The next interview in my series is of Saya Hillman, a woman who has always impressed me with her passion for her business and her ability to just make it work. Her company Mac & Cheese productions creates unique experiences for adults; where people connect, face their fears, create community, participate and grow. She is the master of networking and social media, and has been written up publications such as Huffington Post and Forbes. Read her story and hear some of her marketing, business and social media tips below:
1 – Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Grew up in Evanston, IL, majored in English and Sociology at Boston College, and have been in Chicago my adult-life.
2 – How did Mac & Cheese productions get started? Can you explain a little bit more about what you offer?
Got fired from my last 9 to 5 job. Decided I never wanted a boss again. Nine years later, haven’t looked back!
3 – What has been the most effective way for you to market such a unique business? What have tried that didn’t work as well?
Word of mouth, word of mouth, word of mouth. I haven’t spent any money on marketing or advertising. 100% referrals and WOM.
These happen in various ways –
- Someone tells someone about me/my business/my website verbally
- Someone shares a link I post/tweet, whether it’s about my business or not, doesn’t matter; when people see the name of my company or read my twitter bio, they’re intrigued and seek out more info
- I go to tons of events and usually go solo. By events, I don’t mean traditional networking events. I loathe those. I mean storytelling fests, board game nights, gallery walks, conferences, underground supper clubs. Someone will ask what I do, I give them a few sentences and then 45 mins later, they’re still asking me questions and totally into what I’m saying; then they’ll ask for my card and eventually sign up for my various offerings.
- Someone goes to my website for one thing and ends up looking at/signing up for other things.
- Someone comes to an event of mine and ends up loving it and thus signing up for other events.
- I send out a twice-monthly newsletter, about 85% not about my business. Just random goodness I stumble upon or that’s shared with me, such as job openings, activity suggestions, referrals, grant opportunities, health tips, frugality tips, travel tips, etc. Two key things — it doesn’t come across as me self-promoting myself (even though I am) and people forward it to others all the time, getting me new sign-ups all the time.
- Having a business that’s different, that sticks out, and that resonates. The fact that I require you come solo to many of my offerings and the fact that I do many of them out of my home is different and attractive. I liken what I do to “adult summer camp” which elicits uber-positive vibes from folks. And what I focus on are issues that are universal — wanting to belong, finding authentic relationships (romantic, social, professional), challenging oneself in a stretching yet comfortable way, injecting more play and laughter into life, spending your time doing what you love.
- Creating strategic partnerships with others who have similar yet different networks than mine. Similar in that they want the same thing, have the same type of personality, but different in that there’s not a lot of overlap of clientele. Doing cross-promotion and/or collaboration with these partners.
Put your website and perhaps something a bit more about your business in your signature; such an easy non-obtrusive way to market yourself
4 – You’re quite vocal of your love of social media. What is your favorite social media outlet, and do you have any social media tips, tricks or etiquette advice?
All good for different purposes. Facebook is more personal (at least my personal account is; I don’t become friends with people who aren’t actually my friends). Twitter is more business.
Ones I use regularly: Facebook business page and personal page, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
Though that’s kind of a lie. I don’t go on LinkedIn or Twitter much but it LOOKS like I do. This is because I use Hootsuite to send out most of my social media, where you can send out one post to multiple outlets. Huge time-saver!
I also post a Cheese-It Break every day at the same time. It’s just a quote, usually inspirational or funny. The amount of likes and shares this gets me is huge. And the more of those you get, the more exposure you get.
Etiquette: if you ask someone to promote something of yours, make it as easy as possible. Send them all the copy they need, including handles, hashtags, websites, etc. If you want them to tweet, send them a tweet, and make sure it’s 140 characters or less. Can’t tell you how many people ask me to promote something, send me a PDF that I have to download and then pick out the pertinent info, create the material and then share. If you make me work, chances are I won’t.
4 – You’ve also had quite a bit of impressive press from Huffington Post to Forbes. How do you find all these press opportunities? Where do you hope to be featured next?
When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you become a magnet for goodness! Almost all of my press has fallen in my lap. Sunday NYT, Crain’s, Forbes, Tribune — word of mouth. A few press items came out the more traditional way of a press release or me emailing an editor/producer, but I’d say 95% of it came knocking on my door. Have something that’s unique and fun and inspiring, press will find you!
5 – What would you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
I took a non-traditional route to self-employment – no MBA, no capital, no connections, no specific skills – and have managed to cobble together a life I wouldn’t change for the world, where I spend the majority of my time doing what I want to do, I wake up via the sun not an alarm, and I get to go to Trader Joe’s, yoga, and the post-office Tuesday 10AM.
6 – What are your goals for the future?
Expansion. More of what I do here in Chicago and also taking what I already offer to other cities. My husband does Workplace Improv and Improv for Non-Improvisers, and we collaborate well together. The dream is for both of us to take the show on the road, to workshift, which we can do because nothing of what we offer is location-based. Move to another city for three months, six months. Then return back to Chicago for a bit. Then back on the road.
Figure out passive income streams so we can make money while we’re not working.
Many have asked me about a book over the years. I think I’m finally ready to start writing.