RYAN MAE SWEENEY
President and Owner, Aster Marketing LLC
Contracted by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color (EWOC) Business Center as a marketing counselor and instructor
Ryan Mae Sweeney joined the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center team in October 2021 as a marketing counselor and instructor.
After working in retail management, she was approached by a family friend about an opportunity to work in advertising and began her marketing career in media sales before moving to the agency side.
“To develop, foster and grow something, plus the relationship aspect, has always been really satisfying; to help people accomplish their dreams and what they’re passionate about,” Ryan said.
After realizing she wanted to go deeper and create a marketing program, she accepted a position as Director of Sales and Marketing at Honolulu Club. She spent three years overseeing a team of five as well as contractors to reenergize the brand. That led to attracting young professionals as members and Ryan being named one of Pacific Business News’ 40 Under 40, which recognized her work reviving the club. It was even more meaningful to her since marketers are rarely inserted at a point to reinvent and see the fruits of their labor.
Ryan later went on to work in the visitor industry for Mina Group and Quality Tours & Entertainment. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and tourism was at a standstill, she joined Heinrich & Bullard Marketing in July 2021, and then formed her own company Aster Marketing LLC in March 2022. She was awarded a contract provide marketing counseling and training to MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center clients. Through one-on-one sessions, she audits clients’ current marketing efforts, including their websites and social media presence, and helps them align their marketing with what they want the focus of their business to be. She also provides them with recap notes, concrete and manageable next steps, and lots of encouragement.
“That’s one of my most favorite things to do—consult and advise people. I help them get reenergized about tackling their marketing in conjunction with a lot of great things they can do to refine what they’re currently doing,” Ryan explained, noting her ability to help with multi-pronged “Swiss army knife” marketing and her specialties in digital and social media marketing. “Over time, they can feel like it’s a chore or burdensome because they know they need to do it, but they don’t want to do it, yet they do want customers. I feel like a coach where I don’t just give advice, but I cheer them on.”
Throughout the pandemic, Ryan experimented with delivering training content via the social audio app Clubhouse, which sparked an idea for a small business marketing bootcamp. She pitched the idea to the Center and now has three active cohorts averaging 15 to 20 participants each. Topics covered in the class include targeting, planning, strategy, public relations, advertising, networking, and social media. Cohort members are also invited to join weekly, hour-long “work-with-me” Zoom sessions, which allow them to set aside time to tackle marketing projects as well as get support from Ryan and fellow participants.
“I’m always pouring into people and developing them, whether through the Center or where I work,” she said. “I’ve seen those who I’ve worked with go on to do really great things and I’ve stayed in touch with them. It’s not money, but it’s a source of pride.”
She also enjoys focusing on women through her work with the Center and the Open for Business program, both of which are part of YWCA Oʻahu. Her other clients include Native Hawaiian organizations and projects, which align with her goal to work with underserved and minority populations.
“They deserve more attention,” Ryan said. “They don’t always have the same kind of budgets, but they really need the help with marketing, and they’re very appreciative and they want to learn. Most of them have zero marketing experience, but the long-term goal is for me to teach, train and mentor, and eventually turn over the marketing to their team. That’s going to be the best situation for the company. Unlike other agencies out there, my goal is not to hang onto clients; I want to have the greatest impact possible.”
Ryan is also motivated by the women-owned and -led organizations that’s she been able to serve.
“There’s something really special about women coming together to brainstorm and figure out problems,” she said. “One of my favorite parts whenever I consult with someone is feeling so inspired personally because putting everything on the line like that and going for it—whether you’re succeeding or not in terms of what society deems as success—it’s so courageous and inspirational. Women are just really different when they come together, especially when they’re all awesome and have a spirit of openness and support; you just feel this strength. I almost equate it to steel fabric—woven together, it’s stronger.”
Ryan’s advice to women looking to start a business or currently operating one is: “You can’t do it alone. Women try to do so much, and they try to do it on their own. I think that’s because we’re used to it—doing things for kids and husbands. We’re always the ones loving and nurturing. It becomes really hard to break that habit once you start doing your own business. It’s too much for one person to expect to handle on their own, especially as you scale. Trust people and have this feeling in your gut that they’ve been placed before you for a reason and you’re supposed to work together. You just need to let go of what’s on your plate and let other people help you. That also goes for connections, marketing, networking, friends, and family—you need to relinquish control and let other people carry some things for you; be gracious and accepting.”