Episode 2 of the Self-Made Mamas Podcast
How can we build our businesses in a way that genuinely contributes to social change?
What’s the difference between being a conscientious ally and a condescending jerk?
What do you do if the thought of airing an opinion on social media makes you want to dig a hole in the ground and hide in it?
On today’s episode of The Self-Made Mamas Podcast, Alison Tedford is joining us for an uncensored conversation tackling exactly these questions. As a social justice educator, Indigenous woman, published author, digital marketer, relentless entrepreneur, and single mother battling chronic illness, Alison knows a thing or two about inclusive marketing and socially conscious business.
Melissa: Welcome, Alison! Thank you so much for joining me, I’m so excited to talk to you today. You’re on the podcast today to talk with me about the importance of weaving your values into your business, the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion as an entrepreneur, particularly one with a platform, and the importance of understanding social justice and integrating it into everything that you do as a business owner. I would love for you to start by introducing yourself. Share more about who you are, what you do, a little bit about you.
Alison: For sure! Thanks so much for having me. I’m Alison Tedford. I am a marketer, author, social justice educator, and a co-founder of a new e-commerce brand, and—
M: All the things!
A: Yeah, all of the things. We sell things and help people sell things in a way that makes them feel good. I do a lot of copy and content for business owners. I help them strategize about their communications and learn how to integrate their values into how they do business, and how they share about their business.
M: Love it! And how did you get here? Has this always been your business? What is your business story?
A: Actually, I was in government for over a decade. I worked on Indigenous issues in various capacities for over 10 years. Then I started blogging and I really enjoyed that as a creative outlet. I started growing my blog, and people began asking me for help because they could see that I’d grown my blog channel. They thought maybe I could do that for their business. So I went from one Facebook account I was running for a brand to a full-time business that more than replaced my government salary within five months. And that was four and a half years ago.
M: That’s amazing!
A: I’ve worked full-time in my business for four and a half years. It’s not what I thought my life would be at any point but I’m so grateful it is and I love it.
M: I love when things sort of roll out organically like that.
A: Yes, definitely. I also really appreciate that this came from being me. I just showed up and talked about the things that I cared about, and I ended up with a full-time marketing practice.
“I just showed up and talked about the things that I cared about, and I ended up with a full-time marketing practice.” – Alison Tedford
M: I think it’s a bit more than that. You are an incredibly gifted writer. You didn’t just pop up on Facebook and start posting about your personal life. Your blogging is good, your writing is good. This is why it took off. So there’s more to it than just starting and then it was magically successful.
A: No, I blogged for a few years before I got to that point. I started just writing for myself. Then getting published by places that didn’t pay anything and working my way up. CBC, Al Jazeera, Today’s Parents…
M: Which is incredible.
A: It took a while. Then I got my first and second book deals.
M: Tell me about your books before we dive into our content today.
A: My first book was released in April 2021. It’s called Chronic Profit and it talks about how to manage a business when you’re dealing with chronic pain. My second book is coming out next spring, 2022. It’s called Stay Woke, Not Broke and it is about how to integrate social justice into your small business.
M: It’s amazing. With Chronic Profit, this is obviously something that you’re writing from personal experience about. You’ve been working and growing your business while coping with this as a part of your daily life.
A: Yes. I have a joint condition that causes dislocations, which is pretty painful and uncomfortable. I have a related condition that causes allergic reactions when I’m under stress.
M: So all the time then?
A: Basically. Yeah.
M: Because it’s a pandemic?
A: Yes. As a single parent running a business during a pandemic, also writing a book, I am perpetually allergic to something.
M: Somehow you’re still killing it and starting new businesses and adding revenue streams.
A: I mean, I have to pay the bills and I have to do something. I can’t just give up and lay there.
M: I’ll share a little bit of our conversation that we had in the DMs the other day. You are incredibly resilient and hardworking, and I shared with you that I sometimes get comments about my own business. Things like, “How have you done this with everything you have going on?” and “I can’t believe you’ve made it this far, I couldn’t do what you’ve done.” That kind of stuff. Typically if you’re a woman dealing with any sort of barrier whatsoever people will say things like that to you once you’ve accomplished something. You and I were laughing, and I think I was actually cry-laughing at our conversation all by myself on the couch because you said to me, “Well, I just didn’t feel like dying was a viable option. So, you know, here we are!” and I thought, isn’t that the truth? I didn’t feel like just not paying my bills and keeping my children without a roof over their heads was a good option. So here we are. Here’s the outcome of that. Thanks for your support.
