Podcast Episode 31
with Nicole Neer (Bloom Administrative Services)
How to Be a Resilient Entrepreneur Even When it Seems Impossible with Nicole Neer
What it’s like to be an entrepreneur with chronic illness? My guest on this week’s show is Nicole Neer who is an online business manager and business mentor of virtual support pros. Nicole helps done-for-you service providers like virtual assistants, online business managers, and social media managers build resilient businesses so they can start, grow, and scale their businesses the easy way. She is also the host of the Spooniepreneur Podcast. In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, Nicole has to deal with chronic pain, fatigue, and bipolar disorder. Today she is sharing her journey.
Katerina: Hi Nicole
Nicole: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Katerina: That’s great. Thank you for coming to the podcast. I think the first question I want to ask is how did you become an entrepreneur in the first place?
Nicole: I never thought that I would be an entrepreneur. That was never, ever anything I dreamed of. I started out as a social worker. I always knew that I wanted to help people. And if you know anything about social work, you know, social workers don’t make a lot of money. So I found myself one night doing a Google search for work from home part-time jobs and ‘virtual assistant’ popped up and I thought well, I like to write. I could probably write blog posts for business owners. So, I taught myself social media marketing, I learned how to write a good blog post, and it was my part-time job for several years. I got to a point in my life where I finished my master’s degree. I was working on a “dream job”. I was the executive director of the nonprofit I was working for. And my body just did not agree that this was a dream.
Katerina: What do you mean by that?
Nicole: I have fibromyalgia. And so it was at that point that I hit my first major flare of fibro so I was not able to get out of that. I was having panic attacks almost daily. I was just so sick and I ended up having to leave that job. And I had this little side hustle working as a virtual assistant and I thought, well, I could do that full time from the bed so let’s just try that. And that’s really where my business was born.
Katerina: Yeah, but that was your sort of, you started as, did you say it was a copywriting business?
Nicole: Yeah. I started doing marketing services so like writing blog posts and social media posts and things like that for small businesses.
Katerina: Yeah, so how successful was that business?
Nicole: It’s still there.
Katerina: Still there.
Katerina: But you kind of evolved, right? Because you started working on something else. Yeah?
Katerina: What made you kind of shift and pivot?
Nicole: Yeah, well I think business is all shifts and pivots but it’s been about four years and we’ve evolved from it just being me doing marketing services to having a team of six people. We serve over a dozen clients doing their marketing. And the more that I was open about my mental health journey and about my chronic health conditions, the more I started having people asking me, how do you do that? And I was meeting entrepreneurs who were living with chronic illness, who are completely doing amazing things and people who are like, I don’t think that’s possible. And so I decided to create a podcast to bring the two worlds together. And so that’s the Spooniepreneur podcast. We are in our third season. And I also have had some people say, can you help me do that too? So I offer business mentorship for people who are looking to scale their businesses in a resilient way that doesn’t kind of depend on all of the hustle.
Katerina: Yeah. When you say, given the mental conditions, what do you mean by that?
Nicole: So I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. And then the anxiety became really bad. Right by the time I hit 30, I started having panic attacks all the time. And about a year into my entrepreneurial journey, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I never, ever expected that to be my reality but I had one really huge manic spell. And that pretty much confirmed that it was bipolar.
Katerina: Yeah. ‘Cause I interviewed last week Michael Freeman on this podcast. He’s published, he’s a psychiatrist and psychologist, he’s published several papers about mental health in entrepreneurship and he found some relationship between entrepreneurship and mental health conditions. And, yeah, he looked at 240 entrepreneurs and 72% of them had mental health problems. And about bipolar, 11% more likely to have bipolar. And like 30% were more likely to have depression. Again, it wasn’t, I asked him about the causal relationship.
Are we likely to develop mental health problems as a result of our entrepreneurial activities or vice versa? But the answer is pretty much still very unknown because there are entrepreneurs who never experienced any problems in the past, and as soon as they started running their own businesses, they started developing all sorts of conditions. And also there are some examples of entrepreneurs with previous conditions and then they become entrepreneurs. But entrepreneurship is not easy. I mean how do you manage with bipolar? Because the symptoms could be that, you know, you have swings of emotions. How does it work out? How do you run your business?
