Suzi Whitford: “When you find something that works, keep doing it”

When you find something that works, keep doing it. Likewise, when you do find something that works well, keep doing it until it stops working. I’ve found amazing mothers who I’ve brought onto my team to help me run the business. Once I realized I can’t do it all, I was thrilled to receive eager […]

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When you find something that works, keep doing it. Likewise, when you do find something that works well, keep doing it until it stops working. I’ve found amazing mothers who I’ve brought onto my team to help me run the business. Once I realized I can’t do it all, I was thrilled to receive eager emails from my students who wanted to join me and grow my team.

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 Suzi Whitford, the CEO and Founder of StartaMomBlog. Suzi is a former Industrial Engineer who left the corporate world to raise her little tribe of children. Four years ago, she started a hobby blog that quickly turned into a full-time business. She spends her free time helping moms build their blogs and applies her corporate knowledge of Lean Six Sigma to simplify the blogging process. Over the past five years, along with the help of her amazing husband, they have grown their family by three, paid off all their debt before the age of 30, and retired from corporate jobs.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I have a vivid memory from when I was around six-years old. I would sneak into my dad’s home office to play on his big boxy desktop computer. I would draw for hours in Microsoft Paint getting the pixels just right. The day I discovered the Undo button was the best day of my life!

Not only did my dad instill a love for technology in me, he is also a Civil Engineer and an entrepreneur who built his own business at 26-years old. I aspired to follow in his footsteps and create something I could be proud of one day.

I eventually went on to major in Industrial Engineering and work for Fortune 100 companies. My career lasted only a few years and I became a stay at home mom to my first born. But my desire to build, create and explore only grew stronger. After a few different pursuits, I discovered blogging. My newfound hobby of writing and sharing online eventually turned into a full-time business that retired my husband at age 30.

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?

My blogging hobby kept me up at night. I would spend countless hours crafting new ideas, writing posts and editing pictures (thank God for those early days mastering Microsoft Paint). It gave me an outlet for my creativity as a stay at home mom. Blogging pulled me out of my postpartum depression. Even though I was just sharing my crafts and daily musings with the world, I stopped feeling so alone with a newborn.

Once my friends started to notice the change in my attitude, they asked me what I was doing differently. I shared my blogging journey and soon they wanted to join me. I realized in that moment that I wanted to help other moms learn how to start a blog and discover their creativity again.

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?

The easiest way to take a good idea and translate it into a business is to build the audience first. Long before I even thought I’d have my own products to sell, I built my audience.

Most businesses create a product and then start to market it hoping for sales. I did the opposite. I created my audience first. I would market and promote and share my advice everywhere I could. And eventually, when I had a healthy sized audience, I asked them what they wanted, and I create the perfect product for them. Voila, the sales came flying in!

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?

Build the audience of people who would love to learn or buy from you. If you absolutely love crocheting, share that passion with others. Show off your work, get others involved, tell them about your love for your hobby.

If you can build a following of people who are interested in your hobby, then turning it into a living is easy. You want to have a crowd of enthusiastic people ready to buy once you create your product. Building a following forces you to work outside of a silo when you turn your hobby into a full time gig. Ask your audience what they want, what would help them, how you can serve them — then create the perfect product with them.

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?

Your hobby has the possibility to feel like real work once you do it for a living, day-in and day-out. This has happened to me multiple times. The quickest way for me to keep it fresh and enjoyable is to focus on my customers.

When I see the enthusiasm of one of my students using my products and changing their life, my spirit is lifted. As you grow your hobby into a full-time business you may get a little further away from the actual hobby and move more into a managerial role. This move can be depressing for some as you may miss the proximity you had to your craft.

You can get back into your hobby by working 1:1 with clients, interviewing their transformations, putting on workshops or fun events.

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?

I absolutely love the freedom that comes with running my own business. I get to decide what to work on each day and how to serve my readers. My hours are flexible and adapt to my life as a parent of three small children. I can walk my little ones to school, come home to work a few hours, and pick them up again. We can spend the afternoons swimming or playing without worrying about any strict work deadlines. I can be involved in my children’s life 110% and that means the world to me!

