LoveLakeland’s July 2017 CityMaker

Chrissanne Long

By Zoe Trout

Pictured: CREATE at Catapult, Gillian Fazio

After coming to Lakeland in search of a fresh start, our July 2017 CityMaker, Chrissanne Long, found love, entrepreneurship, family – both in and out of the office – and a community of leaders filled with energy for the work that they do and the city they are doing it in. It is this energy and opportunity, according to Chrissanne, that sets Lakeland apart.

“When you get down to the real forces that are at work, and you peel the layers and look at what makes this city great, it is the energy that you see in the smile of a person you pass on the sidewalk, and in the extra mile so many members of our community go to support the various needs of our non-profits and underserved citizens,” she said. “It’s in the innovative events and the movement toward more collaboration. Visitors feel it, and want to come back but they don’t have anything tangible to describe. It’s just a positive vibe.”

Finding a Fresh Start and a Place to Call Home

Chrissanne grew up in Winter Haven, graduated from Auburndale High School, and got married right here in Polk County. So when her marriage ended and it was time to move forward, she knew she wanted both a fresh start and a sense of home. Lakeland fit the bill, providing a break from the past and a connection to what she wanted for herself in the future – a chance to truly invest in her new home and the people in it. A teacher for many years, Chrissanne began looking for a new career to go with her new outlook. Little did she know that would come packaged with a new life partner and best friend, Craig Hosking, who was already exploring opportunities in the growing Internet market. He challenged Chrissanne to consider the idea of being an entrepreneur.

While Chrissanne describes it as a “rocky, insecure and crazy” time for her, this step outside the box proved worth it. Ten years later, as CEO of her own company and Founder of a community of 5,000+ Lakeland leaders, she is stunned. “I look back on everything today in sheer amazement.”

Today, Chrissanne is CEO of Maximize Digital Media, a full-service digital marketing agency focused on meaningful and measurable online marketing campaigns to help businesses use the Internet to increase their bottom line. Maximize serves both small brands who are looking for new ways to “show up,” as well as larger, well-known brands looking for ways to more effectively engage their customers.

Hustling + Showing up = Success

Like any strong business, Maximize wasn’t built in a day. Chrissanne and Craig started in 2009 with two laptops and an idea, working from Chrissanne’s dining room table as Marketing System Blueprints. Committed to their vision but unsure how to get there, the pair joined the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce and started connecting with as many other people in the community as they could.

“When you’re first getting started, and no one knows you or what you’re capable of, you have to just own that and recognize that you need to be around enough so people can begin to trust you. You can’t just join something, and then disappear,” she insists. “So, I made the commitment to show up.”

At the time, Chrissanne says she couldn’t imagine getting to the point where they had a “real” office, let alone a company with seven employees. After a merger with Maximize Social Media, a social media marketing agency, took place in 2014, Maximize Digital Media was born.

While their Search Engine visibility started to attract national clients, Chrissanne’s passion was, and still is, her hometown. After a year of hustling and “showing up” in every way they could, they saw that Lakeland businesses needed better ways to connect with one another. This inspired Chrissanne’s next business endeavor: Lakeland Business Leaders.

“I think we needed a little love to shake up this town, and I believe that love makes a powerful impact, wherever it can be found”

“I think we needed a little love to shake up this town, and I believe that love makes a powerful impact, wherever it can be found”

Lakeland’s Entrepreneurial Scene

Established in 2010 by Chrissanne Long and Craig Hosking, Lakeland Business Leaders has been helping businesses in the Lakeland area connect to customers who are looking for local solutions – in real-time. Unlike any other business network, LBL helps people looking for referrals in an online forum, driven by the members themselves. LBL takes word of mouth to the next level by making it fun and easy for businesses to be seen by local customers, while strengthening their professional network.

“I don’t think I have ever worked so hard or so passionately at anything in my life,” she beams, “but the rewards have been incredible.”

In addition to LBL, Chrissanne remains committed to “showing up” as a part of the entrepreneurial scene in Lakeland through the Lakeland Chamber, Emerge, LEDC, Catapult, and Leadership Lakeland Alumni Association, not to mention the Polk Noles.

“Anything that might help support the entrepreneurial energy in our community is something I want to support,” she says.

The visibility from these networks “changed everything” for Chrissanne and Craig. The connections they made along the way opened the doors to an office downtown.

“Looking back, I can clearly see that the hustling, hard work and trusting in the process led me here,” Chrissanne says. “Every challenge we overcame was just one more piece of an intricate puzzle, and reinforced the idea that hard work, for the right reasons, pays off!”

The Power of Possibility

Her secret to success? One simple question: “What if?”

This is the question that drives her, pushing her forward to new achievements each day. While these same words once stopped her from taking action–what if I fail, what if they say no, what if I make a fool of myself–they now inspire her. What if we all could collaborate and make something amazing happen? What if we took the chance and created a website that broke new ground for a client? What if we tried where others have failed?

“To me,” she says, “the most exciting conversations start with the words ‘what if.’ When we talk about possibilities, there’s no greater rush of adrenaline for me.”

Despite her success, Chrissanne remains humble, describing what she has learned about herself as the most surprising part of her Lakeland entrepreneurial journey.

“I don’t see myself as anything special. I don’t have any advantages or specialized skills that no one else has. Nothing I do is unique. And, that used to hold me back,” she says. “Along the way, I have learned that simply being me is enough, and I have been able to stop worrying about what people think. The number one key to successful marketing is knowing your target audience, and being able to fully embrace who you are so that you can bring the right customers in your door. I have learned that is the same thing in life. Those that aren’t interested in connecting, or think everything I do is too cheesy, just aren’t my target audience. And that liberates me to just worry about being the best me I can be.”

More We, Less “Me”

The ripples from this humble perspective have spread far and wide in our town.

“I think we needed a little love to shake up this town, and I believe that love makes a powerful impact, wherever it can be found” she says.

As for the future of Lakeland, Chrissanne hopes that others will follow in her collaborative footsteps, insisting “it’s not enough to talk about it.” She imagines bridges between all the players, from small businesses to large, and with organizations that connect commerce in our community.

“We can’t wait for someone to ask us for help – we need to step in, take initiative and meet the needs that aren’t being met. It’s a team effort and we are ALL on the same team,” she says. “We need to trust each other more, worry about credit less, and just go after what is best for the greater good.”

It is perhaps this focus on the greater good that truly sets Chrissanne apart as a CityMaker. In true CityMaker spirit, her focus for the future is not on her individual success, but on growing a more connected and aligned community. For Chrissanne, #LoveLakeland is not just a hashtag; it is an action. She encourages others to see it the same way, thrilled by the opportunity to shine a light on groups that may be “under the radar,” letting people know how important they are.

“It’s sending a message that everyone matters. And that is what makes this community so wonderful,” she says.

In a word of advice for the future movers and shakers of Lakeland, Chrissanne simply says, “leap.”

“We need you to share your greatness with the community. And, if there’s anything I have learned – when you love your city hard, it loves you back in big, meaningful, impactful ways.”