Client testimonials and referrals are worth their weight in gold: some people have enormous influence on their giant social circle, and securing their testimonials means a huge ROI in terms of referrals and ongoing work. The catch is you never know who someone is when they walk in the room, so you have to treat every new client as if they meet fit this profile. Eventually your reputation will get so strong and spread so far that the paradigm reverses, and people will clamor to work with you, and get your endorsement for their work.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Dara.
Alicia is a nationally recognized voice coach based in Seattle. She has helped thousands of people break through blocks, find their voice, and put it to work. Her most popular group training is “Public Speaking Bootcamp for Women”, which helps women strengthen their voices, clarify their messaging, and push back against workplace sexism. Corporate clients include Microsoft (where she is a vendor), Kimpton Hotels, Planned Parenthood, and Premera. Private clients include the National Women’s Political Caucus and members of Amazon, Merrill Lynch, Seattle Trade Commission, Windermere, and Lake Partners. Alicia was born into a family of Grammy-award winning symphony musicians. She studied musical theater in New York City and is an AMDA grad. As a musician she has released 5 original solo records and 3 with her current bands Diamondwolf and The Volcano Diary. Her writings about public speaking and creativity have appeared on CoveyClub, The Write Life, and Daily OM.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas born into a family of professional symphony musicians who valued music, and encouraged me to sing at a young age. Using my voice has always come naturally, and I studied musical theater in New York City after high school. I began teaching singing lessons as a teenager, and added public speech and presentation as an adult. Seattle is a city full of tech people who play music on the weekends, so there have always been plenty of clients for both sides of my business. A few years ago I decided to pivot to working with career women, because I realized that it was the natural extension of my work as a feminist activist. There is a ton of rhetoric floating around in our culture about “empowering women’s voices”, but that is quite literally my job. Right now in our culture you can see the effect of women using our individual and collective voices to make change, in movements like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #TimesUp. It’s inspiring, and I’m so happy to play my part in it!
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I started teaching in Seattle in the mid-90’s my friends and I were all musicians, and we didn’t have a single penny to spare. I lived in a giant, crumbling house in the University District, with 11 roommates and unpredictable heat and plumbing. Because we were so low in cash we used to operate on a barter system, but I didn’t have any useful skills except baking. I used to bake cookies, banana bread, and pies and trade them for guitar lessons and haircuts. Occasionally we would gather at a pizza place when they were closing and intercept the extra pizzas before they ended up in the dumpster. But I’ve been very fortunate that my family and community would not let me starve or end up homeless. I’ve always been very good at living within my means, which is an important life skill, but it’s also important to figure out how much your work is worth and charge accordingly. Grit for me has always meant learning from every mistake and never making the same one twice!
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
It sounds strange, but all of the skills I learned in theater school, like curiosity, flexibility, improvisation, and faith in my own creativity has kept me going. No matter how hard things got, I somehow always knew that I could keep changing and growing, and I could tap into those skills when I needed to.
So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?
More than anything it’s such a joy to have done my job for long enough to see genuine changes happen in the lives of my clients. Part of grit is perseverance, and as a result of having built an excellent reputation over the years, every day brings new work offers to my inbox. Understanding how to delegate ask for help when I need it has also been crucial to my success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I used to offer clients a free lesson before they signed on for more. One of my earliest clients was a singer in a local band who needed help reaching high notes. Evidently I neglected to be specific about the parameters of the first free lesson, because he showed up with his entire 8-piece band, thinking I would teach all of them at the same time! I set him straight pretty quick, and I never heard from him again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
More than anything, my clients tell me that working together in groups is a bonding experience, and they relate to each other in a much duper and more connected way after going through my trainings. Something about being vulnerable in front of other women, and holding each other in a place of love and support while practicing new skills breaks down barriers and encourages empathy. It works so well that a few years ago I added the words “team building” to the description of my trainings.
Also, people tell me that the effect of strengthening their voice reaches into every corner of their lives. We often have myriad inner voices that are judgmental and sometimes even cruel. Working on our outer voice, and learning to speak up for what we want and need, can disrupt the “inner critic” and silence it forever.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The three things I come back to again and again are daily meditation, deep sleep, and unplugging from technology when I’m with family and friends. Being completely present with each other is a huge relief from daily stress. I would also add that asking for support, comfort, and nourishment when you need it is vital.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Ask any teacher, they’ll tell you that our student’s successes keep us going. Every time one of my clients gets a raise, or a coveted job, or a fantastic review, I feel overjoyed. Also, I’ve had the same circle of good friends for almost 30 years, and they are keep me grounded. And at the end of the day, when I’ve given everything and am completely exhausted, my husband always figures out something good for dinner.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I work hard every day to make women’s voices stronger, so they can speak up for themselves every area of their lives.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- First is to make sure and draw strong boundaries around your time: In the beginning I didn’t understand how to do this, and ended up over-scheduling myself so much that I didn’t take days off! Sticking to regular hours ensures that you have time to re-charge. In a client-based business it’s important to remember that you can give a ton to each client if you’re first giving to yourself.
- Set clients’ expectations: the nightmare scenario is being on retainer for a client who thinks they can have access to your services 24/7, Skypes at all hours of the day and night, disrupts much-needed sleep, and makes all your other work with clients suffer! I’m always crystal-clear about what I deliver, and I’m not shy about reminding a client if need be
- Value what you do and stand by your worth: this one took awhile for me to understand. I was a “chronic under-earner” for the first part of my career, and charged way too little for my services. I also didn’t yet know how to create multiple income streams, so I lived and died by my individual clients. After awhile I began to notice that they were having huge successes, and figured out that I had something to do with it. It was right there in front of me, but I couldn’t see it until I was ready.After that I started charging premium prices, and most of my clients re-upped immediately.
- We teach people how to treat us: this might just be the most important of the 5 things I’ve listed here. Just by showing up on time, prepared, and enthusiastic, I “teach” my clients to do the same for me. I also let go of anything that’s bothering me when I’m working, and just focus on being in the moment with them. Together we can create a transformational paradigm where anything and everything is possible. This is my goal for every single client I work with.
- Client testimonials and referrals are worth their weight in gold: some people have enormous influence on their giant social circle, and securing their testimonials means a huge ROI in terms of referrals and ongoing work. The catch is you never know who someone is when they walk in the room, so you have to treat every new client as if they meet fit this profile. Eventually your reputation will get so strong and spread so far that the paradigm reverses, and people will clamor to work with you, and get your endorsement for their work.
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. 🙂
I will continue to strengthen women’s voices in every way, at a much bigger level, and hope that the current social and feminist movements keep growing and changing the world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on the ones below, but the very best way to follow me is through my email list. I give away discounts to all my group trainings and online classes to everyone who signs up! You can do it on my home page: http://www.aliciadara.com/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
My pleasure, thanks for having me!