By EHM Editor Jade McKenzie
Alexandra Franzen is a professional writer who has collaborated with over 200 clients, taught over 1,000 students, and had work published in places like Time, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Newsweekand Lifehacker.
She’s worked with online royalty, like Danielle La Porte and Marie Forleo, worked as a promotional writer for a public radio network, has been a copywriter, is a published author and has been a ghostwriter for motivational speakers, TV personalities, physicians, psychologists, mystics, health and fitness experts, and other people doing interesting work in the world.
But with all of those incredible achievements aside, Alexandra is quite simply a gorgeous human being. With a heartfelt passion for writing and the power of words, her energy beams through whatever she writes. Even her website feels like a close friends home – warm, inviting and nurturing.
I asked Alexandra to be this months cover girl for EHM because she runs the most delightful events that are incredibly creative and gorgeously fun! When she came to Australia a few years ago, I went to one of her writing workshops in Melbourne and was blown away by her generous spirit, the quality of the information and the most important thing I think any event facilitator can give – her presence.
Join us as Alexandra shares with us her journey into events and how she creates the most perfectly intimate and swoon worthy experiences with the magic of simplicity.
Thank you so much for your time today Alex, it is so wonderful to have you with us! You have beautiful business based around the art and skill of writing, how did you fall into this particular industry and when did it all start for you?
My mom told me I was going to be a writer when I was about 11 years old. I told her, “No way, I want to be a shark scientist!” In the end, though, mom was right. (As usual!)
I studied English Literature at uni and then I got a job working at a radio station right after graduation. Around the same time, I started experimenting with blogging and I began doing some freelance writing on the side.
Eventually, I decided to quit my job to focus on freelancing full time—which was very scary, but ultimately it was one the best career decisions I’ve ever made. One project led to another, and little by little, one by one, more clients and opportunities arrived at my doorstep, and… here I am today!
At this point, I’ve been writing professionally for about ten years and I’ve been self-employed for about six of those years. I spend about half of my time doing writing projects for clients (that’s where most of my income comes from) and the other half of my time doing personal writing projects, leading small events, and helping my sweetheart run his new restaurant—which is a whole side-career in itself!
You hold the sweetest events - unique gatherings, gorgeous workshops, writing parties, letter and brunch dates and even a one-time only event around the celebration of love and the written word, with desserts and champagne to boot! What inspires you to put these on and what role do you believe events play in a business owners’ life?
I became a self-employed writer (a “business owner,” you could say) in 2010, back when social media was beginning to explode in a huge way, and back when many entrepreneurs were doing all kinds of smart, interesting new things with technology—like using Twitter to do Q&A parties online, and using teleconferencing platforms to lead phone-classes, and creating Facebook groups where customers could gather and meet one another, and doing live video chats, and whatnot.
I played around with a lot of these new tools and innovations. I tried almost everything! But, somehow, nothing felt “right” for me. Nothing seemed to fit with my way of doing business.
I remember thinking to myself, “All of this online stuff is really cool... but personally, I prefer learning, connecting, and having experiences that happen offline, in an actual, physical space, not on a virtual screen. I have a hunch that lots of other people feel the same way...”
As it turned out, my hunch was correct! I started putting together small writing workshops—usually ranging from 10 to 30 participants, depending on the venue—and people responded really enthusiastically. I wound up leading workshops in 17 different cities over the course of a few years and most of them sold out very quickly.
People seemed to appreciate that my workshops were small, intimate, and relaxed. Just a pleasant room, notebooks and pens, coffee and chocolate, tables to write on, a healthy catered lunch, and nice people! Very simple and un-complicated.
Should every business owner host events? I don’t think so. It’s definitely a personal call. Not everyone is comfortable teaching in front of a group, for example, and not everyone enjoys playing “host” to a room full of strangers, and not everyone enjoys handling all of the logistics that come along with leading a live event.
But if you run a business—and if there’s a part of you that yearns for more face-to-face interactions with your clients and customers—then I would say, “Go for it!” Try it out at least once.
You could start by doing one seminar or workshop in your city and see how that feels. It could be very simple—just six people gathering in your office, studio, or living room—for a relaxed evening of conversation followed by a nice meal. It’s OK to start small. In fact, “small” might be exactly what your clients are craving most of all.
Your events tend to be quite intimate and smaller in numbers. Do you personally prefer to hold events with small groups of people or would it excite you to get into a room of thousands and step on stage?
I definitely prefer intimate events. I am very introverted—huge events with hundreds of people exhaust me! I don’t want to attend them and I definitely don’t want to host them.
