Delegate authority, not just tasks. As a leader, it’s your job to communicate clear success metrics for each role on your team and empower your team members to achieve those goals you set for them by giving them the right information, support, AND authority to actually make decisions. It’s not enough to just delegate tasks to someone if they don’t have the authority to fully own the process and make any decisions. If you make all the decisions in your business, you become the bottleneck.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ellen Yin.
Ellen is the founder of Cubicle to CEO, an online membership teaching service providers how to use a step by step system to attract consistent clients & make their first $10K month — without a large audience or complicated marketing strategies. Through her social media agency, Ellen Yin Media LLC, Ellen has worked with multi-million dollar brands, Fortune 500 executives, and best-selling authors. She has been featured on MTV and in publications like LA Style, The Penny Hoarder, Disrupt Magazine, and Her Campus. Ellen is also the host of the award-winning Cubicle to CEO Podcast, which features weekly interviews with top business leaders and successful entrepreneurs. Her membership program has grown significantly through partner campaigns — gets to support peers in the industry but reallocating advertising funds, reinvesting in paying peers in industry commission and she teaches affiliate marketing to hundreds of entrepreneurs.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Although my entire professional career has been in marketing, I actually graduated college with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology. My first job post-grad was a self-created marketing & PR role at a fitness company I had connected with through Instagram. They weren’t hiring when we first met, but I pitched myself for an unpaid internship my junior year of college and that turned into a full-time paid offer upon graduation.
That first job launched me into the world of marketing, and I eventually ended up on the marketing team of a large healthcare company. That was my first and last corporate job — I only lasted 10 months in a cubicle before I quit my job without a backup plan at the end of 2017. I am a self-professed “accidental entrepreneur” who always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but never had the intention of starting my own business until I landed my first freelance client about a month after I had quit my job. I decided right then to stop applying for new jobs and to go acquire new clients instead.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I really believe that YOU have to make yourself available for opportunities to present themselves by putting yourself in the right place at the right time — “jump and the net will appear”, as they say. When I quit my corporate job and found myself with lots of white space in my schedule, ironically it was a co-worker at the company I had just left who reached out after hearing through the grapevine that I was experienced in Instagram marketing. He and his wife owned two local coffee stands and needed help rebranding and growing their Instagram account, so I took them on as my first client for $300/month. My “Aha moment” was realizing that I could monetize my existing skills and knowledge and turn them into a service that I could sell. I knew if I could land this one client, then I could repeat the process and land another, bigger account. That’s exactly what I did and within my first 12 months in business, we had scaled to a 6 figure social media marketing agency. We’ve continued to double in revenue every year since.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
About a year into starting my business, my largest retainer client ended our contract when they replaced my role with an internal employee position. They gave me the option to take that employee role, but I knew I didn’t want to go back to working for someone else, so I had to walk away. Overnight, my revenue dwindled to almost nothing, so I had to start the new year from ground zero. Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened because by losing everything, I never put myself in a position for all my revenue to depend on one client again. The client acquisition system I created and now teach from what I learned during that period of rebuilding actually led me to pivot my business to primarily digital products + media now.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
It’s been three years since I made my leap into entrepreneurship, and I’ve had the opportunity to help over 6,000 entrepreneurs grow their businesses through our results-driven online courses + agency services. Our big focus is helping our members reach the milestone of making their first $10K month; it’s been so exciting to witness that achievement for many of our members over the last two years.
I also host an award-winning podcast, Cubicle to CEO, which features the voices and stories of other successful female founders. Our show has been downloaded in over 100 countries worldwide, which still blows my mind.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I specifically focus on serving entrepreneurs with small audiences and teaching them how to grow profitable businesses without obsessing about growing their followers or posting every day. Our methods take a very different approach than the advice from most other educators in our industry — we call it “marketing minimalism”.
I love celebrating student wins, like one of our members who signed her first client on Instagram with only 30 followers or another member who achieved THREE $10,000 DAYS in one month simply by clarifying her messaging.
Another thing that makes our company stand out is I’ve been releasing income reports for two years now, and we share down to the dollar exactly what we earn, spend, and profit each quarter with our audience. Our commitment to transparency has really made a big difference in our relationship with our customers, because although they buy from us for our expertise, they also feel like we are on this journey WITH them. It’s an “us” thing rather than a “me above you” kind of dynamic.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I remember one time accidentally posting an Instagram story for my personal account to a client’s account because I forgot which account I was logged into. Luckily I caught it right away and was able to delete and repost to my own account, but it definitely taught me the importance of SYSTEMS. Making sure you have a standard operating procedure and written processes for tasks to ensure that there is a quality check!
