So You Wanna Be A…Web Designer/Developer

So You Wanna Be A Web Designer or Developer via One Woman Shop

SoYouWannaBeA_WebDesignerDeveloper -- blog

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be a… series, we highlight entrepreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with four web designers + developers — Sarah Eggers, Aleia Walker, Alison Monday of tiny blue orange, and Melanie Karlik of A Prettier Web — to get their inside advice on how they got their web design + development careers started.

(Editor’s note: The terms designer + developer are sometimes used interchangeably. The women interviewed here each have their own specialties, which you’ll notice in their responses. For a breakdown of the differences between designers and developers, check out this post.)

So you wanna be a web designer/developer? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Sarah: A freelance web designer helps people accomplish amazing things. No really, we do! There are thousands of people out there with life-changing ideas, but they stop and give up when they shudder at the idea of creating a website. Web designers are here to eliminate that website-building barrier and help people use their saved time to focus on their strengths.

Aleia: I am a freelance Web Developer who focuses on Front End Development. As a Front End Developer, I build the parts of the website that you can see. I also have a design background so I frequently handle projects from design to development. That includes figuring out how a site can have maximum impact for the client.

Alison: I’m a WordPress developer, so that means I create custom themes for WordPress based on designs that my clients have from working with a designer. I also input site content (blog posts, pages, etc.), run site updates, and do on-going maintenance/tweaks. Long story short, I spend all day being super nerdy with code + servers.

Mel: I help women tackle WordPress! I spend about 70% of my time with content creation — I test out plugins, write blog posts, create videos, create visuals collateral, PDFs — anything to share information that I think will be helpful for bloggers and online business owners. I have two WordPress themes that I sell right now.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Sarah: I got my start back in 2014 when I enrolled in a Skillcrush Blueprint for web design. I took the leap and paid for my first ever course, and I was totally blown away just a week in. It was super easy to learn, and my classmates and instructors were amazing. I highly recommend to someone starting out to take a high-level, paid course like Skillcrush. Before then, I just played around with free courses and never really learned much before my interest faded.

Aleia: I got started by taking a Web Designer course with Skillcrush. It was an intro course that catapulted my love for all things design and development. I definitely suggest taking a structured course to get your feet wet and determine if development is your path and what part of development you like.

Alison: I started out as a designer but loved bringing my own designs to life by coding them. All of my designer friends thought I was crazy because they hated coding + felt completely limited by it. The more I started helping them, the more I realized that I was happiest coding themes that others had designed.

Mel: I was working as a software programmer when I started my first WordPress blog, back around 2002! I really wanted to learn how to “tweak” the look and feel of my site so I taught myself HTML & CSS with whatever resources I could find online. Then, I took a part-time degree in Graphic Design from a local college. I’d spend some money and invest in a good course.

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Sarah: You’ll thrive if you 1) love to create things and can get in the flow and 2) can communicate well with people. I know a lot of web designers who love to create and get in the flow but have a hellish time communicating. You can be the best web designer in the world, but if you can’t make your client happy and translate their words into design, then you’re actually the worst web designer.

Aleia: A person who loves learning would do very well as a developer. There are always new technologies and tools. The learning never stops.

Alison: You certainly need a little bit of love for the nerdy things in life. I spend a good chunk of my day working with HTML, CSS, PHP + JavaScript/jQuery. I also work on server settings for clients because they don’t want to touch their hosting account with a 10-foot pole. It helps to understand a bit about design so that you can communicate with the designer and understand why they did some of the things they did.

Mel: People who are creative would thrive doing design work. As for the tech side, I think it requires some persistence, resourcefulness and enthusiasm. It’s easy to tell right away if tech is going to frustrate you or motivate you.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Alison: If you have a way to write code, technically you can get started. I don’t think it’s necessarily required, but I’m happy as heck that I have business insurance, a legal business entity + a lawyer that I can send questions to. I’d suggest making sure you have a solid agreement/contract template to protect both you + your clients. Aside from that, you’ll typically need Adobe CC or Photoshop as most designers work in that.

Mel: Making WordPress websites doesn’t require any special degree. There is ample resources available for you online. Then, start doing it! Make some websites and build up a portfolio of great work. If you’re interested in creating apps, plugins or any kind of programming beyond HTML, CSS and Javascript then a degree could be of benefit. Again, you can learn a lot from online courses but if you are looking to work for a Google, Amazon or Uber then they often ask for a degree.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you’ve considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven’t tried yet?

Sarah: The traditional way to attract clients is to seek them out on job boards, whether through Upwork, Craigslist, or other markets. The non-traditional way to attract clients is to join Twitter chats and Facebook groups of your target audience. Someone in a group is going to be asking for web design advice and you can swoop in to save the day—and impress the rest of the group!

Aleia: I currently use word of mouth, but I’d like to step it up and make more effort in marketing my services. I am looking into building an email list and ramping up my blog game by providing useful content to prospective customers.

Alison: Because of how long I’ve been doing this, most of my customers come via word of mouth or by clicking my site credit link at the bottom of a site I built. In the past, I’ve done a lot of sharing/helping in Facebook groups. I also reached out to mentors who in turn would send work my way that was a good fit for me but maybe too low of a budget or not complex enough for them.

Mel: Everyone that has purchased my themes has either found me through my website, social media or on Creative Market.

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Sarah: I work with clients 1-on-1 in-person or through video chats. I strongly believe in spending important decision-making time face-to-face. What a client says to you in-person vs what they may say they want their website to do in an email can sometimes be two different things.

Aleia: I generally start and end client engagements with 1-on-1, in-person contact when available, especially when working with non-tech clients (i.e. small business owners). During the project, all of the communication is online — Google Hangouts and emails galore. When our lines get crossed, I will hop on an impromptu phone call or Hangout to get us back on track.

