A former Latin teacher, Olivia Howell founded her online business when she realized she was ready to trade her teaching career for one that would allow her the flexibility to work from home and around her son's schedule. So she drew on her experience as a blogger and working with social media and Howell Social Media was born.
But this Long Island entrepreneur and mom does more than run social media for small, women-owned companies. She's also a blogger, a freelance writer and the editor in chief of the baby registry web site, Gugu Guru. She joined me this month to talk about her path to entrepreneurship and share her best tips and advice for women who aspire to create similar opportunities in their lives.
Read on to discover how Olivia made the leap from teaching Latin to social media management and to learn why she believes a mentor is something every business owner should have.
Tell us a little bit about your path to running your own business.
I’m a 31-year-old mom, born and raised on Long Island. I went to a small liberal arts college knowing exactly what I wanted to do – teach Latin! Why? Because I always had the worst Latin teachers (except for one, who influenced this decision) and I knew I could rock at teaching Latin better. I ended up teaching Latin for 7 years at the middle school I attended. I loved teaching. It fulfilled a part of my soul and taught me more life lessons than I ever realized.
However, after having my son, and going back to teaching for a year, I knew that I had to make a change. I have always been a writer and had written a lifestyle blog with my sister since 2008. I learned a ton about social media doing the blog. My first real writing job was with Rookie Moms, who took a gamble on me, and I never looked back. Between the freelance parenting writing and freelance social media work, I created a new career for myself.
When did you decide to make the leap and become an entrepreneur?
I remember walking around the park with my husband on my very first Mother’s Day and pitching an idea to him of me helping local businesses with their social media. He was, and always has been, so supportive, and he helped me with a business plan and talking over everything with me. I got my very first jobs from just walking into local stores and asking them if they needed help with social media. I gave them a few weeks [of work] free and let them see what I could do.
What drew you to entrepreneurship over continuing to teach?
I knew I needed to be home with my children. My dream in life was to be a mother, and the mother I was becoming while working outside the home was not the mother I wanted to be. However, we still needed the money, and I still wanted to do something fulfilling with my life.
How do you describe the work you do?
I work with small, mostly women owned businesses. I manage their social media accounts, do graphic design, network for them and get them in other blogs, etc. I’m also the editor in chief of Gugu Guru, a baby registry website. I love that job because I get to reach out to celebrities and interview people, curate gift guides, etc. I also still do some freelance writing for other parenting websites.
What does a day in your working life look like?
My working life changes day to day since I have a 3 month old and a 3 year old. For the most part, I have time early, early in the morning to get my tweets out, prep the Instagram posts, reply to emails and text with my clients. Then comes the breakfast, preschool, lunch, nap routine. Sometimes in the afternoon, both boys will be napping, and I’ll respond to emails and tweet, respond to messages, etc.
At night is when I really come alive. I work from their bedtime to my bedtime. Usually that’s about 3 hours, but often that is with a baby on my lap! However, if we’re being honest, since my business (social media) is SO fast paced, I’m checking my phone most of the day, and often when my toddler is playing nicely and my baby is asleep, I’ll do work from my phone while prepping food or waiting for my toddler to finish on the potty.
What hats do you personally wear in your business and where do you have support from someone else?
I am my business but, I do have help surrounding my business. If I have to make an important phone call or project, I hire my babysitter. My husband is supportive of times I need to work on something or have a late night meeting. But, it is all me, otherwise. I advertise for me, I write my proposals, I do my financial stuff and I’m learning a lot as I go.
What makes you uniquely suited to do the work you do?
This is a weird answer, but I’ve been a quilter since a young age. I love the concept of taking different materials and fitting them together into something new and wonderful. That’s how I feel about social media and networking. Public relations, too. It’s taking so many different little aspects and melding them into a new creation.
I think I view social media very differently than others!
But, realistically, I’ve been blogging for 10 years (in different blogs), and have learned so much about social media. I also love supporting my clients and encouraging them on their journey. We work very much in tandem so it’s not just someone throwing up some Instagram posts or putting Tweets out there for money.
In those early days of business, what were your biggest challenges, real or self-imposed?
I gave away too much for free and I didn’t estimate how much time things would take. My biggest challenge was not believing I could run my own company. And now, some days, when I’m non-stop working and raising kids, I think, wow, how did I ever not believe in myself?
How did you overcome those challenges to find your version of success?
I have a wonderful husband and sister who basically told me to stop giving away stuff for free – ha! No, seriously, when I got pregnant with my second, I knew my time was even more precious and started to be more picky with whom I worked with and how much time I put into things.
What drives you to continue giving your time and energy to your business, even when it’s hard?
I love helping people. I love helping people see their hard work pay off. I love helping moms see they can have a job selling their products online because I believe in getting their name out. I also love the mission. It’s incredibly fun for me to get a product in the hands of a celebrity or get a famous person to Tweet about a product. This is what keeps me going!
Let’s talk about failure. How have you learned to deal with failure in your life as an entrepreneur?
Ugh, we have all made mistakes. How do I deal with failure? By rising above, I think. I take anger and resentment and turn it into new projects. Tell me I can’t do something or I don’t belong somewhere? I’ll make a new place for me to belong and lead others there, as well.
What’s the best investment you’ve made in your business or self-development so far? What’s the next investment you want to make?
Hiring a babysitter! Knowing I have two hours here and there to focus is huge. Also, investing in nice office furniture makes me feel legit. It makes me feel like it really is an office where people work.
What is your vision for your business and how does that support your vision for your life?
My long-term vision is to be able to sustain making enough money to survive on until my boys are in school full time and then amp it up with many more clients. I’m considering this time in my life a “gathering of resources”, whether it be clients, information, networking or business lessons. I love the idea of working for myself anywhere in the world so I can travel, visit my sons at college someday, live anywhere we want and still have a thriving business.
What advice do you have for women who are working hard to get their business off the ground and are worried it’s not actually going to amount to anything?
It really does take one. day. at. a. time. I mean it. I never, never in a million years thought I could make money tweeting for people, but I believed in myself and my mission and I stayed true to myself.
Also, I’d tell them to find a great mentor or a few and glom onto everything they say and do. You will learn so much and the mentor will help you network.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers or any requests you have of them?
I think my best piece of advice is to stay true to yourself. Don’t sell out. Don’t fall for a gimmick or a quick scheme to make money. This stuff is hard work. It’s even harder when you’re full time mama and full time work at home businesswoman.
Also, I always tell myself: “you do deserve this.” Just because something doesn’t feel like work, doesn’t mean it’s not work. It just means you love it. And, lastly, you’re allowed to love work. You’re also allowed to love to be a mom. Both things just mean you’re an awesome person.
Where can we connect with you more online?