Mon, 22 May 2017
If you find yourself answering the same questions over and over (and getting super excited about answering those questions!) maybe you need to think about adding a teaching element to your business. That's what today's guest did, and we learned a ton from her!
On the Podcast
00:30 - Meet Alice + Our Surprise Co-Host
Meet Alice + Our Surprise Co-Host
Beth Anne: I’m so excited to welcome Alice Turner of Your Doula Bag.com. She’s a birth doula, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and an online business owner which is SO cool. She has over 10 years of experience working as a doula and has translated that into having a successful e-commerce store as well as selling online courses. She’s a mom of 4 kids and has a supportive husband, too. Welcome to the show, Alice!
Beth Anne: And I forgot to let everyone know, this is an extra special interview because Victoria from our team is also here! Welcome!
Victoria: Yeah, thank you! I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag too early. A lot of you may know I’m also a doula as well, and I’m a customer of Alice’s business. It’s a fun connection. Hopefully, it’ll be helpful for the interview.
(Also, if you’re a keen listener, you might notice that part of our conversation got cut out at this point. Due to some tech issues, we lost part of Alice’s interview. Technology works until it doesn’t, am I right?)
Beth Anne: I love that! Victoria, do you want to jump in with a question?
Stocking an Ecommerce Store
Victoria: Alice, I would like to ask you about your e-commerce store. I want to talk about that before your online courses. One thing I’d love to know is how do you choose what you’d like to stock in your store. How do you choose which products to keep? I imagine it’s a bit different than keeping a brick and mortar storefront.
Alice: It’s definitely different! The store has been around since 2009. I really started out with just practical tools, thinking doulas mostly wanted tools for their bag. But it seems that doulas are also interested in more fun products! So I started to add fun things like tee shirts, buttons, and stickers.
It’s been a balance to know what to stock but I get some ideas when I go to a conference. I might attend a doula or childbirth education conferences, have different products on the table, and see what draws people’s attention and what they get excited about. From there I can change what I’m offering online to match the needs of my customers.
Sometimes I get emails asking why I don’t carry a certain product. Or they’ll say something like, “I can buy everything I need except one thing, can you start carrying that?” That’s easy!
It’s always fun to see what’s lacking and where I can make up.
Victoria: I do have a followup question, but first I want to say going to conferences is a good strategy. Attending conferences is a great idea for people who might be struggling to work online, wishing they had an in-person connection. Set up a booth and see what people gravitate toward on your table!
My follow-up question is this: do you have tools to manage your inventory? Do you use online tools? A spreadsheet?
Alice: My store is on the Shopify platform. It’s pretty easy to manage inventory that way. I use their built-in tools to keep an eye on it. It’s still a bit challenging, trying to balance between selling products and teaching. I thought these two arms of my business would be more alike, but they are actually very different. I thought there’d be a lot of back and forth between my customers, and that the same person who bought a T-shirt would want also want to buy a course, but it’s not the case. That has been a surprise to me!
Figuring Out Order Fulfilment
Beth Anne: My online store is also on Shopify. I love it! It’s so easy to set up.
And I do want to touch on the point about your customers being different in a moment, but I’m curious about one thing first. Do you stock everything out of your home and fulfill orders yourself? Or is there another system you’re using?
Alice: That’s a great question, and it’s changed along the way. Starting off I was all on my own with a closet full of inventory. But as the business grew with more orders, I contracted out shipping to someone in my neighborhood actually. They had all my inventory and did the shipping for me, I just passed the orders through. That arrangement worked out well until she was unable to continue doing it late last year. It’s back to me and it’s pretty challenging.
I haven’t formally announced this yet, but I will be looking for a buyer for the products part of my business sometime this year. It’s a new development, but I’ve found that there isn’t as much overlap as I thought between my customers. I think it might be time to formally separate the two businesses.
Beth Anne: Very interesting! I think it makes sense. At some point, you can spread yourself too thin, and you want to dig deep into one branch of your business instead.
Alice: Yeah, exactly. It is a time for growth, but also sad to a point. I do love the product aspect of my business but if I really want to focus on helping doulas run their businesses, I should spend more of my time there, which is my company mission. It’s all in the works.
Victoria: So our BBM ladies can follow you and keep out an eye for your all-call for a buyer! Awesome.
Rebranding & When Your Business Has Two Customer Groups
And as you were just saying, the customers of your courses and products are different; can you talk a little more about that? How did you notice? Do you have ways of talking specifically to one group and then the other? How do you manage to talk to two separate people in your business?
Alice: Yes, that’s been challenging and fun to figure out. I would say I try to do blog posts and videos about the business side. And we’ll do sales and share about that on Instagram on more of a product side since that really lends itself to pictures. But when I write blog posts or make videos, it’s not really about a product or how to use a product; it’s more about the business, like how to set up an electronic contract, for example.
Beth Anne: We’ve certainly found the same thing to be true here. Victoria runs our planner Instagram account, but when it comes to selling business courses that’s where I use webinars and videos to teach and sell.
Alice: That’s awesome!
Beth Anne: So I know you’re rebranding, going from Your Doula Bag to 100% Doula. The whole idea of rebranding seems overwhelming and scary to me. All sorts of stressful things! I’d love to hear more from you about what that looks like. What are the steps you’ve gone through?
Alice: It is very daunting. And it has taken a while for me to come to the decision to break out of the product-side of my business. I found that when I started offering different types of things like products, classes, and webinars, it was confusing to my customer.
For example, they’d say, “Don’t you sell those backpacks I love?” and I’d respond, “I do! And I also sell courses to help you grow your business.” It just wasn’t consistent.
Especially keeping the name Your Doula Bag felt more like a product-based business to me. 100% Doula was a name that had more flexibility and is more of an umbrella over all my products and services. But getting the word out has been a slow trickle. Instagram made it easy to change my name, and Twitter was super easy to rebrand. No one actually said anything after I changed those two platforms! Facebook is much harder to change, and more of an involved process. I’m not completely there with educating all my customers. A lot of people still know me as Your Doula Bag.
I have even had some customers seem sad that I was changing my business name! That’s been interesting to handle, too.
From Service-Based Business to Teaching Others
Beth Anne: I love, Alice, how you took your service-based business, which you still do, and turned it into an online business course. You have an awesome online business course for doulas, and you still practice as a doula. A lot of women out there have a fabulous skill they could teach on, but would be nervous to turn that skill set into a course. What advice would you give that woman? How did you move to that online business space?
Alice: I love being a doula. I love talking about the work, reading about it, and thinking about it. It just really gets me excited. I keep talking about attending conferences, and even though there aren’t that many, the ones I’ve attended have had a big impact on my business decisions.
When I would go to a conference and talk informally with people, I found that I was answering a lot of questions. Maybe a doula would say, “I’m trying to balance childcare and being a doula.” I could say, “That was hard for me too, but I figured it out this way.” Or I might be answering a question about how I use Twitter to grow my business.
I realized I didn’t know anyone who is out there talking about running a business as a doula, or selling products to doulas. Maybe that was something I can do. There was a gap in the offerings, and maybe I could fill it. Since then, definitely, other companies are filling that gap, which is exciting. But after I found that I was answering a lot of questions, I thought I could be the one to give information. I’m thinking about someone who might be on the fence about their business, but finds themselves often to be the person in a group answering everyone’s questions; it only makes sense that they would be a great person to teach and help others.
I’m still doing the work of a doula because it really is what I love. Some of my customers see a picture on Instagram of where I’m at a hospital at a birth and will write back surprised that I’m still working as a doula. Of course, I’m still a doula! I don’t want to give that up because I have other stuff going on. It’s a job I can learn from. And if I’m teaching about it, I think it’s important to stay relevant.
Victoria: I have two thoughts. 1) I think it’s great you noticed you were getting the same questions a lot and thought you could be the one to answer it. That’s the spark of an entrepreneur! You’ve got a problem? I’ve got the solution. Hopefully, that’s inspiring to others. You also don’t seem to have a scarcity mindset, which is really refreshing.
How Do You Run Two Businesses At Once!?
And 2) Could you talk a bit more about practicing as a doula while running a separate business? I know a lot of our ladies have many interests and sometimes you can feel crazy pursuing two things at one. How do you keep those two businesses separate? Or does it feel like one in the same?
Alice: Well in my case, the businesses are certainly connected. In my doula service business, I have the luxury of having a lot of repeat clients. Many of my clients go on to have other babies, so I’m able to slack off a bit in the marketing side of my personal doula business and spend the marketing energy on my other online programs. I feel lucky I’m able to get enough clients just by referrals from prior clients and repeat clients.
Victoria: One business can coast, and one is more in hustle mode.
Alice: Exactly. I am trying to teach more childbirth classes, and I’m working with a new group we formed of Lamaze educators here in Atlanta. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time as I want to devote to that, but I try to make peace with that in my head that I at least keep myself in the game, but not having to spend tons of energy on growing that particular business.
Growing An Audience for Your Online Course
Beth Anne: Okay, so this is what I see a lot of women maybe struggling with. You had essentially your service-based business on autopilot thanks to an awesome referral network, but then you go online. Maybe a mom is wondering how she’ll get those first customers for her online course?
I know you have some conference connections. Was it word of mouth to get those first students in the door? Or were there other marketing strategies that helped you grow?
Alice: I think what helped with getting the course started and growing it is that I was already doing a fair amount of regular blogging and videos. I would do videos on topics related to growing a doula business, and as my email list was growing I could send them new info about what I was doing. Because the course is video based, that helped since people already knew my style from my YouTube video and could assume a course would be similar.
