For this week’s Members Corner blog, we are pleased to introduce a friend, a mentor, and a recent member of the Avontage community, Ashley Bright of Ashley Bright Presents. Ashley is an amazing storyteller and a respected communication coach in the local tech community. He is very generous with his time and enjoys helping local startup companies to hone in their messaging and pitch. We highly recommend reading this blog thoroughly as there are numerous nuggets of knowledge and wisdom in Ashley’s story.
Ashley is a father, entrepreneur and passionate storyteller.
After 16 years as a Creative Director in the design and marketing industry, he understood the power of storytelling as a tool to inspire, persuade, and connect with people. And he firmly believes success for each of us starts with being able to tell our story.
In 2013 he founded Ashley Bright Presents. Through workshops, one-on-one coaching and speaking engagements he empowers leaders and teams in the nonprofit, business and design community with skills to confidently communicate their ideas and achieve their goals.
To date, he’s helped his clients raise over $2,000,000 to fund their ideas, grow their business and increase their impact.
We are excited to have him join our community and can’t wait to see how you guys tap into such a great resource to help grow your businesses.
Please help us welcome Ashley and check out his Offer on Avontage at 1-on-1 Pitch Coaching Session.
To get to know Ashley better, we asked him the following questions:
Tell us about your background, hometown, family, hobbies, passions.
I’m the product of an artist and a salesman. I didn’t see it at the time, but no doubt my parents were a big influence on my pursuing a career that was always connected to art, beauty, and communication in one form or another.
Born in Toronto, but I grew up in Vancouver. As a kid I did the usual team sports, soccer and hockey were chief amongst them, but through all of it, I was drawing. Early on my subjects were the usual planes, trains, and automobiles, but as I got older that shifted to characters, logos and illustration. An early hint at my future career in design and marketing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As a teenager, I got into skateboarding, and that became my everything for the next 8 years. As a result, my interests in music, fashion, and pop culture followed suit. I loved being on the fringes of society, as a skateboarder at the time, you were one step above a criminal.
At a certain point, I realized I loved film and anything to do with narrative. TV shows, documentaries, film, and advertising. Little did I realize at the time that advertising or more specifically short-form storytelling would become a passion that impacted my education, career, and life.
My love of art and beauty lead to a 4-year college studying graphic design and illustration in Vancouver. But while there I met several professors who’d attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. So you guessed it, after graduating I moved to LA and attended Art Center to pursue advertising.
While at Art Center I also discovered this little thing called the internet. And became fascinated by the relationship between brands, advertising, and user interaction. After college I moved to Seattle, to join the burgeoning space known as “digital design and marketing” so I could create story-driven experiences for web and mobile platforms.
During my career in Seattle, I rose from Designer to Art Director, then Creative Director for brands such as Target, Microsoft, and Amazon. Oh and I also got married, had 2 kids and bought a house.
But after 15 years in the Pacific Northwest, I knew a change was needed. And so began the conversations with my wife about moving to Arizona.
What do you love about Arizona?
Oh, Arizona. Where to begin? I suppose I’ll start with the sun. It’s not so much that I love the sun, let’s face it, the sun gets a little old after awhile. But what I love is the effect the sun has on people here. Unlike Seattle where people are very protective of their relationships, take forever to trust and open up to you, in Arizona people immediately want to be your friend.
That openness and willingness to meet new people and build relationships is a powerful thing. In addition, the fact that Phoenix isn’t LA, SF or Seattle, means it’s identity is still being crafted, and there is still a chance to influence what we’re known for in Arizona. That passion for impact, change, and growth is exciting!
Tell us about your business. How long ago and how did you get started? What service(s) or product(s) do you offer?
Unlike the hustle and bustle of Seattle, Arizona, or more specifically Tucson, had a more laid back attitude. This gave me time to think. What do I want to do now? What’s the next chapter in my life? I knew I wanted to have more impact on people and the community.
Then in 2013, I had a minor epiphany about the power of communication, and the need to help people do a better job telling their story. That began Ashley Bright Presents.
Unbeknownst to me, Tucson has more nonprofits per capita than any other city. I had a few friends who introduced me to this world, and I jumped in with both feet. Hosting workshops and one-on-one coaching for individuals and organizations like the United Way and the University of Arizona. I also began working with a few technology firms in the startup and biomedical space to help them streamline their story, refine their visuals and train their teams to present with confidence.
