Mari Smith: The Story Behind The Lady
Mari Smith is a phenomenon in my eyes, and I’m sure for lots of other people too. Her warm and approachable persona comes across on Social Media which is a feat in itself as it can often be blamed for hiding a true personality. Having grown a large following on all the Social Media platforms Mari still finds time to deal with queries and replies personally despite having a busy schedule with public speaking, writing books, tv appearances and much more.
To my immense pleasure Mari agreed to be interviewed by me so I wanted to find out more about her life behind the scenes, growing up in Scotland and the move to America, how she manages to be so hands on with her online communications and what is next on the Mari Smith agenda.
Kootenay Lake, British Columbia then Edinburgh, Scotland and now San Diego – what differences (or similarities) do you find having lived in each?
My family and I lived in a really remote place in BC called Argenta; it was a small Quaker community – my dad was the local baker and we had a small farm. I didn’t truly appreciate my childhood until later in life; looking back as an adult with 20/20 vision, I can see how special and idyllic it was. As a child, I often felt very different from the other kids in school. My folks didn’t have much money and my dad could be real eccentric.
When my dad, sisters and I moved to Edinburgh in the late 70’s, it was a big culture shock. Everything was just so different. I felt even more of a misfit at school and was painfully shy. However, as I got into my teen years, I sure appreciated being in a big city vs. small rural town. I loved going out to party and shop! I also loved to vacation in the Mediterranean with friends each year. I would save up all year just to enjoy a couple weeks in the summer laying on the white sandy beaches, enjoying the sunshine, blue skies, and palm trees (not to mention the all night partying. ha!)
Now that I live in San Diego, there are many times that I still have to pinch myself. Here I am living in a beautiful city with gorgeous beaches, sunshine, blue skies and palm trees 365 days a year. The exact type of setting that I used to save up all year just to enjoy for two weeks. I absolutely love San Diego. The city feels so much like home to me. Even though I have a strong allegiance to Canada, having been born there (and my mom and step-dad and two of my four sisters live there). And I’ll always have an incredible bond with Scotland, Edinburgh in particular. I swear I have ‘tartan blood.’ LOL.
What are your favourite memories from your 20 years living in Scotland?
Hm, this was age 12-32 for me. I have many fond memories of different jobs, special friends, vacations, and time with family. But there was a lot of struggle along the way. My dad was a single parent, raising five girls on his own and ten years went by before I saw my mom again. I did well at school with great grades, but left at the earliest possible opportunity. I was 15 going on 16 but my peers were all a year older because I had skipped a grade in elementary school back in Canada.
I couldn’t wait to get out into the workforce and earn my own money. I then left home when I was 18 and bought my first apartment. (I’m not sure why I didn’t just rent!) I have a fierce independent streak and wanted to grow up fast! I have a strong work ethic and have been blessed with many great jobs/careers, from secretarial to sales.
You moved to San Diego from the UK in 1999 with next to nothing – how did you then become an entrepreneur?
It’s often said that the definition of luck is “when preparation meets opportunity.” Throughout all of 1998, I was putting together comprehensive plans to launch my own personal and professional development training company and then the invitation to move to San Diego landed in my lap completely out of the blue. It was a defining moment in life; I just absolutely knew with every cell of my being that I was supposed to emigrate.
Prior to that, from the time I started working at age 15, I had always been an employee. It never occurred to me to start my own business; I thought I preferred the security of a paycheck. However, one clue of my desire to be more of a freelancer was that I often worked for staffing agencies in temporary placements; I liked the variety and never got bored. I worked at many law firms throughout Edinburgh. Some jobs gave me a lot of freedom and perks included a company car and cell phone as I traveled from city to city giving demonstrations of legal software.
When I got to the U.S., I had very little money and knew only one person. I came with two suitcases and sheer determination. Within six short weeks, I’d met an awesome immigration attorney and a wonderful new friend who ended up sponsoring me (getting a work visa). I helped her company with internet marketing and ecommerce. From there I just kept going in the direction of my own consulting and training business.
You lived out of an RV on the road running your business for a while – have you any funny stories from that experience?