Alison: I typically work with clients online in a 1-on-1 or small group setting. There are times where I work directly with the designer and don’t interact with the client much at all, but I’m happiest when the designer, final client, and I are a small team. That way questions are directed to the right person.

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Sarah: Pricing is a mystery to early career freelance web designers. We sort of shake the eight ball of arbitrary pricing. After a while, we then start to research the market and get a better understanding of our work quality, how price affects what type of clients we get, how it all fits into our finances, and the going rate in our area.

Aleia: I played around a lot. I didn’t want to under or overcharge and ended up doing a lot of free jobs before I eventually started charging. While learning I preferred to charge flat fees instead of hourly rates to take into consideration the time that I would spend looking things up that a more seasoned developer would already have a grip on.

Alison: I used the AIGA survey on industry pricing based on my area to set my base hourly rate. As I did more and more projects, I tracked my time and figured out approximately how many hours I spent on each site build. From there, I created a flat fee so that I benefit from being faster and clients know exactly what to expect on their invoice.

What is an industry-specific tool that you couldn’t live without?

Sarah: Inspect element. (Click that link to get a preview lesson from my course that describes how to use it.) Looking at what’s behind the website and making live changes is amazing.

Aleia: Git [a version control system] & GitHub [online project hosting]. I love being able to keep track of and share my code without needing to keep hundreds of versions of a project on my desktop.

Alison: I know everyone has a preference, but I can’t imagine coding outside of espresso. It’s my absolute favorite software for writing code.

Mel: Photoshop, Sublime Text [a text editor] and WordPress (of course).

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Aleia: Twitter is a great catch-all for information, especially if you follow the right accounts. It’s an awesome place to learn of new tools, tips, and products. There are also a few great resources to stay current on all things development: A List Apart and its counterpart A Book Apart, Webdesigner Depot, and of course the Skillcrush blog!

Alison: Codecademy is a great website for learning code. I got my most “hands-on” learning by taking existing WordPress themes (especially the ones made by WP) and making changes to them. Create your own child theme (‘cause that’s a great first lesson too!) and then start changing things. You can learn a lot by breaking and changing something that’s already built. I also love Codrops for tutorials, CSS-Tricks for ways to rock CSS, and Google for searching for specific tutorials + problems.

Mel: Look for courses from Codecademy, Udemy, and Treehouse.

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Sarah: The #1 thing brand new freelancers are surprised to hear is that their pricing dictates the kind of clients they receive. If you have cheap pricing, then you’re more likely to have someone who tries to barter with you, or give you major scope creep. If you have high quality work and high prices, you’ll mostly get people who are extremely appreciative of your time.

Alison: I’m still surprised by the fact that simply replying to emails sets me lightyears apart from others in this industry. “My developer fell off the face of the earth” is something I hear every single week, without fail. Life/things happen, but to me it’s about being respectful to those that are paying you.

Mel: You don’t need a degree to make websites – you can learn it all online!

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase may net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world. Thank you!

So You Wanna Be A…Virtual Assistant

so you wanna be a virtual assistant

so you wanna be a virtual assistant

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be a… series, we highlight entrepreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with five virtual assistants — Kelley Alexander-Kruger of Kelley and Co, Julienne DesJardins, Shay Orlena Brown of My Bliss Publishing, Billie Gardner of Desire to Done, and Christine Funke of Spark Virtual Assistance — to get their inside advice on how they got their virtual assistance careers started.

So you wanna be a VA? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Julienne: I support business owners by handling the details, often in recurring tasks like social media scheduling and email marketing. That means they’re able to check that item off their to-do list and free up brain space to focus on the big picture stuff.

Shay: My version of a VA might be a little different. I like to refer to myself as a Project Manager. When a client has a new product or service they need to develop, market, launch and run, they contact me. I break it down into step-by-step tasks that need to be completed. My clients create all of the content and I take that content and implement the payment, marketing and email funnels needed for launch. (In addition to my project management role, I also wear the website and branding hat for many of my clients.)

Billie: I’m a virtual assistant, specifically an online business manager. I help busy entrepreneurs get organized, automated, and running smoothly so that they can focus their “biz time” on tasks that make them happy and make more money. I also help with product launches and social media management. There are tons of different types of VAs. I chose to go the route of management because that’s something I enjoy and have experience with.

Christine: A virtual assistant provides all kinds of administrative, online marketing and/or design support to business owners, companies and freelancers. They take on tasks that their clients don’t have the time, interest or skills to do and are a cost-effective solution compared to a part-time or full-time employee. They usually work remotely and can provide as much or as little help as their clients need.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Kelley: I wanted to work for myself and have a flexible schedule. A friend shared with me the virtual assistant concept and I loved it. I determined what skills I had that could be used to do virtual work, purchased a domain name, built a simple website and started networking.
Joining IVAA (International Virtual Assistant Association) is great. They offer great information to help grow your skills as a VA.

Julienne: My freelancing start actually began with grant writing. (My background is nonprofit communications and management.) My first client as a VA, though, was through a VA placement company. This helped me get my feet under me — someone was with me to explain the industry as I got started.

Shay: I got started in the very, very beginning as a social media manager. This is a great way to get started as so many people are looking to outsource this. It also is a great foundation for getting to know how to craft content and automate items.

From there, my clients started asking me to help them in other areas of marketing and managing their business. I started to learn different automation softwares and took some online courses to beef up my knowledge base. When you’re looking to get started, think: social media management, email marketing, and copy editing. Those are some areas that people are looking for a VA for.