As I honed my offerings, refined my message and zeroed in on my “right fit clients” I ended up traveling to Phoenix on a semi-weekly basis working with clients like Infusionsoft, ASU and the Sanford Philanthropic Institute. Developing keynote presentations for Infusionsoft’s ICON Conference 2 years in a row, mentoring ASU entrepreneurs and speaking to amazing nonprofits in Sanfords Fundraising Academy lead to more clients and relationships in the valley.
In late 2016, we relocated to Phoenix full-time to continue helping people and organizations have more impact.
Who’s your ideal client? What’s the biggest problem you solve for them?
We have a variety of industries and clients we serve but tend to focus on 3 core areas – Design and marketing firms, nonprofit organizations and mature technology startups. All 3 benefit from improving their ability to tell their story and connect with people, but each in slightly different ways.
Design and marketing firms are great at developing innovative solutions, but often struggle when trying to sell that solution to the client. Subject matter experts, be it in strategy, visual design, user experience or technology, tend to get into the weeds quickly and have difficulty providing a compelling, simple rationale when presenting. So we provide workshops and training to ensure each person can sell the work.
Nonprofits, as you’d expect, have a different set of challenges. It’s still about connecting with people and selling what they do, but in their case, it’s sharing their mission and impact to donors. Since many nonprofits are born out of the passion for a cause, much of the staff and board members are not trained in marketing and communication. As a result, many people struggle to distinguish themselves in the crowded nonprofit space, tell a compelling story or demonstrating their impact on the community.
Technology startups and specifically the mature or advanced stage startups often find it challenging to present a simple, compelling story that captures the attention of potential investors or partners. In most cases, they have secured initial funding and are in the midsts of 100 other things–hiring, getting customers, building partnerships, distribution, implementation, etc.–yet they still have to pitch to keep the money coming in. They have also been telling the same story, in the same way for years, and will engage us to help them refresh the story to align with their current growth stage.
How do you market your business? How are people aware of your business?
When it comes to marketing we are always focused on providing value to our community. Whether a post on Facebook or a newsletter we want to be educating, informing and entertaining our audience with each piece of communication.
To that end, we post 2-3 public speaking tip videos each week, plus daily inspiration videos across all channels. We are trying to strike a balance between public speaking specific content (that’s the value) and more personal content that acknowledges the struggles of being a small business (that’s the inspiration). In addition, we host monthly webinars, lunch and learns and we’re always in search of a good speaking opportunity to reach more people and empower them to tell their story.
We’ve been in business for almost 5 years, and are fortunate to have a great following of happy customers who spread the word for us. So we routinely get calls or emails from a potential new client who says, “I got your name from so and so” which of course warms my heart.
Tell us some of the challenges and lessons you’ve learned since you started your business.
As with many great journeys in life, the path to success is rife with challenges and setbacks. So why should I be any different? I say this now, all calm and cool as a cucumber, as though I knew it all along. But it’s only with hindsight that I see the mistakes for what they really are, essentially ignorance combined with a passionate optimism for my potential success. I think this is what all entrepreneurs believe. Build it and they will come.
Looking back I was successful in my previous agency life because I had a support mechanism around me. Lots of organizational resources, a team of talented problem solvers and the guarantee of a paycheck direct deposited every 2 weeks. Security has its benefits.
The first thing I learned is without all the internal support from an agency, everything fell on my shoulders. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that optimism and drive would only take me so far, there were a ton of business fundamentals I was completely clueless about.
Where to begin? Well, I’m a great designer and communicator, but when it comes to basic knowledge of finances I was making it up as I went along. That worked for the first 6-8 months, but slowly I started to get deeper and deeper in debt. I naively figured that was okay because success was just around the corner. Between pulling from savings and racking up debt it was a recipe for trouble. Simple solution, I need more revenue.
How do you generate revenue, well you need clients of course. That was another area I struggled in. There is an old saying in marketing that “if you are selling to everyone you’re essentially selling to no one.” That was lesson #2 on my journey. Target market, product fit, sales cycle–these are all terms I now know and understand, but they were hard learned lessons.
