#57: Expert Interview - Marketing Tips for Reaching Lesbians [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#57: Expert Interview – Marketing Tips for Reaching Lesbians [Podcast]

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AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #57 – Expert Interview: Marketing Tips for Reaching Lesbians

Jenn T Grace:

You are listening to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast, Episode 57.

Intro:

Welcome to the Gay Business and Marketing Made Easy Podcast where you’ll learn how to do business with and market to the LGBT community in an authentic and transparent way. We’re talking about the $790 billion lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. We’ll help you grow your business, gain market share and impact your bottom line. And now your host – she’s an entrepreneur, a marketing maven and an advocate for the LGBT business community. Jenn, with two N’s, T. Grace.

Jenn T Grace:

So I am super excited to have you on the show today. So I am talking with Ebone Bell. And you are the Tagg Magazine it person, is what I will call you. But your official title is you are the owner of it, you’re the creator of it, founder, editor-in-chief, and basically the cook, line, bottle washer, and all that stuff as well I’m guessing.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly, you absolutely nailed it.

Jenn T Grace:

So I’m really happy to be talking to you today, and I really just want to- I’m really excited for the fact that you have Tagg Magazine which is a lesbian publication, and there are so few lesbian publications out there, that I’m so excited to have you on the show. Of course calling myself a professional lesbian and having a fellow professional lesbian basically being on the show, I think this is great to just kind of talk to us today about your business, about your personal story, and one question I’m really dying to know is what made you create Tagg Magazine?

Ebone Bell:

And that’s a great question, and a question that I get all the time. Because people are like, ‘Well what made you want to do a print publication where people are saying that print is dead. But essentially you know I live in the DC metropolitan area, and we have you know, other LGBT publications here which are great. But one consistent thing that I would always see, and still always see, is it was really geared a lot towards gay men and specifically even white gay men. You know when I would give presentations or sometimes still now I would have somebody count the number of men they see in the first ten pages of whatever publication, local LGBT publication is out there. And then I’d have them go back and count the number of women. The last time I did the presentation they counted 33 men and they counted two women. And some of those might have I think a couple or one of those happened to be an ad. So I always start off that way because that is the reason that we started Tagg Magazine. You know I took a huge leap of faith by wanting to do a print publication, but I really felt like there was a need for it, and the women’s community has amazing people doing great things, and I wanted to be able to tell their stories, have resources for people, list events and kind of show how thriving the lesbian community is. So really that’s why I started it and thankfully the community is really supporting this magazine in more ways than one.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome. And I know that you basically just said that a lot of people are saying that print is dead. Clearly that’s not your experience, but do you see your publication continuing on really strong for like the foreseeable future in that print format? And are you building kind of your web presence as a good supplement to that? Or do you ever expect that maybe your web presence would eventually take over?

Ebone Bell:

Sure, yeah. I kind of consider it kind of the ten year plan, that it’s very possible that the print may not sustain at this point, even though it’s done really, really well right now. So we actually already have our issues digitally online, it’s just something we haven’t promoted yet, and something we’re just kind of keeping behind the scenes until we realize that the print publication might be slowing down a little bit. But we are absolutely prepared for that, and we’re seeing a lot of traction on the website already. But another thing that we do besides the actual magazine, and the reason that I wanted to start this, was to bring the community together. And we wanted to be more than just the magazine. So yes, we have the print publication, we have the website; but another thing we do is at least four major events throughout the year to bring our readers together and bring the queer women’s community together here in the DC metropolitan area. So that’s another way that we are being more than just a print publication and making sure we still have that Tagg brand throughout the years. Another thing we’re doing as you know I mentioned to you before the call, we’re also starting a podcast show so we can reach even more I guess women in the community or across the nation really, where we’re talking about all kinds of things from what’s in the issue, we have a fun segment called, ‘What’s Hot, What’s Not,’ so we’re really making sure that we’re putting systems in place just in case that does happen within the next ten years or so. But it’s a really good question and something that we continue to think about and make sure we can sustain and continue to build the brand.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, and it seems like it’s going to a very holistic marketing model. Where you have these events, so you have the events, you’re starting the podcast, you have the print publication, you have a robust website. So I can see from a brand perspective; so my listenership is a lot of small business owners, many of which are allies to our community, many of which who are part of the community. And I’m certain that there are corporate people listening to this as well, but they’re probably more of the minority in it. But having a publication and a business model like yours, I think is really good for potential advertisers to see, because you do provide a lot of different outlets and ways in which they can engage with people, and I think that that’s really critical with your major events that you’re doing annually or quarterly I guess, because it gives people that opportunity to actually connect with the readership. And now was that something that was intentionally done kind of from a- trying to figure out how to phrase it, from your business model perspective of ‘yes we want to make sure that we have an outlet to engage our readers and really fire them up and get them connected with each other.’ But were you also thinking from a business standpoint of how this could actually benefit potential advertisers or sponsors?

Ebone Bell:

Sure. So I’ll be completely honest with you. You know I know when you start a business everyone’s like, ‘You need to have all these things in place, and have a business model, and policies and procedures.’ Well I was one of probably many that just jumped into this.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s the way to do it.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly. I’m just going to start this and see what happens. So I have to be honest and say the biggest thing for us was the print publication and the website, knowing in the future that we would also do events, but there was no business model in place. I think as I started to grow from year one to year two, is when I really realized that we had to have some growing systems in place, and also for our advertisers. People want to reach out to the community and see some sort of return on investment. So yes, it’s really easy to advertise and a lot of our advertisers in print and online are seeing a lot of feedback from clients, or our readers, which is great. But I realize that a lot of advertisers and companies are kind of moving away from the print advertising, so we want to make sure that we’re creating other options for people to get in front of our readers. Whether that be sponsorship at events, or physically being at an event. For example, we host a monthly ladies tea during the nicer weather seasons, and we bring in different companies or vendors to literally get in front of our readers to either get them to sign up on newsletters, or get them engaged, or have them sign up to be clients, or what have you. Also obviously as someone who runs a podcast as well, we already have sponsors who have signed up to be sponsors for the podcast show. So again, it’s just a great way to build our supporters up through several different avenues. So absolutely our advertisers came to mind when we decided to kind of grow this ‘media empire.’

