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Hidden Gems: Meet Gresham Harkless of Blue 16 Media

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gresham Harkless. 

Hi Gresham, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
For me, I always say that I had entrepreneurial tendencies before I even understood what that was. When I was 10 years old, I started what eventually became a family newspaper. My dad went to an entirely different country for a year when he was in the military. So, I started a family newspaper before all of the technological tools that we have now like FaceTime and Zoom and Skype to really connect with him I compiled all the family news into a monthly newspaper, but in true entrepreneurial form, I also sold the subscriptions to my family members, and also some of my family friends. 

For me, I didn’t really understand what entrepreneurship was, but I was the kid that would sell CDs or potato chips on a playground or candy or beads that are designed into necklaces and bracelets. I was that kid. And it wasn’t until years and years later that I really understood that was probably something that made me unique and something that I was attracted to and, for lack of a better term made me who I am. So fast forward a lot of years. I grew up in the Washington, DC area in Northern Virginia. And I went to school at Howard University in Washington, DC and also got my Master’s from Georgetown University in Washington DC also. And it was graduating during the economic crisis that really changed so many things for so many different people but definitely, myself included. It was such a chaotic time and I bounced around to a bunch of different jobs and couldn’t really find any stability. 

That instability included tearing my Achileees tendon while I was a freelance writer and getting laid off from my favorite job working with kids. 

It was then that things changed tremendously for me. It’s one of those pivotal times and even though I found another position that I know I was going to get laid off from. I knew that I had to do something different. At my last outside sales job, I made probably the most valuable cold call that didn’t result in any business. I called a gentleman by the name of Mike Moss, who had a home remodeling business. 

My way to get in the door at that time to sell advertising was really just talking about people’s websites talking about how things could be optimized better from an SEO perspective not even realize that that was any value. That was just my way to get hung up on which didn’t always work. I said something to him and it resonated, I met with him and started working with him. He didn’t buy advertising but he was one of my first clients. He introduced me to a networking group and that’s really where I started my digital marketing company-Blue 16 Media which become Blue 16 Marketing and even gained confidence to think that I could grow my company. 

And I started to realize that project hobby that I had years before, which was the freelance writing had morphed itself into what became CEO blog nation and eventually became CBNation, podcasts, and all this content for entrepreneurs and business owners. 

So that really laid the foundation for who I am and what I’ve been able to accomplish today. 

Gresham “Gresh” W. Harkless Jr. is the founder of CBNation and Blue 16 Media. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand focusing on increasing the business success rate by providing visibility and resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs (CEOBlogNation.com), podcasts (CEOPodcasts.com) and videos (CBNation.tv). Blue 16 Media helps change lives through media & technology including a digital marketing agency providing digital marketing services including web design & SEO to small to medium-sized businesses and organizations. Central to his marketing philosophy is that You Are a Media Company: Developing a Marketing Strategy to Connect with Your Target and Reach Your Goals. Gresham is a proud graduate of Howard University & Georgetown University. He also is a graduate of the 2020 Leadership Center for Excellence Young Professionals Program ’16 and recognized by the Alexandria Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 40 Under 40. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The journey has not been smooth at all. 

There are always struggles and it would be hard to name all of them. I think that it might be the entire interview if I was going through every single struggle that I had. But two of the biggest things that kind of stand out to me is first and foremost getting laid off. 

I graduated during the 2009 economic crisis and took a bunch of different positions and jobs. I was promised jobs that didn’t really pan out, even had my morals challenged in some positions. During one of the positions that I had I worked with kids running sports camps across the Northern Virginia area. It was hands down one of my favorite positions but I didn’t think it was stable. I initially left a position that because I thought it wasn’t stable and thought I would find a more stable position. Unfortunately, that wasn’t stable either—my deputy manager left during the 3-week training that I was going through and during my first week in the office my then manager left. So, I spoke with the sports company I worked with before and they assured me that things would be better and that I could really grow. And I thought that at the end of the day I loved specifically working with kids a lot and get an opportunity to kind of use sports and use some of my Sports Management Degree to kind of work with them so I went back. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true and I was laid off 3 months later. 

But at the end of the day, I was laid off and it was one of the more frustrating moments in my life just because I felt like I “did all the right things,” but it just didn’t work out how I wanted. And when you’re in a situation like that, it’s really hard to not really go down into a spiral of pity, anger, or frustration. 

So that’s where, ultimately, I found another job. That job wasn’t stable either but the difference was I knew and had to make a plan to find something that could potentially be more stable. Eventually, my mindset changed because I stopped trying to “bet” on others and invested in myself. That’s really where I eventually started what became my digital marketing business–Blue 16 Media. 