A: I couldn’t reside in a refrigerator box! So this is where we are.
M: Yeah, this is the state of our humour while parenting in a pandemic. Before things get really twisted, we’ll move on because I’m super excited. I’m excited about your first book, of course. I am extra excited about your second book because it’s so aligned with your current work and brand. Let’s dive into that.
Getting started with inclusive marketing
Melissa: As you said, you specialize in helping businesses market themselves in a way that feels good. You help them weave their values into their brand, particularly their copy, and sell with social justice and human initiatives, other human beings, in mind. What do you want people to know about that?
Alison: Basically, that there is room and space for what you believe in. It’s okay to be yourself and share what’s in your heart. It helps people get to know you. It helps people make purchasing decisions because they know what they’re voting for with their dollars. It helps create pathways and alignment between you and your buyers because they know that you share things in common. There’s room to express yourself and allow people to get to know you better. I think lots of times we think we have to show up a certain way, or we have to stay neutral or we will scare people off. The reality is you can show up as your whole self in your business.
“We think we have to show up a certain way, or we have to stay neutral or we will scare people off. The reality is your can show up as your whole self in your business.” – Alison Tedford
M: What does that look like for someone who is more of a mild-mannered person? Social media has sort of put everybody with a platform into a fishbowl and everyone’s now staring at you like, “What are you going to do about it? What are you going to say about it?” if there’s an issue with a stance to be taken. We’ve seen this come up with many, many different issues, and high-level entrepreneur-influencers being called out. Things have gotten very heightened online. What would your advice be to somebody that generally hesitates to share strong personal opinions online or maybe isn’t somebody that even thinks about this kind of thing that much? What would you say to that person?
A: It’s good to start from where you are, and it’s good to start small. Instead of making a grand statement, maybe you use your business to support a charitable organization or what other people are doing in the world and sharing the spotlight and using your platform for good, without having to necessarily start about you and your feelings. You can do baby steps and work up to it. Warm your audience up.
M: That’s fantastic advice.
A: You don’t have to go from 0 to 60 right away, and you don’t have to know exactly what to say to start. Nobody’s expecting you to show up with a grand statement and a long essay. It can be words of support. It can be the way you interact with your audience and how you moderate things. It can be the curated content you share. There are lots of things that you can do that are not necessarily that big scary moment. Start with something little and work your way up to it.
“You don’t have to go from 0 to 60 right away, and you don’t have to know exactly what to say to start.” – Alison Tedford
Performative versus genuine allyship
Melissa: On the topic of big moments and grand gestures…I think, if we look online right now, objectively, there are a lot of genuine conversations happening. There’s a lot of wonderful work going on and real progress towards social justice initiatives. There’s also a lot of bullshit. There’s a lot of very gross performative stuff out there right now, at least from my perspective. I don’t know about you, but, I see a lot of stuff that makes me almost physically cringe because it does not feel genuine at all. What do you feel is the difference between genuine allyship and self-work, versus performance and sort of self-serving work? Obviously, as business owners, most of us are doing this publicly. We’re doing it on our social media platforms too. Where’s the line between just ticking boxes and doing what you think you need to do to stay popular versus really doing this work? This is not comfortable stuff, so it really shouldn’t be just, “Tada! Look what I’ve done on my Instagram Stories.”
Alison: I think it starts with looking at what your intentions are and being honest with yourself about why you’re doing it. If it’s just to get attention and applause, is it something that you should be doing? Look at the impact of what you’re doing. Will there be a meaningful impact? You can say things, but are you doing things also? Are you contributing financially to a cause? Are you providing business support to somebody who is doing good work in the area that you say you care about? How are you meaningfully making an impact? Do the values that you hold in running your business connect with the values that you are sharing on your social feed? If you care about marginalized people, do your business policies and procedures reflect that? There’s a lot to be said for consistency. If you’re showing up in the moment because everybody else is doing it, what is your plan to sustain this? Is it a bandwagon or are you going on a journey? If you’re going on a journey and bringing your audience along with you, what is your plan to continue sharing this? If it matters to you, what’s your content plan? There’s a lot of ways to do it beyond just hopping on the current Instagram social justice trend, posting a black square, and saying you’re sad. You can learn out loud with your audience and you can share things as you’re learning them. Passing the mic to other people who could speak to the issues that you care about more effectively, who maybe don’t have as much of a platform as you. There are lots of different ways that you can meaningfully provide support. Just be honest with yourself about your “why”. If you feel good about your “why”, then figure out how you’re going to do it in a way that makes sense and is sustainable. You don’t want to burn yourself out either. It’s good to care, but you’re no good to anybody if you are burnt out.
