Getting Creative in the Digital World During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Jenna Gyorfi
The Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID-19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.
With many children moving to online learning during and after the lockdown and adults working remotely, time spent in front of a computer screen has increased for every member of the family. In this interview recorded in June 2020, Julia Skupchenko speaks with Elizabeth Milovidov, the founder of Digital Parenting Consulting, a company that works with institutions and everyday families to provide strategies, resources, and safety protocols for online and Internet safety use. Even with a company focused on the digital world, Elizabeth still had to get creative with new revenue streams and how to reach the digital parenting community.
Tell me where are you based? Where is your business based?
Right now I am talking to you from Paris, France.
A beautiful city! Let's dig in. Digital Parenting Consulting — that sounds like a great and very important project. I’d love to know more about it.
What’s really interesting is that this was just a creation of mine. It just kind of came together. I’m a lawyer from California and I am based here in Paris. I am also a law professor and I have been doing a lot of E-Safety consulting. When I would attend these meetings at the Council of Europe or other European associations, I would look around the room and you could see the government stakeholders, the people speaking on behalf of the children, but there was never anyone there for the parents. So I said you know what this is a voice that we need to take care of. Parents are our children’s first educators and teachers. So I said if I could get to them and talk with them, then that’s half the battle. So that’s how I started.
Are you a parent yourself? Are you also representing your own voice?
Yes. I am a mommy to two little boys who are ten and thirteen. So that means that everything that I talk about in this whole internet safety and digital age space, I know firsthand — from gaming to social media to screen balance, etc. So it’s a lot of fun.
So how does the business work exactly? Do parents come to you for advice?
Yes. It’s actually pretty interesting — first, the idea that it’s digital parenting and coaching and consulting. Everyone is always saying, what is a digital parenting coach? What does this mean? How do you get a degree in this? You don’t have a degree in digital parenting, but a lot of it is common sense and the fact that I’m a lawyer. I am always looking at this angle of rights and responsibilities and how we can best guide our children. So my business structure is probably very strange. I have the digital parenting consulting side and this digital parenting coaching side.
Consulting is where I have my big clients, for example, the French online child protection association, the Council of Europe, UNICEF, or even Vodafone. These are the people that higher me for paid projects. On the other side, I have a coaching business. This is where I do more outreach — really individually getting to parents, speaking to Boy Scout groups, mom associations, and things like that. So the consulting really feeds into the coaching because a lot of the coaching is for free.
One of the things I really noticed about my whole business is that people don’t know how much they need me and they don’t know how much they need awareness on Internet safety and online issues. I kind of liken it to going to the dentist. My role is telling everyone to floss and brush your teeth every day, etc. People know that in general. People know they should be safe online. They know they should use technology responsibly, but sometimes they just go for it.
Then you have the people that get cavities or have some sort of dental trauma, and they think “I got to go to the dentist!” A lot of parents come to me and say “I need you now!” and unfortunately it's too late. Because a lot of the preventative work and awareness work would have reduced the “digital trauma” if parents just knew beforehand. So that’s what I try to do in general across the board whether I am consulting or coaching. I just try to make sure that parents have the right amount of information at the right time, just before something happens. I just love what I do!
Absolutely and it sounds like a very important task! It’s important to spread the word as much as we can about that. Would that also work for conscious adults? For example, if I don’t want to be traumatized when I use my digital tools, is there also a program or guidelines you recommend for adults?
Yes of course. My whole focus is on digital families. Of course, there are things for digital adults — wellbeing and consciousness is a great word. I also talk about conscious parenting and positive parenting. All these are the same sort of things — having this mindset of using technology, Internet, and social media in a positive manner, looking for the opportunities and benefits, and just being aware and conscious of how you're using it. That way you can reduce the risks.
I am thrilled that I have you on the interview because it sounds like your business was so much in demand in the last few months. How did your business change? How did the lockdown affect you? What did you notice?
It’s really interesting because as I just said before, I’m kind of like the dentist in this area. That means that people don’t know that they need this type of training and information. So one of the things that I noticed immediately with the lockdown, is that more and more families were just thrown into the deep end of the pool. Parents had to start understanding what digital parenting is about. Parents had to start understanding how to set boundaries, how to engage with their children in a positive way.
