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How She Did It

This article is a part of our monthly Women Evolve(d): How She Did It Series

Each month we feature inspirational women who are undergoing career reinvention or have made it to the other side. Read about how they did it and take away usable tips from their career journeys! This month, we're featuring Michele Landa Riggio, CEO of MLR Communications and Co-Founder of INSPIREflies. Michele is a brand, communications and social impact strategist. She has a passion for defining and evolving brands, and shaping the stories that bring them to life.

What is your personal mantra, mission or manifesto? My 2020 mantra: be patient and disciplined in all that I do to reap the greatest reward.

What inspired you to launch your current career/launch your business? I launched MLR Communications , a brand strategy consultancy, in 2014. I had just left a more traditional role as a communications executive at an iconic non-profit and was looking for more work/life flexibility. I also launched INSPIREflies, an online community that spotlights and helps to advance female entrepreneurship. INSPIREflies enables me to connect with a diverse community of business leaders and contribute to the female leadership ecosystem.

What is unique about returning/pivoting in midlife? Challenges & opportunities? In mid-life, you are more brave than perhaps you would have been in your 30s. You have confidence that comes from a range of experiences, command respect of your peers, and have a pretty good understanding of what you are capable of (and what you are not!). You understand and have likely collaborated with a multitude of personality types and work styles, and you are more adept and nimble as a professional. You've likely held leadership and management roles, and understand the dynamics of teams and projects.

The opportunity is to harness this knowledge and expertise to advance your professional goals. The challenge, perhaps, is that you are a breadwinner or that your salary is essential. Although you may want to take risks and "try things out," financial security may require you to take a different path. l also think ageism is a "thing" that mid-lifers must contend with. Businesses want to pay less for more and are likely to hire less expensive, less experienced staffers to do a job more suited for someone with more experience in mid-life who would require a bigger paycheck.

What’s one intention you have for your work in 2020? In 2020, I hope to be more patient and disciplined in my work.

What are you most passionate about right now? Like so many of us, life since COVID-19 has been turned upside down. I've had to recalibrate my personal goals and daily task list in order to be more available to my family. In the beginning of shelter-in-place, I was creating to-do lists and setting unrealistic expectations for myself that would result in frustration and a feeling of being unaccomplished. Accepting this change rather than trying to push against it has brought me peace. Two months ago, my answer would have been very different.

These days, I am playing around with Canva to hone my design skills, learning about Google Analytics via Google Analytics Academy, and collecting and publishing profiles of inspiring female entrepreneurs for INSPIREflies (email me to be featured!).

I've just completed the application process to become a Minority Owned Business in New York City, which was a lot of paperwork and a huge accomplishment. I've given myself permission to do fun things that bring me joy each day. I am reading, enrolled in a mixed media art class, take daily bike rides, and have found great workout videos on the POPSUGAR Fitness youtube channel.

What does a typical day look like for you? On a typical day, I work out in the morning, then head home to begin my workday. That includes checking and sending email throughout the day, monitoring and engaging with my network on LinkedIn, meeting people for networking coffees and lunches, working on client projects, sending resumes for jobs that I am pursuing, then switching to mom-mode when the kids return from school. In the evenings, I try to go to at least one weekly networking event.

What’s the one thing that has advanced your career in the last year? Being persistent is the single most important skill in career advancement. Knowing your worth and being able to speak confidently and succinctly about it is essential. Project management is key to effective execution.

I spent the past two years as an on-site consultant overseeing the communications team at a non-profit. It was initially a four-month interim assignment that evolved into a two year term, in part, because I proved my value.

I've also begun to post more content on LinkedIn, which is key for professional networking. Don't be afraid to celebrate your accomplishments publicly, and share opinions on other peoples' posts.

Who’s your “tribe” when it comes to professional inspiration or support? I have a handful of friends who are great sounding boards for talking about career pathing and brainstorming. They are willing to open up their 'rolodex' and make introductions on my behalf. They encourage me and and help me to dream big. Often times, we are each others' sounding boards and cheerleaders.

My sister and husband are also essential members of my tribe. They remind me of all that I've accomplished, that I 'can do it' and give pep talks when I need them. I have a pool of trusted service providers who I collaborate with depending on the scope of a client project. We help to keep each other on track and fuel creativity.

Favorite book, app or podcast? I've just completed three incredible books for pleasure: Where the Crawdads Sing, Educated, and The Great Alone. Each tells a story of resilience and fortitude. For apps, I've been practicing design with Canva; it's a great tool for creating content for social media and marketing..

You’re granted an extra hour in the day, how do you spend it? If granted more time in the day, I would read more news and industry media and leverage it to strategically grow my business.

The advice I wish I had given to my 20 year old self is… Advice for my 20-year-old self: Be present. Appreciate the little joys in life. Take every opportunity that comes your way. Be brave and don't let fear get in your way. You can do anything!

The advice that I want to give to my 75 year old self is... Advice for my 75-year-old self: You've worked hard, and now its time to sit back and relax. Buy that house in Italy and eat al fresco every day! Be present and savior time with my family.

Best career advice for other women? My career advice: Establish and protect your boundaries in the workplace. Speak up and advocate for yourself. Be brave and don't let fear get in your way.

When did you feel you got “you” back? In 2014, with the single clicks of a 'send' button in MailChimp and a 'go-live' button on my website, I publicly advertised to my network that MLR Communications was officially open for business. In an instant, I had re-invented myself; I was now accountable to growing my business. As I expanded my client roster, I became more and more gratified by the work that I was doing. As a sole proprietor, there was no middle person; it was the client and I. On a few occasions when I was tasked with creating brand architecture, I knew I hit an emotional nerve when clients actually teared because I had successfully captured the essence of their business.

In 2015, I launched INSPIREFlies. We had a big launch event at a Soho art gallery, complete with champagne, a string quartet, and a room buzzing with about 80+ entrepreneurs. It was a magical evening that celebrated women in business. I knew we had created a meaningful community and conversation.

What’s up next? In addition to growing MLR Communications and the INSPIREflies community, my next step might be a role at Barnard College or Columbia University. I find the campus setting inspiring, a five-minute commute sounds perfect to me, and I need to be smart about planning for three college educations!


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