I’ll say is it’s okay to not be okay. Not every day is going to be happy when under extreme stress. I think we all need to give ourselves a break, and communicate when we need time to care for ourselves. Sometimes I am so frustrated I just lock myself in the bathroom until I can chill out. You gotta do what you gotta do at this point.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Hermes.
Jackie Hermes is the CEO of Accelity, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based agency that helps software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups get to revenue and grow faster, and a co-founder of Women’s Entrepreneurship Week. Very active on LinkedIn, Jackie sparks discussions about the daily life and challenges of growing a bootstrapped company. Jackie mentors student startups via The Commons, is a co-organizer of Startup Milwaukee EMERGE, an advisor with Golden Angels Investors, and mentors numerous early-stage startups. In addition to her professional involvement, Jackie is an adoptive foster parent and future pilot.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Happy to! My journey to this career was unconventional, to say the least. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2008 (in marketing) really without a clue what I wanted to do with it. My dad really wanted me to go into something more business-y, like Finance, and I wanted to be an artist. Marketing seemed like a good meeting point between the two.
I actually started my career as a recruiter and that helped pay for my MBA. During my MBA program, I started a vegan cookie company, and was also pregnant with my first child. It was hectic to say the least! I moved into marketing in the same company I was recruiting for, Zywave, a medium-sized software company here in Milwaukee. The rest is kind of history. I really loved the challenge that the marketing profession presented… it’s part art and part math/science. I left that company to start my agency, Accelity, in 2013. We’ve now been in business for nearly 8 years.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The craziest thing was probably becoming an accidental LinkedIn influencer. At the time, I didn’t even think LinkedIn influencers were a “thing” — but someone convinced me to start publishing video content on the platform. I was pretty early to the LinkedIn content game and was able to start building a following with consistent content. Now I have over 70,000 followers and my business gets a lot of business from LinkedIn. That’s the short version of a very long story.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am actually working on a lot of different projects, which is exciting. I just put together a team within my company to get started building a course about how to market and sell your company when you’re a startup that doesn’t have huge budgets to hire experienced people or an agency. We come across these companies that aren’t quite ready to work with us yet all the time, and the knowledge of how to build a company is sitting in my head. I am so excited to share it to a larger audience. We plan to make the course super affordable so founders can hear the stories of how I bootstrapped my company and learn to do the same.
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 am going to name a few people — my parents, my husband, and my business coach. My parents were a bit skeptical when I decided to become an entrepreneur. It’s a big risk, and I had a family to contribute to. But they got onboard quickly and have been insanely supportive while I chase my big ideas. My husband was supportive from day one, and I am so grateful to have him in my corner. He doesn’t even bat an eye when I tell him the crazy stories of building a business, and it’s nice to have a sounding board that understands what it’s like to run a company day to day. Finally, my business coach and I have been working together for years. She holds me accountable to all the things I don’t want to do, and I am super grateful.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Well, my kids have been learning from home since last March. That means almost a year of me trying to re-learn fourth and ninth grade math, neither of which are my strong suit — ha! So, there have been a lot of challenges around trying to run the business from home and parent day in and day out. Not only the physical challenges of balancing the two, but the mental toll that this pandemic has taken on parents. We are now expected to continue performing at work every single day, run the household (from home), and never have time to ourselves. Luckily a lot of companies have been extremely flexible with parents during this time.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I put really flexible policies in place at my company, not only for me but for all of the other parents on my team. Frankly, I think the entire team needs flexibility right now; like I said the mental toll of the pandemic is huge for everyone. Outside of putting flexible policies in place, I’m really just trying to give myself and others grace. I know that daily life doesn’t look the way it used to, and it might never look “normal” again. So, we all have to adapt to this new normal, which includes kids and pets in our Zoom meetings, last minute schedule changes, etc. Actually, I am beginning to like life a little bit better like this!
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
I was reading the other day about the toll this pandemic has taken on women especially. Even though we’ve come a long way in women’s rights, many women are still largely taking care of the home, and are the main caretakers for children. I think I have it easier than many women because I’m running my own business and I get to make the rules — I can’t imagine what it would be like if I had a job that required me to be somewhere outside of the house with small children at home. I have definitely had to deal with this on the other side, though, where my husband is expected to be in the office and I am left at home to fend for myself with three kids and a day full of meetings. It’s exhausting!
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I think the most important thing has been to communicate really thoroughly with the moms/parents on my team, and my husband. The parents on my team need to know that it’s okay if they have things pop up; if they need to get off the phone because a toddler is crying, a dog got sick, etc. I actually ran an anonymous survey and someone suggested that we needed better boundaries around working at home with kids and I can NOT imagine putting any kind of rules on my parents right now. It’s not their fault that their kids are at home when the school or daycare is closed due to COVID, and I refuse to punish them for it.
Regarding communicating with my husband, we’ve been really clear about our personal boundaries and made a lot of compromises with each other when it comes to the kids. He is required at his office two days a week, and usually tries to have his mom help with the kids at least one of them so I am not parenting alone whenever he goes to the office. Efforts like that have made a huge difference, and I think talking about this stuff before it becomes a problem is the key.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
My best advice is to be honest about what is and isn’t working for you. I hope that employers realize that sometimes really early meetings don’t work for parents. Scheduling over school pick up or drop off when your kids are in these weird “hybrid” half-day schedules doesn’t work. We need to be ultra-flexible with parents and people in general as they deal with the continued impact of this pandemic.
The second thing I’ll say is it’s okay to not be okay. Not every day is going to be happy when under extreme stress. I think we all need to give ourselves a break, and communicate when we need time to care for ourselves. Sometimes I am so frustrated I just lock myself in the bathroom until I can chill out. You gotta do what you gotta do at this point.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
I am trying to remember that this pandemic is really hard for the kids, too. We’re doing a lot more family stuff, like watching family movies nearly every day, playing different family games. We’ve made VERY good use of our game closet during this pandemic. I think having set schedules for them where they know exactly when screen time is, exactly when reading time is, and when they need to entertain themselves, works the best for us. I am a total systems nerd, and I posted a schedule on day one of the pandemic. We have been doing pretty well sticking to a schedule of some kind — it’s helping me keep my sanity
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”?
I have adopted a new mantra: “everything is a season.” It’s helped me so much as I navigate everything that’s happened in the last year: homeschool, social unrest, the political landscape. I tell myself every day, “this is a season and it will pass.”
If I’m working every single night because I didn’t get my work done while I was parenting during the day, it is just a season, and it will pass.
If my kids are really crabby for a few days and it puts me on edge, it’s probably a growth spurt, or maybe they’re just hungry. Ha! It’s a season, and it will pass.
This period of me hardly ever putting on real pants and going in public is just a season and it will pass. I can’t wait to gain even just a teeny bit of my social life back!
Lastly, I’ve learned that I have to turn off the news. The endless gloom and doom news cycle makes me extremely anxious and also feel helpless because there’s nothing I can really do about a lot of the bad things that are happening. Instead, I read highlights of the news, and focus on the things I can control, like teaching my kids about being kind to each other, educating them and myself about racism and white privilege, and making an impact in the world that exists right around me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You don’t get what you don’t ask for.
For me, this means that you can’t ever expect to receive something you haven’t asked for. If you need the time off, ask. If you want the raise, ask. Women are taught to be quiet and fit into this “box” that doesn’t involve outright asking for what you want. Bust out of the box and start asking.
How can our readers follow you online?
I spend most of my time on LinkedIn; connect with me and my company below!