Before I launched the course, I was doing a few Google Live Hangouts to talk business. That helped get the word out about what I did and what I was talking about.
And, of course, social media. I tried to post about the same topics I would be teaching in the courses.
Victoria: I think it’s so great to see solid marketing strategies as a base. If you have a good base, you can turn it to whatever direction your business needs to go.
Leveraging Video Marketing
We were just talking about social media marketing and using videos and you definitely do a lot of that. And I'm a fan! Why did you start using video? What makes a good video? How do you know what makes a good video?
Alice: I love using video! When I was hearing your question I was thinking how I got started. I can’t remember what exactly forced me to turn on the camera back then, but I really love learning from video. And I just know that YouTube is so easy. When I started, Facebook Live wasn’t available, but just the fact that you can turn on a camera and reach people easily is so cool.
And blogging isn’t my favorite. I hire out people to help me write. I don’t really love just sitting down and writing; I would much rather have a conversation about the topic. If I could sit down to coffee with someone and tell them how to get clients, I would love that! But if I had to write a paper on it, I’d hate it!
So I did YouTube videos pretty regularly. And this year I’ve done more Facebook Live. They’re both good, but a bit different. The live component is really fun. I don’t mind winging it when I'm talking about a subject I love.
Victoria: With using YouTube, were you always cognisant about SEO and tagging and keywords? Or did you not worry about it?
Alice: No, I did try to get the description right, with a link back to my website. I do put thought into that. But usually, my ideas for YouTube come thinking about what I should blog about.
Alice’s Embarrassing Mom Moment
Beth Anne: Alice thank you so much for chatting with us today! It’s been really fun seeing how you’ve mastered so many different areas of business. You’re really rocking and rolling, and I know it’ll inspire other moms to get clients or students.
As we wrap up, we always ask our guests to share a funny or adorable mom moment.
Alice: I do have a funny moment, but I don’t look like the best mom in it. I was having a particularly busy day. I was probably packing up boxes, sitting in the shipping area of my house and trying to get stuff done after dinner. I was tired and busy, you get it. So my oldest daughter, who’s in high school, started telling me about something at school and I was getting frustrated with her because she was slowing me down. I didn’t say it, but inside I was thinking, “Can you just go do your homework?” I asked her why she needed me. And she said, “I’m writing a speech about why you should have a doula and I wanted to interview you.” So I don’t know if that’s a funny moment, but I felt bad and laughed at the same time. And I told her I was so sorry to be getting frustrated with her when there she was wanting to write a speech about me.
Beth Anne: I think that’s the epitome of being a business mom. You’re always feeling busy and overwhelmed, and it can be hard to always stop and be attentive to what our kids need. But our kids are always watching and viewing us as these role models even when we don’t feel like we’re being a role model.
Alice: The good news is she made a very good grade on her speech and was very knowledgeable!
Doula Labor Tips for Beth Anne
Victoria: I’m throwing in a fun question. We know Beth Anne is expecting at the time of recording, so I’d love to hear a fun pregnancy or labor tip for her.
Alice: What baby is this?
Beth Anne: This will be my first birth. We have one son, Holden, and we adopted him. This is my first pregnancy and will be my first birth.
Alice: Oh, exciting! Victoria, I can only give one!? Okay. If I could tell all pregnant women one thing, it would be to move around in labor - it’s so much better. A lot of people think (and pictures often show) women in labor should be in hospital beds. And certainly there’s a time for that, and if you’re doing an epidural, of course, you need to be in bed. But before your epidural, or if you’re not having one, move around! A lot of women don’t know they can. And a lot of nurses don’t know to tell their patients that they can!
Beth Anne: And here’s my “plan” for now: To stay home as long as I can. Move around a ton at home. Try everything possible. Then when I can’t stand it anymore we’ll go to the hospital and I want an epidural right away.
Alice: Yeah! That’s a really good plan. Laboring at home is wonderful.
Victoria: You can even move with an epidural using a peanut ball, rotating hips. And sometimes you can move a lot with an epidural depending on how strong it is. Even when you get there, keep gravity working in your favor.
Beth Anne: Yes! That’s true. I’m already so impatient. I have 4-6 weeks before he’ll be here, but I’m so ready now.
Alice: It is so hard! Those last few days are hard and can be long. I love that you said 4-6 weeks. You’ve got the range.
Beth Anne: I’m trying to be realistic.
Alice: Best of luck! That’s very exciting.
Beth Anne: Thank you! Thanks for talking with us. I love your business model and all the ways you’re using your skills and talents and passions.
Connect with Alice
Now it’s your turn to head out there and Be Brilliant!
Mon, 15 May 2017
This is going to be a solo episode with me, your host Beth Anne Schwamberger. I’m going to be talking all about finding and leading a great team in your business.
This is a question I get all the time: How did you find your team? The ladies who work for you are so awesome, how do I find these people for my business!? And what do you do once you find them? How do I get these awesome VAs to stick around?
Those are exactly the topics I’m going to dig into during in this episode.
On the Podcast
4:43 - Finding A Great Team
I want to start with a caveat: I don’t want this at all to sound like I’m tooting my own horn. I’m not this totally amazing, flawless boss. I have lots of room for improvement in terms of being a leader, and the boss of a few employees. I’m constantly messing up - and also learning! - and having to say sorry. I constantly need to get feedback, and ask how I can make my business an even better place to work. I’m just one, humble mamapreneur sharing what I have learned so far. I’m sure that a year from now, or 5 years from now I’ll have loads more to share.
Many of you are in the beginning stages of hiring help for your business, and some of you are seriously just thinking about it. But I know you’ll absolutely relate to my 1-year experience having a team and leading a team. Keep in mind I’m just a few steps ahead!
I also want to point out this is the very first episode I’m recording since Baby Levi has been born! I’ve been taking a nice, long break from work - honestly barely checking in, which has been fabulous. I plan to keep things pretty minimum for a few more months. Bear with me during this episode, as I’m a little out of practice and not getting as much sleep as I used to! Hopefully it’ll be fun to hear from me, knowing I’m thinking about you all and missing you all. I’m excited for jumping back in during a few months.
Finding A Great Team
The first step of this formula is finding your awesome team members. I’ll just share quickly my experiences finding a great team.
And to quickly clarify, when I say ‘team’ I mean:
These are the three ladies who work in the business every single week. Beyond these 3, there are several independent contractors who work for me. Contractors like Sarah Heddins who edits our podcast, Hadassah Stoll who does most of my graphic design work, and Lydia Kitts who does all my InDesign stuff and planner formatting. These are people highly skilled in a particular area who I hire to do specific tasks and jobs. Our independent contractors do those same jobs for a lot of other people as well.
For Ellen, Carlee, and Victoria, I’m their main squeeze. Some of them work with other clients here and there, but BBM is the main thing that they do week in and week out. They feel like Brilliant Business Moms is where they work. Their roles change and morph, they are constantly learning new skills and have new tasks and get to work independently.
There’s a difference between someone who does specific tasks working for many clients, and someone who does many tasks for a specific client.
All this to say, our independent contractors are just as amazing and awesome, too!
Finding my team really happened gradually. In all cases, I hired each of these ladies through word-of-mouth referrals and personal reference. The Brilliant Business Moms private Facebook group was (and continues to be) a place where I find help for my business. My sister and I started that group a few years ago when we were teeny tiny, and over the years I’ve grown to know a lot of the women in the community. Over time, some ladies in the group would post that they’re looking for some VA (Virtual Assistant) work, and post the skill sets they had.
What I Look For
So what are some qualities I look for when I hire someone on my ream? It’s someone working every single week, and they’re invested. I want my team to feel like they’re part of something, not just punching a time clock.
1) Hire for Character
The difference between hiring someone like a podcast editor means that I’m hiring for a particular skill: sound recording. That’s not necessarily something everyone can do, so I really want to make sure I get the person with those skills.
But for example, someone who’s going to be in my inbox every day doing customer service, in that case it’s not necessarily the skill I’m after, it’s what that person is like. It’s much more about their personality, than an easily teachable skill.
I want to work with someone who I can build a strong relationship with, and feel like I can really trust them.
At this point, I can usually throw out a new idea to my team and trust that either Carlee, Ellen, or Victoria will take it and run with it!
You can teach people skills over time! All the ladies on my team, at one point or another, they’ve taken courses to teach them new skills. Those are the things I’m happy to spend money to allow them to take a course and expand their knowledge, because I know they’re smart and motivated they’ll help BBM do great things.
2) Hire People Who Believe In Your Mission
The mission of Brilliant Business Moms is to help women make money doing what they love. It helps that all the ladies on our team are brilliant business moms themselves! They get what BBM is about. They get all of you.
There are tough days, for sure, but I know these women are in it for the long haul. They’re not going to take a tough day out on any one of you or anything! Because they’re so passionate about the mission, and they know we’re all in it together.
3) Hire People Different From You (Like Really Different!)
If you can, hire people with different personalities and different skill sets, than you. I know a lot of you have interacted with Ellen, Carlee, and Victoria quite a bit. They all have different personalities, and skill sets! That’s incredibly helpful.
When you think about hiring help, you want to hire people to do the stuff you’re not good at. You want that person to be quicker than you at certain tasks. You do not want a Mini You.
Here’s the thing about a Mini You. A Mini You is going to annoy you like crazy. A Mini You probably wants to also have their own business and call all the shots, and not necessarily work on a team!
