The Proven Entrepreneur

TPE S1 E41 | SEO Expert


The entrepreneurship journey is not a straight line. You will have to jump from idea to idea to find what you’re truly good at. Vivienne Wagner just happened to find out that she was really good at SEO. She had the opportunity of a lifetime and said yes despite not knowing what to do. Saying yes to everything may allow you to make mistakes, but that’s life as an entrepreneur. This is exactly how Vivienne grew her company, Houndstooth Media Group. Discover her entrepreneurial journey from how she went from waitressing, to pottery, to politics, and finally to SEO. Join Don Williams and Vivienne as they talk about how she built her business.

For information on how to work with Don visit Work With Don Williams
You can also reach out to Don Williams at
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Proven Entrepreneur Vivienne Wagner

CEO Of Houndstooth Media Group

I had my very good friend all the way from California, CEO and Founder of Houndstooth Media Group, Vivienne Wagner. Viv, welcome to the show.

It’s so good to see you and hear your voice. I’m happy to be here.

I’m thrilled that you joined us. Thank you so much. Let’s jump right in. Tell us a little bit about your company and what you’re doing, who you serve, where they’re at, and what you do for them.

I am the CEO and Founder of Houndstooth Media Group, which is a full-service digital marketing agency. We do all of the things you would think. We build websites. We run social media account management. We are content strategists. We specialize in SEO and, in particular, organic search strategy. What does it mean to have Google bring your ideal clients to you for free because you’ve got good stuff on your website?

We want Google to know you, love you, and send you your ideal customer. That’s our sweet spot. We serve business owners who are in it for the long game and want new people to discover them. They don’t want to spend a lot of time, money, and energy trying to figure out what is that game that we’re playing with Google. We go straight in the front door, have good stuff on your website and make sure you’re clear about who you serve and that’s who we serve.

Let’s go all the way back to little Vivienne, from school age up to college. What was your first paying job?

Little Vivienne grew up in a little town in California called Norco. Norco is a cool little place. I didn’t appreciate it as a kid. I thought it was dumb and not metropolitan and cool like LA, which is near. Norco has no sidewalks. They only have horse trails. It is a small little rural pocket in Southern California where everyone has horses and chickens. When I was little, I rode my pony through McDonald’s drive-through.

Internet searching the other way around is SEO. People could find you through anything on the internet. Click To Tweet

There are hitching posts and watering troughs all over the place at businesses in Norco. My first job was when I was fifteen years old. I got a job busing tables at a local restaurant called the Steer ‘N Stein. This was back in the ’80s. I would come home smelling like steak sauce and cigarettes. It was disgusting. I was a bus girl and then I got moved a couple of nights a week to the hostess.

Were your parents entrepreneurial in any way when you were a young girl at home?

They weren’t. My parents both still live in Norco. They are still active, but they’re both retired. They’re in their ’80s. My mom was a registered nurse. She worked in the hospital, dinner shifts and whatever. My dad was a 22-year career Marine. He was a helicopter pilot. When he got out of the service, he was entrepreneurial in that he created his own job for a restaurant corporation. They owned lots of different restaurants.

He somehow met somebody who was there and affiliated with it. He’s like, “Why are you guys hiring Roto-Rooter individually for all of your restaurants when something goes on? Why don’t you have your own maintenance department and dispatch your own crew out to the different restaurants this corporation owned? My dad developed that department simply because he could see that there was a need. There was a more efficient way to run that railroad.

I wouldn’t necessarily think of him as entrepreneurial. I scare him a little bit. I wouldn’t say that they were entrepreneurial. I’ve always been like, “I want to do that.” It doesn’t occur to me that I can’t until somebody tells me that I can’t. I would believe them for a long time and go, “I shouldn’t go that route because that isn’t normal.” I had a convoluted way to get through school and develop my business. It feels like none of it was on purpose. Everything was an accident.

It was like back to the Steer ‘N Stein as a bus girl and hosting. I was supposed to go to San Diego State when I graduated from high school. I was going to be a Communications major. I was signed up for a dorm, ready to go, class schedule. I turned eighteen, and the restaurant people said, “Now that you’re eighteen, you can be a waitress because you’re old enough to serve beer and wine.” Those waitresses were bringing in $50 a night. It was crazy money.