And the reason that I think those obstacles and that challenge specifically happened was so that I can end up exactly where I was supposed to be. Without going through that frustration, I wouldn’t be where I am now. One of the things that I always try to remind myself whether it’s small, frustrating times or larger, frustrating situations is that it’s sometimes darkest before dawn. 

And when you have that mentality during those less-than-ideal times, sometimes really great things come about from it. Being laid off led me to starting my digital marketing agency. 

Another time right after I graduated school was when I tore my Achilles tendon. I started to do freelance writing after I resigned from a position and was looking to grow and expand my business. However, I went to play basketball and partially tore my Achilles tendon. 

I couldn’t get around to freelance write as I had in the past so that really led me to start what eventually became CEO Blog Nation and the podcast and all the content related to that. I joke now and said that tearing my Achilees was the only way I would have slowed down enough to probably get started. 

So, it’s easier to look at those frustrating times and look backward and say okay, because of that, it led me to this great thing, but when you’re in it’s just really testing you from a spiritual and faith standpoint to be able to understand that even though today or this week or this month may not be ideal, that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s not setting you up for a really phenomenal opportunity. I tell myself often that “things aren’t happening to me, they’re happening for me.” 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
We are Blue 16 Media and we are a media company with properties that help change lives using media and technology. 

Blue 16 Marketing is a digital marketing agency that helps provide peace of mind to clients with top-notch web design, web support, SEO, marketing automation, and many more services. Our focus is to bring peace of mind to our clients by allowing them to work on their business instead of in their business and have a dependable and reliable team to lean on to ensure that they can be found online. We help organizations and businesses to increase their visibility so that they can make an impact by serving their clients. Also, a big part of Blue 16 Marketing is empowering brands, organizations, and businesses to build their own “media companies” and leveraging marketing strategies and platforms to help support their clients. 

The thing that sets us apart is in our marketing philosophy–“You Are a Media Company.” The way that we solve problems is by using content and information to create value and impact in each of the properties that we have. We leverage CBNation as a platform and opportunity to provide value for our target market. 

CBNation is a Business-to-Business brand and an ecosystem with blogs, podcasts, and videos to help CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners succeed. 

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
The reason that I started my business is honestly from networking. It’s ironic that it started from a cold call while I worked as an outside salesperson and is generally more of a “hunting” position and mentality and resulted in learning more about networking and “farming” to build long-term relationships. 

It’s been something that I didn’t realize was as important it is, especially in business. It was something that I was kind of introduced to before but didn’t fully grasp until I started my business. Many times, people network when they need something and to me, that’s not the best way. You network, provide value and connections before you are looking for something. As someone said, “dig your ditches before you need them.” 

I came across networking because I met with someone that I cold-called and was in a group that I eventually joined. It wasn’t planned. I didn’t read a lot of books. I just literally started to meet and be connected with a networking group that really taught me a lot of the foundational parts of networking, and also helped out tremendously, that the networking group that I joined and eventually became a part of and started my business in really focused and had a lot of experienced networks that have been networking for some years. They each provided mentorship in a unique way. 

I think had I joined a group with people that maybe didn’t have that givers gain mentality. It would have been completely different in terms of my education or knowledge. So, the best networking or even mentoring advice that I have is really just to figure out how you can give and make an impact and provide value for someone else. You have to really meet them where they are, but you want to make sure that you are providing value for them and they get to determine that value. 

Often that means sitting down and having a conversation and understanding how you can provide value and just really checking overall to see if you’re able to provide that solution and might be somebody that they’re looking for, that you can connect them with or might be a resource that you know about. When networking and honestly building relationships always think about how you can give and make a really big impact for them. 

One of the big things that I tried to do especially with my podcast, and the reason that I made it daily, was so that I could use it as a way to hopefully network and connect people on an even deeper level. I wanted to try to network from “My Zone of Genius” and from the content creation standpoint in leveraging my podcast interviews. 

I felt that if I can network in a way in which was unique to me, and also in alignment with my strengths. I’d really excel at it. So, I’ve had the opportunity to interview 1300 people on my podcast and it’s been really valuable because you get the opportunity to spend time and get to know somebody and really get to ask them the questions and understand their business understand their “Why” as much as the “How” and the What. I also spend time to learn about some of the advice that they have. But on an even deeper level. I think it provides a tremendous platform and opportunity for people to be connected. So, I’m really looking forward to, again, using networking and even getting mentorship from these experts along their journey. So that we can all kind of succeed and be successful. At the end of the day, that’s why people are looking for mentors. That’s why they’re looking for networking is just an opportunity to get to where they ultimately want to be. 

Lastly, remember that when we are networking, everybody’s listening to the same radio station–What’s In It For Me. Make sure you are providing something they want and consider value. 

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Image Credits
Jeanine Finch

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