I wish someone would have told me about virtual assistants much earlier on. As the owner of a consulting firm, it’s really easy to get bogged down in the day to day execution as you bring on more clients. However, a virtual assistant can help you with so many things and make it possible for you to focus more on strategic initiatives and building your business. At JJ Studio, our virtual assistants help with copywriting, scheduling, research, data entry, keyword research, and many other topics. We pay for them to take online classes and get certifications, which is a win-win: they’re able to take on higher-level tasks and earn more money, and we’re able to delegate more so we can focus on scaling the business.
As a part of my series called “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business ”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Janeesa Hollingshead.
She has spent the past decade working in tech startups, including as an early Uber leader launching and managing teams for the Uber rides, Eats, and Works lines of business. Janeesa, alongside Julia Lemberskiy, co-founded JJ Studio, a tech-focused consulting firm that provides fractional CMO, COO, and product launch services to companies ranging in size from startup to large, fully-funded enterprises. JJ Studio has grown to over a million dollars in annualized revenue since its founding 6 months ago and currently serves clients around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurship. As a young child, I would start businesses selling painted rocks, hand-sewn accessories, and even plant-watering services to my neighbors. There’s just something really appealing about creating something out of nothing, especially when that something is useful to others. I dove into the startup and tech world right after college and knew that with each job I held, I wanted to learn something that would ultimately be helpful to running my own company — whether that was learning how to raise funding while working at Fundable.com or how to hire and manage a large, distributed team across multiple functions at Uber.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There have been so many learnings compressed into the past 6 months! I would say the most interesting thing that happened was when I was subcontracted to create and execute a digital strategy for an apparel brand by another marketing agency. I was just starting out, and I wasn’t as thorough with my client contracts and payment terms as I am now. The apparel brand ended up refusing to pay the marketing agency that subcontracted me — and it quickly became apparent that this was something they had done many times before as they were well versed in the legal system and making the payment collection process as painful as possible. My client (the marketing agency) wasn’t prepared to handle this situation and went radio silent when I invoiced them. They still haven’t paid their invoice 6 months later, and from what I can tell, the apparel brand is still dragging their feet on paying them as well. From that experience forward, I made sure that my contracts very clearly detail when and how invoices must be paid. No problems since then!
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 about that?
I’m really grateful to my dad, Ted Hollingshead, for teaching me how to grind. Growing up, I watched how hard he worked every day to make a better life for himself and his family: going to college at night and graduating with a bachelor’s degree the same year I graduated high school, putting in countless hours to make sure the job was done right, and leading his teams in fair, transparent ways. He taught me that hard work and doing what others won’t will put you ahead of the curve 9 times out of 10. I owe my work ethic to him and still call him to get career and management advice frequently.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The truth is, what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. Successful people just do the things that seem to make no difference in the act of doing them and they do them over and over and over until the compound effect kicks in.” — Jeff Olson. Going back to what I mentioned in the last answer: I’ve found that a lot of success is the result of putting in the hours and effort even when it isn’t the most fun or appealing thing to do. I’m always trying to learn and refine what I think I already know, through reading books, taking classes, or just talking to experts in other fields. I contract people who are experts in things like digital advertisements — which is one of my own specializations — to show me how they do things just so I don’t get complacent. This kind of small, repeated effort adds up in the long run.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
I help companies get real results — whether that’s improved awareness, more leads, more efficient marketing spend, or higher overall revenue. Many businesses can’t afford to hire a full time, executive-level employee with Silicon Valley-type experience or they aren’t sure of where to start; others need someone new to come in with fresh eyes and evaluate what they’ve been doing to make it better. I offer a solution to that with fractional CMO and COO services, which means they get access to me, my co-founder, and our team at a fraction of the cost compared to a full time employee. Often, the work we do is equivalent to that of more than one employee!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Many people hear “consulting firm” and imagine a company that comes in, does a quick audit, and throws together some Powerpoint slides full of jargon to tell you what you should be doing differently in your business. We don’t do that at JJ Studio — we’re extremely thorough in our approach, we document everything and teach our clients how to do what we’re doing later, and then we fully own implementation, execution, and eventual hand off of projects. We’re fully invested in the success of our clients; one clear example of this is that we believed so much in what one of our clients is doing, we decided to offer a significant scholarship to multiple students for their educational accelerator. We really believe in acting like owners when we take on a new client!