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome, I love that word. I’m all about building empires.

Ebone Bell:

Me too!

Jenn T Grace:

I need to start a group of professional lesbians who are building empires, because there’s so many of them that I’m either working with directly, or just kind of know in circles, and everyone just keeps throwing out the phrase empire so perhaps you can be the chairwoman of said empire.

Ebone Bell:

Oh I love it. We need to see if www.LesbianEmpire.com is available. Because if it is we need to get on that ASAP.

Jenn T Grace:

Seriously. Oh, that’d be hilarious.

Ebone Bell:

I love it.

Jenn T Grace:

I think it’s great. And fortunately there’s time between when we record this and when it airs, so by the time you’re listening to this listeners, Lesbian Empire is probably going to be owned by one of the two of us, if not both.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

So don’t be trying to go get it, because it’s already ours.

Ebone Bell:

I love it, I love it.

Jenn T Grace:

So let me kind of backtrack because we’ve already dived into so many great things, and since this is a podcast where I like to share peoples’ stories, but I also want to focus on your words of wisdom that you could share with the audience about how to actually market themselves properly to our community. But I want to do this in twofold. So I’d love to get a little bit more about your story if you could, and one of the best ways I find to get this information is by asking you if you have some kind of coming out story that you’d be willing to share. It could be something that’s really kind of lighthearted and inspiring, or it could be something unfortunately that’s a little more tragic which does come up on the podcast occasionally. But I’m curious, like what’s your best coming out story that you would say?

Ebone Bell:

Sure. And obviously as LGBT individuals, you know let’s be honest we’re always coming out. But the beginning, beginning coming out when obviously I really realized who I was, was probably with my mom. So I was in college, I went to the University of Maryland College Park; go Terps who happen to be in the Final Four.

Jenn T Grace:

Against UConn.

Ebone Bell:

I know, I know. Are you a UConn fan?

Jenn T Grace:

I am. Go Huskies.

Ebone Bell:

It’s alright, we’ll still have our website to join forces.

Jenn T Grace:

We can still be friends.

Ebone Bell:

We can still be friends. So you know I had just come out, I think I was nineteen because I started college pretty early when I was seventeen, so I think I was eighteen or nineteen. And I had already told my group of friends in college and of course all of them were like, ‘Duh, of course. We were just waiting for you to just say something,’ right? And so I decided that I needed to call my mom. And it was probably like early evening, my roommate at the time was out of the room so this was the perfect time. And I just picked up the phone and immediately I already started crying. Already started crying, and then of course she picks up the phone and she’s freaking out because I’m just crying. She thought something bad happened to me or something. And I was just crying and bawling, and I said, ‘Mom I just- I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.’ That’s like one of the first things I said. I just said, ‘I don’t want you to be disappointed in me.’ And I said that just because one, obviously everybody wants to make their parents proud. But also unfortunately a lot of people lose their loved ones because of who they are. So I was completely overwhelmed with that feeling, so that’s all I kept saying to her and she’s like, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ She’s like, ‘I could never be disappointed in you, what’s wrong?’ And then I said, ‘Mom, I’m gay.’ And her response basically was like, ‘How can I be disappointed in something that I already knew?’

Jenn T Grace:

Oh wow.

Ebone Bell:

And those words- I mean literally I still remember them today like it was yesterday. And the weight that was lifted off of my shoulders was just amazing, I can’t even explain the feeling. And what was really cool, it was around Halloween and I grew up in Olney, Maryland and so College Park is not that far, it’s maybe about a 45-minute drive, something like that. And so my mom said, ‘How about this? How about I come out, let’s go grab dinner, and we can talk about it and maybe I can help you pick out a Halloween outfit.’ You know and it was so- it was so random but so touching that instead of just hanging up the phone, that she wanted to make contact with me that same day.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow, that’s awesome.

Ebone Bell:

Yeah so for me that was a very memorable coming out story, and I’m very lucky to have her in my life and that she’s so supportive.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, you- and I feel like the listeners at this point probably understand that your story is a little bit more rare; especially if we’re thinking about- and I don’t know your exact age but I’m guessing college was at least ten years ago if not more, it was fifteen years ago for myself. So if we think about just kind of the evolution of how the LGBT equality movement has been going on since like- I don’t know even the mid to late nineties to now, there’s been some significant and different strides. So if you think about how hard it is for young people to come out now in 2015, going back to- like I came out in 2000 or 2001; I was nineteen so somewhere in the early 2000’s. Like it was a really different time, even though it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. So in her really open and embracing attitude toward you then is really I think a huge, huge thing.

Ebone Bell:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it probably helped that we- you know I had uncles that were gay, one on my dad’s side who apparently she used to hang out with all the time and used to go out to the clubs and all of that. So I think that probably also helped, because obviously she loves her family no matter what. So you know, like I said she- and what’s funny is she’s like, ‘I’m convinced that it’s genes, I’m convinced that it’s genes,’ because of the uncle. So it’s just funny and obviously it’s always a learning process when you do come out to people, it’s not just like, ‘Okay we’re all good now.’ You know sometimes I still have to explain things to her and have her understand. So I always laugh when I think about that.

