Interview: Alyssa Miller - taking risks and starting your own business

I met Alyssa when she was attending Howard University here in Washington, DC.  She now lives in Minneapolis, MN with her husband (and brand new baby girl!) and she recently launched her own business – Real Eyes Editing (RE). I had the opportunity to catch up with Alyssa on the phone and we talked about what she’s learning on the front end of this entrepreneurial endeavor. EKO: Tell us about RE!
Alyssa: Real Eyes is a copy editing business that primarily services Christian thought authors. I do copy editing, copy writing and social media content.

EKO: What prompted you to start your own business?
Alyssa: Last fall I didn’t land a business job the way I thought I would [Alyssa and her husband took a year off from their jobs to travel to Costa Rica and Mexico to grow their Spanish fluency. When she returned, she didn’t find a job as quickly as she was expecting to.]

I started to think back to conversations Matt and I had when we were traveling, we talked about our dreams and what we would do if we didn’t have any limitations. Those conversations prompted me to do more writing while we were traveling, and I even picked up a few freelance jobs and an editing project for a family friend while we were gone.

But when we got back, I tucked that away. The easiest route was to go back to what was comfortable, what was known, and what made consistent money – the corporate world. But when those traditional doors were closed, it forced me to re-ask the questions we’d asked ourselves while we were traveling.

By early October we made the decision I would really invest in this, in starting a copy editing business.  Doing more than an odd job here or there, I moved day-by-day into the details of starting an official business.

EKO: How have you leaned on others who have gone before you?
Alyssa: Heavily – very heavily. Prayer has led me to wise counsel. I’ve met other editors, other freelance editors, other entrepreneurs – there’s something I can learn from everyone. I don’t know how much to stress how much I’ve depended on other people, helping point me in the right direction as a result of what they’ve done.

EKO: How do you approach people for help? What do you ask them?
Alyssa: I just ask people to do coffee and then I listen to their story. I think sometimes when I ask specifically for advice it gets a little awkward, they feel pressure. But when I ask them for their story, I hear “I started at my kitchen table.” Or “I didn’t get my LLC until 4 or 5 years in.” I can glean a lot of advice from their stories without them feeling pressure to say something really profound or wise.

When I first started, I thought there was ONE WAY TO DO FREELANCE EDITING. Turns out, there are TONS of ways.

EKO: How would you encourage other women thinking of starting their own business?
Alyssa: I would really encourage them to “Start with Why” – Simon Sinek’s concept. Why do you really want to do this? What is your real vision? How does it work with your natural skills and abilities? Does it line up with your long-term goals?

Once all that checks out, then go for it! Trust the Lord. It’s scary! At one point I was in a parking lot crying “I don’t know how to get clients… what am I doing? Matt’s going to think I’m a failure.” But I knew that all I could do was be faithful with what I’ve been directed to do by wise counsel, and trust God. I’ve learned not to let worry or anxiety consume me. I have to operate on faith – without faith it’s impossible to please God. (I took that one from the Bible).

Thanks Alyssa, for your time, and for sharing what you’re learning about starting your own business.

Anyone out there in need of a free-lance editor – check out Real Eyes!

Interview: Brenda Bertrand on Mentoring

Brenda Bertand and I had a conversation on Skype about mentoring, I recorded our talk so I could share it with you, that way I'm not the only one who benefits from her wisdom! Our conversation was 20 minutes long, which someone just told me is "forever" in YouTube time :)

I broke the interview up so that each of our topics is its own video. Take a look.

Introduction - learn about Brenda!

What Brenda has found unique about the different people who have mentored her:

Then importance of "really listening" to the people you mentor, and who mentor you:

How to go about finding a mentor:

How to transition from being mentored to mentoring:

Brenda talks about growing up in the USVI:

Brenda mentions a few people who have been great mentors to her: Dave  Buehring of Lionshare and Dr. Tim Elmore of Growing Leaders

Thanks Brenda - for your time and wisdom!


Microfinance and beyond - An interview with Vida Marfo of Opportunity International, Ghana

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to have lunch with Vida Marfo of Opportunity International. She is the Regional Head of Small/Medium Enterprise (SME) and a Manager for Property Portfolios at Opportunity International, Ghana.

Vida was kind enough to do an interview with me so I could share what I learned from her with all of you!

Elizabeth: Tell me about a loan client who has shown great growth.
Vida: We had one client, named Mary Addo. Her husband passed away and her brother-in-law told her she could either marry him, or move out of the house. She and her four children moved out of the house. She was working at a friend’s restaurant, and one day she finally walked into the OI office that she saw every day on her way to work. She joined a trust group and took out a loan for $20 to start a vegetable stand. She was able to repay that loan, and then she took bigger loans and repaid them.  Now she has a clothing store. She is able to pay for all of her children to go to school.

Elizabeth: One of the things I love about OI is that they try to address the needs of their clients beyond just micro-credit. What are some ways you’ve been able to address other needs of your loan customers?
Vida: There are so many ways. I’ll tell you two:

  • We use the time at Trust Group meetings (once per week for 16 weeks) to address needs beyond financial literacy. Women ask for help learning customer service skills, or learning about property management. Women have also raised health concerns and we have started screening for Breast Cancer at their Trust Groups.
  • Our clients also need help with home improvements – they want electricity or a toilet installed. We have the capacity to finance the improvements, but we don’t have the expertise to help them with the actual repairs or renovations. But Habitat for Humanity does, they have a good network of builders and repairmen, people they trust. Together, OI and Habitat for Humanity are making client’s homes safer and more stable.

Elizabeth: What’s the next big thing in micro-finance?
Vida: People are asking for "micro-pensions." Many of our clients want to start saving for when they won’t be able to work any longer. We have started retirement accounts. (note to the US-reader, think 401K, rather than company sponsored pension).

Elizabeth: Tell us a little more about yourself, what do you like to do in your free time?
Vida: I have three children, so they keep me busy. I really enjoy chess, and I am the head of the Professional Ladies Association at my church where we mentor the young women who are coming up. We coach them on business skills, practical skills, relationships with men, and family skills.

Thank you Vida, for your time! And for all you do to make OI successful in Ghana.

If you'd like to learn more about Opportunity International and their work around the world, please click here.

Also, this interview is posted on their blog as well.