A Conversation With Dani Reyes-Acosta, Brand Strategist, Athlete, And Educator
On accountability tools, breaking down her income, and living a simpler life
Dani Reyes-Acosta is the founder of Nomad Creativa, a writer for multiple outdoor publications, a Protect Our Winters and Outdoor Research athlete, and an all-around admirable human. She left her marketing job at Nike in 2014, traveled around South America with friends piled in her car, and then launched her own business in what she calls Better World Strategy—her life’s calling to make the world a better place.
Dani and I are social media pals, and I learn so much from her about social and environmental advocacy, being a good steward and ancestor, and keeping the stoke alive. For Honing Her Craft’s first edition, we discussed time blocking and discipline, her favorite accountability tools, a breakdown of her income as a self-employed strategist, her desire to learn more about living simply, and the anti-zombie trifecta.
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Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Danielle Catalina Reyes-Acosta. But the world just knows me as Dani Reyes-Acosta. I am a strategist, educator, athlete, and advocate.
My work seeks to democratize human connection. As a brand, digital, and content strategist for more than 10 years now, my background in change management, design thinking, and culture building means that I help organizations large and small connect with the next generation. Since we live in a capitalist economy, I try to think about how we make change and help everybody be a part of creating a better world. We can create impact in the choices we make every single day as consumers and as citizens.
You share often about intersectionality. How do your different identities come together in your work?
I am multiracial and there’s a lot of code-switching in my analog life. Part of that is tied directly to the fact that I travel through rural or remote America and don’t have large affinity communities outside of the online space. I am often one of just a few women of color who speaks openly about diversity and social upheaval in the adventure communities where I spend time. Code-switching makes this possible.
I pick the people who I spend time with very carefully. We have to think about how we guard our energy when the work that we’re doing is directly tied to our emotional well-being and mental health. Where am I giving my energy?
Ultimately, all these identities are tied because I am one person. If I’m going into a situation where I don’t know what to expect, whether it’s work or adventure, I really want to have a trusted crew with me. I’ve also sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly embraced the fact that if I’m going to seek fulfilling work, I must also be willing to accept every aspect of myself. And part of that is accepting the vulnerability in that sphere.
(Dani lives part of the year in her converted cargo van. Photo by Kaya Lindsay.)
You have a blog post called Manage Your Time, Own Your Day. Tell me more about how time blocking helps you manage your schedule.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. I don’t block every single day, all day. But each day, week, and month gets a little better. What I’ve been enjoying this summer is not accepting meetings on Mondays. I try to only do meetings two days a week. With time management, there are guidelines to remind us of the things we can be doing better. But when we hold ourselves to a set standard of doing the same thing all the time, particularly if you are self-employed, it's easy to beat ourselves up for not adhering to our own personal rules.
Calendly is a tool that has changed my life. I just make sure my Google calendar is up to date and block out days that I want to reserve for creativity or restoral. If I’m going on a big bike ride or hike or run or climb, I block that out. Then people have to schedule around it. That does two things. A, it sets my own personal boundaries and gives me back power over my day. B, I save myself a ton of time by not having to email back and forth five times about when to meet. All I say is, "Here’s my life scheduling link. Please find something that works." Boom, done. A typical day can be a creative day, a meeting day, or an active day. Regardless of plans, I try to play somehow every day. Obviously sometimes I plan a bigger play day than others. Sometimes I do nothing and I just hang around and stretch and pull weeds out of the ground. Sometimes it’s a self care day. It also changes seasonally. This is my second summer working with my partner on his property to develop a little homestead. In the winter, I’m skiing as much as possible.
Read (and listen to) Dani’s work:
Manage Your Time, Own Your Day (referenced blog post)
Patria: A Story of Heritage, Climbing, and Finding Self (a fundraising art-activism project for Bears Ears)
Video: Why LNT? (panel speaker for the Joshua Tree National Park Association)
Where did you learn to be good at discipline and time management?
I grew up playing classical piano. My parents had a rule that we practice every day for an hour or two. They were always building in some form of structure and expectation around homework and piano. Culturally, my parents instilled in us that we would have to work really, really hard. This is just a reality for people—especially women—of color. So I built upon those skills, refining them through the years. In high school and college, I played sports. And I put myself through college. I went to the University of California, Santa Barbara and while everyone else was partying, I told myself I had to study first. Of course, I also wanted to have fun, but since I was paying for school, skipping classes or flunking out just wasn't an option. Discipline empowered smart financial decisions.
