Career change 1.0 – redefining failure

Last month, I finally decided to face something that had been on my mind for some time. After much thought, I decided to call it quits and wind up my consulting business.

Admitting that my idea hadn’t worked might have felt like failure, except I had made a decision when I started that I would give the business two years. When I started, I reasoned that I could spend two years researching and talking to people, or I could just launch the business, and test and change along the way.

While I was able to contribute to some interesting projects with local industry bodies, I realised that my original concept of providing research and analysis to identify opportunities might have sounded good on paper but it was not what small businesses needed. Working for a small winery,  I realised that small businesses needed concrete introductions and contracts and there are other organisations (mainly government) better placed to provide that.

I was lying awake at night worrying about how I could “fix” things and telling myself I needed to be more aggressive in selling myself.  I tried to find articles about what I should be doing – and whether walking away was the right move but it would seem that unless it is a massive failure that leads to the next big thing, many people don’t talk about failure or even just when to walk away from a business. (There’s a whole other blog post here).

I was feeling like a fraud and found myself stepping away from the networks I had made because I didn’t want to talk about what wasn’t happening in my business. I was unhappy and stressed – which was not the plan when we embarked on our career and lifestyle change. And I reminded myself that it wasn’t this business idea itself – but rather the need for a change that was the reason I left my previous career.

I felt that it was time to try something different, and I just wasn’t going to be able to find something new while I worried about where to take the business. Even my goal to write more had fallen by the wayside becuase it’s hard to be creative with something unresolved hanging over you.

And while I knew this business wasn’t my big life passion, it still wasn’t an easy decision to admit that something I had created – and that bears my name, hadn’t worked.

 

“We must be willing to let go of the

Sending the first few emails to those contacts that had supported my business was tough but I was positive. While the experience hadn’t turned out the way I had hoped, I had learned a lot about the realities of small business, about the region, about myself and most importantly, established an incredible, diverse network of contacts. I am confident that good things will come out of my experiences and my networks.

The next step was to post on Facebook. It was actually harder admitting to family and friends that my business idea had not worked – but the positive words of encouragement I received from so many people helped me confirm in my own mind that I had made the right decision. I had tried, it didn’t work and I was moving on.

Throughout it all, my family have been amazing and while this first career change might not have gone as hoped, we have no doubt our lifestyle change and moving to the Barossa was the right move.

 

I have a great job (which I describe as everything but winemaking) in an industry I’m interested in and I have time to spend with my family, watching my boys develop their interests. We have a beautiful little house in a town that we love – and a garden that needs a lot of love and attention. I have time to pursue all those interests I never had to for before – from exercise to cooking and I am keen to focus on my writing – both this blog and my book on Vietnam and I may even take some formal writing lessons.

 

Despite this, it would be very easy to feel pressured to come up with my next move. I’m almost 43 and it’s almost three years since I left my government career. Shouldn’t I be doing more? For a brief moment, I even considered going back to the public service and trying to juggle full-time work.

But I am taking comfort in knowing that there are many successful people who have changed careers late in life. This article from Australian journalist and academic Jenna Price on her 60th birthday makes the point that in our 30s and 40s, we seem to racing to the career peak, when really we have a long career left in front of us. There is time to find the right thing and it is OK to take things slowly.

 

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Leaving on a jet plane – an exchange year begins

Leaving Sydney - 6 January 1992
Leaving Sydney – 6 January 1992

25 years ago yesterday I started my first overseas adventure without my parents. I flew out of Sydney with a group of other Rotary exchange students, bound first for Melbourne (where we would pick up another big group), then Singapore and then Copenhagen. Arriving in Denmark, we flew on to Odense, where we would have a two week crash course in the Danish lanuage – not to mention the art of Danish dinner parties, nightclubbing, eating and walking in the cold and ice.

I can remember the day as clearly as it was yesterday. My parents and sister were there, along with friends, my Grandparents, and other relatives. After checking in, we met with the Rotary area coordinator to receive our HSC (final year of high school) results three days early. This was almost a bigger deal than leaving our families for the year. Opening mine to receive a score of 96/100, I could breathe easy knowing that entry to my prefrred course of Commerce/Law was pretty well guaranteed and that I could enjoy my year knowing I had a place to come back to. I knew the small group from our Rotary district as we’d had various get togethers and from memory, we were all pretty happy – although I remember one friend holding out until we were outside Australia to open her incredible result.

