Please click here to listen to the podcast episode.
Welcome to Lifestyle Solopreneur, the community for entrepreneurs who put lifestyle first. Join your host Flavia Berys as she interviews successful lifestyle solopreneurs and shares ideas to help you find perfect balance between lifestyle, business, and self. Flavia’s an attorney, marketing expert, and founder of several online academies. She’s been featured in major media including BBC World News, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, ESPN Television, and more. Join us for this episode of Lifestyle Solopreneur.
Flavia Berys: Hey Lifestyle Solopreneurs, today I have the absolute privilege of interviewing Laura Valvasori. She is the owner of Good to Grow Marketing and the founder of Flying Solo Academy. After spending over fifteen years working in marketing roles for professional services firms, Laura left the corporate world to start Good to Grow Marketing. She saw a need in the marketplace for someone who could help companies create their big picture marketing strategy, connect the dots between all the disciplines, and link marketing to the overall business strategy. Working out of her home office, formerly a shed, in Oakville, Ontario, she has created a successful consulting business that allows her to leverage her talents, work with amazing talents, and gives her the freedom to focus on spending time with her family, staying healthy, and pursuing other interests outside of work including yoga and boating.
Her latest project, The Flying Solo Academy, will help people with expertise from the corporate world become successful solo business to business consultants so that they can create a sustainable and rewarding business and a life they love.
Laura Valvasori, welcome to the show.
Laura Valvasori: Thank you so much Flavia. I’m excited to be here.
Flavia Berys: I’m so excited to have you on, and I love that what you’re focusing on next, your latest project, this Flying Solo Academy, helps people become solopreneurs. Business to business consultants, as you say. And I think that’s great because so many listeners on this show are people who are looking to shift from doing a job for an employer and taking those skills and transforming it into their own business that they control and becoming a solopreneur in something they’re talented at. And I get the feeling that’s a real fit with you, with what you’re working on.
Laura Valvasori: Absolutely. So my background is in the corporate world, and when I decided to take the leap and go out on my own I found it very overwhelming at first, and I found that there weren’t a lot of resources out there to help me. So it was a lot of flying by the seat of my pants and figuring things out and figuring out how to register a business and look for my first client and how to deliver engagement. And there’s so many facets outside of just delivering the work itself to managing a business like this that I didn’t find a resource that really helped do that. And in the meantime now that I’ve been doing this for a few years I get calls all the time from people saying I’m thinking of going on my own or I just left the corporate world, can I ask you some questions? And they tend to be common questions about getting started and how you be successful in this world. So I thought well this is an opportunity for me to create something that delivers some online resources for people to help support them through their journey.
Flavia Berys: And so I have to ask, you said you work out of your home office, and it’s formerly a shed. So I’ve got to have you walk, give us the visual and walk us through your home office, and you know how have you organized it, put it together. Did you go with the industrial look? I mean when you say shed I was like, I mean are you next to the lawn mower?
Laura Valvasori: Ya, in the backyard.
Flavia Berys: Did you finish cosmetically the interior? What did you do?
Laura Valvasori: Absolutely, so when I first went out on my own, my husband also works out of a home office and I was starting to look at our home office and thinking about oh how am I going to change this and move this if I’m working here? And he was saying to me this is my office. So I started working out of the corner of our bedroom, which quickly became obvious that that wasn’t going to work as a long term solution, and somebody made a joke about he’s going to kick you out into the shed. So that started some wheels turning, and I’m blessed with a handy husband so it quickly became a new project for us, and we converted what was a shed, it’s about fifty square feet, into an office. So we put hardwood floors in and beat board on the walls and I’ve got a little chandelier and a skylight, a little desk area and a little bench area, and that became the head office for Good to Grow Marketing. So it works year round, it’s heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer, so it’s my space. It’s small but it is, I think it’s important to have your own space that you feel good in and you feel like you can focus in and it becomes the space where you do your work.
Flavia Berys: I love it. Well I definitely, chandelier, hardwood floor sounds a lot fancier than the image I first thought in my head when I heard shed, I’m like definitely move all the gardening stuff aside. No, I mean you’ve definitely created more of like an actual auxiliary just office room to the house, and I think that’s great. I’m a big believer in having your own space when you’re a solopreneur that works from home, and even dedicating space in the home that ordinarily maybe you don’t use that much. Because a lot of people have a formal dining room and they end up not really using it for family dinners. Everyone just eats either in the kitchen table or maybe in front of the TV on trays or you know whatever the family does, or maybe they’re just they live here, lucky to live in San Diego where I live where year round you can pretty much eat outdoors on your patio table because the weather’s so nice.
