How Selling Copiers and Beating Cancer Lead Megan Silianoff to Her Dream Job
Once upon a time we were all under the impression that our career path would be as follows: Attend college, graduate with a degree in a field you are passionate about, get a job in the same field, and work your way up the ladder to success. Yes, we can now all agree it's a true fairytale and life doesn't always work out that way. But Megan Silianoff is proof that you can forge your own career path, even if you aren't always quite sure what it is you want to do. She's passionate, self-taught, a master of pivoting, and the kind of girl that you want to be friends with because she'll sit down over a bottle of wine and tell you how it is.
At age 28, Megan was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Upon diagnosis, she started a blog to share her treatment progress with family members. After years of surgeries, Megan found herself in remission but missed the art of blogging so she started a personal site. And while you won't find her as a RewardStyle top earner, writing daily and connecting with others on the Internet gave her something even better—the confidence to write a book and from there, two more books and ultimately the confidence to found her own company. Everything she didn't know how to do, she learned by attending conferences, doing research, asking others, and our favorite: the trial and error method.
Today we're sitting down with Megan to discuss her journey, how she's mastering the art of balance, and why you shouldn't be discouraged when you find yourself at a job you don't love.
Name: Megan Silianoff
Location: Houston, Texas USA
Current title: Founder + President of Mad Meg Creative Services
Education: Augustana College
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was working for Canon selling copy machines. I got the job after meeting the Canon rep at a college job fair when I was still a senior. The only reason I was at the Canon booth was because my friend was interested in the company and more importantly, my ride home, so I couldn’t leave until she was ready. I stood in line to talk to the Canon recruiters only in solidarity with her when they asked me if I was interested in “outside” or “inside” sales. I had zero idea what the difference was yet confidently answered “outside” and the rest was history.
What did you learn working for Canon? What was your next step after that?
I learned how to sell and I still credit that to my success today. After Canon I went into the staffing industry for five years and held a variety of sales oriented roles. Learning how to cold call, run a meeting, put a proposal together—all of that gave me an edge when I transitioned into a writing career and public relations. At the core of every job, whether you’re a teacher, an engineer, or a stay-at-home mom are some sort of sales function and the better you are at those skills, the more successful you’ll be in your role and your life in general!
At the core of every job, whether you’re a teacher or an engineer, is some sort of sales function. The better you are at those skills, the more successful you’ll be in your role and life in general!
What advice do you have for college graduates who start in a job that isn’t necessarily their dream or don’t even know what their dream is yet?
Not to worry about it. I think it’s pretty rare to know what you want to do coming out of college. I’d also say that usually you need both work and life experience to figure out exactly what your dream is. Dreams are fluid and ebb and flow as you progress in your career and life. I’m sure some people have the same career aspirations at 23 that they do at 33 but I wasn’t one of them.
At 28 you were diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, which is incredibly rare for someone so young, but now you are healthy and in remission. Can you tell us about this journey?
Cancer changed my life for the better. By no means was it all unicorns and sunshine. The first few weeks I was diagnosed I thought I was going to die. There were times during and after my surgeries (which spanned for years) I was really sick, but overall I’m so grateful because cancer changed the trajectory of my life for the better. It was through cancer I was introduced to blogging. It was through cancer Danny (Macy’s dad) and I adopted her.
You started your blog over five years ago. Why did you initially start writing?
I started a Caringbridge blog so that my friends and family could keep up with my cancer prognosis. Upon going into remission, I missed blogging and decided to start a “normal” blog that had nothing to do with cancer and focused more on my recent move to Houston, hence the name of my blog, Greetings from Texas.
What has your blog evolved to now?
It’s still alive and kicking! I post less frequently but I like to think the quality of my posts is higher with professional photography and better graphic design. The biggest difference in my blog is how I view it internally. Up until I started Mad Meg I was trying to make my blog and books my source of income. Now that I have Mad Meg, I view my blog and books as side hustles.
Blogging is now a much more competitive field—with more of an emphasis of turning it into a business rather than a creative outlet. What advice do you have for girls who aren't growing quickly or reaching a level where they can quit their job and do it full-time?
I would tell girls that if they’re blogging with the intention of it eventually paying their bills they are going to be sadly disappointed. It’s important to note that it’s not a reflection of them, their talent, or their message but rather a reflection of the implosion of blogging and the saturated market that it’s become.
