You can do this with a business mentor

The first time I met Tracey Timpanaro was in 2011.

She was a freelance writer and editor with a successful career in corporate communications. I was a single mother with a tentative dream.

“You can do this,” she said with a smile. I must have looked skeptical because she said it again. “You can do this.”

She saw hope in me before I saw it myself. And she was the first person who told me I could do it. Everyone else I had spoken to said that starting a business on my own was entirely too risky.

Photo by Kathleen McCall

Timpanaro offered an internship, and over the next year, she peppered me with assignments and feedback. Sometimes I nailed it; sometimes I got it wrong. She was always brutally honest.

I watched the easy way she interacted with clients and the meticulous way she tracked hours. I watched how she made possible what others said was impossible.

One year later, I established my own company. I had learned from her the grit and determination it would take to succeed, so I got to work.

Early mornings were spent at networking events. Late nights were spent creating my website. Weekends were spent at business courses. Every day was spent writing and editing.

Timpanaro was there for my first big break. An international pharmaceutical company wanted a database of formulas proofread by an aggressive deadline. She provided the names of freelancers so that I could cobble together a team.

“And remember,” she said, “you’re worth your rate. Don’t sell yourself short.”

Working around the clock for months, the project was a success. It gave me the confidence to keep going — to aim for bigger and better projects.

Photo by Kathleen McCall

Throughout it all, Timpanaro has remained only an email away. I am thankful for the mentor who started it all.

Today, I speak to single parents who feel tentative about their futures. I see hope in them before they see it themselves.

I smile and say, “You can do this.”

*As published by Johnson Press of America, Volume 13, Issue 5, September 2019

EllaElla Ritchie is the founder of Stellar Communications Houston, a book publishing team that provides a peaceful process and pride in every product for nonfiction authors, business leaders, and government agencies. For more information, connect with her on LinkedIn or visit the website. She and her husband, Jason, help single parents find hope and healing through a ministry called DivorceCare.

The Power of Publishing Your “Big Why”

You wouldn’t guess the long, emotional journey that has driven Dr. Alanna Bree to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology – nor its nonprofit counterpart, A Children’s House for the Soul. Her face only beamed joy as supporters streamed in the doors of The Health Museum in Houston. They were there to support the first annual happy hour fundraiser for the nonprofit. Bill Brown, the longtime voice of the Houston Astros, emceed an evening of tasty bites, signature cocktails, and auction items.


But Dr. Alanna’s whole-hearted commitment was evident when speakers began sharing the impact of A Children’s House. A child life specialist explained the deep needs that the nonprofit fulfills in children and teens with skin disorders and birthmarks. A high school student with a rare genetic skin disorder talked about the respite from bullying that he enjoyed at the “Love The Skin You Are In” Family Days. A woman with a highly visible skin condition praised the nonprofit for helping her to embrace her unique beauty as a teenager. Through each speech, tears flowed quietly down Dr. Alanna’s face.


This is her “big why.” Her whole purpose is to cultivate this healing and hope in the world – not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually.

This is what the whole evening was about. It was about more than what Dr. Bree does (care for children and teens with skin disease and birthmarks). It was also about more than how she does it (with compassionate, holistic care, flexibility, and reasonable prices). It was all about why she does it.

In his TEDx talk titled, “How great leaders inspire action,” marketing consultant Simon Sinek says this approach is what makes Dr. Alanna different from other physicians. You see, true leaders share their “big why” to inspire people to take action. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.”[1]

This is the reason Dr. Alanna just released, A Children’s House: A Small Story About a God-sized Dream. The 140-page autobiography chronicles her journey to becoming a pediatric dermatologist – and the four unmistakable words she heard from God that forever altered her course. She tells with honesty how she quit a successful but unsatisfying career to find her ultimate purpose and fulfillment. It’s a stunning read for everyone: medical students, professionals, believers, and nonbelievers alike.


It’s also a stunning example of the power of sharing your “big why” with others. Dr. Alanna is communicating from “the inside out,” as Sinek calls it. She’s sharing the drive behind her cause, the whole reason her nonprofit exists. And it’s already making an impact.

As guests streamed out of the Health Museum, stakeholders stopped to tell Dr. Alanna that they were inspired by her message. Patients were grateful she hadn’t given up. Board members were surprised by their impact on her success. Dr. Alanna smiled at each of them. Now that they understand her “big why,” they are empowered to make a difference.

PubAuthor Portrait_editedElla Ritchie (left) is the founder of  Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that brings clarity, quality, and integrity to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with the team on LinkedIn, Facebook, or the website for more information.

