Stephanie Conway grew up in the UK, then at 18 got accepted into a university in Los Angeles. After graduation, she loved the weather and lifestyle so much that she decided to stay and forge a career for herself in brand marketing and events, working on global marketing campaigns for brands and celebrities – eventually she created Symphony VA.
For seven years, Stephanie worked in public relations and marketing for powerhouse brands like Samsung, Audi & T-Mobile at agency level in both the US & UK. Corporate life gave her everything: financial stability, an enviable Instagram feed, glamorous party invites, sleepless nights.. Until eventually, the lifestyle caught up with her and at just 28, wanted something more. So in 2019, she quit her stable agency career to develop her own marketing virtual assistant business which would enable her to live a laptop lifestyle and explore the world.
Now, the Northern English girl with both UK & US passports has rebranded herself as a marketing digital nomad, currently residing in beautiful Bali. Her IG handle @symphony.va, has 5 thousand dedicated followers and a feed that shouts #travelgoals. Here, Stephanie tells us how she learned to quit her 9 to 5 and live her best life on her own terms.
Where did the idea for Symphony VA come from?
I spent several years living and working in LA living my best life, eventually became a US-citizen. But a death in the family brought me back to the UK to support my family whilst everyone emotionally tried to get back on their feet. I had such a strong resume that I managed to secure a marketing job within the first week of coming home. But after living in constant sunshine for so long, the English winter weather really slowed me down. I woke up in darkness to go to work, then came home as the sun was setting. I felt like a vampire and my body went into shock from the lack of vitamin D.
“Why not me?”
Through my job, I worked on campaigns with top influencers, securing brand partnership deals, helping them make a ton of money to travel and be fabulous. I was constantly watching social feeds filled with beautiful digital nomads living their best lives on beaches whilst I was stuck in an office with unflattering fluorescent lighting, wasting away. “Why can’t I be where THEY are?” I constantly thought to myself.
Whenever I’d have a bad day at work, I’d fantasise about taking off to Bali, sitting on a beach and enjoying a refreshing coconut. Eventually, the living in constant darkness pushed me over the edge. I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I just bite the bullet?’ I had no dependents, my family were all doing well and I didn’t need to be in the UK. So I began to learn about how to translate my marketing skill set to working freelance for small business and entrepreneurs. This would enable me to live a laptop lifestyle and travel to whichever country I desired. I had already moved to the US by myself. I just knew I could do it again.
I knew that people would try to talk me out of it. I didn’t tell anyone I’d quit until I booked my one way ticket to Bali—only a couple of friends at the time knew. I was the most nervous to tell my mum. I worried that from the outside looking in, what I was doing seemed crazy and irrational. Tears welled-up when I told her, but she was so supportive. She always has been, and I don’t know where I’d be without my mum’s love and support. She’d witnessed the burnout happening and knew I wasn’t happy. With a mumsy, “Well, you’re still young and it’s your life” she approved.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts when the sun rises. I’m currently in Indonesia, and as soon as 6am hits – the sun blares through my windows and the chickens in the nearby village start to sing, so we have no choice but to wake up early. I’ll usually start my day with an assortment of exotic fruit for breakfast, like papaya, soursop or dragon fruit, accompanied by an English breakfast tea to remind me of home. Then, I’ll check my Facebook messages and emails for messages from clients on different time-zones. Work then begins, and I use a time-management tool to record the hours that I work for different clients so that I can track my hours and ensure that I am on top of how much work I’m doing for each client. I usually take a break for lunch and meet up with other digital nomad friends at a nearby cafe and soak up some well-deserved sunshine for an hour. Then I work for a few more hours before stopping at 6pm to go and watch the sun set in a beautiful location. On some days, I’ll forego my afternoon work session for a surf or diving trip and work into the night instead. That’s the beauty of working for yourself – you get to choose your own hours and work around your own life. It takes discipline to get the work done, but it’s definitely worth the pay-off in freedom.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My clients are typically those who are either too busy or too new to focus on their marketing, so I usually take a holistic approach when learning about their business and where they might need help from me. I consider anything to do with marketing and presenting their business as a brand part of my job to make sure they are presenting themselves in the best light. Therefore, I can handle anything and everything. Even if I can’t do a particular task, such as creating a Youtube intro video for a client’s coaching business, or building a complicated website from scratch, after my 7 years working in marketing, I have some of the best contacts who can do those things, and I have the knowledge and experience to project manage those tasks so that my clients don’t have to worry about getting it done the way they want it done, and I can take away the hassle of sourcing, organisation and project management.