Jenn T Grace:

And now as a fellow professional lesbian, even though this is what you do for a living, there are still so many times where you still have to come out, I’m certain of it. I know it happens for me on a regular basis. And it’s like I couldn’t be any more professionally gay if I tried, and yet I still have to come out to people. So it’s part of life.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly, exactly. And you know every time- I mean I can imagine for you, because you are the professional lesbian, but every time I tell people what I do, I’m coming out. You know? And some might also say that maybe sometimes my ‘appearance’ kind of tells them as well. But every time I tell people what I do, I’m coming out every single time. And I’m proud to do that. You know, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, there’s been situations that I’ve been in that I wanted to just leave because it was very uncomfortable and I would want- I wouldn’t wish that on anyone to have that experience. But a lot of times, you know like you said we’re in a different time, people are more understanding. You know we have marriage equality, we are taking a stand for LGBT youth; so it’s a wonderful time, even though we still have work to do. But it’s a wonderful time to come out and to be yourself.

Jenn T Grace:

I would agree, and one of my questions that I always like to ask and I’m going to ask it now because I think it probably will tie into what you were just saying, is you must have- and we all know that being a business owner, it may look glamourous but it can be a total bear a majority of the time. So you have to have some level of motivation, and some sort of inspiration that just keeps you chugging along even when times are not the most fun. So is there something for you that just keeps you motivated, to know that what you’re doing- whether that means that you’re trying to leave a legacy behind, or if you’re trying to make an impact on the community; is there something that just keeps you always looking in a very specific direction? Saying like, ‘Okay if I can get through this, that means I’m going to be helping X amount of people,’ or is there some layer of motivation that just kind of gets you through?

Ebone Bell:

Sure. And I have to say the first year, definitely was very, very challenging to the point sometimes of like, ‘Oh my goodness, what did I do? What did I do? I left my nice, cushy job.’ And the first year- you know I think any business owner will say the first year is somewhat of a struggle unless you’re like Facebook or something like that. But the biggest thing that keeps me going is the feedback that we get from different women that email us and just say, ‘Thank you for what you’re doing.’ You know, ‘I had no idea about this resource, or this person, or this story and it did me the world of a difference.’ That is everything to me. Another is when we do our events, and sometimes I’ll step back, and it sounds a little cheesy but sometimes I step back and I watch these women gathering and laughing and smiling, and making genuine connections, and I step back and I think, ‘This is why I do what I do.’ Of course I would love to leave some sort of legacy within this community, and that would be fantastic. But if I could just say, ‘I was a part of bringing people together,’ then I feel like I’ve done my job, that’s exactly what Tagg is about.

Jenn T Grace:

I like that a lot. I think- and I have such a similar type of mentality around it. Like even if I can just affect one person a day, I feel like I’ve done something. If I can make it even just a slight step easier for that next generation, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. And it really- like I feel like for me, the wins are so, so tiny that people looking at it are thinking, ‘Wow, that’s what you consider a win?’ And it’s like, yeah. That’s why I do this. Like I’m not doing it for the money although of course that’s a nice perk, I’m not doing it for the schedule because I can have all this freedom; like I’m trying to genuinely make an impact on our community for the better and for the greater good.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. And you know, as far as the money goes, you’re right. I feel like when I started this I realized the money will come. If you love what you do and you have a passion for it, the money will come. And people like you and I, we started it because we felt there was a need for it, and we wanted to make an impact. And again I know- I believe in Karma and all of that, I feel like all of that will come if you just keep being authentic. And keep that passion going.

Jenn T Grace:

Authentic, oh what a good word that is.

Ebone Bell:

Yeah, I love it too.

Jenn T Grace:

You have to be authentic. So that actually will bring me right into a good question here. Is you just saying authentic. So I am all about living an authentic life. Like you just- it’s so much easier to just be who you are, and not try to put up these facades and these barriers between you and what people think of you and see is you; like I just think it’s so much easier and I’m a really terrible liar to be honest. So me trying to like- trying to be somebody I’m not is just never- it never works out well. So I just am who I am whether we’re talking here on this podcast where thousands of people are going to hear this, or if it’s you and I having a one-on-one conversation; you’re still going to get the same me, it’s just kind of how I live. And I think authenticity is so incredibly important A, as a business owner, but B, as someone who’s part of a community; and it doesn’t have to be the LGBT community, it can be any particular community. Being authentic to yourself within that community is really important. But if you are thinking about- like say you’re talking to one of your advertisers, and they are some straight-owned company, maybe they’re a big corporation, just somebody who has an ally involved. How important do you think it is for the people who are advertising in your magazine, or sponsoring an event, or attending an event, to really be bringing their authentic selves to the table? And I’m talking about the ally community specifically.

Ebone Bell:

Sure. Obviously it’s super important and we have tons of allies that are advertisers, sponsors, and supporters, and each one of them I have full-on conversations with explaining who we are and how it’s very important to know this community. And it’s okay for you not to know things and ask questions. I rather you do that than fake it ’till you make it, basically, and be inauthentic. You know I can give examples, you know we’ve had a handful of advertisers that have asked, ‘Well can I advertise in this publication if I’m not gay?’ Which immediately, you know, for someone like me is a silly question, but I also think it’s a very valid question. And obviously they’re being authentic by asking that, and I think that’s so important to be honest about who you are for anybody, but especially for our advertisers. You know I have one guy- and I’m hoping I can give a shout-out.

Jenn T Grace:

Of course.

