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Small Business & Entrepreneur Tips from Whitney Zimet of I Am The Maven

August 23rd, 2010 | Interviews,KikScore & KikReport,Online & Small Business Resources,Small Business,Small Business Tips | 2 Comments »

Today’s small business interview is with the fabulous Whitney Zimet of I Am The Maven. Whitney runs a really cool site that connects moms with local deals.  Some of these great deals include offers at cool restaurants, fun family activities, shops and even online deals on a range of items.  Whitney has taken her super diverse professional experience including a stint as a corporate marketing executive at Redken and she over the last 14 years has lived in LA, NY, DC, Ann Arbor, Atlanta and now Miami.  It was during these last 14 years that people started calling Whitney “The Maven.” So in 2008 she tapped into her small business, startup and entrepreneurial roots to start I Am The Maven.  Her motto is simple: connecting savvy moms to fabulous local deals at the best places! Whitney’s story is a great read for the small business community and she gives us all some great tips in this interview.

1. Tell us about I am the Maven and who you focus on serving?

I Am The Maven connects savvy moms with fabulous deals at the best places.  We find the best local shops, food, services and activities in the Miami area and provide coupons, behind-the-scenes videos and all the scoop to hook moms up with exceptional local businesses.

2. How did you get your started selling online?

After I graduated from Emory University, I was a pretty successful executive recruiter until I found my niche in corporate marketing/advertising with Redken in NYC.  I met my husband, then moved several times (Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Miami) for his career.  Along the way, people started calling me their “Maven” (a.k.a. a go-to girl for recommendations on just about anything).  I wanted to meld the things I enjoyed and was good at at into my own business.  This would allow me to attend ballet recitals and generally be present in my children’s lives while keeping my brain sharp and my confidence as a woman and professional.  As a mom myself, I saw a need to cut through the clutter of traditional advertising and compel action amongst the mom community– specifically directing them to fabulous stuff that caters to their lifestyle (whether a doctor, a donut place or an eco-friendly carpet cleaning company).

3. What inspires you to grow the I am the Maven business?

Firstly, I feel that there are wonderful local businesses that many moms don’t go to or even know of because they are so busy running around and being totally overwhelmed.  Why not go to a local shoe store that really knows how to fit your child’s feet & carries the brands you want and some new ones you might not know about?  My dad had his own retail store for 27 years, so I have lots of empathy for small business owners.  Secondly, I want to create a winning formula for a business that can be franchised to other local mavens.  I believe there are a large number of smart, savvy women out there who may have put their own careers on hold or to the side to raise a family.  The standard 8-5 of corporate America is NOT friendly to moms and some of the other opportunities for flexible employment are not inspiring to me or make me feel uncomfortable about having to sell stuff to friends and family.  I feel that I Am The Maven is an unbelievable brand that, with the right local maven, can be a fulfilling and rewarding opportunity both for the maven herself and for the local business community.

4. If you had 2 lessons learned from your business that you could pass on to others about selling online, what are those?

I don’t actually sell anything online, rather I provide information, coupons, contests, videos and other fun stuff.  In March 2010 my website was relaunched after a year of development.  It was incredibly difficult and time-consuming but ultimately extremely successful.  My advice to people about an online presence is to keep it simple and clean and VERY easy to navigate AND to have a Content Management System (CMS) so you can update your site yourself.  Also, don’t neglect the SEO stuff.  If you send out emails to a distribution list, tailor the message for the groups.  For example, I don’t send emails detailing a special new patient rate at a Miami dentist to the people who elect to receive my “Online/Everywhere MavenDeals.”

5. Where will I am the Maven focus most of its energy this year?

We are expanding our presence to 35 local schools (offline we distribute reusable grocery bags called MavenBags filled with custom gift cards to Maven-Approved businesses) and will be attending more community events that focus on the family. Additionally, we’ll be leveraging the Maven-Approved brand by creating cross-promotions with non-conflicting featured businesses that allow them to get more bang for their buck!  Lastly, we’ll be adding staff locally so that I can begin to focus on franchising opportunities and other corporate initiatives.

6. What do you see as 2 new trends in for small business and in your business?

I feel that small businesses are recognizing that they can’t do everything themselves.  Like my business, there are others out there who are motivated to work with smaller businesses and are tailoring programs to meet their needs.  It used to be that it was all about the big accounts– big national names.  Now marketers, website designers and other professionals are coming up with ways to help smaller businesses in more sophisticated ways, that don’t cost an arm and a leg.  Another trend I see is that local businesses are teaming up to drive customers into their location– whether with events, cross-promotions, business improvement districts & local chamber of commerce.

7. If your business/store could be any movie or movie character, what movie/movie character would it be and why?

I guess I Am The Maven would be a cross of a less vicious version of Meryl Streep’s magazine editor character in “The Devil Wears Prada” (specifically her intolerance of anything sub-par) and Michelle Pfeiffer’s struggling career mom in “One Fine Day” (who made a costume out of duct tape and shoulder pads that were in her purse; also the romantic interest of George Clooney- yummy!)

8. If I am the Maven could have a dream spokesperson for your company who would it be and why?

This is a tough one as I am the maven.  Literally.  But I guess Oprah is a close second, although I don’t think she has kids.

9. What is the biggest challenge that I am the Maven faces as a small business and how do you work to overcome that challenge?

It’s absolutely critical that the businesses we promote meet the certain quality standards for value, convenience, the fun factor, price, selection, service, eco-friendliness (if possible), etc.  This is the cornerstone of the I Am The Maven brand.  Particularly when I began the business, it was a struggle to get certain businesses to participate because they were either already successful/awesome (which is why I approached them) or because they didn’t “get” what “Maven-Approved” would grow to mean in the community or the only businesses that were interested weren’t suitable for our audience.

It’s always difficult to turn away a shop or whatever that just doesn’t meet our standards.  But can you imagine if we worked with a shop that was totally disorganized with bad lighting in the fitting rooms and a salesperson who was no-where to be found?  That would compromise the integrity of our brand.  Another challenge is there is a certain amount of exclusivity to I Am The Maven, depending on the level of promotion the business elects.  For example, you won’t see 5 pizza places in the same general area on our website.  This limits the number of businesses we can promote, which of course limits our revenue.

10. Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers and the small business community?

I never thought I would be an entrepreneur (although if you ask my friends and family they would tell you they aren’t surprised) but the stay-at-home mom thing just wasn’t enough for me.  I looked at my professional strengths and what I actually ENJOY doing.  Sometimes those don’t mesh, but for me they did.  I thought about a problem in the marketplace that I could solve (moms finding out about good local places and being incentivized to go to them).  Then I put my nose to the grindstone and planned the heck out of my business concept. When I launched in October 2008, I began rather small and incrementally grew, never allowing my growth to outpace my revenue except on rare occasions (like my website re-build) when I knew I could re-coup.  I have stayed true to my voice and my brand and, with only a few unpleasant exceptions, followed my gut even when all the other signs pointed the other direction.  Being a successful small business owner and entrepreneur means you must be relentless in your pursuit of excellence. I love being my own boss!

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2 Responses

  1. BizSugar.com says:

    A Small Business Story & Entrepreneur Tips from Whitney Zimet of I Am The Maven…

    This is a small business interview on the KikScore blog that has some great entrepreneurial tips from Whitney Zimet of IamTheMaven.com, a website for moms looking for great local deals….

  2. Hello! Appreciate the good site. Keep writing! 😉

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