In honor of our upcoming 100th episode, we’re turning the mic on our regular host, Brandon Laws. Listen in as Angela Perkins, VP of Sales & Marketing, gets Brandon’s take on HR trends, what it’s like to be a marketer for Xenium, inside of a human resources consulting company, and all things podcast—from favorite episodes to lessons learned to a little sneak peek of what’s to come.
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Brandon: Welcome to the HR for Small Business Podcast, this is your host, Brandon Laws. Today I’m with Angela Perkins, she’s our VP of Sales and Marketing. She has been on the podcast before but we’re actually going to switch it up today, aren’t we Angela?
Angela: We are!
Brandon: So Angela, you’re going to play guest host today.
Angela: I am!
Brandon: You’re going to interview me. I’m a little nervous for this! I’m usually on the other side of the microphone. So I’m going to turn it over to you and see what you got.
Angela: This might be my favorite day of all time! I’m going to put Brandon in the hot seat, and I think our listeners are pretty excited for that.
So, being on the other side of the table here, Brandon, why don’t we kick this off by you just sharing a little bit about your background? I think the listeners might want to hear more about you.
Brandon: I’m pretty boring! I don’t know how far back you want to go.
So my background, you know, pretty basic story—I graduated from Western Oregon University in 2008 and was working on the weekends to pay for school. I successfully got out of school without any debt, which taught me about hard work, which translated into the workplace.
I then quit that job and started selling insurance, got my license. That was painful. I did that for about eight months until my cousin, Alishia Young, who works here as a an HR Director let me know that there’s an operations position open and helped me get the job.
So I bailed out of the insurance gig, came running to Xenium in 2008. This was late 2008, mind you. The position was super entry level.
Angela: What was the title?
Brandon: I was an Operations Administrator at the time. I think it’s now Operations Assistant, we’ve called it a couple of different things. But yeah, I started out working under Shanda Nikkel who works here in Operations as our Implementation Manager on the payroll and benefits side. The rest is kind of history, that’s kind of how it all started for me.
Angela: Could you help the listeners understand how you went from Operations Assistant to Director of Marketing?
Brandon: At the time, it was needed in the organization, an Operations Assistant, somebody who is doing super administrative duties. But I’ve always had an interest in marketing and a little bit of sales. Back in high school, I did a ton of, I guess you would call it digital marketing in a way, but I learned how to build websites, did a lot of video work as well.
We did funny videos in college too. We had this public access thing through the college, where we would show these funny videos. It was in the pre-YouTube days. I always had this knack for putting out content. Fast forwarding to what the business needed – we didn’t have marketing at Xenium. I think it was in 2010 when we really had this need to get on the web. You know, bring in the website and redevelop that, kick out a lot more emails and throughout that process, we kept refining the brand. That’s really where I became so much more integrated in marketing, so I became fulltime marketing, supported our sales team and, fast forwarding to today, I’m Director of Marketing. It’s like all digital marketing now, so it’s been an interesting and fun 8.5 years.
Angela: You’ve been a gift to the organization, for sure. Maybe talk to us a little bit about what it’s like to be a marketing leader for an HR company? You come to us with really very little marketing experience and zero HR experience, but here you are. So maybe talk to us a little bit about that.
Brandon: That’s an interesting one because I’m the only one of my kind. There are often challenges where I’m trying to seek how to do something in marketing and I have to look outside the walls, either on the Googles or peers. I don’t know a ton of marketers in the area, especially in my type of role. I know marketers that work for agencies. That’s not the same. I’m pretty close with a couple of people, but it’s like I look up to them. They just don’t have the same type of role that I have. So it’s always pretty unique.
But I would say that it has been really fun to work for an HR company as a marketer because they’re so people-focused and I think that has helped me hone in on what our brand is all about and our tagline is it’s about people. So as a marketer, it has really helped me define what the brand is and how to navigate it. It’s been fun, but it is challenging being the only one of my kind.
Angela: Well, again, you’re marketing a product line or a service line that you don’t have technical expertise in either. All of your listeners for the most part are either small business owners, leaders, or HR professionals, HR leaders. How do you resonate with your audience? How are you connecting with those folks?