Ebone Bell:

Kevin Cook of Cook’s Financial, he’s been a huge supporter of this magazine ever since we started. And he’s been part of our events where he gives LGBT couples financial planning advice, and he’ll also be doing that in an upcoming event that we have. And I literally sat down with him- it was last week on Wednesday for an hour, and we drew up exactly the things that he should be talking about knowing his audience. And he said to me, ‘I want to make sure that I’m reaching your appropriate audience, but that I know exactly what I’m doing and who I’m talking to, and making sure that I can still be Cook’s Financial.’ And I thought, ‘Wow. How amazing is that, that somebody wants to take the time to know about our community?’ And it’s so important for our supporters to get that. So it’s so important for them to be authentic, because you know, whether you know what you’re doing or not, that’s the best thing to do, is just be authentic, to be honest; because I don’t think it will ever steer you wrong.

Jenn T Grace:

I would agree. And I think if you think about like Kevin was wise enough to just ask you, but he also felt comfortable enough to ask you. To say, ‘I don’t want to screw this up. Can you give me some guidance, give me some pointers?’ knowing that you’re not going to be a judgmental party on the other side. And I try to emphasize this to the allies that I work with that you just have to ask. Like you’re better off just asking me the question about something than going in a different direction or trying to get your way through it, and then offending somebody in the process. Like it’s just a lot easier, and I don’t want to speak on behalf of the entire transgender community, but I know a lot of trans folks would just prefer that you point blank ask them what their preferred pronoun is rather than misstep and say the wrong one. Like if you- and this is just my own personal experience. So instead of just starting using ‘he, he, he’ when really you should be saying ‘she,’ and now you’ve completely offended that person. If you just said, ‘Hey what’s your preferred pronoun?’ most of the time they respect that. And I don’t think- and that’s certainly something that’s a little bit- may require a little more bravery to feel comfortable in asking, but it’s a matter of just knowing that there are safe places and safe environments in which you can ask these questions, and it’s always the case with me. So I get questions from people, leaving me voicemails, or sending me emails that they feel so full of fear to ask this question. And I’m not going to be the one that’s going to chastise them for asking the question, but rather embrace it because somebody felt comfortable to ask it; but chances are there’s going to be at least 1,000 other people with that exact same question. So somebody has to ask for the benefit of everybody else.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly. And I don’t- you know I don’t think it’s just allies or businesses or companies; sometimes it’s even within our own community. As I’m learning as people- some of my friends are transitioning, or even the term ‘gender queer’ is coming up as well. So a lot of times a practice that we have with Tagg Magazine with our writers, immediately is to ask what preferred pronoun do you have? Because though we might think somebody is ‘she’ even though they present it that way, maybe they don’t want to be locked into a certain gender. So that’s coming up a lot lately, even within our own LGBT community.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, and it is uncomfortable sometimes, and it is hard to ask those really tough questions, and it is hard to put yourself in a vulnerable position. But I try to emphasize that an LGBT person is likely going to respect you more for having had that bravery to just come out and ask it.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that. I don’t think there’s been a time when I’ve done that, or any of our writers have done that and anyone has taken offense. I think people definitely appreciate the fact that you even ask and that you care.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, I think it just kind of shows like a slightly elevated- what’s the right way to put it? You’re evolved, you’re like a little bit more evolved than the average person which is really what I think makes a true ally an ally. Is that they really care about the community, they’re really committed to the community, and they’re willing to go that slight step further on behalf of others within the community. So I think it’s a win-win across the board.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. And another thing I think is it makes an ally memorable. Think of the times when people have actually just said something like that to you and you’re like, ‘Wow, I would never expect that from this person.’ And you remember that, and you’re like, ‘Wow they actually care.’ It makes a huge difference in how you come across to the community.

Jenn T Grace:

And it’s going to make a difference in whether or not you get the sale. Because at the end of the day, you’re marketing to the community from an ally standpoint because you want to increase your revenue. Like that’s what we’re all here to do, we’re not in business to just kind of rest on our laurels and just kind of keep humming along, minding our business. Like we all want to grow to a certain degree, because the more you grow the more you can impact people. So there’s nothing wrong with coming from a place of like, ‘How can I make money doing this?’ But if you come from an inauthentic place or a disingenuine place with that mentality, then I feel like you’re going to get eaten alive.

Ebone Bell:

No, absolutely. Absolutely I agree.

Jenn T Grace:

So if we’re talking about just business, do you have any type of advice that somebody gave you, whether it’s been in the past or maybe it was recent, that just is one of those guiding principles that kind of gets you reoriented in kind of going in whatever direction that you’re looking to move in.

Ebone Bell:

Sure. And you know again I guess a shout-out to my mom again, because my mom is I guess an entrepreneur herself, she owned two businesses, she was in the childcare industry when she was younger and then she decided to start her own two centers.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh wow.

Ebone Bell:

So it’s kind of in the blood, and I need to be very general and not specific, but from year one to year two I had some issues with people that I worked with. And the best advice she gave for me because she was in a similar situation a long time ago, was not to align myself with people who are negative and want to contribute to your failure. And of course she always say, ‘Don’t let anybody steal your joy, surround yourself with love and positivity.’ And I know that’s, again kind of sounds cheesy, and sure that’s exactly what you should do, but as you grow in  a business you meet a lot of people and sometimes people don’t necessarily want to see you succeed, and it’s an unfortunate thing. So it’s something that I’m learning as a business owner, to make sure that when you get those genuine people, to hold onto them. And sometimes in that process you find people that maybe aren’t in alignment with your vision, and that’s so important as a business that you bring on people that get your vision, and care about it, and want to see it grow. So again that’s something- you know we’re in our third year going on our fourth year and it’s something that I’m learning all the time, and building an amazing team of people. So you know I would say that to anybody out there, making sure you align yourself with the right people. That doesn’t mean that you want ‘yes’ people around with you all the time. The people around me are amazing because they always- you know they always give advice, their suggestions, their feedback, and that’s necessary because they also represent the community. The magazine isn’t about Ebone Bell, it’s about the community. But again, these people are in an alignment with our mission and how we want to grow, and that’s so important. It’s so important.