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One trend that really excites me is that content is always going to be an important factor in attracting clients to your business. That’s something that really drives me in my business as first and foremost I believe that I’m a storyteller. As a business owner, you already know that you need to entice your audience: inspire them, provoke their thoughts, excite them or appeal to their emotions. The goal is not to simply put content in front of people and hope they respond to it, but rather to encourage them to share and engage with it. Content — whether it’s an article on an outlet or a video – opens the door for two-way communication, which is crucial for building trust and letting customers know that you appreciate their business.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m always thinking of new ideas and new ways to tackle challenges, which is why I believe that keeps my clients working with me. I spend a significant amount of time thinking and visioning. I’d like to think that I’m naturally innovative and crave being in the constant process of discovery. I believe that as an entrepreneur, your imagination is one of your most powerful assets. If you dare to dream, then go as far to dare to turn those dreams into a reality, the possibilities are endless. This visionary quality is what sets entrepreneurs apart from those who are too frightened to bite the bullet and follow their dreams. Yes! There’s always the chance that you’ll fail – but the point isn’t that you failed. The point is that you learned from the experience. Those who stand out from the pack see no end-date to their creativity, their success, their ability to make money, involve themselves in new ventures, and to do what they believe they can still envision and achieve. That’s what can make you an entrepreneur instead of an employee.
What advice would you give your younger self?
While we can’t time travel to visit our younger selves and advise them on the workings of life, we can reflect on lessons learned. I think I would go back and tell myself to calm down, trust the process and learn to believe in myself. I was always thinking about the future, worrying that the decisions I had made might not be the right choices. But in reality – my inquisitive and adventurous nature was always the type to want to learn things the hard way. People on the outside looking in might have cringed at the decisions and actions that I chose to take when I was younger. But with every choice, every failure, every win – I learned something and I grew into the person that I am today. Because of her (my younger self), I’m still brave enough to learn new things, take on risks and remain positive about the outcome. All of those experiences add up to the person you are, the places you will go in your life and career and will help guide your decision making because you will have a greater perspective to draw upon. I’ve found that saying yes to opportunities that are in line with your goals and interests typically pans out with some sort of upside.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Against popular belief, I genuinely believe that there’s space for all of us to succeed as an entrepreneur. Yes, I get it: If everyone in the world wanted to be a marketer, then no one would be saving lives as firemen, doctors and nurses. But luckily, not everyone in the world is doing what you want to do. So just because there are plenty of other people already doing what you’re doing, doesn’t mean that you can’t also succeed. Carve space for yourself and your niche, trust yourself, and do the research. Don’t let your fear of failure or petty excuses get in your way of success.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One of the most important things that you can do as an entrepreneur is build genuine relationships – with potential clients, current clients, potential leads, potential business partners, potential vendors… you get the gist. Why does no one like a used car salesman? Because you can’t trust them. Maintaining your integrity in relationship building is what will keep people wanting to work with you. Don’t have malicious intentions – do what you say you’re going to do, and do it with integrity. Sure, you can’t be friends with everyone, but make sure that you’re doing things with the best of intentions. In 2019, it’s cool to be kind. Get over your competitive nature and be a good person. It will save yourself and others a whole lot of headache.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One free strategy that I used was content marketing in Facebook groups. In a single entry that I posted in a group for women entrepreneurs, I received over 600 likes and 200 comments from fellow entrepreneurs. This led to hundreds of messages from fellow entrepreneurs who either wanted to learn more about my marketing services or wanted to know how I had set-up my business. I made sure to respond to every comment and message, whether it seemed like a business lead or not – because I value the importance of building relationships and respecting people whether they can help me or not.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My first and most important failure was the disbelief that I could go for curated, high-ticket clients from the get-go. In the beginning, I took on every client that had any interest in my work and I worked hard for them doing anything and everything. This isn’t a sustainable way to work, and can lead to exhaustion. So gradually, I had to learn to say no in business. I had to learn what I was and wasn’t willing to do and how often I wanted to work. Why go from the slave to one master as an employe to being the slave to many masters as an entrepreneur? Isn’t the whole point of going it alone that you want your freedom?