I was so excited that I didn’t even cry saying goodbye to everyone the first time, but then my sister’s best friend (who was like a little sister) started crying setting Dad off and then it was on. I vividly remember doing the rounds of the group a couple of times before deciding that I really had to go.

Excitement soon took over as the NSW crew met on the plane. We stood out with our bright blue or green blazers with big yellow name badges and the beginnings of our pin collections. We swapped business cards and the addresses of our host families and settled in for the flight to Singapore which included a trip up into the cockpit. In Singapore our numbers grew, and from memory, the 52 Australians all flew into Copenhagen together. It was on the flight that I finally met the gorgeous Olivia – who I would go to school with in Vejle and who is a friend to this day. It was hard to believe she was only 16 and had just finished year 10 because she had more confidence and spunk (and could dance better) than most of us.

Olivia and I at our first school party
Olivia and I at our first school party

We were billeted to various Rotary families for the two week language course.  I stayed with a lady called Inge together with a girl called Nicole from Sydney. Inge’s daughter, who had died in her mid-20s a few years before, had been an exchange student with my Rotary Club in Australia and so she liked to have students from my clubs. He husband had also been involved in the exchange program and so the two weeks was a whirl of dinner parties as she introduced us to lots of exchange students, past and present. She even entertained the head of the Rotary  Program in Denmark – “Onkle Arnie”who was ultimately responsible for all of us – and would enforce the rules – “no dating, no driving, no drinking, no drugs” (to which we may have added, “do have fun, don’t get caught” – but then Denmark was pretty relaxed compared to Australia. We would soon learn the concept of “freedom with responsibility”.

I’m sure I put on five kilos in that two weeks – the food was exciting and new, I couldn’t understand a word so I took second and thirds during dinner parties and Inge was determined to feed us up. Nicole and I would also buy danishes on the way home and then eat chcoolate cake with hot chocolate (with cream on top) for afternoon tea when we got home. Dinner usually involved large amounts of pork, fat, butter and potatoes – and dessert.

My first dinner party in Denmark - the day after I arrived - January 1992 (and have just realised I now have some of those wine glasses I bought here in the Barossa)
My first dinner party in Denmark – the day after I arrived – January 1992 (and have just realised I now have some of those wine glasses I bought here in the Barossa)

We had two weeks of lessons and I can picture my classroom so clearly. Like many of my classmates, I had never learned another language which put me at a disadvantage as we struggled with the grammar, not to mention wrapping our Australian accents around the complex Danish vowels. Lunchtimes were spent eating hot chips, drinking beer and mucking around on the frozen lake outside school.

My Danish Class in Odense, 1992
My Danish Class in Odense, 1992

We went along to Rotary and made speeches, were introduced to the now trendy concept of “hygge” (which is probably closest to cosy and comfortable – think open fires, low lighting, candles and Scandinavian design), before parting ways and getting on trains to head to the towns we’d call home for a year.

Dinner with our host Rotary Club, January 1992
Dinner with our host Rotary Club in Odense, January 1992

This was the era before email and mobile phones, so we swapped addresses and telephone numbers of our host families and planned to catch-up at the first exchange student catch-up in March. Unfortunately I missed that thanks to a school excursion to Italy! Imagine Mum and Dad’s reaction when I rang after my first day of school to get permission – and the funds – to head on a week long tour to Italy the following month. Apart from Olivia and a few people close by, we’d next meet up on our crazy European Tour in May – 50 exchange students, a yellow bus, 2 chaperones and 8 countries in  a couple of weeks – aka – a recipe for disaster! Might save that story for another post.

At the Vatican, March 1992
At the Vatican, March 1992

Before I finish, a note on the title. Danes are big performers and a few weeks after arriving at school, all the classes in my year performed at assembly in advance of our upcoming study tours around Europe. I’d never heard John Denver’s Leaving on a Jetplane, but by the end of the first verse, I was in tears for the first time since leaving Sydney two months before.