Jenn T Grace:

That is such a good amount of advice right there, and I think that- I don’t know about you, but I personally, and I have a lot of clients who struggle with finding the right team. Like there’s always- it’s just so hard to find good talented people that are a good fit culturally within your organization. And I fortunately have three people working for me right now, and they are all amazing in their very individual ways and they all have specific things that they do. But finding them is so hard, so when I do get somebody, I am not letting go. Like I’m going to hold onto that person as long as I possibly can and do whatever it takes to make sure that they’re happy and that they’re feeling appreciated in the workplace.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. And you know, not to sound negative but sometimes when you start to get a sense that maybe these people won’t work out, certain people, something that was really hard for me was to- how do I say it to them? How do I kind of let them go gently? And then meanwhile I’m still stringing them along, and they’re still making poor decisions for the company. So it’s something again that I have to- that I’m trying to get a stronger backbone honestly, to make sure I’m able to do that and do what’s best for the company.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, and a lot of times on paper it’s very like black and white; like here it is, like we have to make this decision, this person has to go. But there’s so much emotion, there’s so much feeling, there are so many feelings involved that it’s not always that easy. And I was just talking with a client before we hit record on this, and we were talking about like when is the right time to deliver that really tough feedback? And do you always have to give all of that feedback? Because if you’re going to say something like this person has this particular skillset; it’s not a good cultural fit for my company, but she could probably fit with a dozen other companies. But does my saying to her like, ‘Hey we don’t really like your style of this.’ Or, ‘We think you’re bad at this.’ Is that really going to be helpful feedback, or is that really just going to hurt that person’s ego and cause unnecessary damage when you can find an alternative to kind of let them go in a gentle fashion. Even though on paper, it’s very clear black and white, like this person has to go. But it’s really hard, like it is not easy to have to fire people or- you know I think the expression is ‘hire slow and fire fast,’ is that the one?

Ebone Bell:

Yes, yes. Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

Which is so much easier said than done.

Ebone Bell:

No and I completely, completely agree with you and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Hm, maybe I should talk to Jenn when this comes up next time.’ Because you’re right, like what do you say? Do you say, ‘Oh my God you’ve been awful.’ You know you can’t say that. And you’re right it’s really interesting like maybe you suggest- you know again, it’s about alignment and this is not really working out for the vision of our company. But you know, ‘You’re a great X, Y and Z. You know and I’m happy to write you a recommendation for this,’ or whatever the case might be. So yeah, it’s definitely a little bit of a song and dance and something again, that I think that I have to continue to learn to do to the best of my ability.

Jenn T Grace:

And these are all the things that you have to do as part of being a business owner. Like these are the things you cannot avoid, as much as you would love to avoid them; it all kind of comes with the territory of owning your own business.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly, yeah it would be very nice to just everything be flawless, and everybody be flawless all the time. I hope that happens, but yes it’s not unfortunately. It’s not always going to be perfection.

Jenn T Grace:

But we can try, we can strive for perfection anyway.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely.

Jenn T Grace:

Actually one of my favorite quotes, and I have it on a board- like a medal board for running medals that I have next to my desk that says, ‘Strive for progress, not perfection,’ which I live by. That is like my mantra, and it’s been my mantra for running because it’s like I’m trying to run thirteen miles, but at this point I just need to worry about getting past five. Then I will worry about getting to thirteen. Like it’s a matter of like getting yourself in the right mindset, and I think that it’s so applicable to business too. Like let’s just try to make a baby step. Even if it’s a baby step, it’s still a step forward and not back.

Ebone Bell:

Oh absolutely, I absolutely love that quote and I think it’s something one, I’m going to remind myself of that quote quite often, because I think as business owners and just as human beings, we really worry about how we look and you know we have to look a certain way to people and we have to be perfect. And again I think that’s just human nature. But really what matters in your business is progress. People aren’t looking for perfection because guess what? Not everyone is going to be in love with your product or with your services, or what you’re doing; it’s just not going to happen. So the most important thing- you’re right, is to just make progress within your business and grown the people that are with you. You know, those clients that are with you, those readers that are with you. So I love that. I love it, I’m writing it down as we speak.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, please do. This has been such a great interview so far and as I kind of warned you in the beginning, like we have a general idea of things to talk about, but we kind of bounce all over the place. And I feel like this has been a really organic and natural conversation, so I’m thrilled that we did decide to do this. That’s point number one. And so my second thing is that I really just want to talk for a few minutes about your experience in marketing as it relates to the LGBT community, whether that’s actually directly marketing or just kind of your knowledge that you’ve learned over the years of course as the fact that you have a publication that people can market within. But you said something really key in the beginning of our conversation as part of kind of your opening intro of yourself. And that was the exercise that you have people do if you’re doing a presentation, where they look through and try to find the gender balance, or find some sort of race balance. And in my experience- and I say this a lot, and I say this in front of audiences that I’m speaking at, is that people often have this very particular idea in mind of what the LGBT community looks like to them. And nine out of ten times, it is affluent, white, gay men. And that’s it; that are living in urban areas, they’re even that specific. So they’re looking for the urban white gay man that has a lot of money to spend. And you and I damn well know, that is not the case. And your publication is living proof of the fact that is not always the case. So if you’re talking to somebody that might have that mindset, they might think that really the only community that makes sense for them to market to is that particular community. What would you say to that person? Especially coming from a place of the fact that you have a lesbian publication that also focuses on people of color; which I think are two really big niches within our LGBT community.