And so for a lot of people they’re like you know we never use our formal dining room, and they can turn that into just the gorgeous office area, sometimes even using the dining table as a big desk, and going from there. So I mean I love what you did. I think it’s funny your husband’s like no well this was my home office first so you’ve got to go, you know, territorial, this is my space. Which you would feel the same way now if somebody tried to move into your office.
Laura Valvasori: Absolutely, and my kids, it helps create a little separation with my family, my work as well, so my kids know that when I’m in the office I’m working. And they’ll come out the odd time but they generally know that I’m on calls and I’m focused so when they come home from school they’re, they usually stay away from the office and it becomes my own space. And it’s a bit of a mental trigger as well, so if I’ve been in the house in the morning and I’m doing stuff around the house and it’s time to go to work, when I walk through that door I even say to myself, as cheesy as it sounds, some days good morning Good to Grow Marketing, and here’s my work day starting. So it’s a shift mentally and I think that’s important to create some of that divide.
Flavia Berys: So first tip from today’s episode is to be intentional and thoughtful and to plan out your workspace and where that will be in your home, if you work from home, or where that will be elsewhere. I know there’s a lot of solopreneurs that go to these co-working centers that are popping up everywhere which is a great option for anybody that really needs to get out of the home to get productive. And also there is a lot of people that want to stay absolutely portable and always work remotely and work out of one coffee shop one day, the other coffee shop the next day, and just hop from place to place. And even for people like that it’s a good idea to really figure out what you want to take with you. Maybe you have a dedicated rolling bag that is for, you know, your rolling office and it’s got everything in there that you want to have with you whenever you’re being productive. You know, your vision boards, your journals, your computer obviously, and maybe a book to read if you get stuck and you just need a little bit of a break, and if you have a good selection of, maybe your Kindle’s in there. You know nowadays people are switching from paper to Kindle.
So I think that’s a great tip, that’s the first tip for the episode, and so tell us a little bit about what, how you would describe what you do to earn income. What’s your job? What is your work?
Laura Valvasori: Okay, so I have a marketing consulting business called Good to Grow Marketing. So I work with business to business companies and I really help them overcome the overwhelm of marketing. So my clients are primarily private companies, many of them are family businesses in industries like construction and manufacturing, and they have a really strong expertise in what they do but they really don’t know what to do when it comes to marketing. So when I work with a client a typical engagement for me starts with doing an assessment and looking at everything they’re doing from a marketing perspective and from a branding perspective and understanding where they’re missing opportunities or where they could be better connecting the dots. So then I work with them to create a plan that becomes a roadmap for what they’re going to do with their marketing strategy in the longer term, and I stay on for a period of time where I take on kind of a quasi-marketing director role. So I oversee some of the bigger pieces that need to be in place. For example they might need a new website so I help them sourcing the right vendor and oversee that project so it actually moves forward and has somebody who knows how to manage that kind of work. And then in the longer term I will either help them find an outsource solution to support their execution or I will help them hire somebody that has the right skill set to be able to execute in the longer term. So overall they get some senior level guidance in the beginning, but then they can bring somebody in to execute that as a more junior level.
Flavia Berys: That’s great. And how did you end up where you are now? What’s your business journey from, unless this is the first thing you started doing but most people end up solopreneurs.
Laura Valvasori: No I spent about fifteen years working for professional service firms, so law firms and accounting firms. And there was a few things happening that led me to where I am today. The first was that I was just feeling worn out by the whole corporate world I was commuting into the city every day, I had two young kids that were in daycare, and I just felt like I was always late and rushing and exhausted and I just, it was starting to get to me. So at the same time I had a successful career, I had been promoted a few times, and I kept getting larger teams of responsibility, but I was starting to feel like I was moving away from what I was actually good at and what I actually enjoyed doing, which was marketing. So for me it was all sorta starting to come to a head, and I was thinking about going out on my own but I was, frankly I was terrified. I didn’t understand how it would work, there were so many questions, and I wasn’t ready to take the step.