Nicole: I say that therapy is the best business decision I ever made. Because for me, it’s been finding a really good treatment plan, having the right team around me to help support me in that. It’s one of the reasons I love working as part of an agency because when I’m in periods where I’m really depressed, don’t want to get out of bed, there are team members to help me out. I tend to fall more on the depression side of the world. And I have hypomania so I don’t, you know, get super, super high. But I can definitely feel myself swinging and I think most people with bipolar will tell you that that swing is kind of, it’s nice when you’re an entrepreneur because you have lots of these ideas and you can go out and execute those ideas. For me, it’s a little different because I have fibromyalgia as well. So, even though I have all those ideas, my body doesn’t quite let me execute them in the way that sometimes I want to, my mind is telling me that I want to.
Katerina: Yeah. But how do you deal with failure? Because you have to kind of be prepared to fail as an entrepreneur. How do you deal with failure because there could be some very strong negative emotions attached to failure.
Nicole: I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to honour every emotion and to just let it have its place in my life. I’ve learned that yes, you’re gonna fail. Entrepreneurship is really about failing better. But I’ve learned that, even if it’s hard in the moment, there’s a lesson. And I’ve learned to become patient about waiting for the lesson. I’ve learned that when I honour, you know, the disappointment or the pain, it leaves faster. Because I’m giving it a place, I’m acknowledging it. I’m saying, “I see that you’re here. It’s okay for you to be here for a minute.” And then it just, it fades.
Katerina: Yeah. I’ve listened to your podcast when you talked about this and you said that every time you start a new business, it’s a little bit better than the previous. I did have some failed businesses myself. Yeah, every time you start again, it’s kind of, a little bit. But you tend to learn a little bit from the experience. But, what’s your typical sort of week as an entrepreneur? How do you, what do you do on the weekends? Do you have a work-life balance or do you just work throughout, you know, you don’t know what it means or you don’t believe in work-life balance. How do you manage your week?
Nicole: I believe in having really firm boundaries. So at 5pm, generally, the computer goes off and I step into being with my family, with my friends. I don’t work on the weekends unless things are really crazy. And part of that is, you know, I have physical health conditions. So, if I work too much and push myself too hard, I put myself into a flare-up of symptoms where then I’m not able to work for weeks. So, I, and I think that everybody gets to decide what their boundaries are, but you have to have them. And so some people are, you know, I have one team member who’s a night owl. She will work from like 11 pm to 2 am. And for her, that is what works really well for her. And she has the boundaries of this is how I’m going to make this work. That’s, you just have to have boundaries. You get to decide what they look like.
Katerina: Well, I guess also because you have a, did you say a team of six people working for you. It’s almost like you know when you have a bad week, mentally, and you just want to kind of be with yourself, then you can almost like delegate all the work is done to the people working for you so that helps I guess.
Nicole: It helps and I think one of the smartest things that I’ve done is to put systems in place in my business so we’re doing things the same way every time. And so even when I’m kind of mentally checked out, I still know this is step one this is step two. And if I just kind of focus on step one get it done and then move on and just kind of take it piece by piece. I’m able to get through even when I don’t necessarily feel like showing up.
Katerina: Yeah, but when you have really sort of bad weeks, how do you get back to routine, back to your business? What brings you back? What was your strategy, coping strategy?
Nicole: It starts with understanding why you have your business and why you love your business. I think when you’re connected to that deeper sense of why, you know, for me, it’s I love showing up and telling the story of the businesses that we’re serving. I love helping them and seeing them succeed. And it makes it worth, you know, the struggle sometimes to get to my computer and be connected to that sense of why. It’s what has gotten me through. I think if you’re just showing up to make money, you’re not going to be as successful as if you really have that deep emotional connection to what you’re doing because that will get you through even when you don’t feel like showing up.
