social entrepreneurship

Q&A with Social Worker & Entrepreneur, Alyssa Petersel

Q&A with Social Worker & Entrepreneur, Alyssa Petersel

ALYSSA PETERSEL, LMSW, is a writer, social worker, and entrepreneur. Alyssa is Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing, where she helps therapy-seekers connect with compatible therapists who fit their needs. She released her debut award-winning narrative nonfiction anthology, Somehow I Am Different: Narratives of Searching and Belonging in Jewish Budapest, in March 2016, and now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

I have always admired and wanted to learn more about the human experience. As a writer and social worker, I connect regularly with individuals and groups seeking to make meaning of their experience. I first flirted with entrepreneurship in June 2014 when I fundraised $12,000 through Kickstarter to conduct research in Hungary toward what would become my first book, Somehow I Am Different. I enjoyed the rigor, creativity, independence, and rule breaking. From then on, I have worn many hats and enjoy challenging myself to grow (and fall, and get back up again) in new and unexpected ways.

What inspired you to start your business?

In my first year of training toward my Master’s in Social Work (MSW) at NYU, I sought my own personal therapy. I wrestled with chronic anxiety for some time. As an aspiring therapist, I wanted to both address my own wellness and better understand the client experience. I had a very difficult time finding a therapist I connected with.

In my second year of training toward my MSW, I worked at an outpatient mental health clinic and learned that I was not alone in my experience. I spoke frequently with clients coming into our treatment center and learned their search for a therapist was quite overwhelming and frustrating, too. Upon speaking with colleagues and other therapists, I learned they, too, struggled to connect with clients.

For two interested parties who would grow immensely from connecting with each other to face so much frustration in the process of meeting did not make sense. This was the birth of My Wellbeing.

Where is your business based?

We work primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with a handful of clinicians in surrounding areas.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

My business launched with our acceptance into a 10-week accelerator called Summer Launchpad through New York University’s Entrepreneurial Institute. Through this program, we were connecting to foundational courses in starting a business, concrete tasks and assignments to initiate our thinking and growth, insightful mentors with a diverse background to guide us in important ways, and a small grant to cover basic living and business expenses.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Word of mouth is and will likely always be critical for spreading awareness about therapeutic resources. We do our best to ensure the experience of working with My Wellbeing is as positive as possible. Perhaps our clients and therapists will tell their friends, families, and co-workers about us, too. We also spread awareness through social media, thought leadership, and strategic business partnerships.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

One of our biggest challenges is a stigma. Though the environment is changing and changing quickly, we still battle stigma against mental health obstacles. To overcome this, at My Wellbeing we are not shy about what we do. We are not shy about the immense benefits of therapy. Mental health treatment should be a basic human right. At the moment, in this country, often therapy is a privilege. Positioning therapy as an asset and a priority is our fight against viewing therapy as a weakness. If everyone were receiving therapy, we would have significantly better relationships with ourselves and others. We would also have higher performance in the ways that society already applauds: workability, attendance rates, and physical health. We’re on our way to breaking down the barriers.

How do you stay focused?

I feel inspired by the amount of good that can come of My Wellbeing’s work if done well. I set realistic (with healthy optimism) goals, plot out realistic timelines and concrete task assignments for those goals, and incentivize myself to achieve those goals. Client and therapist feedback motivates me to iterate and better the experience for those we work with. Committed advisors and individuals in my life help me stay grounded, focused, and encouraged.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

At My Wellbeing, we are utilizing the deep training of clinicians to craft personalized questionnaires and profiles. In the short-term, we connect individuals to compatible therapists who fit their needs with high-touch, human care. In the long term, we can use the data generated from this work to determine what kind of person works best with what kind of therapist.

Unlike teletherapy, we connect individuals to in-person care, because research proves that rapport and nonverbal communication are responsible for over 70% of the healing that comes from therapy. Unlike directories and resources that currently exist, we make one recommendation at a time (and up to three) to be as anxiety-reducing and intentional as possible. Our vision is to facilitate personality and compatibility matches for therapy.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Meeting clients and therapists where they are. Communicating in language that is empathic and understanding of their perspective.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Ensure your support system and routine are nourishing enough to support pursuing your passion with rigor.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

App: Insight Timer. I can meditate independently with a timer or fall asleep to a guided meditation. I can also meditate with friends and connect with past meditation groupmates, which helps to hold me accountable and feel a sense of community.