Billie: I first took on a few free clients for one month to make sure becoming a VA was something I wanted to do. It also helped me fine-tune the direction of my business and learn which tasks I enjoyed and which ones I didn’t. From there, the referrals started pouring in and I took on my first paying clients! To get started, I recommend listing your skills, talents and software knowledge to get a feel for what type of VA you’d like to be. Then, figure out the types of clients you want to work with and map out some service ideas you can offer.

Christine: My full-time job was coming to an end and I needed to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I handled all of the online communications for the American International Women’s Club in Cologne (Germany) and loved the work and one day came across the term “virtual assistant” and knew that was the name for what I wanted to do. Many VAs get started by doing pro-bono work and then transitioning over to getting paid.

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Kelley: An introvert! I am not an introvert so often times I feel very isolated. I force myself to plan social events to get out with people.

Julienne: An organized, self-starting, and driven person. It’s a lot of independent work; producing deliverables for clients and living by deadlines.

Shay: You must be organized and detail-oriented. I know that sounds like cheesy things you put on a resume. But honestly ask yourself if the role you want to be in is something where you need to manage a lot of tiny pieces that fit together to make up the bigger picture. Your clients will be relying on you to be their second pair of eyes and to make sure the technical side of things work.

Billie: I feel that someone who is detail-oriented, takes initiative, and constantly builds upon his or her skills will have a leg up in the industry. As a VA you are taking over someone’s baby, their business, so you have to be mindful of how you treat it. Being detail-oriented means always looking at the little pieces to make sure it’s all going smoothly and that things are done correctly. Business owners appreciate someone who can take initiative and offer solutions or ways to improve things without them asking.

Christine: People who want the flexibility and independence to work for themselves, but have the discipline to work from home and on their own are well suited to be a virtual assistant. They should be detail-oriented, organized and creative when it comes to providing solutions to clients.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Kelley: A good set of marketable skills, a great LinkedIn profile, a basic website, the desire to network and the ability to follow through on deadlines.

Julienne: Not much! It’s fairly easy to launch. I started as a sole proprietor, and operated my business under my personal name. That meant I did not have to file for a Fictitious Business Name, or DBA. I also used my own social security number in the beginning for tax forms. Now I’ve filed for an EIN with the IRS. It’s not necessary, but it is a bit of added peace of mind for me. Instead of sending my personal info through email, I have that number on the 1099s I receive from my clients.

Shay: Not a whole lot! I would recommend taking some online classes and getting to know the different software people will want you to manage, such as MailChimp, AWeber, YouCanBook.Me, ScheduleOnce, Asana, Canva, PicMonkey, ConvertKit, and more. Really you only need your laptop, an internet connection and some knowledge of setting up business process funnels.

Billie: Insurance and certificates are not necessary. What I recommend is getting clear on who you want to work with, what you want to offer, and what your niche is. Building a solid foundation with these three things will help you thrive and keep you focused. You can always change these, but knowing them before taking on your first clients is uber important!

Christine: There are no official certifications or degrees; VAs come from all backgrounds. You should establish yourself as a freelancer or a small business, and get all the official paperwork that comes with that status. Having contracts and insurance is a good idea (for all business owners) but isn’t required to get started.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you’ve considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven’t tried yet?

Kelley: Most of my clients come from referrals. I also reply to RFPs (requests for proposal) on IVAA, find clients on Craigslist, or through other electronic job posting sites.

Julienne: My client base is just about an even split of connections I make in Facebook groups and referrals from past clients. Just a few are contacts local to me in my community.

Shay: Almost all of my clients come from referrals because I’ve carved out a niche for myself with online coaches. They are all a part of the same Facebook groups and take each other’s recommendations. A couple of times, I’ve done some cold messaging to potential clients through contact forms on their website. That’s produced an 80% conversion rate for me and only takes 20 mins a day for a couple days to book me out for six months. Another way I’ve considered seeking out clients is through partnering with a client of mine who has access to my client base. She would like to add my services as an add-on service to one of her packages.

Billie: I’ve been blessed that I’ve never had to seek out paying clients! They’ve either been referred to me, have come from my website, or have seen my info in the B-School community (B-School is an online business course I took a few years ago). I also see a lot of people referring me in Facebook groups when someone asks for a VA referral. (Joining Facebook groups is a great way to get your name out there.)

Christine: Most of my clients come from my association with local American women’s clubs or women’s networking groups here in Germany. I am American so mostly work with English-speaking women. I also network in VA Facebook groups or other groups of women like me. In the beginning, I did a survey letting contacts and friends know I was getting started, which helped build interest for my first clients. In addition, I am planning to do some workshops and webinars with American women’s clubs all over the world to help them with social media, and I hope to get some new clients from those activities.

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Kelley: I work with my clients via email or Google Hangout. Sometimes, if they are local, I will meet with them in person.

Julienne: For my direct clients, I tend to organize most of their work on a weekly basis. We have quick, weekly chats where we set a game plan for the coming week. We organize and assign tasks in our project management system. And then I’m able to work on those tasks on my own schedule — using our next meeting as my deadline.

Shay: All of my clients are online and I use a project management system called Asana. On big contracts, I meet with my client once a week for an hour to discuss project timelines, deadlines, deliverables and future projects. I use Skype or Google Hangouts for our calls.

Billie: I generally work with clients online. Some prefer weekly calls to touch base on what’s going on that week. One of my clients and her team communicate through a phone app called Voxer (it’s like a walkie-talkie), where we Vox each other when we have questions or just to say hi. Other than that, I communicate through email and/or Basecamp.

Christine: I work with all of my clients 1-on-1. Most of them are in ongoing monthly support packages, where I do regular tasks for them. Others come to me with short projects, like website or print flyer design, or just tweaking their websites.

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Kelley: This was the most difficult part of the process. When researching “how to be a VA” there were people suggesting really high hourly rates but most of my connections couldn’t handle those rates. I had to consider my value and what the market could bear based on the connections I have. You may have to start out lower than you’d like but increase as your business increases. One caveat: If you totally depend on referrals, you may find yourself stuck to that pay range because the referrer will mention your rate.

