Racking up the Miles

In summing up my experience leading the revitalization of HKA’s technology practice, an iconic Johnny Cash lyric comes to mind – “I’ve been everywhere, man.” Looking to spread the word about the revival of HKA tech PR, I’ve had the good fortune of attending many top emerging tech events throughout Southern California these past few months.

My stopovers saw me mingling with startup founders at UCI’s The Cove several times, including the 1 Million Cups morning mixers, lunch and learn programs, the Digital Innovators event at the Center for Digital Transformation and the School of Applied Innovation awards program. I also went to Pasadena for a MeetUp on quantum computing, to Playa Vista to hear a panel discussion about in women in spacetech and I got a sneak peek at the plans for the new LA sports and entertainment complex for the Rams, Chargers and others.

I also attended events hosted by Eureka, Google Startups, OCTANe, EvoNexus, OC Startups and more, not to mention holding many coffees and lunches with people I had met along the way who wanted to talk more. Besides affirming my decision to drive a hybrid vehicle, what else did I learn from my constant travels?

I learned that the Southern California technology ecosystem is a healthy and growing network of innovation, energy and entrepreneurship that’s often overshadowed by its better-known Northern California cousin.

I learned that Southern California graduates more engineers and computer scientists than any region in the country. Yes, that’s right. As far as the best university system for technology, Southern California is No. 1, the Bay Area is No. 2.

I learned the average Southern California entrepreneur is a bit older and more experienced than the classic Silicon Valley 20-something wunderkind and seeks to leverage the practical lessons of their industry in starting their own business.

I learned that local entrepreneurs are looking to revolutionize their industries through a variety of digital transformation technologies in inventory and logistics, medical offices, package deliveries, nonprofits and much, much more.

I learned that these entrepreneurs are supported by a broad network of academic and nonprofit organizations ready to counsel, inspire and enable a path to growth and ultimate success.

I also learned that the successful tech entrepreneur can be identified by two traits: conviction and effective storytelling. Demonstrating conviction is required in how entrepreneurs tell their story to investors, customers and partners – with a passion and confidence that produces the same in others. Good storytelling is required to communicate the emotional elements of their value proposition – how it will help people, whether it will save lives or just keep customers from pulling their hair out.

One final lesson I already knew but will share anyway – HKA can help you deliver that story to the people that matter most to your business.

The Tech Industry Needs Heart

Most friends and fans of HKA know the firm’s longstanding reputation as a generalist agency serving nonprofits, professional services firms and a host of other people-focused industries. But HKA has a long legacy of serving clients in the technology industry as well.

Perhaps you’re an executive at a tech startup, or the head of a new digital transformation venture at an established brand or know someone seeking a tech PR firm. If so, you may wonder why a generalist agency such as HKA would be a wise choice when it comes to marketing communications support.

The answer is threefold: 1) HKA’s 35-year history of integrity and commitment to client service, 2) the team’s demonstrated capabilities serving the tech industry, and 3) our expertise in telling the human side of a client story. The first two reasons are self-explanatory. But why is the ability to explain the human side of the tech equation so important in an agency these days?

Because the tech industry needs to show some heart.

Recently, the tech industry’s reputation has taken numerous hits with the public. Data privacy failures and social media manipulations, as well as the toll of digital addiction on children, have combined to make some question technology’s ubiquitous role in our lives. This wariness will likely increase as advanced technologies such as robotics, drones and AI-enabled services become more visible in everyday life.

That’s why companies in these emerging markets need to communicate the overall benefits of their technology to a broad audience. If you’re in tech, your audience is not just the few hundred or so early adopters you may think it is. It’s the CEOs, CFOs and other executives of your potential customers, or the investors who need to easily grasp the potential of your organization. It may be government regulators, or college grads seeking a job, or potential partners in a non-tech industry or even your local community.

The public also needs to see the human face of the company offering these technologies and understand who the people are bringing them to market. Technology brands telling their technology story in a human-focused way is important so that all audiences – not just the tech savvy few – understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.

