Spotlight on Biz – Hilary Faverman

A couple of weeks ago, I strolled down Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in search of something to eat that’s not a sandwich or pizza and came across a new Anglo-owned muffin place (more on that another time).

That’s when an idea hit me – why not feature stories of other Anglo small businesses in Israel so that we can all learn from each other’s experiences?

The ever-intrepid Hilary Faverman agreed to go first. Stay tuned for more stories from Anglo small businesses in Spotlight on Biz. I’ll be posting these interviews once every couple of weeks.

Know of a great biz to be featured? Drop me a line.

Hi Hilary, thanks for agreeing to be the first to be featured as part of the Love My Biz series. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I amHilary Faverman not your run-of-the-mill-olah.  10 years ago, I was basically dragged here, kicking and screaming, by a dimpled Vin Diesel lookalike who I married. I spoke no Hebrew, knew nothing of Israel’s history or culture, and
was pregnant in about 5 minutes. My previously well-honed human resources, risk mitigation, liability limiting American legal knowledge was useless here. Step one: learn Hebrew. Step two: learn how to be a mother. Step three: develop a new career. Step four: Now balance them all.

I am also a sausage maker, pie baker and mother of 3.

Wow, sounds like “fun!” Now about your business. How would you describe it to someone, who knows nothing about it or the market?

I believe in the power and purpose of passionate, clear, invigorating content. It is my conviction that properly fostered online relationships can be genuine, valid and worthwhile both in personal and professional realms.

As an outcome of that, Hilary Faverman Communications offers content marketing, social media strategy and deployment, ghost blogging and marketing communications services. We service both Israeli and American clients and produce English marketing materials (digital and traditional) that inspire the target audience.

Content certainly is important for any business. Where did the idea for the business come from?

I spent the last 5 years as Director of Marketing at a boutique outsourcing firm, where I had the opportunity to create marketing messaging, collateral, social media platforms and an online community from scratch. It was exhilarating and I relied heavily on my background in recruitment and human resources to build the right messages and elicit the right reactions from my audiences. In time, I began taking on clients directly, in addition to my Director role, and eventually the demand overtook my available time, so I went out on my own full time.

How did you turn the idea into reality?

I took a leap of faith and JUMPED! Over a period of about two years, I put the word out slowly that I was available for side projects. I did a great deal of ghost blogging (sometimes paid, sometimes free) and published on many subjects (parenting, life in Israel) under my own byline. It generated enough interest, over time that clients began to ring me directly.  I received referrals. I networked at events. I eventually took a deep breath and gave notice at my firm, which was heartbreaking. To leave something you’ve built is crushing, but I believe that greater things are to come.

Leaving something familiar (especially if it’s been your baby for a while) can be really difficult. What’s the biggest challenge your clients face? How do you solve it?

My clients either have something to say and don’t know how to communicate it (stuck), or they feel pressure to say “something,” but have no idea what, or where to start (stuck).

I become their mouthpiece not by talking, but rather by listening. I start out by  interviewing my clients. Of course I listen to their words, but I’m really listening to their tone, their humor, their personality, their voice, their brand. How do they want to be represented? Perceived? Often, when asked directly, they have no answer. But ask the right questions, for long enough, casually enough, and be an active listener, and the answers are yours for the taking. It’s easy to find out why someone is passionate about what they do: just ASK! Then, know how to listen.

That’s so true! Businesses are usually way too busy talking, and have no  time or patience or skill to listen to their clients. Since we have two ears and one mouth, a good rule of thumb is to listen to our clients at least twice as much as we talk.  Is there an interesting experience you have had with a client that you’d like to share?

An important lesson I have learned is that you need to do things even though you’re not sure you can! Say yes, then work your tush off to deliver something fantastic. I recently accepted a big client project for an Israeli company, which decided its target market is North America. Great. I speak that language. All the materials, I’m told, are in English! No problem! What they did NOT tell me was that all meetings, correspondence, phone calls and email were in Hebrew. D’oh! In the space of a month, my Hebrew went from Gan Hebrew (“How was your summer? Where will little Yaacov be next year?”) to marketing Hebrew  (“Upgrade the content in this PowerPoint slide and see if you can animate it.)” BAM!