Julienne: When I first started out, my pricing was determined by the VA company I was working with. Because these companies take a percentage, you tend to earn less than if you booked the client directly. Now I book all of my own clients, and have raised my rates as I’ve added more skills. (I raised my rates twice in 2015, in fact.) As an aside, a typical range for a North American-based VA is usually between $15-$30/hour. There are, of course, outliers — but you can use this is as a good rule-of-thumb.

Shay: When I started out as a VA, I took a look around to gauge the average of what other VAs were offering. I compared that with my university background, experience, confidence and value of my services to choose my rate.

Billie: I decided to go with the mid-range of what other VAs charge. I didn’t want to charge too much because I was new to the industry and wanted to get some experience first. This rate worked out for me beautifully and I recently raised my prices to reflect my experience. I also decided to go with a retainer rate so that I would have consistent income (a retainer rate is when a client pays a monthly rate for a set amount of hours each month).

Christine: I did some research in some virtual assistant resources (ebooks, blogs, FB groups) and asked around here in Europe since it’s a bit different than in the US. I started with a range, got feedback from clients, and adjusted from there.

What is an industry-specific tool that you couldn’t live without?

Julienne: I love Asana. I use it to organize my own business tasks, and I use it with my clients. You can upload huge files, create an unlimited number of workspaces, set deadlines and assign tasks — and it’s completely free! I really like that it integrates with Google Apps, too.

Billie: I couldn’t live without Google Drive. I have my own business docs and spreadsheets organized there, plus my clients’. It automatically saves my work and I can share docs with anyone. Love it!

Christine: We use everything, but Freshbooks has been my most important investment for tracking time, sending invoices and logging expenses.

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Kelley: IVAA.com and The Technie Mentor.

Julienne: The Freelance to Freedom Project will give you a lot of support if you’re looking to go full-time. Freelancer’s Union has a lot of practical support, like a sample contract and discounts on tools for your biz. And, of course, the One Woman Shop blog has a ton of content about running a successful small business. I also offer an e-course for new VAs who want to have someone explain the basics of small biz ownership and the VA industry. It was really born out of my philosophy that you can launch a business pretty quickly.

Shay: Skillshare, SkillCrush, and Girls Who Code (if web design is part of your services).

Billie: I have a few resources on my site. I have a checklist of all the basic tools needed to get your business up and running called Tools of the Trade. I encourage you to also check out my VA Biz Academy, where I have a free course on how to discover your niche and a paid course on the business fundamentals of starting your VA biz.

Christine: I used The Bootstrap VA ebook by Lisa Morosky the most. It walks you through everything you need to get set up. The accompanying Facebook group has been a lifesaver for asking “newbie” questions and networking. Amy Lynn Andrews’ blog and Useletter are really helpful for general online marketing know-how.

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Kelley: It’s hard to be held accountable to yourself. This is why I love OWS! It can be isolating if you don’t put practices in place to keep isolation from happening. (Editor’s note: Espresso level members receive access to a monthly accountability group.)

Julienne: I truly believe it’s simple to launch your business. You can perfect things like your pricing and website later. Just identify what value you can bring to people and find prospects who need what you have. You’ll gain more confidence the more you engage.

Shay: Everyone who runs an online business will hire a VA at some point. It’s a never-ending pool of potential clients. (Unless the internet breaks! Haha.)

Billie: I’ve created a few businesses over the years and I’ve struggled to make enough money to justify quitting my job. That is, until I became a VA. I was able to quit my job three months after landing my first paying client. It went fast! There are so many business owners out there looking for honest, hard-working VAs that once you make it known that you’re a VA, you can have a full-blown business in no time!

Christine: You really don’t want to work with everybody! As you get started, really hone in on the industry or type of business or professionals you’d like to work with and target them. It’ll make finding clients easier and you’ll become the expert VA for that industry or niche.

Thanks, ladies! Your turn: What questions do you still have for our fantastic contributors?

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase will net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world. Thank you!

So You Wanna Be a…Life Coach

So You Wanna Be a Life Coach

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be a… series, we highlight entrepreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with four coaches — Rachel East of Clarity on Fire, Danielle Dowling, Lindsay Smith, and Mira Joleigh — to get their inside advice on how they got their life coaching careers started.

So you wanna be a life coach? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Rachel: The best way I’ve ever heard coaching described is something I totally did not come up with, but that I’ll gladly repeat for you now: Coaching is about removing everything in your life that’s NOT you so that what remains is purely, authentically who you are. Most people tend to think life coaching is about addition — strategies for succeeding, action plans, and doing more — but at its core it’s about subtraction. First and foremost, a coach helps their client remove all of the beliefs, falsehoods, and fears that have accumulated over time and that prevent someone from living and working as themselves.

Danielle: I specialize in helping intelligent, self-aware yet often “stuck” clients attain personal freedom and more fully realized potential. What that means varies from client to client – love, work, family, finance – there are a wide range of critical aspects of modern life that can cause us to stumble, or leave us standing still. I believe my special gift is the ability to know my clients, help uncover those blockages, identify why they are there and then apply actual steps to overcome them.

Lindsay: I meet with clients individually, in groups and over the internet and walk them through my proven program Seven Steps to Rock Your Twenties.