It’s not that Emily of Cupcakes & Cashmere has a blog that's any “better” than someone who started a blog two weeks ago. It’s an issue of timing–the reason Emily, for example, and Reward Style’s top 250 earners are able to do what they do is they started their blogs when there was less competition and they almost had a monopoly on the market. That will never happen again. There won’t be a new generation of these top 250 girls with these same massive followings. We’re now in an era where the number of bloggers has increased so the percentage of market share they can capture has decreased.
Dreams are fluid and ebb and flow as you progress in your career and life. I’m sure some people have the same career aspirations at 23 that they do at 33 but I wasn’t one of them.
That said, there are still amazing things that can come from blogging even if you’re not a top earner. Everything good about my career today came from Greetings from Texas. It’s what gave me the confidence to write my first book and an engaged audience to sell that respective book.
In terms of Mad Meg, my blog is how I get a lot of my clients. Blogging also taught me how to pitch and gave me experience working with brands. I use that experience everyday, but now I’m on the other side of the fence—I’m often hiring bloggers to promote my clients as opposed to getting hired myself.
In terms of my personal life, I’ve made so many amazing friendships through blogging. My two very best friends I met through the blogging community in Houston and it’s so fun to be able to share that part of our lives together. I’ve also met a handful of fellow bloggers who live in other cities “online” and that eventually turns into an IRL (in real life) friendship.
You said blogging gave you the confidence to start your own company, Mad Meg Creative. Tell us how this came about and what your company does.
The honest truth is that Mad Meg came about because circumstances in my personal life changed and I needed to bring home some more bacon! Ha!
My company started by getting one client who needed me for social media management, among other needs, for about 15 hours per week. I figured if I could get one other client to supplement, I’d be set. But it ended up that I was able to get a lot more than one client! I only started to do PR because one of early clients, Rongrong Devoe, had a need for that. Having done PR for my books and working a lot with PR firms for my blog, I knew I could help regardless of having traditional experience in that field. I was successful for her and other clients starting coming to me for PR as well. Now the bulk of our services that we’re hired for are an even split between web design, social media management, and PR with a little branding work as well.
What do you think helps a brand stand out and garner more attention?
Mad Meg’s muse, Don Draper, said it best: “Clients don’t understand their success is reliant on standing out, not fitting in.” I think brands that have a sense of humor about themselves and do anything fresh, sassy, or unique have the right idea. Some of my favorite brands that embody this are Spirit Airlines, Elite Daily, Nasty Gal, Shhhowercap, Bar Stool Sports, and The Man Repeller.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
There really isn’t one and I love that. The common denominator is that I’m usually waking up during the 5 o' clock hour and getting my hustle on early. I’m a morning person and it’s when I do my best work. Other than that, everyday is different depending on if I have my daughter (I work much later into the evenings when I don’t) and whether or not I have client meetings. The people in our office building are very confused about what my team and I do. One day we’ll come to work in pajamas and the next day we’ll have on a red lip and pencil skirts.
Being a constantly moving boss lady must mean you work ALL THE TIME. How do you balance responsibilities with personal life and leisure? Is there ever really a balance when you are hustling to get a new company out in the world?
My personal life and business are intertwined in what I think is a really great way. Most of the events we plan for Mad Meg clients or that I’m invited to for my blog I don’t consider “work” because they’re generally really fun, involve alcohol, and my two best friends are in attendance because they are bloggers as well.
The current “makeover” I’m doing in my dining room is also a good example of my personal life/work life mash up. I’m making over my dining room because it needs it, but partnering with brands and an interior designer in the process as the transformation will be documented and featured on my blog. So two birds with one stone is basically how I describe my overall work/life balance.
Brands that have a sense of humor about themselves and do anything sassy or unique have the right idea.
The truth is though that I work all the time. I co-parent Macy with her dad so I only have her 50% of the time. That means when I don’t have her during the week I’m working 10-12 hour days. The weekends I don’t have her, I’m usually playing “catch up” and work both Saturday and Sunday. I have zero plans for another book anytime soon and I’m posting less frequently on Greetings from Texas in an effort to be able to allocate all my time to just Mad Meg, my daughter, and our personal life.
But running a business, and a start-up at that, involves putting your head down and doing the work. As my account mangers at Mad Meg become more seasoned and as I improve at managing them and delegating, my hours should seemingly decrease as well.
What do you look for when hiring employees to join your team?
