Working From Home: Episode 2 – How to Transition into Working From Home – with Lydia Lee
In this episode of Working From Home, Nelson is joined by Screw the Cubicle founder Lydia Lee. Lydia’s work has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and Virgin. Topics of conversation include: how a six month trip to Bali turned into a seven-year stay, building a service-based business from scratch, creating a work-life that supports your core values, working with clients when you’re just starting out, the lean startup mentality, and other topics.
Training series for remote work + coping with COVID: https://screwthecubicle.com/covid-19-future-of-work/
[2:53] – How a six month trip to Bali turned into a seven-year stay.
[6:57] – How framing big decisions as test runs can help us avoid the paralyzes of seemingly permanent decisions.
[11:14] – Lydia’s experience starting her own business and her transition from corporate. Collaborations, and problems that arose with previous employers.
[24:21] – The importance of setting clear boundaries with your clients. Being mindful about structuring communication expectations.
[29:26] – “People should know there are multiple pathways to get to a more fulfilling work-life. Not everybody needs to have the same definition of freedom.”
[32:00] – COVID as an accelerant to the working from home revolution, and the varied distribution of benefits between blue and white-collar work.
[36:38] – Testing business ideas and building a self-made “internship” before trying to launch a business. The lessons learned along the way.
[45:32] – Applying the lean startup mentality to service-based businesses. Finding your market, and being willing to iterate.
[48:44] – Finding clarity around the lifestyle you want to live, and building a business that is in alignment with those values.
[54:14] – Tips and resources for people who are transitioning to the working from home lifestyle.
Nelson: Hello, I’m Nelson Jordan, and welcome to the ‘Working From Home’ podcast. Today, I’m with Lydia Lee of screwthecubicle.com. Lydia, thank you for coming on.
Lydia: Thank you for having me.
Nelson: You’re quite welcome. So you’ve got a much, much nicer background in terms of a home office than I have at the moment. So where are you based?
Lydia: I’m in Bali on the other side of the world, and I’m pretty lucky to have plants I can’t kill too often in the tropics, lots of cacti. I have a lot of cacti and just things behind me that don’t need too much water to nourish. So I’m very thankful that I’m here at where we’re speaking in quarantine during these crazy times.
Nelson: Yeah, definitely. I mean, like, my house is full of succulents. So they don’t like take too much water. And it’s very much, I’m in charge of them rather than my wife. She’s got a nasty habit of over watering them. So like coming in every couple of days and just being like, ‘Oh, those needs some more’, but they don’t…they’re drowning. They’re drowning in water. Stop it.
Lydia: Totally, we don’t need another thing to fight about as a couple living in too close quarters these days, right? Another thing off the plate would be nice.
Nelson: Exactly. Exactly. So how long have you been in Bali for?
Lydia: Well, it’s coming up. September, the 13th is my seventh year anniversary of living in Bali. Though it sure does not feel like seven years. But I also don’t remember what life was like before this island. It almost feels like I had this sort of chapter change right at Bali. And then life was just completely different; ambience and vibe, you know, so yeah, this is this has been my home; my main base. And then originally, as I told you before, I’m from Vancouver, Canada, also a beautiful base. But Bali is the place for me these days.
Nelson: Fantastic. And was Bali always going to be that place for you? Or did you kind of move about before that before seeing Bali and was like, ‘Right, I’m going to settle down here’.
Lydia: I was never supposed to be out here more than six months. So this was originally my plan seven years ago, when I left Vancouver. It was purely an experiment. You know, at the time, I had two businesses going, I had my first business that I was running in the international education industry, which is where my old career, my old occupation was. And then I had ‘Screw The Cubicle’, which at that time was just a little blog, a kind of side business that I was experimenting with, and taking those two, I just thought ‘Could I take a stab at this location independent thing?’ I’ve read ‘The Four Hour Workweek’ about six times and somehow never really clicked for me. I think maybe because the examples in the book were programmers and coding guys and IT tech guys, and I never thought I could do that because I’m a girl. Yeah….Amazon drop-shippers. Yeah, you know, those guys. And I never really thought I could do that, because I had such a client-facing service for both of my companies. And I just thought, ‘You know what, I didn’t leave the cubicle to kind of be held back from the lifestyle choices that I was wanting to create for my life’. I do pride myself as a bit of a problem solver. And I thought, ‘Well, what if I make this into a way that I could continue to work with people without sacrificing intimacy, personalization and good service, and maybe they’ll just get used to me not being at an office’. I rented a very small space in a co-working office in Vancouver to see clients here and there, but not everybody came. Things were still done over the phone and over Skype, all those things at the time. So I thought, ‘You know what, let’s give it a shot. Worst case scenario, I’ll move back to Vancouver and you know, back to where I began’. So I kind of set a boundary of time because I never traveled on my own before in this long of a duration and also to such foreign countries that I’ve never been before and very Third World countries, as well, right. I thought six months is probably about the right time. And I think that allowed me to kind of go into it with an open mind and less pressure of it sort of having to become something that I had big expectations about it. Because I just thought, it’s just kind of like an experiment. And if it doesn’t work out, I have an exit plan. You know, it didn’t feel so permanent, perhaps for me to do that. Although I did have some hindsight to sell all my stuff, I just remember thinking, I don’t really want to bother with a storage unit and having to pay. In Vancouver, a storage unit is like the price of a villa in Bali. So it’s like, ‘Why am I doing that when I could be, it’s not furniture, I’m so attached to like antiques and whatnot, they’re IKEA furniture, and whatever else I can probably rebuy again. So I was very happy I made that decision to not have that sort of weight on my mind about having to go back and sort stuff out and really gave myself that almost sabbatical, you know, to go ahead and do something different. And then I traveled through Cambodia first, then I came to Bali, as I was actually creating a course at the time, so I needed somewhere quiet. And someone suggested this very tiny little town in Bali called Ubud. I never heard of it before. And it had one of the was the only co-working space and all of Bali, a place called Ubud. And then I came here, and then I didn’t leave for six months. Then I decided, I think I just need to keep renewing. I didn’t return back to Canada until three years later.