“Do the values that you hold in running your business connect with the values that you are sharing on your social feed? If you care about marginalized people, do your business policies and procedures reflect that?” – Alison Tedford
M: When it comes to executing on that, if you have good intentions and feel good about your intentions, you now want to channel that into creating impact. It’s one thing to share somebody’s content on your Instagram Stories, for example, and it’s another thing to reach out to another human being that you don’t actually know. Maybe amplify their voice if you have a very large platform and you want to use it to help amplify marginalized voices. How do we do that in a way that is cognizant of the fact that we’re dealing with other human beings that are uniquely successful and uniquely intelligent and uniquely amazing? I think my worst nightmare in doing this work is to ever make somebody feel like I was patronizing them because honestly, I hang out with a lot of people that are just way better at what they do than I am. They’re miles ahead of me. The people in my network are people that I admire greatly and I don’t ever want to intimate to anybody that I’m patronizing them, saying, “Here. Here, use my Instagram.” Do you know what I mean? I think that there are a lot of people who sort of share that sentiment as well. I would love to have more impact, but I also don’t want to do the opposite and offend or further marginalize anybody.
A: Yeah. There are some structures. There was literally something called the “Pass the Mic” Initiative where there were specific people during a specific timeframe intentionally connecting with people and offering to provide that support. There was a framework where it’s not just, “You don’t really have that many people to talk to so come talk to my people.” It also can be from a place of genuine collaboration, like, “Hey I have this audience. They’re super engaged, I love them very much. I’m learning so many things and I would love for them to be able to access brilliance like yours. I would love to invite you to share on my platform.” or “I would love to find out what would be meaningful for you to have me amplify”. “What are messages that you would love for people to have and how can I support getting the word out about what you’re doing?” Coming from a place of collaboration versus charity, in a way that respects that you’re talking to a professional and that you respect what they do. Where there are structured initiatives, then maybe it can happen under that framework. It can also just happen like, “Hi. We’re two people doing things in the world, and I’d love to do things in the world together.”
M: And just making it the norm making it so nobody even questions what they’re seeing or what they’re experiencing, because this is how it should have been, to begin with.
A: Yeah. Then maybe as a business owner, you start to share important messages and wisdom with your audience all the time, and this is just another way that you can do that.
M: I love that, yes. That’s fantastic.
Integrating your values with your business
Alison: You have so much to learn and this is just another area. I’ve always said if you trust your platform to share the message of the services you provide, then why can’t you trust it to share your values? You’ve put your whole business on this platform, why can’t it also carry the things that are in your heart, too?
“If you trust your platform to share the message of the services you provide, then why can’t you trust it to share your values?” – Alison Tedford
Melissa: I agree 100%. I think people are so afraid to do that, regardless of what it is that’s most important to them or whatever their core values are. People are afraid to share because they don’t want to repel anybody, but repelling people is the secret sauce, right? It’s the magic because it makes the people that aren’t repelled want to buy from you. Even if you just look at it from a business perspective, and I know that sounds a little bit clinical, but business people are in a game of dollars and cents. If you look at your dollars and cents like sharing your values and making sure that the people that are consuming your content are aligned with those values, then that’s important and that will positively impact your bottom line as well.
A: For sure. The reality is that people are watching and neutrality isn’t something that is necessarily going to be on your side. I saw an interesting spreadsheet being circulated with documentation of all of these top tech companies, the statements they made over time and then how much of their money actually goes to those specific causes.
“People are watching and neutrality isn’t something that is necessarily going to be on your side.” – Alison Tedford
A: Diversity percentages of their staff, all of these things. Basically, this is what they said and this is what they’re doing. This is something that people monitor and use to make purchasing decisions. “Yes. I’m aligned with this person and I feel good about sending them my money.” And the opposite is true where people will say, “I don’t support people who run their businesses in a way that marginalizes others. I don’t want to vote with my dollars for that.” I was personally very nervous about speaking out about all the other things that matter to me. As things were unfolding and I realized this is what I did for my job for over a decade, intercultural communications and education on social history issues, I knew this is my area, and I shouldn’t be judged for it. I wasn’t sure how that was going to go for my business. I was running a pretty generic marketing practice. I was vaguely interesting and I connected well with people, but it gave people the opportunity to get to know me and understand where I stood with things. Then people wanted to work with me for that reason. I have people that reached out and said, “I heard you’re all about inclusive marketing, and that’s what I want for my business.”