I think about my personality and I really don’t like working for other people. I really, really feel strongly and passionately about being my own boss. So if I hired a bunch of Mini Me’s, it wouldn’t bode well for building a team! They wouldn’t want to work for me long term, and wouldn’t enjoy it.
Find people who are really different from you, but you know they’re solid. Know this is someone I can trust, has similar values as me, is a fabulous work ethic, is a great problem solver, and someone who’s really smart. That’s what I look for.
4) Remember: You Get What You Pay For
I do not recommend that you go to Upwork.com and find the cheapest person you can. It won’t work well long term! Consider the long-term vision you have for your business, and maximize your business growth for the long run. That’s way more important than the bottom line.
If you want someone to do cheap, shoddy, inconsistent work. Go ahead and find that person who will do the work for $3 an hour.
But if you want your business to be successful for the long term, including building a solid team, you really need to fork over a little bit more per hour.
I’ve heard from quite a lot of other bloggers and online business owners who have gone through a bunch of VAs in the past that they tend to struggle with finding quality people who stick around and who nail the projects and tasks. The common thread I tend to see is they’re not paying their employees enough. Of course if you’re not paying your employees what they’re worth, they’re going to look for work elsewhere! If you don’t create an environment in which they’re fulfilled, they’re going to look for work somewhere else.
You might not be shelling out big bucks right away, but you need to have that long-term view.
I tell my team all the time I wish I could pay them more! I do give raises and bonuses when I can. I want them to know how much I value them and how amazing they are. I want them to know that long term I don’t plan to keep them at whatever hourly rate they came to BBM with. I want to slowly raise those rates over time. When we do a big launch and it goes well, I want to give them all bonuses to thank them for hustling hard. (The same is true at Christmas! They got bonuses and gift cards. Just find those ways to value your employees wherever you can.)
How To Lead Your Team
Now we’ll assume you’ve found your team and talk more about leading your team.
The first tip I have is: take the time to give praise. And I don’t mean praise in between feedback and critiques. You want your praise to stand on its own. Go out of your way to send an email to say they’re doing an amazing job. Or, that they went out of their way to solve a problem creatively. Let that praise stand on its own.
And make sure your praise is genuine! I never want to give a disingenuous compliment. I want to be 100% honest and transparent with my team members. With that, they know if something needs improvement. They know if something got missed, and I want to make sure it doesn’t get missed the next time. I’m 100% honest and upfront with feedback and when things need tweaking. I don’t apologize at all for being picky! I have a strong vision for BBM and how I want it to look, how I want it written, and how I want it communicated. That’s my job! I’m the CEO. I have to have a clear vision. But with that, I know my employees can’t read my mind. That’s a big mistake I see new bosses make. They have a strong, clear vision, and assume everyone on their team has the same strong vision.
That’s not true! You’re the leader. It’s your job to be an effective communicator and convey that vision to your team. Never expect people to read your mind. Always expect the new project or task will take a bit of back and forth.
I’m never, ever frustrated that we may have to go through 5 rounds of revisions before it’s what I wanted. For me it’s part of the job. It’s how things go. I want you to have those expectations for whoever you hire. It’s gonna take multiple rounds of revisions. Especially when your employees are new. Never, ever be irritated if it takes a while to get your vision.
Communicating With A Remote Team Hack
One trick that I’ve found helpful to communicate as clearly as I can is to do screencast videos for my team. One of the benefits of having a team that works remotely is we each get to work on our own time and schedule. But it’s also harder! I can’t walk down the hallway to Victoria to give her my real-time feedback. Scheduling a Google Hangout (especially for projects with quick turnarounds) isn’t always going to work when we’re figuring out 4 time zones.
What works well for us is to do screencast recordings.
So, if Ellen and Carlee are doing a landing page, I’ll make a video and go point-by-point through all the changes I’d like to make: this image here is too small, change this color, edit this content. I nitpick the heck out of those landing pages! I’d be super confusing to type all of that feedback in an email, right?
The screencasts can also be useful to teach your employees something new. For example, when Victoria took over the podcast I used screencast video to show her all the steps she needed to do to get an episode up: how to upload to libsyn, and use this other piece of software to tag the file. Get yourself some sort of screencast software (like LiteCamHD, Camtasia, or Screencast-O-Matic.)
When I first started the videos I wondered if I was being too extreme. Is it too annoying to hear me drone on and on? My team loves getting these videos, actually!
And funny enough, apparently their spouses and kids all know my voice and listen to the the videos, too! In creating those videos, they get to see the raw and uncut version of Beth Anne. Sometimes in my screencast videos the dog starts barking, or Holden needs me, or I’m frustrated about something they see the real Beth Anne even though we don’t get to work side by side.
Letting Go (of Micromanaging)
One thing that’s important to say now is let your employees do their own thing in terms of their workflows. Even though I’m super nitpicky about how I want an email worded or the landing page to look, I’m only nit picky on the final product. I do not micromanage behind the scenes.
I do NOT say to Victoria, “Hey, when you’re doing the podcast workflow, do it in XYZ order. This is exactly how you have to do it. You have to use a spreadsheet I created.”
Rather, I say, “Here’s what needs to be done. Here are the tools you’ll need. Come up with your own system.”
We all have different personalities! Our brains work totally differently. I know if I created a whole system and passed it to Victoria, it may not work well for her at all. I want to give my employees the freedom to get things done the way in the way they want it to be done.
What I should really care about is the end result.
Be Open To New Ideas
I also want to encourage you to be open to new ideas in your business. I work with women who are brilliant, creative, and motivated. And I want you to hire amazing people, too! If you can assemble a fabulous team, you have to understand that they bring a ton to the table. You want to encourage creativity and feedback from your employees.
Do not run your business like a dictatorship! Sure, you are the boss. At the end of the day you decide what stays and what goes. But along the way encourage feedback, encourage new ideas, and encourage ways to improve the business. Each of your employees are experts in their own little part of your business, and oftentimes they might just have a better pulse on what’s going on.
Victoria has a better pulse about what people are saying on social media. Carlee has a better pulse on the customer service questions we’re getting in our inbox. And Ellen has a better pulse on all the tech tools that we’re using, where the glitches are, and where it can run more smoothly. I am literally just the leader, giving them the tools they need; they’re the experts in the trenches. I for sure want their best ideas for how to serve our customers with products and processes.
I know for many of you who’ve run your business own your own for awhile, it feels like your baby. And I know it’s really hard to let that baby go! But when you do so, that little baby just thrives and flourishes in new ways that wouldn’t have been possible with just you.
The same way you have strengths and weaknesses, the people on your team have strengths and weaknesses. You want to harness that energy and let the strengths of your team strengthen your business.
Letting go of micromanaging also makes for happy employees!
Remember, you’re going to be hiring really smart people. And smart people don’t want to just check tasks off to-do lists. They’re motivated and want to challenge themselves and try new things.
Keep in mind, this creative overdrive won’t happen on your team member’s first day.
Those first 1-2 months will be about you slowly giving your client more and more tasks in the business. There won’t be as much fun creative stuff early on. But, overtime, as they get to know your business and customers well, and they’ve mastered those boring and mundane tasks, the creative collaboration will come. Keep in mind that you’ll want to help your team be involved.
Working With New Employees
This is a mistake I see business owners make all the time when hiring new employees.Don’t set your expectations too high for a brand new team member.
Take a deep breath and trust that if you’ve done your homework, you’ve interviewed your team member, and know they have solid character and believe in your mission, trust that you made a great choice and give that person time to adjust. The person you hire will need time to adjust to their new role on your team, you as their boss, and the projects you’re giving them.
New employees (and even old employees tackling a new project) will have a learning curve. Just plan on there being mistakes to work through up front.
There will be kinks, there will be balls that get dropped. Be super patient, and give constant feedback as well as constant encouragement to your team. It’s hard being a new employee and feeling like you’ve got 100 things coming at you. And it’s hard to get feedback on a project you turn in thinking it’s perfect, but get 20 items to change.
I’m going to be honest with you, I always thought I did a good job of this - but recently I learned that everyone on my team, at one point or another, thought I hated them! That makes me really sad! You can hear more about that in our group episode. And I really think that’s because I have super high expectations, I’m really picky, and I am not afraid to give all the feedback a team member needs to be up to my standard. Whatever level of praise you think you need to give, give at least double of that. Then give it a couple of months to see how things are really going.
The other thing you can encourage new employees with is that they’re going to get better.
Literally, at this point sometimes I think these ladies read my mind. They take initiative and solve problems before I realize there are problems! That’s because I hired amazing people and took a lot of time up front to tell them exactly what I was looking for over time, and now they know exactly what to do.
For me, that’s awesome! It’s another reason why you want to build a team, and not just hire random people who are the cheapest you can find for a given job. Carlee, Victoria, and Ellen don’t just do the tasks, they solve new problems and come up with new projects to move the business forward.
I can be so hands off, just because they’re awesome!
As I’m recording this episode, my baby will be 4 weeks old tomorrow - and I am not worried about the business at all! I have no pressure. And that’s only happened because this awesome team is running things behind the scenes without me.
Bonus Tip: Help Your Team Prioritize
As entrepreneurs, we tend to have multiple projects going at once. I try to focus in on a few of those at once, but there are always a few more projects on the backburner. But the projects that I tend to pick actually have a lot of moving parts, there are a lot of people to communicate with and things that need to be created. When you have a lot of moving parts, help your team prioritize. The last thing you want to do is have team members who are stressed out and overwhelmed all the time. They’ll burn out - and move on to a boss who doesn’t give them ulcers!