HKA is staffed with former journalists who know how to find the core of your company’s story and relay it in a simple, compelling fashion across traditional and social media. We understand the importance of the human touch in communications.

The promise of innovation has never been greater but will require meaningful connections with all audiences to achieve ultimate success.

PResolutions for the New Year

As the media universe continues to significantly impact lives, business success in the new year ahead means accepting – no, embracing and leveraging – modern marketing practices designed to elevate visibility and increase engagement. These three PR trends are shaping the PR landscape by helping companies to effectively communicate with their audiences.

Content That Performs

By now, the most effective PR plans include smart content marketing – the delivery of interesting, valuable and potentially viral information through unique channels, including social media, podcasts and blogs. Savvy marketers know the best strategies blend content creation with content performance. That is, it’s not enough to simply provide audiences with information that may pique their interest. When done right, the information ideally spreads. Newspapers, for example, are increasingly becoming aware of articles that appeal to subscribers – but also have the ability to increase web traffic, social shares and page views. Editors still want to satisfy their primary objective, which is to deliver newsworthy content. But, they are increasingly striving to address another primary objective – improving their own performance metrics. Editors used to wonder if a story would get read. They now are also concerned with its ability to pull in other readers, spawn comments and generate engagement. Effective content marketing plans will account for this evolution.

Micro-Influencers: Small but Mighty

Micro-influencers do not have the largest social followings. However, what they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. A powerful subset of the influencer marketing category, micro-influencers generally have between 1,000 and 10,000 followers. They are small, but they pack an authentic punch. They are more niche than they are mainstream. Their followers may have shunned big-name brands to be more selective, finding trust and credibility in an undersized voice. The result is a highly engaged audience capable of mass brand enthusiasm. Companies opting to partner with micro-influencers likely will find them easier and more cost-effective to work with than social giants, but the results can be just as eye-opening.

Trust in the Fake News Era

Whether or not you believe that fake news is rising, or even real, the term itself is now ubiquitous and trust in media is nearing an all-time low. Some polls have claimed that media is one of the least-trusted institutions. As such, communication strategies that once safely assumed trust as a given must now account for changing perceptions. Successful communication plans must focus on establishing a foundation of believability. As the PR industry works to craft public images, the skepticism brought on by the fake news era cannot be overlooked. Credibility and authenticity are paramount. Interestingly, while trust in the media may be compromised, the public desire to trust is still strong. In fact, some studies suggest that trust in technical experts is on the rise. More than ever, readers, viewers and listeners want to hear from experienced CEOs, successful entrepreneurs, and proven industry leaders. Creating, honing and sharing expertise is an excellent strategy to help build public trust and boost engagement with audiences, especially as they seek a voice to believe in and embrace.

Human Touch

In traditional B2B public relations, the general objective is to publicize the business benefits one company receives when it opts in with another. Many PR companies represent B2B organizations who want to promote these business benefits and win more clients as a result. For the agencies that do, the established PR play is to focus communications activities around raising awareness for the considerable return on investment individuals and businesses can realize if they elect to receive services from the company or person being showcased.

Among a host of outstanding professionals, HKA represents many prominent and successful wealth managers, CPAs and real estate developers under its B2B umbrella. Each of these HKA clients offers tremendous value to their own clients – established, financial value. And, as the PR firm, HKA is responsible for building and maintaining awareness that partnering with these professionals can help increase the bottom line for those who do. We do this because it helps our B2B clients with earned media coverage, new business leads and because, well, it’s true.

However, in telling client economic stories, HKA also ensures that the characters – often the real heroes of the story – aren’t forgotten. The humanity of client narratives can get lost along the way if there’s too much focus on abstract concepts like absorption rates, pass-through entities and yield curves.