Lydia: So that’s how quick life takes a takes a turn. But what we know whether you expect it or not.
Nelson: Nice, so it sounds like there’s a couple of things there that you talked about that made things easier in terms of, Okay, first positioning is even in your own mind as maybe a six month trip, rather than I need to make this permanent decision for the rest of my life. It sounds like from a psychological point of view that probably helped ease any potential anxiety that came around. So that’s very interesting to me. I think too often we think every decision that we make is going to be permanent; there’s no way back from this. Where in reality, I think that can change. My wife is thinking like that at the moment she’s taking some time off work from teaching; she’s a primary school teacher. And one of her concerns as well is ‘If I take a few months out of this, for personal reasons at the moment, will I be able to get back into teaching so easily?’ And okay. Yeah, it’s a valid concern. But I think especially with this year 2020, how that’s gone?
Nelson: I think there’s going to be so many people in that position. It’s almost a moot point.
Lydia: Yeah, you know, we are in this COVID thing together, it kind of sometimes feels a bit easier to make those decisions, because everyone else is dealing with it. It kind of feels like, I can’t make a mistake, right? If the whole world is having to start from here. And I think sometimes decisions are harder when no one else is doing it, you know, and then you have to. It’s sort of like you can’t blame an external buyer risk or, you know, external world epidemic for it, to make that decision. But it’s a great launching pad for like, ‘Hey, let’s just try something new, because it can’t get worse than this. Right?’ In that regard. But you’re so right. I think at that point, I knew myself enough to know my obstacles, and my obstacles were always myself. I had to figure out ways get out of my own way to create new things. Because I am a type A personality, I’ve always been a perfectionist my entire life, I’ve always been a high achiever my entire life, and to make small changes was difficult for me for such a long time. Partly because I think no one else around me was doing it and it didn’t feel safe to do that when you don’t have this “guidebook”, you know, of like, ‘Here’s how all these people have done it before you and you follow that trajectory’, like a corporate career, right? But I think I knew that I had to set smaller goals, and smaller and more predictable, realistic outcomes that were the right intentions rather than, ‘Oh, I’m going to start a brand new life somewhere, it’s going to be amazing, it’ll be better than Vancouver, earn twice the revenue’, like these sort of things. I literally cannot control what that experience looks like. But these sort of small boundaries, six months allows my sort of ego mind to go ‘Well it’s not forever, it’s not permanent, you’re not going to screw it up so badly that you can’t come back from this’, you know? And also little things, like finding locations that have co-working spaces and a sense of an expat community, also, were some of those conditional safety nets, that allowed me to kind of keep taking that leap as often as possible too.
Nelson: Sure, so it was about kind of not going to completely foreign land. And I don’t necessarily mean that just as a location, also as a bit of a metaphor. In terms of ‘Okay, there’s still got to be some familiarity there with my past kind of working conditions and expectations and stuff like that.
Nelson: We’re going to explore some of that in a few minutes. But first, I kind of want to backtrack and talk about screwthecubicle.com. Obviously, you were running two businesses. And it sounds like when you were on the way and thinking about ‘Okay, should I go to Bali or not?’ And how did you kind of decide to focus on one over the other? And what did the first kind of year, two year period look like?