As a self-employed person, I've become more effective at managing my time by wasting lots of it—and eventually holding myself accountable. Toggl and Rescue Time are my accountability tools. Tracking time has really made me take a hard look at how much time I’m spending on social media or watching TV or whatever. There’s a downside to looking at every hour as a billable hour, but the way I prefer to think about it is every second we have here is valuable. Time is a finite resource and if I’m not working, I could be playing, living, or doing something other than thinking about the things I’m not doing.
(Dani working remotely as a strategist in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Photo by Casa Kei.)
What makes up your income?
Every for-profit corporation that creates consumer goods has what we call product tiering. It enables organizations to sell their product to different consumers at different price points while still fulfilling their brand promise. For me, product tiering supports economic resilience and diversifies my client offerings. It also allows me to play in different spaces of my brain and explore different types of work.
Imagine a triangle. At the top, we have the pinnacle service—the most time intensive, high-touch offering. Going towards the base of the triangle, my offerings are less time-intensive—and more accessible—but still support the same mission.
The way I make my money is through four different types of services.
At the top is brand, digital, and content strategy consulting. A company will bring me on in some sort of long term fashion—six months to a year. It’s maybe on a retainer or a project I put a bid on. For example, I help them get their campaign or program off the ground.
The next down on the pyramid is deliverable-driven work, which can take between one week and three months. That’s a very specific thing as it relates to brand, digital, or content strategy.
Next down are workshops and training. I lean into the educational space to package my expertise in a way that’s accessible for organizations that can’t engage me on a broader level. I also do a little bit of online coaching, which forms a very small part of the business. I’m really looking to do more workshops and group engagements.
At the base lives freelance writing and adventure storytelling as a mountain athlete.
The mission of this work is to connect the next generation to themselves and the outdoors. I want to help people find their best self and create a better world.
Visit Dani’s website to learn more about her work as a strategist.
How have you become comfortable setting rates, especially with big companies that you know have money?
I started by looking at different formulas that recruiters have put out into the world. Aquent, 24 Seven, and Robert Half Creative are a few. They put out salary guides every year. My personal favorite is Creative Circle. I do market research to find out what others in my industry are getting. I look at my years of experience and the portfolio I've built, and I run the numbers on how much I should be asking for.
Also: I have one consulting rate for companies with more than five employees and a different consulting rate for companies with fewer than five employees. If I’m hired in-house, I try not to ever sell myself short, but I do try and give a little bit of a break to nonprofits, BIPOC and veteran-owned small businesses, and rural communities.
(A video of Dani and her friend, Kaya Lindsay, climbing Castleton Tower in Utah in 2018)
What do you do when you’re not staring at a screen? Do you find inspiration there?
I love mountains, rocks, and the ocean. I love splitboarding, trad climbing, and trail running. I like standing on top of mountains just as much as I love cooking a big meal for people who have gathered. I love writing, reading, and walking. I also love chilling when I can.
As much as inspiration can be drawn from outside or being in those spaces, I’m learning to allow myself to enjoy the space between big adventures. Leaning into the silence or leaning into the lack of busyness creates inspiration. I don’t actually get inspired by going on a big rock climb, but I do get inspired by the walk to the rock climb. It gives me that space to breathe and work through things, whether that’s fear and anxiety or hope and creativity. It’s the space between.
What’s something you want to learn more about?
I’m thinking about politics. I’m thinking about traditional ways of living. I’m thinking about how you let go of anxiety and frustration. I guess I want to know, how do I just go back to simplicity? There is no simple answer for it. I would really like to keep learning about simplicity and how people define it. By seeing how others are living or conducting themselves in a way that’s simpler and more trimmed down has been quite enlightening.
As far as technical skills, I would really like to learn how to ice climb. That’ll be a little bit of what I get into this winter. I call it the trifecta: ski mountaineering, rock climbing, and ice climbing. It’s the anti-zombie trifecta. If you can do all of those things when the zombies take over the world, you’ll probably never get eaten.
How do you hope people see your work?
I hope my work in all its forms empowers people to know that they can make a difference, whether that means in how they allocate their corporate budget or how they spend their leisure time. This story of empowerment tells us that no matter who we are or where we come from, we have the ability to create the world we want.
Is there someone you want to see featured next? Nominate her.
Before you go…
Design books by womxn and people of color (compiled by Yuan Wang)
How and where to find pitch-worthy story ideas (The Freelancer’s Year)
Thanks for reading Honing Her Craft! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.