I came to manufacturing while growing up. My step-father, after leaving the U.S. Navy Seabees, worked factory jobs as a metal worker. My mother waitressed. We lived about three blocks up from the U.S. Steel plant in Alameda, CA. (The building still stands and is one of the few intact U.S. Steel plants in the United States!)
I used to walk to it and watch the men work in one of the open air buildings. I can still remember standing there on the sidewalk across the street, watching the sparks fly up from the molten steel being poured and the ceiling cranes hoisting the large iron beams.
In those days, we were “working class.” Today, I’m thankful for my blue-collar background.
It’s due to it that I learned a solid work ethic from a young age. I got my first job at age 11 delivering papers. I was up at 4:00 AM, rain or shine six days a week, in order to have them delivered by 7:00 AM. Then, it was back home for a quick breakfast and then school.
By age 14, I had built a thriving babysitting business and kept it going while also working “real” jobs at various places in town.
Where I started my career: The ground floor
My work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit is how I put myself through college – and where I learned manufacturing from the ground up.
I began my career where many successful people begin: sweeping the shop floor of a sail loft in Oakland, CA. Three months later, the production manager finally realized I could sew – and put me behind an industrial sewing machine where I made sails for sailboats. Did that for years.
While doing that job and going to school full-time, I also cleaned houses, worked my campus Work Study job, and did boat maintenance – everything from washing boats to fixing them.
While in school, I was also Student Council President of the School of Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences. In 1986, I was honored with the President’s Service Award for Outstanding Volunteerism to my university.
Early career 1986 – 1993: Office admin and then some
After graduating from California State University Hayward (now East Bay) in 1986 with a BA in English, I worked at the Northern California Marine Association. As the office admin, I did everything, from typing the Association’s newsletter on the good old IBM Selectric to manually affixing labels to thousands of direct mail pieces and then running the filthy bulk mail bags to the main post office in East Oakland.
Although it wasn’t my job, I asked if I could submit articles to the Association newsletter. Request granted. And thus began my love affair with small business owners as I began profiling them and their businesses in the newsletter. (The picture shows my first article, written in 1986, about William J. Cryer & Sons Boat Builders — 4 generations of being family owned and operated!)
I also learned how to put on trade shows (both in-the-water and at the Moscone Center in San Francisco). From working with exhibitors to putting out fires over the course of the show, I definitely learned quite a bit.
In 1988 I became the Business Manager for Precision Technical Sewing, Inc. (PTS), a woman-owned industrial sewing company. For seven+ years, I did everything and anything: from office administration and answering four phone lines to lugging heavy bolts of cloth up the stairs to the shop floor and shipping out finished products.
While I learned a great deal about business administration and customer service, I also learned about manufacturing, including:
- Coming up with creative ways to solve people’s challenges
- Quoting the custom jobs
- Sourcing the materials that went into making them
- Determining if we made a profit (or not)
I have fond memories of sourcing all kinds of things using the original green Thomas Register books.
Mid-career 1993 – 2010: Marketing communications + SEO
After completing my masters degree in English at CSU Hayward in 1993, I then worked “corporate” at Varian Associates (1995 – 1998), where I supported two factories as a MarCom Specialist: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Gas Chromatography.
I served as board Secretary, and then President, for the CSUH Alumni Association from 1993 to 1997. During my tenure, I founded the Association’s newsletter and helped increase membership by 33%.
After my son was born, his father and I moved to the East Coast. In August 1998, I set up shop as a copywriter (in order to be home with my son). It was a great time to be in business. The Internet was just taking off — and the subsequent dot-com boom.
Shortly after going out on my own, I began working with Dolan-Jenner, a small industrial manufacturing company. When the marketing manager first called me, the company was coming off a serious decline. She wanted people to know the company had made big investments in people, capital equipment and product quality.
I created an integrated marketing plan for them that included PR, advertising, and collateral — along with new branding and messaging — and viola! a year later they had increased sales so much they could barely keep up with demand. So awesome!
It was also during this period that I taught myself SEO or search engine optimization, a service I began offering in 2003. As more of my work became “web-based,” my business kept evolving. From SEO to blogs to social media, I kept abreast of the changes and incorporated them into my work.
My client base grew as people found me online — with clients ranging from small to large companies across the U.S. I did everything from copywriting and SEO to full-scale marketing campaigns that including PR, blogging and social media. For two of my clients, MacroAir and Morse Data, I oversaw their respective marketing campaigns for over a year and helped each company increase leads and sales while also creating collateral pieces and blogs where none existed.
I even ghostwrote three books for CEOs of companies in the Boston area.
Today: Focused on working with small industrial manufacturers
In 2012, I began reassessing my business and my life. In the last few years I’ve made a number of changes, including reducing the number of services I offer (no more book ghostwriting!) and changing my business name to Huff Industrial Marketing, Inc.
I made these changes in order to focus on what I love and do best: helping owners of small industrial manufacturing companies grow their businesses through marketing.
Because I’ve “been there and done that,” both in terms of working in and for small businesses, I understand you and your challenges like no one else.
My number one skill is working with what you already have to help you make it better.
And in the process, I get to know you and your family. I care about your success as much as you do.
Manufacturing is what made this country great — and I’m proud to be part of its history. Even better, I’m happy that I have the ability to form deep connections with people like you and then tell your story through marketing.