Author: Sophie Moore
Webamp spoke to Rebecca Thandi Norman, editor in chief of Scandinavia Standard about creating communities, the danger of being consumed by your inbox and learning how to make u-turns in the face of roadblocks.
Frustration can manifest in many different ways. For some it can paralyse, stop you in your tracks and leave you confused about which direction to go. For others it can be a catalyst for change, an undeniable push away from the way things have always been. In Rebecca’s case it was the latter, frustrated with the lack of a singular platform for internationals in Scandinavia to find all the information they needed in english to live a culturally rich life there. From that frustration Scandinavia Standard was born, brought to life in collaboration with a new friend, Freya McOmish.
“As immigrants to Denmark, it took us years to figure out how to live culturally rich lives there, because everything is in Danish. We wanted to create a beautiful, functional platform that would show people - locals, travellers, and Scandiphiles around the world - what was going on in the region.”
Since the beginning of their journey as first-time business women, Rebecca and her team have learnt a lot about how to turn an idea into reality. Everything has been done with the intention of building a community and understanding for their readers, all with a touch of fun, of course. This journey hasn't always been easy but often it’s the times that things go wrong that teach you the most.
“Building a business is all about learning how to make a U-turn when you hit a dead end and find another path.”
Being able to adapt and reroute when faced with difficulty is a skill that will serve you well in the business world. It’s rarely possible to predict how things will pan out, to know the twists and turns you will encounter along your journey. No two stories are the same, but there’s a lot to learn from the stories of others. From Rebecca we can learn how to use stubbornness to our advantage, to use it to propel us forwards even at times when we are close to giving up.
“When we weren’t making enough money to pay ourselves, it felt so frustrating because we were putting in all this time and effort and passion, but we weren’t getting the outcome we wanted. But I am incredibly stubborn and I love this business. I know that people find it helpful in their lives, I know they find it beautiful, I know it brings people joy. So that’s worthwhile to me.”
Believing in what you do is more important than any action you could take when starting your own business. From belief comes determination and a persistence in the face of challenges. Belief is what keeps you going when things get tough, it is the light at the end of the tunnel when making a dream become reality. And yet all the belief in the world will only get you so far. Despite having made a decision to go out and make it on your own, it is so incredibly important to remember how much we can learn from those around us. It is not weak to ask for help, it is wise. Others can often see the things we miss, a bit of distance can make everything clearer and seeking the opinions of others can help us to look at things from a different perspective. Rebecca is a strong advocate for asking for input from others.
“I love constructive criticism. I don’t know everything about writing, or editing, and I love understanding how others see our content. The most helpful criticisms have been short messages from readers that show me a totally different way of looking at something, and it makes me change the way we approach that subject.”
Change sees us grow and evolve in ways we could never have imagined, our skills strengthened and diversified by the obstacles and diversions we have encountered along the way. In writing especially, time only makes our voices become clearer, wiser and more insightful. For a publication such as Scandinavia Standard, the audience is just as important as the content it shares. With the aim of building a community comes the responsibility to ensure the voice and topics discussed appeals to the right people. This takes time and experience, the ability to adapt and expand, something that Rebecca and her growing team have had to deal with first hand.
“I used to write in a much more personal way - you can see that from early articles - and as we grew, that style had to evolve in order to include other writers in our universe. Scandinavia Standard was never meant to be a personal blog, so I had to find that balance of personable but not personal.”
As the business grew, so did her team, with new writers being brought on board to discuss an ever widening range of topics. Bringing in new contributors can be tricky and it’s important to make sure their voices and visions align with the existing platform. For Rebecca, the perfect content writer is curious, with specific knowledge in their areas of interest. She looks for people who stick to a deadline and is able to take on board constructive criticism, but perhaps the most important quality is having a unique voice with an understanding of how it fits into the brand universe. No two voices are the same but having a group of people with the same vision and understanding of what is trying to be achieved makes for a publication that has a clear message for its readers. It’s about growing together and being truly passionate in the things you are writing about.
“One of my mottos is, “it will never be less complicated than it is right now.” As you grow your business, things get more layered and complex. There are more people to think about, the projects get bigger, the stakes get higher. I think it’s important to be grateful for the point you’re at, when you’re there, even if it comes with its own set of problems. It will never get less complicated.”
With growth comes more responsibilities, more people to bring together and more projects to manage. Over time this can become more difficult to manage and it can be easy to become overwhelmed by it all. To stay on top of this, Rebecca starts off every working day by checking her emails.
“It’s important to me that I respond to people in a timely manner and that I feel on top of my work, but I also hate getting consumed by emails. David Gilboa, the co-founder of Warby Parker, said that “emails are a to-do list others create for you without your consent,” and that really stuck with me. So I give myself an hour for emails, then I move on to content.”
Setting boundaries is important, knowing what time you have to allocate to each thing and making sure you stick to it. In running a business it can quickly become more about what others need from you instead of what you are capable of giving to others. A line must be drawn somewhere. This year, more than ever before, the boundaries have been pushed and the lines have been blurred as we’ve all had to adapt to an unrecognisable outside world. There is no formula to apply to get us through the uncertainty, just as there is also no formula for setting up a successful business no matter what the external circumstances may be. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and see the steps you needed to take to get from A to B.
“I wish I had known how long it would take in order to make real money. It takes a long time. You have to be prepared for that, and realistic with yourself (and your family) about what’s possible for you, both in terms of time and money commitment.”
Being realistic and honest about what you're prepared to give to the drive towards eventually reaching financial security doesn’t mean having a list and sticking to it. Time has a tendency to shift our perspectives, it changes what we’re capable of as we overcome obstacles and learn new skills. Malleability is a secret weapon to have in your entourage as a business owner, the willingness to try something new and push the boundaries of what has been done before. Looking to others for inspiration is a way to stay open minded, to see the vastness of what is possible and learn from those who have gone before us. Inspiration can be found anywhere, in anyone, for Rebecca, that person is artist David Hockney.
“What I really love about his work is how he’s always willing to try something new. He isn’t tied to any particular medium or subject; it’s so clear that he derives a lot of joy from the process of art. Like Hockney, I believe that all style is essentially an affectation. I love exploring that. That idea has helped me understand that I can change as needed; that my work is a reflection of me in some way, but it isn’t me.”
We can learn so much from each other, from sharing the things that inspire us with others, to bringing each other together in the communities we have built for ourselves. Scandinavia Standard was borne out of frustration but it has blossomed into a beautiful community of people who want to broaden their horizons, make the most of the places they live in and gain insight into the goings on of the Scandinavian region. This is a testament to the determination of two women who had a vision they refused to give up on. Rebecca and Freya are an inspiration to us all.
We would like to extend our thanks to Rebecca for speaking with us. If you enjoyed hearing about the story behind Scandinavia Standard head over to the site to become part of the community, or connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn. Image Credit: Freya McOmish