Brandon: That’s the funny thing. I’m the only one of my kind inside of an organization. My guess – and I don’t know this because a lot of this is anonymous – but some people do reach out and say who they are. My guess is a lot of our listeners are HR people inside of an organization much like me. So I think they can relate to me quite a bit. I don’t really talk about marketing on this podcast, obviously. But I think we all feel the same thing, we just need help, we need education. We always want to grow and develop and we’re always looking for new ideas. If there’s anything that people get from this podcast, I hope that they can take just a couple of things here and there. It’s on the go, it’s when they want, and hopefully they’ve kind of developed a relationship with me.
Angela: Well, we’re here today to sort of deepen that, if you will! And really, I like that connection because you’re right – you are running your own show here. You’re a marketing department of one, so to speak, as it relates to the content development and some of the things that you’re doing here. We have some marketing support and some great team members. But from a leadership perspective, you’re leading that. Our listeners might be in that same boat except for on the HR side of things. So it’s a great connection.
What have you learned on the HR side? As you talk to guests, a lot of topics are HR-driven obviously, because that’s the kind of content we’re trying to provide our audience. What are some of the “aha’s” for you?
Brandon: There are like several buckets. For one, I wanted to back up a little bit and say that over the time that I have been in this role, I came in in 2008, late 2008 when things were all of a sudden turning. We were helping clients with mass layoffs, people were doing hiring freezes, wage freezes, you name it. So a lot of what was coming out was helping support through that, compliance-oriented things, and I feel like all that has shifted now. It’s more about people practices and refining those, retaining talent. Basically everything is about retaining and hiring the best of the best and making sure that they can keep them and develop a great culture. So what I’ve learned, really, is just that HR is going to always move. It’s going to be fluid with the economy, business cycles, you name it.
I think what I’ve learned from some of the guests, I mean we have such a random sampling of topics, but I would say compensation is at the top of people’s minds. The flexible work environment is really important. Compliance isn’t going away, it’s getting tighter and tighter and I think people are more confused than ever.
I wish it was black and white, and it’s supposed to be, but I think it’s hard for a lot of people, the legalese. Things are changing constantly, things are being delayed. It’s just hard to keep up and I think that’s why, if there’s one opportunity we have on this podcast, it’s probably to do a little bit more legal stuff.
Angela: Well, and application, right? We always talk about that here internally, that there’s legislation that comes down or compliance that comes down, but then it’s all about how do you apply that to your business. That’s what we hear a lot of clients struggling with, so you’re here to help and the podcast really helps with some of that to make it real.
Brandon: One other thing I wanted to say about what I’ve learned, which I also think is a huge opportunity for not only us but for HR people in general – there’s so much data in HR and your people. I mean from turnover data to the compensation data to benefits data to payroll, there’s so much data and you almost need a data scientist working for your company because based on that data, you might be able to make really sound decisions on your business for the future.
That’s just one thing I’ve seen as we’re so software-integrated in all of our companies and there’s a lot of data there for the taking. That’s going to help you make decisions, so I would pay attention to it for sure.
Angela: Well, it’s an interesting parallel, again, to tie marketing and HR together because think about the data and the metrics available in marketing. It’s very similar, to your point, the amount of data in the HR professional arena. Let’s use that as a segue to talk a little bit about that.
One of the emerging exciting things that we’ve uncovered is this marriage between marketing and HR. We’ve used it in our own business via culture videos and some of the things that we’ve done from a hiring perspective and branding the culture. Talk to us a little bit about how your role has influenced that here at Xenium and maybe even some tips for listeners that haven’t made that connection between those two departments yet inside their business.
Brandon: It’s interesting because HR and marketing need each other really badly but I don’t think they know it. It’s interesting actually. Recently I interviewed Shawn Busse who’s the CEO of Kinesis marketing firm, but he’s focused on the culture side of marketing and employer branding. I’ve always sort of resonated with that because I’m a marketer inside an HR company.
So not only am I looking to help build a culture and do all the fun stuff that I want in my company, but we’re talking about it for our clients as well. What’s coming up time and time again is Hey, we need to develop a culture. What can we do for communication? What I tend to see is job postings that don’t have company branding, they don’t have unique language. Nobody is using the social media outlets as a culture/employer branding tool. I shouldn’t say nobody is doing it, some people are doing it really well and I think that’s the opportunity. If you’re really looking to capture the talent, especially for hard-to-find positions, you don’t want your competitor getting it. A lot of times what happens is they’re probably not doing the employer branding thing either. So that’s the opportunity –
Angela: Stand out.