Alanna F. Bree, M.D., (right) is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist and owner of A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology, where she specializes in holistic care and effective treatments for skin conditions and birthmarks in infants, children, and teens. She is also the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization, A Children’s House for the Soul, which provides social, emotional, and spiritual support for affected children and families in the Houston area. Connect with the clinic on Facebook and Twitter, or connect with the nonprofit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


[1] Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” TED,, accessed March 29, 2018.

Author interview: Bill Herrington pens a tribute to city leaders

contraflow-cover-mockup-frontEleven years ago today, Bill Herrington’s world turned upside down. That was the day that Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic storms in U.S. history, whirled into New Orleans, Louisiana. The tropical storm breached the protective levee system that surrounded the city, flooding 80% of the city and killing about 1,400 people.

In his new release, Contraflow, corporate banker and first-time author Bill Herrington tells about the lives, businesses, and entire cities that were temporarily reversed and permanently altered by the storm – and of the unforgettable humanitarian response that emerged in Houston, Texas. The book is packed with 70 photos and several endorsements from former mayors, senators, and other leaders who have rallied around his story. It is the winner of the 2017 IPPY bronze for Best Regional Nonfiction (South U.S.).

On this 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Bill tells us why and how he wrote the book.

Q: Bill, several books have been written about Hurricane Katrina. Why did you want to tell your particular story?

Yes, there are worthy books out there about Hurricane Katrina. But I knew that I had witnessed extraordinary leadership on a scale that most people will never see. I couldn’t get it out of my head – I kept mentioning to others that a book should be written about it. As I thought about my unique experience, I realized that I wanted to write the book myself.

Mostly, I felt strongly about paying tribute to people in both Louisiana and Texas who went far beyond any reasonable expectation of helping total strangers in need, people like Father Dan Lahart of Strake Jesuit and former mayor Bill White in Houston. I don’t want their efforts to be forgotten.

Bill (left) and his son, Chris (right), pose with Father Dan Lahart (middle) at Strake Jesuit in Houston, Texas.

In the Preface of the book, I go into more detail about the other reasons I wrote the book. One was telling about the impact of the storm on the entire community. Rich, poor, young, old, all skin colors, ethnicities, and religions – every economic and social sector of the community were all suddenly thrust into a new, non-exclusive class of people who were vulnerable in ways we had never even imagined.

Another reason was to recognize the social and educational institutions that served as temporary pillars in our life. I now realize the importance of educational resources in times of crisis, especially for disadvantaged youth.

In a way, I almost felt a sense of obligation to write the book.

Q: Our graphic designer, Jamie, collaborated with you to produce a beautiful cover. Tell us about the significance of your design.

I chose the title because readers who are familiar with the term “contraflow” will understand that it’s about a hurricane, and readers who are unfamiliar may be curious enough to find out more. I also included the map of New Orleans and Houston with Interstate 10 to immediately convey the important connections between the two cities.

Q: Your book touches on historical, social, and economic dynamics of New Orleans and Houston, but you also tell about the personal experiences of your family. Some of them are meaningful and intimate, like the first glance of your flooded home. And some are quite amusing, like the morning your wife insisted on driving back to New Orleans with you despite your protests. How does she and your family feel about the book?

author portrait
Bill and his wife, Frances

I’m glad to hear that you think parts of it were amusing. Frances and our children are happy that I recorded these events for history and for our family. We’re also relieved that it’s finished! Frances and I are very private people, and the book exposes us in ways that make us uncomfortable. But I wanted the reader to make a personal connection to our family and other real people who endured the storm so that the significance of the leadership witnessed was obvious and memorable. So even though the storm was such a catastrophic event, the book isn’t only about tragic loss. I tell the uplifting stories, the absurd circumstances, and yes, even the humorous events that occurred.

Q: How did you determine what to include and what not to include in the book?

When I started, I actually did not intend to write a complete book. I only wanted to record, as precisely as possible, certain key events. So, in terms of what I included, I initially only wanted to record several events for my family so that I wouldn’t forget them later in my life. But in writing the story, I realized that the only way I could convey the importance of these key events was to provide the history, timeline and context leading up to them.  So, the book is a collection of significant pre- and post-storm stories and the context around them that makes the sections relevant.

In terms of what I didn’t include, a number of tales did not make it into the final version because they were either too sad, or too controversial, or even risqué. In fact, Frances and I had a couple of disagreements in that regard.  In the end, though, I think we came to the right conclusions about the content.

Q: One of the most compelling parts for us was the “Lost Children of Katrina.” The difficult experiences of these children really impacted us. Why was it important for you to tell about them?