Blog: Cropped Magazine. More of an online magazine than a blog. My favorite because, as quoted from Maria, one of the editors, “Some of life’s most interesting moments happen when our cameras are off — whether or not those experiences are positive.” Cropped is a place where young adults can embrace vulnerability and be honest with themselves, their peers, and their journeys. A truly needed space in a world that begs us to hide and perfect.

Book: Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis. I read this book with a book club about two years ago. Each chapter delves into a different value: truth, integrity, compassion, and more. We met bi-weekly as a group and talked through one or two values per session, how we reacted to the thought and philosophy on paper, and how that value impacted our lives and our two weeks. I feel very grateful for that book club, the impact the discussion had on my life and perspective, and the friendships that were born of the consistency, vulnerability, trust, and support.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

My planner. It’s old, it’s cracked and peeling (yes, it’s paper), but it is organized in just the right way to help my planning-self check off the next item on my to-do list, while prioritizing blocking off chunks of time both for my own self-care and for the care and nourishment of my relationships with those who mean so much to me.

Who is your business role model? Why?

Faith Leener of BASE Bklyn. She listens as fiercely as she steps up. Her initiative and drive are second to none, but her empathy and compassion are what truly create the viral following her community has generated in just one year.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

In the next six months, My Wellbeing plans to launch a more sophisticated landing page and user experience to accommodate scaling our therapist and client base 5x. We are also refining our questionnaire and matching experience to integrate as much client and therapist feedback as possible, creating a match-making system that both parties are passionate about.

How can our readers connect with you?

Facebook: @findmywellbeing

Instagram: @findmywellbeing

Twitter: @findmywellbeing

Q&A with Entrepreneur & Soon-to-be-Author, Marian Bacol - Uba

Marian Bacol - Uba

Marian is a social entrepreneur, speaker, and writer who is on a mission to inspire others, especially minority women, to build a life of their design by transforming past trauma into triumphs. She is currently working on her forthcoming book "Survivor to Thriver" that talks about her journey of overcoming childhood sexual abuse, substance/alcohol abuse and traditional Asian cultural norms to living a thriving life of health and wellness for the mind, body, and spirit. Marian speaks on topics such as social entrepreneurship, minority women in business, personal development and holistic wellness. Please visit www.marianbacoluba.com for more info.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

I was born in the Philippines and moved to LA right before my 5th birthday. I grew up in LA, went to college at UC Irvine as a pre-Med, Biology major (because that’s what most Asian parents want their kids to be) and after my Freshman year switched majors because I couldn’t see myself in the medical field.

I graduated and climbed up the corporate ladder in Marketing and was the Marketing Director at the largest Filipino-American retailer in the USA by 27 years old. I soon realized that the corporate route did not make me happy at all and started my own marketing company that focused on food and restaurants. It fit well with the blog at that time, Marian the Foodie. In 2014, although business was growing, my personal and spiritual life was on a downward spiral (severe depression, suicidal, overdose and had a near-death experience).

I knew I had to do something drastic to change things so I moved to Miami. The past three years has been a crazy journey of spiritual awakening and inner work that has brought me to where I am now. I am on a mission to help other women, especially minority women who are held back by their culture and society, to transform past trauma into their strength and start creating a life in which they thrive.

What inspired you to start your business?

For my marketing business, I was not happy working in a corporate environment and working 60+ hours a week. I knew that I wanted to work hard to build something that was mine and I wanted freedom especially with my time. I wanted to work with brands and businesses that I was excited about and loved. For my current business, I was inspired to start it because I wanted to share how I changed my life and mindset around from a “Survivor to Thriver”. There are so many people that need help dealing with their traumas, healing and moving forward to living a truly happy and purposeful life.

Where is your business based?

Miami, FL

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

I was still working in my corporate marketing job when I started my blog, Marian the Foodie. I started that on the side and built it up until I felt that I could leave my job and focus full time on that business. I was able to use my marketing expertise and experience but work with people and brands that made me happy. My current business emerged with my following my mission to share my story and help others who have overcome similar trauma.

What have been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Social media, joining groups and masterminds, events

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

I didn’t get much support from my family because they didn’t really understand what I was doing. Growing up as an Asian-American female, you are held back by traditional cultural norms as well as what our society dictates. I overcame it because I knew at the end of the day, if I didn’t pursue my own path, I would be miserable and unhappy. My spiritual path has given me the confidence and faith to know that only I can create the life that I want.

