Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a very good year for CMR Communications.
In December 2019, I had 2 retainer clients – a lobbying firm and a co-working site – and 2 prospects. I was negotiating a contract with the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany (NABA) as a grantwriter and had just entered into talks with the NYS Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Coalition for a 3-month gig to manage their annual meeting at the end of March.
When the pandemic hit, I quickly lost the original two clients, but NABA needed me more than ever as they applied for COVID response grants. In addition to having to convert many of their services to virtual delivery, they quickly retooled their production operation to fabricate cloth masks and help check the spread of Coronavirus among some of New York’s most vulnerable residents. NABA provides a full range of services to people who are blind or visually impaired, helping them to achieve or maintain their independence. NABA never turns anyone away and are the only agency for the blind in New York providing services to incarcerated individuals.
The NYS CDFI Coalition annual meeting was canceled 2 weeks before it happened, but my contract was redrawn from event coordinator to Consulting Executive Director. CDFIs all around the state responded to community needs as conduits for Payroll Protection Program loans and began to offer online technical assistance and other webinars as businesses tried to weather the shutdown. We took on the cause of the NYS Small Business Truth in Lending Act to protect borrowers from predatory lending and celebrated when the Governor signed the bill into law on December 23. And we transformed our 2-day in-person annual meeting to a series of webinars and panel discussions throughout the fall.
Just before the New York pause, in February, I met with a prospective client, the NYS Kinship Navigator. The Kinship Navigator is an information, referral and advocacy program for kinship caregivers - individuals caring for children who are not biologically their own. For those of you following this blog, you know that while they wanted to hire me, they needed to hire a Minority/Women’s Business Enterprise. I had planned to seek certification after a year in business (effectively, February 2020) and was certified as a WBE in record time, in May, 2020. I began working on outreach for the Kinship Navigator that same month.
In October, I received a call from one of the board members of the NYS CDFI Coalition, the Executive Director of the Leviticus Fund. He was looking to fill a newly created position of Resource Development Officer, but needed someone with certain communications, fundraising and membership management skills, and with knowledge of the CDFI industry. I said, “well, that sounds a lot like me!” In December, I took on the tasks of increasing resources to support Leviticus’ work, including membership expansion, advancing initiatives to secure investments from faith-based colleges and universities, and developing and implementing a Legacy Fund.
When I look back on the 2nd anniversary of launching CMR Communications in January, I’ll do so with a profound sense of gratitude and wonder. How is it that in just 2 years, I’ve built a portfolio of clients who are all working – among different constituencies – to make the world a better place? Whether advocating for people with blindness; or children whose parents are unable to care for them; or the banks, credit unions and community foundations that invest in underserved neighborhoods and businesses; my clients are all bending that long arc of history toward justice. I am honored to be working with them.
I firmly believe that 2021 will give us all an opportunity to redouble our efforts to make our world a more peaceful and equitable place – at local, statewide, national and international levels. What are your intentions for 2021? Drop me a line! Let’s make small talk.
Have you found it easier or harder to carve time out to read this year?
I’ve been a member of Goodreads for a couple of years and I set a goal of 24 books for 2020. This was before the pandemic, and before everyone’s work patterns changed. While I find my work hours bleeding into “after hours,” I still try to set aside time to read for pleasure.
Looking for some statistics on reading for pleasure among adults, I found the UK devotes far more effort to studies of the topic than the US. According to a report from The Reading Agency:
Research finds that reading for pleasure can result in increased empathy, improved relationships with others, reductions in the symptoms of depression and dementia, and improved wellbeing.
In addition to the health benefits, reading for pleasure has social benefits and can improve our sense of connectedness to the wider community. Reading increases our understanding of our own identity, improves empathy and gives us an insight into the world view of others.
The biggest change in my reading habits is what constitutes reading for pleasure. As CMR Communications’ niche has evolved to focus on association and grants management support for nonprofits serving disadvantaged or vulnerable populations, my reading list has come to reflect that!
Here’s a sample of what I’ve read in 2020, in no particular order:
What have you been reading – for pleasure or otherwise? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
Communications Law with Mary Alice Molgard was one of the classes at the College of St. Rose that most intimidated me.