At any give time, each of these ladies may have 50 BBM action items on their to-do list. And I know there’s no way they’re going to get all 50 action items done that week. What I do instead is say, “Hey, I know I mentioned this to-do at the end of last week. Given this other project going on, that first task is no longer a priority. Save this task for when we have breathing room.”
Help your team know what’s nice to do, and what needs to happen now.
When you’re hiring really motivated people, they will want to do an awesome job. And if you don’t tell them, “Hey - don’t stress”, they probably will worry! Because your team will assume everything you ask them to do needs to be done as fast as humanly possible. But again, you know they’re humans just like you. In the same way you don’t get everything on your list done, you need to have realistic expectations about what your team can get done. Make sure to let them know when priorities shift. It can be as simple as an email, “Hey! On Monday this task was a big priority but now it’s Wednesday and this new task really needs to get done. Sorry I didn’t catch it sooner! But it’s time to change gears.’
So that’s really it! Those are my main tips for finding and leading a great team. And I phrase it that way - ‘leading a great team’ - for a reason. What’s great is the team. I’m not an especially great leader, but I’ve found incredibly talented and awesome ladies to lead. It’s my job to foster that awesomeness. I don’t have to be amazing and fabulous, I just have to bring the amazingness out in them and I find that super rewarding.
One last thing, even if you’re on a budget, start with that one fabulous person and start them with just a few hours a week if that’s all you can afford. That’s a much better approach than finding a random person on a generic site to work 20 hours a week for $3 an hour. Invest in those people who can grow in your business. I think you’ll be amazed.
A year ago, when I first hired Ellen, I never would have guessed sitting here a year later I’d have 3 team members. I definitely wouldn’t have guessed all that we’re able to do and all the people we’re able to serve and reach. That would not have happened had I not hired a great team. Or if I just found random people to do random tasks. The best advice I can give to you is intentionality your team members.
Now It’s Your Turn To Head Out There And Be Brilliant!
Mon, 8 May 2017
Get ready to laugh! We've got another Brilliant Business Moms team podcast!
We’ve got Carlee, Ellen, and Victoria here, sharing how they’ve found work as Virtual Assistants and their thoughts on using VAs in your business. I know they get questions all the time about how they came to work on the Brilliant Business Moms team, and these ladies have a wealth of knowledge to share.
Listen to the Podcast
On the Podcast
1:20 - How Our Team Came To Be
Beth Anne: Ladies, I’d love for you to start by sharing how you got into work as a Virtual Assistant.
1:20 - How Our Team Came To Be
Victoria: Sure, I can start! I got started a couple of years ago, and really out of necessity. I wanted to spend more time with my baby but I still needed to bring in an income. So I put together the work I had been doing professionally prior to having a baby, and thought maybe I could do that same type of work as a freelance contractor.
We laugh about how easy this is, but I literally sent emails to a bunch of people! I sent about 25 emails in a week to different individuals that I followed online. (I do have a small blog, it’s not monetized, just a place on the Internet. And because of that I had knowledge and awareness of different mom bloggers out there.) So I sent these emails along the lines of, “Hey is there anything I can do to help you? Let me know.”
The very first VA job I did was make a media kit for someone. I didn’t know anything about media kits or graphic design, but I figured it out and did the job.
As far as my connection to Brilliant Business Moms (BBM), I was a long time fan girl of the podcast and the brand. I reached out to you, and Sarah at the time, and asked if I could be helpful, and eventually that translated into the working relationship we have now.
Ellen, you started similarly, right?
Ellen: Yes! I had a blog, but was really enjoying the behind the scenes stuff way more than blogging or creating things.
Through blogging I knew a few others bloggers that I liked and got along well with. At first I offered free (or super cheap) work, because I really wanted to get experience. Most of that was raising my confidence, helping me know if I could actually do the more technical work and get paid for it.
Working with those first few ladies that I really knew helped me realize I CAN do this, and I can keep going.
I think I mentioned in the BBM group that I was looking for work, and either Beth Anne or Sarah reached out to me about doing a simple job. That’s how my work with Beth Anne started. I was copying and pasting names from a spreadsheet, and they were really happy with how fast I was!
A tip for when you get started: If you are doing free or cheap work, make a boundary for that, maybe 10 free hours or 2 weeks, so you’re both clear on expectations--but it’s a great way to get started!
Beth Anne: I think that’s a great way to get started, you two. When you reached out to us, Victoria, I remember reading your email and wondering if you were really offering to do things for free! We asked, “Is she crazy!? How is she this nice?!”
At that time we didn’t take you up on the offer to do things for free, but we knew because we had that relationship you were in the back of our minds for as soon as we could afford a VA in our budget.
One of your first tasks, Victoria, was helping format our ebook Time Management Mama. And then in the meantime your clientele built up a lot and I remember thinking, “Oh no! I think Victoria’s too busy for us now!”
And Ellen, I remember Sarah finding your post in our Facebook group and reaching out. (And we still encourage moms to do that! Post in private Facebook groups. Share who you are and what you can offer. It’s a great place to get started.)
And Ellen did work so well and so fast Sarah and I quickly started to freak out that we weren’t paying you enough! What you were charging at that time was such a small rate, but it’s good that over time you’ve built confidence and increased your rate. It’s really important as a VA to value yourself.
Victoria: Beth Anne, this is so funny to hear from your side! I do want to add that, in that time of waiting for a job, or if you have someone you know you want to work for someday, in the meantime as much as you can be helpful, do it. Support the people and the brands you care about. The group was still close enough that Sarah and Beth Anne often asked for input on projects. It’s a good practice to give before you expect to get back. In life, that makes you a nice, moral person. But in business, it sets up the organic working relationship.
Beth Anne: And Carlee! You’ve been so quiet, but I’d love to hear how you started!
Carlee: I feel like the newbie and almost the imposter in this conversation! It’s really funny how I started. I’ve always worked from home, but with jobs like grading papers and tutoring: on my time frame and pretty minimal because I homeschool my kids. But my youngest turned 10 last year, and has been doing well and getting more independent in school, my husband and I realized that I could take on more hours.
I even actually applied to some jobs outside the home, and had no peace about it. I didn’t want the jobs and I didn’t want to be out there, and we were still homeschooling.
For those of you who don’t know, Ellen is my (little!) sister-in-law. She was hesitant to tell me about VA work because a lot of people don’t really understand it or get what it means. (And now I face that too!) But when she finally explained what she had been doing, she told me she thought I would really enjoy the work and would be a really good fit for VA work. So I gave it a try! I did the same thing, I posted in our Facebook group and fell in love with BBM from the moment I started.
I got a client right away who was excellent and paid me in courses. She knew what she wanted me to do and what classes would be helpful for that work. So I was able to work and learn all at once. Rather than paying me in money the first month, she paid me in classes.
When Ellen’s husband was heading back to work for the school year and Ellen needed to drop her hours, there was a scramble to pick up the work that Ellen couldn’t do any more. There was the problem of the inbox and a few other issues! And if i remember the story correctly, she asked Ellen what Ellen thought of me coming on.
Beth Anne: Yes! I think that’s right. Because Ellen, I don’t think you would have suggested it to me first.
For reference everyone, and I have to tell this story because it’s so funny, Ellen literally had Be Brilliant mugs in her house for an entire year and was shipping them for me - and it took an entire year for her to ask me if she could have a mug and could I take it off her paycheck!!! It’s like, “Ellen! You can have as many mugs as you want!”
So that’s very much Ellen’s personality. She wouldn’t have come to me to say I have this sister-in-law looking for VA work and she’s awesome. But the connection did happen organically.
Carlee’s daughter, Mckenna, actually attended one of our Pinterest webinars. And once I found that out I gave Mckenna the course to help with her Etsy shop. And then one day the lightbulb went off. I knew we needed to add another member, and I knew the team member would be primarily offloading tasks from Ellen’s plate. But I didn’t want to have to jump back in and be that person to explain to a new person how Ellen was doing everything! And I also knew Ellen, and that she would absolutely need to feel comfortable telling the new person exactly what needed to be done. So I thought, “What about Carlee?”
Carlee: It came out of those relationships. And to fast forward, Ellen does not have a problem bossing me around. I’ve known Ellen since elementary school, and I have been the boss forever. So Ellen has SUPER enjoyed getting the chance to tell me what to do.
Ellen: Oh, I do. I do. :)
Carlee: I love it. And Ellen’s personality is so sweet and genuine. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. If someone told her no or had been incompetent, she would have just fixed it for them and not said anything. So it works well that she can tell me point blank, that’s not right - do it again.
14:02 - What About Competition?
Victoria: I feel like this is fun to get Brilliant Business Moms history. And I think this is a good place to point out one thing Beth Anne has done really well in terms of building our team. It’s stereotypical to assume that anytime you get a bunch of ladies together there’s going to be a bit of cattiness and jealousy.
This is such a good spot to say we have 0, no we have negative 50 million of that, on our team.
I would just imagine in other settings, maybe you bring a new team member and - wait, what!? she’s related!? How did she get in here? I’ve worked in places before where people had that negative outlook on life. What I love about our team is there is none of that. We were very much, “Yay! Carlee’s here!! We can get even stronger!”
