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"Sometimes, life is a shit salad," says Linsi Brownson, and it sounds strange coming from a blonde so cute you just want to squeeze her. She's the owner of Spark Collaborative (www.sparkcollaborative.com), a company that aims to be your small business's partner in crime, and her brass-tacks approach to making a name for yourself is what's missing from most self-help books and seminars.
Spark Collaborative is many things. On the ground level, she and a few teammates take care of such business basics as graphic design, website building and marketing. But they also help you understand your branding and deeper goals.
"We're hopeful and inspiring, but not in a sissy way," Brownson explains. That model reflects the duality of her own personality. She grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota—or, as Brownson calls it, "White Cloud," due to the, erm, lack of anyone darker than a snowman—then moved to California at 19 for design school and some culture. From interior designing to owning an e-commerce furniture store with her droll husband, she has been through business successes and failures, but she believes that's what puts her in the best position to help others. Think Tony Robbins, but with less claptrap.
"I don't like the hoohahs out there who preach that success is all about the law of attraction," she says. "It's not that I don't have a spiritual side; I just don't want to represent a pretty-princess world for small business." Spark wants its clients to be self-reliant and to teach them systematic approaches that will make goals less daunting. "Your outlook can have a big impact on your reality," Brownson points out, "but it's not going to get you a million-dollar order in two weeks."
Spark Collaborative offers online classes; free blogs (including Brownson's latest, "52 Business Lessons I Learned the Hard Way"); and "Kalideascope" sessions, two-hour blocks of one-on-one consulting and brainstorming. Brownson believes companies would be more successful if they didn't lose the human touch; she always tries to operate like a real person.
"Plus, then I can say, 'shit' and, 'damn'!" she says, laughing.