How do you stay focused?

I focus on my mission in this lifetime to share my story and help others heal.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

I use my differences as an advantage. There aren’t many Asian-American women talking about these topics and issues.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Social media and getting involved with masterminds and other groups of like-minded people.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Get clear on your goals and mission. Take action. Cultivate meaningful relationships. Always give and add value to others and in your work.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

Instagram to share my work and life with my audience. Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s Meditation app because the guided meditations are beautiful and very impactful. I don’t really read blogs but I do online publications such as MindBodyGreen, Elephant Journal, Tiny Buddha, etc. I listen to many podcasts such as The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes, Super Soul Sundays with Oprah, Tim Ferriss, The MFCEO Project with Andy Frisella, The Balanced Blonde, That’s So Retrograde. There are so many to name but one of my favorite business/personal development is Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans because he has condensed the top things he has learned from all the best performers and entrepreneurs in the world into this book.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Upwork. I have found my amazing graphic designer and several VAs from Upwork.

Who are your business role models? Why?

Lewis Howes and Oprah because they both have blended business with spirituality and making a significant positive impact in the world.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

Working on completing my book, “Survivor to Thriver”, self-publishing it and getting my message out into the world.

How can our readers connect with you?

I am active on Instagram the most.

Website I Instagram

Facebook I Twitter

Mondays with Marian on YouTube

 

Q&A with Social Entrepreneur, Kristi Porter

Photo Credit: Johna Castro

Photo Credit: Johna Castro

Kristi Porter started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. She believes that cause-focused organizations are the future of business because they’re proof that companies can both make money and do good. And when they succeed, we all win. 

Can you tell our readers about your background?

Whew—that’s a long conversation! But the gist is that I have a background in writing, public relations, marketing, events, social media, and blogging. My degree is in business communications, so that education plus a variety of experiences have allowed me to pivot in many directions.

Early in my career, I worked at a boutique public relations agency that focused on the hospitality industry. From there, I worked solely as a freelance writer for a couple of years before becoming the Director of Communications at an environmental nonprofit. After that, I became the Event Marketing Director at a Christian event and curriculum company and was there for almost six years. And last July, I launched Signify.

Outside of full-time employment, I have been freelancing in some capacity for 15 years and served as a volunteer for a number of nonprofits. All of these different opportunities have had a big influence on what I’m doing today.

What inspired you to start your business?

My friends are the reason I started my business. I have a lot of friends with small businesses—nonprofits, ministries, and social enterprises—who needed marketing and business communications help, and would frequently ask me questions. Because they were small, they couldn’t afford someone like me full-time on their staff, so I was accessible and happy to help them succeed.

But in talking with them, I learned they could almost all afford to pay for project help. I knew there were more organizations out there like them, and that was the springboard for what I’m doing now. So, I work with clients on projects to help further their cause by looking and sounding more professional. 

Where is your business based?

 Atlanta, Georgia

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

I am an information junkie, so I soaked up everything I could regarding the type of business I wanted to create, running a business, what my kinds of clients would need, and things like that. I learned from peers, potential clients, webinars, podcasts, blogs, tele-summits, conferences, and really, just about anything I could find. This learning process began heavily about six months before I left my full-time job, and of course, is still ongoing. I love learning new things.

Funny enough, the hardest part of getting started for me was choosing a name! I’ve always been a writer, so it took me months to land on something that I thought I could love for a long time. I literally had a couple of months worth of checks sitting on my counter because I hadn’t opened a business checking account with my company’s name.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Almost every job I’ve ever had in my life has come as a result of a relationship. So, that’s what is working best now that I’ve launched Signify as well.

I believe in social media, blogging, and other marketing efforts, so I put those into action. And maybe long-term they’ll bring in more cold leads for me. But when it comes down to it, if you’re helpful and doing a good job for the people you’re already connected to, they’ll help spread the word.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge has been making time for my own business. When I have client work staring me in the face, that is what I want to prioritize. After all, they’re paying me for the work. But if I want to achieve the goals I’ve outlined for Signify, I have to set aside the time to work on them too.