Ebone Bell:

Right. So I’m going to be very blunt, I would say, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Seriously, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Now unless your- like that is- your product is specifically for white, gay men, which I can’t imagine there are many products that are like, ‘Here’s our market, we don’t care about people of color.’ You know, ‘We don’t care about women.’ I doubt there’s many companies like that. So the first thing I would say is, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ What needs to happen when companies are thinking about reaching out to the LGBT community, they shouldn’t be afraid to research the audience. Just because there’s a website, publication, event that’s like, ‘LGBT!’ You’re not always going to reach everyone. You need to do the research and find out, well what’s the percentage of women going to this event? What’s the percentage of people of color going to this event? What’s the percentage of men going to this event? Or readership, or what have you. One of the things that I think is interesting is again, that people will just kind of jump into something because they think it’s going to reach everyone; and that’s not the case, and that’s a huge reason we started Tagg Magazine, because women- when we did our research, because when I started this- even though I said that we jumped into it, there was six months of research and planning and surveying people, and finding out what’s working and what’s not? And we found out that like 90% of women in the community weren’t picking up the other publications because guess what? It didn’t relate to them. And what’s happening is you think you’re reaching the lesbian community, when unfortunately you’re only maybe reaching 10% of that 100%. So you know I would challenge companies not just to reach out to publications’ events or what have you, and just read their basic sponsorship and media kit; actually do the research and find out the niche within the niche. And ask those questions – well how many lesbians are reading this? How many bisexual people- the bisexual community gets left out all the time.

Jenn T Grace:

Of course.

Ebone Bell:

And trust me, they’re out there. The numbers are out there. How many transgender people are going to this event or reading this publication, and again how many queer people of color who is another target that I think is completely left out because sometimes they’re not considered wealthy, which is untrue. You know, I think every community has wealthy and maybe not so wealthy people. And so that- I mean basically again, do your research. Just don’t do something because it has the letters LGBTQ or LGBT on it, because you may not necessarily be reaching out to everyone.

Jenn T Grace:

You could not have said that any better if I had paid you.

Ebone Bell:

I’m not getting paid for this?

Jenn T Grace:

Aw damn! You just brought up so many good points, and I think the two examples that I could provide that illustrate your points really well is the fact that if you have a business that is based on serving women specifically, regardless of what your product or service is, and that’s your market, why on earth would you think it’s a good idea to start selling to gay men? Just because you think they have more money. That’s the one that I see people do often, it’s like okay let’s just sit back for a second and just examine what your business looks like, and who your ideal target market is. If it’s not men generally, why would it be gay men? So that seems like an obvious one. And then they also- the one I actually wrote about this I think it might have been in my first book, I don’t even know where I’ve written things at this point. But at some point I used the example of AARP. If you are flipping through an AARP magazine and you see a company that put some kind of Spring Break type of ad in it and they’re using like young millennials in it; you clearly know that that advertiser did not pay any attention to what they were doing. They are just throwing in their standard marketing in AARP and expecting something to happen. And if your demographic is Baby Boomers and you’re using marketing toward millennials or vice versa, then it’s just not going to work. So just because we’re talking about the LGBT community, basic marketing principles apply.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. And that’s the company’s job to say, ‘Okay who do we want to reach? Who- is this a women’s event that’s happening out in Key West, then maybe we shouldn’t advertise or market to the publication that has an audience of white, gay men. 90% audience.’ That wouldn’t make sense. And I’m going to be honest, you know I don’t want to sound bitter but the first point that you made; it’s been quite frustrating I guess I would use that word to see women business owners that want to attract women, sometimes advertise in other publications. And please know I’m not bad-mouthing other publications at all, I have complete respect for all of them. But it’s frustrating to see that happen because as somebody who’s been running this publication for three years, what I’m seeing is women want to support other women. It’s just- no I don’t have a percentage with me in the world on how many are doing that, but in my experience, women want to support other women. A great story that I always talk to people because she’s just been a huge supporter of just me personally and Tagg. There’s a chef, her name is Chef Jamie Leeds, and she owns Hank’s Oyster Bar, if anybody’s in the DC area, they have locations in DC and Virginia, I’ve been- they’re not paying me for this. But I started an event called the Capital Queer Prom, and it was giving the adult community 21 and up a second chance to have a prom we should have had years ago. So the first year that I decided to do it, I was very unpolished. You know I had these like cheap little CVS folders and printouts, and you know a lot less developed than I am now; which is fine, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Jenn T Grace:

Of course.

Ebone Bell:

So Hank’s had just opened up and I walked in there cold- I literally did door-to-door cold calls so to speak. And walked in, I saw her, I gave her my whole little pitch. And you know sometimes when you walk in to people’s businesses they’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and they’re doing stuff and they’ll come back to you and stuff like that. And she was kind of giving me that mode, and then she walked in the back and was taking forever and I was like, ‘Man, why does she have me standing out here? She’s just going to say no.’ You know? And next thing I know, she comes out with a check for $500. And keep in mind I didn’t even know this woman, but after when we really got to know each other, she said, ‘One, I want to support what you’re doing. And as a fellow lesbian I like to lift other women up.’ And I never forgot that. I never forgot that. And she’s not the only person. I mean we had people sign onto Tagg before we even had a publication. Literally we didn’t have anything to show. We’re like, ‘Oh hey, we’re going to start this.’ You know, ‘Just believe us, we’re going do it.’ And a lot of those women- a lot of those advertisers were women because they just wanted to support and see something happen. So I know- I just kind of went off on a tangent-

Jenn T Grace:

No it’s a good one.

