We're thrilled to introduce you to July's Rockstar, Sam Laffey of Porter Loves Creative. Sam has been an integral part of the Propelle community from day one, and honestly, we couldn't imagine doing this without her.
Over the last few years, Sam has gone from a supporter of women doing their thing to a woman who IS doing her own thing, and it's been nothing short of exhilarating to watch her transformation. She has truly stepped into her own this year, using her gifts to support others on a daily basis.
We can't wait to see what Sam gets up to in her second year of business. If her first year has been any indication, it's going to be a true work of art.
We hope you enjoy getting to know Sam as much as we have. And if you want to spend more time with her, or hear her infectious laugh on the regular, you should probably join the Rock It! Community. #justsaying
For those that may not be familiar, tell us about yourself and what you do.
I'm Sam. I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Pittsburgh in 2002 to go to Carnegie Mellon University. I hated it and thought I would leave as soon as I graduated but then Pittsburgh worked her magic on me and I've become a lifer!
As for what I do, I help artists and creative businesses tell their stories through copywriting and design services. I'm also the Chief Of "Get Shit Done" for both the Porter Loves and Porter Loves Creative brands. My partner Nathan is a brilliant photographer and truly my first client. He's so solid with his art form, but when it comes to marketing it and staying on task, he needs a little manager (that's me)!
How did your love affair with words and storytelling (copywriting) begin?
It started a few years ago when I was editing some writing for friends. I had so much fun rearranging the words to make them clearer and more geared toward their goal.
I was always the go-to proofreader for grant applications, reports, and other things in my full-time job at Pittsburgh Glass Center, but it wasn't until a conversation in the Propelle Mastermind that I decided to make it an actual business. I was talking about how much I loved proofreading and Kate looked at me and said, "so...do it!"
When discussing this notion with my parents, they showed their support saying "you've always been such a great writer." And I remember thinking, "I have?" So the love affair started early I guess, but it was unbeknownst to me.
Why should someone care about the words they are using, whether it be for marketing or website copy or any other outlet for their business?
Words matter. Plain and simple. They are the foundation for how we communicate with one another. It's especially important in this online world where we're mostly communicating without tone, or visual cues. Words are all you have to tell your story, sell your product, or send your message.
Also, there are at least two sides to every word. What it means to you and what it means to the person reading your website, blog, FB post, or whatever else you've written. A lot of people push back on me here because they staunchly believe that words mean whatever the dictionary says they mean, so there's no room for differing perspectives. But language is fluid. Words are now in the dictionary that weren't there five years ago. Plus, historical usage of certain words creates connotation and baggage, and I believe it's irresponsible not to honor these shifts.
There's also jargon words that mean everything to you in your industry and nothing to your potential customer or client.
I'm not suggesting every word has to be acceptable and happy to everyone everywhere — I'm a firm believer that we can't please everyone or be all things to all people. But when crafting what you want to say, it's imperative to think about the population or community you are targeting and whether or not the words you want to use mean what you want them to mean once they've left your brain and reach those people.
Where do you see people struggle the most when it comes to writing for themselves or their business? What can they do to make it easier?
The biggest struggle I see is striking a balance between talking about their skills and accomplishments without coming across as bragging. As women, we have such a hard time owning our expertise and accepting praise that it's challenging to say "I am the best X in the city" without feeling icky about it. I was able to overcome this for myself by sitting down having and having a conversation with myself about the facts of my experience. If you can identify what you've done and focus on the facts, it feels less boastful to put those truths out there.
Another thing I see a lof of comes as the result of being too close to your own work and stumbling around what you think you should say. I always know I'm heading into dangerous territory when I resort to familiar tropes like "capturing memories" in our photography business. I don't sound like me, and we don't sound like us, and the writing does nothing to communicate our message.
The best way to combat this is to get an outside perspective. This can mean hiring a copywriter like me — even I hire last month's ROTM Angelica to help me get outside my head. But it can also just mean asking people to give something a read and give you honest feedback. The important thing here is not to only ask your mom or someone else who just thinks you're the bee's knees no matter what you do. Sure, reach out to them, but also reach out to someone comfortable being critical as well as someone who gets your business and someone who doesn't.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in starting your business?
Initially, confidence. Every client I worked with I had a new "Oy, can I actually do what I'm saying I can do for this person?" moment. I regularly put down my education and experience as not sufficient to support what I was trying to do. I still get a little weird with new clients, especially when they bring a new type of work, but for the most part, I've overcome this.
Since leaving my full-time job last fall, it's all about finances and unpredictability. Switching from 10 years of a reasonable and stable income to a future of unpredictable payments on invoices, having to set aside money for taxes, health insurance, and all sorts of other things that were handled by my employer, has been a struggle.
What has brought you the most joy?
I get excited when artists click and see the value of what we provide. We have a few clients that come back to us regularly because they recognize that the time they save when they invest in our help is well worth it.
A former high school student who had us photograph his handmade guitars told us he was sure he got into a program that his friend did not because, in no uncertain terms, his photos were better. That's why we're doing this. Yes, we want and need to make money to live, but we're mission driven around supporting artists and helping them succeed.
What's on the horizon for you and Porter Loves Creative? Do you have any new projects or services in the works?
I have some big dreams for what I/we can do with Porter Loves Creative. Some of our very far off ideas are opening a gallery, artist studio spaces, and creating an arts funding stream. But because of that whole financial stress I discussed earlier, these are not things we can realistically jump into right now.
We did just launch Get Your Sh*t Together (GYST) sessions. These are customizable based on individual goals and timeframes, and they are kind of like artist accountability meetings. We've been thinking about this offering for a while, but it came together when we met Carin Mincemoyer as part of our Artist Interview series. We were telling her about our skill sets and our mission, and she was intrigued by this idea of a dedicated helper for getting your sh*t together. She likened it to preparing her tax information. She puts it off and puts it off, but when she has an appointment with her accountant, that's a hard deadline that ensures she'll get her prep work done. These GYST sessions could apply to any number of things with a few examples being setting up a new website, applying for a grant, or submitting materials for an exhibition.
Famous last words... What advice would you give to women who are struggling to find the right words?
First and foremost, be you. Don't get bogged down with what others are saying in your space.
Understand that quality writing is about 15% writing and 85% editing. So when in doubt, just get something on the page so you have something you can work with to improve. You can't edit words that aren't there.
Ask for help!