My workaround for this problem is that I reserve Mondays for Signify. I fiercely protect this time. Hopefully, I’ll have extra minutes and hours throughout the week to work on my own tasks and goals as well, but when all else fails, I know that I have Mondays.

How do you stay focused?

The best thing I’ve done for my business is getting an accountability partner. We meet every two weeks to check in on our goals, act as a sounding board, provide feedback and offer advice. It’s been invaluable to me and keeps me working on the big projects when it’s so easy to get “admined” to death with daily tasks.

We are actually expanding this to a mastermind in January with a small group of women in similar stages of business, who also all work solo. I have great hopes for all of our progress in 2018.     

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

To be honest, I don’t know anyone who is doing exactly what I’m doing. I know of lots of copywriters and marketers, but none who specialize in working with nonprofits and social enterprises. Also, as I mentioned, is growing by word of mouth, it sort of weeds out any competition for me because a referral gives you instant credibility.

And even when other nonprofits and social enterprises know of another writer or marketer, they gravitate toward me because of my specialization. They don’t have to advise or train me in their industry because I already have that experience, which gives me a short-hand that they appreciate.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

As you can already see, I believe that relational capital is my biggest asset. Volunteering in the community, holding different types of jobs, attending numerous events and conferences, and being helpful to friends enabled me to launch my own business. Never underestimate who you know—and who they may know.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Be flexible. The beautiful thing about startups is that they can navigate twists and turns more easily. Along the same lines, be open to new experiences and opportunities. You just never know where they’ll lead. Signify is not where I thought I was heading, but I saw a need that I could help address, and it’s been such a joy helping my friends succeed.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

Ahhh—only one of each! Hmmm, for my favorite app, I’d have to say Audible. It was a game-changer for me. Oddly, I don’t love to read books even though I love to learn. And I had a long commute for many years. So being able to listen to books was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I would get through 30-50 per year. But now that I work from home, my drive time has greatly diminished so I mostly opt for podcasts these days.

I haven’t ever thought about this, but right now my favorite blog would probably be the Femtrepreneur blog. I love everything they do. Always incredible information, and in such a personal way. That’s super hard to achieve, and they definitely do.

I’m going to cheat a little bit on the book question. J My favorite books for pleasure are the Harry Potter series. As a writer, they overwhelm me with their depth and beauty. My favorite nonfiction book right now is The Dream Giver. It’s impacted significantly on two different occasions in my life and career. And my favorite business book would be The Tipping Point. It’s one of the only books I’ve ever read twice, and I’ve thought of it so many times in my career. But ask me tomorrow and I will probably give you different responses!

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Right now, it would be my podcast app. I love learning in small chunks while I’m on the go, and there are so many amazing options. It’s kinda hard to believe it’s free!

Who is your business role model? Why?

Wow—just narrowing this down to one again, huh? I’d have to say, Christine Caine. She is at the forefront of the modern slavery movement, which is near and dear to my heart. And she’s an author, speaker, and has other events and side projects. I also love having my hands on multiple projects and want to advance the social justice movement. And, all the while, she looks like she’s having a blast!

What do you have planned for the next six months?

It’s been on my mind since before I started my business, but I now have a plan and framework for launching digital products and courses. I want to have these additional income streams, which will also allow me to minimize trading dollars for hours. And I’ve been home too much this year, so I’m ready to start traveling more again. Creating digital products and courses will get more income in the door, and also allow me to help people who don’t have the funds for one-on-one services.

How can our readers connect with you?

www.signify.solutions

www.facebook.com/SignifySolutions

www.facebook.com/groups/991897777605157

www.twitter.com/SignifySolution

www.pinterest.com/wesignify

www.linkedin.com/in/kporter9876/

www.instagram.com/kporter9876/

 

Q & A with Wellness Coach, Helen Hayes

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Helen Hayes is a Traditional Acupuncturist and Wellness Coach and runs retreats specializing in women’s health and stress management. Having
come from the corporate world, her mission now is to help ambitious women thrive in business without compromising their health and well-being and paying the price of burnout

Can you tell our readers about your background?

After my first degree in Economics and Spanish, I started on a career path in the City of London working in Corporate and Financial PR. My very first office was opposite the Bank of England which was quite something for a brand new grad!