Ebone Bell:

My whole point is think about when you want to market to women, keep in mind women really do want to support each other. You know we are a niche within a niche in this world. And yeah, and you know in my experience I’ve just seen that happen a lot, especially with our advertisers. You know getting calls- and sometimes they get calls from men too, which I always think is hilarious and awesome. But yeah, just to your point with why would you advertise or promote or sponsor something where it’s not the women’s audience you’re looking for.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah it seems somewhat like common sense, but I think the biggest takeaway out of the story that you just shared is it’s really easy to make an impact in the LGBT community. Because I feel like even though you might hear from people who say, ‘Oh yeah, there’s-‘ I hear this often like, ‘Oh there’s just a ton of companies out there marketing to the LGBT community, or who can help you market to the LGBT community.’ And I say, ‘I wouldn’t say there’s a ton, there’s a couple.’ Everyone has their own unique advantage to why you want to work with one over another just like there’s a lot of LGBT publications and everyone has their own unique vantage point. But I think that what you were just saying in terms of this person not even really knowing what you were doing yet, and just believing in your personally and believing in your mission, it just kind of goes to show how uncrowded the marketplace is still. Because there’s such almost low hanging fruit that somebody’s willing to just invest in you, so I think if there’s LGBT people listening to this and they’re thinking- they’re on the fence about whether or not they would want to start a business, or if they’re not sure that they would get the right support. There are probably a lot of people like that woman, that mentor to you, that are out there who just want to support other lesbian entrepreneurs. I know I’m certainly one of them. I said to my wife a couple days ago when we were watching Shark Tank that I want to
be Lori Greiner who’s like the queen of QVC, and not because I want anything to do with products or QVC, but I want to build an empire- back to our lesbian empire. I want to build an empire enough that of course I can sustain my family, but I want to have an empire that I can then invest in the future successes of LGBT entrepreneurs; specifically women, because I feel like there’s still such a gender gap and there’s a lot of data that shows that there’s still that gender wage gap going on in Corporate America. But it’s like how great would that be if we had empires enough where we- you and I could be investing in the livelihood of other LGBT, specifically lesbian entrepreneurs. How great; I feel like that would be so amazing.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. I will be cheering you on, by the way.

Jenn T Grace:

I’m a long way from that, but it’s on the list.

Ebone Bell:

Well let’s throw it out there, it will definitely- it will happen. But you used a word that I really like and that’s ‘impact.’ And I’m sure you also tell your clients this all the time that the LGBT community is a brand loyal community, and it really, really is. I think- and I think the number is something like, I think I got it from, when it comes, like 76% of LGBT people will come back to you if they do use your service, and obviously were treated well. I mean that’s huge.

Jenn T Grace:

Crazy.

Ebone Bell:

And I go back to that story and the word ‘impact,’ because this woman made such an impact on me that I continue- I still support Hank’s, that’s where we have our lady’s tea because I never forgot the impact that she made on me. So ever since then- and God that was maybe eight years ago, something like that, ever since then I’ve supported this business any way that I possibly can. And that’s because she made an impact on me, and I wanted to be loyal to her business and loyal to her. So it just kind of goes back to again, the word ‘impact’ and the community being such a brand loyal market.

Jenn T Grace:

That is the best $500 she’s ever invested is my guess.

Ebone Bell:

Trust me, trust me, it definitely is.

Jenn T Grace:

That is hilarious. And you are proving so many points just in- you know this is just a conversation that we’re having and there are so many really valid points that I think anybody can take away from this. So yeah, that $500 has been returned probably about 100 times over at this point.

Ebone Bell:

Yeah, especially I’m like free marketing over here.

Jenn T Grace:

Heck yeah, and who knows how many people I have in your geographic area who are listening to this. I know that I definitely have a big saturation on the east coast, so maybe more people are going to go on over there, why not?

Ebone Bell:

Yeah, I hope so. She’s good people, and not only does she support me and Tagg and everything; I mean she’s all over the place. Hank’s is all over the place. And again, they’re an LGBT-owned business but they get it. You know what I mean? They get it, they know- they realize how important it is to support the community. And I think it’s so important to support people that support us. I say that all the time. A lot of my editor’s notes are when I’m talking to people, I always encourage people, ‘Hey look through this magazine and take note of the people in here because they support this community. They genuinely support this community and we should give back to them.’

Jenn T Grace:

Absolutely, hands down. And that’s why- that’s something that I talk about as just the LGBT Chambers of Commerce. Is that somebody who’s going to belong to an LGBT Chamber or be involved in a Pride Center or advertise or sponsor a publication; they’re the ones that you want to give your business to because they’re willing to put themselves out there when they may be getting some kind of adversity for doing that from other people. Especially the allies; it’s easy for me as an LGBT person to advertise in an LGBT publication, that’s a no-brainer. But it’s a little bit more complicated when you have allies who are doing it. And they’re the ones that you really want to make sure that you’re supporting as a result of their efforts.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly. I couldn’t agree with you more.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome. So I know that we are dwindling here on time, so I have two more questions that I want to ask you. And the first one is I’m curious because I know that you- running a publication and having events and all sorts of chaotic things, I’m sure that the average person would be like, ‘Oh God I don’t know how she does it.’ Do you have any type of program or some kind of tool or system or book or just something that’s been one of those things in your career that just kind of helps keep you efficient or has give you some new idea that just makes your life a little bit easier?

Ebone Bell:

And I remember seeing this question earlier, and I- you know I kept coming back to this book and you know it really has nothing to do with my business per say, or being an entrepreneur, but it has everything to do with my life. Which essentially when you own your own business, your business is your life. So there’s a great book, and I’ve already read it I guess at this point twice now, I’m a huge Oprah Winfrey fanatic. So everybody should know that. Like I think she should run for president-

Jenn T Grace:

Because Oprah is amazing, that’s why.