It’s hard to convey just how difficult this period was for families impacted by the storm.  As I explain in the book, even families with resources, like mine, experienced extreme difficulties. To this day, I’m still haunted by the memories and stories of other families who were not as fortunate as we were, especially in terms of avoiding a disruption in their children’s education. For this reason, Frances and I intend to dedicate more of our time, money and energy toward this cause, including any proceeds that may be generated from this book.

Q: How do you hope to make an impact with the book?List of institutions framed

I’d like Houstonians to have a sense of pride in what they accomplished . . . not a sense of regret that they got involved with helping after Katrina, which I sometimes hear.  And I’d be very happy if I generate some goodwill for some of the institutions that helped New Orleanians in their hour of need. I included a list of them on the last page of the book if readers want to contribute in some way.

Q: As a first-time author, what would you say has been the most surprising part of the writing and publishing process?

I had suppressed many painful memories from the storm. I learned that writing can be a very therapeutic exercise, however difficult it may be. I also learned that writing a book is a challenging undertaking, and I now have a much greater respect for authors.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about writing a book?Back cover

If you have a passion for a particular topic, pick up your pen and start writing. You will likely get discouraged along the way and maybe put down your pen for a while. But if you are thoughtful and patient, the end result is very satisfying.  Of course, a good editor is a critical piece as well!

Bill, we appreciate your hard work in paying tribute to some amazing leaders and institutions.

To find out more about Bill and his book, please check out the following:

Purchase the book

Share the press release

View photos from the book signing

Read the LinkedIn article

Ella7_croppedElla Ritchie is the founder/owner of Stellar Communications Houston, a business communications and book publishing team that delivers quality, integrity, and reliability to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook, or check out the website for more information.

David Ivester

David Ivester of Author Guide handles all media inquires for Contraflow. David is our author advocate, publicist, and marketing consultant.

A Simple Lesson from Obama’s Speechwriter

Courtesy of

It all comes down to one thing: emotion.

That’s what Cody Keenan told the Today show this morning. He said that communication comes down to simply creating emotion. And as President Obama’s speechwriter, he should know.

Keenan is the one who stirred laughter in the 2009 White House Correspondents’ Dinner remarks — and then stirred sobering respect in Ted Kennedy’s eulogy. He was the one who called for national unity in Tucson in 2011 when Gabby Giffords was shot.

And he is the one who stayed up this morning until the wee hours, putting the finishing touches on the State of the Union address that Obama will deliver tonight. Keenan has been applauded for creating the right emotion for each circumstance, and he’s worked hard with Obama in hopes that they’ve created it again for the nation.

So what does this mean for business leaders?

As you face 2016, consider the primary emotion that you want to inspire in your people. Peace, security, clarity, gratitude . . . . Think about the one thing they need most from you this year.

With this emotion in mind, rethink the ways you communicate in your personal and professional life. What’s working? What can be changed to create this emotion?

Here are just a few ways you can change your communication to inspire change in others:

  • Create peace by boldly talking about the elephant in the room, forming and documenting a resolution plan, and regularly checking progress.
  • Create security by keeping promises, regularly updating clients on projects, accepting ultimate accountability, and requesting online endorsements to prove your track record.
  • Create clarity by forming a mission statement, writing clear job descriptions and expectations, posting answers to FAQs, and providing a clear plan of action.
  • Create gratitude by steadily expressing appreciation for others in every situation.

When you focus on emotion, every form of communication becomes an opportunity to motivate and inspire others.

What emotion will drive your communication in 2016?

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based publishing company that delivers quality editing, writing, and publishing services on time to nonfiction authors, business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

Leverage Your Executive Biography

shoesHave you heard that women base their first impression of a man on his shoes? I didn’t believe it until the first time I caught myself glancing at the shoes of a speaker. He was articulate and well-dressed, and I was curious if his shoes were as polished as the rest of him. (They were.)

Your biography is the proverbial shoes of your brand. It is the fine detail that prospective clients use to gauge the quality and personality of your organization. This is why so many executives invest in a professional writer. A writer weaves your experiences, strengths, recognitions, client testimonials, and more into a tight selling package. And when prospects glance at your story, they’ll notice polish in the details.

But communicating quality isn’t the only benefit to a well-crafted biography. The best part is the incredible opportunity to leverage your investment. Just a handful of nips and tucks can adjust your biography into many different formats and purposes that all tie together. Here are some ways you can use your executive summary with a few tweaks:

  • website biography page
  • print materials
  • boilerplates at the bottom of online or print publications
  • personal or corporate LinkedIn profiles
  • Facebook business page
  • introductions to speeches
  • media kit
  • email introductions
  • email announcements or ads
  • resume

Take a look at your biography. How can you leverage it to add value to your corporate materials?