That certainly sounds like a challenge. Often clients don’t know what they need to tell us and we don’t realize we need to ask. You get to work with clients both in the US and in Israel. What aspects of the Israeli business culture do you find noteworthy?

Sadly, it’s been challenging at times to extract promised payment in this country. This is why iron-clad contracts are so important, but culturally, it seems more acceptable here to pay late, negotiate after-the-fact, or not pay at all.

That said, I very much appreciate the “get down to business” attitude here – things are more efficient (did I just say that things in Israel are more efficient? Clearly I’ve been here too long.) Smalltalk is reserved for friends, meals, coffee – Israelis don’t waste the first 20 minutes of a meeting discussing politics or the weekend’s football game. They are in the office to work, and are happy to shoot the breeze … once the work is done.

It’s also acceptable in Israeli office culture to disagree strongly and show it. When I worked for giants like American Express, disagreement was alarming and had to be communicated discretely, carefully, diplomatically. I perfected that art, but here it’s needless. You don’t like it? Say so!

Sounds like very valuable cultural knowledge. Speaking of knowledge, who taught you the most important lessons about business? What are these lessons?

I learned a great deal from 4 different sources:

A) Barry Feldman’s (of Feldman Creative) eBook “The Point” was attractive, clear, strategic and mapped out in spoken, casual language. This taught me the value and importance of communicating your personality via your writing, even if it’s not mainstream. I also stalked the poor man, since I was so impressed with him.

B) Jude Shapira of CPRContent taught me that risks are worth taking, that my abilities are only limited by my confidence level, and that contracts need to be iron-clad. Very important knowledge.

C) Jeff Mendelson of Las Olas Tech taught me SEO basics (and patience, which goes hand in hand with SEO) as well as  the value of instant, open, engaging client relations.

D) Debi Lewis of Jebraweb taught me that blogging for your target audience can absolutely be fun (even when the topics are not) and that adding bits of your own life to your professional blog enhances its value. She also taught me about setting client limits and expectations – very valuable.

Great resources. Your experience just goes to show that mindset and personality are no less important than subject knowledge. Did you find yourself held back by an internal obstacle or a mindset issue? How did you address it?

How does one become a “real” writer? Jeff Goins taught me how. You want to know?

And then call yourself a writer.

Then convince other people that you’re damn good at it.

Then charge people.

My initial problem – what kept me working for someone else, rather than myself, for so long…were the labels: Writer. Entrepreneur. Business owner.

Hello – scary labels.

Working hard + self-education + networking and attending industry conferences + offering people a hand (or a referral!) when needed = Success. From earned success comes confidence. That’s what helped me overcome the fear.

Hillary, you are one gutsy lady! Which takes me back to the beginning of this interview. You started out by describing everything that’s on your plate. How do you manage the aham! “life-work balance”?

You’re asking me this after August and during the chagim? When balance is not to be found? August is horrific and sleep-deprived, since my clients don’t care (nor should they!) that my kids are home.

My husband is my best partner and we both work from home. He’s in charge from wake-up until 10am, even in August. He gets everybody dressed, fed, he packs lunches and gets everyone out the door. I begin working at 7am (he even delivers espresso to me at my desk. I’m not kidding.)

I work straight through until noon, and then run my errands and do any cooking/cleaning.

My kids are home by 2pm and I’m with them (checking email, yes, but not tied to it) through dinnertime, until 7pm. At 7pm, barring anything unforeseen, they revert back to my husband and he deals with showers and stories. I go back to work and handle anything urgent, including calls to clients in the States, until 9 or 10pm. Then I collapse.

Is that balanced?

Sounds familiar J.  Totally with you – without family support entrepreneurship is not possible!

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Hilary. Where can you be reached?

The website is still in the works, but I can be reached by email or at 054-654-6580 in Israel or (646) 397-7842 from the US.

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