I told my poor parents that I was not going to go to San Diego State. I was going to stay in Norco and be a waitress. Dinners at my house were not fun. My parents were mortified. I waited tables for 6, 8 months. I was like, “This is probably not a good future for me.” I learned a lot about hustle, work ethic, multitasking, and reading the room. I did make good tips cause you got to read those individual tables.

TPE S1 E41 | SEO Expert
SEO Expert: Bloggers don’t sell anything or provide any paid services. They get paid to put their thoughts and creations out on the internet for people to read.


I met a customer who would come in. She’s like, “What are you doing here? Why are you not in school?” I said, “I don’t know. I did this thing. I did this other thing. I’m spinning now.” She said, “You would be a great Journalism major and USC has a great Journalism school.” I went no to SDSU, yes to waitressing and then came home to my parents and said, “I’d like to go to USC.” God bless them. My parents said, “Okay. Anything to get this girl in college. Let’s trade up to the more expensive school.” In the late ’80s, I had fun at USC and I left after two years with a cumulative GPA of 1.8. They had an active Greek system and I spent a lot of time there.

First off, let me go back to your dad. Thank you for his service. Second, I loved how you said, “I scared him.” He’s a 22-year helicopter pilot, United States Marine Corps, scared by his daughter. That’s about the only thing that would scare a Marine Corps helicopter pilot. Your mom is a first responder, a nurse. We’re grateful for her service, too.

I was on a call with someone who has this robust intern apprenticeship recruiting system. Don’t hire everybody who comes through the system, but somebody hires everybody who comes through the system. He was anti-college and he owned a digital agency. He was like, “By the time they come out for what we do, we have to teach them everything anyway. It’s better to intern, apprentice, and go on.”

I’m a proud first-semester dropout. I thought I was going to be an engineer. Math and Science were my strong points. I never took a book home in my life. I had a part-time sales job. When I saw what my income was, I went to my advisor and said, “How much am I going to make when I’m an engineer in four years?” He told me, and I was like, “That’s half of what I make now.” I only work evenings. The siren of dollars sang my song, and off I went. Is Houndstooth Media your first company?


How did you open your first company and what did you do?

My first company was me as a solopreneur. I made flower arrangements and furniture.

Say yes to opportunities and figure out how you're going to do it later, but always start with a yes. Click To Tweet

Does that go hand-in-hand?

After USC, I fell back into waitressing where I met my starter husband. He came in as a customer. We got married. My two oldest sons are the result of that relationship. I don’t regret anything. I’m one of those people like, “That’s cute or cool, but I’m not going to pay that money.” I’m always the person who would look at the cute flower arrangement and figure out how they put that together, go home, and DIY it.

I always look at things. What can I do about that? What is something that’s about to be wasted? What can be leveraged and how can I turn it into something valuable that other people would maybe discard? It got started because we tore down an old fence in our yard and I wouldn’t let my husband throw away the fence pickets. He’s like, “What are you going to do with these?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” I made a bed out of them. I made a headboard and a footboard that were picket fences and people liked it.

I made more of them and sold them at a home and garden antique shop near where we lived. I started taking orders that way. Later on, I created a pottery business. We had moved up to the Portland, Oregon, area. I lived there for about ten years. Things weren’t working out with me and my starter husband. We were getting a divorce. I’d been a stay-at-home mom and had two little kids. I’d been taking pottery classes as a hobby. I was making gifts for family and friends. I had people asking for things specifically.

I created a pottery business called Under the Ivy. I sold things out of farmer’s market out the back of my car because I didn’t have a husband or any income. I would go to the farmer’s market, sell everything that I had, take custom orders for the following week, go home, unpack my car, start working again, and make the play in clay all week until the following Saturday for the farmer’s market. That’s what I did for about a year and a half.

