Laura Spawn

Co-Founder of Virtual Vocations

Laura Spawn is the CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations, a 100% remote company and small business with a big mission: assisting jobseekers in their journey to find flexible, remote jobs. In her nearly two decades of working from home, Laura has found the flexibility of telecommuting and control over her schedule to be indispensable to her success in both life and work. Laura is a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council and holds a bachelor’s degree in public agency service management from Northern Arizona University. In her spare time, Laura, who resides in Oregon, enjoys reading, writing and camping with her family.

Founded in 2007 by Laura and her brother, CTO Adam Stevenson, Virtual Vocations connects jobseekers with legitimate, human-screened remote job openings. As company leader, Laura oversees more than 30 distributed remote employees and contractors and, together, the Virtual Vocations team has helped more than 4 million professionals in their job searches. In addition to providing a database that houses tens of thousands of current, fully remote job openings, Virtual Vocations offers jobseekers a number of tools to aid in their job searches, including a researched database of remote-enabled company profiles, a remote career and lifestyle blog, exclusive career courses and downloadable job guides, resume and cover letter writing services, LinkedIn profile enhancement, one-on-one job coaching, and virtual job interview prep.

Where did the idea for Virtual Vocations come from?

Virtual Vocations was born out of my own personal need for an alternative career option based around what I felt was most important for me: the desire to have flexibility and be able to care for my children without being constrained by a traditional 9-5 work schedule. In the absence of being able to easily find the types of remote jobs that would give me that level of flexibility, especially 15 years ago, I decided to partner up with my brother, a developer, and create the type of online job search service I needed myself, in hopes that others would, too. And it just so happened that they did. Developing one of the very first scam-free, online, remote job databases allowed me to create my own career and help others find the same flexibility that I wanted.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My days tend to start a bit more slowly than they used to when my business and my children were young. Now that I’m almost 16 years into business ownership, and my children are much more independent, I’m able to begin my mornings still pretty early, by preference, but take some time to enjoy my coffee, chat with my husband, and complete the daily Wordle. I also have specific household tasks I tackle each morning that set me up for a productive day. Simple things like making my bed, emptying the dishwasher, and taking the dog out have become more like morning rituals that propel me into productivity when I sit down to begin working. Aside from my morning routine, I usually spend time in the evenings planning the most important tasks I need to get done for work the next day. This way, when I sit down at my desk, I’m ready to go!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Making a detailed plan is essential to bringing a new idea to fruition and setting it up for success. It’s exciting when a spark of creativity gives you a new idea in business. But it’s also just as exciting to watch that idea come to life as you and your team work through the steps you’ve outlined, then measure for the outcomes you are looking for to indicate the idea was successful.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that I’ve seen over the past several years that really gets me excited is the new focus toward working within our values. Especially since 2022, there is a bigger focus on our relationships and health as equal or more important to our careers. Remote work has definitely paved the way for this new trend to come about and helped people see that it is possible to have a fulfilling, productive career while also respecting yourself, your health, and your values.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Evening planning the night before for the next day. I do it best by handwriting, either on a paper list or on a planner page downloaded to my tablet with my stylus.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Pace yourself. It’s easy to work at full speed when you’re younger, but you can’t sustain it forever if you want to make sure your business is growing with the team in place. Pace yourself so you can keep your business and team functioning and thriving well into the future.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Personally, the dirt from the Mojave desert smells amazing right before a rainstorm. Professionally, working six hours per day (maximum) is most likely the optimal number of hours anyone should commit to a workday to perform at their best.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

One difficult, but very important, thing for entrepreneurs is to continually look at your business services or products, and the processes your team uses, to determine what isn’t working. What are customers not really interested in? What processes are taking up too much time and contributing too little value? Looking at your business from this perspective can feel a little personal, since a lot of the backbone services and processes were created by you as the business owner, but you have to be willing to be honest with yourself in order to keep your business moving forward and running efficiently.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Don’t be afraid to take chances. You won’t always have market research and customer feedback available to guide you directly into your next service or product offering, sometimes you have to take a chance on what seems like a great idea. That being said, you should always have a clearly laid out plan when testing the idea, with measurable outcomes in place, so you have clear indicators of success or failure.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

As a business owner of a remote company, one of my biggest challenges was learning to keep in touch with my team members on a regular basis and giving clear guidance on what my expectations were for their roles. Unclear guidance took a toll multiple times and caused clear frustration. It took a while, and the example of a more experienced leader, to help me begin to create and cultivate a clearer communication style within my company.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In my volunteer work with assisted living residents, I see a great need for families, who live far away from their loved one, to have an easier option of communicating with their family member in the facility. This would help combat loneliness and also allow the family to feel more involved on a regular basis. As people age, using current smartphones and tablets for video calling becomes more confusing. It would be wonderful to have a very simple device, that would function almost like a picture frame, to facilitate family members to video call their loved one as well as be able to control the volume, clarity, and other call related features on the device from their location. That way, family members wouldn’t have to try to press buttons, swipe, or figure out how to update the device.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I recently spent was on a community class that popped up in my email for swing dance lessons. I haven’t taken dance lessons since I was 14, so signing up was a fairly random decision on my part, but it sparked my energy and creativity to try something new—even if just for four weeks.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use Notability on my iPad as my daily planner (with a personal daily calendar sheet I created). It allows me to not clutter up my desk with endless sticky notes, as I can write and erase with the stylus, and save favorite content and articles from the web to highlight and make notes.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. This book made a big impact on me when taking a deep dive into my personal and professional goals, the why’s behind them, and identifying what was really important to me.

What is your favorite quote?

“Step by step and the thing is done.” —Charles Atlas

During this season of life with my business, my almost grown children, older parents, and other seemingly never-ending changes and to-dos, I’ve found it’s easiest and most enjoyable to look at each day as it comes. I focus on recognizing what I want to get done versus what actually needs to get done, then take it step-by-step to accomplish those things, instead of looking so far in the future that it feels overwhelming.

Key Learnings:

  • Taking thoughtful, yet spontaneous, chances can be the key to sparking creativity in life as well as in business.
  • Doing the most isn’t always for the best. Learning to pace yourself is critical to staying the course and evolving in meaningful ways.
  • You don’t have to compromise your values for a job. Instead, find work that is financially rewarding as well as personally meaningful.