Two of Daria Steigman’s passions met at a crossroads during her college years.
She grew up as the daughter of a U.S. diplomat, which meant her childhood was spent in several different locations around the globe, including the Congo, Libya, France, Nigeria and Gabon.
As a result of her travels, Daria entered college with the intent of getting a degree that would enable her to work overseas after graduation. A month into her studies at the University of Chicago, though, she started reading poetry.
“I discovered Wordsworth, and my entire universe crumbled,” she says. “I had my midlife crisis at 17.”
Daria shifted gears and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature. Then after a brief stint working on Capitol Hill and then for a trade association in Washington DC, Daria decided she needed a graduate degree.
She had always been interested in the labor movement and migrant worker issues — one of her favorite books in ninth grade was about Cesar Chavez — so she enrolled at Cornell University, where she earned a master’s degree in industrial and labor relations. (Daria later received another master’s degree in liberal studies from Georgetown University.)
After wrapping up her studies, Daria worked for a labor union, then as a temp for a couple large companies — companies she eventually figured out how to turn into clients, kickstarting what would become Steigman Communications LLC.
From temp to small business owner
Daria suggested to one of the people she’d been temping for that his company engage her to write a newsletter covering agriculture, trade, and energy issues on Capitol Hill. For a large accounting firm, she built presentation materials.
“I had these two really big name companies that were leverageable,” Daria explains.
She never intended to start a business, but suddenly she had those foundational clients.
“In many ways, I’m the accidental entrepreneur who fell into my passion,” she says.
Daria launched Steigman Communications in 1989. She started by covering Capitol Hill for clients and then worked for an independent UN labor organization covering labor and business issues.
Over the decades, Daria’s clients have shifted, but every time she’s lost a major client, she’s viewed it as an opportunity.
“What most people do by changing jobs, I’ve done by changing clients,” she says. “The evolution of my clients has been, in part, the evolution of my services.”
Changing with the tides
At first, Daria worked mostly with clients in agriculture and trade, energy, and labor relations but has since pivoted to healthcare, as well as picked up clients in packaging, sustainability and material science.
As Steigman Communications has evolved, so too has technology.
When Daria started the business, there was no email. She recalls having to hire a messenger service where a courier would take deliverables back and forth between Daria and her clients.
And to get her business off the ground, Daria remembers making a brochure highlighting her services. She went to the public library and researched companies that had an office in Washington. She then sent that brochure in the mail with a self-addressed return postcard and a letter of introduction to 500 some people. Daria did that for about two to three years — a marketing tactic that helped her secure new clients while also getting her name out in the world.
Daria adds that she had to go to an actual building to get a hard copy of a congressional bill. She eventually paid $1,000 a year to get a daily newsletter delivered to her home that shared what was happening on Capitol Hill that day.
All this is to say, according to Daria, “It’s hard to overstate the impact of the internet.”
Thoughts on social media and the future
For Daria, while the internet completely changed the game and made some aspects of running her business easier, social media is a tool to be used judiciously. In fact, Steigman Communications has never had a Facebook page. That’s because Daria’s client base, which are mostly large companies and multinational organizations, isn’t looking for her on Facebook.
She did start a blog in 2008, though. Daria previously wrote the Independent Thinking column for the International Association of Business Communicators, which morphed into the Independent Thinking Blog.
“The column was the first place that I started talking about entrepreneurship and the business of running a business,” she says.
When she turned the column into a blog, she also evolved into writing posts about ways to think about marketing, communications and social media. Daria blogged regularly until 2017, when both her parents passed away.
Solo PR Pro No. 1
For Daria, being her own boss is a dream. She even made up her own title for herself: business savvy communications strategist.
And fun fact? Daria is one of the original (if not, the original) members of Solo PR Pro when it formed back in 2011.
Her advice to other aspiring solo PR pros is to find your passion.
“I don’t mean you get to only do the things you love to do, because the world doesn’t work that way,” she says. “Sometimes you have to write about mold. I’ve written about mold. But ultimately, you’re doing this to either build a business or have work-life balance. Understand your why.”
For Daria, that why is because she’s a much better consultant than employee.
These days, Daria appreciates the time she has to pursue her passions: “I am passionate about democracy and a multicultural country. I'm a huge baseball fan. I love to work out. I love to hike and I love road tripping,” she explains. “I'm a part time digital nomad. I'm actually about to get back out on the road and travel and work for the next month or two.”
Looking to the future, Daria plans to continue following her why, even as it morphs and evolves — just like her business.