My career originally developed in Business-to-Business Public Relations and I largely worked on international campaigns with teams from across the globe, which was great for me as I love travel. I particularly enjoyed running the press trips and even took a group of journalists to Silicon Valley. After the long hours and intensity of PR agency life, I decided to freelance and focused on supporting start-ups with their PR and marketing and in particular, women in business.

I have always been interested in health so, in my late 20s, I took myself back to university to study Traditional Chinese Medicine.  I have been running acupuncture clinics and specializing in female health for well over ten years now, and recently I have expanded my business offering. I now support women in business in a different way – to help them gainbetter health, greater work life balance, overcome stress, and stay on top of their game. I run retreats for women and work with women 1:1 on developing and implementing their own personal wellness plans.

What inspired you to start your business?

This one is simple – I wanted there to be more support for ambitious women to thrive in business without compromising their health and well-being and paying the price of burnout. 

Where is your business based?

I live in the Forest of Dean in the UK, and I currently run retreats within the UK and it’s only a matter of time before I will take those abroad! My wellness coaching can be online though, so I guess there’s no set location for that part of my business - I find connecting with and helping women from around the world totally inspiring - I absolutely love what I do!

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

When I first qualified in Traditional Acupuncture, I had to blend that work with my freelance PR work for a couple of years so it wasn’t a quick or easy career change.  I then moved across the country from East to West, so had to start building a client base from scratch all over again. Only two years in, I was amazed how much of my work as a therapist came from word of mouth but that does mean you have to put a lot of time in initially to promote a brand new practice.  I started www.balanceretreat.com this year as an extension of my practice so it is still very much my new “baby.”

I have always loved organizing and running events so offering retreats has always been at the back of my mind.  I have also been studying day and night to further develop my wellness coaching skills. Other first steps have mainly been based around networking as I am also developing corporate wellness services, so for that I needed to find a team of qualified healthcare experts and business customers!

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

In the past, the most effective way for me has been word of mouth and the one-on-one meetings and interactions I have with people.  I’ve learnt that it is very true that “people buy from people” especially when it comes to investing in your own healthcare. Trust is paramount.

More recently, Facebook has served me really well.  Running well-being workshops have also been a good awareness raiser too – although this is all very much based around my local market.  Now I have to convert all this to the online world to reach a greater audience of women for my new offerings!

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

At one point I had 4 jobs – as a single mother, I took on whatever work I could fit in to the week for financial reasons, so I found myself running clinics as well as freelancing in PR.  As a result, I lost focus on the part of my business that I loved and I began to worry that I was losing my passion! The reality was I was just spreading myself way too thinly. I overcame this by seeking help from a variety of wonderful coaches and soon regained my passion and clarity. Now I just focus my work on what I love doing.

How do you stay focused?

Self-care is at the heart of what I do for a living and without “practicing what I preach” I would not be able to stay focused.  Having a self-care routine keeps me on track in all the other areas of my life.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

My approach to wellness is underpinned by the philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine and I absolutely love blending East and West and the ancient with the modern.  I have developed my own form of wellness coaching for women that fits this model too. I suppose it’s different as my business is a reflection of my own unique set of skills, knowledge and experience.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

To date, it has probably been nurturing and developing existing customers as word of mouth was so important to my acupuncture clinic. 

More recently though and certainly for my new business, I think it has to be putting the time and investment in to developing a brand identity that is aligned with my target audience and creating a professional looking website.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Keep focused and prioritize self-care: get solid on your values, your needs, and your strengths and keep them in mind in everything you do. Stay healthy.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

App – my podcast app without a doubt!

Blog – I don’t have one favorite as I jump around from business blogs to wellness blogs all the time.

Book – Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela – changed my entire outlook on what is possible when I read it in my 20s.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Evernote – helps be to keep things organized.

Who is your business role model? Why?

It probably has to be J K Rowling (Harry Potter) as despite her own personal challenges she followed her passion and the rest, as they say, is history!

What do you have planned for the next six months?

Networking and working on new retreats. I am also currently pulling together a team of therapists to launch my new corporate wellness services.

How can our readers connect with you?

www.balanceretreat.com

https://www.facebook.com/balanceretreatforwomen/

https://twitter.com/BalanceRetreat

Q&A with Trip Chandler

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Inspired by ship chandlers who supply provisions and services upon arrival at port, from staples to specialty items, Trip Chandler supplies the everyday to the extraordinary to visitors and residents of Houston. Founded by Dana DuTerroil and Joni Fincham in 2015, Trip Chandler offers a combined background of experience in the fields of writing, editing, and marketing.