Katerina: Yeah. You mentioned that you know, you have people working for you but for a lot of solopreneurs, I mean burnout is a major issue. You tend to do everything yourself. At what point you have to kind of step back and say to yourself, you know, I have to employ other people to, you know, because it’s very, solopreneurs are very short on cash, right? So at what point in your entrepreneurial journey you realised that it’s enough and I need to start employing people working for me.
Nicole: That’s a lot of trial and error. I think when I look at the massive failures in my business, It’s because I tried to do it all. And you can’t, you cannot do it all. And making the decision to get help for me, help looks different than I think, you know, when I think about getting help, I also think about how can I maybe spend a little bit more money on a system that’s going to allow me to do more quicker. And it’s not just necessarily about the person that I need to come in and help me it’s also, you know, maybe I need to become part of a business mastermind or have a coach to help me see the places where I’m making it harder than it needs to be. So help comes in many different forms. I don’t think it just has to come from, you know, getting somebody in the business to help you do the day today. Sometimes it’s the little things that we’re overlooking.
Katerina: Yeah, yeah. But Bloom Administrative Services does quite a bit. You work for project management, you have, I don’t know podcast editing. Where did you learn all this skill? Do you have to learn all these skills to be able to offer them or how did you become, I mean you offer quite, you know, quite a bit on your website. So, how did you start?
Nicole: It started with creating content, so writing blog posts, and, you know, I started having clients who said, “Well, you wrote this beautiful email sequence for me. Can you go put it in my email provider and link up all the systems?” And so I learned how to do that.
Katerina: Do it for your solution, almost.
Nicole: Yeah, and then it, I had one client who said I really want to start a podcast but I don’t know what that would look like. And I said, I don’t know what that would look like either but I’m willing to learn. And she’s like, go for it. So I taught myself how to do podcast production and then I realised that I got to work in my zone of genius, and I wanted to empower other virtual assistants to work in their zone of genius or that area where they’re doing what feels easiest, what they’re best at. And so our agency is able to offer a lot of services because we have a group of people all working in their zone of genius. You know, so when a client works with us, they get a copywriter and a graphic designer, a client care person and we all love what we’re doing so it shows in this part that we’re able to give our clients.
Katerina: Yeah, but it’s definitely surfaces, quite a bit to take on and learn about. So how do you stay on top of things as a founder?
Nicole: It’s a daily process. And some days I get it, some days I get it more right. Um, you know, for me having systems in place, you know, project management programmes and things like that in place, but also taking the time to have personal connections, you know? I think that even, like especially right now with a pandemic going on and all of that, having a group of people where we’re all doing the same work for the same people and having that community has helped me stay grounded and connected to my business that I wouldn’t be in if I was, you know, just kind of up here being the CEO and not connected to the work that we’re in. So that’s really important to me.
Katerina: Yeah. But what was the biggest failure since the, you know, the start? And how did you deal with it?
Nicole: Yeah, it happens, right? That first manic spell. And you know, I did all the things that I was “supposed to do in business”, you know? I hired a business coach, I took the courses, I joined the masterminds, I bought all the “right programmes” that you were supposed to use. And I, I just felt like I was spinning my wheels, and of course, when you’re manic, everything seems like a really great idea and you feel like you can do it all. So I was going hard, hard, hard and then I just crashed. And of course, my business crashed right along with me. I had to step away from working with all of my clients. I was so sick physically and mentally. And what I had to do is really take a step back and say, “Okay, what works for me? What do I need to do?” And I basically stopped listening to all of the business advice out there and started following what felt right and just doing the next right thing. And it was only when I simplified everything in my business that I really started to see results.
Katerina: Yeah. I mean what you’re saying is that I guess, it is important to look after your mental health but especially for entrepreneurs because again, like you said, you can have a failed business as a result of the state. But how do you avoid burnout?
