Building your own brand means defining for yourself what “professional” looks like and what approach you have to doing business. Just do it damned well.
Liz London is the founder of The Ladyboss Nation, a network of female business owners in creative and alternative industries who learn and work together to grow their badass businesses. Through The Ladyboss Nation, Liz offers affordable business coaching, training and digital marketing tools for women who seek to level up their small businesses. She’s a serial entrepreneur, certified dog trainer, belly dancer, reptile-raiser, and a bit of a bohemian punk. She is also author of The Business Bible for the Unconventional Entrepreneur.
Where did the idea for The Ladyboss Nation come from?
For the first part of my professional life, I bounced between two passions: animals and dance. At one point in my startup path with my dance studio, I set out to create a team of advisers, but I didn’t like my options. The coaches I interviewed didn’t know anything about my industry, and they were plenty condescending to me as a young female.
Fast forward 15 years – my family moved abroad for 3 years right after I had my first child. So I created Spark Your Work, a hub of small business providers who cater to unconventional industries: freelancers in digital marketing, web designers, shop managers, writers and more. In creating a networking space on Facebook called The Ladyboss Nation in hoping to attract a space for my ideal client to kick around ideas, I discovered that the group was gaining a life of its own beyond the work I was doing for Spark. The real power is in this fabulous brand that is helping other women level up their businesses through sound business advice offered in fun, affordable tidbits.
The Ladyboss Nation has now taken center stage of my focus. We now offer three levels of membership, ranging from free networking and self-promotion, group coaching and online courses, all the way to affordable one on one business coaching.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My time management is a huge part of my success as a work-from-home freelancer balancing several businesses and wearing several hats throughout a single day. I credit my ability to stay super productive to these tips:
• I rarely check work email outside of work hours.
• I never start my workday with email.
• I use focused time blocks for specific tasks with a movement break in between.
For example, I might start with a solid hour of writing an article. Then a 10 minute break to grab a cup of coffee. Then another hour of writing before taking another break to toss the laundry in the machine or other random housework. Then I attack my email for 30 minutes, responding to what needs immediate response and then jotting down a note to schedule time for things that don’t need immediate attention.
Another 30 minutes for a small project before a lunch break. After lunch, I lose a lot of my energy, so I drop my work blocks down to 30-45 minutes. Mid-afternoon, the dog gets a walk around the block for my movement break and a little fresh air to recharge my brain one more time to attack the last of my to-do list for the day, which is usually social media management for clients and myself.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When I have an idea, I typically do a lot of writing. I’m very visual, so I like to make a lot of notes with doodles and arrows and brainstorming clouds. I have notebooks full of them scattered around my house and office, in fact.
If an idea generates enough content to fill a page and spark offshoots of ideas, then I’ll move forward with it by committing to some sort of deadline. I hate ideas that float around in the “maybe” space for too long, so I’ll set some concrete goals right away. Such as, “Ok, I think it’s a good idea to start offering this concept as a one-off class. So, let’s shoot for the end of the year to have the curriculum fleshed out and put it on the calendar for the beginning of the new year.” Then I’ll break down those into smaller milestones that have to be met before moving to the next step toward the goal.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Subscription boxes. I absolutely adore the self-gifting attitude that subscription boxes are promoting amongst a culture that is typically quite stingy with the self-care and spoiling.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
When I’m working during a focused work-block of time, I don’t do anything else. I don’t answer the phone, check texts, play with the dog, or allow myself to get distracted on social media. I give myself permission to be that person that’s difficult to reach outside of office hours or appointments. Except for Fridays, when I leave space in my afternoon for dawdling around my phone and social media to be there for anyone who happens to need a *spark* in their work week.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Slow down, girl. You’re making to-do lists on top of to-do lists that you’ll never be able to accomplish in a day. Stop running on adrenaline and you’ll find there are a lot bigger feelings of accomplishment than crossing off 15 not-really-necessary things on your to-do list.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There’s really no such thing as conventional anymore – the new “normal” is defined by every individual, household, community, or office.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Keep learning. I set aside time at the end of every year to take a new class, go to a convention, or get absorbed in a new aspect of my hobby or work. Continuing education is critical to a business’s success, and sometimes it just comes in the form of re-inspiring yourself through creativity.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Being a social human. We are doing business in an age where everything is automated. There are robots doing customer service by texting and responding to phone calls. The whole industry of “sales” has been relegated to a series of emails that are dripped out automatically over 6 months, hoping to fool someone into thinking you’re talking directly to them and connecting with them on a level of trust that will convince you to buy into a product or service.