And Beth Anne, I think that was good insight and foresight on your part knowing your team well, and knowing how we needed to operate together to be successful. We all play to our strengths. And we said in a recent episode, this past year was our most successful ever. And I think it’s due in large part by putting the exact right people together.
For the business owner out there looking to put a team together, if you even see a hint of any negativity - stop it, cut it out. You want people who work so well together.
Carlee, I think you said that a win for one of us is a win for all of us.
Carlee: From the business owner end, I totally agree. As the team leader you have to be aware of your team and foster good relationships. You have to pick the right team and shut down negativity.
From the VA end, and this is something Beth Anne shows in all her business practices, it is not about competition.
Victoria and I are not in competition, and our jobs overlap all the time. There are times she does my job for me and I do her job for her. It’s not about if I do it better or she does it better, or who does more. We are a team. A win for one is a win for, and a loss for one is a loss for all.
So when a babysitter can’t make it and you lose work time, we all chip in. Or, in my case I had a chicken emergency this morning (#WyomingLife), when those things happen we gladly jump in and fill in for each other.
There’s only collaboration and not competition among a team.
17:07 - Meeting Your Online Team In Person
Beth Anne: I have to say I don’t know if I’ve done a great job of fostering this, but I think you all are awesome and do a great job working with one another! You two, Carlee and Victoria, especially have jobs that overlap all the time and you manage it and figure it out and work together so, so well.
One thing that definitely helped is when we were all able to get together in person at the Business Boutique in Nashville. That was the first time I got to meet Carlee and Victoria in person! All of us getting to be together really solidified the team.
We are all coworkers, but we’re all friends as well. We care about each other as people and that’s really important.
Carlee: I think it helped because we all have slightly different personalities in person than online than everyone expected. Obviously, I’ve known Ellen forever...so that doesn’t count. Beth Anne was a little different than I thought, and Victoria was too.
But that was so good! We’ve talked since then about personality and communication styles and strengths and differences. Choosing to be friends and enjoy, and help each other has helped us communicate better according to each other’s styles.
Victoria: Choose conferences wisely: whether you’re building a team, working on a team, or working as a VA. I would even say look at the calendar of where you want to go, and check-in with your groups to see who will be there, and choose which events to attend that way.
It can be hard in the online world to know how to connect. Even if you’re simply trying to meet people to put on your team, conferences can be a great way to meet a bunch of people in one location.
Our team was able to meet in person for a longer work session in San Diego, and I know not everyone in business is in that spot. Conferences are more accessible, and while you’re there do as many auxiliary events as you can to meet people and network.
Beth Anne: I totally agree. I had only talked on the phone to all of you before working with you. For someone looking for VA work, if you can meet up at a conference and interact in person how great would that be!? It gives them a better sense of who you are and what you do.
I think I can know how a person communicates pretty quickly when I meet them in person. And doing online work you have to be a good communicator.
20:50 - Working Well With Clients
Beth Anne: So obviously, you all are rockstars and I love that you all work so well together. I would love it to share with everyone what are your tips. How do you work well with clients? What do those relationships look like?
Ellen: It may be cliche, but communication is so big. Being able to communicate over email is essential. Don’t be afraid to clarify, or ask dumb questions. It’s better to clarify up front when you’re working with someone on a project, rather than move forward unsure and frustrating your client. Communication really is just such a key part; especially with online work, when you can’t just go down the hall and have a conversation.
Up front, you want your expectations to be clear, and know it’ll evolve over time of your working relationship.
And even something as simple as responding to emails with new tasks, “That looks great, I’ll take care of it.” and offer a time frame of completion can be helpful.
Beth Anne: As a team leader, whenever you ask for clarification, I love it. It shows that you care about doing the job well and about my vision for things. There is no dumb question! I want you to ask as many clarifying questions as you need.
Carlee: And sometimes we’ll do a project knowing it’s not totally perfect or exactly right and submit the draft to you for feedback and tweaking or vision and direction. Sometimes it helps for us to take what Beth Anne has said, put it on paper, and see what we’ve missed.
Victoria: I second the practice of sending drafts and getting concrete feedback. Something I’m consciously working on (not perfect at it!) is to take detailed notes as I work, especially when working with several different clients. It’s important to mark differences in the styles you need to keep track of between your clients. Or you need to write notes about how a particular client handles a certain situation. Especially if you’re working with a bunch of different people, those details can get lost or muddled.
I can be a very creative, free thinker and sometimes I’m tempted to make up the answer to a problem for myself, which works in my life but not when I’m working for other people! Maybe this habit of keeping notes comes naturally to you, but for me it for sure does not. But I’m making myself do it!
In the same breath as talking about communication, I think transparency is really important. Maybe you need to send a note to say, “Hey, I’m really struggling to understand how your sales funnel is working, but I’m taking notes and will ask you again if I have questions.”
I also try to be really detailed with my time records so people know how long a project took me. I think having strong communication and being transparent builds trust.
Ellen: Early on in my VA work I had to face the fact that I am very much a people-pleaser. Before I got started I read the Bootstrap VA -- and it’s an awesome book. It helped me learn to be okay with criticism. I knew going in that would be my big struggle, so I made a very conscious effort to prepare myself. Getting feedback isn’t bad, and you can’t take it personally. You have to be able to take critiques, learn from it, and work with it.
But this tendency is probably something a lot of people struggle with; I knew for me it would be a particular weakness and I wanted to be prepared to work on distancing myself from my work so I could take feedback well.
Beth Anne: That is true - and I give all of you all tons of feedback!
Which brings me to my next question that I’ve been dying to ask you all!
26:18 - The Question Beth Anne Has Been DYING To Ask
About 6 months ago or so, you all confessed to me that when you first started working for me, the first couple of months, you thought I hated you.
But when you guys made this confession to me, we were obviously past that point, and I thought you liked working for me at that point, but I still wanted to know:
Victoria and Ellen: *Not it*
Carlee: Okay, Okay. I’ll start. When I came on the team, we pretty much jumped right into a Kickstarter campaign - and then straight into our gigantic FB Brilliance course launch.
Side note: If you’re going to do VA work, don't think you’re going to do only do one thing. That doesn’t actually happen.
I was hired to handle our inbox. I had been around about two weeks, and suddenly I was writing a refund policy. I think the policy was for our planner. In my draft of the document I used lots of formal wording, which defaulted to my love of English grammar.
Then I got an email from Beth Anne that said, “Never use the word ‘therefore’, ever again!” I was like, “Okay then. Sure.”
Needless to say, we didn’t end up using what I had written! It was comical
Early on I did lots of screenshare hangouts with Ellen as she was handing off tasks to me and teaching me how to do certain things. During one of our conversations I said, “Ellen, I don’t think Beth Anne likes me! I don’t think she’s happy with me.”
And I kid you not, Ellen’s exact words back to me were, “Oh I’m so glad you think that because you’re one of the most confident people I know, and I feel that way half the time too, so if you’re feeling that way then I feel better about myself.”
It was great for me. Because I knew Beth Anne loves Ellen! Beth Anne thinks Ellen is the best thing ever. So if Ellen is thinking that about Beth Anne, but Beth Anne totally likes her, maybe she totally likes me!
So we just worked through it. Ellen and I helped each other through it. And when Victoria hit that same spot, Beth Anne told her, “Go talk to Carlee.” And so she did. (And Victoria made sure I knew Beth Anne told me to talk to her. It was not gossip!) We talked it through, and I was able to help Victoria see that’s
Why did we stick around? Because we’d all rather have the person who says, “Never, ever use the word therefore!” than someone who will dance around and not give a direct answer.
I don’t want to deal with the game and fluff; I want to be told what’s great and what’s not, and be done. It’s a waste of time to do it any other way. It’s a respect level. Because even when I questioned whether or not Beth Anne liked me, I knew I liked Beth Anne and I liked Brilliant Business Moms, and I wanted to stick around and get better.
Beth Anne: I feel like the mean head cheerleader or something! And my team is all, “We like Beth Anne but she doesn’t like me!”
Ellen: For me, because my feelings happened very early on, I knew I was learning how to handle criticism. I learned that I do like the direct feedback. I’d rather know exactly what you want, and move on with that. That’s just part of the working relationship--we have to learn to deal with criticism!
Victoria: Okay, guys. I would not hate it if you threw a fluffy pillow to me and then gave me criticism. Just saying.
But yes, at the end of the day, we all pursue excellence in our personal and professional lives. And it’s good to get it straight, and know how to move on.
I also feel I need to be the voice of practical necessity here. In addition to what you guys just mentioned, part of me is like, “Well, I still need a paycheck, so this is going to be worth it.” On a very real level, there’s a sense of knowing that it may be hard, but it’s going to be worth it.
Man, this is getting very deep quickly.
I’ll just say that I’m painfully extroverted. I’ve been noticing in my life that I like to work really hard, but as soon as the work gets challenging, I want to sprint on to the next thing.
The best things come from more of the marathons and not the sprints.
I also realized in myself that it’s a sign of maturity to believe it’s worth sticking through the hard things, and having an uncomfortable conversation or two to get through the tough spot - and, in our case, preserve the team and progress we’re making.
Carlee: It’s a work thing. I’ve worked a lot of jobs and they all come with great parts and hard parts. I can honestly say at this point, even if I couldn’t have those first few weeks, I’m living my dream. This is my dream job. I’m so happy to be here, but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
The other day Ellen and I had to redo a project we spent a lot of time on, but that’s the nature of the job! It’s the nature of the fact that we’re all moms, working in the margins, doing our best. It can’t be personal. And it can’t be all fun and sunshine and rainbows and then when it’s not I’m out of here. That’s not any part of life--not marriage, or parenting.