Nicole: A lot of it is with boundaries. And it’s with saying, I’m gonna step back. And a lot of it is self-care. And I think sometimes, we think self-care means like bubble baths and, you know, going to get your nails done or, you know, those really superficial things. And for me, I’ve learned that you know, if I have a clean room, that’s self-care for me. If I have time to snuggle my puppies, that’s self-care for me. And it can be little things that I do throughout the day. But it’s learning that I’m not just my business, I’m not just the work that I do, I am also all these other things and honouring all the other parts of me. That helps me stay connected in those moments when I’m headed towards burnout. I can kind of take a step back and go, “Okay, what needs to happen here for me to prevent that happening?”
Katerina: Yeah, what do you think is the main, biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when they start their businesses?
Nicole: I think we feel like we have to do it all. And I think, you know, we get in that trap of looking at what somebody else is doing and comparing the middle of somebody else’s business, the beginning of ours, you know? And I know that I’ve actually been dealing with this lately because I’m an online business manager. So one of the things I do is I manage these, you know, high six and seven-figure businesses who have all these beautiful systems and all these amazing people serving them. And here I am working on launching an online course, and it doesn’t look anything like my clients’ because I don’t have those resources. And I’m sitting here going, “Wait, I know how to do this. Why can’t I do it all?” So I think, stepping back and reminding myself that you’re one person and you’re just starting out. I will get there but I’m not there yet. And I love that I get to learn from them. But I still have a while to go and some experience that I need to have until I get there.
Katerina: Yeah. It’s like, you know if you see someone successful you just think, oh, you know, like an overnight success. But that overnight success happened over the last seven years, perhaps. You just think, no, why can’t I do this? Now, you mentioned, you know, doing everything and trying to, you know, the courses and this and that. Shiny, what’s it called? Shiny Object Syndrome, right? It’s very common, right? For entrepreneurs. You just think, oh, I have to do this, I have to do that, it would be nice for me to learn this. How do you even stop yourself from, and how can you manage this type of behaviour? Because again, this can potentially lead to over-exhaustion and you know, and potentially stress and then you just give up on the whole business because you’re just so overwhelmed with different strategies and this course and articles, do Facebook lives and then do YouTube videos.
Nicole: I think it’s about having a sounding board, whether that’s a coach, whether that’s a friend, whether that’s a loved one. Having somebody to say, I’m thinking about all these things. And having them to be able to reflect back to you, okay, can you do all those things? Do you have all that time in the day? Like what is going to get you the most traction right now? Sometimes we can’t see it and we need other people to help us see it. And so I think not existing in a vacuum which is, it’s really difficult when you’re a solo entrepreneur, it’s just you. You feel like, well, I have to do it all, it’s me against the world. And having some support around you to help you reflect what they’re seeing is really helpful.
Katerina: Do you have a supportive family? Do you have any entrepreneurs in the family?
Nicole: We have no entrepreneurs in the family. But my family is really amazing. They’re incredibly supportive. I live in a multi-generational home so it’s my mom and my 18-year-old sister. And they have been my biggest cheerleaders. And, you know, I also have a bigger online community of people living with chronic illness and so being able to connect on that shared level has been so amazing.
Katerina: Yeah, well, what’s your view on having a mentor?
Nicole: I think that it’s crucial. I look back at my life before I started working with coaches and mentors in my life now and I’m like, I don’t know how I did it. Because having somebody who is kind of a few steps ahead of you in business, who can see what you’re going through and help you get to the next place, when you have that support, you go faster. It doesn’t feel as difficult because you have somebody showing you the way.
Katerina: But how do you find one that’s right for you?
Nicole: For me, I started getting results when I worked with a business mentor who also had a chronic illness. Because, you know, there’s something about working with somebody, whether you have a physical illness or a mental illness. Having somebody who, kind of, has that shared experience. In my experience, when I worked with business coaches who didn’t understand what it was like to live with anxiety or with chronic pain, you know, I would say something like, well, I was in bed, you know, two days last week and, you know, I didn’t get much done. And they would get stuck on the fact that I was in bed like, well, why were you in bed? Like, what could you have done differently? It’s like I couldn’t do anything different. This is just my body. Having somebody who had that shared experience and who kind of knew when to push and knew when to just let me write out whatever was happening was so important.