Personal stories must be told, too. The flesh and blood anecdotes that drive any business success can’t be overlooked, especially as they often resonate so meaningfully with target audiences. Several examples of personal storytelling initiatives HKA recently deployed artfully mix facts and figures with faces and feeling:

  • Apriem Generations: A new content series for Irvine-based wealth managers, Apriem Advisors, lets the employees tell in their own words what motivates them professionally. Apriem Generations looks at their upbringing and often compares today’s economic challenges with those of previous generations. Whether the topic is immigration, retirement or paying for college, there is a human protagonist in each tale, and the story arcs are as heartwarming as they are informative.
  • Civic 50: Beyond providing high-quality business service to clients, constituents and other stakeholders, when an organization is socially conscious, community-minded and philanthropic, it is important to communicate this sense of give-back. Orange County Business Journal’s annual Civic 50 list recognizes companies who go above and beyond their corporate responsibilities, and HKA is proud to represent and support the interests of two of this year’s honorees, Haskell & White LLP and Companion Home Health and Hospice.
  • In Living Color: While illustrating the recent business successes of affordable housing developers Community Preservation Partners (CPP) and the Irvine Community Land Trust (ICLT) with compelling charts and graphs, HKA also has focused on human successes to complement communications surrounding each organization’s real estate deals. The agency put residents on camera to explain in their own words how their lives have been dramatically improved by the respective landlords. A CPP tenant in Richmond, Virginia, was interviewed by a local television station about how happy she is with the improvements in her community, and an Irvine family discussed in a promotional video the wonderful lifestyle afforded to them by ICLT.

Of course, no one is suddenly going to stop caring about the bottom line. So, creating interpersonal bridges among companies, the people that comprise them, the communities they serve and the lives they change is paramount – and will go a long way toward humanizing the corporate client through PR. HKA is proud of its longstanding communications expertise as a bridge-builder.

Window Chopping

The days of window shopping at the local mall are numbered. The global, internet-driven marketplace features thousands of businesses that live online. Their customers live there, too. Websites have become modern-day storefronts – mannequins and all – and must be striking, relevant and current to entice today’s customers. A well-designed website can attract and convert window shoppers into buyers. A poorly designed website can turn people away and drive them to competitors. Is your website working for – or against you? If you have a website, consider trying on this fashionable questionnaire.

  1. Do visitors enjoy spending time on your website?In the brick-and-mortar world, the most successful retail shops and thriving business offices are the ones that appear clean and inviting. The same holds true for websites. This is likely the first – possibly the only – physical part of your business your customer will see, so it needs to make a great first impression. If the colors are too jarring, or if too many stock images are used, it’s time for an overhaul. If it’s too hard to read and find information, spend some time cleaning it up. The first impression usually comes down to how someone feels after using your website. Eliminate user frustrations at all cost and encourage positive vibes.
  2. Does your website work on a mobile device?Look at your website on a smartphone. If it doesn’t automatically scale to the size of the screen, forcing you to pinch and zoom up, down and sideways, it’s not made for mobile viewing. The average person spends 4+ hours on a phone every day, so the likelihood that someone is viewing your website on their phone or other mobile device is high. Plus, with the rise of the smart tablet as a primary computer, many people rarely even touch a desktop computer or laptop.

    If your website is not adapted for mobile viewing, you’re losing a huge chunk of the market right off the bat. At best, people are spending a few minutes on your site – enough to painfully search for the information they need. At worst, they write off your website (and possibly your company) because it’s too hard to navigate. And surely a competitor will be there to fill the void.

    Additionally, Google’s algorithms favor mobile friendly websites, so if you don’t want to get buried in the depths of Google Search, you’ll want a website that works across all devices.

  3. When searching your business, product or service, where does it rank on Google?Speaking of Google search results, if your website shows up on page two (or worse), it’s unlikely your audience will find it. Gone are the days of looking up the local salon in the yellow pages. Google is today’s business directory, and if customers can’t find you online, chances are they don’t know you exist.

    The first three websites to show up in a search receive up to 54 percent of user traffic. Viewership after that drops exponentially, with results on the second page only receiving 4 percent of click-throughs.

    This can be fixed by focusing on updating keywords used on your website, providing valuable content your audience is looking for and making it easy to navigate.