And that’s the best part about our team! On the hard days (and hard because they’re busy, not because they’re bad, they are hard because our to-do list is longer than the number of hours we have) we talk to each other and pick each other up.
What’s great is the other day I was having a very hectic day and Victoria reached out to me and said, “What can I do for you?”
Victoria: See? Here’s a fluffy pillow! The fluffy pillow is valuable sometimes!
Beth Anne: Victoria you’re such a nurturer and I love that about you. You pick up the slack for others.
Victoria: And vice versa! It happens to me as well.
Beth Anne: I am learning more and more as a team leader to get better about knowing how my team likes to be led. So, Victoria, I know in some cases it would be better to pick up the phone and have a conversation with you, than just send an email - which is my default. That’s part of my responsibility as a team leader.
When it comes to all that hard stuff, it’s the same for me too! There are days that I don’t want to get up and do the work I need to do that day, even though I run the show. Assembling a team that cares about the mission makes a big difference.
36:31 - Riding Big Learning Curves
Beth Anne: And Victoria, I know that the podcast has been one example of how you pushed through something that was harder was working on the podcast. I’m sure there were times you were tempted to say it’s not worth it! But everyone is so excited to have it back and you’ve created a great system for us.
Victoria: Yes! I can talk about that.
But first I do want to say, we all do care about the higher mission. We have all bought into Brilliant Business Moms. And if someone is having a bad day, the other has good day.
If you run a business or work in a business, you make a commitment. That basic level commitment is, “This work has to be done because it’s what I agreed to do,” and sometimes once you work through that basic level, then the higher level love feelings come back about why you’re doing it.
I hope it didn’t come out crass to say working for a paycheck is sometimes what keeps you going, I didn’t mean it to!
Beth Anne: No, it didn’t!
Victoria: Right, it’s just that sometimes you have still put one foot in front of the other.
Speaking of that, the podcast is a good example of what we’re talking about.
Around the time of our San Diego trip we had a team growing experience. We had a show due on Monday, and in my mind I had it basically complete and ready to go, but it was not that way.
Carlee and I proof for each other, and I sent the transcript to her for proofing. Since we were in person, Carlee looked over at me and said, “Victoria, these shownotes are awful. They’re not done at all. You need to go back and fix it.”
At first, I was mortified. Then I went through the stages of grief, getting angry then accepting what I had to do. This all occurred later at night, pressing up against the deadline. We worked through it and we hurried to get the show finished on time, and I swore I’d never work that late again!
And you guys still heard a great episode that day, having no idea what happened behind the scenes!
It was good for me to see that Carlee didn’t hate me, she just made a judgement call on the work.
Carlee: And that’s it! My thought process was, “You usually do this fabulous job, and this is not up to your own standards.” I wasn’t mad, it wasn’t personal, they were just bad notes. There’s no hidden meaning with us, and that’s how Beth Anne is, too. Beth Anne and I are similar in that, we really shoot straight but there’s no deeper, read between the lines insult.
Victoria: We really learned as a team, that we’re all here for the listener. We’re here for the community, to put out good content. It’s time like that the bigger mission does help.
41:18 - Standards in Service-Based Business
Victoria: I think anytime you’re in a service-based business, it’s so hard to not directly tie yourself to your service. I feel like with product-business ladies, it’s kinda nice to be able to hide behind the product. With a service-based business, it’s just you. You’re providing the service. And you have to work extra hard to separate the value of the service from the value of you as a person.
As a BBM team, we will always fall short in some way, but we have a lot of grace for each other.
Carlee: And you’re making such a good point for anyone looking to be a VA or be on a team.
If you’re not working in person, you have to over communicate. Honestly, in this moment I should have explained what I was actually thinking, “These are not up to your own standards, did I miss something?” And really I was wondering, “Are you okay? Is there anything going on?
Victoria: And on my end I was thinking, “Nope, I just didn’t get them done as well for whatever reason this week.”
Carlee: You’re so honest, Victoria. I love it. This is the real deal, guys.
Victoria: Aren’t we calling these BBM Confessions!? It fits!
I think you have to be honest, and call each other out, but also give grace and be willing to move forward together. That’s why we’re all here, Beth Anne.
Beth Anne: As a team leader one of the things I can improve on is communicating when I need to give feedback or ask for something to be done to another standard. I always feel really, really bad when I want you guys to change something last minute. I don’t want to be that boss who controls every hour of your day. But because I’m such a work under pressure and last minute person, and I know I drag you into that.
44:06 - Setting Limits in Service-Based Business
Beth Anne: So I want to ask: how do you set boundaries on your time?
For example, I know that Victoria has set work times with childcare. Ellen and Carlee’s worktime feels more fluid.
How do you make sure I don’t take over your life!? Sometimes I know I do! That really concerns me.
Carlee: But you..so...okay *laughs* You do and you don’t. Especially for Ellen and I, you do take over our lives sometimes - but we know that in advance. It’s not a daily thing. But we are aware of an upcoming big launch or big webinar, and during those times Ellen and I structure our time around work.
On the days when we have a work event at 6pm at night, my crew knows we’re going to eat at 4:30 and then Mom is going to lock herself away.
Ellen: And it’s not every day. It’s rare.
Carlee: Yes. But what people should know too is we can literally say, “Hey, I’m leaving town for 3 days.” And while our tendency is to follow up with, “But I can still work!” Beth Anne says, “No! Take time off!”
We have crunch time, go time, all hands on deck -- but we also get the rest time. It wouldn’t be possible without the rest time.
Ellen: But there are times Beth Anne sends me a task on Friday night but she says it can wait til Monday. And often I will do the task that weekend, only because I usually work Saturdays, but there’s no pressure.
Victoria: Communication is good. My tendency is to do everything, but because my kids are little younger and I have very structured work days, I’ve tried to get better about projecting when a task can realistically be done instead of saying, “Sure I’ll get that done tonight!”
Early on as a VA I tried to do it all right away, and it wasn’t healthy! When given a job I would say, “Sure sure! I can do it” but I really couldn’t, and it was resulting in stressful moments for our family. But now, we have clear times - ‘This is when I work, and this is when I don’t work’ - and planning in advance has been helpful.
We haven’t talked about working with a bad client yet, but in my bad client experience it was expected that I could drop and do whatever this person needed right away. But setting realistic boundaries and communicating them clearly is good. Now I try to answer, “I’m done with work for today, but I can do it first thing tomorrow.”
Beth Anne: Carlee and Ellen, I would totally understand and appreciate if you want to be more structured! I want you to be happy with your work and stick around for a long time and I would have no problem with you telling me what works for you with your life.
Carlee: We are happy! And we promise it’s working. We as a team assign tasks according to those schedules, too. For example, I homeschool from 8 to 11 am, so I don’t have tasks that have to be done at 9 am. Victoria’s jobs are things she can do ahead of time, for example.
Ellen: For me, the late-at-night stuff isn’t good, but early morning is my time.
Beth Anne: And let me say what I love about Ellen’s early morning time is that I can go off to bed with a wishlist of items I’d like done, and by the time I wake up and have actually logged into my email Ellen has them done!
Carlee: Me too! I’m a late night person and just recently I sent Ellen a few corrections to landing page at like midnight or 1 am. I was worried I had woken her up with all these crazy messages! She wrote back first thing in the morning and said, “Hey thanks! Those were great. Changes made.” It had only been 5 hours since I sent the corrections and they’re done!
50:10 - When VA Relationships Don’t Work Out
Beth Anne: So let’s start talking about when the relationship is not working out. And this still cracks me up, because I’m still confused about the warning signs! You all thought I hated you, but kept working anyway!
Victoria: Honestly, what we just described is more a of a challenge of working online. Working in-person you can joke around at the beginning of the day, have a conflict in the middle, but end with a joke. I think the barrier of the screen means you have to overcompensate. It’s just hard! I still contend that online is what makes it weird.
And on a blog or business, you can always put the best version of yourself out there. But when you’re working with someone online you don’t always get the time to polish in between.
Beth Anne: Okay, that makes me feel a little better.
Victoria: And you’ve done well at helping us compensate! Getting us together at the conference and again in San Diego, that was huge.
Carlee: Oh Victoria! You are such an extrovert. This won’t be true for everybody.
Victoria: That’s true.
Carlee: For me, I haven’t worked for a bad client. But for me, the product is my big determiner. I have to believe in something. I have to look at the product and believe there is great value going out into the universe. I have to get behind something, so I guess I work at a philosophical level that way. I’ve said no to, and had a hard time working with a product that I just wasn’t able to personally endorse.
Whereas, Brilliant Business Moms is totally a brand and business and community I can get behind.
Ellen: If you feel uneasy at all about something..and uneasy is different than having hard times. There’s going to be hard times...but if you feel uneasy about the client or the work they’re doing, it’s better to say no and back out than put yourself in that situation. It’s better to be 100% confident about the people you say yes to.
Carlee: So true. And sometimes the uneasiness might come later. We talked about boundaries previously, and if someone doesn’t understand or respect your boundaries it won’t work. And maybe it’s as simple as time zone problem, where the times they want you to work you’re putting dinner on the table. But everyone has to be on the same page.
For me right now, I just don’t have the hours to work with additional clients. I’ve had to drop clients because I simply don’t have time to give them what they need.