My paper, titled “The Fairness Doctrine: FCC Regulations and the First Amendment” is undated, but since Mary Alice joined the faculty in 1985, it was likely written between 1986 and 1988. In fact, the FCC abolished the doctrine by a 4–0 vote on August 5, 1987, and I did my internship at Sawchuk Brown Associates that fall, so I’m going to guess I wrote this as a junior in Fall ‘86 or Spring ‘87.
The opening paragraph is pictured above, and you can read all 11 pages of my Baby Writer glory here. (I got an A!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fairness Doctrine lately. The American political landscape is deeply divided with each side thinking the other is not only wrong but very likely evil.
In January 2019, Kevin M. Kruse and Julian Zelizer of the Washington Post wrote an article titled “How Policy Decisions Spawned Today’s Hyperpolarized Media,” subtitled “The demise of the Fairness Doctrine played an underappreciated role in fomenting media tribalism.”
The article makes very clear that American broadcasting history rests on the fulcrum of the Fairness Doctrine.
“In 1987, the FCC announced that it would no longer enforce the Fairness Doctrine. The Democratic Congress tried to restore the doctrine, but Reagan vetoed the bill.
“Almost overnight, the media landscape was transformed. The driving force was talk radio. In 1960, there were only two all-talk radio stations in America; by 1995, there were 1,130. While television news on the old networks and the cable upstart CNN still adhered to the standard of objectivity, radio emerged as a wide-open landscape.”
And it’s not just talk radio. The article continues:
“Cable television had never been subject to the Fairness Doctrine, and, indeed, its growth had been a key rationale for ending the policy. But it was transformed by the changes all the same. Seeing the massive audiences that conservative talk radio attracted, cable television entrepreneurs realized that they, too, could thrive by providing the news from a partisan perspective. In 1996, Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, placing Roger Ailes in charge of the operation. A longtime media consultant for Republicans, Ailes had worked on both of George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaigns and then produced Limbaugh’s television program from 1992 to 1996.”
And now, 20 years on, we have social media to contend with. It's a step in the right direction for Twitter and Facebook to slap warning labels on “untruths” from the President – whether about the election or the pandemic – but maybe it’s time to consider replacing some of the guardrails on public discourse.
What do you think? Is it time to revisit the Fairness Doctrine? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
Due to the ongoing uncertainty of these times, my blog posts will now by headed with a question rather than an exclamation. 😊
When I worked for an organization, I often thought of time off as kind of a joke. I tried to get as much buttoned down before leaving as I could, and then spent the first few days back in the office digging out. Even so, I planned on it and I took it.
Now that I work for myself, I find it very hard to take time off. Especially because I work at home, I find myself checking email constantly, and there’s very little disincentive to sitting down at my desk at all hours of the day – or night.
According to an April 2019 article on the SCORE website,
Having your own business has many upsides. Being able to work for yourself, building an asset, calling the shots – those are all powerful motivators.
But the reality is a little less glamorous. Small business owners work hard – everybody knows that. But how hard they work might scare some people off.
One survey from New York Enterprise Report found that small business owners work twice as much as regular employees.
It’s becoming harder and harder to unplug, even for a short period of time. Even Camp Ryan at Lake George has broadband. Trust me, I’m not complaining, I was glad to be able to Zoom with the chirping in the pine trees outside the kitchen window this summer!
The article concluded:
Despite the long hours, most business owners aren’t complaining. Only 9% of them said the workload is the most difficult part of owning a small business. And 70% of them said owning a small business is the best job they’ve ever had.
I’m firmly in that 70%. But I’m wondering how my fellow solopreneurs take time off without feeling like they’re abandoning their clients!
What’s your time off strategy? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
I’ve never had the kind of job where my employment was effectively guaranteed. I’ve always served “at the pleasure of.”
That's what's really challenging about a global pandemic. Nothing is guaranteed.
Through good connections, a modicum of hustle and a track record of delivering results, I’ve found the sweet spot for CMR Communications. I have 3 major clients – think of them as Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear – and their combination is JUST RIGHT.
Between those three clients and a few ad hoc projects, I have enough work to keep me busy, and gross earnings comparable to what I was making before I started the business.
But even though I actually picked up a client during the pandemic, the worry is always out there … what if I were to lose a client?