The freedom that comes with running your own business can also be a drawback. Some days you may feel lost and confused on the next direction to take. Your self-motivation can take a dip and your business could suffer. There is a lot of stress that comes with running your own business.

Hiring a business coach, getting my partner involved and taking care of my mental state are fantastic ways to help me overcome the stress of running my own business. These three things give me clear direction, unconditional support and the energy to grow my business.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The biggest difference between what I actually do each day and what I thought I would do each day is the amount of time I spend with my customers. When you just have a hobby, it’s all about creation, it’s all about you. Once you start turning that hobby into a business, you get further away from the actual hobby, and closer to the customers and their concerns. I now spend most of my time serving and helping my students.

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?

The benefits of being there for my children and having flexible hours far outweigh the stress of running my own business. There have been moments when I would have a thought of going back to work, but the pay is much less, the hours are fixed, and I don’t choose my own projects. Nope, turning my hobby into a full-time business has been the best decision of my life (well, right below having three sweet kids and marrying a wonderful man.).

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?

For my business I do frequent Live videos to help my readers and build trust. As I was chatting with 50+ live viewers, I scratched my face a bit too hard and popped a zit. It started bleeding everywhere. It was a mess! I was horribly embarrassed!

But my viewers were kind and understood. I think they had a good laugh on their side. And hopefully it showed them that I’m a real person they can relate to.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

I grew up in South Africa right in the middle of Apartheid. I was in second grade when the voting laws changed in 1994 and Nelson Mandela became the first black South African president.

The enormity of the situation didn’t register with me as I was so young. But as I grew older my respect and admiration for Mandela grew. He led a tumultuous people and united the country without violence. He continues to inspire me, and millions of others, to be great leaders and see the best in everyone.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My heart goes out to mothers, they are endlessly sacrificial and giving. My work has allowed more mothers to find joy in motherhood. They have done this by sharing their advice, by showing their children hard work and determination, and by bringing in an income while being there for their children.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The top five things I wish someone told me before I started was:

  1. You’ll need a thick skin. Turning my hobby blog into an online business has been wonderful, but it has also brought on internet trolls and insensitive comments. I remember crying for a full day because of one insensitive email a reader sent me.
  2. Not everything you do will work. There are countless behind the scenes things I test and try to move my business forward. Many of the tests fail and bring no results. I’ve wasted countless hours on platforms hoping for growth, only to discover they get shut down. Looking at you Google Plus.
  3. When you find something that works, keep doing it. Likewise, when you do find something that works well, keep doing it until it stops working. I’ve found amazing mothers who I’ve brought onto my team to help me run the business. Once I realized I can’t do it all, I was thrilled to receive eager emails from my students who wanted to join me and grow my team.
  4. Enthusiasm sells. As you turn your hobby into a full-time business, stay enthusiastic. If you’re excited and passionate, your team and customers will be too! I’ve seen a clear difference of my sales if I’m doing a Live video and I’m passionate versus a Live video where I’m tired and unenthusiastic.
  5. Keep it simple. Whenever you have multiple ways to solve a problem, more than likely, the simplest solution will be your best bet. Don’t ever underestimate the cost of complexity. I’ve been stuck for months trying to figure out a complex system that had all the bells and whistles, where I could have achieved much greater success with a simple solution.

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 would be over the moon if my little business can inspire more mothers to believe in their creativity and wisdom. If I can inspire a movement of mothers who are confident entrepreneurs, I can not only change their lives, but those of their children too! And that will have long lasting effects into the next generation.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” That simple quote shows the power of your mindset and determination. As an entrepreneur you’re constantly battling negativity and criticism. If you allow those thoughts to permeate, your business will suffer. Stay stubbornly positive and always know that you can overcome any challenge, even if it takes a few failed attempts at first.

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.

My readers have referred to me as the Oprah for mom bloggers. I would absolutely faint if I ever had the opportunity to have a conversion with Oprah in person. Her uplifting and motivational attitude is the same one I try to apply when I talk to my audience. Oprah has always been one of my role models. The way she lifts up her students and inspires them to live their dreams — these are all the qualities I aim to give to my audience.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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