Ellen: That’s usually the issue for me, too. It’s not a matter of not wanting to work with them, I just don’t have time. In fact, I’ve had to fire a few clients because my plate has gotten full and I literally didn’t have the time to do the work.
Victoria: Being realistic with what you’re able to provide is key. And be okay that you’re not the right VA for everyone. The case when I had to end a working relationship. The client wasn’t a bad person or anything. It was just that the things I needed to do I wasn’t able to do. There was a big task that had to happen every morning, very early. I tried so hard to make it work for a long time, but with two little kids it wasn’t possible.
As we were talking I just pulled up my breakup email with this client. I wrote, “I don’t think I’m the right VA for you. I’m not able to give you the support and assistance you need on a daily basis. I’d love to keep working until you find a replacement.”
Peace out. (Just Kidding!)
I do worry if I say no to a job, I’ll never get another client, or that they’ll think badly of me. I often worry about my name or reputation, and that if I end a relationship will I ever work again? But truthfully, the sooner you realize it’s not working out the sooner you can prevent those unrealisitic fears.
I think as women we want to do everything and be good at everything, and that person doesn’t exist.
Beth Anne: Right. No one is good at everything all the time! So much of what we’re talking about comes back to honesty. I give you honest feedback about the work, and you give me honesty back with your schedule or a job you can’t do.
Carlee: And we’re getting so much better at saying No right away!
Ellen: I love Beth Anne’s video feedback. I get giddy and tell my husband, “Hey Tim, Beth Anne sent me a video!” It’s so great to be able to watch one of her videos and know exactly what she’s thinking.
Carlee: Ellen I don’t know if Beth Anne realizes that our entire families watch her feedback videos with us!
If you haven’t had the privilege of meeting Beth Anne in person, she is exactly who she seems to be: strong, a spitfire, kind, genuine. So her videos are seriously so funny. She tells us everything good about what we’ve done, and everything really really not good.
Ellen: Tim will ask why I’m laughing, and it’s because Beth Anne sent a video.
Carlee: Ellen and I will watch your videos at the same time and just message back and forth and we laugh so hard.
Ellen: It’s my favorite thing. Iit’s great to see the video, because I can go fix exactly what needs fixing.
Beth Anne: It really is the next best thing since we don’t have an office. And working in different time zones is a struggle, so it’s much easier to give feedback via video. We can’t constantly schedule a Google Hangout to go over things! I try in my screencast videos to pretend you’re right there.
Carlee: And usually in these videos she tells us stories or something that’s going on, which are always hilarious.
Victoria: And my favorite is when you comment on your environment, like a car driving by, and it tickles me.
Carlee: You know, I hadn’t put it together with that whole “walking down the hall...” but you really can’t email us to say, “There’s a line with the wrong shade of pink here.” It just wouldn’t make sense in email. The videos are great, and they do reveal your personality.
Beth Anne: Ellen sees the most of my videos because she also sees my raw course videos - and there are some where I go off on a rant where something isn’t working and I am so frustrated.
Ellen: My favorite is when I talk back to you and say, “Oh gosh! You just have to click the button, Beth Anne! CLICK THE BUTTON!” My husband will ask what I’m doing and I’ll just respond, “Talking to Beth Anne.”
Carlee: In one of your recent videos Beth Anne was concerned that we hadn’t published a pretty important page. We actually did have the page published, she was just looking on the wrong screen. Beth Anne was saying, “We’re at crunch time, guys! This needs to be done!”
Ellen: “Just click the button, Beth Anne!”
Carlee: And that just reminds us that there are things we do more naturally than you, and vice versa.
Beth Anne: It’s an ego boost for you guys! You get to see me at my best and worst. You know I’m a flawed human, and that’s good.
1:01:45 - Boss Perks
Beth Anne: One benefit of being the “boss” is that I get to collect a team who all have strengths different from me. We show this face to the world, and it all looks pretty and fabulous and polished. And I feel like I get credit for all of that! And, not only that, but I don’t have to do the things that aren’t my strengths, hardly ever, because I’m the boss and I just get to tell someone else to do it. And sometimes it does feel unfair! I do acknowledge that. There are lots of things I totally stink at.
Carlee: There has been a shift in the last couple of months. You’ve said more often “you and the team” are doing a project. And you’re asking us to put our name on the work. There’s more of a shift to ‘us’ rather than ‘you’. None of us want to be the face of Brilliant Business Moms or to be Beth Anne. It’s not a competition. But it is fun that you’ve started putting, “Beth Anne and the Brilliant Business Moms Team” because we are a team and it takes all of us to get all of these crazy things done!
Victoria: And it’s nice of you to admit. I imagine it would be tempting to and easier to just speak in the first person always. It’s nice to share the credit. It’s tricky to walk the line and preserve the brand that you’ve built up and who you are and how you help people, and acknowledge the team.
Beth Anne: You don’t want to work for someone who takes all the credit all the time.
Victoria: But I’m saying you could, though, if you wanted! It’s your brand. But it’s so nice of you to include “and the Team’.
Carlee: And it’s practical. Because we get emails, addressed to us, in the inbox that you’d just pass along to me anyway. It’s more efficient. And it’s good that people know who to talk to. It doesn’t all have to come from Beth Anne all the time, because you can’t be everything to everyone.
Beth Anne: It does set expectations up in a better way. This is a total team effort. I like that we get emails addressed to the team, like, “Hey, Carlee!” or “Hey, Ellen!” or “Hi Beth Anne and Team!” because it means they don’t expect email answers only from me. And I’m not setting people up for disappointment.
Ellen: And it fits really well with the BBM brand. How it started was a podcast that is all about the community and these women who are building businesses, it’s always been about that. And it’s neat to see the community come about as a team, too. Our team is a small part of the community, and we are also part of the bigger community, and we’re all working together.
Beth Anne: Yeah, I have no intention of being a weird internet celebrity where people care about what I eat for breakfast. That’s totally differently than saying, “We are Brilliant Business Moms.”
I would never want to be BethAnneSchwamberger dot com. That would be stupid long, for one. But it goes back to the brand always being about a community of moms, not one person.
Carlee: And there are plenty of questions we get that both Beth Anne and I know Ellen needs to answer.
It’s not even just the four of us, it’s the four of us and these incredible women in our community. We learn from them every day too, and they know things we don’t know.
Brilliant Business Moms as a whole is not about celebrity. We’re about community.
Beth Anne: Well thank you ladies for hanging out with me today. I feel like you each have a lot more to share because you’re all fabulous employees and I love having you on my team. And just an aside, this is seriously how much fun we all have together. We literally just got off topic for 30 mins talking about childbirth and labor because these ladies are awesome.
Thanks for listening.
Now it’s your turn to head out there and Be Brilliant!
Mon, 1 May 2017
Arianna’s job description is fancy--Maternal Health Consultant for Entrepreneurs--but what it means is she most often works with first-time mamas-to-be who are entrepreneurs to help them create a smooth maternity leave plan that keeps their businesses thriving while their families grow.
At this time of recording I was heavily pregnant, so of course talking with Arianna was incredibly timely and very helpful for me! And I know many of you out there have established businesses, but are thinking of adding more babies to your family. You’ll love what Arianna has to say.
Welcome to the show, Arianna!
On the Podcast
1:20 - About Arianna
Interestingly, Arianna started her maternity leave planning and coaching career before becoming a mom. I was so curious to hear how this business started for her, and how she got into such a unique field.
Turns out, Arianna has a Masters in Social Work from UNC, and a strong background in formal health center settings. She saw lots of female patients seek care for a variety of women’s health issues, and she really fell into focusing on women in that prenatal and postpartum window. (Or in sciency terms, the perinatal period: getting pregnant, being pregnant, having the baby, and figuring it out from there.)
Arianna’s Masters in Social Work has an emphasis in Maternal and Child Health, which she admits is a very unique field! In fact, there are only a few programs left in the states focusing on supporting women, children, and families during this special, challenging, and always a bit uncertain time.
She started out working in outpatient settings, like small health centers and federally qualified health centers. She worked in what’s known as the "Safety Net System," focusing on women who were very vulnerable, experiencing such things as homelessness and domestic violence. She began to realize that she was able to help these women navigate the pressures of caring for a family with tons of other pressures demanding their time, attention, and focus.
Once she went into private practice and began supporting entrepreneurs, though the layers of vulnerability were different, the skills were very much the same. Arianna found that the approach to caring for new moms is universal: “Every mom needs a network of support. It’s not the time to do it all in business and life, it’s the time to identify your community support, professional support, and friend and family support.”
We couldn’t agree more!
Opening a Private Practice
What did it look like for Arianna to move away from clinical care and towards getting private clients?
She was prompted, as many business owners are, by a life transition. In 2012 her family moved away from their home in North Carolina to Mexico, where she lives now. But she loved the work she was doing and wanted to continue doing it! Once settled in her new home, she rented out space in a psychotherapy center. Arianna took the more formal model of counseling she was used to and adapted it to her new environment. This is also around the time Arianna began providing support via the Internet, which opened doors to reach even more moms.
The first iteration of her practice was focused on postpartum health. A lot of Arianna’s early clients happened to be self-employed women and small business owners. This question of how to have a baby and get back to work” seemed to be recurring.
Her practice grew through word-of-mouth marketing and Arianna was able to establish a pretty strong referral network for her services once the word got out. (Marketing was a huge learning curve for her; before private practice, Arianna only had to show up to work at the health center in order to get clients!)
