Clo Willaerts is an amazing and very inspiring woman and above all she is one of the first tech influencers in Belgium. Digital Marketing has no secret for her! Internet is her playground with over 30,000 Twitter followers and extensive experience in internet business. Clo is a kind of media virtuoso, she is never tired of teaching and learning about digital technology and the impact it has on our daily lives. Mother, teacher, girl geek, tech optimist and published Author!
A few weeks ago, we had the chance to meet and interview Clo Willaerts on the occasion of the launch of her forthcoming handbook ‘Digital Marketing like-a-PRO’
How did you get into digital? What made you want to have a career in digital?
Twenty-two years ago I was pregnant with my first child (who is now a six foot tall young man called Arne). I had been working as a freelancer for tv stations, but the hours were crazy. So when a tv colleague mentioned that he knew a guy who wanted to start an online radio station, I applied and got the job. The station was called Axxess and had on-demand channels about gaming, movies, cultural events, electronic dance music, and more. Some sort of Spotify before it was cool. We used rather unstable beta-software from Microsoft and our servers crashed quite often. I was in charge of the website, the content of the programs, and the newsletters. I had never seen a browser from up close before, let alone html code. But fortunately I learnt everything from the helpdesk guys from a young startup in de same building called Belgacom Skynet. They hung out with us in the basement of the building because they were not allowed to smoke at their desks. Finally I had found an industry that allowed you to work anytime and from anywhere with an internet connection.
I instantly fell in love with the internet and its crazy communities and subcultures and never looked back.
Is there someone who inspired you? Any role models?
Back then digital was a 99% male dominated world. But that was ok: IT guys never cared much about what their colleagues looked like and to me that was a relief. I have absolutely no sense of style but now I could finally just let my hair hang down and wear oversized band t-shirts just like them. My most cherished memories from my early digital days was an online chatbox community called chat.be . We had no business model whatsoever but never really cared about that. We had fun and supported each other in many ways. Some of the volunteers back then are still my friends.
If I had to pick a role model, it would be Wonder Woman, the Gal Gadot version. I’ve even bought the costume recently and plan to wear it, too. You’ve been warned.
You are a mother, teacher, girl geek and author. What’s a typical day in Clo Willaerts’ life?
My children still live with me but thankfully they’re adults now. We’re more like roommates. In the mornings I usually handle emails and other messages and read my feeds. I use a service called feed.ly to keep up with the latest news about what interests me most: digital marketing, artificial intelligence, and robots. In the afternoon I usually have meetings, coaching sessions, or workshops. After cooking dinner I watch Netflix or read Kindle books on my iPad for a couple of hours. And then I go to bed with my sleep robot. It’s a prototype from a Dutch kickstarter project called Somnox. It helps me slow down my breathing.
Are you a morning or late nighter kind of person?
Actually I like getting up early. That’s when it’s most quiet… By noon my inboxes have gone berserk.
What are your tips to be productive?
Turn off as many alerts on your smartphone as possible. Especially the little red dot notifications from your apps. Install a routine to put your iPhone aside as soon as you enter the house. You can make this more convenient by putting a charger by the door. You’ll hear when someone phones you. And just like in the old days, you’ll run to the phone and pick up. All the other messages are not really urgent and can be dealt with twice a day. Once in the morning, after breakfast. And again in the evening, after dinner.
How did you manage to write a book?
Writing this book was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.
I had totally underestimated the whole thing and me being a chronic procrastinator didn’t help either. My workhorse was an iPad Pro – I had switched from desktop to mobile a year before that. So I had only apps to write the book. Most used: MindMeister, because every one of my books starts with a mindmap from hell; Google Docs, because no less than 31 digital marketing experts contributed; and Microsoft OneDrive, because it allowed me to access and manage my notes, text and image files from anywhere. The biggest lifesaver were my friends and family, who put up with my foul mood, lack of body hygiene and occasional panic attacks when I was drifting in and out of “the zone”. In my experience, writing a book is a very unpleasant activity.
What are you most proud of and why?
The fact that both of my children have turned out alright. They have different interests (the boy likes gaming, and the girl is into cosplay), but I’m secretly proud they’re just as geeky as I am.
What do you think will be the biggest thing in the digital marketing industry?
The value of reputation. Whoever owns the platform that helps individuals and companies manage their reputation, will win in the long term. But we’ll need something more stable and secure than the internet for that. I’m putting my bets on something based on blockchain technology.
If you could go back in time, what advice, if any, would you offer to a younger Clo?
“Everything’s gonna be alright.”
I was a bit of a rebel as a child and got punished very often. After that, I turned into a gloomy teenager. It was the eighties. The atomic bomb could drop any day and we were all going to die.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 3-5 years?
To travel to sunnier parts of the planet every couple of months. I dream of being the passenger in a little van that has solar panels and everything else I’d need to be able to write while on the road. I also miss being a volunteer, teaching digital marketing to local entrepreneurs in countries like Mozambique, Namibia, South-Africa and Malawi. Malawi stole my heart and I can’t wait to go back. But to be honest my favorite activity is being a public speaker. I love the vibes you get back from the audience when you manage to drag them into the flow of your story.
Maybe I could travel around the world from one speaking assignment to another, volunteering and writing in between? That would be super cool.
Any future plans you can share with us?
I want to turn the content of “Digital Marketing like a PRO” into a podcast or e-learning series.
And I toy with the idea of doing stand-up comedy about digital life. I’ve recently installed Tinder and wow! Some of the profile pictures and pick-up lines there are comedy gold!
Want to buy ‘Digital Marketing like-a-PRO’ ? https://www.lannoo.be/nl/digital-marketing-pro
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Clo Willaerts (°1970) is a Belgian marketing professional with a large social media following and extensive experience in digital business (communities, streaming media, portals, social media, digital transformation) for the travel, finance, automotive, media and telco industry. Her popular technology blog has been a go-to resource since 2004. Now, after working almost twenty years as an internet and media professional, she travels around the world as a consultant, speaker and author.
A new media virtuoso, Ms. Willaerts never tires of teaching and learning about digital technology and the impact it has on our daily lives. She is a natural on stage and frequently lectures in Belgium on social media, online privacy, digital marketing, artificial intelligence and future technologies at Karel de Grote Hogeschool, Thomas More, EHSAL Management School, and UBA Academy.