For the first time, I realised that not only did I miss my family, but that at the end of the year, I’d being saying goodbye to all these amazing new friends and host families who had made me feel so welcome. Now whenever I hear that song, I’m reminded of how bittersweet travelling and making new friends can be – but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I still consider my Danish host families as family, and I’ll be forever grateful for the experience they provided a young girl from Wollongong.

Farewell party with some of my host families, January 1993
Farewell party with some of my host families, January 1993
My first visit to the little mermaid, Copenhagen - April 1992
My first visit to the little mermaid, Copenhagen – April 1992

My exchange year developed my love of travel, gave me the confidence to travel and live overseas on my own and would eventually lead to my diplomatic career (and coincidentally, yesterday also marked six since years since our first adventure as a family when we headed off to Hanoi). 

P.S: When I set out to write this post yesterday, I thought it would be a general post about expat life and friendships – instead, I took a lovely long trip down memory lane. So over the coming months, I’m going to share a few more posts about my exchange year – going to school in a foreign countries, living with my host families, travel, turning 18 and making friends. Maybe they’ll inspire a whole new generation of exchange students!

 

Making time to write

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A month ago, I got up before 6, made a cup of tea and began writing a book. I’d decided that after thinking about a book on my visits to Vietnam between 2003 and this year, including the 3.5 years we lived there, that the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo was a good time to start. A workshop with Emma and Audrey from My 15 Minutes – and finally meeting them in person was further encouragement and motivation.

I joined the rebels forum as I would be writing a non-fiction work, I signed up online and started mapping out what I would write.

Despite having only moved into the house 6 days before, I cleared away some boxes and made sure I could write without distraction.

That first morning I knocked over 700 or 800 words before going for a walk with a friend. I came back later in the day and got to 2000 – surpassing the daily goal of 1700. The next day was busy and I thought I’d failed – but after dinner, I forced myself to sit down and write, and got to about 3600 words. I don’t remember what happened then but I know I only wrote a couple more times, and made it past 5000. So much for the 50,000 word goal.

The annoying thing was that once I actually sat down to write, the words flowed. The memories of my first visit in 2003, living there with Simon and the boys and then reliving our last visit in July when I decided I wanted to both record my feelings about Vietnam and my observations about the things that had changed (or stayed the same) over the years.

So what stopped me writing? Too many things.

I certainly underestimated how much work moving into a new home would take. And while we’d had some of the main work done like painting and floors, there was some work we did ourselves like painting the kitchen cupboards and wardrobes for the bedrooms.

The overgrown garden is a never ending battle and while I can’t help but feel that gardening makes me feel very grown-up, my body wonders how older people keep up with it. But now, I’ve decided that apart from the obvious weeds,  we should take the advice many have given to see what is out there before we start pulling too much out.

Add to all that work, a possible new consulting project, and the day to day house and family stuff – and Christmas and it’s easy to see how distractions took over.

Yesterday was my first blog in a long time and came after starting my Australian Writers Centre course on making time to write. This course popped up in my Facebook feed towards the end of our trip to Vietnam in July and it was a sign that I should do something with the ideas floating around in my head (and the diary full of notes from my first visit in 2003).

The key takeaway so far is that many writers (especially starting out) make the most of small amounts of time during the day to write – the idea of a full day of writing sounds nice but most of us have other things to do – and even if we did have the time, chances of being distracted by everything else are high.

So, while I probably should be at the gym, I’m not, so I may as well make the most of some quiet time and get into the habit of writing – because apparently its a habit that might take  254 days of doing it to stick!

Learning to find (make) time to write

Last week I published my first blog post in 9 months. I use the word published because I’d actually written it 2 weeks ago when I’d decided I really did want to write again. But I procrastinated for a fortnight because I didn’t have time to sit and upload photos. So I hit publish and then did nothing else. No social media sharing – despite having set up (and then unpublished a Facebook page for the blog).  I even changed the name, the theme and the profile on my blog. But apart from the 40 odd followers who will probably unsubscribe when they see the notification, having forgotten who I am or that they had even subscribed when they get an email, I didn’t tell anyone – not even my family.