But I was starting to hear the same sort of conversations happening when I was meeting with owners of private companies, because in my latest role I would, I was marketing to private companies. So I was in events and things with private company owners often, and the same themes kept coming up. They didn’t really understand what marketing was, they were doing a few things but they weren’t sure it was the right thing, or they had someone really junior and I was starting to see an opportunity in the marketplace for somebody with my skill set. So I’d say the final straw came when I had a conversation with my boss at the time, and we had just been in a meeting that, a very kind of political driven decision was made versus what I thought was the right thing to do, and I was frustrated. And I left that meeting, and he could see I was frustrated, so he said why don’t we grab a coffee? And so we went downstairs and he said to me: do you know what your problem is? And I said: what? And he said: you care too much. And I was so taken back by that. And he said: just do your work, let it roll off your back…
Flavia Berys: Wow, you care too much.
Laura Valvasori: You care too much. Let it roll off your back and go home to your kids at night. Like why are you worrying about it so much? And I was so, I was just so taken back. I thought you know what? For everything I’m going through to commuting to the city and work in the evenings and do all the stuff that I’m doing for this job I want to do something where somebody cares that I care, and I want to feel like I’m having an impact and I’m having a relationship with a business that I feel I’m making a difference in.
So that night I came home, and my husband as I said is a very talented renovator and woodworker and all that, but he’s also a great listener, and we had a really open conversation and there were tears and I said I don’t know if I can do this anymore but I don’t know that I can go out on my own. There’s so many things I don’t know. And at the end of the conversation he said what’s the worst that can happen? You either try it and you don’t like it, or you don’t get any clients and then you find another job. Because you’re employable and clearly this is not working.
So I resigned the next week and I had planned to take the summer off because it was the spring at that time, but a potential client opportunity came across my way from a former colleague that said I think this company would be a perfect fit for you. I met with the president, who is now my largest client, and that was the start of Good to Grow Marketing and from there it was figuring it all out and growing the business. So that’s my journey.
Flavia Berys: It’s so important to have the support of family. Not everybody does, you’re lucky you had the support of family. Some people they tell their family I want to leave corporate America or corporate Canada, wherever you are, and I want to go out on my own, and the family looks at them like they just you know said they want to jump off a bridge. Like they don’t have that support, so good for you. Although he was very supportive and then he found out you were going to move into his home office, right?
Laura Valvasori: Exactly. So then the conversation changed.
Flavia Berys: So he didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
Laura Valvasori: Exactly.
Flavia Berys: And then you’re like well you can remodel a shed for me. He’s like I’d rather do that than have to share my home office. Because we do, solopreneurs get territorial. You know whether it’s your home office or if you walk into your favorite coffee shop you’re like hey that’s my table in the corner, I want to sit there.
Laura Valvasori: Exactly, exactly this is my place.
Flavia Berys: So let’s talk a little bit about the future of your business. What do you envision for the future coming up? I mean I know you have a project Flying Solo Academy, will that take up a ton of time? Will you have to take away time from Good to Grow Marketing? How are you going to shift into this new area?
Laura Valvasori: Absolutely. So my intention with Good to Grow Marketing has always been to create a business for myself that allows me to have a quality of life that I can still enjoy. So I choose my clients and I work with three to five clients at a time, depending on what’s happening. So my intention is to still continue to work with clients, absolutely, but also to pursue this other project as something that’s new to me as building online resources and programs to support other people. And the intention of that is to develop over time. The site has just gone up, it’s very, very early days at this point. But I’ve had overwhelmingly strong feedback at this time so I know that there’s a need for this type of information out there. So the balance will play out as I keep going but at this time I’m working with three clients right now on a consulting side and spending quite a bit of time on flying solo.
Flavia Berys: I see, and then with your free time, because I know it’s important to you to maintain balance, I know that a huge component of that is time with family but you also have some great hobbies. I know you do yoga, you’re into boating. Are there any other hobbies or are those kinda your primary things you do for fun?