Katerina: Yeah, yeah, definitely someone who can understand. I mean your condition and how you feel it. It is important, you’re right. But you know, on your website you talk about resilient business. What is resilient? What is the definition of a resilient business? How can we grow one?
Nicole: When I was starting out four years ago, all of the business advice that I was seeing was like you can get results really fast. You just have to do all this work at the beginning of your business and then sit back and reap those results later. And I feel like we’re better now. But there’s still a lot of, well, you can build your business in 90 days. Just follow this strategy. And we all have things on our plate, you know? Whether there’s a pandemic or you have a chronic illness or you’ve got little kids at home. Like we can’t all do 90 days of just pushing and hard and hustle. I mean that’s what leads to burnout. And so I’m really passionate about helping people to create businesses that last, that are able to withstand all the things that life throws our way.
And that’s a mix of making sure you have the right support, having the right systems in place, being connected to your deeper purpose in your business. I think when we put all those ingredients together, we’re able to build resilient businesses that aren’t just going to fall apart the second that we need to take a breather.
Katerina: Yeah. So, how has the whole COVID pandemic been for your business? Have you had to pivot?
Nicole: We’ve been busier than we’ve ever been. Just because so many people are looking to bring their offerings online and they need people who know what they’re doing to make that a reality for them. So we’ve actually grown. We’ve doubled our business during the pandemic which we’re so lucky that that’s the case because I know it’s not the case for a lot of people.
Katerina: Yeah. I mean, yeah, you’re right. Everything. I guess some people say, oh, we’re gonna be back to normal and maybe that, this is our new normal. And you have to be online. Definitely. But what would be your advice to people who lost their jobs perhaps due to pandemic? And perhaps thinking about the whole entrepreneurial, you know, having a hustle or starting in business. What would be your advice?
Nicole: I think, sitting down and thinking about obviously, your skillset, but what feels the easiest to you, what lights you up, you know? What if somebody were to pay you for this thing that you love to do? You would say, really? Like I would do this for free. That’s the thing that you really should be going after and I think this new world of us all being online means that there are ways that you can monetize that. And there are all kinds of resources and things to make that happen for you. And I think a lot of the time we get stuck in, well, I have to go to college for that. I have to have a degree, I have to have a certification. And most of the entrepreneurs that I know we’re self-taught. And so we have a lot of time right now. This is a great time to learn about your craft, to spend some time figuring out what that would look like to even make money from it. But we have, we have the gift of time. And the people I see who are using that and getting creative with it are the people I think, that even when things “go back to normal”, they’ll still be doing that thing that they love virtually.
Katerina: Yeah. But, if, say, if they had to learn one skill to start the business, what would that skill be? I mean, what is the main thing they have to learn first?
Nicole: In the virtual support world, most people know how to use social media. You know, we’ve been on Facebook, we know Instagram, we consume it a lot. We know what we like and what we don’t like and learning that skill set is pretty easy because we have all the ingredients we really need. So when people are starting out, especially wanting to get virtual assistance, that’s the direction I steer them in — is learning how to craft a story so there’s, you know, I love Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why”. That’s such a good place to start. I also love Donald Miller’s “Building a StoryBrand” and his framework is really great in helping you connect to the heart of what marketing is. And so you know, there are books that you can, you know, go to the library or get on Amazon for really inexpensively and teach yourself the foundations of marketing. And you put that on top of the way that you know how to create social media content just from doing it in your life and you have the start of a business.
Katerina: Yeah. And, yeah, I think we started losing picture a little bit. I don’t know what the weather. We’ve got a very strong rain here today. Well, I guess another question I want to ask is, especially for female entrepreneurs because this is our audience, what can you tell the girls who want to start a business? What would be your lesson to teach them?