For me, that part was really exciting to see this kind of light bulb moment when they realized they could no longer just say get off of Fortnite, get off of Minecraft, shut it down. They had to step up. As I said, I’ve just really enjoyed this journey with my community. One of the things I do with this coaching side is that I have a free membership community on Facebook. So I have lots of parents, grandparents, and child online protection experts, and we are just giving out information and resources for free. We are just sharing what we know.
So I think we had a really fantastic opportunity during the pandemic, which sounds horrible to say, because I was not consulting and doing keynotes, and travelling as much as I was prior to the lockdown, I was able to really focus on the coaching end. If we back up a second, on the consulting side, I am also on the think tank for UNICEF for the child online protection as well as an advisory member for the Trust and Safety of the Council of Twitter. These are a lot of activities and places to go to. In February, I was in Thailand. Now that we’ve had the lockdown, I was able to sit here in front of my computer and was really able to focus on what the parents were saying, what they need, and I started creating tools and resources exactly for that, which also meant I started doing more videos, more reach out, talking to them, telling them it is ok. So that is some of the things that I’ve done.
I’ve also created toolkits. I sat down and spoke with somebody for a marketing strategy. I created a plan. I really took a moment for myself, to take a breath and stop throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks as far as an entrepreneurial strategy. To really look and see what it is that I think the parents need and digital families need and to create products and services that would meet that need. For me, that’s why the lockdown was really beneficial because I was able to step back, take a breath, and really look at my business.
You mentioned that a lot of the coaching that you do and the resources that you share are free, pro bono is goodwill from you to other parents because we are all in the same boat, but what about in terms of revenue streams because this has been a problem for a lot of entrepreneurs to keep the flow of the income.
Right. So for that, again for me the most specific thing that I did was to hire a marketing strategist. It was somebody who has done marketing for Eurostar, so a real business professional, who helped me sit down and really chart out what it is that I offer, what it is that parents need, and to create revenue streams for that. Lets put the consulting aside and look at just the coaching. So I created online toolkits and I varied out the prices so that it could reach everyone — you can free thing but also go up in small amounts of money because the idea is not to bankrupt anybody but to give the resources. The second thing that I did, another revenue stream, was to look at the services. Again, to do that same sort of creation of services that could provide the right resource to a range of people.
Two other things that I did that I thought were particularly interesting that I never thought about before, and I would encourage all entrepreneurs, is to get creative about money. We really have to figure out it's not that its money for you, but in order to have a sustainable business you do need to charge. You need to realize that you have value and that you are offering something. So what I ended up doing, is creating a Patreon account and a Patreon membership sponsorship for the people who are in the digital parenting community, if they see that and want to sponsor, that’s fine. Also, with my virtual team, because I do have one full-time employee, was to take the focus off of myself and realize any of the monies that we receive is going to her salary. I think all entrepreneurs have to get really creative and think outside the box. If YouTubers can receive money for creating different things, you are also content creating, whether that’s videos or resources. That was one of the most beneficial things that I learned during the lockdown, getting creative.
Tell me what is Patreon for people who haven’t heard about it.
Patreon is a way to get sponsorship. You are able to use this website, kind of like crowdfunding but on a monthly basis and very small amounts. For example, my own membership is 1 Euro, 3 Euros, or 5 Euros, nothing to break anyone but just enough to keep things going. There are other people who have Patreon sponsorships that could be 50 Euros or 100 Euros. The idea is that the people who sponsor you are saying “yes we like what you do, keep creating.”
So in that first tier, I provide free resources. If they pay a little bit more they get 10% off all my online courses or services, and if they pay 5 Euros per month they can request a specific digital download on a topic that is important to them. Then my team and I do the research and write something up that also benefits the rest of the community. It’s a way for us to keep our finger on the pulse to figure out what are the hot issues. That’s Patreon, but there are lots of other ways to get creative, using social media, and getting the word out. I would just encourage everyone that if you have something to share, my goodness, share it. Get it out there, because people need it, just get the information and resources to people.
That’s a beautiful call to action! I completely agree with that! You never know when your content will find the right person and it will click and it will change their life. Tell me, have you looked into your competition during the lockdown?
