Don’t be too proud to take feedback — especially from customers or clients. They are the BEST people to get feedback from — so when they give it, listen with both ears and think about how to make it actionable.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deya Aliaga Kuhnle.
Deya is the Founder & CEO at DBM Bootcamp. She has worked as a Digital Business Manager for the past 4 years supporting 6–7 figure entrepreneurs and digital business owners with project, team and systems management. She has been featured in Business Insider, FairyGodBoss, Digital Nomad Girls and Guavabean.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I’ve always been a super Type A kind of kid — I was the one that organized all the other kids in kindergarten and cared a lot about the ‘efficiency’ of how we were doing everything in the classroom.
The teachers would joke that when I was in the class, they could kick back and relax because I had it all under control. Ever since I was young, a part of me just loved it when things “made sense” and when everything was properly organized and systematic in some way shape or form.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
Through middle and high school, I fell more and more into my love and hobby for organization and planning. I would organize anything I could get my hands on.
I started organizing and planning for friends, for family members just purely out of fun — I would plan travel itineraries, meal plans, family vacations, the launching of a side hustle or business, etc..
That “ah ha” moment came when I made a rough project plan for one of my friends who has always wanted to start an Etsy shop. After I emailed it to her, she messaged me saying something along the lines of, “You know — I would totally pay for this plan. I hate planning — I just want to draw all day and not handle the rest of the stuff.”
I didn’t realize until that moment that not everyone loved planning like I did. Over a few months, I slowly began turning that passion into a role that I then started offering as a freelancer — the service of Digital Business Management.
It started out as just managing one or two digital projects for people here and there: launching a blog or launching a podcast. From there, it developed to managing digital business for clients — so now, I project plan, manage teams and create systems for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I did a lot of market research and validated my idea before committing properly. I started researching if this was something other people were doing, how they were doing. I also did a lot of research in business owner groups trying to find out their pain points and what they were struggling with to see how I could position my business and freelancing services.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I know a lot of people say ‘Just make the leap — life is too short!’ but I’m a super risk averse person so my advice is always, “Give it a test drive”.
Don’t commit fully to your hobby as a full-time income until you’ve proven, step by step, that it’s viable.
I was freelancing on the side of my 9–5 when I first started to check ‘is this actually realistic? Can I do this?’ And only once I landed a few small clients and I was bringing in enough money to cover our basic expenses did I feel comfortable enough to fully switch over.
It’s okay to take small steps — it doesn’t need to be an all or nothing kind of situation.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I think if you set clear boundaries — that goes a long way.
So not just doing it 7 days a week and 12 hours a day — but more so having clear on and off times to achieve your work-life balance. You need to be able to switch off; just because it’s your hobby doesn’t mean you have to do it all day long.
Have clear communication boundaries with clients and customers as well so that it doesn’t feel like the business is taking over your life. Make sure you also find new hobbies that can purely just be hobbies as well so that you’re always getting that ‘fun’ element into your daily routine.
I also like to switch things up with different niches, industries, types of clients as well as projects — so keeping the task diversity high so that it doesn’t feel overly repetitive.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
My favorite parts are definitely the fact that I get to pick my own schedule and construct how I want to live my life. My partner and I slow travelled throughout the year (pre-COVID) as digital nomads and we could adjust our daily schedules to suit our workload. I loved that.
There is also something very empowering about running your own business — you fall on your face a lot but if you just keep getting back up, you learn so much with each mistake and failure. That really builds character over time — and humbles you like nothing else will.
The downsides are definitely that there are a lot of mindset hurdles that you have to jump through. All kinds of thoughts will invade your brain — “What if I’m not good enough? What if I fail? What if I succeed?”
I work very actively on these mindset issues with a mindset mentor and also by reading a lot of personal development books. It requires very active work as mindset can really make or break your business.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The #1 difference is definitely that there is way more of ‘figuring things out as you go along’ as I originally thought. You won’t know how to do A LOT of things in your business — and that’s 100% okay. You just need to know how to figure out what you don’t know.
Whether that’s being resourceful, outsourcing what you’re not good at or learning through trial and error quickly to fill your gaps of knowledge and skillsets.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
I feel like every freelancer probably has felt this before — but I always remember that that thought is coming out of a place of fear. And decisions made out of a place of fear are oftentimes those that keep us back from going after what we’re really meant to be going after.
I don’t want to live my life making decisions out of fear — because if I did that, I would be sitting in a fluorescent-lit cubicle in uncomfortable clothes working from 9am to midnight every day trying to secure the next step up in the corporate ladder.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Definitely my parents.
They’re kind, empathetic, clever and strategic — and it taught me so much about how you can be an empathy-led leader and manager. You don’t have to resort to toxic behavior, fear-based tactics, and micromanaging to get things done.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I absolutely love to donate to the wonderful non-profit, Rural Reach, which is based in South Africa. We sponsor two girls and are in the process of sponsoring a vegetable garden for the rural community.
That means so much to me because it’s super easy to get sucked into the money side of business of making more and more profit — so when I remember that there are much bigger and more important things in the world than just making money for my business, it completely shifts my perspective.
So I’m super grateful to be able to give back in a way that is bigger and more important to the world as a whole.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You don’t need to know everything before you begin. You just need to know the first step.
- You will fail — and that’s okay. Failure is a normal part of the journey on your way to success.
- Always focusing on giving to your potential customers and clients; don’t focus on taking from them.
- Don’t be too proud to take feedback — especially from customers or clients. They are the BEST people to get feedback from — so when they give it, listen with both ears and think about how to make it actionable.
- Don’t let that random negative voice in your head limit the potential of you and your business.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire 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.
I’d love to inspire people to get out of their head and just take a first step. I am the epitome of an overthinker and obsessive over-planner — and I know it’s so easy to fall into the trap of being too scared to start.
It’s really easy to picture the worst case scenario of all the horrible things that could happen if we fail or fall down or stumble on this new path.
And I really wish people would spend as much time thinking about the best case scenario as they do about the worst case scenario. You could change your entire life just by taking one small step today — that’s all it takes.
I am grateful every day that I took that first step even though I was petrified. Because even though this is totally cliche and absolutely oversaid — there is only one life and life is really too short. Do you want to spend it worrying about what might happen or spend it trying all the things you dream up in that head of yours and seeing where that can take you?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Martin Luther King Jr. — ‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’
Such an important quote for not just business but for life. Sometimes when we’re able to take on a scary new adventure, we focus too much on how big the mountain is or how tall the staircase is. We get super overwhelmed by all that we have to do and achieve to be able to reach the top — and sometimes, we get so overwhelmed that it keeps us from starting.
Alongside that, as a bit of an overthinker, I also tend to stray into the ‘I have to know all the steps before I begin’ thinking — that’s also a huge problem as often times, the next steps only reveal themselves once you’ve taken the first few steps.
So that’s a great quote for me to keep in mind — that I just need to keep my head down and focus on the very next small step that I can take.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Probably Sara Blakley! She seems to really know her stuff and seems super quirky and awesome.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.