. Before you engage in any social media, make sure you have a clear strategy.

Social Media & Online Marketing Check-List

  • Have you defined how your social media "voice" will sound, and how it represents your brand?
  • Have you selected your social media channels based on your target audiences and your goals?
  • Do you have the resources lined up to feed sufficient and effective content to all of the social media channels you chose?
  • Do you know how you will measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts, and what will be considered "success"?

If the answers to any of these questions is "no" then I would recommend taking a step back to align around a strategy before jumping in. And, as with any marketing effort, it takes an investment of time, thoughtfulness and money to be effective. There is no "magic bullet". If you are expecting a sudden influx of business from nothing, you are disillusioned. It takes work and expertise, like any other marketing channel.

Cari Guittard: What is the strangest or funniest story in all your time developing and running this business?

Adrienne Cornelsen: I have learned over time that the most tragic stories will one day appear funny in the rear view mirror of life. In pondering this question, all of the answers that come to mind don't sound funny at all when I list them... they sound like a bumpy roller coaster ride! I will spare your readers the drama!