Given this lack of self-promotion(?), even I question the need for a blog. Surely a diary would suffice. But if I’m really honest, two years on from starting my blog, I still do like the idea of building a community and interacting with those people. I have no grand plan to become a BabyMac or Mrs Woog but I’d be lying if I said, I’m writing just for me or my friends and family.

My excuses for not writing are varied but in short, I’ve backed myself into a spot where I  only seem to write at the desktop computer and I had to have photos to upload. The silly thing is, when I first moved here and left my career, my big thing was being free of being tied to a desk. I wanted to work anywhere. That means that when time is short, I don’t just sit and write and yet, mornings in the shower, evenings cleaning my teeth and other times in between,  I find myself dictating blog posts in my head.

When Simon’s tumor was diagnosed in February, part of me wanted to write. But another part of me felt it was his story, not mine to tell. And to be very truthful, I didn’t like the idea of starting a story where there was a chance the ending wouldn’t be great.

I’ve also realised that something else holding me back has been this idea of separating the blogging me from the consultant me. I wanted to write about the challenges of starting a business but what would that say to people who might want to hire me. The word authentic is almost as overused as journey but not writing about how it feels to start a business from scratch and juggle it with a part time job and a family didn’t feel very authentic.

The truth is, I have a wealth of knowledge about trade policy, free trade agreements, negotiations, market access and amazing networking skills. I am great at connecting people, identifying valuable research and opportunities. None of that is erased by me saying that starting a business is hard.

During our trip to Vietnam,  I was struck my this need to write something about our the 3.5 years we spent there, as well as this recent visit and my first visit in 2003 (which I still have a full journal of notes about). While a true writer would have scribbled a first draft, I mulled over ideas and signed up to a writing course which will be launched later this year and will hopefully teach me how to be a better writer and to allocate time for it.

While I don’t often back myself, I have a small arrogant streak that truly believes I could write a book. But in order to do that, I need to cast off some bad habits and just write. So first step, writing this on the iPad in bed, (even if it then took be another week to edit and post) and maybe, just maybe along the way, I can entertain my readers as I improve my craft.

Happy Indpendent’s Day

BizHub Facebook

So today is apparently Independent’s Day. A day to celebrate the work done by people like me, working alone in their spare rooms, at the kitchen table and at cafes around the world.

Perhaps simply because I’ve started a business, it seems like there are so many more people doing the same. And while some are boot strapping start-ups with a goal of becoming the next big thing, there are many like myself who have chosen the path of working alone to escape from a full-time job.

I have definitely gone from one extreme – a large Commonwealth government department to working alone. Of course, this was never my plan, but as I have written in other posts, as I explored my options after 15 years as a diplomat and trade policy specialist, I realised that I could make a contribution in the Barossa, and in South Australia more broadly by sharing this experience with small business looking to take advantage of the many opportunities coming from the FTAs Australia has recently signed with Japan, Korea, China and the 12 countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Working alone is challenging. There are days where the juggle seems too much and where you second guess whether you are doing the right thing. These days there are so many e-courses, apps, podcasts and webinars available to help run your business, but every so often you need to step back and just DO THE WORK.

One of my biggest challenges is finding the people I can best assist. While many small businesses know they need an accountant or lawyer, bringing someone in to help identify trade opportunities might not be something they have considered. Which is why, I am doing lots of networking, a course on social media to try and work out how best to reach my ideal customer and trying to write more.

We are also very fortunate in the Barossa to have a very active Regional Development Australia organisation who have established the B2B (business-to-business) network of service providers. I was able to access – for free – 2.5 hour sessions with accountants, marketing specialists, social media experts, business coaches and others as I launched Angela Pickett Consulting. And now, i’m very excited to be one of those providers, giving local business a chance to sit down and discuss their trade and export goals and opportunities.

The B2B group also run some great networking breakfasts, and I also leave these feeling really inspired by the business people in the room. The small business community seems to be growing and there is so much knowledge to be shared, which is why I am so excited about our application in the Your Say program to share in a $50 000 grant to get a co-working space and business hub off the ground. This will be a great opportunity for small business owners to network and collaborate and more importantly assist and mentor new small business owners or those considering starting their own business.