Dana, a Houston native, served as the book editor for Texas Lawyer, a division of ALM Media, and had a lengthy career as a staff attorney with the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Joni, a Houston transplant, has used her MBA and marketing skills working with small non-profits and start-ups to create and execute both internal and external strategic communication plans.

1. Can you tell our readers about your backgrounds? 

Dana: I grew up in Houston and later lived in New Orleans as a student and then a lawyer. I've always loved doing research and writing whether it's the law or travel. I learned my tour guide skills from just living in New Orleans because there are so many tourists wandering around asking for advice! 

Joni: Houston was my fourth move in 8 years, so I had learned a thing or two about exploring new cities and finding your niche. When the opportunity arose to partner with Dana to combine my city exploration expertise and my business background, I jumped at the chance. It's been an exciting adventure helping other fall in love with Houston.

 2). What inspired you to start your business?

Our love for travel and the city we both now call home inspired us to help others do the same because we have so many new residents who move here for work as well as business travelers. 

3). Where is your business based?

We are based in Houston.

4). How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

We brainstormed a lot and we came up with a clear idea of our business. We also met with an accountant to determine which type of business would be best for us. Taking care of the practical stuff first made it easier to focus on the fun side! 

5). What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Meeting with people face to face - from concierges in hotels to the staff at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitor's Bureau. A in-person meeting is really crucial when you run a business based on personalization. It helps us generate positive word-of-mouth and referrals.

6). What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Mastering the ever-changing social media algorithms! Talking to other business owners and getting their advice has helped us figure out the system (and commiserate!).

7). How do you stay focused?

After every project, we discuss what worked and what we could do better and record our personal notes so we can use that for the next client. 

8). How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

Our level of personalization really sets apart from other tours that focus only on highlights or what they like to show people. We really want people to learn about the city through what they like to do. Additionally, our services are versatile and flexible - we write about the city and create personalized guides for people to use on their own or we can go with them. 

 9). What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Word of mouth and partnering with other Houston bloggers on a blog series has helped us with exposure.

10). What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Hang out with other entrepreneurs! Running your own business can be isolating so it's important to talk to others - it can really help you get through a rough patch.

11). What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

Google Maps is pretty indispensable for us because it makes it easy for us to map out a tour route. We have lots of local Houston blogs that we love, but for the business side of things the blog at Duct Tape Marketing has lots of great tips for small businesses. "Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon is an inspiring quick read about creativity.

12). What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

We couldn't run our business without Google Drive. It's pretty basic, but we can share all our documents quickly and easily. Plus, it allows us to work virtually, so it's no big deal for one of us to spend a week at the beach!

13). Who is your business role model? Why?

We find motivation and guidance from other women who have made the leap into running their own small business. We're huge fans of the Radio Cherry Bombe podcast because the interviews of women in the food industry are so inspiring. They all start with a dream just like us and just go for it. Hearing their struggles and successes is like a daily pep talk to keep at it.

14). What do you have planned for the next six months?

Focusing on set tours of iconic Houston destinations like NASA and downtown Houston with a Trip Chandler twist!

15). How can our readers connect with you?

Our website

Twitter: @TripChandler

Instagram: @tripchandler

Facebook.

Q&A with Entrepreneur, Devon Smiley

Devon Smiley - The Negotiation Expert

Devon Smiley - The Negotiation Expert

With her dynamic style and best-in-class expertise, Devon is a sought after guest expert and keynote speaker at conferences and mastermind retreats. From the stage, she not only motivates the audience to embrace negotiation, but also shares strategies that attendees can put into action immediately.

Devon helps corporate clients including JPMorgan Chase, Rolls Royce, and Mars Chocolate improve their negotiation capabilities, as well as supports pro bono partners including The Clinton Foundation, UN Women, and God's Love We Deliver.

1). Can you tell our readers about your background?

Growing up, Negotiation Consultant was definitely not on my list of dream careers. Throughout my undergrad degree, I had my sights set on working in advertising - so it was a happy accident that I found myself building an amazing career in aerospace procurement instead. I negotiated for, and with, Forbes 50 organizations and closed over $5Billion in contracts. It was an amazing way to earn my 'negotiator' stripes.

