Lockdown Economy Nederland in Business and Marketing Agency with Stephanie Ward

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Tapasya Das

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview hosted by Rosie Allison, we meet Stephanie Ward, founder of FireFly Coaching, a business and marketing mentoring company for entrepreneurs all around the world. Stephanie talked about the ways in which she has helped her clients overcome the challenges of the pandemic by diversifying their business to obtain multiple revenue streams. She talked about the importance of connecting with clients on a personal level by sending messages of encouragement, supporting their social media presence and even using ‘snail mail’ to connect!

Tell me a bit more about “Firefly coaching”. What exactly do you do as a business?

Stephanie: Well, you know many small business owners started their businesses because they love the work they do and they are passionate about what they do. Most of us are. But it’s just that most people aren’t super excited about marketing. So, when the time comes for getting the message out there is a problem. And I happen to be one of those weirdos that like marketing. So I help these small business owners to find a way to do the work they love, make a living doing it but to connect with their ideal clients in a non-creepy way, in a way that fits them and feels good.

How long have you been doing this with “Firefly coaching”?

Stephanie: I started in 2002, so way back. And of course, things have evolved over time but the essence has remained the same, which is to support small business owners so that they can do the work they love and make a living doing it.

Do you have any employees working with you?

Stephanie: I don’t have any employees and I have no contracts. I do have something that I call a virtual team. I have people working on my website. I use WordPress and I also recommend that to my clients. I’ve got an accountant, I’ve got tech support here in Apeldoorn, which is another question but I gave it away already. It’s such a dream to have local people although they do help me remotely, which is another fabulous thing with tech. They can just log onto my computer and fix it in five minutes, so it’s a godsend. But last month my computer died, so I had to call them, go over there and get a new one. So they are on my team, I’ve got a virtual assistant too. I feel like I’m leaving someone out but yes there are virtual people around me but no actual employees.

Where are you based?

Stephanie: I’m in Apeldoorn which is about an hour east of Amsterdam, in The Netherlands.

I suppose your reach is quite global?

Stephanie: It is, as I work with clients all over the world. It’s nice to be able to work from home & to be able to connect with people.

During the pandemic, when the lockdown hit back in March, what did you do to stimulate your business? Did you experience kind of a drop in demand for what you do and how did you react to that?

Stephanie: I think for me and many other people who are doing work similar to mine, the fact is that we were already in this moment. We were working from home, working with clients virtually. I’ve been working with clients virtually since the beginning of my business. So the situation wasn’t a huge shift for me personally. I understand that it was a big challenge for other people in real-life and real-time based businesses and I did work with some clients to help them shift at that moment. For me personally, things were good. And I would actually say that I might even see an increase in demand, which kind of makes sense. If people are struggling to figure out how to make their business work they would come to someone like me. But I just continue to do what I do. What I recommend is to connect with people on a human basis. Yes, it’s nice, the social media posts, sharing content but at the end of the day, especially during hard times, it’s just about connecting with people. Especially when we couldn’t see each other anymore. That was really hard.

So you mentioned how you helped a few small businesses to overcome some of the challenges that they were facing during this period. Do you have any tips, any things that were the key things that kept cropping up, that you would recommend to small businesses or even recommend that they didn’t do?

Stephanie: Absolutely! Most of my clients are service-based businesses but this happened to be someone who actually was an in-person business & so we shifted them to more of their products, which makes total sense. So the general idea is when you look at your business model, it’s always good to have more than one type of revenue stream so that if something like this happens you can lean heavily on the other one. And what I recommended to other service-based business owners is something I just mentioned: to not think about letting their business thrive on the mere hope of revival, for the long term, but to think of things one can actually control. Those things that you can control are reaching out to people, making a connection and having them see you, hear you and talk to them.