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based editing and writing company that delivers quality content on time to business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. She is also the director of publishing at Chart House Press, which publishes and promotes books and business brands with purpose. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website for more information.

The Most Dangerous Leadership Myth


Scholar Warren Bennis once said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” Bennis’ insight is what made him a pioneer in the contemporary field of Leadership studies, and his truth still holds today.

An Unlikely Leader

The unlikely rise to leadership of an executive I admire proves Bennis’ theory. As a young man, he said, “I didn’t like my body — I felt ugly and fat — and had zero confidence. I didn’t have my first girlfriend until I was in college because I was too shy to approach anyone. Nobody knew who I was.”

He began to systematically challenge his beliefs and change his reality. He read the classics, became involved in his community, practiced speaking, surrounded himself with people he admired, and developed his faith. His desire to learn and grow was — and still is — insatiable. Today, he is an eloquent speaker and successful businessman who is well-loved by his family and employees. He has been made into a leader. And the best part is that he knows he always has room to improve. (He overcame his shyness around women, by the way, because he married this writer.)

Inner Circle Leaders

We can improve our capacity for great leadership of our companies, communities, and homes by surrounding ourselves with others who have paved the way before us. For example, my writing mentor, Tracey, is a shark with nearly 20 years of experience who has helped me handle my largest contracts and find reliable team members. And monthly meetings and quarterly business retreats with my business coach, Glenn Smith, has provided solid structure and accountability to my personal and professional vision. In fact, you’re invited to attend his upcoming May 21 seminar, which is perfect for you if you’re an executive or owner of a business for more than three years and have three or more employees. Industry leaders like Tracey and Glenn can help us pinpoint our blind spots and fill our personal and professional gaps.

Recommended Books

We can also reach beyond our community to learn from others through fantastic books. The top choices of my corporate friends include Good to Great, by Jim Collins, and Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, as well as the classics: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey) and How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie).

Professional Events

Seminars and speakers are other great resources for raising our leadership capacity. Check out Leadercast 2015 in Tomball, Texas, this Friday, May 8, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The leadership event, which is sponsored in part my friends at Duolos Wealth Management, has assembled speakers across industries, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, NFL MVP Peyton Manning, best-selling author Seth Godin, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, and more.

With the help of “inner circle” leaders, good books, and leadership events, we can bust through the myth — and raise our capacity for incredible leadership!

Ella Hearrean Ritchie is the owner of Stellar Communications, a Houston-based freelance editing and writing company for business leaders, publishers, nonprofit organizations, and federal government agencies. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website to find out more.

The Most Successful Failure in the World: Review

Published February 2015, Chart House Press.
Published February 2015, Chart House Press.

“To every lost entrepreneur and dreamer who is looking for a better way.”

This dedication says it all in Jeff Hastings’ new book, The Most Successful Failure in the World.

As a fellow entrepreneur and business owner with her own share of work-life struggles, it was a privilege to edit Jeff’s compelling tale of the rise, fall, and redemption of billionaire CEO Alex Moss. His character learns through tragedy to create a life and business of meaning, and anyone who has wrestled with the sacrifices of having a business and having a family knows that his struggles are relevant and his consequences are real.

Jeff is artful in his ability to step back and forth between the worlds of fiction and nonfiction: Each fast-faced chapter ends with a few pages of business learning and notes. One moment his writing teeters in drama; a moment later, it is planted solidly in a business conversation. But that is the unique perspective of his character, Alex Moss: He speaks from a dual perspective of failure — with its missed opportunities and relentless aftertaste — and success — both his rise and redemption.

But what really sets this book apart is the poignancy of it and its author. Jeff is an entrepreneur and business coach who bustles with frenetic energy and new ideas but who also, in quieter moments, reveals a thoughtful sadness. Sitting across from him at lunch last week, intensely punctuating my opinion about a plot twist with chopsticks, I was suddenly struck by realization that this story is more personal than I know. This man has experienced highs and lows like Alex Moss, and readers will wonder how much of Jeff’s own life parallels the life of his character.

The Most Successful Failure in the World is for everyone. Whether you or someone you know is starting a new venture or reevaluating life, riding the waves of success or standing in rubble, wanting to talk business or simply wanting to enjoy a good story — this book offers something for all of us.

To purchase an e-book for only $10 or to find information on signing and radio events, go to The Most Successful Failure in the World.

Ella Hearrean of Stellar Communications is a Houston-based freelance editor and writer for business leaders, organizations, and publishers. To learn more, connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her website.