Whether a deal was worth a few thousand dollars or a few million, success was built on cultivating relationships, knowing how to adapt communication styles, and being rigorous in prep work - and I know that businesses of every size can tap into those skills to get their best results. That’s what I love about negotiation. There’s nothing stuffy or sleazy about it, and you can do it in a way that honors your natural skill set and style.

2). What inspired you to start your business?

In my corporate career, I was initially a front-line negotiator, working directly with vendors. But the work I loved the most was mentoring/coaching junior employees and those who were new to negotiation on how to tackle their upcoming discussions. They’d enter our meeting scared and uncertain, but by the end of our chat they’d have a spark in their eyes and be excited to dive into the negotiation. I wanted to help as many people as possible find that spark, and the confidence in going after what they want and need in business.

3). Where is your business based?

I live in Montreal, Quebec, but travel regularly to work with clients, speak at events, and lead masterclasses. I love that New York is only a hop, skip, and jump away - and that I feel right at home as a regular on the 6:30am flight!

4). How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

While I was still in the corporate world, I created my website and started to blog regularly. It was a great way to explore how I could translate the skills I’d developed into strategies that would help small business owners and entrepreneurs. Finding my voice early on was key! This also helped me establish myself as an expert, so that when I left my corporate job and launched my business full-time, my credibility was evident to clients.

5). What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

In the early days of building my business, being active in Facebook communities was one of the activities with the best ROI for me. Not only did I learn a lot about what to do in business (and what not to do…) but it helped me build a network of entrepreneurs that I clicked with. Visibility in those communities also jumpstarted guest posting, and lead to interview requests - and those have helped me expand awareness to this day.

 6). What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

A huge challenge for me was shifting from a behind-the-scenes employee mindset, to putting myself out into the business world. My name. My expertise. My ideas. My - gulp - photograph. I shared during an interview with Nathalie Lussier that for the longest time I used a blurry selfie instead of a crisp headshot, because it felt safer. But it’s when I gave myself a tough talk and got professional photos taken that I started to feel that the work I was doing was real, and important. Getting my first set of pro photos done was a game changer and meant I started pitching larger clients and going after higher-profile speaking opportunities. Definitely worth the initial awkwardness!

7). How do you stay focused?

I’m a big planner, and for the first few years of building my business it was my 12+ month plans that kept me focused and motivated in the work. Now, I still have those long term plans, but find that it’s easier to stay focused on work each day if I stick to monthly or weekly game plans. For the days when work mojo is seriously lacking, I have a file in my emails called ‘sweetness’ with the little love notes I’ve received from readers, subscribers, and clients. Dipping into those gets the fire going again.

 8). How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

The field of negotiation is still predominantly male - so being female sets me apart, for starters! The main focus in differentiating myself is ensuring that I help my clients with both the mindset and the strategy of negotiation. There’s a component of my work that relates to helping people change the way they think about money, the value of their work, and building the confidence they need to make their ask, which is important. But what ensures that my clients achieve their best results is pairing that mindset work with solid strategy. How to plan a negotiation, polishing communication skills, and what to do when you’re confronted with a sticky situation. That mindset + strategy combination is at the core of how I teach negotiation.

9). What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Networking, networking, networking! In-person when I can, but otherwise online. It’s those connections that will help down the line in asking for referrals, pitching clients, and going after opportunities to expand reach.

10). What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Embrace your expertise. I spent far too long in the early days of my business shying away from the word ‘negotiation’ and trying to use any word other than that to describe what I did for clients. I wish I’d stepped up and embraced it earlier - after all, if hearing the word negotiation scares you...that’s a sign you need to work with me!

11). What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

My favorite app is Instagram because it lets me share both my work side, and give followers a glimpse into what lights me up other than negotiation.

My go-to blogs right now are Jess Freeman at www.jesscreatives.com (she shares great tutorials and is now my first stop instead of Google when I’m trying to figure something out) and RM Harrison at www.rm-harrison.com (she has an amazing way of helping readers tap into what their expertise is, and when I need help re-focusing what I’m doing in my business, I head straight there.)

12). What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

About 18 months ago, I made the switch over to ConvertKit and have loved it. The platform makes it easy to implement best practices in email marketing, instead of having to find odd workarounds or hacks to get the tech to cooperate. Far less stress on that front than with my previous platforms.

 13). Who is your business role model? Why?