If I could backtrack one second, I also created a “What can you do” series. On my Facebook group and on social media, I would give an example of “creating awareness”. I encourage all of you to get out there and create awareness on issues that you know that your people don’t know. For example, I’ll read just a couple of them, your child tells you that a gaming friend keeps asking to take the chat to a different private platform — what can you do?; Your teen is posting negative things about their appearance, their life, their diet — what can you do?; Your babysitter posted pictures of her baking cookies with your kids and the kids' faces are clearly visible — what can you do? These types of scenarios, that I just created, caused parents to sit back and pause and reflect and say, “I never thought about that.” And these are things I know and I see regularly.
Also, again to that entrepreneurship twist, by helping the community, they ended up helping me because they gave me resources, answers, and different strategies that I may not have thought of, which I then put in a booklet that became a free opt-in to get on my newsletter. Also, I’m taking the scenarios, I’ll have close to about 50 scenarios, so close to 100 pages, which will then be a little booklet for sale. So what I mean is with this, is for all entrepreneurs to get creative and to offer your help because it can come back to ways that you benefit so enormously that you would never have thought of. So offer that help!
It’s true, what we as professionals in our own journey assume things are known by everyone and is so basic that you don’t even want to spend time talking about it. For a lot of people, it’s a breakthrough, a discovery, eureka moment. Tell me shortly about your competitors and what you’ve heard about them.
For me, there is a concept that there is a blue ocean. There’s enough for everyone. I don’t feel like I really have competitors because everyone is doing different things. One of the beauties of my digital parenting community is that I have a lot of the child online protection experts who would probably be considered competitors right in there with me. We are all sharing the resources and we point to each other, etc. So as far as the smaller people like myself, not much is going on because we are all in the same boat — doing summits together, or I did a meet the expert series where I would highlight them and spotlight what they do. There are people with different niches. For example, there are people who just work with gamming addiction; there are psychologists that work with children with different issues. There’s enough to go around for sure.
That’s wonderful to hear that even with your potential competitors you have a good cohesion to work together towards a nice, important goal for the health of the children and their parents. In a short few lines, tell me about the future of your business for the next few months.
I think one of the things I try to do, just as a person anyways, is to be positive. That’s why I’m sitting here smiling. I’m so happy to be with you because there is always an opportunity and positive things out there. Even with the lockdown and the pandemic, I was able to get better control of my business. Even with what is happening in the United States with George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fact that this is going global, I’ve also been trying to look at this from a positive, going forward what’s going to happen. To that end, for me for the next few months, I never thought I would say before that I am a black-owned business, but I am. What I also feel is that it is also important for me to highlight some of the things that I did always highlight before.
For example, for digital parents, I talk about anti-racism in social media, talking about the fact that Fortnite just removed police cars from the game — this is incredible stuff. There are lots of things that we see, even the boycott of against Facebook right now for advertising from a lot of the big companies; these types of things are huge. I want to take a moment of this social consciousness to help parents as well as digital parents to raise anti-racist children as they are engaging in social media, as they are engaging in online games, and as they work along with the Internet. One of my next projects will be either a workshop or writing some sort of booklet. I think that racism and online hate has always been there. It’s been something that Microsoft and Google, all the big companies, are really trying to eradicate, but it is difficult. I think by supporting parents more, really getting in there can only be beneficial. I also hope that after this pandemic and everything that we’ve seen where technology companies are seeing their influence that they will really stand firm with that motto of technology for good.
Yes, technology for good. I think the whole idea of your business and message you bring to the people about the digital house for the children is super important right now. I would like to thank you very much Elizabeth for being here today.
Absolutely my pleasure. So much fun. I’ll come back anytime.
We would like to thank everyone who joined us today. If you want to contact Elizabeth, her details will be in the description below the video.
Can I offer a challenge to the parents? I would challenge every parent to play online with their child, to ask them a question about social media, ask them how was their “online-day” today, when you get the answer, come on over to the digital parenting community and I’ll be waiting for you.
About the Guest
Elizabeth Milovidov, PhD, J.D., is a Digital Parenting Consultant, who provides support to governments, companies, schools, and parenting associations on digital parenting and children and the internet. Currently, Elizabeth is a Board Trustee for The Diana Award, an Advisor on European Cooperation and International Projects to e-Enfance, the French Child Online Protection Association and a Digital Parenting Contributor to France 24. She also consults for UNICEF, Child Online Protection and the Council of Europe as an independent expert on Digital Parenting and Children’s Rights and Internet; and is an eSafety content provider for The UK Safer Internet Centre; “Ask the Expert” member for Internet Matters; and guest blogger for the Family Online Safety Institute.