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you’re good at writing, create a guide to the area that you live in. This way, you can monetize your guide by creating advertising space, develop relationships with businesses in your area and begin to establish a name for yourself as a reviewer. This will build your credibility and make you a source of knowledge for your area. The possibilities for revenue, marketing and development are only limited by your vision and ability to execute!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently spent $100 on a social media scheduler, which has saved me time and brain space in scheduling posts for clients. This social media scheduling tool allows me to schedule posts to various social media platforms for later publication, which alleviates the stress of rushing to get posts out. I recently purchased a $99 per month feature, which allows for 10 brands, 10 users and 50 social media profiles. This turnkey social media scheduling tool is easy to use and helps provide extensive performance reporting, and additional features like marketing automation.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
For everything that I do pertaining to Symphony virtual assistant studio, I track my time even if nobody is asking me to. This gives me a good idea of how long certain projects take me. When you know the pace at which you work, it’s so much easier to know how to price projects properly. It also gives accountability to refer back to with billable hours. With a time tracker, you can see all the tasks that actually go into every project, as well as all the resources they require – from project communication and planning to iterations, production and client management. This allows for a smoother workflow and the ability to develop realistic time-frames for completion. My preferred method of time tracking is Toggl, as it’s easy, straightforward and brilliant for generating project reports for clients at the end of every month.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
As a critical thinking exercise, I think everyone should read the controversial 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris at least once. The book is about creating an infrastructure in your business so that you can use your time to serve you, instead of the other way around. Becoming an entrepreneur comes with all the juicy lifestyle benefits of location independence, and most importantly, is a much more realistic option than what Tim Ferris describes in his book, but there are important take-aways that you can grasp and apply to your business. It’s the kind of book that you should read, take with a grain of salt, then forget half of the nonsense. There are great tips in the book about time management, and then there are terrible business ideas about pawning off all of your work to virtual assistants in the third world. I think if you can execute your critical thinking skills and decipher the best bits of this book rather than taking it on face-value, then it’s definitely worth the read as an entrepreneur.
What is your favorite quote?
‘It’s forgiveness that makes us what we are. Without forgiveness, our species would’ve annihilated itself in endless retributions. Without forgiveness, there would be no history. Without that hope, there would be no art, for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness. Without that dream, there would be no love, for every act of love is in some way a promise to forgive. We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.’ – Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram.
I mentioned earlier that I love a good story and if you’re slow to the race and haven’t read Shantaram yet, you need to pick up a copy of this book. It will revive your faith in humanity and paint a poetic picture of the terrors of the world we live in. I believe what makes me a successful entrepreneur is my love for people and a good story.
- Content opens the door for two-way communication, which is crucial for building trust and letting customers know that you appreciate their business.
- As an entrepreneur, your imagination is one of your most powerful assets. If you dare to dream, then go as far to dare to turn those dreams into a reality, the possibilities are endless.
- Saying yes to opportunities that are in line with your goals and interests typically pans out with some sort of upside.
- Maintaining your integrity in relationship building is what will keep people wanting to work with you.