I finally ended up going back to work. I worked in a law firm doing, not paralegal stuff, but just like a gal Friday, whatever these guys needed help with. That’s when I was like, “I could be a lawyer, too. Clearly, you don’t need a whole lot of smarts based on some of these people that I’m encountering. I could be an attorney.” USC was way far behind me, so I went back to school up there in the Portland area and I have a degree in Public Administration with an emphasis on Policy Development. I went from pottery to politics. That was interesting.

I enjoyed that a lot and I didn’t realize it at the time, but politics is marketing. It is like, “Would you cut field funding for the elderly? Do you think you’d like to kick a puppy?” Which of those is more palatable to you? Nobody wants to kick a puppy. It’s how you phrased everything, how you pitched things, and how you could influence. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was marketing.

TPE S1 E41 | SEO Expert
SEO Expert: You’re not the end-all-be-all for your clients. Learn how to let go of your ego and relax your grip on things. Stop being a control freak, and your business will take off.


By that point, I was dating my husband, who is an attorney and he’s like, “You would hate being an attorney. Don’t do it.” I didn’t end up going to law school, but I did get into marketing and worked with a public affairs firm. I enjoyed that and it appealed to my, “How can we look at it, twist this, leverage this, that somebody else is discarded? How can we reach somebody and provide something?” That’s how that got started.

It’s pretty common for an entrepreneur for their path to weave and wind up and down and through the valley and around the corner. It sounds like that’s been your path. How did you start Houndstooth Media Group?

That was the culmination of me building things and writing. I did a lot of writing working for the public affairs firm. I’ve always been interested in it. Remember USC journalism school way back then? I decided to stay home with our youngest son. We have four sons. The three older ones were his and mine, and then the youngest one is ours. I decided to stay home with him and then quickly got a little antsy. I don’t scrapbook. I started writing down the funny things that my boys did and putting them out onto this blog.

I didn’t realize that my first post was live on the internet. I published it out there into the ether. One day I got a comment and I couldn’t believe it. How dare somebody read what I put on the internet? I don’t know what I was thinking. That was my first experience with search happening the other way, which is SEO. I searched for things on the internet at that point, but it didn’t occur to me that somebody could search for something and find me. That opened up a whole universe to me, understanding that people could find me.

I ended up doing the DIY thing. I’m building beds, decorating rooms, doing flower arrangements, cooking, and putting it on my website. I developed a pretty decent following. I was making money because that’s how bloggers get paid. I didn’t sell anything or provide any services. I put my thoughts and creations out on the internet. It provided value to people who wanted to try to emulate it or get the how-to, or whatever. My ads would payout. I started working with companies and brands to do sponsored posts for them and monetize my blog.

Houndstooth came about because I have a friend who’s a luxury real estate agent up in the LA area after eight years of that. She said, “I have to write a blog post once a week for my brokerage. Would you please ghostwrite for me? I am too busy.” I said, “Sure.” While I was in there helping her with this blog post, I looked at what this luxury brokerage house was doing with its marketing department. I was like, “This is not how you use social media. They’re not doing it right. This is not how you use blogging. This is not how you put things on your website.”

I told her that they didn’t know what they were doing. She said, “Would you consider telling the guys that?” I’m glad I didn’t know it at the time. I thought the guys were her work friends and colleagues. The guys were the five founding partners of this boutique brokerage in Beverly Hills. I’m like, “Sure.” We sat down at the conference table. I started telling them all the things that were wrong and asked, “What should you do to fix it?” They said, “Can you fix it for us?” I said, “Yes, but it’s easy for me. You can do it, too.” My friend figuratively kicked me under the table and shot me a look.

Realizing that you don't have to micromanage everything will make a big difference in your business and life. Click To Tweet

That’s where I went, “I’ll get you a proposal. That’s what I’ll do, a proposal. That’s how that works, right?” My friend helped me write the proposal. She told me what to put in it. She told me how to break down, what I was going to do, and what the value is like a total lesson on the fly. She said, “Pick a number that makes you uncomfortable.”

Keep in mind that I’m a DIY, frugal, cheap blogger. I picked a number that I was not comfortable with. She goes, “Triple it.” I about fell over and she goes, “Trust me.” I gave them the proposal. They did not bat an eye. For the next six months, I single-handedly sat there and revamped a marketing department from my dining room table. That’s what I did.