Mira: As a life coach, I partner with you to overcome the challenges that have you feeling stuck. Together, we clarify your passions, increase your confidence, build your social network and give your personal brand a makeover. Coaching involves taking personality and career assessments, completing personal growth exercises (as needed) and engaging in deep reflection. The most powerful element, though? It’s the accountability. You can SAY you want something but easily let yourself down. When you have a full time cheerleader in your corner – you’ll be shocked how much more you can accomplish. As your coach, I will match the energy YOU put into the process. Coaching pays for itself as long as you’re committed to the work.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Rachel: I thought I wanted to be a therapist, and got *this close* to enrolling in grad school before I discovered coaching. I decided I was more interested in helping people move forward than in exploring their past. I enrolled in coaching school without EVER having experienced coaching for myself (something I wouldn’t recommend, if I had it to do over). The absolute best way to know if coaching is something you’re seriously interested in is to work with a coach, yourself.

Danielle: I have been the informal therapist and coach for family, friends and co-workers my whole life. I formally got my start when I went back to graduate school about eight years ago to earn my masters and doctorate in psychology. I launched my blog and online business after the completion of my masters and partially into earning my doctorate.

There are many amazing coaching programs out there; some of my favorites are iPEC Coaching (The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching), Coach U, and CTI. As far as programs regarding how to build a successful online business, I like Marie Forleo’s B School and Gala Darling’s Blog Academy.

Lindsay: I have a Bachelor’s in Psychology and wanted to find unique ways to apply it to help high potentials grow quickly and efficiently. I continued my schooling at iPEC and built a program based on what I learned there.

Mira: I got started by earning my coaching certification with Coach Training Alliance and becoming a member of the International Coach Federation. These two organizations offer the education and ongoing support needed to be an excellent coach. (I’ve also heard great things about iPEC and CTI coaching schools). Beyond the formal certifications, being a coach involves mastering sales and marketing to get clients. I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars in my ongoing education in order to master the entrepreneurial element.

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Rachel: Naturally intuitive people make for the best coaches. Maybe you’re the person your friends always come to for wisdom. Or maybe you’ve always felt like an old soul who’s “known things” without knowing *how* you know them. Or maybe you’ve been perpetually dissatisfied with “the way things are,” and feel like you’ve been seeking “more” out of life. All of these qualities make for a great coach. Above anything else, I think the BEST quality in a coach is open-mindedness. Coaching isn’t something you learn as a skill; it’s someone you BECOME, as a person.

Danielle: Someone that has a natural propensity towards high levels of compassion and empathy. Also someone that is really comfortable with their own baggage and past. Working with clients will often trigger some of your own insecurities and fears and having a fairly good knowledge of what those fears are and the patience for working through them can help one be a more present coach. I recommend hiring your own coach to address irking pain points before beginning to work with private clients. I am not suggesting that you have to be fearless or have all your pains perfectly squared away, because this isn’t possible, but rather give yourself the opportunity to become more familiar and compassionate with your own “stuff.”

Lindsay: Someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. A strong communicator who loves watching people grow.

Mira: I recommend taking the Myers-Briggs assessment. In my experience, the best coaches fall somewhere on the “NF” spectrum. This means that they lead with their intuition and are excellent at relating with other people. If you’ve always been the person that your friends come to when they need to talk through a challenge, you’re likely a good fit for coaching. Another valuable character trait is being naturally organized and goal oriented. Being a coach is very much a “lead by example” profession.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Rachel: While I imagine this will change in the near future, there are currently very few restrictions on the coaching industry. Anyone can sell themselves as a “coach,” and no one’s going to police you for not having a certification. However, I strongly advise going through a program that’s been accredited through the International Coach Federation. It’s the governing body of the coaching industry, and you can trust any program that has their stamp of approval.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you’ve considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven’t tried yet?

Rachel: Most of our clients work with us after having become dedicated readers of our weekly blog, or after having taken our free quiz (The Passion Profile Quiz). We also write occasionally for bigger-name online outlets, which is a great way to gain visibility. At this stage in the game, we’re less about seeking and more about allowing the right people to find US. My best advice is to have a message that you strongly believe in, and transmit it in a way that works for YOU. Maybe you’re not a writer. That’s fine! There are plenty of other ways to have a consistent presence (be it speaking, videos, Instagram, or whatever!) where people can find you and start to know, like, and trust you. As far as other ways we haven’t tried, I might be open to doing sponsored Facebook posts in the future, if I can find a way to do it strategically, in a way I’m comfortable with.

Danielle: I currently post to my blog 2-3x a week to engage with clients. I share these posts across many social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. My favorite right now is Instagram as there is a real community feeling and lots of engagement. Facebook has lost that intimate feeling since they began curbing organic reach and charging for posts to show up in news feeds. (Editor’s note: Instagram is our favorite these days, too.)

Lindsay: I do a lot of public speaking events. I am involved in young professional networking groups here in Indianapolis. I partner with other coaches. (Yet another editor’s note: Want to make speaking part of your coaching business? Be sure to check out So You Wanna Be a…Professional Speaker.)

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Rachel: All of our one-on-one personal coaching is done over the phone, which is very normal for the coaching industry. This allows us to work with clients all over the world. We also have a couple of online programs, which are more cost-effective and time-consuming than traditional 1-on-1 coaching. As a coach, you can have a business model that suits your needs and desires. A lot of coaches do in-person workshops or seminars, which is awesome and effective, just not something we’re personally interested in doing at this time.

Danielle: I work with my clients one-on-one via phone, Skype or in person. I also launched a book last November called Soul Sessions: A 5-Week Guide to Crafting Greater Joy & Making Big Things Happen which I think is a really affordable way to work together!

Lindsay: Half in person and half online. Ecourses are my next venture!

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Rachel: We started out relatively low, and have consistently raised our prices over time, as we gained more experience and had more years in the game. The best advice I’ve been given about how to price yourself is to start out *slightly* higher than you feel comfortable about. Nothing exorbitant or way higher than your comfort zone; just something to stretch you and challenge you to play a bigger game.

Lindsay: I looked at industry standards and charged at a reduced rate for the first six months.

