I met Elsa at the beginning of 2012, when we both started the RSM Full Time International MBA at the Erasmus University. I remember that from the very first days of studying together, she seemed very focused, dedicated and passionated about learning…which proved to be exactly the case.
Hearing about her new project and knowing her, I knew that I could learn a thing or two from her experience so I asked if she would spare half an hour for a Startup Maze interview.
In this interview you will find out how a young professional woman who has a full time job and is full time mom, managed to start a website about work-life balance. Talking about of “practicing what you preach” huh?
Hi Elsa, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m a 30-year old multi-passionate professional woman. Nowadays, I like to describe myself as a blogger, life coach, health & fitness enthusiast, financial analyst at Shell and, most importantly: a new wife and mum.
I have a pretty varied background as well. I started off studying biological engineering, worked as a scientist for a couple of years then I moved to the banking industry, where I worked nearly four years in the City of London. Now I am here in the Netherlands, working for Shell. So I changed industries, countries and jobs and I have been doing several things over the last 10 years or so.
So what it your new project? Can you describe it in a few words?
Around this time last year, I was pregnant and I found out that I was expecting a little girl. This got me thinking about all the things I want to teach her. Above all, I wish her to grow into a healthy, balanced and happy woman.
Achieving this balance can be a challenge, especially for career-driven females working in fast-paced, male-dominated environments. I’ve experienced it first-hand while working in the City of London as a Financial Analyst.
At the time, seeking to improve my work & life balance, I started researching personal development, productivity techniques, fitness and general well-being. Eventually, I trained as a life coach (CCF-certified) and also as a Body Control Pilates teacher.
Over time, I’ve developed my own ways to manage my time, stress levels, health and relationships.
It’s these strategies and attitudes that I wish to teach my daughter. And frankly, I believe they can also benefit a much broader audience of women who wish to build more vibrant and fulfilling lives.
With some time on my hands during my pregnancy and maternity leave, I decided to start XanaLiving.com.
So this was an older idea/passion of yours and now you finally got the time to start working on it.
Yeah, I mean I have loads of passions, that is the good part. The problem is to focus on one.
Let’s say that the concept was not refined until quite recently and I still refine it as I go along, but I have always been interested in these things.
Even if I look at my professional career, apart from my current corporate job, everything I did was always related somehow to healthcare or well-being. Either I was doing research in laboratory to find tests that check the purity of vaccines or I was working with small RNAs which can be used to cure the auto immune diseases. In the City of London while working as an equity research analyst covering small and midcap companies, one of the industries I followed was that of health care services. And on top of that, I am very passionate about fitness. So yeah, there was always this healthcare/well-being theme going on.
Now the concept of the blog per se only came up last year.
What helped me pick this specific idea was going through Marie Forleo’s B-School. In the program, Marie talks about finding your “sweet spot” at the crossroads between your passions and what your audience needs.
Accordingly, I took an inventory of my personal interests, my professional certifications and experience. This gave me an array of potential projects.
I knew that I wanted to work on something related to well-being, something that I would like to pass on to my daughter. So the next step was to think about gaps in the market that would match my qualifications and personal story.
As I said before, something that I struggled with in the past was work & life balance as a professional woman. I would have welcomed some kind of coaching on the subject when I felt that my life was a mess. Although there are plenty of workshops and self-help books out there about career and time management, relationships, diet, exercise, spirituality, etc., I didn’t find ONE source that covered it all in an integrated and consistent way.
Hence, I my idea of filling that gap with XanaLiving.com!
So the blog is a way to share your knowledge with others. Is that correct?
Yeah, and actually it’s funny because I started doing more research about these things about 5 years ago. As soon as people noticed that I was doing a therapeutic massage course, training as a Pilates teacher and studying coaching, they started asking me questions about these things, and I really loved sharing those strategies with my friends and my family.
Also, at my previous employer, I was a mentor for a couple of junior analysts and I even started sharing the things I was learning with my mentees. Doing all that, I found that I really enjoy this side of things, mentoring and coaching.