That’s how Houndstooth was born. While I’m doing that, I have all of these other real estate agents seeing what’s happening and coming to me saying, “Can you help me with my personal brand?” and so on and so forth. I was calling in friends that I have from the blogging community going, “Can you optimize a YouTube channel? Let me hire you to do that.” I am still, to this day, building the plane while I fly it. That’s how it all rolls together. You say yes to an opportunity and you figure out how you’re going to do it later, but you start with a yes.

All progress starts with a yes. Sometimes catastrophe is avoided with a no, but progress starts with the yes. How long has Houndstooth been in business?

We’re in our eighth year in 2022.

In those eight years, see if you can share a warp speed moment. Things are going pretty good, and then all of this sudden, 1 or 2 things fall into place, business takes off and finds a new level. Do you have a moment like that you can share?

I do. It’s the moment that I realized that I am not the end all be all and that clients only want to work with me. The moment I let go of my ego and relaxed my grip on all things control freak, my business took off. I started getting the right people around me and trusting them. It made all of the difference. Once I did that, I realized that there are people who can build a better mousetrap. I was trying to figure things out on a yellow, legal pad of paper. I was trying to do Math that way. Somebody came in and goes, “A spreadsheet will do that for you.” That’s not my zone of genius, spreadsheets, legal pads, and numbers.

TPE S1 E41 | SEO Expert
SEO Expert: Everyone messes up and makes mistakes. It’s better to fall flat on your face because you’re moving forward than fall flat on your butt because you’re going back.


I’m an idea person. I’m a, “How can we do this person?” Why am I trying to do all of those things? Once I realized that not only will things not fall apart if I’m not touching every single thing and micromanaging and let everything thing go, it not only made a difference in the business. It made a difference in my life because I’d been given this gift of a business, this accidental business that’s doing great. I was scared that I was going to lose this gift. It appeared suddenly. It could disappear suddenly. That was my mindset. Letting go of that was helpful.

That’s a great warp speed moment. What about a hard lesson? There’s certainly been some time when it was like, “I can’t believe that happened.” Is there a hard lesson that you experienced? Maybe in retrospect, looking back, it turns out that it was positive, but it was uncomfortable maybe even painful at the time?

I have a million of them, things you didn’t see there was a hole there until something pointed it out that, “You better fill that. You’re going to trip on it.” It’s the idea of the roof leaks. You should fix it before it rains. We’ve heard that expression before. Sometimes you don’t know you have a leak until it does rain. You point out, “There’s where the leak is. When the storm is over, I’m going to go fix that.” We have a lot of those moments, but the idea that I like is we are all going to mess up. We’re all going to make mistakes. Fall forward. I would rather fall flat on my face because at least it’s forward motion rather than fall flat on my butt because then you’re going back.

We are able to take even our mistakes and turn them into a gain for the company. It hurts while it’s happening, but then we’re patching that hole in the roof. We know we’re not going to deal with it going forward. We’re also able to take some of our clients’ failures and see how we safeguard against our other clients, not having that happen to them. Maybe it’s a failure a client came to us with that we had to fix. Now that we know that’s a thing for some people, we can go through and assess all of our other clients and go, “This one might have that same problem.” We can proactively get it in front of it. Mistakes are good.

Either you win or learn, and learning is a little slower than winning. Your success is almost equidistant from the midline. The heights of your success are almost equidistant to your failures’ depths. When you see people that have climbed the huge mountain, they typically have been in the deep valley at some point. Think about a digital agency, golden nugget, something that I don’t know that you could share with me that I would leave here and say, ” I must go do that immediately.”

Most of my golden nuggets are the golden rule, not like some technical gem that you can take this back to your IT person or your webmaster and fix. Some of it is just common sense and because it’s common sense. The big questions that I get are always around SEO and Google. You have got to make Google happy. You do. If Google isn’t happy, Google’s a lot like mama, ain’t nobody happy. There’s a lot of mystery around SEO, Google, and search. It doesn’t need to be that mysterious.