Lydia: The first year was interesting, because it was sort of a, you really didn’t know what you’re doing on the first year. I know, I always explained that the first year of business is equivalent to how I feel like 10 years of therapy feels like. It really challenges you as a human in so many ways, you know, talk about a boot camp for resilience, change and navigating uncertainty. But even so, during my first year, the first business that I picked was in a lot of ways, that safety boundary I needed to create for myself, That first business was what I would call these days a ‘transition business’. It was a business that wasn’t very far away from the corporate career I had, I knew that industry, like the back of my hand, I was very successful in the industry.
Nelson: What industry was that, Lydia?
Lydia: International Education.
Lydia: So I work with schools, not a teacher, like your wife, but I worked with schools to help promote, higher education and English programs and summer camp/winter camp programs in Canada for a particular school. So it sort of felt again, like a safe transition to take that leap into a business that I had contacts in, that I had experience and expertise in. And also helped me to get on my foot and hit the ground running a bit faster, then starting a business that I needed more experience in or, more time to consider what to do. And actually my employers ended up being my first clients, because my strategy was to negotiate a consultancy position with them. Instead of the partnership they offered me. So it was kind of a weird meeting, because they were like, ‘Here’s a partnership we’re about to offer you, you’re the youngest person we’ve ever offered a partnership to’. And I said ‘No, I do not want to be a partner. And instead I want to quit and I would like to be a consultant. And would you be my first clients?’
Nelson: Right, well you know it obviously worked out well.
Lydia: Yeah, I mean it wasn’t calm sailings the whole time, either; I can’t say that. You know, it was interesting to navigate what was my responsibility now, versus what parts of my role had to be for someone else they hired. There were also some things that were, in hindsight, I think I probably should have jumped into that relationship so quickly, just again, felt like a low hanging fruit. So I just thought, ‘Hey, I do good work here; I’m making these guys a ton of money. It would be their benefit not to lose me completely. And we could create a win-win situation’. So the pros of that is that I negotiated something that helped me to land about 20 to 25 hours a week as a consultant for their school, and then bought me some time to work on my own agency. And you don’t take clients on that way. The con of that, which is a story that some people don’t know about my transitional story, is that six months after we started working together, I got a letter in the mail after I finished my first project that I was getting sued…by them.
Lydia: Yeah. So yes, so that was what I meant by non-plain sailings, I had to also learn a lot about the legalities and how things work. You know, when people feel threatened by something you’re building because they couldn’t understand that I was building something on the side and perhaps I was poaching clients or something like that, which is very obviously something I would never do ethically. One of them was a lawyer, so they kind of thought ‘Well I don’t know if Lydia should be doing this,’ and they just sent me this letter, and it’s really interesting that they never communicated that with me verbally, before sending me that letter. So I learned a lot about standing up for myself. I learned a lot about my rights as a business owner. But it was a scary time, you know, receiving that notification to show up at Supreme Court, not just Provincial Court…Supreme Court. That I might have made a mistake. And I had to get a lawyer myself, figure out that if I did anything wrong, and I didn’t, you know, luckily, I persevered and sort of came out of that unscathed in a way. But it scared the crap out of me, you know, having that first impression of in business, being sued for the first time. But that never ended up going to court, which is the good news. And so then, as this was all going on, I had also created a blog called ‘Screw The Cubicle’ at the time, which is only meant to be an online space for me to journal about my transition experience, my identity crisis that I felt leaving corporate into an unknown territory, the questions and the push back, and, you know, all the projections I got from my friends and family about my decisions I was making. And that was really just meant to be this indulgent project that I think I had on the side. And then people just started reading the blog, you know, and it wasn’t until a lawyer from Toronto, this woman that emailed me that was reading my blog for a few months and said, ‘I love what you’ve been saying, I’m going through a mid-career and making some of these hard decisions you’ve been making, how much do you charge for coaching?’ And at that time, I didn’t know what a coach was. So I had to Google this and figure out what that meant. Was it a therapist? Was it something I had to go back to school for? What was this about? It was kind of the catalyst, you know, that set me on that path of going, ‘I wonder if this could be something I enjoy more?’ Because the first business was practical, it made me money, and it replaced my income. But I didn’t bring meaning in what I was doing, I was sort of replicating what maybe was already unfulfilling for me to do at corporate, except I was the boss, and that I thought would have ticked the box of happiness. But then I really discovered I’m just the kind of gal that needs to have meaningful work that I was proud of and believed in, in order for me to really do it. You know?
Nelson: I mean that’s super interesting, right? Because there’s so many different reasons that people end up working from home.
Nelson: I mean, for now, I think we’ll just focus on you making that choice to work from home. There are plenty of times, especially this year, when people kind of have that choice made for them by the macro environment really, kind of forced into that into that situation. But in terms of when we actually choose it, I kind of went through a similar, a similar journey with that as well. Very similar, actually, in terms of…
Lydia: Did you get sued as well?