I’ve grown my business by talking to people one on one. If someone asks a question, I answer it myself. I take it a step further and offer to solve their problem for them right then and there for free. I call them *sparks.* How can I spark your work today? Maybe it’s recommend a fun song to listen to in order to chase the doldrums of a Wednesday afternoon away. Maybe it’s to solve a website coding issue that has been driving them crazy for a week. Maybe it’s to help them come up with a better word in the blog they’re writing. I talk to people every single day and genuinely care how they answer the question: “How is your work going today?”
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my first dance studio, I didn’t think ahead. I leased a studio location and booked other dancers to rent the space to share the total cost of the lease. I didn’t plan ahead for the success of the other growing dance companies who then outgrew the space and found their own locations. I had three companies leave at the same time, and it put us under before I was able to find additional renters.
I was able to renegotiate the terms of the lease to give us a bit of an exit strategy while I found another studio to join as a renter, rather than the owner. I learned not to scale up too quickly without having a solid foundation first and to think ahead to all the “what-ifs” to plan for longevity, rather than being short-sighted.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A rental/subscription box for kids’ toys. Small children outgrow toys very quickly, and parents hate spending $20-30 on toys that they won’t play with after a month. Parents also hate the clutter. So why not have a subscription for $20-30/month in which a child gets ‘new’ toys delivered every month and then send back at the end of the month. If they want to buy it and keep it, they have that option. Otherwise, it’s out with the old, and in with the new!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A thorough house cleaning. I work from home, so my home is my office. I’m there all day, every day. I can’t relax at the end of my work day when I’ve got a messy house and an endless to-do list of “Oh I should really get to that before I settle down for the night…” I want to come home, kick off my shoes and relax. I finally decided it was worth the cost of hiring someone to do those detailed chores around the house once a month.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Airtable is a project-organization tool that I absolutely love. When I’m managing a team of bloggers with 30 different articles every month, I use Airtable to list out each topic, each client, each idea, who the article is assigned to, and there’s a drop-down menu that allows us to change the status of the project so that everyone involved knows what page we’re on (literally). I also use it for a variety of projects that have multiple steps within a larger framework that I want to keep an eye on and keep organized.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell. Other than being a fantastic guide for management of teams, the fun and useful lessons from this book can be applied to entrepreneurship. It shows business owners that keeping character and personality at the heart of every thing you do, you can create a world-class brand that people fall in love with
What is your favorite quote?
“My unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
-Tina Fey, Bossypants
• Feel free to be your authentic self in your work – whether you’re a total geek, badass, goofball, or whatever it is that makes you different than a hundred other people in the room. Building your own brand means defining for yourself what “professional” looks like and what approach you have to doing business. Just do it damned well.
• For entrepreneurs who work from home or have very different day-to-day tasks, create a structured daily routine that keeps you focused on tasks to optimize your productivity.
• Set boundaries between work time and personal time to avoid burnout.
• Re-inspire your work by diving into new hobbies, courses, or full immersion conferences that put you back in the learning seat for a few weeks every year.
• Follow through on your best ideas by setting concrete goals and a timeline with actionable milestones along the way to implementation.
• Don’t get cooped up behind your computer or put on autopilot with automated marketing. Talk to people. Get out into the world. Network. Sell your awesome work by showing it off.