Birmingham’s Disadvantages are Advantages

Birmingham’s Disadvantages are Advantages

We loved this blog post so much that we snagged it (with their permission!) from our friends- Two Ravens. Dave Cowart wrote this one- be sure to check out the original post here!




There are plenty of articles proclaiming how great a place Birmingham has become. The food scene is world class! Shipt is showing what we’re capable of! The new mayor is going to fix everything! But nobody’s saying much about our disadvantages. Truth is, we have a lot—other cities have measurable leads in economic, educational, cultural, and societal measures. Our public image is shaded by the state as a whole. And regional cooperation is best measured under a microscope.



But don’t despair! In a bit of metaphorical judo, many of these disadvantages can actually be leveraged into advantages. One of the principles of judo is jū yoku gō o seisu, or “softness controls hardness”:



Resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent’s attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him. This can apply whatever the relative values of power, thus making it possible for weaker opponents to beat significantly stronger ones.



Instead of comparing ourselves to other cities and trying to emulate the paths they’ve taken, we should instead focus on what makes us unique and use our weaknesses as strengths. I’m not talking about finding the silver lining in a storm cloud; I mean actual, actionable changes we can make.



What are our greatest weaknesses? Size is an obvious starting point – we’re the 49th largest metropolitan area and the 104th largest city in the country. Population size isn’t everything, but it means we’re low on the list for outside investment, whether that’s attracting a corporate headquarters or a major sports team or even just niceties like the availability of same-day delivery or car-sharing. How do we use that as an advantage?





Since our city is smaller, we’re more likely to have friends in different industries. Sure, most people have lots of connections in their field, but we don’t have the density to support isolated bubbles like a financial district or a collection of tech campuses. This means that we’re more likely to be serendipitously exposed to the obstacles and breakthroughs of other industries, giving us the chance to treat our entire city like a huge Innovation Depot.




There are other advantages to being a smaller city. Cost of living is low, our worst commutes are laughable in other cities, and seeing familiar faces on the street can ward off the social isolation experienced by some people in large cities. The pace is a little slower, and people tend to be friendlier when there’s a chance you probably have a mutual friend. These factors can be crucial when recruiting against other larger population centers.



But why are we comparatively small? Growth in the metro area is slow, and it’s been getting slower for years. The city itself has actually been losing population. The good news is that we haven’t sacrificed our natural areas to develop real estate. Within a few miles of downtown, we’ve had Ruffner Mountain for decades and now we have Red Mountain Park. That doesn’t have to be the end of the story though. The same mountain that currently divides the city from its wealthiest suburbs has also shaped the city itself, both geologically and geographically, preventing sprawl in certain directions. Natural and historical areas in close proximity to downtown are still largely unspoiled and ready for enjoyment and preservation.



Industries that were previously a leading cause of the metro area’s growth are now declining or outdated. The steel industry has moved on, the financial industry has consolidated elsewhere, and we’re now home to only one Fortune 500 company. Those industries were the fuel that powered our economy and gave us the nickname “The Magic City,” and they occupied some of the prime real estate in town. They also employed many of the people that shopped and ate in the heart of downtown. Now that the furnaces and mills have closed and the shops and restaurants have moved away, all that land and empty real estate are available. The McWane Center and the Pizitz have revitalized empty department stores, Sloss Furnace is now a museum and the home to a successful music festival, Back Forty just opened a brewery/restaurant at the old Sloss Docks, and Amazon is building a fulfillment center on former U.S. Steel land. Just this week, DC Blox announced that they’re building a flagship data center at a closed steel mill a few blocks from UAB. It’s hard to imagine many other major urban universities having that kind of available land nearby. It’s important to focus on developing these previously-abandoned areas in a way that weaves young and innovative companies throughout the city.



Our airport is substantially smaller than others in the southeast. Ignoring the behemoth to the east, it still sees just a fraction of the boardings as Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis – cities whose metro areas aren’t that much bigger than ours.



Population vs. Enplanements (commercial boardings) by City



Tourism is a strong industry in those cities, but there’s clearly a lot of opportunity for growth. The good news is that people there who are looking at the future, realizing they have to innovate, and are already making plans. Enjoy the short security lines and easy parking while it’s not too busy.



