Each week, Female CoFounder features a female founder in the community. Follow along each week and learn from different founders and their journeys.
FcF: Tell us about yourself?
Tieja: I’m Tieja MacLaughlin, the Founder and namesake of TIEJA Inc. Communications. As a Communications Strategist, I assist individuals, executives and brands who are experiencing crisis in the form of online shaming, negative press, or reputational damage. I’m also sometimes referred to as a problem solver, or ‘fixer’.
Prior to founding my own firm, I worked in the sports industry and held various communications positions with Hockey Canada, Rogers Sportsnet, the Ottawa Senators (NHL), Kitchener Rangers (OHL) and Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Some career highlights include providing coverage of the 2010 NFL ProBowl and the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championships.
I have a Bachelor of Arts (BA) from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, ON, and have completed additional studies in Journalism and Law. I’m also very active in the community as a volunteer with local organizations including the Canadian Mental Health Association and Peacebuilders Canada, and am an advocate for digital literacy and restorative justice.
FcF: What is TIEJA Inc. Communications?
Tieja: TIEJA Inc. is a boutique communications firm specializing in corporate communications, crisis management, and public relations. We empower brands, executives and individuals to proactively manage their digital footprint, and are on a mission to support each and every person in sharing their own unique story online, by giving them the tools, knowledge and platform to have their voice heard.
FcF: How did you come up with TIEJA Inc. Communications?
Tieja: I founded this company as a response to a service I was in need of, but couldn’t find. Public relations firms, and particularly those that specialize in crisis management, really only cater to the elite.
Ten years ago, I went through my own crisis, in the form of a highly-publicized scandal, and didn’t have anyone to help me navigate the complexities of the situation. There are so many factors to consider when handling a crisis - from the media, to the law, to your employment and income, mental health, safety and security. And that’s just what’s happening offline.
When you factor in the digital world, you are faced with a whole other layer of complexity. Our perceptions of truth and reality are shaped by the information we see online, which can lead to inequality and disadvantage offline, thereby making our response to crisis even more detrimental.
I founded TIEJA Inc. because I wanted to help those in need - like I had been - and provide a service to those who may be under-represented. I believe having equal opportunity online is a fundamental human right, and that everyone should be afforded the opportunity to have their voice heard.
FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue building TIEJA Inc. Communications?
Tieja: I took care of the administrative items such as registering with the government and setting up taxes, I established an online presence, and then focused on business development.
FcF: How were you able to validate your idea to ensure it was something people wanted from your customer interviews?
Tieja: We started out offering a little bit of a lot, before narrowing in on our niche. And our customers very much drove that decision. We listened to what they wanted, and observed the market trends. Each satisfied customer, and customer referral, validated our decision.
FcF: What is crisis management and why is it important for founders or businesses to take in account?
Tieja: I always say, our line of work is something you don’t think you need, until you do. And then you really need it. When people hear crisis management, they typically think it’s just a clean-up job. But in fact, the best time to prepare a crisis communications plan is before a crisis hits - and it’s not a matter of if a crisis will occur, it’s a matter of when.
The COVID-19 health crisis, and the important social issues that were brought to the forefront of our conversations this past year, showed us how important crisis preparedness really is. How will your business pivot if faced with a disruption in service? How will you respond to a natural disaster, a rogue employee, a cyber security breach, a faulty product mishap, or a negative piece of press? How will you communicate to your employees, and to the general public? How will you manage and mitigate internal and external risk factors? How will you protect the company you’ve worked so hard to build?
There are two main approaches to crisis management: proactive and reactive. Similar to your health and well-being, if you proactively invest in it, you’ll be better off. On the other hand, if you wait until there’s a problem before doing anything about it, you’re faced with a much more difficult - not to mention, costly - process of fixing and correcting it. Developing a crisis response plan helps identify potential threats, and ensures you are prepared to handle them. This safeguards business continuity and demonstrates competence to shareholders. Crises can damage your personal or corporate brand and its reputation; they can also have a long-lasting financial impact, and disruption in employee morale. Effective crisis management starts with proactively managing your online reputation, and being better equipped to respond to specific incidents.
FcF: How have relationships with other founders helped you build your business?
Tieja: It’s important to have peers you can lean on, that understand the intricacies and nuances of the start-up landscape. It’s refreshing to be able to speak to others with similar shared experiences, and it can also be mutually beneficial to share contacts and resources.
FcF: If you were to give advice to yourself as you were starting out, what would it be?
Tieja: Get really dialed into your finances. If you don’t come from a finance background, this can be a significant learning curve, but it is undoubtedly the most important aspect of your business. Learn what you can, and hire for the rest. Revenues are a benchmark of success, and you need to be comprehensive in this area to compete. Dollars and cents make all the difference.
FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?
Tieja: Just go for it. If you have tenacity, grit and resourcefulness, you’ll be able to figure out what you don’t know along the way. Statistically speaking, women are more risk-averse than men, which translates to fewer women taking risk with start-ups or side projects. However, studies have also shown that women-led businesses ultimately deliver higher revenues than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers. Think of all the great ideas that women are just sitting on, and haven’t executed due to fear, imposter syndrome, or any other variety of reasons. The world needs those ideas.
FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?
Tieja: The Female CoFounder community is beneficial for several reasons. FCF offers access to a vetted talent pool, additionally, they serve as a useful resource hub where you can find curated information including funding opportunities.
FcF: How can people contact you?
Tieja: You can visit our website at tiejainc.com, or follow us on Instagram @tiejainc. We also have a monthly newsletter, and you’ll receive a free downloadable online reputation management checklist when you sign up: https://www.tiejainc.com/newsletter.
You can also DM @Tieja MacLaughlin in our Slack channel!
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