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
When I first started this business with my co-founder, Julia Lemberskiy, our main motivation was to have some freelance work to do after our previous line of business wound down at Uber. We didn’t want to be bored or static! Of course, we both love launching and building businesses as well.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
Now, we’ve really put our hearts and souls into building JJ Studio. We’re using our retained earnings from the consulting branch of our business to fund other branches of the business, including a charity arm for causes we care about, a rapid product launch arm for our dozens of product ideas, and an investment arm where we invest in startups, real estate, and flipping existing businesses. This has become more than just a way to stay busy for both of us — we’re building a company to support our desired lifestyles and causes that are near and dear to us.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We’re actually working on a really cool project with one of our clients called The Knowledge Society. They’re an educational accelerator for 13–17 year old kids, and they teach these kids (who have no prior knowledge or experience) about how to work on some of the world’s greatest challenges with cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence, blockchain, gene editing, and similar. I met one of their students last week; she’s 13 years old and working on brain-computer interfaces and human longevity. It’s truly remarkable! JJ Studio is handling their marketing to drive more awareness and higher application numbers for the 2021–2022 cohort.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We don’t currently have an internal sales team — Julia and I handle our sales funnels and outreach personally. However, we did both manage high-performing sales teams at Uber. Some of the best things you can do for a sales team is provide thorough initial training, communicate goals and timelines clearly, give them the resources they need, incentivize them properly, and then get out of the way.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
We’ve found that word of mouth referrals are incredibly valuable in this industry. Almost 60% of our current customers found us or decided to sign with us because of excellent reviews from other clients — that’s huge, and it cuts our cost per customer to almost nothing. Make sure you’re doing good work, communicating proactively with your customers, and most importantly: don’t forget to ask for the referral!
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
In terms of customer service, be proactive. At JJ Studio, we provide written project plans and at least weekly reporting to each of our customers. We also set up shared Slack channels with many of them to ensure they can reach our team when needed and that we can communicate with them quickly if something isn’t working or is stuck. And if you make a mistake, own up to it. Customers don’t expect perfection, but they do expect and deserve honesty.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My Consulting Business”. Please share a story or an example for each.
First, I wish someone had told me about structuring my contracts appropriately upfront. It definitely would have saved me the trouble (and money) from the subcontracting story I shared earlier in this interview.
Second, I wish someone would have told me how to set my prices earlier on. I definitely undersold myself at the beginning because I was nervous to ask for more. Finally, someone told me that I should “ask for the highest number you can without laughing.” It actually worked! Customers who can’t pay that amount will level with you to tell you what their budget is, at which point you can both evaluate if it makes sense to work together; you also won’t leave anything on the table that way. I was able to raise my approximate hourly rate by about 4x when I started implementing this advice.
Third, I wish someone would have told me about virtual assistants much earlier on. As the owner of a consulting firm, it’s really easy to get bogged down in the day to day execution as you bring on more clients. However, a virtual assistant can help you with so many things and make it possible for you to focus more on strategic initiatives and building your business. At JJ Studio, our virtual assistants help with copywriting, scheduling, research, data entry, keyword research, and many other topics. We pay for them to take online classes and get certifications, which is a win-win: they’re able to take on higher-level tasks and earn more money, and we’re able to delegate more so we can focus on scaling the business.
Fourth, I wish someone would have told me how valuable Linkedin can be as a lead gen tool. Julia and I utilize organic Linkedin posts to generate a significant amount of business — about 25% of our current clients have come from Linkedin posts on one of our personal profiles. We recently hired a Linkedin coach to help us understand the platform better and optimize how we’re using it for lead gen purposes going forward.
Finally, I wish someone would have told me how much fun it can be to start a consulting company! I’ve learned so much over the past 6 months, had a much more preferable work-life rhythm, have more autonomy than ever before, and am earning more than ever before as well. If I had known all of the benefits involved with starting a consulting business, I may have started much sooner.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. 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. 🙂
This is a great question. If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I’d want to inspire people to spend at least an hour a day learning a new skill. If we all focus on spending just sixty minutes a day learning something new, I truly believe that the entire world would benefit from increased innovation, productivity, and opportunity. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy — read a finance book instead of scrolling Facebook for an hour in the evenings, take a free online class about a new technology on your train ride home in the evenings, or listen to a lecture on human rights while you get ready for work in the mornings. More knowledge is always a good thing!
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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 🙂
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, before, during, and after I worked for him at Uber. I’ve heard him speak in person several times, and as much as he gets a bad rap in the media, he’s always had an amazingly inspiring energy and passion behind what he says and does. I’d love to share a meal with him and learn more about how he navigated starting multiple businesses, scaling a wildly successful business, and running huge organizations.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!