As a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Taylor Willis.
Michelle Taylor Willis, a Florida native, now living in Atlanta, is married with four sons. She is the host of the According to Michelle TV show, iHeartRadio’s Over the Top show, and is an award-winning media executive media personality, author, and master strategist.
Michelle is the founder and owner of Gagnant Media and MTW Enterprises. Michelle founded SoFu Lifestyle Magazine (formerly South Fulton Lifestyle Magazine) and is a champion for entrepreneurship and small business ownership. Because she is such an advocate for the for-profit and not-for-profit communities, she chairs the Advisory Board for the United Way of Greater Atlanta (South Fulton) and serves as chairperson for Theatre du Reve, the only French-speaking theater in America. She also serves on the South Fulton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, where she holds the role of vice president of Film and Entertainment. Michelle is the Morris Brown College Foundation’s secretary and sits on the Board of Directors for the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance. Michelle recently was appointed to the Atlanta Court Appointed Special Advocate Board of Directors.
Michelle was named “Outstanding Businessperson of the Year 2017” and “Small Business of the Year 2016” by the South Fulton Chamber. Several organizations have recognized her as one of “Top 100 Influential Women in Georgia and Atlanta’’ and “Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Atlanta.” Atlanta Business Journal recently named her “Top 25 Most Extraordinary Atlantans.” SoFu Lifestyle was named “Publication of the Year ‘’ in Atlanta for three consecutive years. Michelle received the Pioneer award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women for 2022. Michelle has also been recognized for her work with youth in the community, and she received a resolution from Georgia State Representative Roger Bruce and a proclamation as “Outstanding Georgia Citizen’’ from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Senator Lester Jackson and Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan recognized November 18, 2021, as Michelle Taylor Willis Day in the state of Georgia at the Capital for the work she’s done in the business and birth communities, while February 18, 2021, is Michelle Taylor Willis Day in the City of South Fulton.
Michelle created SoFu®, the name used to refer to the eight cities of South Fulton County in Atlanta. She also created the Moms All In® conference for female executives and entrepreneurs. She released her first book titled “Raising Significance: A Guide to Raising Independent, Well-Rounded and Confident Kids.”
Michelle recently made her film debut in 2022 and is pursuing more acting opportunities. She is currently the host of Black is the New Green on Radivision.com. She also is a global speaker, focusing on significance, empowerment, entrepreneurship, parenting, and sales.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what motivated you to become an expert in the particular area that you are writing about?
Asan enterprising mom of 4 boys, I knew that my husband and I had to have a plan so the family could have a great life. With this in mind, I created some tenets that I was able to put to use with my boys. Many of my methods and ideas had positive outcomes, so I wrote a book to share these successes with other parents. During COVID-19, I had to adjust to make sure school was still a priority and that my husband and I could still complete our work. One of the ways that I balanced the days was to bring the kids into my world. Filing and shredding were just a couple of ways the boys could stay busy, help me complete some of my business tasks, and spend meaningful quality time together.
I’m NOT a childcare expert, licensed counselor, or certified teacher. I’m a mom who always wants to support other moms. The Raising Significance book was created to let parents know that any efforts they make to better their children’s lives make them Super Parents. I wouldn’t count myself a parenting expert, but I can tell you this: I was perplexed as to why parents had such a hard time managing their kids during covid. I remember watching people on social media and tv pulling their hair out, thinking, “what is going on?” I had already started talking about these concepts at my Moms All In® Conference, and people loved them, so I knew they had some traction. I had put pen to paper about a year before covid, but when I saw the world falling around parents, I started thinking I needed to finish this book. My motto is that my kids aren’t perfect, and I’m not a perfect parent. The moral of the story here, with anything you want to sell, book or otherwise: find the problem, then solve it. Find the need and then fill it. It’s that simple.
Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?
A close friend and a business associate tried to sell me a magazine. He said if I bought it, I’d become a national sensation and be able to do anything I wanted, including becoming an author. I thought he was melodramatic, but we bought the magazine together after conducting research, and the rest was history.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?
I’ll soon be an author of three published books. My goal is to create a culture that empowers women to empower women by guiding them to achieve success and significance. Through authorship, I will be able to teach women worldwide how to achieve their level of greatness (success) and use their success to make other people successful (significance).
Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book? My book simply provides a few ways to raise children who are confident, well-rounded and independent children who think out of the box and are thoughtful.
My book provides a few ways to raise confident, well-rounded, and independent children who think out of the box and are thoughtful. The book’s central theme is around the tenet, “Obey Immediately and Happily.” If kids don’t do this, none of the other rules matter. Our kids have to learn how to obey and respect authority. As parents, we must instill early in them that they don’t have a choice but to listen to their parents’ positive words, advice, and wishes so they can move through society safely.