I don’t want to put feelers out for additional work and then find that I can’t deliver. That’s not fair to the prospective client, my existing clients, or my own mental health.
Still, I don’t want to get complacent about promoting my business and find myself with a hole in my income projections.
How do *you* deal with uncertainty? Whether it’s about your client base, a vaccine, or the political climate – drop me a line! Let’s make small talk.
PS: Here’s an article from Wired magazine about dealing with the uncertainty of the Coronavirus.
If you’re like me, every other email, Facebook post or text message is asking for money.
Whether for a worthy local cause, for a political underdog, or to support an organization that helps advance your goals, seems like someone always wants to put their hand in your pocket!
In May, 2017, the Pew Research Center noted:
Americans are increasingly likely to make political donations, with the share of adults who say they have donated directly to candidates doubling since 1992, according to data from American National Election Studies (ANES). Political donations from individuals represent a large share of campaign funding: In the 2016 election cycle, 71% of Hillary Clinton’s fundraising total and 40% of Donald Trump’s came from individual contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Last week. after I gave to a GoFundMe promoted by Capital District Border Watch and Ice-Free Capital District, two organizations I worked with a year ago on “Lights for Liberty,” I decided I wanted to be more strategic with my donations.
So, I set up a spreadsheet called “Political Kitty” with the dollar amount that I set aside for non-charitable contributions for 2020. I keep a running tally of the donations I’ve made. So far, I’ve given $136, ranging from $5 to $46. (Two notes – this is not tracking tax-deductible contributions nor tickets to fundraisers – for local candidates or causes – that we support or attend.)
I want to make sure I keep an eye on where I’m making my (admittedly small) investments. We’re going to need to mobilize every resource this year to turn things around.
Ultimately, this is an effort to more effectively leverage my privilege. I’m not worried about making rent or buying nourishing food. So – I’m asking myself – how can I best direct my financial resources to foster a more just and equitable world? I know I have work to do, but I hope this spreadsheet will be a first step.
So, are you taking any steps – no matter how seemingly inconsequential – to make sure we don’t just survive until 2021, but are poised to #BuildBackBetter? Do you have any tips to share? Drop me a line and let’s make #SmallTalk!
I understand that we’re all dealing with the COVID-19 fallout differently. I know that people are tired of being shut in. I shouldn’t expect peace and quiet living in a densely populated urban neighborhood. But lately I’ve realized … I fear the WORLD OF ONE.
When people play their music super loud, or refuse to wear a mask in a store, or ride up and down Lark Street on dirtbikes and ATVs running red lights and doing wheelies, I have a visceral, fight or flight reaction. That worries me - the constant flooding of my body with cortisol. I know it takes a toll, just not sure how or when that toll will manifest. When my husband says, "why do you let it bother you, just don't listen!" Is that a thing? Because saying "just don't listen" to me is like saying "just don't breathe." Not an option.
I realize that many communities are dealing with motorcycles and fireworks - and loud, booming bass on cars. My husband said, "I like to listen to my music loud, but never that loud," and I said, "THAT'S BECAUSE *THAT LOUD* WASN'T EVEN INVENTED IN THE 80s!" I'll admit to getting old and cranky, but advanced audio tech has made it possible to play music at ear-shattering, solar plexus hammering levels. Why? For whom was that created? I guess that's part of my worry ... this need to be *exceptional* - to "share" your music, use the speakerphone while waiting for the bus, drink a beer in the middle of Lark Street - without any consideration for the rest of the people on the planet.
And then I read an article that used the term “toxic individualism” – and thought – THAT’S IT! Where has our sense of the collective good, of altruism gone? In my small way, through my clients, I feel that I am working for a more just world. This is a historic moment, and we’re all experiencing it differently. I understand that I’m experiencing it from a place of great privilege, and that the things that irritate me are just that, irritants - not actual threats to my life.
Speaking of historic moments, I’ve been looking forward to watching the Hamilton movie and signed up for a month of Disney+. (You know, to see what a Broadway musical could teach us about fighting oppression???) A few days ago, I got sucked down the rabbit hole of watching President Obama introduce the cast performance of Hamilton at the White House. Remembering how wise, and generous, and kind a President could be.