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
That hustle culture = success. I think entrepreneurs often derive self-worth from their productivity, and we’ve been sold this lie that the MORE we do, the better.
I think it’s not about getting more done every day just for the sake of boasting efficiency or wearing busy like a badge of honor; it’s about doing the RIGHT things that have long-term significance in your business and life and align with your values.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Investing in my network, mindset, and skillset, in that order.
Network: People are your greatest asset! You become interesting by first being interested, so lead with generous action when you network by consuming other people’s content, taking the time to share the work of people you admire, leaving positive reviews, etc.
One of my favorite ways to add value to someone’s life is referring my mutual friends to one another for collaboration or services. When you connect others, you actually strengthen your own relationship with the people you introduce to each other because you are now top of mind for next time they have someone they can connect YOU with.
Mindset: Journaling, seeking mentorship and community, and reading a TON have helped me immensely with my mindset.
Skillset: Always be learning and improving your skill sets! Free information is everywhere and you can make a lot of progress on your own just being scrappy and doing your research online, BUT there is huge value in joining paid programs too. What you receive from paid programs is PERSPECTIVE and a filter for organizing all the information out there so you can skip a lot of trial & error.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
1) Stop letting your schedule be run by other people’s urgencies. Get really clear on what it is you want to accomplish, and filter every task or meeting that comes your way by asking yourself: Is this thing only important and urgent right now, or does it have long-term significance in my business? If I do this thing today, will it create more time in my business tomorrow, or will it continue to suck up my time? Significance has become the key priority I make my decisions from these days.
2) Build short breaks into the day. Schedule yourself an actual lunch and eat away from your computer. Block out 10 minutes for a walk up and down the street and stick to it like you would any other meeting. Some of our best thinking happens in the pause, and self-care doesn’t have to be extravagant or complicated. If you can’t take two weeks off yet like I did, take two minutes off multiple times a day. The important thing is that there is intentional rest and pause in your routine.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistake I see CEOs & Founders make when they start a business is trying to do too many things and help too many different types of people with too many offers.
Clarity + consistent action in one direction will create way bigger impact and momentum.
I teach a formula called “Power of One” > that means your message and product or service should be tailored to helping only ONE identity, with ONE clear desired result, and ONE big problem standing in the way of getting what they want.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The learning curve of being a good leader: hiring, firing, emotional intelligence, navigating different communication styles, cultivating a positive team culture etc. You can read all the books in the world on these subjects, but I think the only way to really learn is to practice, make mistakes, and pivot.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Not every investment will give you the result you intended, but sometimes that can be a blessing in disguise.
I invested in a brand partnerships agency that fell short on delivery, but it was worth every penny because I met an amazing consultant turned friend through their network that is now my publicist! That relationship would have never materialized had I not worked with the agency.
2. Delegate authority, not just tasks.
As a leader, it’s your job to communicate clear success metrics for each role on your team and empower your team members to achieve those goals you set for them by giving them the right information, support, AND authority to actually make decisions. It’s not enough to just delegate tasks to someone if they don’t have the authority to fully own the process and make any decisions. If you make all the decisions in your business, you become the bottleneck.
3. Establish an open door policy from day one.
One of the biggest factors that has played into the strength of our team culture is making sure my team members feel heard from day one. We create a habit from the beginning of openly giving and receiving feedback. For example, after their first week on the job, new hires are expected to share with me one thing I could do better as a leader to support them in their role. By breaking down barriers and showing it’s normal and healthy to have these discussions, it removes the fear of speaking up or letting things bottle up.
4. Never stop learning
Investing time, money, and energy into my continual education and self-growth has been pivotal to my success as a leader. I make it a priority to always leave room in the budget for investing in mentors, programs, events, books etc. I’ve done this since month one of my business, spending $50 of my first $300 project to join a membership to improve my skill set. This year, I just invested $15,000 in a year-long high level mastermind. Do what you can with what you have for the stage of business you’re in, but never stop learning.
5. Your business cannot depend on you alone
The biggest shift I’m making in my journey from six figure to seven figure business owner is to understand systems and how I need to remove myself from as many of the day to day tasks in my business as possible in order to thrive in my role as visionary/leader. Instead of asking myself the question “how do I do this?”, I now ask myself “who on my team can own this process, and what tools do they need to create a duplicable system for success?”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To provide female entrepreneurs of all walks of life, in all locations, and from all socioeconomic backgrounds, more equitable ACCESS to live mentorship, community, and education outside of traditional school systems through a networking + media platform.
How can our readers further follow you online?
The Cubicle to CEO Podcast: ellenyin.com/podcast
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!