Nobody on the outside is paying attention and expectations are low. It’s time to work together to leverage our disadvantages while still doing things our own way.










Recap: 3 Massive Mistakes Business Owners and Entrepreneurs Make When Managing Their Time

Recap: 3 Massive Mistakes Business Owners and Entrepreneurs Make When Managing Their Time

We recently hosted a Lunch & Learn with Dave Jesiolowski- he focus on the mistakes we make when managing our time. We snagged this post from Forge Member Jacqui Jones. Check out the original blog post here.




Wednesday, November 7th, I had the opportunity to attend a great lunch & learn at Forge in Birmingham, AL lead by Dave Jesiolowski.  I had to be at this one because as I scale my business, time management becomes a tricky thing.  When he started by saying, “I know we are all lacking in vitamin E, execution” I knew I was in the right place.



He gave the things that we as entrepreneurs do that plummet our time management.  There, of course, were portions where I felt “I’ve heard this before.”  But there were moments of “aha!”  Hopefully, it will help you the way it helped me.


Mistake #1: You don’t know your “why.”



I get up and go to my desk at Forge every single day.  I’ll be the first to say; I’ve never just written down my “why.”   I have a “why,” but I’ve never taken time to clarify it in the way that Dave described.  He encouraged us to post our “why” everywhere.  If there is a different “why” in different spaces for you, give yourself those reminders.  You may have a “why” for home and one for work.  Maybe you even have a “why” for the space where you get dressed.  These reminders speak to your reason for staying on track.  If my “why” for showing up at work by 745a every morning is because I want to grow my company to a size that can employ others and make a difference in the lives of those in my community, I need to give myself that reminder.  If my “why” for leaving my work bag in the car is so that I can achieve uninterrupted and distraction-free time with my family, I may need that reminder.



In his book, “One Decision Can,” he has created what he calls success formulas.  The formulas ask important questions that lead you to a well-defined “why.”  I bought a book and can’t wait to get into and create my own.  (I promise to come back and review my experience.)




Mistake #2: You have too many distractions and temptations. 



This reason was one of those things I had heard before.  But, you really can never have too many reminders that distractions are everywhere.  Dave talked about how marketers are amazingly efficient and creating distractions in people’s lives all day every day.  Though that’s my industry, I didn’t hang my head in shame.  The agencies he was speaking about will have ads showing up in your mailbox from a google search you made last week.  I’m good.  But, I’m not on that level of creating distractions.



For myself, however, I found a dilemma.   A part of my job is notifications.  I don’t manage as many accounts as I once did now that my team has grown.  But, I do still have a few.   So, this one, though a common time management call-out, may be a challenge for me personally.  He even talked about how we let people take over our calendars with the “do you a minute” and “can we talk this afternoon” type approaches.  I am guilty of letting people take over my calendar daily.   Dave made it clear that if I want to reach the goals I’ve set for the day, I have to be willing to say “no.”



Mistake #3: You don’t have accountability.



You may be thinking that this is a more common call-out as well.  It was, but it wasn’t.  We know that we all need accountability, but he was talking about new methods of self-accountability.  He mentioned that during coaching sessions he has clients create a scorecard for their perfect day.  He said, “we do things for pain or gain.”  Because of that, on the scorecard, you put what you gain by doing a thing and what pain you’re caused when you don’t.  Having a scorecard and keeping a record should allow you to be able to track more specifically why you’re getting the results that you are.



Your scorecard appears in all spaces.  If you’re trying to lose weight and you are tracking what you eat every day, looking back over the week or month of your detailed tracking should show you exactly what habits are leading you there.  I thought this was a great way to put it.   It spoke, not only to tracking your actions, but to analyzing your data.  That’s the part that I feel most people miss.  I know I do.



I will have a one-on-one call with Dave in the near future, and I’m excited to do so.  Coaching is an important part of growing and developing as a business owner, but even as a person.   This is something I’ve always known as a coach for business owners and entrepreneurs as it pertains to marketing and developing a strong brand foundation.  But, as I said in “Entrepreneurship Starts in the Mind,” there is more than doing the work that one must consider if you want success… repeatedly.



Spotlight on: Mindy Rohr, Experience Manager at The Pizitz Food Hall

Spotlight on: Mindy Rohr, Experience Manager at The Pizitz Food Hall

Thanks to Bham Now for another feature! This article was written by Lauren Bedford- focusing on Forge Member Mindy Rohr. Read more about Mindy’s role as the Experience Manager at The Pizitz!