So, I need to keep focused on finding joy where I can and try to manage stress and commit to taking better care of myself. It's not enough to just get through whatever comes in the next few months. I don't think it's going to be pretty. We must be strong enough on the other side to #BuildBackBetter.
Dear Colleen Ryan – Congratulations on your certification with the NYS MWBE Program. Your firm is now certified and published to the Directory of certified firms.
I got this email on May 14 and I’m pretty sure the whole neighborhood heard me w00t! With certification in hand, I was able to bring on a new client, right in the middle of a global pandemic.
The NYS Kinship Navigator is an information, referral and education program for kinship caregivers in New York State. A kinship caregiver is an individual that is caring for a child that is not biologically their own. In New York State, there are an estimated 131,000 caregivers caring for approximately 195,000 children.
The Navigator assists caregivers by providing information on financial assistance, legal matters and referrals, and other types of issues that caregivers face when raising children in order to provide stability and permanency in the home.
Because Smalbany, this client came to me by way of a referral from a friend, David McNally. David is the New York Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy for AARP and has worked for several years with Kinship Navigator staff.
I met David in 1990, when I went to work as a writer for the New York State Assembly, in what was then called House Operations. He was the Coordinator of the Southern Tier team that did communications work for Assemblyman Marty Luster, who served from 1988 – 2002. He sponsored a number of bills on children’s issues, including, if I’m not mistaken, an early effort to help grandparents who were caring for their grandchildren.
I’ll be working with the folks from Kinship Navigator on outreach, to help get the word out about their program and enhance participation. Of course, I’ll be reaching out to members of the NYS Assembly and Senate, so they have the tools they need to help their constituents.
It all comes full circle, doesn’t it?
What’s your latest Smalbany moment? Drop me a line – let’s make #SmallTalk!
UPDATE: On Thursday, May 14, I was certified by NYS as a Women's Business Enterprise!
After uploading 28 attachments back in February, on April 28, I got an email with 11 additional requests.
In a few cases, it was a slight do-over of something I had already sent, but there were a number of new documents I had to provide. These included:
Of course, this would require a lot of legwork under normal circumstances, but during a pandemic, it took more than a week to get that letter from SEFCU.
According to my Harvest Time Tracker, I spent an additional 9.44 hours on gathering and producing these documents. I told my husband, “I think this is how they weed out the weak.”
I hope that once these documents are reviewed, I’ll quickly be certified!
How are you holding up? Drop me a line and I’ll carve out some time to make #SmallTalk!
Updated on 5/9 to add: On Wednesday 5/6, I received an email from a Senior Certification Analyst in the Senior Certification Analyst in the Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development for Empire State Development to confirm that CMR Communications would have the following codes in the NYS Contract System: Marketing consulting services; Communications marketing services; Grant writing services. With these codes confirmed, my application will be sent to a committee for the final stage of the review process. Fingers crossed!
So, we’re on our third week of working from home, and everyone’s learning to Zoom!
Whether you’re meeting with your team via Zoom, Skype, or just a plain-old conference call, I saw a list in the Albany Business Review that I thought was worth sharing.
According to Mary Abbajay, President and co-founder, Careerstone Group, LLC, “Everybody hates [conference calls] because no one knows how to run them.” She continued that when a conference call is poorly run, people are “eating, texting … going to the bathroom … working out … taking other calls, because you’re not engaging them.”
Here’s my take on some of her tips for better conference calls:
The thing is, I’ve been working from home for over a year now, so while it’s new for a lot of you, I’m used to it. As I said to the friendly neighborhood CPA who prepared my taxes, “I don’t see what the big deal is, I’m wearing the same jammies that I was last week!”
I realize that I’m luckier than most, with a full office setup. Further, I’m not trying to oversee distance learning for children, so I can actually focus on work. My husband has only telecommuted a few times, but I hope he’ll soon be able to join me hunkered down at home.
So, how are you holding up? Do you have any tips to share for seasoned – or newbie - work-at-homers? Drop me a line and let’s make #SmallTalk!
PS: That’s ZOOM, Z double-O M, box 350, Boston Mass, 0 – 2 – 1 – 3 – 4 – send it to ZOOM!
Colleen M. Ryan is an