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What young women in the workforce need to know, and other tips from a master marketer

Jessica Levin, president and chief connector, Seven Degrees Communications.-(SEVEN DEGREES COMMUNICATIONS)

“Hey. I would love to take you to lunch to chat about the types of stories you are looking for and how I could be a resource for you.
“Do you like sushi?”That’s how Jessica Levin, president and chief connector at Seven Degrees Communications in Woodbridge, introduces herself.

It works.

I did, in fact, enjoy sashimi with Levin and her colleague, Noelle Stary, owner of The Co-Working Space in Woodbridge and CEO of 20 Lemons, an entrepreneurial marketing company. I learned not only about their businesses but also their ambitious goals for the future.

Levin is out to achieve greatness in New Jersey — and I believe this week’s #WomenCrashWednesday absolutely can!

After studying marketing, management and entrepreneurship at Florida State University, Levin earned her MBA in marketing from Rutgers University and pursued an 11-year career in strategic marketing.

In 2009, Levin started Seven Degrees Communications to focus on building and strengthening both personal and business relationships by teaching others how to embrace social media as a way to create both corporate and personal brands.

Just a year after starting her business, Levin was inducted into the New Jersey Social Media Hall of Fame.

Her work has earned her much critical acclaim.

This year alone, Levin has been named a member of the NJBIZ Best Fifty Women in Business and to the Best Marketing and Communications Professionals Under 40 List by the New Jersey Advertising Club and Jersey Shore Public Relations and Advertising Association.

A frequent presenter and blogger on the topics of digital and content marketing and networking and connecting people, Levin managed to project her voice even louder when she published her book, “Perfect Pairings: The Art of Connecting People,” last February.

In her free time — which she claims to have, despite working 10 hours a day and owning her own business — Levin serves as president of the New Jersey Professional Services Marketers Association; the president-elect for the Professional Management Convention Association, Greater New York Chapter; director of marketing for the charity Operation BBQ Relief; and on the committees for the Association for Accounting Marketing and the Association for Corporate Growth.

I personally admire and appreciate the work that Levin continues to put forth with Seven Degrees Communications and am excited to see what she does next!

Please enjoy this Q&A with Jessica Levin, president and chief connector at Seven Degrees Communications in Woodbridge:

NJBIZ: What do you love most about your current career?

Jessica Levin: Some days are stressful as president and chief connector of Seven Degrees Communications, but there is so much to love about being an entrepreneur. My favorite thing is being able to set the tone of the culture for my company and employees. In the seven years that we’ve been in business, we have fostered a very strong culture of kindness, volunteerism and creativity. We get to choose who we work with and how we work with them and we choose to work with nice people who are doing good work.  It’s a simple philosophy but it works for us.

NJBIZ: How have your past career experiences shaped your current work philosophy?

JL: Prior to starting my business, I worked for a CPA firm association called Moore Stephens North America and I was also director of marketing at what is now CohnReznick. I got firsthand experience working in professional services and dealing with business built on relationships. So much of what I learned there and what I practice now involves the concept of doing business with people who you like and trust. 

NJBIZ: What are your short- and long-term business goals?

JL: Five years ago, someone asked me where I saw myself in five years and I had a really hard time answering the question. The time has passed quickly and, while I accomplished a lot, much of it I could not have predicted.

That being said, one of our short-term goals is to create better processes and procedures within my company. We are looking to streamline work in a way that makes us more efficient but does not impede the creative process. In the last few months, we have come pretty far in reaching this goal and I expect by the end of the year to have our internal systems in a much better place. This might not seem like a very sexy goal, but the truth is, spending time working on the company will help to make us more profitable and grow.

I have an idea for a very different business in the long term that would leverage my marketing skills and would allow me to dig into a product the way I do with any client project.

NJBIZ: What would you consider your most valued accomplishments?

JL: My company just celebrated seven years in business and, considering the fact that most businesses fail within the first three years, I consider this a significant accomplishment and something that I’m proud of.

I also published the book “Perfect Pairings: The Art of Connecting People” in 2015. Writing a book was something that I had wanted to do for about 10 years and it’s incredibly satisfying to have finished and published it.