Nicole: I came from social work and in that field, even though there were primarily women in, you know, in the roles, the administrators were all men. And it was, it was very difficult for me to be listened to, or respected. And entrepreneurship let me see that that is not the case everywhere. I truly believe that the more that women are showing up in the world, living it on their own terms, making money for doing what they love, we’re going to start seeing fundamental shifts. And I think we already are starting to see fundamental shifts in how women show up in the world. I’m really, really passionate about women being paid well for doing what they love. Because when women have more money, they’re going to sit at more powerful seats, in more meetings and then we’re really going to see a huge change in the world.
Katerina: Yeah. But very often, women, they don’t put themselves out there because they are just fearful. How can they get rid of fear?
Nicole: I think you never get rid of fear. I love Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic. And in Big Magic, she talks about how fear is always going to be in the car with you. But you don’t have to let fear drive. It doesn’t get to tell you the directions, it doesn’t get to drive. It’s just going to sit in the backseat and just kind of be there on the ride with you. And for me, that’s very much true. Every next step I take in my business, I’m afraid. But it’s honouring that fear and recognising that there’s something bigger than that fear. And I never realised when I started as an entrepreneur that I was signing up for a lifelong self-development journey. I think most entrepreneurs would agree that there’s so much mindset work that goes into building a successful business. But I think it’s also the reason why you see so many powerful women entrepreneurs because we’re able to be seen and let that part of us shine without somebody trying to put that light out.
Katerina: Yeah, when you say this mindset how what type of mindset do people need to develop to be successful?
Nicole: I think for me it starts with knowing what you’re worth. And that’s both like the rates that you want to charge or how you want to charge for your business. But it’s also knowing that what you’re saying has worth. Being able to show up and not be afraid of people looking down on you or having, you know, opinions about what you have to say but just being able to show up and own what you’re worth. For me, you know, having mental illnesses, this looks different than somebody who is not walking into entrepreneurship with that particular journey, you know? For me, there’s a lot of anxiety and all of these physiological responses that come with showing up and owning my worth. Which is why I think that being in therapy and working through those things, it’s going to help you in your personal life, yes. But if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s also going to help you be able to show up more powerfully in your business too.
Katerina: Yeah, but I guess, you know, you mentioned the topic of, you know, fear. That fear will always be present there. But a lot of entrepreneurs also have this thing, Imposter Syndrome. How do you get rid of that? I mean, sometimes you’re even, you know, you may have relevant skills, you may have the expertise, but then still at the back of your mind, you’ll have this voice talking to you saying, you know, you’re not, you know? How do you get rid of this voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, you’re not an expert?
Nicole: I think that voice, that inner critic that we have is always going to be there. And they’re always going to have really strong opinions. You’re always going to have that voice in your head saying, like, why should they listen to you? You have, like, no expertise. Like, you are totally just making this up as you go along. It’s always going to be there. I think it’s learning that that is not you, that is not who you are authentic. You are authentically this really strong person who’s showing up in big ways in the world. And when you can separate yourself from that voice, it’s going to be there, but you’re not going to let that be what helps you decide and make the decisions in your life.
Katerina: Yeah. Some great advice from you to our listeners. I’m sure they will find a lot of wisdom in what you’re saying and they’ll take it on board. But what is the future, what is the vision for Bloom Administrative Services? What’s next?
Nicole: Um, well, right now, I am really working on some offerings to help people who are just starting out in building their virtual support businesses, you know? It’s something that I’m seeing a lot of people are thinking, well, how can I just continue working from home? And so we’ve been really lucky that our business has grown 100% on word of mouth referrals. And so I’ve put together a masterclass teaching people how to build their marketing so that they get word of mouth referrals so growth feels really easy in their business.
Katerina: Yeah, so definitely, I’m gonna put a link to your website in the podcast notes. So for the listeners, I mean if you want to grow your business, and I guess the only way you can grow is by getting a team on board, right? Getting someone to actually, yeah, professionals, specialists, people to help you with the management of your business. So, definitely, our listeners will have a chance to check out your website. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your journey. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
Nicole: Thank you so much for having me.