I’d really encourage you to head here and vote.

A year on – and the parallels between having a baby and starting a business

I’m normally a great one for anniversaries and milestones, and while I knew it was coming up, I completely missed that last Friday marked a year since I started this blog. Sadly in recent weeks, I have been finding it hard to come up with anything to write. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t think of anything to excite you the reader, but I couldn’t even think of anything to write that I wanted to read. I guess like many bloggers, I’m probably using Instagram more, and happy to share a daily shot of life in the Barossa Valley but writing has proved a little more elusive.

Another beautiful Barossa winter sunset
Another beautiful Barossa winter sunset

It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything, in fact, I feel busier than ever – especially as I finally get used to a life that isn’t 75 per cent defined by work. A year on, I am finally finding the balance I need to do everything I want to do – from getting my business off the ground, to getting fit, cooking, getting involved at school and Kindy and spending time with family and friends. It finally feels like we have a “normal” existence after the years overseas that were a constant round of high profile work events, welcomes and farewells and holidays. I always said I felt like we were living in a bubble, and away from it for over a year it really does seem quite unreal. But as much as I love my simplified life, I’m not sure anyone wants to read about it.

My old job did have it's perks - hanging out with Katie Noonan, her husband Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnussen for a week as part of their tour to Vietnam which my team and I organised
My old job did have it’s perks – hanging out with Katie Noonan, her husband Zac Hurren and Stephen Magnussen for a week as part of their tour to Vietnam which my team and I organised

So, I started thinking about this post when read a great post from an old friend from Hanoi that talked about how raising a newborn can be a bit (OK a lot) relentless. One of my favourite parts was when Tabitha talked about how she had prepared herself “for a 12-round boxing match, but what actually ensued was more like one of those games of noughts and crosses where nobody wins”.

I read the post, thinking simultaneously that it was lovely to read Tabitha’s writing again (her blog in Hanoi was one of my favourites – even before I met her and attended her fabulous “traditional Vietnamese” Hanoi wedding), how I was glad to have survived the newborn phase (which seems much longer that almost 5 years and 6.5 years ago) and how starting a business felt a bit the same.

Day 1 of being a parent to 2 boys - almost 5 years ago
Day 1 of being a parent to 2 boys – almost 5 years ago

Just like having a baby, in the early days before starting a business you can read lots and get things set up. Then you bring the baby home (or launch the business) and there are some exciting milestones like getting an ABN, or registering you business name or getting your business cards. (in a baby’s case this using revolves around sleep, smiles and noises and later crawling, walking and food).

But then there is a lot to both parenting and starting a business that is just work – even if you’re very excited and focused about the end result. Like Tabitha says, its not that its bad but you do have adjust you view of what time well spent means and get used to the fact that while there are sometimes moments of great success warranting a Facebook post, on many days, especially in the beginning, there is nothing to report.

Just like being a new parent, being a new business owner, especially working on your own, can be really lonely. This is probably why you do want to share those milestones and why, when there isn’t anything to report, you can start doubting that you’re even doing the right thing.

Fortunately, I survived the newborn phase for both of my boys thanks to brilliant support from my husband, family and friends, coffee, wine and some time out to read, shop or exercise. So I’m following much the same formula for getting Angela Pickett Consulting off the ground, knowing that in the end, these months of laying the groundwork, will all be worth it.

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5 reasons I don’t stop working when my boys come home

Leaving on our posting to Hanoi - and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011
Leaving on our posting to Hanoi – and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011

I went back to work when my oldest was 7 months, my youngest 3.5 months, and by then I was working long hours, and sometimes weekends during my posting in Hanoi. I was lucky because I was still able to be involved at pre-school but I also missed out on things like the day-to-day stuff of kids growing up.

Reading to Xavier's class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday - before going to work, September 2013
Reading to Xavier’s class in Hanoi on his 3rd birthday – before going to work, September 2013

I remember an Australian colleague in Hanoi recounting a story about another father at the international school who didn’t want to give up his weekly golf game to coach the kids soccer team. What he said to the other dad really stuck with me:

“your kids are growing up really fast, and soon they won’t want you coaching them. Make the most of the fact they do want you around, and your golf game will be there later”.