There is nothing wrong with big events, of course! They can be fabulous—for the right type of person. My younger sister, for example, loves to attend these huge, wild music and yoga festivals with tons of people swarming around and lots of different activities all day long. For her, that type of event is utter paradise! But it’s just not for me.
After attending one of your workshops, I can truthfully say that you are a very generous, inclusive, and thoughtful person with mad writing and story-telling skills, which absolutely shines when you are up the front of the room. When you have attended other people’s events, what personality traits or skills do you appreciate in your hosts and why?
Thank you for the compliment… and that’s a great question! When I am attending an event, I definitely appreciate great lighting, great music, beautiful aesthetics. That sort of thing. The environment doesn’t have to be “fancy” in order to feel beautiful—it might be an empty yoga studio with a few flickering candles and some incense—but the environment should feel thoughtful and intentional, not haphazardly thrown together. That really makes a difference.
Also, a pet peeve of mine is when event organizers BLAST music so loudly that it’s impossible to carry on a conversation. If it’s a dance party, sure, that’s fine, crank up the jams, but if you’re trying to inspire people to talk to one another, kindly turn the volume down a bit.
In terms of personality traits, I think it’s wonderful when a host looks and feels comfortable in her own skin. You can always tell when someone is genuinely happy to be there—and when they are not!
You have taught over 1,000 students, travelled the globe with your workshops and held events everywhere from bookstores, to your loft, to a convent, to your boyfriends new treat shop! From all of these adventures, what has been the biggest lesson you have learnt about bringing people together?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that... you just never know how a class, workshop, seminar, or some other type of experience is going to impact the people who choose to attend. By putting together an event, you might be influencing people’s lives in ways that you can’t possibly predict. It’s mysterious, beautiful, and exciting!
I’ve received emails from people who have attended my workshops—these emails often come weeks or months or even years after the event actually happened—and people have told me, “Because of something you said, I finally decided to self-publish my book” or “I finally quit my job and started my own business” or “I met someone at your workshop and we’ve become best friends and creative collaborators” or “Guess what? I met someone at your workshop and I hired her to coach me and eventually I found the courage to walk away from my relationship, which wasn’t working...” and so on.
When you produce an event—and you pour your heart into it—you are creating a ripple of positivity that will affect everyone who walks into the room in some way. Some people will be affected more than others, of course. But everyone will be touched by that ripple that you’ve started and there’s no telling where that ripple may lead... so, prepare to be surprised! (Usually, hopefully, in a good way!)
This is one cheeky question we like to ask our cover girls, just like musicians have riders, business owners usually develop their own little list of must haves when they are at events. What can’t you live without at your events?
Ooh! Love that question.
I always have...
- A water bottle (hydration is essential!)
- A secret tube of anti-perspirant deodorant (haha—in case I get sweaty!)
- A toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, or minty gum (especially if I am going to be talking to lots of people up close—I don’t want to horrify them with bad breath!)
- Chocolate! Always. For myself and for my guests.
- A little bag with lip gloss, translucent powder, and other things to touch up my makeup during breaks.
- Music! If I am on the road, I always bring along my JAMBOX speaker and my laptop with lots of music queued up. The JAMBOX is a very small, lightweight speaker but the sound quality is really impressive!
- Workout clothes, sneakers, my iPod and headphones, because I like to go work out right after wrapping up an event. That’s how I decompress, wind down, and process my thoughts from the day.
And finally, what has been your most favourite event to host to date and why?
Letters & Brunch, definitely!
This is a new event that I host on the first Saturday of every month at my sweetheart’s restaurant here in Portland, Oregon, where we live.
It’s very casual and relaxed. No tickets, no need to RSVP in advance. People just show up if they want to, and seating is first come, first serve. They order coffee and brunch.
Then—while they are waiting for their food to arrive—I hand each person a little bundle of letter-writing supplies (paper, pens, postage stamps, stickers, and so on) so that they can write a few letters while they wait!
People really enjoy Letters & Brunch and it’s been so much fun for me to put together. I get to play “hostess” without the added pressure of needing to “lead a seminar” or “teach” anything. It’s really “chill,” as we say here in the States!
At a recent L&B event, a woman said to me, “I just wrote a letter that I’ve been meaning to write for two years.” She was glowing and she looked so happy about it. That was an awesome moment. It reminded me that putting together a meaningful event that really enhances people’s lives doesn’t have to be “complicated.” Sometimes, all it takes is an empty room, some paper and pens, music, and a plate of eggs and bacon.
Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Le sigh, isn't Alexandra simply amazing?! What a gorgeous and insightful interview. If you want to keep up to date with all things Alex and find out when her next events are on, hop on over HERE and do yourself a favour and subscribe!
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