Brandon: Yeah, to stand out. You’ve got to leverage marketing for communication, graphics, branding, and to make sure that comes through in all of your people practices. I don’t think employers are really doing that.
Angela: Right. What would be a first step for those employers that maybe aren’t doing that? What would you suggest? Think of the small business owner who’s like, Oh, I hadn’t really even thought about doing that. Would a good first step be really just as simple as the job posting?
Brandon: If you’re going to go tactical, I think that’s probably the best first step. But if we back up and say, Do they even have marketing and resources? I think that’s the question you’ve got to ask yourself. But even further back than that, if you don’t have your purpose honed in, your mission, vision, values, all those things, if you don’t have those defined, you’re going to have a really hard time marketing anyway, right? So if you don’t have those things defined and your marketing processes all dialed in, the employer branding piece is going to be even harder.
Brandon: I would say that if you have all those things taken care of, getting HR and marketing together is the first thing you need to do, and figure out what’s the priority. Where are the gaps? What do we need to do like from a future planning standpoint?
Angela: It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. I think that’s the other confusion out there as well. We’re just small. So we can’t do some of that strategic work. You’ve released some content on the culture video and how to support around that.
Brandon: It’s a long post. It’s like literally every step I went through and I like to just give that away because it was a struggle going through it.
Angela: Yeah, learned a lot.
Brandon: There were a lot of lessons learned, it could have gone a couple of different ways, could have spent a lot of money or less money. There are a lot of decisions that are involved in something like that. So yeah, I gave it all away. It’s a long post. It’s on our blog, if you want to go check it out.
Angela: It’s a great post and it has been highly trafficked. So a lot of folks are looking at it. Maybe a lot of companies aren’t yet grasping this concept, but I think there’s curiosity out there. So there’s definitely some traction around that.
Let’s shift gears a little bit and I want to hear some favorites. You’re about ready to record your 100th podcast episode.
Brandon: I think it says I’m getting old.
Angela: What have been some of your favorite podcast episodes to date, out of 100? And what have you learned from episode number 1 to episode number 90?
Brandon: Those are all really good questions. I’m going to start with what I’ve learned first. So I’ve learned that I can help drive what comes out in the interview based on the questions I ask. I always do a lot of self-reflection and I think I can be better as an interviewer. I feel like back in the early days I was a terrible interviewer. If you’re listening right now and you’ve been a loyal listener all these years, thank you, because I can’t listen to those anymore! My process is I’ll obviously record it, I’ll listen to it, I used to edit all of them, now I don’t. But I used to listen to it as I’m editing it and listen to it again and then listen to it one more time like in my car as if I was a listener, just to pick up on things that I’m doing, things I’m not noticing. I think that’s the lesson learned.
Some of my favorite topics, gosh, I mean there are so many. And actually, I like all of them that come out now. So like I said, I think we’re getting better. I think we’re getting more interesting topics. That’s kind of a cop-out.
Angela: Hard to pick one.
Brandon: It’s hard to pick one. I do like the millennial topics, I feel like I have a lot more to give on that as an interviewer. The one on happiness I really liked. The one on coaching, the coaching habits book was great. Michael Bungay Stanier was a fun interview. I actually just recorded one with Jody Thompson on the results-only work environment. She’s super passionate.
I think it’s those ones where some people listening may be – like, oh, there’s no way and some will be like, oh, man. I’ve never thought about this. I like those controversial topics. They always give me a little pause before I publish something that’s a little controversial, but they’re interesting. I think that’s what I’m trying to focus on, the millennials topics, happiness, those are kind of my favorites.
Angela: I know you and your team support a lot of metrics-gathering. What are the listeners loving? Of those 100, where do you see the most popularity from the listeners?
Brandon: Well, this is funny because I think part of this plays into search as well. Our most popular one is a book and it’s probably because people are searching for the book in iTunes or something and then they run across this book discussion, Fierce Conversations, which – I think that was episode 7 or 8, it was early on.
But even until today, we still get a lot of downloads on that one. So it’s kind of funny because I don’t know – I can’t remember if that content was great, but it was probably because of the title. So I think the metrics could be misleading at times because some of the popular ones are probably based on just how we title them.
But some of the most popular ones are the stories. One of the most popular ones that I recorded, Lacey Halpern here at Xenium. She had a career story in HR and I think people like hearing stories, so I’m hoping this one is downloaded quite a bit! But I’m not in HR, so we will see. But Lacey’s is very popular. That one has been constantly downloaded. I was actually looking yesterday and there was a ton of downloads on that just yesterday. And it was like three months, four months ago.