An example would be: suppose you think about writing a blog post hoping someone sees it and they think “Oh, that’s interesting! Maybe I’ll follow that person.” And eventually, they’re so interested they’ll reach out to connect. That’s a long process firstly and you don’t even know if they’ll see that post. I know for a lot of people it’s a way of hiding actually, of keeping yourself busy doing all these social media posts. But if you get really clear about your intention and you reach out to people authentically with genuine interest and make a connection, wonderful things happen. So that’s my greatest tip to people during this time and the thing to avoid is what I already mentioned, don’t waste your time changing your website colour, changing your font, making a million social media posts, writing a million blog posts. Focus on actually connecting in a human way with other humans, even though this is the best we can do right now virtually. That’s my top tip there.

What kind of avenues would you recommend in order to get this close interaction in this time when we can only see people on a screen? What kind of mediums have you recommended using?

Stephanie: Well of course this is the closest thing to in-person but you can also connect with people and support them, by following them, by commenting and sharing their content. So if you go to any of the social media platforms of your colleagues, your clients, comment on their things, support their things, share their things, leave a voicemail message for someone on WhatsApp or LinkedIn. Another thing that I’m a huge fan of is “snail mail”. So actually getting a piece of paper, an address, a stamp and you put it in the box, especially during these times when everything is virtual, is great. We’re getting overloaded with zoom and virtual meet-ups, so it’s nice to get to go into your mailbox instead of just pulling out the blue tax envelope, getting a nice note from someone that just says “Hey, I was thinking about you.”.

That’s a really interesting tip, going back to basics & actually having something tangible in terms of communication. How’s your business going now when we’re kind of moving into this almost second phase of a lockdown?

Stephanie: It’s been going well. I feel like I might be in one of the situations where my business might actually be increasing because of the work I do and I always try to give back. I write blog posts and make videos, I’m doing this to try to help everybody because I know that we’re all in this together. Things are going well for me now and that may not be the case in another time and then I will hope that someone else would help me. So I’m really connected to the idea that giving as much as you can when you’re in the position to do so is really important and that we all support each other a lot.

That’s a great attitude in these difficult times for everybody. Do you have an outlook for the coming months with your business, anything that you’re trying to do?

Stephanie: Well, I don’t know if it’s funny, ironic or synchronistic that I started my first online course “The development” in September of 2019, not knowing, of course, what’s coming and we started the beta course in January. That was going well. And it was going to launch in the spring and then the pandemic hit.

So it’s really a good thing to have an online course because that’s a product for me and that’s a lower price point than working with me one-on-one. So I was lucky that I had already started thinking about it. That’s a great tip for anyone else too, thinking about creating different revenue streams if you are at a higher price point with your one-on-one services, you could create a course or something like an ebook or an online course that has a lower price point but is still really helpful for people, that they can buy now in case they’re having trouble with the budget. The online course is what I’m excited to be promoting and sharing with people in the next few months.

Other than that I think it’s just that I think we’re still in for some pretty tough times, meaning it’s that moment where it seems okay as the vaccine is just around the corner but then that’s also going to take a long time. So I think people should really focus on creating a structure for themselves and keeping a routine connecting with people continuously. Also, if you need support — ask for it because there’s nothing that shows more strength than saying “Hey, I need some help”.

If you could name maybe three things that you could do with help with right now, what would they be?

Stephanie: What I mentioned with my online course, I would love it if people would check it out or spread the word, take a look at it if it could be a fit for you. If you have questions I’m happy to answer them because it’s about what I support, being able to connect with people in a way works for you. It’s a step by step course with videos, exercises and resources, it’s a way as a lower price point than working with me. So I’m sure we’ll include the link to that as well.

About the Guest

Stephanie Ward is a Business & Marketing Mentor for small business owners who want to create a meaningful and prosperous business. Stephanie helps business owners get clear and then generate marketing ideas that are a perfect fit for them. Her passion is to help small business owners make a living doing work they love. She started Firefly Coaching in 2002 and serves global entrepreneurs all over the world.

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.