Paul Semanski: ThoughtBlazers

9 min read
Art Martori

Paul Semanski operates ThoughtBlazers, an agency based in West Hartford, CT that offers services including marketing, communications, and change management. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

The who:

Given a business name is so central to a brand, we tend to put a lot of importance on it. How did you arrive at a name, and how do you feel about it now that you’ve been in business a while?

Our name is a take on the word “trailblazer,” which speaks to action, exploration and risk taking. We tweaked it to “ThoughtBlazers” to add strategy, innovation and creativity into the mix. At ThoughtBlazers, we are the fusion of imagination and implementation.

After seven years, we still get positive feedback on the name and how well it reflects our unique value proposition.

What’s your physical location?

I work from my home in West Hartford, CT, USA. During spring, summer, and fall my outside deck is my primary office. My wife is a master gardener, so I’ve got the best office view I’ve ever had in my entire career.

With some brands, location is a key component. Is there anything about the place you live and work that’s shaped your own brand?

Early on, we had some clients where physical proximity was very important. As technology has evolved and certainly with COVID, communicating and collaborating remotely has become the norm vs the exception.

How would you describe your professional experience and background?

I began my career with a well-known insurance company as an underwriter, and was then promoted to account executive. As an AE, I oversaw all the underwriting and service aspects of my accounts, working closely with Fortune 1000 CFOs and Risk Managers.

After five years in insurance, I took a break and became an on-the-road salesperson for a manufacturer of custom products for manufacturers of all types and sizes. Since it was a new territory for my company, my life in the beginning was essentially telephone cold-calling – this was pre-email!

As an introvert this was brutal, but I developed a very thick skin!

The variety of customers and prospects was amazing. They ranged from Fortune 500 manufacturers to small entrepreneurs assembling high tech hardware out of their garage. As I got to know the smaller business owners, I developed a deep appreciation for how hard they worked and the sacrifices they made, and that has always stayed with me.

Believe it or not, I missed insurance, so I hopped back into the industry, underwriting and marketing specialty (unusual, high risk) insurance, and surety. Within the insurance world, I steadily gravitated into roles that were more around sales, marketing, and communications with a focus on mergers & acquisitions, product launches, organizational redesign and change management. My main tools included digital media and internal/external websites.

The longer I travel down my career path, the more I value all the experiences I’ve had from every job – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Could you describe the scope of your operation?

The scope is always evolving – and that’s what makes my work fun and challenging!

Essentially, we provide marketing, communications, and change management solutions, and within that scope we’ve been disrupting the status quo marketing solutions by taking an artisanal approach to the business.

What do you mean by an “artisanal” approach?

At ThoughtBlazers we’re like a craft brewery. My partners and I create highly customized, seamless solutions, and as the “Master Craft Brewer,” I carefully bring my personal experience and expertise to each client and solution we provide. I am personally involved with each phase of the project in the same way a master brewer thoughtfully and passionately oversees every step of the brewing process.

While I don’t micro-manage my team, you’ll find my fingerprints throughout the project, so the quality and consistency is always there.

While we look at data/algorithms, AI, and technology, they are not the drivers but merely ingredients that we bring into the mix. At the end of the day, delivering winning marketing and change management solutions to our clients is still an art as well as a science.

Some entrepreneurs describe an aha! moment, the instant they decided it was time to take things into their own hands. Could you describe any of those moments you’ve had?

My “aha” moment was actually born out of an “oh no” moment! While looking to leave the company I was with for a better opportunity, I found that securing a new marketing/communications lead position was going to be a challenge unless I was willing to relocate.

Since moving was not an option, I began to seriously think about starting my own firm. And the question that kept coming up in my mind was, “If not now, when?” That was the genesis of ThoughtBlazers.

The what:

What kind of projects do you prefer to work on?

For me, it’s much more about the type of client I work with. If my customer provides the products and services the marketplace needs and innovates as customer needs change, that’s a good indication the project will be challenging and fun – and it usually is.