Tara Gentile - hands down. I’ve been following her for years and love that even as her business has grown, it still feels very genuine. She packs a ton of value into each of her articles, guides and webinars. No fluff or filler.

14). What do you have planned for the next six months?

The next few months are a delightful combination of ‘taking it to the next level’ to help a greater number of small business owners,  and ‘bringing it back to basics’ in working with clients directly. I’ve got a book in the works, based on the #maketheask movement. I’m excited to distill the mindset + strategy work I do with clients into a book that will make negotiation accessible to a broader audience. I’m also in the process of re-developing my offers for 1:1 work with clients and creating a small-group program.

15). How can our readers connect with you?

My blog is a great place to start, and home to articles, resources, and The Smiley Session video series. www.devonsmiley.com

I also publish a Friday Letter each week where I share negotiation tips, tricks and strategies. www.bit.ly/dmsweekly

Instagram and Twitter: @DevonMSmiley #maketheask

Q&A with Environmental & Wildlife Organization Entrepreneur, Natalie Kyriacou

Natalie

In today's FemFounder interview series, I chatted with Natalie Kyriacou, founder of My Green World and here is what she had to say about launching and growing an educational and conservation organization. 

Please tell us about your background.

My name is Natalie Kyriacou and I am the Founder and CEO of My Green World, the Creator of World of the Wild mobile game app, and the Director of Dogstar Foundation Australia. I hold a Bachelor degree in Journalism and a Master of International Relations degree from the University of Melbourne as well as undertaking a scholarship in Gender and Security at the University of Delhi, India.

I am also a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and former Board Member for the University of Melbourne’s Animal Ethics Committee in the Department of Veterinary Sciences.

I have enjoyed a rich and rewarding career as a wildlife advocate, social entrepreneur, Corporate Social Responsibility Director, and freelance journalist.

Since 2010, I have been endeavoring to drive change within Australia’s social sector; creating pioneering youth programs that aim to increase engagement in wildlife and environmental conservation efforts.

In 2008, I traveled from my hometown of Melbourne, Australia, to spend time connecting with nature throughout Asia. One of my first stops was Borneo, where I lived in the jungle working at an orangutan rehabilitation center.  I was based in Eastern Sabah, and spent my days working with orphaned and abused orangutans who were rapidly losing their habitat to palm oil plantations. These plantations have eaten away at a continent once ample in species, engulfing the countryside, and swallowing the rich diversity of the jungle.

In Borneo, I first witnessed the devastating impact that humanity has had on natural habitats and the species that inhabit them. Then I returned to Melbourne feeling determined to share these experiences with my community, in the hope that I could instigate greater participation in wildlife conservation efforts from Australia. And so, my organization, My Green World was born.

Why did you start your business? 

I found a problem that required a solution. It was really as simple as that. The rate of species extinction and the consequences of environmental degradation were too important to ignore. I felt that as a global citizen, it was my responsibility and my privilege to play a role in the future of planet earth and all its inhabitants. I started My Green World because I felt that young people would benefit from a platform that allowed them to connect with nature conservation issues, and I felt it was imperative to engage young people in these issues in a positive way.

What market does your business serve? 

My Green World is a youth-focused organization, primarily focusing on young people aged 6-18. However, we also provide resources and materials targeting educational institutions as well as teachers and parents, to ensure that we are providing comprehensive programs that reach children from all walks of life.

What's the largest challenge you've encountered as a business owner? 

The progression of My Green World has been a series of successes, failures, and challenges, and each one is something that both myself and the company can grow and learn from.  Working in my field, we are faced with huge barriers, and sometimes it seems that the odds are not tipped in our favor. Wildlife extinction, habitat erosion, food insecurity, poverty, and animal abuse are gargantuan issues that sometimes seem too big to take on.

The biggest challenge I am faced with (aside from funding, which is a perennial nightmare) is encouraging people to take wildlife and environmental issues seriously. These issues can seem so abstract, and so far removed from the day-to-day lives of many people, that they are often sidelined, or altogether ignored.

What's your best piece of business advice? 

Don't find a problem to "fit" your solution. 

How do you like to relax? 

Reading. I am a bit of a bookworm and devour books in my spare time. 

Connect with Natalie on:

MyGreenWorld.org

Twitter.com

Natalie's Twitter.com

Facebook

Mobile App