Brandon: So yeah, the metrics are interesting because you can tell when people are subscribing quite a bit because they go back and listen and that’s always fun to see.
Angela: Well, that Lacey download is interesting too because again, if you assume that our listeners are in the HR profession, and for the most part they are HR professionals, it’s great to hear other people’s stories and know how did you land here and what do you love about your work.
Brandon: I think I need to do that more often. Actually if you’re listening and you want that, just shoot me an email or connect with me on LinkedIn or something. I would love to hear that because I personally like the story. I don’t know about you but—
Angela: Oh, storytelling is great. It’s so powerful.
Brandon: Especially if you look up to somebody and respect them, you wonder hey, what was your path like? You just kind of want to follow.
Angela: Absolutely. What else would you love to hear from your listeners? If you could ask your listener set a question, what would that be?
Brandon: I would love them to shed light on my blind spots. I mean I’m sure as an interviewer I have weird nuances and maybe that’s what makes me interesting or something. But if there are certain questions I ask or the way I start an episode or just anything, I want to get better as an interviewer. I want feedback. I love feedback. I don’t care if it’s a negative. I mean I even had some coworkers of mine, I said, Be honest with me. What do you not like about this podcast? They’re like, Oh, I love it. No, seriously, tell me! What’s wrong with this thing? I want to make this fun. I want to make it interesting, I want people to share it.
Learning and development stuff is so important to me. You know that. I read a ton of books. I listen to a ton of podcasts. I want this to be something that HR people can look at and say, I learned a lot from this and I’m going to share with my colleagues. That’s what I want.
Angela: Well, it’s interesting. I’m going to dive in a little bit to the juicy stuff and the psyche of Brandon Laws and really tie it to some of that millennial talk, some of your favorite topics. I’m curious if you identify yourself as a millennial, if you categorize yourself that way?
Brandon: With certain things. That’s why these blanket generalizations on the generations are really tough to make. People do it anyway because it’s easier to stereotype a group. Like you’re an X-er, right? So you probably have millennial tendencies, you probably have X-er tendencies. There are things that probably come out. I think the instant gratification type stuff, the feedback – I just mentioned that. Those sorts of things are definitely millennial, right? But I’m an old soul when it comes to other things. I’m very frugal in my personal life.
Angela: Work ethic.
Brandon: Work ethic is there. I feel like people should work hard and say yes to everything and just work your butt off until you get so busy and so overvalued to where you need to start saying no. But I think early on, you have to do everything and learn as much as you can. I think that’s the work ethic of the X-er and the boomers too. I resonate quite a bit with that group.
Angela: Well, and another anomaly to you is, again, to make a generalization, the millennials jump ship often, they change a lot of jobs. You’ve been here for eight years.
Brandon: Eight and a half years!
Angela: It’s actually our culture too. I’m going on 18, our president is at 26. Shanda, who you mentioned earlier on the show, our implementation manager, is 25. And we can keep going, right? Within the Xenium culture. That is fair enough then to say you cannot generalize a generation, but could you generalize a company? What is it about Xenium that holds you here?
Brandon: Oh man, it’s the people for sure. That’s first and foremost. I’ve developed a lot of really good relationships. I think it’s a combination between the people, no doubt, especially our team, just how tight we are and how ingrained we are. We’re firing on all cylinders.
The other thing is I’ve had opportunity. I’ve had the ability to stretch and grow myself and I think if I didn’t have that, I probably wouldn’t be here, even if the people are great. You can still be friends with people and stay connected with them, but it’s the ability to allow me to do my work and stretch and grow and give me the freedom to create. I think if I didn’t have that, that would be like a hole in me. But I’ve had that, so I’ve been here.
People often ask me. Like, wow, you’ve been in one company like 8.5 years? It’s going to be 10 years here pretty soon. I look at them like, Yeah. But I’m not done. I’ve never felt done. If you are looking at your own career and you say, I’ve basically accomplished everything I can here at this company, it might be time to look somewhere else. I‘ve never felt like that, I’ve always felt like there was something else that I can do.
Angela: And great for listeners to hear as especially locally here in the Pacific Northwest market, we are all so focused on retention. So as you’re listening, these are the kinds of things going through employees’ minds – what can I accomplish? How can I contribute? Because I think that’s powerful.