Now, I’d like to think my boys will always want me around but it did get me thinking. I also realised I was dreading the thought of work more and more and I was procrastinating by doing other things when I should have been focusing on my work (which meant I worked longer hours because I still got stuff done). I realised that if I was going to miss out on that time with my kids and my family and friends, it had to be to do something that I really loved and that I felt really passionate about.

As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities - like hosting this social media training session for local journalists
As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities – like hosting this social media training session for local journalists

I didn’t actually set out to have my own business. As I have written in some previous blog posts, deciding to set up my consultancy was a decision that evolved. Leaving Hanoi I said I was happy to work full-time and long hours, provided I could have some flexibility about where I worked and again, was doing something I really believed in. But as I settled into the life of the stay-at-home mum/student in the Barossa, I realised that actually I did want a lifestyle that provided a lot more flexibility and the opportunity to be my own boss.

A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy
A big plus of working for myself is being able to take time out to do the things I enjoy

So unlike a lot of other Mums that become business owners and entrepreneurs, this decision wasn’t just about spending time with my kids, and consequently, I don’t always confine my working hours to the time they are at school or asleep. I’ve heard a lot of entrepreneurs talk about always being present for their kids, and not working if they are around, and I completely get that. I certainly don’t want my work to stop them from being able to do after-school activities or spend time with friends. But some days, when they are just having out at home (and they are only 6.5 and almost 5), I do work from our home office. That said, I do prefer to work when they aren’t here so I’m not distracted by constant requests for food and the adjudication of fights!

There's also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate - which I missed when working
There’s also time to bake and invite some of our friends and kids around for an after-school playdate – which I missed when working

At first it wasn’t really a conscious decision, but then I realised that they really didn’t “get” that Mummy wasn’t working. Working to them involved me putting on a suit or a nice dress and “going to work”. It probably didn’t help that to start with, I was also studying.

I hope as my business takes off, they will start to understand more about what I do. For now, the 6.5 year old thinks my business is my website and he’s very encouraging.

For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website
For now, the boys see my consulting business as just a website

So I was listening to lots of great podcasts and this idea of not working while your kids were around made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was guilt, but I also realised that I want my boys to see me working, for a number of reasons:

  1. I want my boys to understand the value of hard work, failure, entrepreneurship and setting goals.
  1. I want them to see a strong woman and realise both parents have jobs, careers and contribute to the running of the house. Having boys, I think it’s especially important that they don’t pick up gender stereotypes from a young age.
  1. I want them to appreciate that Simon and I work hard to provide stuff for them. Our lifestyle in Hanoi probably set up some false expectations for the boys – having a housekeeper, disposable income to buy stuff and lots of holidays and we are working to refocus that
  1. I want them to understand that as important as they are, the world does not revolve around them. Simon and I also have goals and interests and friends. We’re a family, and a team and we all have to play a part to make things work.
  1. I want them to be able to play together, entertain themselves, use initiative and be creative.

At the end of the day, it’s all about balance. Right now, as I work on finding my first clients, I am still getting that balance right. It seems to me that technology has changed the way we work and there are more parents –male and female – working from home. While the goal for many, and the reason for doing this is to spend time with their kids, I don’t think anyone should be feeling guilty if their kids are playing on their own (or watching TV) or waiting 5 minutes for their next snack while Mum or Dad gets some work done. Hopefully the next generation seeing the entrepreneurs and small business owners of today, working hard and hustling to make a success of their business is providing role models and inspiration for a future generation of entrepreneurs and business people.

My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting - helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities
My business cards for Angela Pickett Consulting – helping businesses to expand their international engagement and opportunities

P.S: I got my new business cards last week and I am so damned excited. After years of plain black and white cards with only a government crest for decoration (and maybe a foreign translation on the back), I finally have fantastic, funky cards for my own business. I’m so grateful to my graphic designer Erica Brady, who was able to take my creative brief what she knew of me from our interactions on social media over the last year, to create my fantastic brand identity. It has been great to go to events and hand these out and I’m looking forward to updating my website, social media and other marketing collateral in the coming weeks.