Mira: When I was starting out, I offered a free initial coaching session and based my monthly rates on the industry averages. Over the years, I’ve begun charging for that initial session and increased my rates to match demand.

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Rachel: I’d recommend checking out the International Coach Federation’s website. And if you’re looking to work with a life coach yourself, I’d recommend reading the website or blog of whatever coach(es) you’re interested in working with. If you enjoy their tone on their site and can easily relate to them without ever having spoken over the phone, there’s a good chance you’re also going to jive with them one-on-one. Definitely don’t settle for a coach who you can’t relate to, or who you don’t feel VERY aligned with. I’d also advise focusing less on price, and more on experience. The best coaches tend to charge more for a reason, and I’ve never seen anyone regret their investment.

Lindsay: Feel free to email me. I love to connect with people who are interested in the coaching industry!

Mira: If you’re interested in becoming a coach, I recommend reading Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives and The Prosperous Coach: Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients.

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Rachel: I am SO passionate about this point… Coaching is NOT a business. A lot of new, energetic coaches enroll in a coaching program and think they’re going to come out the other side capable of finding clients and easily making high five or six figures as a coach. Coaching skills are NOT the same as business skills. They are two completely different subjects, and if you want to be a coach who runs their own coaching business, you’re going to have to ALSO become a business person. Quitting your job too soon and having to scramble to make money kind of puts a damper on the coaching experience. It’ll be challenging, but building a business while you have some sort of stable income is the best advice I never got, and what I feel compelled to emphasize to ANY new coach.

Danielle: I suggest keeping a day job for the first 2-3 years of your business. It takes time to build up a pipeline of leads and credibility in the marketplace. Also, having that regular paycheck coming in will remove financial pressure from your passion project and allow it to grow organically with less pressure.

Lindsay: There are two skill sets you need. Coaching skills but also business building skills. This surprises a lot of coaches because we get out of school and expect clients to appear.

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase will net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world.

So You Wanna Be a…Professional Speaker

i want to be a professional speaker

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be a… series, we highlight entrepreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with three professional speakers — Jess Ekstrom of Headbands of Hope, Alexia Vernon of Alexia Vernon Empowerment, and Nicole Belanger of Nicole Belanger Media — to get their inside advice on how they got their speaking careers started.

So you wanna be a professional speaker? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Jess: When I was in college, I started a company called Headbands of Hope. For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 to childhood cancer research. I started getting calls from universities to come speak to their students about taking action in college. I signed on with an agency called CAMPUSPEAK and have been traveling around the country ever since speaking to students and some corporations as well.

Alexia: As a professional speaker, I have the opportunity to inspire and transform people with my message. From keynotes, to TED-style talks, to corporate trainings, to retreats, I get to create epic experiences that show people opportunities they never know existed, help them reframe limiting beliefs and behaviors, and transfer their insight into action.

Nicole: As a speaker, my role is to create a safe, enjoyable space for audiences to reflect, to help them learn something new about themselves or their work, and inspire them to act based on those newfound discoveries.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Alexia: I was somewhat thrust onto the speaking circuit in college after winning the Miss Junior America competition. After graduate school, I worked as a training and public speaking professor, and I began to use public speaking as a means for developing my coaching business prior to focusing on public speaking and speaking coaching as a business. For someone looking to get speaking gigs, I recommend pitching one’s self for online opportunities (i.e., podcasts and tele-summits), self-producing webinars (where you make compelling offers to enroll in your upper-level programs), and applying to speak at industry events as well as building relationships with meeting planners and event organizers (and then submitting to speak).

Nicole: I consider my “start” to be my second TEDx talk in March 2014. I was actually a late addition to the roster, having originally been invited to give a “mini talk”. The event organizer who reached out to me had gotten to know me through my work in the community, which gave her a sense of my experience, my personality, and my interests.

The most important piece of advice I can give to someone is this: do interesting things in your community or industry. This not only makes you more visible, but also gives you the essential material you need in order to have something interesting and valuable to talk about.

Also, let people know that you are available for speaking engagements! If you have a website, put together a simple speaking page that lists your the topics you are available to speak on and any past speaking engagements. Then, share it out regularly on social media!

Jess: Even though I didn’t speak professionally in college, I tried to practice as much as I could. I gave campus tours and I also taught fitness classes. Almost every day I was getting up in front of hundreds of people and talking. That helped me become more comfortable and confident in my speaking. Even if you’re not in school, I recommend finding a way to get in front of people, even if it’s just raising your hand in a meeting.

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Jess: When people think of motivational speakers, they probably think of someone who is really inspiring and internally reflective. That may be the case, but in order to get booked, you also have to be an entertainer. You could have a great story and an inspiring message, but if you can’t deliver it in a way that captivates the audience and makes them laugh, then you won’t get booked. It’s not just about your story, it’s about your delivery.

Nicole: I wouldn’t say that you need to be an extrovert to be a speaker (some of the most compelling talks I’ve heard have been from introverts), but I would say that you need to be able to read the energy of a crowd and quickly respond to it. But, most importantly, you need to be willing to get up on that stage and speak honestly from the heart. Your willingness to be vulnerable is directly proportionate to the impact you will make on your audience.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Nicole: Self-awareness. The reason that I was able to immediately jump on the TEDx opportunity by pitching a topic and a talk outline is that I had a keen understanding of my life story and the lessons that I have drawn from my experiences. I believe that compelling talks — even the most technical — center around stories, from which a speaker can then pull insights, lessons, and nuggets of information that will inspire and empower their audience.

Alexia: There are certainly some key materials that can help, including an effective speaker’s page (editor’s note: here’s a great resource) on one’s website — ideally with a description of 3-4 talks/presentations, a speaking headshot, speaking footage, and testimonials from audiences. I also HIGHLY recommend becoming top notch both at sculpting one’s content into a great talk (or keynote, training, etc.) and developing one’s delivery skills.