I’m looking for girls (or guys) that have an entrepreneurial mindset and understand there’s a direct correlation between how hard they work and how much they earn. I don’t know that I understood that at 23. I’m looking for people who don’t come in to work solely to work their shift but view everyday as chipping away at the growth of the company—a company that they can run one day. Or run a branch of in a different market. If they have that mindset, graphic design skills, and can write copy I’ll come up with the money to pay them whatever they need to be paid.
Ok, let’s talk about the books you authored. How did you know this was something you wanted to do? What was the first step? How did you even know where to start?
The idea for my first book was born because my cancer had come back and Danny and I were already in the process of adoption. Having had cancer made it difficult to find an agency that would work with us, so I didn’t want to write anywhere on the Internet that it had come back. That’s when I had the thought that I could still write about the process, but instead of posting on the Internet I could publish a book when it was all over.
As far as knowing where to start, I applied to The New York Pitch Conference, which is a conference that takes on promising authors and allows them to pitch to four publishing houses as opposed to literary agents. I came home from that conference with a wealth of information that allowed me to know how to navigate the process.
Where did you struggle most in the process?
Having the discipline to sit down and write the book. I was freelancing and writing Greetings from Texas and it was much more rewarding to work on those things as there was immediate gratification upon publishing a blog post or finishing my freelance work for the day. I felt productive and got to check something off the list. With the book, it was a year-long writing process and there were no guarantees that it would ever see the light of day. I ended up taking a few “writing trips” throughout the year where I’d go out of town, hole up in a cabin, and write for the entire weekend and pump out huge chunks. That worked better for me than trying to chip away at it little by little everyday.
I’m looking for people who don’t come in to work solely to work their shift but view everyday as chipping away at the growth of the company—a company that they can run one day. If they have that mindset, I’ll come up with the money to pay them whatever they need to be paid.
You’ve now written three books—congratulations! Can you tell us about them?
99 Problems but a Baby Ain’t One - A Memoir About Cancer, Adoption, and My Love for Jay Z was my first book. It chronicles my story of getting cancer at 28 and adopting my daughter a few years later.
Everything I Know About Writing And Publishing A Book is an e-book I wrote and published for anyone thinking about embarking on the process. Friends and acquaintances were always asking me to coffee so they could pick my brain about this very subject, which is how I got the idea to put this reference guide together. I’ve presented at Alt Summit, Texas Style Council, and high school classes about the publishing process and blog to book transitions so I had generated and organized a lot of the content already. It was just a matter of making all the information cohesive and read in “my voice” which is very informal and fun.
My children’s book just came out last month and is called From J to Z - The Shawn Carter Story. It’s about Jay Z’s rag to riches story and like his music, is written in rhyme with double and triple entendres.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a book?
Sit down and write the damn book. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get it published. That’s the easy part. The hard part is to actually sit your butt down in a chair and write 60,000 words. Everyone wants to write a book. I have eight books in my head that would be cool! Executing it is the hard part. Once you execute, then you can worry about how you’re going to share it with the world and for that I’d like to shamelessly plug my e-book, Everything I know About Writing and Publishing a Book.
What has been a challenging aspect of juggling so many creative hats?
That I can’t give 100% to any one thing. When I’m spreading my efforts between three different projects (my blog, books, and business) I’m making less of an impact on all of those things versus choosing one and doubling down. That’s why I’ve had to make the mental shift of my blog and books being a hobby so that I can give Mad Meg the focus that it needs to thrive.
Don’t make out with boys that you work with. Also, selling copiers is a terrible gig but the experience you're gaining is setting the foundation for your career today.
And the greatest reward?
Having three creative outlets that I’m genuinely passionate about! So many people hate their job. I feel so lucky to have three that I love!
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Don’t make out with boys that you work with. Also, selling copiers is a terrible gig but the experience you're gaining is setting the foundation for your career today. I think every new college graduate should go into sales regardless of their future career intentions. Every job involves an element of sales and the more competent someone is at it, the more successful they’ll be.
Megan Silianoff is The Everygirl…
Devour The New York Times in bed with lots of coffee, brunch, an art museum, spa, and then order pizza for dinner while watching 60 Minutes and the Kardashians!
I wish I knew how to...
Code! I can do basic coding but I wish I could code Silicon Valley style.
Most bizarre thing in your bag right now?
Peter's Maloney business card. The weird thing is I can’t figure out who Peter Maloney is!
Favorite place to grab a bite in Houston?
B&B Butchers & Restaurant
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Brene Brown because she’s got it all figured out—and hopefully some sort of osmosis situation would occur.