World Reimagined

Creating Custom Content Affordably with Shawna Ohm

Shawna Ohm
Mariya Leona Illarionova

Shawna Ohm, the founder of Content 151, is helping financial firms create custom content affordably. 

Content 151 works with firms to develop a strategy based in their business. Content marketing shouldn't just be a box to check—it should get you more clients, better engagement, and improve the quality of the business overall.

Shawna spent five years in broadcast, print, and digital journalism, with a focus on financial news. From there, she switched to content marketing and used her writing and audience skills to create unique, impactful content for financial clients. During her six years in marketing, she has seen and worked on a wide variety of projects, including audience research, content audits, storyline generation, video shoots, website redesigns, and much more.

We asked Shawna about the story behind her company, what sets her approach apart from others, and the advice she would give her younger self.

Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding: How and why did you start working on Content 151?

A: I spent years creating content for big financial firms—think big banks and brokerages. No matter how different or innovative these firms wanted to be, the core of their content was almost always the same. It reminded me of my time writing for the Associated Press, where our baseline content would get packaged differently depending on where it was published. This gave me the idea to flip the switch on content creation. Instead of starting with custom ideas and spending a lot of money to basically end up in a similar place, I could start with a template and add the customization. Doing it this way allows me to bring the price point down, which makes custom content possible for smaller firms. Often, these are the firms that need this type of marketing the most. 

Q: What problem does your business solve? 

A: I help Main Street financial firms show their value via content marketing. Many Americans lump all financial firms together as “Wall Street.” But there is a world of difference between a prop trading desk engaged in arbitrage and a suburban Certified Financial Planner®. Content marketing helps smaller firms show how they’re different. Our content helps these firms tell their own story, separate from the Wall Street narrative. 

Mariya Leona Illarionova

Q: What are some of the most meaningful impacts your business has had so far? 

A: I always have the average American—my clients’ clients—in mind. We have a big problem with financial literacy in this country, but I’m not convinced that educating people is enough. There are so many elements to financial planning, and a DIY strategy doesn’t always make sense. Good advice can make a difference. I help small firms illustrate what that difference is. The meaningful impact comes when regular Americans get a better handle on their money.

Q: What makes your company different from others?

A: A Catch-22 of entrepreneurship is this: making a totally unique product is great because you have no competitors, but having no competitors makes it much harder to get traction for a product. To close a sale, you can’t just say why you’re better. You have to explain the problem you’re solving and how your product works to solve it. 

Most small financial firms have three options: write content themselves (many don’t have the time or skill), pay a writer (many don’t have the budget), or buy cookie cutter content (this rarely achieves the intended goal). Content 151 offers something that didn’t exist before we entered the market: a template-based system to create content that looks and feels unique but doesn’t require the time or money of truly one-of-a-kind content.

Q: In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur/leader?

Shawna Ohm
Mariya Leona Illarionova

A: For the first 21 years of my life, I had no interest whatsoever in finance or markets. I completely ignored the business journalism courses in graduate school. But in the summer of 2009, when jobs for new grads were in short supply, I got an offer from Bloomberg TV. It was only after I said yes that I sought out the business journalism professor and asked her to explain the financial crisis to me. I had to stop her mid-explanation to ask what a “security” was.

That turned out to be a critical life lesson for two reasons. One: I never forgot what it felt like to know absolutely nothing about the financial industry, which is why I’m good at explaining it. Two: I learned to trust my brain. I’ve spent more than a decade working in a field that once confused the hell out of me. I now believe everything is figure-outable.

Q: What’s been the most unexpected part of your entrepreneurial journey? What’s the biggest misconception that others have around entrepreneurship?

A: Success is often scarier than failure. We know what failure looks like—it’s easy to envision. Success often takes us into uncharted territory. Succeed once and there’s pressure to keep succeeding. Enact your vision and you’re rewarded with a new task: figure out what’s next. Succeed again. Being an entrepreneur is about deciding to lean into that fear every day.

Q: Have you struggled with self doubt as an entrepreneur? How do you navigate this?

A: Some of the most powerful phrases I learned growing up were: “I don’t know” or “I made a mistake.” Early in my career, these things were an asset. People appreciated the honesty, and they turned those admissions into opportunities to help me learn. As I progressed, however, admitting mistakes became a weakness. It’s never a good thing to be the only person on a team willing to admit a mistake.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve once again found power in “I don’t know.” Being the boss gives me back the ownership to own my mistakes and learn from them. Now, the people I work with get (and hopefully expect) that honesty—and it’s an asset once more.

Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of? How do you celebrate successes along the way?

A: I went to the Junior Olympics in ice skating when I was 11. It was in figures, which is just tracing shapes on ice, and to be honest, I wasn’t very good. I didn’t like it as much as spinning and jumping, but that was where I qualified. My coach encouraged me to focus on the success: “You’ll always be able to say you went to Junior Olympics.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but learning to appreciate wins without an asterisk was huge. Do I really want to brag to other entrepreneurs about something I did when I was 11? No. But that win is the reason I can claim the small success I have building a company. And that’s a key part required to build a company.

Q: What resources or people have contributed the most to your successes?

Shawna Ohm
Mariya Leona Illarionova

A: In 2020, Twitter was simultaneously the best and worst place on the internet. There were so many times I tried to quit the site, mostly due to never-ending politics leading up to the election. But there was one thing that kept me coming back: the women of #FinTwit (finance Twitter). It’s no secret that finance is a male-dominated industry. So having this tribe of women, and then men who visibly support them, provided the inspiration I needed to make it through a year of lockdown. Staying active on #FinTwit through lockdown also put me in touch with clients and helped me keep the business moving despite a lack of industry events.

Q: How have you grown as a leader since starting your company? What experiences have contributed to this growth?

A: For years, people told me I’d be successful if _____. The “if” always required me to change some fundamental element of my character. Half the reason I became an entrepreneur was because I wanted to be successful as I am. (There’s a difference between working to be better and changing who you are.)

So I approach leadership that way, too. I want to play to people’s strengths, and help them learn and grow, without telling them to change. I think it’s also important to give yourself that same grace as a leader.

Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?

A: There’s no such thing as “too smart for your own good.” Don’t wait to lean into who you are.

Shawna is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Gesche Haas

Gesche Haas is the Founder/CEO of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through visibility opportunities, resource exchange, and collective support.

Read Gesche's Bio