Have you been to one of the recent events at The Pizitz, like Moonlight Movies or Flashback Brunch? Chances are, you had a great time. You can thank Mindy Rohr for that.


Rohr is the Experience Manager at The Pizitz Food Hall. While she has a background in Event Planning, this job takes that to a whole new level. Not only is Rohr responsible for the event itself, she is also responsible for the operations and all the behind-the-scenes work like social media and marketing.



Lexington To Birmingham



Rohr was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky. Always a fan of finding the best restaurants and shops downtown, she started a successful Instagram account and blog called Love, Lexington that she used to highlight the businesses in town. Eventually, this budded into a pop-up style night market called Market 301. The market highlights local makers and shops and, even though Rohr transplanted to Birmingham, the market is still up and running.



I believe it is her love for local shops and the excitement to highlight small businesses that makes Rohr so successful in Birmingham. Ours is a city that loves to support small business and local shop owners, so she is a perfect fit.





Social Media Maven




As a large part of her career budded out of of her popular presence on social media (namely Instagram), I asked Rohr a few Instagram-specific questions. First I wanted to know what her advice would be to someone who is interested in breaking into the marketing / media field via social media. Here’s what she told me:



  • First, pick a platform and stick with it. For her, it is Instagram. For others, it may be Twitter or Facebook. Finding out where you excel and which platform targets your demographic is an important first step.
  • Good photography is CRUCIAL. She really stressed this point: “If you aren’t a skilled photographer, do some research and learn how to take great photos. Visual content is so important.”  Especially on a platform like Instagram, engagement comes from visual content first and foremost, so make sure it is quality.




“People Want to Feel Comfortable”



Rohr stressed the fact that she always wants her content to have utility. When she started out writing for her own blog, she knew that she wanted to include details in her write-ups. For example, when she visited a new restaurant she shared what was on the menu, what she ordered, what people were wearing, where the parking was, etc. She has taken that mindset with her to The Pizitz Food Hall.




With all of her Instagram posts and social media shares, Rohr aims to answer people’s questions. The day before we talked, she received a question from someone asking about vegan options at the food hall. Rohr is not vegan, but she went around to each food stall and compiled a list of vegan foods that she then shared. The attention to detail that she puts into marketing, events and everything else with the food hall is key to its success.






Foodie First



“The Birmingham food scene is booming. We don’t cook at home a lot so we have gotten to know the local food scene pretty well. Most of our friends turn to us for ideas of where to go when they have a date night or want to try a new spot.”




(Note: Rohr and her husband Jesse started the Instagram account @badass_bham. Check out the account for Birmingham food scene highlights!)



In talking to Rohr, it’s clear that she is a foodie. She loves to try new restaurants around town, so of course we got to chatting about food. She and her husband recently moved closer to downtown, so they have much more walkability to restaurants and bars. Lucky for her, she works at the food hall, with a variety of choices at all times. So, what would she eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner from the food hall?





A full day of eating at The Pizitz Food Hall



(Please note: this is Rohr’s ideal eating day. Calories don’t count in dream worlds, thank you very much.)


Breakfast: Croque Madame from Alabama Biscuit Co.


Lunch: A burger with a fried egg on it, plus a side of both tater tots and fries from The Standard.


Dinner: Poke bowl from Ono Poke, dumplings from mo:mo, and a glass of rose from The Louis. If she’s not feeling rose, she loves the $5 happy-hour Old Fashioned.



Birmingham Weather and A Great Job



Of course, Rohr loves living in Birmingham now. Although she was born and raised in Lexington, Birmingham has become her home. What’s her favorite thing about Birmingham? The weather! Apparently, Lexington is one of the most overcast cities in the U.S. — who knew?



“We moved here in early May, and every morning I would walk outside to sit on our porch and drink my coffee because I just couldn’t get over the perfect, sunny weather.”





Another one of her favorite things? Her job with The Pizitz. She told me all about the history of the building — did you know that The Pizitz Building was the home of the very first parking deck in downtown Birmingham? And of course, it’s the first ever food hall in Birmingham as well. In addition, there is a basement! Rohr was telling me how excited she is for the new Sidewalk theater to be built downstairs. There will be 2  theaters, and each will seat 100 people and have a concession stand as well as a bar. Construction will start soon (get excited Bham!)



