Episode 12 – Jessica Chen
Jessica Chen is an Emmy-Award-winning content producer and CEO of Soulcast Media, a storytelling agency that helps brands communicate their company’s story to the public. Jessica has also been awarded an Associated Press award for her work at Time Warner Cable News. She sits on the Board of Directors for the Good Earth Foundation. Jessica is a top performer who balances lots of projects in her professional life. Let’s hear more from her in this episode of Productivity Masterminds.
- Divide your time into three different parts. 60% are doing a lot of research, brainstorming, changing the company – this determines how you will move forward and who you will contact. The next 20% are selling. And the other 20% are taking meetings in person or on the phone – building relationships, connections and just getting to know people.
- Always have a plan B: As a reporter, Jessica had to deliver a new, finished story every day by 4pm. Through this, she became an expert at prioritizing tasks and making sure she always had a plan B, C or even D. If your work depends on external input, make sure you have plan B to not get stopped by external blockers.
- Focus on your strengths: Don’t underestimate your transferable skills that you will have built up through experience and focus on these strengths. If there are certain weaknesses you want to work on, don’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to people who can teach or mentor you.
- The first priority should be the people who are like, yeah, let’s see what we can do. If there was an actual interest in having people wanting to work with you, be quick and forward your plan to work with them. This is the way you should prioritize who you’re talking to. If the people are lukewarm, of course, you still have to follow up with them and continue to communicate with them, but the first priority is the people who are like, yeah, let’s see what we can do.
Jessica: [01:15] So I’ll start from the beginning. My background as a news reporter, we were really careful and conscious about time because every day we had deadlines and the deadline was when the news would go on. So no matter how crazy your day was, you still had to hit your deadlines so that therefore, you know, we had to work very efficiently. We had to prioritize. So that was kind of a reporter mentality that we had and as an entrepreneur, you know, it has shifted a little bit.
And the way I think about time now is I divide it into three different parts.
I would say I spend most of my time as an entrepreneur really just doing a lot of the research, brainstorming, brainstorming ways of how I can grow, change the company. And I think that is like really big because of course that determines how you will move forward and who you will contact. And then I’d say the next 20 percent of how I spend my time is really the selling, the pitching. And of course this is really important because this is where you get your clients. So 20 percent is that. And of course that also had to do with a lot of the brainstorming and research I did beforehand and then I would say the other 20 percent are just me taking meetings, meeting people on the phone or in person. And a lot of that is just kind of like building connections, building relationships, just getting to know people.
Juan: [02:32] So it’s like investing in future opportunities. Whereas the other 80 percent is on more immediate return, whether it’s a brainstorming for something that you’re going to be doing this week or even later on that day. And then also just pitching for new business. Then you reserve 20 percent for kind of new opportunities.
Jessica: [02:46] Exactly, yeah. That 20 percent, you know, there’s really no intention other than just to get to know new people, get to talk to people, hear about what they’re doing, building new connections.
I think as an entrepreneur it is really important to be open-minded, to meet people from different backgrounds.
You’d be surprised about once you become an entrepreneur, I found, there is a whole group of people, you are introduced to. It’s so cool you’re talking, getting to know them. So I do try to allocate at least 20 percent of my time just meeting people for fun and professionally too.
Juan: [03:19] That’s awesome. And so I’m really interested because there’s a lot that we can learn about what you were doing with your journalism career and how you were able to meet those really, really tight deadlines. Can you tell us a little bit about how you were finding kind of like trimming the fat of this is not important, this not is important, this is mission critical, and going all in on the things that are mission critical. I’m sure we can all relate in each of our professions, you know, weeding out the bad opportunities from what actually matters. How, how were you doing that?
Jessica: [03:48] Yeah. I mean, as a reporter, every day we would start the day, first of all, every day is completely different, you know, meaning because your assignments, your story of the day is different. When you start your day you have a focus of like: this is my targeted story of the day, therefore these are my targeted actions that I need to take.
Juan: [04:09] And you’re never working on longer term projects? It’s always just what that day holds? And you take it a day at a time?
Jessica: [04:16] As a general assignment reporter, which is what I was, it is. Every day is completely different. So it is kind of you are a jack of all trades. One day you’re doing a political story. The next day you’re doing a business story, the next day you’re doing a fun feature story. So you really have to be flexible. And I think in terms of time and how you manage it, we start our day, and I think this is relevant for anybody. You know, you go when you wake up and you’re like, okay, this is what I have to do today. Meaning as a reporter, this is who I have to try to talk to today for my story and that’s when you start reaching out to people and, a lot of that really is dependent on whether this person will get back to you and I think the key is you can’t rely on just like one person to get back to you because what if that person doesn’t? Right?
Juan: [05:03] Because you have to talk to them that day. And before 4pm. It sounds like you still have to coordinate where are we gonna meet, what time am I going to get there? And you have to balance out the other stories that you’re working on, right?
Jessica: [05:03] Exactly.
Juan: [05:14] The other people that you have to talk to. That’s crazy. So you’re a total counter puncher. I mean because you’d never know if you’re going to hit traffic on the way there or if it’s going to take too long or even if they’re going to be there. And then you have to just react and react, react, react.So that’s probably a skill you’ve really developed over years of being in that industry.
Jessica: [05:32] Yeah.
You had to be really good at having a plan B, C, D, all the way to Z.
Juan: [05:35] It sounds like entrepreneurship. No wonder you’re doing this. Wow.