Jess: It’s 100% necessary to have video footage of you speaking. Even if you speak for free at an event, rent some audio and recording equipment and film it. Even better, film testimonials of people at the end talking about how great you are. You can write all of your keynotes and messages down on paper, but it’s rare anyone will actually book you unless they see you talk.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you’ve considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven’t tried yet?

Jess: I attend a lot of conferences to speak and network. I would say about 90% of my bookings come from personal connections I make at conferences or just daily life and the other 10% come from internet marketing. The best way to gain new clients is by recommendation and referrals. If you did a talk and the school or company gave you great feedback, ask if they wouldn’t mind recommending you to another organization.

Nicole: Currently, I rely mostly on word-of-mouth for booking speaking engagements, as well as inquiries through my website’s speaking page. I also keep a mental list of conferences that I would like to speak at. Every now and then, I visit their websites to see if they are taking speaker submissions. If there is a conference that I am particularly eager to participate in, I will personally email the organizer with a proposal of a talk that I would like to share at their event, specifically tailoring it to their audience’s needs and interests. Remember — you’ll never get what you don’t ask for!

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Alexia: I have corporate clients who I present keynotes and trainings for, provide mentorship to entrepreneurs and thought leaders seeking to develop their speaking careers (through private coaching and masterminds-meet-transformational retreats, or MasterTreats), run several face-to-face communication and leadership development programs, and I have two digital speaking programs (and more coming!) including Your Spotlight Talk.

Nicole: Keynote talks and in-person workshops (the smallest I’ve done was 5 people and the largest was almost 200).

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Alexia: I make all of my speaking decisions based on my business goals. If an opportunity is purely transactional, for example a keynote or corporate training, it’s a multiple 4 or 5 figure fee (depending on the scope of work). If I am speaking and have the opportunity to enroll audience members in my own programs, then I make sure that the audience is the right fit and right size to say “yes” to my offer – and the fee I get becomes significantly less important.

Jess: At first I was really confused by how expensive speakers are. In my mind, people were paying huge sums of money for only an hour of their time. But one of my speaker friends explained it to me in that the client isn’t just paying for the one hour you’re speaking on stage. They’re paying for every moment in your life that got you to that point. So now when I’m charging a client, I know that they’re paying for all the lessons and stories I’ve been through in order for me to be a speaker, not just the time on stage.

Nicole: Oof, this was a tough one for me. As a woman and a former non-profit worker, I have had to overcome a number of limiting beliefs about my worth and my ability to earn money doing things that come naturally to me. I will never forget the first time I made four figures giving a talk — I waited a whole week before cashing the cheque because I was convinced that they would somehow realize that they had made a mistake and ask for their money back! (They didn’t.)

That aforementioned gig was my very first keynote talk. I hadn’t yet established pricing, so I chose to ask them about their budget, and, once I had that information, named a price that I thought would be fair for all involved. Now that I have been speaking for a year, I have a handful of what I call “base talks” that I customize based on a client’s needs, but if I am being asked to develop an entirely new talk on a different topic, I will take that into account when I give them my quote.

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Alexia: I’m pretty fond of my programs, Your Spotlight Talk and Your Spotlight Workshop, wink wink. Through my action-oriented videos, templates and cheat sheets, group coaching calls and membership community, I enable anyone interested in speaking the opportunity to develop the know-how at a price point she can afford. Two of my favorite books are Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds and Transformational Speaking. They really get to the heart of how to not just speak, but to do it in a way that transforms lives.

Jess: I love watching TED and TEDx talks, just like the rest of the world. But think about the ones you really liked or the ones where you hung on every word. What about that talk resonated with you? Was it their personal stories? Their humor? Their audience engagement? If you can start to understand why you like certain speakers more than others, you can better learn the traits yourself.

Nicole: I highly recommend this phenomenal blog post from Scott Dinsmore, the Founder of Live Your Legend and a TEDx speaker whose talk was viewed over 1 million times: 3 Rules to Giving a TEDx Talk that Gets Over 1 Million Views.

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Jess: Speaking isn’t just about your story, your delivery or your messages. It’s about solving a problem. After hearing your talk, what is the audience walking away with? What did you fix or change? You could have an awesome story about how you saved an elephant and rode it into the sunset, but if there’s no application then you’re not serving your audience. When you want to speak, don’t just think about the topic, think about the issue you’re solving.

This post contains affiliate links for resources mentioned by those we interviewed. Anything you purchase will net us a bit of money, which helps us further our mission of supporting One Woman Shops across the world.

So You Wanna Be a…Personal Stylist

soyouwannabe_blog

You’re ready to start your solo business — you’re craving the freedom, the versatility, and the chance to put your passion into play — but you’re not quite sure where to start. You’ve come to the right place. In our So You Wanna Be A… series, we highlight solopreneurs who’ve built successful businesses doing what they love.

This month, we’re chatting with three personal stylists — Monica Barnett of Blueprint for Style, Conni Jespersen of Art in the Find, and Nicole Longstreath of The Wardrobe Code  — to get their inside advice on how they got their solo businesses started.

So you wanna be a personal stylist? Here’s what you need to know…

Tell us exactly what a person in your role does.

Conni: A wardrobe stylist is a multi-faceted job. Most of what I do involves behind-the-scenes movement before the actual event or appointment with a client. A wardrobe stylist can do everything from organizing and styling a photo shoot/editorial to shopping for or with a client. The role requires you to pick up and drop off clothes for photo shoots, organize dressing rooms, racks, and closets, and build solid relationships with women who need help with style and organization. It’s the job of a stylist to help empower women to feel motivated and confident about their wardrobe every day!