Laura Valvasori: Summer we spend a lot of time boating, and our boat is ten minutes away from our house at the docks so it’s easy to pop down during the week and having not commuting at the end of the day and things like that allows me to pop down there sooner so boating is definitely a big part of our summer. I also do a weight training program with a group of women a couple mornings a week which I love because it gives me energy because I do it first thing in the morning, and it’s a social aspect which I think is something that you also really need to consider when you’re a solopreneur. You’re not with people all the time anymore. When you’re in an office there’s always somebody going for coffee or heading out, you’re going for lunches, and there are times that I’m out at client sites often but there are many days where I’m just at home. So I make a point of building things into my schedule that give me face to face contact with actual people, not just online connections to people as well. So the weight training is a time for me to focus on fitness and to connect with some of my friends. I also make a point of booking lunches and business development, focus types of meetings at regular intervals so that I’m always connecting with people face to face in one way or another.
Flavia Berys: That’s a great tip too, just to keep that social element because humans are social creatures and we really, as a solopreneur it’s easy to turn into a hermit. So it’s great to give that tip and advice is you know plan some social hobbies, join classes, take a class that has a lot of people involved, maybe a team sport, join a league, a local league. There’s so many things you can do to be social, and I like that you planned ahead to have networking lunches with other people so that you can be social, do some networking, and hey you got to eat. Right?
Laura Valvasori: Exactly. There’s also business organizations that I’ve chosen to join that give me regular connections with people and support some of my own professional development, so those are good things to also consider.
Flavia Berys: Absolutely. And let’s talk a little bit about how you grew Good to Grow Marketing from a business that was just an idea as you sat with your husband and family and talked about the possibility into something that is now successful. What was that journey like, and what do you think were some of the key things that took you from idea to success?
Laura Valvasori: So it started out with this one client referral that I mentioned in the earlier conversation, and that client became really important because they were the first client that helped me prove out my theory of what I can do. So I had come up with this model of how I thought I would work with a business, but I’ve never done that. And so I was very open and honest with him, and they were very open and honest with me, and gave me some trust and some leeway.
And so that first engagement was really proving out my model and knowing that it would work, and giving me some confidence in the fact that my skills were transferrable from the corporate world to solopreneurship. So from that client I have grown my business through referrals. It has all been driven by referrals either through my network, my former professional services world, or the network that I developed since leaving, or my existing clients. So I think that we spend a lot of time focusing on social media and all these ways of getting new clients, but I think that one of the most important things to do is stay connected with your network and always be telling people what it is that you do so they can help you identify new clients. So for me I know that strategy consultants are often a lead-in for the type of work that I do, because they’ve worked with the company and they’re setting a strategic plan and marketing gets identified as an opportunity, so I try to stay close to a few different strategy consultants because I know that that’s an avenue for business for me. And really it’s been through referrals and delivering a great client experience because that is what leads to the next piece of work.
Flavia Berys: Great advice. Now there’s a question I like to ask guests. There’s two questions, I’m actually going to let you pick which one to answer. So the first question I like to touch on is what is a terrifying moment in your business? Something that was either very challenging, very scary. But another question is I like to ask solopreneurs what were some of your biggest mistakes that you wish you had been warned not to make so that you can warn listeners who are on their journey or are already successful solopreneurs so that they can avoid those mistakes? So I’m going to let you pick whether to talk about something scary or a mistake that you can now help others avoid.
Laura Valvasori: I think I’ll pick the mistakes because I think it’s important to share some lessons that have been learned. There’s a couple that I would share. The first one’s around trusting your gut. From the beginning I’ve been pretty clear about understanding what kind of business I work well with and what the conditions of success are. So I know for example that I need to have a relationship with the owner of the business and I need to be able to connect and have access to that person.
So at one point pretty early in my business I had an opportunity to work with a client that was a bit outside of the zone of the type of client I would typically work with and there were some questions about access and communication. And in my gut I felt like this is not a good fit, but I kind of felt like I had to take it because they wanted to hire me and send business our way. So I did take on that opportunity, and it played out just as my gut said it would.
Flavia Berys: Our guts are so smart, you know?
Laura Valvasori: You know it was, I was able to do some good work for the client and work with them for a period of time but it was not an enjoyable experience and it was a constant pulling of teeth to get decisions, and it was difficult to communicate, and it was exactly how my gut told me it would be. So I think that’s number one is to trust your gut and know the types of clients that are right for you.