Overall, it is the community aspect of her job that Rohr notes is her favorite:



“I love being downtown and being able to meet and work with the owners of the food stalls. I love being able to share all my favorites with my friends and make connections in the city.”




Nine Reasons Blogs Are Effective

Nine Reasons Blogs Are Effective

The staff at 24 Communications are part of the Forge family and they always have valuable info to share. We’ve snagged a blog post written by Charlotte Donlon from them focusing on the reasons why blogs are effective!





According to The Content Marketing Institute’s B2C 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report, organizations with an extremely successful or a very successful content marketing approach say blogs are one of the most effective formats for helping them reach their objectives. The only marketing tool more effective for these businesses is email.


1. Your Blog Can Be Used for Email Content
Even though email is the most effective marketing strategy, don’t dismiss blogs. Email and blogs go hand in hand because blog content can be used for email content. Including links to your blog in your email newsletters can help drive readers, current customers, and potential customers to your website.


2. Your Blog Can Be Used to Share Helpful Information
Your customers have the same question we all have: What’s in it for me? Your blog posts can answer that question for your customers and your potential customers. How do your products or services solve their problems? How do your products or services make their life easier? How do your products or services help them achieve their goals? Blog posts are a great way to communicate these specifics to your audience.


3. Your Blog Can Be Used to Highlight Your Products and Services
Do you have a new product or service that you need to introduce to the world? Writing a blog post about your new offering will help spread the word.


4. Your Blog Can Be Used to Respond to Objections
You know why a customer might hesitate to purchase your product or service. Why not use your blog to respond to those objections? Your customers and potential customers will see that you are trying to listen to them and trying to understand their point of view which will make them more willing to consider your point of view and more willing to move past their objections.




5. Your Blog Can Help Generate More Leads and Sales
On average, companies with blogs produce 67% more leads per month than those without.


6. Your Blog Can Help You Connect with Existing and Potential Customers
Many consumers feel more positive about a brand and more connected to a brand after reading custom content, especially if that content tells stories about the company’s brand in ways readers can relate to. Stories about your mission and your goals and ways you give back to your community will resonate with readers, customers, and potential customers.


7. Your Blog Can Increase Traffic to Your Website
Let’s talk about compounding. One in ten blog posts are “compounding,” meaning organic search consistently increases traffic over time. Compounding posts are important because one compounding blog post generates as much website traffic as six regular posts combined. Also, compounding blog posts generate 38% of all blog traffic. There’s no way to know which of your blog posts will be compounding posts. But if you aren’t blogging, it’s safe to say you won’t have any at all.


8. Your Blog Can Help You Tell Your Story
You have a story to tell. And your customers want to know it. Most consumers—70% of them— prefer learning about a company through custom content like blog posts instead of through paid ads. That’s a great incentive to blog more and give your customers the content what they want.


9. Your Blog Can Help Build Trust
Customized content can help build trust with your customers and potential customers. They will see that you know what you’re talking about. They will see that you care enough about your products and services to allocate resources to creating unique content. And if you provide custom content that’s beneficial to them, they will see that you desire to help them. It’s easier to trust someone who is knowledgeable, who cares, and who wants to help you.


24 Communications is here to help you develop and implement your content marketing strategy, and can find strategic and creative ways to leverage your content across multiple platforms to expand your brand’s reach.


Get in touch to learn more.



20 Business Books Recommended by Entrepreneurs

20 Business Books Recommended by Entrepreneurs

We all need a pick-me-up every once in a while, whether it comes in the form of a compelling novel, a heartwarming self-help book, or a business book with a little inspiration. We collected some of the best business books according to our Forge members. Check out our list of the best business books below, complete with an opinion of why this book was chosen by each person!
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
    • “Growing up a terrible student, this book gave me hope I could build a business!” – Sam Hill of Big Lead Gen. Inc.
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
    • “One quote I’ve never forgotten from it is, ‘To go from good to great means transcending the curse of competence.’ This has been a core value in my professional life for the past two decades years, and the mission, vision and goals of our company are really built on the foundation of that premise.” – Jennifer Solt of 24 Communications
  • Weird in a World That’s Not by Jennifer Romolini
    • “This book had a huge impact on me as a reminder that you can stay true to yourself and when you’re with a company that wants to change you, you’re in the wrong place.” Rebecca Dobrinski
  • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
    • “I think it’s fascinating to consider why people, and organizations, act the way they act.” – Donnie Garvich of Two Ravens