NJBIZ: What was the most important thing you learned during your education?

JL: My first exposure to marketing was an entry-level class where the professor was a former Coca-Cola executive. I quickly changed my major to marketing but then soon after discovered not all marketing is as glamorous as working for one of the most recognized brands in the world. In my entrepreneurship program, however, we worked with real companies to determine the feasibility of their products. I learned there that not all ideas are good ideas and the importance of business planning.

 NJBIZ: What advice would you give to young women in school today?

JL: There’s a good chance that what you study in school or what you think you want to be when you grow up is not what you end up doing. There’s a good chance that you might end up in many careers that look different from where you thought you would end up. Work takes up a lot of your time and it’s critical to know and identify what you love to do to try to find work that matches up as closely with your passion as possible. This isn’t always easy to do — sometimes your passion doesn’t pay the bills — so you must evaluate what factors in life are most important to you and that even those might change as time goes on.

NJBIZ: What advice would you give to fellow young working women today?

JL: Begin building your network and your professional relationships as early in your career as possible; the circles that you build will support you throughout your career.

NJBIZ: What are some steps we need to take today in order to continue narrowing the gender and pay gap?

JL: One practical step is to do your homework and to understand what your specific job is worth. You should always be ready to negotiate. Negotiation doesn’t mean that you’re somebody who’s always playing hardball — it just means that you know your worth and are prepared to ask for it. In any good negotiation, the outcome is a win-win.

NJBIZ: What were the attitudes toward women in your industry when you first started? How have they changed since?

JL: I noticed the change most when I started my own business and became much more in charge of my destiny. I still see what I refer to as ‘old school’ men making inappropriate remarks about women, but at the same time I see men who have successful spouses and have a much greater appreciation for women in the workplace. Female executives are no longer an anomaly and the more of us that are in the workplace, the less men will feel superior.

NJBIZ: What would you say are the Top 5 things successful women always do well?

JL: Successful women: support each other; leverage female characteristics, such as being nurturing, as strengths in the workplace; can speak their mind without being harsh; walk the talk; and work hard and play hard by finding ways to be efficient.

NJBIZ: What mistakes do women often make at the workplace?

JL: Women can be very competitive with other women. From my experience, this doesn’t make anyone look good. It just makes work unpleasant for everyone.

NJBIZ: What is keeping women from holding or gaining more leadership positions?

JL: The truth is, whether we like it or not, motherhood does play a factor. It is very difficult to run a company or a department with little children at home. This means that if a job requires long hours, a lot of travel or other strenuous commands, women have to make decisions about where they spend their time. The women who are most successful seem to have incredibly supportive husbands, parents or other help. In many cases, women choose to spend time with their families and forgo leadership opportunities. Life is about sacrifice. Men in leadership roles often sacrifice time with their families and often miss opportunities to see their children grow up. However, women are often passed up for leadership roles because the assumption is that they are not willing to make the sacrifice when, in fact, they may be blessed with the strong support system that would allow them to take on such a role. I do not have children and admire my friends and colleagues who are able to juggle both so well.

NJBIZ: What is your business doing to foster women’s growth in the industry?

JL: My team is all female and we have a culture that promotes work-life balance. We do not have any set vacation time — people take time as they need it.  We don’t perform rocket surgery and there are very few things that cannot wait another day.

I also spend a lot of time mentoring students and other women at all phases of their career.

NJBIZ: Do you feel a desire to start a family will negatively impact your career progression?

JL: I don’t plan to have children, and honestly don’t know how other women do it. I know it’s not easy and it does impact career progression. However, women have the right to define their own career path and there’s nothing wrong with it taking a little longer because they’re dedicating time to their family. I think in some ways women are being shamed if they choose to be a mother instead of a professional. This is just as bad as being held back from leadership positions.

NJBIZ: Break up your average 24 hour weekday into a pie chart — what percentage do you devote to work?

JL: I work about 10 hours a day — not including networking, which I tend to do a lot of. I do try to work as little as possible on the weekends and find that the recharge makes my week more productive.

Meg Fry

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