You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Confidence: I launched my book during Covid; I felt like it was the perfect time to do this. Parents needed an instruction manual, and I knew that’s how individuals would interpret the book because people just needed help getting their kids to cooperate. Even though I’m not an “expert” in child psych, I had the confidence to know that what has worked for me could work for others.
Patience: When selling your book, you can take off fast, or you can have a metered approach, be patient and look at authoring as a journey, knowing that the sales will eventually come.
Authoritative: As a mother of 4 boys- the oldest being 23, I’ve been able to create a blueprint for raising children who are well-rounded, independent, and confident. Kids who are out-of-the-box thinkers and comfortable in their skin. Having an authoritative nature has been passed down to me by my mother. My mother was the traditional black mom, a single parent who was married and divorced twice. I was insistent on not becoming that. I had a disdain for my mother because she was disciplined and stern. She wanted no smoke and did not play! She would laugh with us, but we knew she was not our friend. Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Duval County, Florida, where I was the ONLY black cheerleader and the only black person in my class, my mother had to be very intentional. Over the summer, we would study the ten commandments and read and learn about the black culture (i.e., watching The Roots and studying the Africa Diaspora). Through my childhood, I gained characteristics of consistency, passion, perseverance, significance, and intentionality. These are things that I carry with me as a mother today. As an adult, I respect and admire my mother for how she raised us. It allowed me to create tenets and a guide my children and I live by and share with the world.
In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book? What was the “before and after picture?” What were things like before, and how did things change after the book?
I speak a lot, and having a book helped me expand the opportunities I have in my speaking career. Before being a published author, people would want me to speak, and they’d ask if I had a book. Responding with a sad “no,” I didn’t always get hired. As of today, when someone asks me that, it’s a resounding “Yes!” On top of that, I can bring books when I speak, enhancing the brand and making more money. Double whammy! As of today, I have been featured discussing Raising Significance via the ABC Tamron Hall Show, Fox 5 Atlanta with Deidre Dukes, Best Self Magazine, and ATL Voyager.
If a friend came to you and said “I’m considering writing a book but I’m on the fence if it is worth the effort and expense” what would you answer? Can you explain how writing a book in particular, and thought leadership in general, can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?
Well, what I said in the answer above, but in addition to that, being published automatically makes you a helpful resource, especially when you’re writing about topics that affect many people, like parenting or money. You use that authority to become a thought leader, getting you out in front of more people through media, events, and speaking engagements, thereby making you more money. I self-published with an independent publisher, not with a big publisher. So, I can’t compare, but I’d tell someone that if you have something to share and you’re confident that what you have to say is worth hearing, it can undoubtedly help a brand or business grow. Ensure you’ve gotten buy-in from other thought leaders or people whose opinions matter and that the info is solid.
What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share some stories about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?
I rushed into it. I had no real plan, which is the antithesis of what I stand for. Make a business plan before launching, including a budget and marketing plan. I could have been a little more intentional that way. Also, take preorders. I didn’t do that either, and I should have. Have a solid plan and work with someone who can help you develop and execute that plan.
Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging an expert?
Well, here are a few things I’d say: (1) write it yourself. You can even dictate it and have a transcription service finish the job. Some people use ghostwriters, but I prefer my work to be self-written. (2) Hire someone else to do everything, if you can. It’s important to budget and plan, just like any other business. That way, you know what expenses are and can save for them. (3) Hire a good copywriter for context, style, and grammar! (4) Hire a good publisher that’s done this before and knows the ropes.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. Know with whom you want to share the book or story. Most writers want to reach everybody, which is bad marketing and advertising. It can also be challenging and expensive. It is better to build a niche target audience.
2. Write about what you know. It is easier, and people can relate better if they know you are being genuine and authentic.
3. Don’t be afraid to partner with other professionals to expand your reach. For me, it could look like partnering with a local kids’ program to host a fireside chat and sell my books to all the attendees.
4. Encourage your friends and family to buy and share information about your book. They are and should be your best and first customers.
5. Be prepared to cross-promote. Don’t leave money on the table. You must market and promote.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast with Oprah and Elon Musk. Oprah paved the way for what I want to do in media. If I could borrow credibility from anyone, it would be Oprah because we both are black women in media, own a magazine, created our tv network, and are inspirational speakers of black women in media. Oprah is also a phenomenal actor in which I am growing a portfolio (shoutout to my agent). I would love to listen to Elon’s thoughts on business, starting a company, forging ahead on ideas, and how to make money.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.