Ebone Bell:

I would- should be like, ‘I don’t even- I’m just going to sit on my butt and be president,’ and the sad part is I would still vote for her. So anyway, she has a book called, ‘What I Know For Sure.’ And sometimes in- especially in my daily life, I always make excuses of why I can’t go to the gym, or I have all this work to do, but it’s so important- at least for me to really focus on three things, and that’s my mental, my spiritual and my physical. When I say spiritual, that doesn’t have to be religion so to speak. And this book does all of that, and when all those things are in alignment, I feel like I see the positive efforts go into my business. So she basically shares all these stories from her past into now. And I make sure that I take a little bit of time each week to read her experiences and kind of her ‘ah-ha’ moments so to speak, and if- again it’s not necessarily business specific, but it reminds you for a lack of a better phrase to sometimes stop and smell the roses. Because I think sometimes we get so caught up in life and work and, ‘I’ve got to be here, I’ve got to be there,’ and I’m on the east coast and you know that’s exactly how we are here. So like when I go to the south and people say hi when they pass you I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ But that’s what this book is all about, honestly. And it might seem a little bit cheesy but I go back to it and I try to take at least thirty minutes of my time to remind myself how lucky I am and again, you know I’m alive and there are so many great things that have happened to me, and how I should stop and appreciate those things. Because everything else will come. Just like I said earlier, the money will come, the business will grow; but it’s so important for you to take care of yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not going to be able to take care of anything else in your life.

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah, certainly no one else is going to do it.

Ebone Bell:

Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

You have been a wealth of wisdom today, I love it. I’m so happy that we did this, and I do want to ask you- I guess I said I had two questions, but I lied, I actually have two more.

Ebone Bell:

That’s fine.

Jenn T Grace:

The first one is I just want to know if you’re working on anything right now, some kind of project- and I know you talked about the podcast in the beginning. But is there anything right now that you’re working that is just over-the-moon exciting for you?

Ebone Bell:

Oh, yes, and I’m actually happy you asked this question. So last year we did something called Tagg Fest. And it was kind of just the day of panels and workshops to bring the women’s community together. So later last year I decided that I really wanted this to be a bigger event, an annual event, where maybe in three to five years this will kind of be a destination event. So I partnered with the Human Rights Campaign which a lot of people know is the biggest LGBT organization out there. And we are rolling out the Capital Queer Women’s Summit which is on May 8th and May 9th, and it kicks off with the Ladies and Laughter Comedy Show. I call it the Weekend of Laughter and Inspiration. So we have the comedy show with Erin Foley and Dana Goldberg and a couple other local comedians. And then Saturday is- it was so important for us to create a safe and respectful environment for the LGBT community; but you know, specifically lesbian, bisexual, transgender community to come out, talk about things that sometimes we just don’t talk about in settings. And you know everything from aging in the LGBT community to financial planning, to how to be a better ally for the transgender community. And of course we have some fun things thrown in there as well. We have a beer tasting-

Jenn T Grace:

Nice.

Ebone Bell:

Yeah, and self defense class, and the list goes on and on. And it’s just a day for the queer women’s community to get together and have important conversations. And one of my favorite ones- you know it might be a rough topic but I think it’s really necessary is segregation within our own LGBT community. Which you know kind of goes back to our point on don’t put your eggs in one basket because it says LGBT. Sometimes these communities are a little bit segregated because they don’t relate to certain settings or certain events or certain publications. So that’s going to be actually one of my favorite topics because it’s something that I notice when people like come to visit, they’re always like, ‘Why do you guys have women’s clubs and just guy clubs?’ Because you know wherever they’re from they’re like, ‘Oh we all party together.’ So I’m really excited about that panel, but I think I’m just mostly excited that we’re creating a space for hundreds of women to get together and share their ideas and their inspiration.

Jenn T Grace:

Wow. I’m excited, I’m definitely excited. I think that’s going to be awesome, and I think your topics are going to be great, they’re going to be relevant and I think anybody who attends is going to certainly have some tangible benefit that they’re going to take away.

Ebone Bell:

Absolutely. I’m excited about it.

Jenn T Grace:

So this has been fabulous and we’ve talked about a lot of the things that you’re doing and working on, but we haven’t told people specifically where they can find it. So everyone who listens to this, there are show notes that go with episodes that I provide links and resources and everything, and they can get them by going to my website. But I want you to take an opportunity to tell people how to get in touch with you in the best way that you would like them to do that.

Ebone Bell:

Sure. So honestly all of the above social media. So Twitter, feel free to message me there or follow me there, it’s @EboneBell and it’s E-B-O-N-E which can always be tricky. And then obviously you can do the same with Facebook, I love connecting with people and any feedback you might have. And then of course Tagg Magazine is a great resource for the lesbian community. And that’s www.TaggMagazine.com, and again we’re on Twitter, we’re on Facebook. And I welcome emails. I welcome if people have questions after this, or have any ideas or just want to share anything; you’re always welcome to email me. It’s EBell@taggmagazine.com.

Jenn T Grace:

Awesome. Thank you so much for this interview. I have a hunch that you will be a guest again.

Ebone Bell:

Oh I would love that, I really- I feel like I could probably talk to you at least an hour or two longer, but I know I’m a little restricted on time, but I really appreciate this.

Jenn T Grace:

No problem. I feel this way- I feel like this type of connection doesn’t always happen, but I agree we could totally be chatting for at least three more hours, and not run out of anything to say. So I think we should have you back again.

Ebone Bell:

I would absolutely love that, and once we get our podcast show started, vice versa.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh I’m all over it, you just tell me when and where.

Ebone Bell:

Perfect, perfect, and then as soon as I get off this call I’ll be looking up www.LesbianEmpire.com.

Jenn T Grace:

And we have witnesses to know that the two of us will build this bad boy, because why not?

Ebone Bell:

Exactly.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s hilarious, thank you so much for your time. I’m sure the listeners greatly appreciate it.

Ebone Bell:

Thank you so much for having me!

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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