So yes I do it for myself, but I am very happy to share it as well. And people say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, so for me it works both ways.
And how did you fund the project? Was it expensive to launch your own website?
Fortunately, I was able to save money while working in banking. At the same time, I’ve kept my current job as a Financial Analyst for a major oil & gas company. Therefore, I was able to fund the project using my own capital.
That said I’d like to point out that nowadays, starting an online business does not require a lot of initial capital.
I actually think it may be a great way for young people who find themselves unemployed in European periphery countries to diversify away from their home markets without having to actually leave their countries.
You can make it very expensive if you want to hire a web designer or someone to work on the branding, but I have actually been doing everything on my own. So it was not very expensive.
The main costs were buying the domain and training how to put a sensible business together that looks, feels and acts professionally.
So what kind of training did you have?
Actually, over the last two years I got into two programs about the information product industry. One was by a gentleman call Eben Pagan and the other one is by a lady called Marie Forleo, whom I just mentioned.
The one by Marie Forleo, I did last year. She has a program which is called B-SCHOOL and which she does every year. This is a very good program for someone that just wants to startup an online business and doesn’t really have a clue, so needs very clear action steps.
So you did everything yourself?
Yes, I did everything myself in between diaper changes and feeding times.
Also, YouTube is very good :D. So besides the paid training I always checked YouTube when I had questions like: “how do I set up a domain”.
So why did you do it this way? Why didn’t you hire somebody?
The first thing is that I am very conservative with the way that I plan things and my idea is that this project should fund itself. At the moment I haven’t been charging for anything yet. So, since I don’t have income coming from it I want to limit the expenses that come out of it.
And the second thing is that I actually had a lot of fun doing it. I’ve even designed the logo, and it was great fun googling how to do it and finding out all this information.
Did you ever considered stopping?
Yes, I did sometimes. I have loads of ideas for it, but effectively I am doing everything on my own and I don’t have anyone to take care of the baby while I am doing it. So sometimes I question if it’s really worth it because I can’t do even half of I would like to do.
But then, I do a have subscribers, so I have to put something out for them. Plus I am actually really enjoying all this
And I am also the type of person that would go crazy just sitting at home. Obviously I love taking care of my daughter, but I have to do something else as well. It just makes me happier and I think a happier mom is a better mom… so that is why I have carried on anyway.
Do you think luck played a part in achieving your goal?
I don’t really believe in luck. Actually over the years I have researched many things including religions and metaphysics… and I don’t think that anything happens by chance. I think that everything happens for a reason.
I believe in something some call “synchronicities”: things that come together at the right time.
And truth be said, all came together during my maternity leave. I wanted to launch my website and I was looking into information products when I received an email from Eban Pagan and he was talking about Marie Forleo.
I checked her program and loved it, so I started with it in March and I went in my maternity leave in April, just at the right time for me to have a framework.
So yeah, it was that element. I would not call it luck; I would rather call it coincidence.
So why did you go for web platform first? Why not a tablet?
Actually way before doing this I was thinking that I would love to do some kind of coaching app. I have actually been thinking about it since when I was training as a coach back in 2011. But to be honest, I would like to start with something that I understand fairly well. And that’s a web platform.
I don’t use a tablet myself, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to start with that at this stage. Of course, this does not preclude that I won’t explore the tablet option at some point in the future.
How did your background influence this project?
It did influence loads, because basically the whole concept is based on my own story. I truly understand the challenges of other professional women because I am one myself. So in that sense my background is the very core of it.
The strategies and tips that I share through XanaLiving are the ones that I have been using myself. I can speak for their positive results.
What skills you wish you had at the beginning of the project but didn’t have? And what skills did you develop during this project?
One is just basic marketing. We obviously did the MBA together and I took some of the marking courses but my focus was always finance. This means I still had to learn a lot about marketing, in particular: copy writing and branding.
On top of that I had to learn everything IT: not only how set-up the website and the domain, but also basic design skills like creating the logo and some rudiments of HTML programming.