Google needs to know three basic things about your website. They’re technical. Who are you? What do you do? Who do you want to be working with? You can tell Google those things on your website. If Google knows those things, you get offered up in the search rankings. Clients spend a lot of time talking about themselves on their websites. “We are this wonderful coaching firm, and we will help you with all of your problems. The benefits are your team is running smoothly and you make more money.”

In SEO, Google is like your mom. If she isn't happy, nobody is. Click To Tweet

If you’re somebody who needs those benefits, you’re not searching for, “How do I have my team run smoothly? How do I make more money?” Nobody’s typing that into a search bar. What they are typing into a search bar or asking Siri about is, “Our team meetings are not running smoothly or internal squabbles with the team members.” You need to address that client’s pain point.

It’s great to say who you are and what you do. If you don’t have that third, “Who do you want to be working with?” You want to work with the people who have the problems you want to solve for them. Keep your consumer hat on. When you are searching for something, are you giving Google the answer? You’re asking Google a question or talking about a problem that you’re trying to solve. You’re searching for your pain points.

If you don’t have your ideal customer’s pain points outlined clearly on your website, in your copy, the people underestimate the importance of your copy. You’re not getting found. You need to be able to niche down and be specific. There are all sorts of backend technical things that you can do with regard to your digital marketing. The simplest of those is to be clear about who you are, who you serve, and what hurts them.

The next question is, you have the opportunity to step into a time capsule, go all the way back, and have 5 minutes with 20-year-old Vivienne so you can share one piece of advice only. What entrepreneurial advice do you give to 20-year-old Vivienne that you know now?

I would be able to tell 20-year-old Vivienne lots of mistakes to avoid. We talked about the fact that mistakes are good and every single mistake I’ve ever made in my life has me where I am right at this moment in my life. I like where I am at this moment. The advice I would give myself with regard to entrepreneurship is to reach out for help sooner and not assume that somebody else will fill holes and fix problems.

I’m perfectly capable of doing that. I just wouldn’t have believed that I could solve my own problem at twenty. I kept going the college route because you need to get a college degree. That was hammered into me in high school. Years later, we are from high school, and I don’t think that everyone needs to go to college. There are a lot of Elizabeth and Poetry majors who are working at Starbucks. You don’t have to have a degree to get a degree three. I have four boys and I have one who is finishing up his Chemistry degree, but the other three are out working already.

One of them, my son, Connor, is doing video production and working in the industry he wants to be working in. College would not have helped with that. That is experiential. Who do you know gets the hands-on training? We have preconceived ideas of what our life should look like. If it doesn’t look like it’s heading on that route, we think we’re not succeeding. I spent some years thinking I wasn’t succeeding because of the mistakes, which proved valuable later. I wish I hadn’t felt that at the time, that it somehow was done.

TPE S1 E41 | SEO Expert
SEO Expert: Google needs to know three basic things about your website: who you are, what you do, and who you want to work with.


That’s human nature. We all struggle at times with, “Am I good enough? Am I making the right choices?” It’s true that wherever you are is a product of all of your experiences good, bad, ugly, as Clint Eastwood used to say. As far as the college thing, it was years ago that even the big tech comp, the monster tech companies, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and LinkedIn, are no longer requiring computer engineers and developers to have four-year degrees.

Truthfully, the most gifted employees they found were self-taught. They didn’t learn it in school. They learned it in the world. Minus the last 150 years, that’s how everybody learned everything anyway. I love that. Vivienne, how could and should we reach out to you if we wanted to contact you for all things digital media?

You can go to our website, which is You can email me at

It’s so much my pleasure to have you. I’m glad to see you. It’s been a while. During COVID, I missed seeing people. We’re back, at least with the magic of Zoom. I’m grateful. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

It was my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

That’s our episode of the We’ll see you next time. Thanks.


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About Vivienne Wagner

TPE S1 E41 | SEO ExpertWife, mom, creative type & smart-ass. Also a child of the King and blessed beyond measure.





For information on how to work with Don visit Work With Don Williams
You can also reach out to Don Williams at
Please join Don and his businesses in support of St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in its Mission to cure Childhood Cancers. You can donate to St. Jude at

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