Q&A with Entrepreneur, Devon Smiley
With her dynamic style and best-in-class expertise, Devon is a sought after guest expert and keynote speaker at conferences and mastermind retreats. From the stage, she not only motivates the audience to embrace negotiation, but also shares strategies that attendees can put into action immediately.
Devon helps corporate clients including JPMorgan Chase, Rolls Royce, and Mars Chocolate improve their negotiation capabilities, as well as supports pro bono partners including The Clinton Foundation, UN Women, and God's Love We Deliver.
1). Can you tell our readers about your background?
Growing up, Negotiation Consultant was definitely not on my list of dream careers. Throughout my undergrad degree, I had my sights set on working in advertising - so it was a happy accident that I found myself building an amazing career in aerospace procurement instead. I negotiated for, and with, Forbes 50 organizations and closed over $5Billion in contracts. It was an amazing way to earn my 'negotiator' stripes.
Whether a deal was worth a few thousand dollars or a few million, success was built on cultivating relationships, knowing how to adapt communication styles, and being rigorous in prep work - and I know that businesses of every size can tap into those skills to get their best results. That’s what I love about negotiation. There’s nothing stuffy or sleazy about it, and you can do it in a way that honors your natural skill set and style.
2). What inspired you to start your business?
In my corporate career, I was initially a front-line negotiator, working directly with vendors. But the work I loved the most was mentoring/coaching junior employees and those who were new to negotiation on how to tackle their upcoming discussions. They’d enter our meeting scared and uncertain, but by the end of our chat they’d have a spark in their eyes and be excited to dive into the negotiation. I wanted to help as many people as possible find that spark, and the confidence in going after what they want and need in business.
3). Where is your business based?
I live in Montreal, Quebec, but travel regularly to work with clients, speak at events, and lead masterclasses. I love that New York is only a hop, skip, and jump away - and that I feel right at home as a regular on the 6:30am flight!
4). How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
While I was still in the corporate world, I created my website and started to blog regularly. It was a great way to explore how I could translate the skills I’d developed into strategies that would help small business owners and entrepreneurs. Finding my voice early on was key! This also helped me establish myself as an expert, so that when I left my corporate job and launched my business full-time, my credibility was evident to clients.
5). What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
In the early days of building my business, being active in Facebook communities was one of the activities with the best ROI for me. Not only did I learn a lot about what to do in business (and what not to do…) but it helped me build a network of entrepreneurs that I clicked with. Visibility in those communities also jumpstarted guest posting, and lead to interview requests - and those have helped me expand awareness to this day.
6). What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
A huge challenge for me was shifting from a behind-the-scenes employee mindset, to putting myself out into the business world. My name. My expertise. My ideas. My - gulp - photograph. I shared during an interview with Nathalie Lussier that for the longest time I used a blurry selfie instead of a crisp headshot, because it felt safer. But it’s when I gave myself a tough talk and got professional photos taken that I started to feel that the work I was doing was real, and important. Getting my first set of pro photos done was a game changer and meant I started pitching larger clients and going after higher-profile speaking opportunities. Definitely worth the initial awkwardness!
7). How do you stay focused?
I’m a big planner, and for the first few years of building my business it was my 12+ month plans that kept me focused and motivated in the work. Now, I still have those long term plans, but find that it’s easier to stay focused on work each day if I stick to monthly or weekly game plans. For the days when work mojo is seriously lacking, I have a file in my emails called ‘sweetness’ with the little love notes I’ve received from readers, subscribers, and clients. Dipping into those gets the fire going again.
8). How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
The field of negotiation is still predominantly male - so being female sets me apart, for starters! The main focus in differentiating myself is ensuring that I help my clients with both the mindset and the strategy of negotiation. There’s a component of my work that relates to helping people change the way they think about money, the value of their work, and building the confidence they need to make their ask, which is important. But what ensures that my clients achieve their best results is pairing that mindset work with solid strategy. How to plan a negotiation, polishing communication skills, and what to do when you’re confronted with a sticky situation. That mindset + strategy combination is at the core of how I teach negotiation.
9). What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Networking, networking, networking! In-person when I can, but otherwise online. It’s those connections that will help down the line in asking for referrals, pitching clients, and going after opportunities to expand reach.
10). What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Embrace your expertise. I spent far too long in the early days of my business shying away from the word ‘negotiation’ and trying to use any word other than that to describe what I did for clients. I wish I’d stepped up and embraced it earlier - after all, if hearing the word negotiation scares you...that’s a sign you need to work with me!
11). What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
My favorite app is Instagram because it lets me share both my work side, and give followers a glimpse into what lights me up other than negotiation.
My go-to blogs right now are Jess Freeman at www.jesscreatives.com (she shares great tutorials and is now my first stop instead of Google when I’m trying to figure something out) and RM Harrison at www.rm-harrison.com (she has an amazing way of helping readers tap into what their expertise is, and when I need help re-focusing what I’m doing in my business, I head straight there.)
12). What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
About 18 months ago, I made the switch over to ConvertKit and have loved it. The platform makes it easy to implement best practices in email marketing, instead of having to find odd workarounds or hacks to get the tech to cooperate. Far less stress on that front than with my previous platforms.
13). Who is your business role model? Why?
Tara Gentile - hands down. I’ve been following her for years and love that even as her business has grown, it still feels very genuine. She packs a ton of value into each of her articles, guides and webinars. No fluff or filler.
14). What do you have planned for the next six months?
The next few months are a delightful combination of ‘taking it to the next level’ to help a greater number of small business owners, and ‘bringing it back to basics’ in working with clients directly. I’ve got a book in the works, based on the #maketheask movement. I’m excited to distill the mindset + strategy work I do with clients into a book that will make negotiation accessible to a broader audience. I’m also in the process of re-developing my offers for 1:1 work with clients and creating a small-group program.
15). How can our readers connect with you?
My blog is a great place to start, and home to articles, resources, and The Smiley Session video series. www.devonsmiley.com
I also publish a Friday Letter each week where I share negotiation tips, tricks and strategies. www.bit.ly/dmsweekly
Instagram and Twitter: @DevonMSmiley #maketheask