  4. Do you have dated information on your site, including people who no longer work there or services you no longer provide?Nothing turns off a prospective customer quicker than old, irrelevant information. Would you continue frequenting a restaurant with an outdated menu, or a retail store with the wrong pricing posted online? The same holds true for your website.

    People are coming to your site to learn something new or find a service they need. Customers have so many options these days. If they can’t find the information they need on your site, they can – and will – find it somewhere else. You don’t want to jeopardize your credibility by not reflecting current/accurate information.

  5. Does your URL have “https” in front of it?This means your site is not encrypted and therefore is not a secure site for users. Anything transmitted over an unencrypted site is easy for hackers to steal. It’d be like setting out a box of goods and just letting people use the honor system to pay. People want assurance that the sites they visit have protection measures, especially those taking personal/financial information.

    Moreover, Google penalizes websites that are not encrypted, pushing them further down on search results or not allowing people to access them at all. To fix this, check your web hosting and update to an SSL certificate. This is usually a quick and cheap fix, so there’s no reason to not update today.

  6. Could you brew a cup of coffee before you site finishes loading?Average users wait three seconds for a page to load, after that they’ll move on — maybe never to return. You don’t want to turn off visitors before they even open the door. Use a free online tool like Google Developer or Pingdom.com to check site speed and load issues. If it’s more than three seconds, you’ll want to optimize the coding, images and files on your page to get it loading quicker.

    This list can feel daunting, but with a little time and care, your website can be working for you to attract new customers and keep your current ones happy.

Big Data…Small World

These days, it seems there’s always a breaking news story pitting big data versus privacy. Cambridge Analytica and Facebook occupied the most recent spotlight in this trend – dominating the headlines and even forcing a Silicon Valley titan in front of Congress. While the debate about how best to protect personal privacy in a data-driven digital world continues, we can’t help but wonder: Has big data made our individual worlds smaller?

The dot-com boom and early days of the web unlocked a treasure trove of information. As digital infrastructure increased, so, too, did our access to information. With a few keystrokes, we were transported to new places. As technology advanced, photos gave way to videos. Skype and FaceTime visits replaced letter-writing. Social media connected us to friends and loved ones around the globe in an instant, and advertisers took notice, capitalizing on the newfound connectivity.

Despite the current controversy over how data is collected, shared and used in digital advertising, global citizens continue to live online every day, sharing more information about their behavior and their preferences with unnamed data-miners. And the data-miners continue to use the information they gather to feed us more content based on prior online behaviors. It’s all quite digitally cyclical.

Clearly, our online behavior labels us. Analytics can identify us as parents, pet owners, home-owners and renters. It can detect political affiliations, travel aspirations and fashion choices. The boxes we are placed into help control the content pushed out to us. In many ways, this can be extremely helpful, pointing out useful new products or experiences. However, there also is a somewhat unfortunate, limiting effect not often considered. What new content do we miss out on when so much information pushed to us is tailored to our existing interests?

As we catch up to the many algorithms that dictate the content we’re sent, we often attempt to regain some content control by filtering what we consume. We may purposefully follow (or block) brands on social media. We may even subconsciously visit the same websites constantly for information. Between our own filtering habits and the data-driven content being presented to us, we limit ourselves to just a few topics of interest, thereby restricting our access to new and exciting information on topics we don’t usually entertain.

Despite having unprecedented access to information, we continue to consume the same content, read news from the same sources and send our e-commerce business to the same retailers.

Our individual worlds have shrunk dramatically from the days of flipping through magazines or newspapers and discovering interesting, off-the-beaten-path stories. While government and private business argue over data-sharing policies, maybe we should exit our everyday browser and visit a new website. Better yet, pick up a newspaper or magazine and turn the pages. There might be a whole new world of untapped, thought-provoking topics for your digital feed.

Winning with Content Marketing

Want to know more about content marketing? You’ve come to the right place. For starters, imagine you’re in a room full of people. You’re networking – and attempting to make meaningful connections.

