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The Write Advantage

Dawn Zimmerman
The Write Advantage

Class of 2012

Dawn Zimmerman was chosen for her work as a business owner, as cofounder of Cloud Coworking and as a volunteer leader with a number of nonprofits.

What are you doing now?

I help organizations shape and share their stories in meaningful ways through The Write Advantage Inc. in St. Cloud. Uncovering the stories is always remarkable and identifying strategies to share them in effective and often measurable ways is rewarding. I also continue to carve out at least one-third of my time each week to volunteer.

How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?

I remember interviewing the first 5 Under 40 recipients and being inspired by the love they had for their community and the impact they were having. Being named among them is humbling and reminds me to continue to look for ways to do more good in this community.

Other big changes since you received the award?

My heart for this community continues to grow and challenge me to identify ways to serve more and build a community that is looked to as an example.

What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?

There are so many people working tirelessly on a variety of projects that will really enhance our region. I am most looking forward to the opening of the new St. Cloud Area Y Aquatics and Community Center and how it will serve as the front porch of the community.

2012 Interview

Originally ran: January 6, 2013

Dawn Zimmerman is unique in the history of the 5 Under 40 awards in that she is the only honoree who has been involved in writing and reporting about the winners. She worked for Times Media as business editor before launching her own communications company, The Write Advantage. She recently spearheaded the first coworking space in downtown St. Cloud. Cloud Coworking spans four floors and 12,000 square feet in the former Davidson Opera House — and her office is right in the middle of the action. She donates 20-30 percent of her professional time to area nonprofit organizations and has been involved in fundraising campaigns and ministry programs at Westwood Church.

What influential factor led you to your current career?

"As long as I can remember, I'd be driving down the road or sitting in the back seat and I'd see all these people and I'd think 'I wonder what their stories are?' I'd imagine sitting by them and hearing their story. Today, how I tell those stories might look a little different, but I still feel the same way about those people. I get to sit next to some of the most courageous and amazing businesspeople and listen to them share their stories and what they want them to be and help them shape and share that with a broader audience. For me, it's always been about the story.

Then we started Cloud Coworking because I just wanted to be around people on a daily basis — but not just any people. We picked complementary businesses that would make a lot of sense to have next to me. It started with a Web programmer and a graphic designer. Those were very much related to what I do at The Write Advantage. So, I asked the first three people to come in and from there it just grew. And I found the businesses I can learn something from and be connected to are so much broader than I thought. I can get value and give value back to everyone in this facility, and it may not be what you think. It really is about networking and being able to not always think about yourself."

What's the best part of your work day?

"The best part of my day is being able to sit and listen to a business leader try to articulate and share their story and for me to be able to see it and express it in a way that for the first time really made sense to them and that they felt really good about it. I don't do anything that is crazy different from the world. I just try to think of things differently and think about people first. I talk less about 'What do you do?' and more about 'How do you make an impact? What do you want your value to be?' ...When you can get to the value and the impact, that's when it really resonates with other people."

What is your most important extra-curricular activity and why?

"What I'm most passionate about is this community and making it better. I didn't grow up here. I got recruited and transplanted here. But we realized soon after that this was a place we wanted to call home and raise a family. So, for me, it's not one cause. One cause doesn't make this community better. It's a variety of them and people who come together with vision to make a difference and take the time to do it. What drives me is my ability to get involved in something and actually see the impact. It's not that you can't do that in larger communities, but it's much more difficult. And there's a sense of community and ownership and responsibility about making it a good place to live by many people that I really appreciate."

How do you continue to learn new skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your business?

"I have never been comfortable when things don't change. So, you get really comfortable with the idea of change and embrace it so, when it's not happening, you feel uncomfortable. We live in a different world today than we lived in 10 or 20 years ago. The growth of information is exponential ... I want to challenge myself every day to keep learning and take on projects and ideas that constantly challenge me. I also surround myself with people who are going to teach me. I don't have a traditional team today, with employees, but I have a lot of great people around me. It's like that with clients and it's like that at Cloud Coworking. I try to say, 'What am I going to do today that I didn't do yesterday?' Those small steps make a big difference ... As a child, my parents always encouraged us to push the envelope. So that's probably part of what got me to think this way, but I also started in a career that was changing. I've never really known anything except for change. I love it when things are different. And change makes things better."

How do you see the greater St. Cloud area in 20 years and what would be your role in it?

"I think in many ways this community is going to look nothing like it does in 20 years. I think it will have all of the same values, but it will be so much more vibrant than it is today. Twenty years is a long time, and there's so much you can do in one year, three years, five years ... For me, success is not about building a large business with a lot of employees. It's about making an impact. I don't know what that's going to look like, but I know I will take an untraditional path. "

Age: 32.

Family: Husband, Ryan; They have a 4-year-old daughter and an 18-month-old son.

Education: University of St. Thomas.

FYI: She is a member of the YMCA board and is helping lead the fundraising for a new aquatics and community center in St. Cloud. Zimmerman also serves on the board at Anna Marie's Alliance and chairs its membership committee. She has been a board member of the Brian Klinefelter Foundation since 2007. She also leads Social Media Dialogue, a group that helps small businesses and nonprofits develop a social media strategy.

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