M: It’s true.
You don’t have to be an expert, just get started
Melissa: You were the first person I thought to contact when I wanted to produce a DEI statement that made sense and mattered. It’s not your entire identity, though. I think it’s important to note that if you are a white creator or white business owner working with an Indigenous woman, a Black woman or any member of the BIPOC community that is doing this DEI work, make sure that you’re not making that their entire being. Everybody that we’re interacting with has so many facets to their business. I’m so excited about your new e-commerce, for example. Everybody has multiple facets to their business. Just because there is a Black creator on your feed speaking out about social justice and racism, for example, that’s not necessarily their entire brand identity. When we’re growing our networks and engaging with people and doing this work to dismantle inherent barriers and separations that may have existed historically, I think it’s important to keep that lens. You, Alison, do fantastic work in the equality and inclusion space but you also have so many other things going on. We’ve had so many wonderful conversations about dating, motherhood, schools, apartment building construction. We’ve run the whole gamut. Even though you were the first person I thought of when I needed some help with a DEI statement, you bring so many things to the table, just like everybody else. As business owners take on the task of weaving their values throughout their business, it’s important not to tokenize other professionals. That’s pretty much the opposite of what we’re wanting to do here.
“As business owners take on the task of weaving their values throughout their business, it’s important not to tokenize other professionals.” – Melissa Rodgers
Alison: For sure. The other piece of that is that you don’t have to be an expert in an area to talk about it. Do your homework and inform yourself, but you don’t have to get a Ph.D. in Inclusion Issues to have an opinion. You do what you do in the world. You can be somebody who cares about inclusion and talks about it, but you don’t need a degree and you don’t need to specialize in that area. There’s no expectation in that respect. You can start from where you are. You don’t have to put that much pressure on yourself.
M: Totally! I think it’s important to note that the people doing this work professionally have been doing it for way longer than this has been trending on Instagram. This work is heavy and complex and takes a lot of education and understanding. The people we are learning from have been practicing and teaching this, and accumulating this knowledge and expertise for decades. Not just since the average person on Instagram or Facebook has become a little bit more justice-minded.
A: Exactly. The reality is these are things that have been happening in the world for centuries. Now it’s being filmed and talked about more, but when people come to me and say, “Well, do I really have to do this? It’ll blow over.” We’ve been talking about some of these issues for a few hundred years. We probably won’t beat this in a new cycle. So if it’s important to you…
M: Buckle up, Buttercup.
A: There’s still time because we have a lot of work to do.
M: There’s still value in it, too, even if it’s not sensationalized. There will always be value in making people feel included and making other human beings feel safe with your business and with your brand.
“There will always be value in making people feel included and making other human beings feel safe with your business and with your brand.” – Melissa Rodgers
A: Yeah. Then showing up consistently, not just when it’s a crisis. Being that consistent voice that says, “This is where I stand and you’re welcome here.” That’s comforting. That’s showing empathy. There’s never going to be a season where empathy is out. Your audience is never gonna be like, “Ugh she feels me too much!”.
M: That’s true. Thank you so much, this was incredibly insightful.
Alison helps business owners create content and copy, including new specialized diversity statements and communications strategies. Find more information at alisontedford.com.
Her debut book Chronic Profit is available anywhere you buy books.
A. If you’re not doing it already, start sharing more about your beliefs and who you are as a person on your online business platform. It helps your audience get to know you and make purchasing decisions aligned with their beliefs.
B. To start small, you can use your business to financially support a charitable organization or share information about other businesses you want to spotlight.
C. Collaborate with others who are providing education on topics you care about. There are some frameworks in place for this such as the “Pass the Mic” Initiative, but it can also be a genuine collaboration you create yourself.
D. Ask yourself: do the values you hold in your business connect with the values you are sharing in your social feed or your business policies and procedures? Show up consistently in your business.
E. Go beyond self-serving performative actions and do the genuine self-work of allyship and becoming educated. It’s hard work, but you don’t have to be an expert to start.
Thank you so much for joining me for this episode of the Self-Made Mamas Podcast. You can find more information about working with us at theselfmademama.com or connect with us on Instagram at @selfmademama_. I can’t wait to chat.