You strike up a conversation with someone who tells you how important he is. In his words, he makes lots of big decisions that change the world and looks good doing it. He tells you about all his friends. They are prominent and successful friends who think he’s cool. Before pushing his business card on you, he reminds you that you’d be wise to keep in touch – because he’s going places. You’re going places, too. You’re going far away from him.

Later, you spot the familiar face of someone you’ve heard great things about and want to meet. You go over to say hello and are greeted warmly. She is as interested in you as you are in her. Questions and answers flow easily. Compliments and affirmations fly. The conversation is laced with authentic, mutual admiration. You tell her about a close friend that would benefit greatly from her services and offer to make an introduction. She accepts, and you make plans to meet again for coffee.

Still with me? Good, because content marketing, which isn’t new, follows the basic rules of networking. Successful content marketers will tell you content marketing is the business of building relationships. They also will tell you (accurately) that as the digital media universe continues to expand, producing countless marketing options and complexities, content marketing is one of the most important communication strategies to engage and grow target audiences. And don’t be surprised when the experts remind you that mastering content marketing doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming, as you likely already know the basics, which take their shape from effective networking principles.

Recognizing that consumers control which brands they want to engage with, 89 percent of B2B marketers and 86 percent of B2C marketers use content marketing to increase leads and drive brand awareness, according to Content Marketing Institute. Increasingly, brands that provide genuine value, listen and deliver on the needs of their consumers are the ones poised for successful consumer engagement. A recent survey by OneSpot found that 87 percent of consumers say personally relevant content positively influences how they feel about a brand.

If the world is a room filled with millions of consumers and brands, the best consumer-brand conversations are laced with authentic, mutual admiration. The questions and answers flow easily. There’s follow-up and follow-through. Compliments and affirmations fly. Sound familiar?

Here are a handful of networking reminders that also can also be applied to your content marketing strategies this year (and beyond).

  1. Get to the party on timeIt’s tempting to wait until just the right moment, but the perfect moment may never arrive. Maybe you aren’t sure how to start a blog or what part of your business story needs telling. Preparation is always advisable, but waiting too long means others will get there before you, and it’s much harder to make an impression when the market is overcrowded. Don’t be afraid to dive in. Create a few realistic goals and set deadlines to achieve them. Then, figure out how you will execute by identifying your resources, including an online course, tapping an employee’s underused skills or even hiring a PR agency.
  2. Ditch the sales pitchNobody likes a showboat. Businesses can’t just proclaim what makes them special. They must add authentic value to the conversation. The most successful networkers make other people feel special, and the same goes for successful content marketing practices where the content identifies solutions, connects like-minded people and demonstrates why a product or service really is invaluable.
  3. Ask questions AND pay attention to the answersYou ditched the sales pitch, now what? Be an active, interested conversationalist. Content marketing should be a dialogue between companies and consumers. Brands must ask insightful questions and collect data to better understand consumer needs, likes/dislikes, feelings about marketing efforts and preferences for receiving information. But, they shouldn’t stop there. They must act! Real engagement is achieved when companies listen AND respond. These days, everyone seems willing to share an opinion. Companies should deliver action when they reach and connect with audiences on a personal level.
  4. Share your passionBuilding relationships means finding your tribe and connecting with members on similar levels. What makes you passionate about your industry? Why did you get into the business? Why is your product or service important to you personally? Speak up! Chances are, others share your same passion and want to engage. These are your people, your audience. Make it easy for them to find you by talking about your passion loud and often.
  5. SmilePeople respond to positivity. The best stories tell an intriguing narrative and leave listeners with a warm feeling, a chuckle, a deeper understanding of an issue or a move toward action. Humor goes a long way, but messages don’t always have to be funny to elicit a smile and make a lasting impression. The goal with any content should be to leave your audience in a better place than before they engaged with you.
  6. Follow upKeep in touch – whether to make a new connection or respond to a question from someone you already know. Nothing kills a relationship faster than communication darkness. Respond in a timely manner, and if your communication isn’t constant, at least make it regular. Identify your targets’ preferred method of communication and send updates, reminders, suggestions or just say hello. Vary your approach with email, newsletters and social media to help you stay connected while giving audiences the opportunity to engage on their terms.