Monica: As a wardrobe stylist and image consultant, I’m part psychiatrist, part clairvoyant, and part shopper. I work with individuals and companies to understand what they want to say with their style message, and then work toward creating that visually using clothing and accessories.

Nicole: I teach the modern working woman how to define her style and build a wardrobe around the person she’s destined to be.

How did you get your start? What are other ways someone else can get started?

Conni: The obvious road to start out is attending a fashion-based college to obtain a degree in fashion. But if you have a degree in another field, like I do, use that to your advantage and assist someone who is already established. It’s a great way to build knowledge, experience, and skill. Another idea is to attend night classes at a community college to slowly earn a degree, while interning, assisting, or working in a field closely related to what you want to do. (That’s what I did!)

Monica: I started very organically by styling friends, and discovered that I had a natural eye for putting things together. It morphed into a career after leaving a six-figure consulting gig out of necessity. I wanted to help people feel good and I know that when you look good, you feel good and that can change the game! I think a great way to start is to “start where you are” and get exposure to the different facets of fashion — and read, a lot (which I openly confess I don’t do enough of).

Nicole: I got laid off from commercial interior design for the second time in three years, so I decided to start my own business. I had already been working on the side with a few friends, and it seemed like the perfect time to go out on my own!

Is there a certain kind of person that would thrive in your role?

Conni: An extrovert would thrive in this role! You have to love working, networking, and collaborating with people and be confident in your style in order to help people with theirs. A lot of what you’re doing in building relationships. Styling is not about ownership but about teaching others how to rock their own personal style in their own way. You have to be competitive but not pushy. Be willing to listen, look around, and see what’s happening out there then give it back to women in a way that women will feel empowered to do it themselves!

Monica: Someone who is creative and has tenacity because it isn’t all sunshine and fun. It requires a business mind to think a few steps ahead, build alliances, and brand appropriately. You truly have to have a passion for what you do because people see/feel and feed off of it!

Nicole: You have to be able to see different types of style possibilities for different people. It’s not enough to simply dress your clients up in trends.

What do people need before they can get started in your industry?

Conni: Obtaining a credential or degree in fashion is encouraged but not required. Taking courses in the fashion industry is helpful because you’ll be more apt to understanding the in’s/out’s of the fashion industry.

From an entrepreneur perspective, securing a business license & domain name for your site/blog were first. Most cities have places you can go for free business advice. In San Diego, there is a non-profit called Score, that gives free business/finance advice for new entrepreneurs. (They helped me a lot.)

Nicole: People who want to get started need an interest in fashion and some sort of creative professional background, since there is a pretty substantial customer service component of the business. You’re not just a “creative” – you’re a designer who creates wardrobes for clients.

How do you currently seek out clients or customers? What are some ways you’ve considered seeking out clients or customers that you haven’t tried yet?

Conni: Most of what I’ve done so far has been word-of-mouth or advertising tips/style services on my blog. Networking has been the greatest way of building a client base. When meeting people, I love to chat about what I do, exchange business cards, and reach out to them again after we’ve met. I have yet to try advertising in print as a method of building customers. I am just not sure how effective it would be for me.

Monica: Currently, I do mostly referrals and use most introductions to share what I do and get people excited. I have considered advertising in certain magazines but haven’t done it yet partly because it’s expensive but also because I’m not sure it will provide the type of clients I need at this juncture.

Nicole: I create content that my ideal client wants, but can’t seem to find from other sources. Establishing myself as an expert and flying my flag on certain opinions has attracted an audience that feels connected because we share ideas.

How do you normally work with clients or customers?

Conni: Mainly I work with clients 1-on-1 but there are also fun events that I participate in where I am giving style tips to small groups. I also offer virtual styling online when a client lives out of town/state. This is an affordable option for people who need a stylist but don’t need a whole overhaul of their wardrobe!

Nicole: The majority of my clients go through my online course, Style Mastery. We have an online library of materials, a private Facebook group, and we do twice-monthly live calls. I also do have a few clients I work with locally in Orange County.

How did you decide how to set your pricing when you were starting out?

Conni: I was once told by someone that it’s easier to lower your prices later than it is to raise them. When I was deciding how to price my hourly rates/packages, I took the following into consideration.

  1. what I would need to make in a day to live
  2. what a “client” who would hire me could afford

Monica: I backed into my pricing originally based on what I wanted to make. Over time, I have changed the model to price slightly higher than the competition and to focus on dollars per hour.

What are some great resources for people looking to learn more about your industry?

Conni: In the fashion industry, there are networking groups you can join such as FGI (Fashion Group International). It’s a great idea to start networking as soon as possible to know what is going on in the community. Other style resources are WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), which is an online and print publication that is the know-all of style forecasters, and style.com.

Monica: My favorite blogs are Cheetah is the New Black, whowhatwear.com, and Le Catch.

What is an industry-specific tool that you couldn’t live without?

Nicole: Polyvore. (Editor’s note: Polyvore is a “community powered social commerce website” where you can curate products and create collages.)

What is something that someone getting started in your type of business would be surprised to hear?

Conni: I don’t know if it’s surprising but collaborations with others in your field will broaden your knowledge and experience. A lot of what you’ll do in the beginning involves free work on your part to show what you know. Collaborations will not only widen your community but it will exercise your creativity! Be in it to help others, not just yourself.

Nicole: Women will invest in everything else in their life before they invest in themselves (which is a shame!). To convert a styling client, it’s best to find women who already have a specific reason why they want to define their style. Otherwise, you’re constantly convincing them how and why they’re worth the investment. I still do a bit of that with clients, but they need to have mostly come to the conclusion on their own already.

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P.S. Liked this post? You’ll love seeing a day in the life of Nicole Longstreath!