  • The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
    • “It goes deep into the (at the time new) idea that by being true to your rabid fans, you can generate a stronger business over time. So instead of trying to sell the lowest common denominator product, target exactly who you want with what *they* want. Lots of good crunchy examples too.” – Scott Pierce of Two Ravens
  • Exponential Organizations by Salim Ismail
    • “This book demonstrates how any organization can streamline growth and accelerate it using technology and nine other core characteristics. Any business hoping to avoid becoming a slow, inefficient company should adopt what Ismail outlines in his research.” – Josh Rhodes of Big Lead Gen Inc.
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
    • “It helped me think strategically about making foundations decisions about starting my business.” – Jacqueline Jones of One Degree MMM
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
    • “Great book on human behavior and how we make decisions. I reread it every other year or so because it’s that good.
      – Perry Still of HNS Partners




  • What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson
    • “It helped me rethink my priorities and long term goals.” – Alex Grodner of Cambria Solutions
  • A Sense of Something Greater: Zen and the Search for Balance in Silicon Valley by Les Kaye and Teresa Bouza
    • “I enjoyed the book because the authors bring together interviews of and short pieces by people who work in the tech industry, offering advice on how to deal with the high stress, burnout, etc. that modern work produces. Even though it’s focused on Silicon Valley, the concepts apply anywhere.” – Kerry Smith of ecoTexual
  • Zero to One by Peter Theil
    • “This book is a must read for entrepreneurs. Peter push’s you to become a contrarian and shares many of his most thought provoking insights.” – Connor Hand of Big Lead Gen Inc.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
    • “Lencioni breaks down the building blocks for an effective team. By writing the team in a fable it is very practical and very easy to apply to your own organization. You can easily read the entire book in a few hours and walk away with a clear understanding of the building blocks that need to be in place to create a team that will function cohesively. Implementing all of the building blocks is a much tougher process, but you finish the book with a framework of where you should be headed.” – Kim Lee of Forge





  • A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
    • “It’s my recommended read for every new graduate or person trying to figure out what they want to do in life. Helped me understand work and career beyond the boundaries of academic majors and industry definitions.” Autumn Foster of Quire Consulting
  • How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
    • “If you are looking for a primer on how misinterpreting data leads to bad decisions, look no further.” – Nathan McMinn of
  • The Third Door by Alex Banayan
    • “Not only is it full of advice form some of the world’s greatest business leaders. But the documentation of what Alex Banayan went through to make the book possible is absolutely amazing at the least. This book is a great example of the kind of relentlessness that is necessary to bring big dreams to reality.” – Stanley Stevenson of Stevenson Designs
  • The Accidental Salesperson by Chris Lytle
    • “It talks about how sales techniques are essential across all industries whether you are in marketing or a dentist.” – Russell Hooks of Happenins In The Ham




  • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley
    • “Social media has made us writers but the majority of us aren’t professional writers. Our words carry our marketing messages. Everybody Writes is a go-to guide for how to communicate well in writing in order to attract and retain customers.” – Donna Gilliland of MOSTraining
  • Management by Peter Drucker
    • “So much is changing in our world, and some things don’t change – focus on leading people, focus on doing the right things and not just doing things right. This book really helps cut through a lot of the noise you find in most business books.” – Austin Senseman of
  • The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
    • “When we were first starting out, my business partner, Krista Baker, and I were energized by The $100 Startup. It reinforced for us the notion that you already have what you need to change course and create what you want; you just have to take action.” – Kelli Eldridge of Race Quest Travel
  • Radical Candor by Kim Scott
    • “In the South, we are raised to not say anything at all if we don’t have anything nice to say.  Walking on eggshells and talking around the truth restricts the ability to develop your team, and brutal honesty can do the same by making you out to be an asshole.  I like Radical Candor because it clearly illustrates how personally caring for your team earns you the right to challenge them directly.” Trey Noland of Trek EC