Could you describe your typical client (if you have a typical client)?

Most of my clients are authentic entrepreneurs, ranging from startup tech-based service organizations to second generation, family-owned manufacturing operations.

In addition to their entrepreneurial background, my clients are all about innovation and are open to using new and emerging sales, marketing, and training tools.

Sometimes we’re in a position where it’s necessary to turn down projects. What do those situations look like for you, and how do you manage them?

If it appears a customer is not going to be enjoyable to work with, that’s a huge red flag. Or if they offer products and services that are not in step with their marketplace, and are not willing to keep pace with what their customers are demanding, they would probably be better off with a more formulaic marketing solutions firm. My approach with these types of prospects is to refer them to another firm that I know will do a good job for them.

Performance is always important, but sometimes we have to pay close attention to value as well. How do you position GoDaddy products and services for your clients?

I position GoDaddy as a technology and marketing partner that is committed to providing the latest in web, ecommerce, and digital marketing solutions, with highly professional and responsive customer service.

I emphasize with my clients that GoDaddy’s state-of-the-art project management tools allow me to more quickly and efficiently manage their projects, which will ultimately save them money.

With all the advertising and brand building initiatives that GoDaddy has invested in, my prospects and customers have become highly aware of the brand and the way they have evolved over the years, from a simple seller of web domains to a leading full service web building and ecommerce enterprise. This makes it even easier to sell the GoDaddy brand.

Could you describe a project that you feel exemplifies you at your best?

Most of my time these days is spent working with a startup called N-Gage Brand, LLC. They make and sell dog toys – how fun is that?! They are a great customer and a lot of fun to work with. They are committed to building a lifestyle brand and a community that is passionate about spending meaningful moments with their dogs.

N-Gage formally launched right before the pandemic hit in early 2020, which was super challenging. But as an authentic entrepreneur, they were able to quickly respond to the needs of their customers in a very difficult time. I’m happy to say that the future looks very bright for this dynamic start up, and I’m deeply honored to be part of their journey.

They also provide me with lots of free samples, so my friends and family members and their dogs are very happy.

The how:

An obvious metric for measuring our own success is how much you got paid versus how much time it took. In your experience, what are the advantages and drawbacks here?

Over time, you’ll get better at understanding what the going rate is for an engagement. If the going rate is more than you can charge for the project, you still may want to take the engagement. Here are some considerations:

  • Will this be a trial project that would lead to more profitable projects with the same client in the future?
  • Will this project give me the opportunity to get into a new market segment, industry or sphere of influence?
  • Will this project give me an opportunity to learn about a new technology or software platform?
  • Do I need the revenue to keep the lights on? Sometimes you may need the revenue to avoid cashflow problems, but hopefully those situations are few and far between.

How does GoDaddy Pro fit into what you do? Could you recommend any ways to get the most value out of it — especially to someone just starting out?

What impresses me most about GoDaddy Pro and The Hub is that it allows me to view all of my domains, products, resources and projects in a single dashboard that's organized in a clean, intuitive format.

The Hub makes even the most complex projects much easier to manage and keep track of.

In terms of seeing what GoDaddy Pro can do for newbies, I would encourage them to include all of their web design and project planning elements in The Hub's dashboard, whether or not the products or services were purchased from GoDaddy. I’m confident that most folks will easily see the value of the GoDaddy Pro platform.

Imagine you could travel back in a time machine to a point where you were like, Forget this. I’m done! What advice would you give yourself?

Hold onto your faith, and lean into your friends and family members for support. Realize that difficult times come with the territory, but if you have the right mindset, they can build character and create new opportunities that you can pursue.

And always, always stay optimistic!

What’s your parting shot for people who want to be like you when they grow up?

First, never grow up! What I mean is, approach the constant change that is going all around us with an open mind and intellectual curiosity.

Second, align yourself with innovative partners like GoDaddy that are constantly growing their portfolio of resources and are looking to build a long-term relationship with you.

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