Propel Your Small Business Forward: An Interview With Whitney Keyes

By Randi Zuckerberg

December 12, 2017 6 min read

Whitney Keyes is a forward-thinking marketing consultant to thousands of businesses around the world through the U.S. Department of State's programs to empower female entrepreneurs in Malaysia, Kenya and Namibia. Keyes serves as a fellow for the Center for Strategic Communications and a professor of global reputation management at Seattle University. She is also on the board of the National Women's Business Council and the author of "Propel: Five Ways to Amp Up Your Marketing and Accelerate Business."

That's why I support this woman's work.

1) Where did your love of small businesses led by women begin?

My love for small businesses led by women evolved in two ways. First, I have to give my family credit for helping to cultivate my passion for business. One of my great-grandfathers was a doctor who cared for patients in his home, and his wife helped him manage the family medical practice. Another great-grandfather owned a major department store. The entrepreneurship genes were clearly passed down, because growing up, my parents worked as art professors but also managed two small businesses — a wholesale pottery studio and a retail art gallery.

My interest in issues impacting women in business comes from being one. As a young girl, I saw firsthand how my mom struggled with work-life balance issues every day. She tried to successfully run our two family businesses while also making sure we all had a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner. She was impacted by the family businesses in very different ways than my father. I started my career in the family companies but then went on to work in government, for Microsoft and eventually start my own consulting firm.

I've had the opportunity to work with women entrepreneurs in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world through my work with the U.S. Department of State. Wherever my work has taken me, I've seen women struggling with the same issues — low self-esteem, not earning what we are worth, not landing leadership positions, getting spread too thin, etc. A mixture of issues hold us back that range from cultural values to perceptions in the media to how we treat one another. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of the world's nations have never had a woman leader, and in the countries where women have led, most haven't held that position of power for long. Women need more role models and examples of other women as leaders to imagine what's possible for themselves. So there is much to be done, and I'm excited to be a part of the movement to help empower women entrepreneurs around the world.

2) How important is challenge to you in your work?

I'm at my best when I'm working in an environment where the path is a bit unknown and might even be blocked by obstacles that seem insurmountable. I'm an optimist at heart, so all I can see before me is a new adventure full of possibilities. I roll up my sleeves and start exploring new options.

In reflecting back on my career, nearly every position required that I was a pioneer of sorts. When faced with a challenge, there's an opportunity to test, experiment and problem-solve to find the right solution. I'm curious, love to learn and eagerly dive into tackling new things. Successfully facing a challenge requires innovative ideas, an agile approach, strategic thinking and a sense of humor. I find that a challenge always brings a sense of purpose, deeper focus and more meaning to the work that I do.

3) When should small businesses rethink their marketing strategies?

I'm of the thinking that if it isn't broken, you don't have to fix it. For example, there's a small restaurant near the University of Washington in my hometown of Seattle called A Taste of India. Best chai tea, butter chicken and naan bread in town, I might add. The owner, Mohammed, takes a very simple approach to marketing. One thing he does is run coupons in UW's print newspaper to reach the college students.

While this may seem old-school (pun intended) in this day and age of Instagram and mobile apps, his straightforward approach works. Lines of student customers practically wrap around the block every night to get into his restaurant. He knows who his customers are, what they want (discounts on good food) and where to reach them.

But if what you are doing isn't working, if you struggle to get customers to your website, if no one is coming into your gift store, if you're speaking at events and no one is showing up to hear you, you've got to shake things up and try something different immediately. This is why having a clear marketing plan to support your financial goals is so important.

Randi Zuckerberg is the founder of Zuckerberg Media, a best-selling author and the host of a weekly business show on SiriusXM, "Dot Complicated." To find out more about Randi Zuckerberg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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