It wasn’t long before Arianna realized that providing support and counseling in the postpartum stage was often too late, especially for the mamas planning to go back to work. She could better meet the needs of her clients if she started earlier in the process. About 18 months ago, she shifted her business focus from postpartum to planning ahead for maternity leave and taking steps for that successful reintegration into work life.
Arianna’s Advice For Me?
Being 34 weeks pregnant at the time of this recording, I’m obviously Arianna’s ideal customer! I was already a mom before getting pregnant, but we have been far removed from the baby days! My son is in all-day kindergarten, and all of the sudden we’re going to have a newborn! I do want to have a maternity leave from my business, so what advice does Arianna have?
Arianna really encourages business owners to use the flexibility we have with our jobs to make gentle transitions. In an office setting, a mom might work full-time right up until the day she has her baby, take 6 weeks of zero work, then plunge right back into working 40 hours a week. Arianna really encourages being aware of timing and thinks a more gradual transition is optimal.
A better option is to make a hard and fast deadline, such as 37 weeks when a mom is full-term, to hand-off everything that would normally be on your plate. Yes, 100%! Don’t put off this handing-over until 40 or even 42 weeks. Try to honor the earliest deadline possible to give yourself space.
The other half is to think of the transition time back. Even if you’ve had a newborn before, babies can have different temperaments. And juggling more than one kid can be a whole new challenge.
Arianna suggests that her clients utilize a 2-3 week period of time when you’re getting back into work. Dedicate those weeks solely to finding your new groove and workflow. Don’t dive 100% back into a major project! Give yourself time to figure out childcare logistics, or how to get your older child settled, and figure out when your new one will be napping and eating. Setting up your new routine is a total learning opportunity and a great experiment.
(And I have to say, I totally think Arianna makes a great point! I like the mentality of "let’s just give things a few weeks and see how it goes." Don’t set yourself up on a strict schedule and a new plan before you get your bearings.)
How Long Do Moms Take Off From Work?
So, in preparing for Baby Boy Schwamberger to arrive, I’ve planned to take 2-3 months totally off from work. But I’ve heard from so many of my mom entrepreneur friends that my plan sounds great, but I’ll have tons of ideas while I'm feeding the baby in the middle of the night and I won’t want to stay away that long. What patterns has Arianna seen? Are there women who do themselves a disservice trying to sneak work back in soon? Or women who take a long, long time off and find that they’re unfulfilled?
“I’ve seen it much easier to plan for longer and come back sooner,” Arianna says. “It’s much better to do that than plan for too little time and realize you want more. The work will be there if you’re ready to come back earlier.”
In Arianna’s personal experience, she was the business owner who planned ahead financially, in terms of content creation and marketing, to take 4 months off, with her last month being the testing period of easing back into work. “At 6 weeks I emailed my VA and asked for something to do! I was excited to engage again. Work is a big part of my identity, and leaving that completely behind was challenging.” Arianna describes that she grieved feeling productive when she was doing things like nursing around the clock and has seen this same pattern come from quite a few women. Again, the golden rule is it’s easier to plan for longer, and know you can come back sooner and to remember that “there’s no pressure related to completing or delivering projects right in those fresh few weeks postpartum. You can pick and choose your flexibility.”
Real Talk: How Can You Prevent Postpartum Depression?
Call it hormones or whatever, but I had to get real and ask Arianna about one of my greatest new mommy fears.
So brace yourself for some real talk.
One of my biggest fears is suffering from postpartum depression. One thing you might not know about me is that my first child is adopted, so he did not come home until he was 2.5 years old. I haven’t done the birth/baby thing before! And I’m totally freaked out about suffering from postpartum depression.
So my big question is this: Are there any tips to prevent postpartum depression?
First, let’s clarify terms. Postpartum depression is part of a broader category, Perinatal Mood Disorders, which include depression and anxiety, and these symptoms can come up anytime during pregnancy and postpartum.
Arianna says part of the fear factor surrounding PPD is that we see only the worst of cases in the media. We see those postpartum suicides, or the mom who didn’t get help until it was too late. She points out, “You know, the worst case scenarios ARE the worst cases. Postpartum depression is prevalent, but self-awareness and knowing what to look for, and what resources to seek out ahead of time, is a great way to set yourself up for taking care of yourself and being taken care of.”
And the good news is there are three, concrete steps you can take right now to setting yourself up to be supported:
First, lookup the Maternal Mental Health Professionals in your area you could go to if it turned out that you had a mental health issue.
Second, look for distinctions in the provider’s bio that describe them as being trained specifically in the field of maternal mental health. In the mental health field, you’ll want to lookup folks in your area who are specifically trained to support moms.
And third, keep the Postpartum Support International warmline somewhere you can access it - and tell your partner where the number is, too. This is a number you can call and talk to a trained volunteer to help you figure out how to access professional and help in your area. (Being a warmline means you might have to leave a message, but you will get a callback soon!) The number is: 1-800-944-4773(4PPD)
Arianna made it a point to say that seeking in-person treatment is really the most effective way to handle Perinatal Mood Disorders. Whether in one-on-one counseling, psychotheraphy, or group model sessions.
One of the biggest risk factors for PPD is isolation. You can take steps to prevent yourself from being isolated during the postpartum time.
Isolation can be especially prevalent for online business owners, because of the nature of virtual work. Especially if you’re aware that you have an element of isolation in your life, seek out activities to do during the postpartum phase that require you to get out of the house. Arianna says go so far as to list out those activities such as a new moms groups or a park to walk in; literally list out places you could go with your new baby to prevent being isolated.
Deep breath. Did that advice help calm your fears? I know it did mine. It sounds like being prepared and listing out your plan ahead a time is key.
I’m just sitting here, picturing myself with a new baby, knowing I”ll be too exhausted and too stressed to go look up mental health pros online or finding a new support group if I need one. But that’s the kind of thing I can do now for myself, I can make an entire doc of resources today that I may need to use tomorrow. I love those ideas! And, yes, I wrote a note in my Brilliant Life Planner as Arianna was talking to get my "Baby Survival and Support" list ready!
Using an Ecomap
Another way to categorize all of this helpful information is to use a social work tool called an Ecomap. She made one for her clients, and used one herself when she was planning her own leave! It’s a free resource to visually map out those support networks. And when you have a visual, it’s easier to see the holes, where you’re missing an element. You can download Arianna’s Ecomap that she uses with clients on her site.
Shifting gears, I wanted to learn more about Arianna’s business model and how she’s grown it. As a consultant, she works with clients one-on-one to help prepare them for this big life change. I wanted to know, how many clients is she able to handle each month? What’s her client lifecycle like? When do they graduate from her services?
Arianna says she has really found a sweet spot when she’s able to develop a longer relationship with her clients. She offers a shorter period of services (1 month of work together in 2 sessions to do maternity leave planning) but has found once you do the planning, additional coaching along the way to implement the plan can provide wonderful hand-holding and guidance. A full client lifecycle - from planning through implementation - for Arianna would be about 6 months long.
Pre-baby, Arianna kept 3 client slots open each week, so for 3 days each afternoon she booked out her schedule to work with clients. Since getting back from baby, she’s had to reframe that workflow! Arianna still has 3 afternoons available for work, but only works with 3 clients at any given time. She’s scaled back her services to be able to provide the same quality and level of service without burning out.
And I have to say, talking to Arianna she sounds like such a serene and well-balanced person! I feel like she’s doing a great job of having a calm balance in her own life. (But she assured me that she does have her crazy moments!)
How does Arianna know when she’s ready to graduate clients from her services? Does she make an exit plan for her clients? Or does she trust clients to tell her when they’re ready to fly the coop?
Arianna knows herself and her business well. She has identified that the 1 year mark is really the longest that she’s able to deliver her strongest services. Her field is a tricky one, because uncertainties of motherhood can be ever-present.
For Arianna, a hallmark of having a fantastic client relationship is when the client she’s working with has the skills and tools to step back when the problem arise and can know how to navigate the unknown, deal with uncertainties, and pivot to make new strategies for moving forward. (These soft skills apply in motherhood and business, don’t they!) When she feels the client is confident to move forward and apply the tools individually without direct guidance and support, she knows they’re ready to graduate.
Sometimes Arianna recommends that her moms join a business coaching model support group for ongoing help.
I thought it was a very interesting point that Arianna doesn’t tell her clients, “Alright, from now on life is going to be perfect! You’ve got a bulletproof plan. You’ll never need help again!” Rather, she tells people, “You know how to handle the fact that life as a mom is always a bit crazy.”
That’s certainly the right expectation for new moms, isn’t it?
Arianna says one of the favorite things about her job is reframing perspectives. She comes from a strengths-based perspective, which means there can be a lot going wrong but she always likes to ask, “What’s one thing that’s going right today?”
Doesn’t that change up things?
Arianna’s Adorable Mom Moment
Her family is getting ready to move houses in about two weeks of the time of this recording and her 11-month-old son has developed a new love of packing materials and suitcases. She said while she and her husband were packing, they lost track of their little boy - who suddenly wasn’t crawling around anymore. They had a parent-panic moment of trying to find the baby, only to realize that he had completely shut himself up in a suitcase! Sounds like this little guy is ready to move!
Keep In Touch with Arianna
Arianna was kind enough to tease an amazing new project she’s got in the works: 100 Businesses Babyproofed Project. She has a goal, between now and her birthday, to have conversations with 100 entrepreneurs who are expecting or plan to get pregnant in the next year about what it means to take maternity leave and keep themselves and their businesses thriving. We love that goal! Good luck!