I was married from 2001-2009. In 2007, my then husband and I decided to put all our belongings in storage and travel around in an RV… which we did for 18 months. We explored mostly the west coast U.S. and Canada and enjoyed many of the glorious national parks, along with three months in Alaska. The timing happened to coincide with when I got on Facebook and quickly became an evangelist for the site and rapidly began expanding my online marketing consulting and training business.
So, throughout the time on the road, our travels always had to be carefully organized around my webinars, teleseminars and coaching calls. I needed decent internet connection. In the movie, “RV,” at one point Robin Williams’ character has to stand on top of a roof to try and get a better cell signal. I often felt like that.
What is a typical day in the life of Mari Smith now?
I’m fortunate to work from my beautiful home office in a semi rural area of north east San Diego county. I have a small core team of local support staff who work remotely as well as from my home office several days a week. So, a typical day for me is usually spent in front of the computer for many hours teaching classes via webinars, leading conference calls for clients, creating more information products, strategy planning, writing, being active on social sites, and responding to emails.
I work long hours but then periodically take time out to enjoy what I call a “digital fast.” That is, where I completely unplug from all technology and typically go on a spiritual retreat for three days. I also take time each day for my exercise regime, to listen to an inspirational audio program, to spend time in nature (I love my garden!) and to connect with friends.
Mentoring businesses, public speaking, training, writing books, tv appearances – which would be your favourite and why?
I really love public speaking — it’s magical to be able to move a room, share knowledge and connect deeply with others. There is no amount of sophisticated technology that will ever take the place of real, live, in-person connecting. I would say in-person networking, speaking and attending events can dramatically augment any business’s online success. So, the next best thing to in-person, is live video, which is why I love doing live webinars (or live TV!).
You seem to connect and reply to everyone on Social Media – how do you manage this consistently?
I certainly do my best. Some days I’m not able to respond to everyone and it actually really bothers me, but there are only so many hours in a day! Many years ago, Chris Hardwick, a fellow presenter at a Twitter conference said that “Twitter isn’t something that you set aside time to ‘do’ each day; rather, you ‘grout’ your day with Twitter.” What he meant by that is when you just do a minute or two here and there of reading, posting, sharing and engaging via mobile apps, it adds up to a lot at the end of the day. This approach explains perfectly what I do pretty much every day mostly on Facebook and Twitter, with a bit of Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest thrown in.
I’m the only one that speaks through my Twitter account @marismith. However, on Facebook, I figured out a way to scale my engagement by creating an additional fan page called Team Mari and I’ve assigned several admins. My team then logs in as Team Mari and is able to reply to fan posts on my main Mari Smith fan page. I still get in there and respond to comments, but the added help makes a world of difference and probably saves me as much as two hours a day!
Do you believe there are there any drawbacks about using Social Media for business?
Probably the biggest drawback is the incredible drain on time and resources. For companies of all sizes, it can be incredibly unwieldy to properly manage the firehose of information, posts and questions. Not to mention the constantly changing technology and how overwhelmed people feel trying to keep up.
The secret is to set up systems (such as my Team Mari moderator community fan page mentioned in above), and to shift your relationship to what is truly possible. In other words, I recommend selecting only two social platforms on which to be active daily. That’s it. On all the rest, simply have an optimized profile and do your best to add content and engage maybe 2-3 times a week.
One other drawback is proper control of your brand, reputation and messaging. This does relate to resources, though. With Google alerts and other effective monitoring tools in place, even a limited staff can manage response times and effectively deal with any negative situations.
Have you any exciting projects in the pipeline that you can share with us?
My passion is education. I have long wanted to have an organization that focuses on providing high quality training and certification programs. I did launch a social media association with a business partner back in 2009 and it did well for six months; however, due to unfortunate circumstances I chose to shut it down. Now, I won’t say I’m working on a new association per se, but I’m certainly working on addressing that growing need for quality social media education for the masses. Stay tuned.
This has been my favourite interview to date – and I thought the rest were all great too – but I particularly enjoyed hearing about the background with Mari growing up in Scotland, especially as I was growing up at the same time just down the road in Wales! I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed researching for the questions. I’m sure that Mari will welcome any comments here and knowing her will probably get around to replying to them herself.
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