Jessica: [05:40] Yeah. Because you know, you walk out of the newsroom, for example, thinking your story’s going to be this way and you’re going to be talking to this person, but there’s so many factors working against you every day for like the person you’re supposed to talk to or you’re supposed to meet whether there’s traffic, all these things can determine how your day goes. So you really have to be flexible. And I would say of course, don’t put, in a sense all your eggs in one basket. Relying on this one person or relying on this one project. Make sure you have a backup in case it doesn’t work out.
Juan: [06:10] Okay. So it sounds like – to translate this into other industries – it sounds like the big takeaways are having backup plans, rolling with the punches and knowing that no plan is actually going to be exactly as you imagined it originally. And then how are you actually prioritizing mission critical things? Are you laser focused on just the story that people I have to talk to and then everything else needs to fall together in service of that? Or are you thinking of it as like a bigger task list? What does that look like in your head? Like prioritizing the things that have to get done?
Jessica: [06:44] As an entrepreneur, like, so when it’s the day where I’m, for example, selling and pitching, you know, I’m sending a bunch emails out that day, I’ve dedicated, let’s say four hours to, you know, I had this list of people that I want to contact. I send out that list and I’m not necessarily waiting for anybody or everybody to get back to me because you just don’t know if they will. And so once I do that and I send it out and then once I start getting responses, depending on what they say, whether there’s interest or not, that’s how I prioritize who I respond to. If there was actual real interest in having them wanting to work with me, then I’m really quick and I’m forwarding them my spreadsheets, my plan to work with them. So when there’s real interest and then that’s I think the way you should prioritize who you’re talking to and if the people who are lukewarm, you know, of course you still have to follow up with them and continue to communicate with them. But I would say the first priority is the people who are like, yeah, let’s see what we can do.
Juan: [07:44] And this is where your people skills really kick in. You are actually reading each conversation to gauge how far along the sales process, so to speak, they are. And then you prioritize based on that from an order from “most likely to purchase right now, essentially like tomorrow” to “this is a conversation that I need to nurture and so it will kind of take a backseat until I’ve knocked out the ones that are ready for tomorrow, for today”. Right? Is that kind of your structure for it?
Jessica: [08:12] Exactly. That is a hundred percent right. And you know, there are certain people who totally get what you’re doing from the get go and they want to work with you and those are the people you’re like, yeah, so we have to seize this opportunity. You have to respond immediately and then there’s some people who, you know, they have to warm up to you a little bit. You have to kind of explain things a little bit more and there’s people who completely are just like, sorry, not right now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t follow up with them.
Following up is really important. Maybe following up in the week or a month, but you know, following up I think is super important.
Juan: [08:39] I love the parallels between what you’re working on now and how journalism works. It seems like the same. I mean you were, you were sending out messages. Some respond right away, some don’t, some respond in a little bit, but there are actually more willing to do an interview or jump on a call sooner rather than later. And so you just kind of you’re constantly re-prioritizing and then now what you’re doing in entrepreneurship? Yeah, it’s a 60/20/20 split, but that’s more like a 60/40 split. It’s 40 percent talking to other people whether it’s selling or working on like expansion, new opportunities and then 60 percent just brainstorming and being kind of introspective in terms of where you want to take the business, but that 40 percent that is related with people, it’s the exact same skill set that you’ve developed from day to day reporting and basically being able to read people. That sounds like it’s your super power in this sense. Would you agree? Is that kind of how you see it or even that, that intentional? Do you realize that about yourself? It seems like a super interesting way to tackle it. You’re doing the same thing that you were doing before now applied into a new industry, but it’s the same skill set.
Jessica: [09:41] Yeah, it is really funny because back then when I was a reporter, I never thought some of these day to day skills are really transferable, but I do think as a reporter and doing that, your mentality changes when you’re in this environment and you know, now that I’m an entrepreneur, it is very interesting to kind of see how much of the skill sets is like really valuable to being an entrepreneur.
Juan: [10:06] Definitely and especially I love hearing different perspectives from people that are crushing it because they always arrive at that level of excellence from different paths and
I love seeing that really any strength is a superpower if you just run with it.
But people are so obsessed with like thinking about their weaknesses and what they’re lacking and it’s like, Oh, Jessica does that. Now we need to take a course on how I can be better at that thing instead of being like, Oh, Jessica does that. I think that’s something that I do, now let me be more intentional about that strength that I already have because this is a person that looks like me, that has my same skill set and she was able to take it all the way to as far as you got professionally even being awarded an Emmy, even working with ABC News even all the way to the end zone and it’s like, yeah, off the skill set of being a counter puncher, being able to read people and understanding how to prioritize my time and any of us that are listening that kind of identify with that, that’s, it’s more a call to action to double down on the skills that you do have. If they are this, then realizing, oh, I don’t have that. Oh, I should take a class on it. Oh, I’m missing all of these things and it’s so cool jumping on these conversations and hearing different people that have totally different ways of approaching time and still got so far and it’s just about resonating with those stories.
Jessica: [11:21] Yeah. No, I totally agree. I think for me, I know my strengths and I know what my weaknesses are and I think it’s really just what I know I’m good at, really just focusing on that and whatever I can’t do, you know, reach out to people who can teach you, but you know, with any industry, whether you want to stay in your industry or you want to change industries:
There is something that you’re great at. Figure what that is. Figure out what that is and just run with it.
Juan: [11:49]I love it. Jessica, people that want to stay in touch with you, they want to follow up on your career. Where’s the best place for them to learn that?
Jessica: [11:55] You can find me on LinkedIn. I’m very active on LinkedIn. I also have an Instagram page. Both of those you can find me at Jessica Chen Page, so very easy to remember. Jessica Chen Page and my website is www.soulcastmedia.com.
Juan: [12:10] Perfect. Thank you so much for sharing all this with us.
Jessica: [12:10] Thanks so much, Juan.