Don’t Be an Ostrich

During periods of uncertainty and polarity, such as the past year of political transition, it is natural for business leaders to take a backseat while things “play out.” Typically, they may fear rubbing others the wrong way, and no one wants to upset their constituents or their prospects. Since many executives are not overtly political in their public lives, this can be very common.

Business leaders also may shy away during periods of disruption from the perceived risk of providing inaccurate information or giving advice that may not be relevant after the next inevitable change in direction which could come at any minute.

We’ve seen this unfold during the recent tax reform debate. Though the subject has been front and center since 2015 when it appeared on the campaign trail, and the President’s team unveiled a highly publicized single-page set of principles in early 2017, we still have no idea what the future holds for the tax code as we enter the final quarter of the year. What’s a conscientious, thought-leading CPA to do? Even more, how should communications professionals counsel tax experts about their visibility and the commentary they make available for public consumption?

Sticking to the old playbook, providing formulaic advice and trying to predict the future by using traditional methods is, at best, unwise. At worst, it’s unethical. The tendency may be to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich when you don’t understand the rules and don’t know the game. However, as the media continues to cover the tax reform debate from all angles, just like it does with healthcare, gun control, immigration and other “sticky subjects,” the public will maintain interest. The demand for tax-planning guidance won’t go away. In fact, it will skyrocket during periods of transition, so ghosting the audience is quite a disservice. But there is another way.

Without taking a stance on a specific tax policy, four simple questions allow tax professionals to confidently go on record and explain to the world in simple terms:

1. What is at stake?

2. What are the main issues that clients are asking about?

3. What are the key things to pay attention to as the disruption unfolds?

4. How can people prepare under a variety of outcomes?

For thought leaders, no matter what field they are in, it’s important to stay engaged during times of uncertainty. Subject matter experts must remember they are not being counted on to stir political debate, just lead their industries, which is where people need them the most.

Advice for the Advisories

Today, there are more platforms than ever before for brands to communicate with their constituents, and modern public relations now presents myriad opportunities for agencies to serve clients, especially through the explosive advent of social media.

Of course, the list of social media channels, which seems to be growing daily, allows the world to communicate back, and this relatively new two-way engagement has charted new territory for PR practitioners. It’s also created a proverbial double-edged sword. On the one hand, social media allows brands to craft, control and amplify their messages. On the other hand, however, brands are left vulnerable to a negative backlash, competing social media campaigns, disgruntled employees, unsatisfied customers, internet trolls and even opportunistic politicians.

In the world of financial services, where HKA supports some of the best and brightest companies, there’s an additional threat giving reason for concern – the regulators.

Providers of financial services are watched closely by an array of government agencies, and there are specific things advisory companies can say and things they cannot say, such as whether an investment will make a client any money. Basically, in finance nothing can be guaranteed, which makes sense when one considers how the capital markets work. When it comes to marketing investor relations, the grip on communications is tight. With social media, though, it’s practically hermetically sealed.

Especially for fiduciaries, the fear of getting dinged by the SEC is enough to scare many well-intentioned, marketing-minded wealth managers out of social media altogether, which is unfortunate because there’s so much to be gained (by posters and readers) from using social media channels properly. To help strike the right balance between Great Depression-era SEC standards and modern-day social media opportunities, consider the following:

