11 Entrepreneur Insights
Sick Biz’s Entrepreneur Spotlight, Galena Jenkins Ojiem shares her story and what keeps her and her business going.
1. What idea, thought process or mantra gets you through the day every day?
I’m a very driven and persistent person. I am constantly thinking “How can I make this better?” In my business I teach women (and a few men) how to start a profitable virtual assistant business so they can stay home with their kids, fire their boss, and still make a good living working from home. I love hearing from people that they’ve been able to quit a thankless job where they were both underpaid and underappreciated or that they’re now able to stay home with their baby and still afford everything that they need. I think that the way most people work is wrong to be completely honest. It’s inefficient. You’re getting in a car that you’re probably still paying off, waiting in traffic, paying for gas and childcare and spending 8 to 10 hours a day away from your children, all to be able to afford to pay for your house that you don’t give to live in most of the time because you’re either at work or stuck in traffic. It’s insane! And yet it’s the status quo. I was in a scary car accident where I almost went underneath a semi trying to get to work one snowy morning and it made me realize this insanity. I was literally risking my life to avoid being reprimanded for being a few minutes late by a boss who didn’t really care about me or my family at all —what did that matter? Everything I did at work could be done just as well at home. So, I quit my job, built my virtual assistant business website in a weekend and within a few weeks, I had fully replaced my full-time income. I was so successful that after several years working as a VA, I switched to VA training full time as I was unable to handle the number of requests from people asking me to help them get their business going, too. I now teach online classes, do 1:1 coaching and offer a remote job board subscription. What really keeps me going on hard days is watching new VAs go through the process from barely understanding what a VA does, to running a successful company. Knowing that I helped make their success a reality is an incredible blessing.
2. What makes you a disabled/chronically ill entrepreneur? What is one positive change that has resulted from your condition?
One winter I noticed I was feeling extremely tired—not the normal seasonal affective disease that people who live in an area with severe winters get (we get over 100 inches of snow a year in Syracuse), but something else. My joints were swelling up. I kept thinking they were sprains or individual injuries. I was working for a local nonprofit at the time and when my boss was out for a month, ironically to get knee replacement surgery for her rheumatoid arthritis, I was trying to do both of our jobs since they chose not to hire anyone to fill in. One duty I had there was scanning coupons and I started getting a horrible pain in my wrist and my thumbs, shooting down my arm. It got so bad that I couldn’t even hold the coupons to the scanner. Workers comp sent me to an orthopedist who diagnosed an overuse injury, but later tests showed that I actually had three autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Sjogren’s syndrome. The major positive change that has come despite my struggles with these diseases, though, is the switch to working for myself and being able to help others do the same. In my past jobs, I always felt like I had ideas for improvement that weren’t being listened to. My bosses weren’t appreciative enough when my changes did get implemented and I saved the company money. Now my efforts don’t go to build someone else’s business— they build my own! And that feeling is amazing.
3. What is the most valuable resource you use and that you would like to share with others?
The most valuable resource that exists is time. Time is the only resource that’s not renewable. So, what I want to teach people is to not wait for tomorrow. I’m not telling you to quit your job today and start a business necessarily, but make a plan and start your plan today. Each day, take small steps toward your goal. If you have physical or mental limitations, remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare. As long as you take a single step each day to move closer toward your goal, you will get there. I’ve coached several new VAs who are in a wheelchair and they have much more significant disabilities than mine and if they can be successful, I know you can, too! Whether that means starting an online service business as a VA, social media manager, copywriter, etc. or starting some other kind of business. Find your dream, and go for it! And if you run a business and find yourself overwhelmed with small tasks, hire a VA to help. Never forget that time is your most valuable resource and set up your life so that you’ve got time to be with your family, and do the things that bring you joy as often as possible.
4. What is the greatest and most influential lesson you have learned in your business?
Not everyone is your customer. It’s a hard lesson for me because a huge part of my motivation in running my business is to help people. I am very affordable and I even offer payment plans to people who are low income and can’t afford a lump sum for courses or coaching. From time to time, I even offer scholarships or work exchange where folks can take my course for free. But I can’t give away everything for free or I wouldn’t be successful enough to keep going, so it’s a fine line to walk. I give so much value and advice in my free group so when people ask for even more for free before they purchase, it can be frustrating. In any business, I don’t care what industry, there are always some customers who cost more than they’re worth. If someone is so difficult to work with that it’s costing your sanity, let them go. You always have the right to say “no.” “No, I can’t give you free advice,” “No, I can’t reduce my rate,” “No I’m not available to chat over the phone without charging you a consulting fee.” When 10 or 20 people a day ask to pick your brain real quick, that can get exhausting. Always take care of yourself first and fill up your own cup so you can then give back to others.
5. What new skills have you recently acquired as an entrepreneur?
I always joke that I learned more my first two years working as a VA than I ever learned in college. And I have a master’s degree so that’s saying a lot! All you need to get started as a VA is some basic past job experience in administrative assistance, customer service, sales or any similar field since you do learn so much as you go. I teach everything else you need to know to be successful, from naming your business, to getting a logo and website, to marketing and finding clients. Each new client will teach you something, too, whether it’s about their industry or about the tech and tools they use in their business. I’m a huge believer in lifelong learning and owning a business is an amazing school. I guess my own lesson lately would be this: Seize every opportunity. I’ve been asked to partner with people on several new opportunities recently. Even just being asked to write this article is a huge honor. I love that my business allows me to connect with so many interesting people all around the globe so I’m saying “yes” whenever I can and enjoying the ride.