Brandon: I think for employers, they need to ask the question too. Like, what keeps you here? And they need to ask it in a super open, authentic way. If you’re going to get some negative feedback, you need to be able to like be open to getting that.
One of the things that we did a while back was the “What People Want from Work” survey. We did it internally and then we actually released to clients and to some followers of Xenium. It’s a free survey but we did it because we wanted to ask, What do you really want from work? What’s going to keep you here? Is it benefits? Is it flexibility? Is it what I described, the ability to never be done in your work, to be so ingrained and passionate about your work that you own it? That’s what I feel about my work and I want other people to feel that way.
Angela: Absolutely. What have you learned about your work from your five-year-old, Parker? I’m just curious about what Parker teaches you about your work.
Brandon: That’s a tough one! Both my kids have really taught me that you work to be able to be with your family and to, for me, leave a legacy. I want to be able to grow and develop my family and I want to teach them work ethic and all those things. Being able to go home and talk to my kids and see their growth and development and especially Parker right now – you work as hard as you can and do right by your family, then you get to enjoy the fruits of that with your family at the end of the day.
Angela: What the listeners don’t have the benefit of is what I do, which is to hear the fun Parker and Paisley stories. What you don’t know behind this put-together guy on the podcast interview is that he’s got some really fun kids at home that give him lots of adventures.
Brandon: Oh, yeah. It’s funny because I actually do a podcast on my personal time, it’s like movies, sports-related stuff. I was actually editing a podcast last night with my buddy and I was listening in the background. It was one of those nights where my kids were up, like screaming all night. My wife, bless her heart, was like dealing with it, as I had this podcast recording scheduled. As I’m editing this, I hear this faint like, “Eeehhh!” squealing in the background and it was like Paisley just completely screaming and I couldn’t help but laugh. I left it in there because it was funny.
Angela: Absolutely. A moment in time.
Brandon: I want people to know that. Like, I’m real. I’m not some robot who’s just on a podcast mic. I have problems like anybody else. I have kids that are high maintenance and need me, but it’s all worth it at the end of the day. This is why I work, this is why I work really hard. It’s for my kids, for my wife.
Angela: Right. You’re a great guy, Brandon. You’ve leaving a legacy, not just for your family but for Xenium as well. I want to hear what’s coming. So what’s coming on our podcast show next?
Brandon: Great segue actually, and the reason we had you on today was you’re going to be co-hosting some upcoming shows. I’m really excited. One of the things that we haven’t really been able to do is get content for that executive level, business owner type person. I think you’re so connected in that area for topics that are geared towards the executive group, that you’re going to come on and host for some big name authors, speakers that are well-known in the nation. I don’t know how often we’re going to be doing that. But in between the regular shows, we’re going to get them out weekly as we always do, but you’re going to come on every once in a while. I just wanted to make sure that people knew who you were as an interviewer, as a person. You’re my fearless leader and you know I love you.
Angela: Well, it’s a little intimidating as you shared how your episode one, you can’t even listen to it anymore. So we will see how I do!
Brandon: I can’t listen to myself! I can listen to Lacey, who started this. We’re going to actually have her on – that’s what’s coming. Episode number 100, Lacey will be back on. She started it, she’s going to finish it in terms of that first century mark.
But I can’t listen to myself. Going back to the lessons learned thing, our audio recording equipment has gotten way better too! The early days, I was using like one little blue Snowball microphone is what it’s called, and I set it in the middle of two people. There was so much echo and you just heard noises in the room. It was just terrible. So now we’ve got it dialed in!
Angela: Well, and just think – again, legacy, your grandkids someday will be able to Google “Brandon Laws” and land on the Xenium for Small Business HR Podcast.
Brandon: Yeah, basically. And it’s funny, my grandparents listen to this podcast. It’s just super weird. They say, Oh, I just love that topic. I’m like, Wow, this is amazing. But I love the support. So it’s great and I appreciate all the listeners that we have.
Brandon: We can definitely tell there’s a loyal group out there and I really appreciate the people who reach out to me on LinkedIn and even to some of our guests. They reach out and say, I just love that story, or whatever. I think that just encourages the guests. I think that’s great. So keep doing that.
Angela: Yeah. Well, great. Brandon, it has been great to have you on the show today.
Brandon: Thank you for guest hosting, Angela. Thank you for the questions.
Angela: You bet!
Brandon: I hope I did OK.
Angela: I think you did great.