  • Edit closely: Make sure your social media content does not overtly endorse your own products or services – or those of your clients. Posts need to be crafted with extreme caution, applying the adage: “When in doubt, leave it out.” Missing out on favorable content is tough for a communications strategist to swallow, but it’s much easier to be self-disciplined than to be disciplined by regulators.
  • Block what you can: On some platforms, the functions that allow members of the public to interact with the brand can be disabled. While this defeats the whole point of social media, it’s an easy solution to the troll problem. Some channels, including Facebook, require users to “Like” the page to view content. However, Facebook also lets page administrators select certain words to disqualify a comment from public consumption, consequently blocking unwelcome public comments without preventing people from engaging with the page.
  • Leverage third-party credibility: One of the most effective social media practices is implying how great you are – without the baggage that comes with having to explicitly say it yourself. This can best be done by sharing favorable media placements. If a local newspaper declares your financial services company as the best place to work in the county, there is nothing audacious about sharing that positive news with your social media network. This approach gives brands control of what messages are spread through social media, and if they originate from a trusted media outlet, rather than the brand’s own marketing department, the messages are much more credible and authoritative.
  • Promote company culture: Posting about business successes and corporate achievements works well. Meticulously crafted messages to attract new clients can be very effective. However, business development content, no matter how compliant, should not monopolize a social media account. At a minimum, one out of every four posts should promote corporate culture. Every office birthday party, philanthropic endeavor, holiday celebration, employee milestone and team excursion is fodder for social media. Especially in financial services, where much of the industry has an unfair reputation for being pedestrian, posts about a fun “Hawaiian Shirt Day” will go a long way toward changing minds. Business prospects and potential employees will be glad to see your human side.

The Young and the Best List

Without a doubt, inspiring is one of the most overused words in any vocabulary. We say we are inspired by everything from beautiful sunsets to a disabled person overcoming challenges to achieve success. Perhaps we feel inspired because it allows us to feel hope. We feel more confident in the world around us, whether it’s our tiny sphere of influence or the sprawling, unruly universe of humanity.

I bring this up because I, too, tend to indiscriminately use the word inspiring. And so, I am a bit sheepish as I pen this blog because there really is no other word for it.

A few days ago I attended the Young Entrepreneurs Summit. You might assume I saw college students engrossed in technology endeavors. Nope, not even close. Nary an app in sight. What I saw was a roomful of young girls – some as young as 7, most between 9 and 11, and one “oldster” at 16. They had just concluded a series of workshops given by a 13-year-old. No, that’s not a typo. Really, she’s 13. The subtitle of the event: “They’re not just kids, they’re future leaders!” And boy, was this the truth.

You may have heard of Anika Ortiz of Anika’s Pink Closet fame. She is an entrepreneur herself, as well as a motivational speaker. She continues to pile up awards. I first met Anika when she was 11 and winning the Youth Award at National Philanthropy Day. Her acceptance speech had the crowd of 900+ standing, clapping and cheering. I’ve followed her exploits ever since and now, at the ripe old age of 13, she is inspiring – yes, there’s that word again – other young girls to reach for the stars.

The Young Entrepreneurs Summit was the culmination of Anika’s workshops. The setting was a donated karate studio in Santa Ana with tables lining the perimeter. Twenty girls stood behind their tables, selling wares to shoppers eager to support earnest endeavors. The girls figured out what their “store” would sell, and then Anika taught them about pricing, branding and marketing.

Some baked, some sewed, some bought wholesale and resold retail. They had designed their own logos and now flashed snazzy business cards. They sold everything from handmade decorative pillows (Lilly’s Pillow Palace) to custom skateboard gear (Pretty Gnarly) to homemade cupcakes and cake pops (Valerie’s Flour Power). Most items cost between $1 and $10.

Moms, brothers and sisters were on hand to help but honestly, most needed no help at all. They pointed shoppers to websites where a more extensive list of items could be found. They explained how they came up with their idea for their store and proudly disclosed who would get a percentage of their profits.

Yes, that’s the other inspiring part. These young girls learned they could become entrepreneurs and also about giving back. Taking a cue from Anika, certainly a philanthropist extraordinaire, each selected a nonprofit to receive 10 percent of their sales. The list of nonprofits reads like a who’s who of local community groups, such as Child Abuse Prevention Center, Laura’s House, The Wooden Floor, Pretend City Children’s Museum and Mariposa Women & Family Center.

I spent about an hour visiting each table and chatting with the girls, soaking up – you guessed it –inspiration, and hope for the future. I have no doubt some of these girls will be leading the charge in the years ahead.

Oh, and I did spend $15 and left happily with two beautiful pillows from nine-year-old Lilly.