So yeah, there were quite a few things that I had to learn and it would have been much easier had I known them from the start. But that makes it fun, to learn things along the way 😀
Do you think your location (city/country) influenced the project in any way?
I think it made my time management skills go up a few notches because if we were in my or my husband’s home country, there would be someone to helps us out with our baby.
But here we are complete expats so I am doing everything on my own, taking care of the baby, the website and now I am going back to work so it will be even more challenging.
So talking about balancing work and life this is going to push it to the edge! That is basically how the country is influences my situation.
Other than that, if I were in the UK, in France or in Portugal I would do more live coaching than I do at the moment. Since I don’t speak Dutch is very difficult for me to cater to the local market, so I really need to focus on the internationals. Until now I’ve been mostly doing online coaching via Skype.
How did/will you promote your project?
I haven’t done much yet, mainly because I’m still refining the project.
So far, I’ve used my social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and word of mouth with friends. I will invest more energy on promotion once I plan to get more products out.
Do you have a motto or an inspiring quote?
Self-care, Self-respect and Self-love. These are the key to a healthy, balanced and fulfilling life.
Where do you get your news and what type of news do you read?
I read loads about my field because I really enjoy it. And since I have been doing this for years, I am subscribed to many newsletters and I read many blogs. To name some, I would mention MindBodyGreen or the IntentBlog, which was actually created by Mallika Chopra, the daughter of Deepak Chopra. I also read the HBR blog, which often has posts about wellbeing and women in business. So there are various sources.
Do you also read blogs about marketing and blogging in general?
Yes I do, and actually I want to go once again through the programs that I enrolled in (Marie Forleo and Eben Pagan’s). When you read all the materials for the second or the third time you get even more out of it.
One thing that I try to check frequently, is a weekly video that Marie Forleo uploads on her own YouTube channel (Marie TV) and this is about branding, marketing or business in general.
Another good source is the blog SocialTriggers.com, by Derek Halpern.
What was the TED talk, book, blog post, life lesson or anything really that inspired you the most in making this project?
For anyone that wants to start his own business I can recommend The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard. This is a really small book but it’s packed with really great information for someone that wants to start a business in the field of information products or the expert industry, pretty much what I am doing.
Brendon Burchard is a former consultant with Accenture and I really love his materials. He also puts out really great videos. Almost all his videos are about an hour long so you can get really great training.
Do you have a lot of competition? And how do you feel about competition?
I don’t think I have a lot of direct completion. One of the reasons I picked this specific idea and not others, was because I thought about gaps in the market.
At first I knew I wanted to write a blog about well-being and I was thinking who should be my target audience. I realized that the audience that I know the best are the people that are in a similar situation to the one I was in a few years ago.
I started thinking what I was missing back then, and I realized that I would have loved having this kind of resource that would provide me advice on how to balance work, wellness and life.
I did read a lot of things: I read books and blogs. I attended workshops and courses, but there was never one source that put it all together in an integrated way.
So there is plenty of competition, in the sense that there are plenty of blogs about fitness, time management and so on, but there’s none that puts everything together.
So how do I feel about competition? I feel that it’s actually great to see what other people think about the same topic. It can also be an inspiration.
Key learning point!
What would be the most practical advice you could give to someone that would like to do something similar? Something that he or she could apply from tomorrow.
I think that the first thing someone should do, a thing that I had to redo a few times, is to understand who your audience is.
The first time I came across this exercise was through Eban Pagan: he calls it coming up with a client avatar. So for this exercise you really need to define your client, you give him or her a name. You can pick a picture from somewhere to inspire you, and then you start thinking: what are his need; what are his aspirations; what would be his dream solution? You have to write it like you really were your client. Sometimes the stuff you come up with is very obvious but sometimes it’s really insightful, so by the end of it you know:
- What your topic should be, because I think is really important to narrow your niche, instead of going really broad trying to reach everybody but pleasing no one.
- What the right vocabulary is to talk to your audience, because you will be thinking like your client.
So I would say start with your custom avatar.