- Shanna Goodman is a brand strategist and small-business owner who specializes in helping other small businesses succeed.
- Her agency, Ampersand Business Solutions, has made six figures every year. But even though she works in marketing, Goodman has never taken a marketing class.
- She studied psychology and human sciences in college, but realized that she didn’t want to be a therapist. Then she went to graduate school for mass communications, and found herself falling into nonprofit marketing.
- She realized that having a unique background — and not getting a degree in her field — ended up being a “superpower.” She’s able to approach things in a different way.
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Growing up, I’d always been driven. I remember annoying coworkers at my deli job in high school, earnestly asking the older employee what I could be doing better in the midst of chopping tomatoes and cleaning the grill. It was the workplace equivalent of asking for more homework, which I also did, and also made me very popular.
These days, I own and manage a small brand strategy agency, helping entrepreneurs grow businesses that are extensions of themselves and to save time and money reaching their ideal customer. At Ampersand Business Solutions, we specialize in market-focused business strategy, meaning that we help clients align their businesses in a way that maximizes their strengths and resources as well as ideally position them for opportunities in their market and industries.
I’ve been doing this kind of work for about 15 years, but started Ampersand several years ago. The thing that’s a little ironic is that I felt like a fraud when I first started doing marketing work, even though I own a marketing business that made six figures in the first year and has doubled from there. (I generated $125,000 my first year of business and $215,000 in the second. We’ve been maintaining around that number since then, now in our fourth year. This was with no employees until mid-2018, when I hired my first — and currently only — employee.)
Searching for my focus
The problem I had in college and shortly after was that I didn’t know how to focus my drive. I wanted to achieve and succeed, but wasn’t really able to define what that meant for me. I was fascinated by human behavior, so I studied that — majoring in psychology and human sciences in college. Since I’d grown up in a very small town in the rural Midwest, I didn’t really have a framework for the careers that were available to me. My uncle was a clinical psychologist, so I thought that maybe that’s what I could do and declared the marriage and family therapy route, planning on getting a graduate degree.
Shortly before my final semester of college, it occurred to me that I would be the worst therapist ever. Why? Because I’d get annoyed when people didn’t turn their ideas into action.
Alas, once I graduated, I was qualified for very little, so my internship at a teen pregnancy program turned into a full-time case manager position for two years. Trying to help teenagers navigate pregnancy, parenting, childcare, and school and preventing subsequent pregnancies in the inner core of Kansas City, Kansas was rough. But it was a huge learning experience in my life and made me very much value the emotional support of my family and, though I didn’t know what to call it at the time, a growth mindset from an early age.
On a whim, I took a media class at a local community college, which led to hundreds of hours volunteering on projects and then enrolling in a mass communications graduate program. After graduating with a master’s degree, I ended up applying to quite a variety of different companies and organizations, but it was nonprofit organizations that called me back.
That’s how I fell into nonprofit marketing — my combined experience and education made me really attractive for organizations with little to no marketing budget. This meant that from the very first day of work, I helped craft the brand of the organization and then translated that into clear messaging, print materials, videos, and websites.
I loved doing this, but felt unqualified, never having even taken a marketing class. But, human behavior and media production really is the foundation for marketing.
Your degree does not dictate your job
Years ago, CareerBuilder uncovered that people rarely work in the fields of their college degree, and that was my experience. In fact, very few people I met after college worked in the industry of their degree.
My love of learning always had me researching and doing new things. This is one of the best ways to break into a new career field — layer on top of what you already have. This can be education, like mine was — adding media production on top of human behavior gave me a unique perspective.
I also layered as many types of experience on top of that as I could. To fast forward my media production experience as a graduate student, I took on a series of internships that exposed me to different kinds of production.
One summer I was a production assistant for the morning news at a local NBC affiliate. Another summer I worked 18-hour days on independent films and commercial video projects, and as a production assistant on projects for National Geographic, The History Channel, and some random architecture firm. These were not glamorous jobs, and at the end of most days my feet felt like bloody stubs, but it gave me insight and unique experience that could never have come from the classroom.
Overcoming imposter syndrome
The first few years of working in marketing positions, I felt like a fake and didn’t tell anyone I’d never taken a marketing class. It was my dirty little secret.
However, I come from generations of entrepreneurs from both sides of my family, and analyzing business models was in my blood. Once, while visiting The Biltmore, the palatial estate of the Vanderbilt family that’s become a tourist attraction, while my friends were sprawled out and angled in the grass to get the perfect picture, I sat with my Moleskine notebook and mapped out all the different revenue streams in operation on the estate.
It wasn’t until I was working at a marketing agency years later that I realized my unique background was actually very valuable. I was able to come up with creative ideas and approaches that hadn’t occurred to my colleagues. I was able to dive deeper into the mindset of a client’s customer, helping them define their unique challenges and motivators, then craft full strategies around helping the client package their services and get in front of the right customer at the right time. This is the foundation for which my own brand strategy agency was launched.
Throughout my career, there were times (when I hadn’t yet fully appreciated my background and abilities) when I’d get frustrated that I’d “wasted so much time” in first getting a psychology and human sciences degree and then meandering around communications and media production, only to finally fall into nonprofit marketing. Surely this could have been done more efficiently, but it was the combination of those experiences that have actually turned into my superpower.