6. Energy/time hack for working at home?
It’s a myth that you need to singlehandedly work on your biz until you get to a high level of success! Most people don’t realize that you can hire a VA for as little as five hours a month. Hire someone who’s good in whatever your weaknesses are and learn to delegate early. It takes some time to learn the process of working with a VA: how to set up a contract with them, how and when to send them tasks, what to expect and what to do if the relationship isn’t meeting your expectations. Some entrepreneurs wait until they are completely overwhelmed with tasks to the point that they are losing money before hiring help. (This usually happens either because of unsatisfied customers asking for refunds or lost opportunities because customer service was not up to par or it can come from lack of proper marketing and follow-up that would have lead to repeat business). I’m also huge on automation. If you don’t know how to automate—you guessed it, hire a VA to set it up for you. Here’s an example of what automations can do: when I post new jobs to my job board, I let technology do the rest. MailChimp is set up to scan my website automatically each day and if jobs are found, to send out an email with the job titles and a short summary of each post to all the users who are current members at that level on my website. Then, the email is automatically posted to my Facebook page with a notification that there are new listings on the job board. Use automations and VAs rather than doing all your work yourself, the hard way.
7. What do you wish you could tell your clients?
I’m worth it! Time and time again I hear things like this: “I’m so glad I finally hired you as my coach,” or “I was like a deer in the headlights before taking your course and now I understand exactly what direction to take and how to be successful.” Yet for each person who purchases my services, there are several others who tell me they can’t afford it, who ask for a discount, or who just lurk in the Facebook group and never really take the leap to start their business. I know it’s hard to invest when you’re just trying to get by and it’s particularly hard to see the value of knowledge before you receive it. You don’t know what you don’t know. So, this is my challenge. I don’t love singing my own praises and I find it tacky when other business gurus make income claims or show pictures of themselves on tropical islands buying nice cars and getting massages, implying that you will have the same success if only you buy their program. Your success depends on one thing and one thing only: you. How hard are you willing to work? If you’re willing to work hard and be persistent, I can teach you the industry-specific knowledge to help you reach your own definition of success.
8. The number one reason you are successful in your business today?
I’ve always been a hard worker. My mom died when I was 11 and from that time, I cooked for the entire family of six and did my own laundry. I even woke up and weeded the garden or helped stack wood before school. Before I could legally work, I babysat for $3 an hour and saved all the money I made to put toward my first car. The day I turned 16, I started my first job at the ice cream place down the road from my house and I had to walk there, rain or shine, daytime or night. While the other girls who worked at the store were buying CDs and makeup and going to the mall with their money, I kept saving and eventually, I did have enough money to buy that car. It was a red, 1999 Buick Skylark and it was falling apart but it was my pride and joy. It’s incredible to think that now I often have single days where I make more money than I spent that day, on what seemed like such a huge purchase at the time. What makes me successful isn’t any special knowledge or ability that I have. It’s my persistence.
9. What advice do you have for ill or disabled entrepreneurs who are just learning how to work for themselves?
I got my diagnoses after my business was already set up, although at that point it was still a side hustle, and that was a huge blessing for me. So, my advice is for everyone, disabled or not, to have something you’re working on that’s all yours that no matter what, you can cling to. Where you don’t report to any boss. Just simply doing that, even if you never take the leap of faith to make it your full-time gig, can really boost your self-esteem. Find something that makes you happy and create a business around that. For example, if you love creating art, start selling some on Etsy. If you like being green, create earth-friendly cleaning products or start an eBay resale business. Or if you like helping people like me, become a virtual assistant or an online coach. Whoever you are, wherever you are, YOU have a skill that’s in demand and something you can help other people with. Find out what that is and sell it. Then find your support system and start to grow your empire.
10. What would you today, tell you, five years earlier? Ten years earlier?
I would say, “You’re stronger than you think.” I’ve gone through a lot of trauma in my life. Some people even think childhood trauma causes fibromyalgia. From losing my mother so young and being left with a neglectful father, to having two children with an abusive and alcoholic spouse, I think the me from 10 years ago or even the me five years ago would be incredibly proud of the woman that I am today. I have an amazing partner, Moya, who helps me in my biz and in life. She takes a day off to go explore new kayaking spots on my good days and helps me in and out of the bathtub and brings me ginger tea on the bad ones. I have two amazing boys who treat people well and barely remember most of the things we went through. I have a few diseases and chronic medical conditions, but they don’t have me. I am living a happy life in spite of them. Life is good.
11. Hobbies not related to your entrepreneurship?
It’s not really a hobby but I homeschool my boys and that takes up a lot of my “spare” time. I teach my older son piano and that’s gotten me back into music again, which I haven’t played much since my high school days. He plays better than I can now and pretty soon he will be old enough to drive his first car and get his first job. Life always goes full circle, doesn’t it? I love to sing. When I’m cooking or doing things around the house, you will always find me humming in the background. I have a great lullaby voice and can always pull out my secret weapon to soothe babies (and adults—ask my partner)! My kids love to cook with me; including canning, preserving, and fermenting. Our last projects were concord grape jam with grapes from the local farmers market, and six quarts of hot pickled peppers for sandwiches. My older son and I are also really into making homemade cheese right now—he’s even asked for a cheese press and refrigerator for Christmas. I love that being an entrepreneur and working from home allows me to make so many more of my foods from scratch. I can throw ingredients in a pot for bone broth and cook it on low all day, checking in on it between coaching calls, answering emails, and interacting with my Facebook group. Besides those hobbies, all my life I’ve loved the outdoors and I don’t let being sick stop me from getting out there. One of the best parts of owning your own business is being able to take off on any nice day to go to the beach, to go fly kites with your family, or to find a cool new hammock spot over a stream and just relax and read a book and count your blessings. And we definitely take advantage of that as much as we can! I may not have had the easiest life, but the life I’ve had has lead me exactly to where I am in this very moment, and for that I am incredibly thankful!