The third and probably most challenging lesson had more to do with my own personal beliefs, attitudes, and actions. After 3 years of organic growth that included a handful of successes and many great relationships, I was still barely making enough to get by. This started a cycle of self-doubt. I had gone from blind optimism in the beginning to, at times, almost paralyzing self-doubt. With this mindset firmly in place, it was tough not to always see the glass as half empty, rather than half full. No amount of support or encouragement from family or colleagues helped. This can be crippling and get in the way of any future success.
With just shy of 6 years under my belt, I am proud to say I have overcome many of the early challenges that kept me up at night. Finances, market fit, and my personal attitude are much improved. Which is good, because every day brings with it both exciting opportunities and ever more challenges. However, now I am able to take them in stride, apply my knowledge, experience and most importantly a positive attitude.
To what do you attribute your success?
Well, it comes down to 2 things–support of my family and the community, along with a lot of hard work. That’s something of an oversimplification, but they are important underlying elements of our success.
Of course, the other piece of it is delivering a valuable product. We’ve honed our workshops and coaching over the years, and still do, to ensure it’s relevant, useful and provides value. As we’ve matured we’ve been able to refine our offerings from simply general presentation insights to industry specific. So our workshops for design firms are very different from those for nonprofits.
We’re proud of being able to provide specifically tailored experiences and knowledge for our various client segments.
Whom do you seek advice from for your business? Whom do you like to follow in the business world? Why?
My wife is a fountain of inspiration and practical ideas. Whenever I’m stuck she’s usually able to help me see past it to a solution. So she’s always my first stop.
In addition, I’m a big fan of regular conversations with other business owners in the community. If I’m struggling with something there is a very good chance I am not alone so I reach out to my network for help.
I recently started #TuesdayTalks which is essentially a chance for people to come together and talk. I’ve positioned it as a chance to get communication or public speaking help for entrepreneurs, but it often leads to other topics that people are struggling to resolve. For me, it’s as much about the coming together of like minds as it is about problem-solving.
There aren’t any specific people I look to or follow. Of course, I am familiar with and have read or listened to many of the more recognized business leaders, but I’ve yet to find one I particularly align with or stick with long term. I’m more of an in the moment type. If I have a need I’ll hit Google, YouTube or SkillShare to find out how a variety of other people are addressing the issue. It’s great because it gives me multiple perspectives to consider and begin testing. Once I have more comfort and understanding with the issue I will then reach out to a friend or fellow entrepreneur for advice.
For inspiration, I love the NPR podcast called “How I Built This.” It’s less about specific problem-solving advice, and more about motivation and knowing that everyone struggles. It’s reassuring to know I am not alone.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?
Be patient, work hard and never be afraid to ask for help. For me, and I think many people, asking for help or admitting you don’t know how to do something is very hard. The vulnerability that is necessary to learn and grow doesn’t come naturally to many entrepreneurs.
And the last thing is, never stop moving forward. If you’re stuck, tackle something else on your list, then revisit the issue that got you stuck with fresh eyes. One foot in front of the other.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I think the misunderstanding is that “work-life balance” means that there is a clear separation between your “work-life” and your “personal life”, but as an entrepreneur, the relationship is more nuanced.
For me, I have found the trick is being organized and focused. Each day I know exactly what I need to get done, and then I am focused to make sure I get it done. The other key is when I am doing “work” I am only doing “work”, but when I am with my family I am focused on them.
Another critical thing is keeping your mind and body in shape. Stress is a killer! To keep stress at bay I am religious about exercising every day, doing yoga twice a day, and meditating at least once a day. For me, these activities are as routine as brushing my teeth, but as necessary as food and water.
Favorite quotes or book recommendations.
“No one is coming to save you. This life of yours is 100% your responsibility”
“It is what it is, and it was what is was. Fuck the past. Life is in front of you. Fucking own it.”
1Q84 (not biz related, but Amazing!)
Anything else you would like to add?
No one is going to follow your passion for you. It’s all up to you. So stop thinking about it, stop talking about it and get off your ass and do it! The future is now!
Click here to check out Ashley’s profile and offers on Avontage.
*If you are a member of the Avontage community and would like to be featured in the Members Corner blog series contact us at Avontage.com