And the second mistake or learning is understanding what your limits are as far as capacity is. So I can typically work with two to three clients that are really active, and then I can have a couple of less active clients at a time. At one point I had seven clients that were all active at the same time with major projects going on, and I overbooked myself. And there was, you know, when you’re a solopreneur you are not only developing the business for what comes next but you’re delivering everything. You may have some support and resources but knowing your limits and what you can actually take on I think is an important lesson to learn, and understanding where you don’t need to spend time as well.
And so I now outsource some things. I’ve used virtual assistants for periods of time, I haven’t found quite the right fit, but for example I outsource competitor research if I’m doing some analysis on a company. So it’s not my time that’s spent so I can leverage my time better and increase my profitability.
Flavia Berys: That’s great. I love both of those pieces of advice. Trusting your gut is a huge one that a lot of people ignore because we give our heads too much credit. And so sometimes people trust their thinking process and their over-analysis more than they just trust their gut instinct which, you know, 99.9% of the time your gut knows what’s going on way long before and in a deeper way than your brain does, which is very interesting.
Laura Valvasori: Absolutely, ya.
Flavia Berys: So that’s a good one and thank you for sharing those with us. So right now you’re working on your newest project that’s Flying Solo Academy. Tell us a little bit more about that. Is it a live academy? Is it online so you can reach more people, or how do you envision it, what is it shaping up to be, how can people learn more about it?
Laura Valvasori: Sure, so right now I’ve just created a website at www.flyingsoloacademy.com, and my vision is for it to become an online resource with courses and programs and content that people can use not only as they’re just starting out but also what are some of the best practices of what is being done by other consultants so that you can learn from them to not have to make those mistakes on your own, or you can get up to speed faster. So my vision is for it to be beyond just my own experience, that starting out is some of it is my own experience, but also I’ve met an incredible network of solo consultants that are out doing what I’m doing in different areas like HR and IT and media relations and all kinds of areas. So sharing their learnings and their expertise as well.
So that’s the vision. It’s early days, but it would be great if anyone’s interested in visiting the website there’s a free downloadable right now called Rocking It As a Solo Business to Business Consultant: Seven Tips for Staying Happy and Productive Running a One Woman Show. So that’s on the website if anyone wants to sign up for the mailing list and check that out.
Flavia Berys: That sounds great, flyingsoloacademy.com. Listeners you have got to check it out if you are yourself making this leap or you’ve made the leap and want to make sure you didn’t make mistakes along the way that you can get help fixing, correcting course. Who’s your ideal customer Laura? Tell us a little bit about who is this designed for?
Laura Valvasori: I would say somebody who is near the decision of going out on their own to look at consulting and is interested in understanding what it entails a bit more before taking the plunge, or somebody who has left the corporate world and I’d say is probably in their first year of business and they are trying to figure everything out the way that I did, and my goal would be to help accelerate that learning and the time to success in the marketplace.
Flavia Berys: Well thank you so much for putting yourself out there to help your customers and to help this really important market. Because of what I do the solopreneurs out there, whether they are a wannabe solopreneur, aiming for it, getting there, or if they’ve already established a business and they’re just looking to grow it, that’s my tribe. That’s what I do, that’s what, you know, the people that I network with. And so for you to create an academy that helps that exact demographic really gladdens my heart. So thank you for everything you’re doing, I hope and can’t wait for your launch to go very well and be very successful, and I do hope that people check out flyingsoloacademy.com. And Laura Valvasori, the owner of Good to Grow Marketing, the founder of Flying Solo Academy, thank you for being on the show today. It has been such a pleasure.
Laura Valvasori: Thank you Flavia it’s been great.
Flavia Berys: Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us and I hope you enjoyed the show. Don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast, and if you leave a review on iTunes I promise I will read every single review. If you know someone who makes a full time living from part time work, and maybe this is you, please visit lifestylesolopreneur.com to nominate a guest or to nominate yourself because remember this: money doesn’t buy happiness, but money in the hands of a happy person, there is no greater tool.
Today’s episode was brought to you buy the Get Shift Done Program. It’s a lifestyle-changing online class to help you define your business and lifestyle ambitions and to set goals in a way you’ve never experienced before. This class will 10x your daily productivity with methods that will blow your mind, and if you use the coupon code PODCAST the class tuition is 99% off. Visit getshiftdone.com to enroll today.