Nelson: I did not, I did not, but it’s funny, you should say that I actually have one of my friends and ex colleagues is getting sued at the moment.
Nelson: And it sounds super, super similar to your position, right? I think that being accused of basically everything, it sounds that you were being accused of, and they’re just as guilty, i.e. they would never do that, so funny. When you know somebody, I kind of feel like companies are in this position, and at the moment, probably trying to save money and stop kind of paying any fees that they deem kind of unnecessary to people. And I think sometimes, corporations like that fall into the ‘bully role’. And trying to use that position of power. And you kind of think as an individual, ‘I’m here on my own, essentially, and, and I’m responsible. If they come after me, then that’s like, a whole other level of stress, on top of normal working conditions. I’ve still got to make money, I still got to serve my clients. And now I’m going to have to fight this court case’. And so yeah, actually, it’s very funny, you said that, because I’m having the same sort of supporting conversations with this person right now. I’m obviously not a lawyer. So just approaching things from kind of a common sense and emotional, and trying to be rational and logical about it and just offer a helping hand as much as I can do, but there’s only so much like a non-legal person or somebody that doesn’t have to spend hours and hours researching this thing can actually do in terms of helping. Yeah, but yeah, no. So really, really interesting in terms of when you said kind of working from home, there’s elements of working from home that are just, you’re replicating your job in a way or your situation and you’re just changing a small amount about it, which is namely the location and the hours. So that’s kind of working from home, I guess; position one, that you’ve taken what you had here and kind of made a couple of changes. And now you’re sitting here. And then there’s kind of the working from home kind of position two (there’s got to be better names for this, we’re going have to come up with some). But position two I’m guessing is not only are we changing location and working hours, but you’re also changing your day to day. So you might still be in the same industry, but you’re taking a different position in that industry. Or you might be in a completely different industry in a completely different role. I mean, my kind of story is that about three years ago now I wanted to change. And we were living in Birmingham at the time, I was working for a very good digital and PR marketing agency called WPR, based in Edgbaston, in Birmingham. Always, really, really great to me, always gave me as many opportunities as I wanted. I started off in social media, then I wanted to move to PPC. And they were like, ‘Okay’, and then search engine optimization. And they were like, ‘Yeah, fill your boots’. And finally, conversion rate optimization. So I thought I was kind of pushing it. When I was like, ‘Look, Birmingham isn’t for me anymore, love the city, but just need something else, I needed achange in lifestyle’. And I basically expected that to be parting of the ways really. I would move on, they would thank me, I would thank them. And then I would have to go and find something else. But they offered a similar deal to you really, and that I wasn’t going to be a consultant, I would still be a full-time employee for them. But I would do so from somewhere different. And then fly back every month, have my meetings in a block, and then fly back again. Which I was like, ‘Are you sure? This sounds like? Very much too….’
Lydia: I’m going say ‘yes’ before you change your mind.
Nelson: Yeah exactly. And we’re in the time where actually not very many of anybody at the company got to work remotely, even working from home. And so I was like, ‘This sounds like a trick. But yes, I’m going to bite your arm off’.
Nelson: I did that. And I did that for a year. And eventually, the traveling got to too much for me. And so after about a year, I made the decision that I would start working for myself in a very similar area. So digital marketing still. And my ex-employers, again, ended up being my first my first client, which was a much smoother transition. And so that worked out really, really well. And I think that’s just something to be said, if you trust your employer, or at least kind of your direct line manager to kind of take care of you and you think, ‘Okay, you know, there might be some leeway there to obviously safeguard yourself beforehand’ and put like, Plan B, Plan C, plan D, all the way to Z kind of in place as well, if you can, but to have those discussions with your employer to see if there’s anything that can be done there if you’re interested in doing the same kind of work, right?.
Lydia: Yeah. And I think, you know, if I was to do it over again, as well, is I would have probably set a bit more boundaries. Sometimes you get just so excited that, ‘Oh, great. I didn’t think you would say yes to this’, and you sort of go ‘Okay, let’s just do half the hours and, you know, way we go’ and I can work from home and just like you (I was a bit closer to the office, but it was only about a 10 minute walk from my house), but I had sort of opted for sort of once a week meetings and things like that, but I was still getting, you know, like text messages and like I didn’t have a very, at the time a very structured way of receiving that communication. And so it still felt like you’re right, you know, like I’m I’ve changed locations, I might not be wearing a suit to work and you know, I get to work from home and have maybe get a walk in between my lunch and things like that. But I was still at the schedule of a nine to five-ish routine, which was interesting and that was something I had to go through to go, ‘I wonder if it should be like this still? Can I be a bit more mindful about how I get things done in a more productive way, that allowed me to still produce great outcomes and still produce awesome work every week, but on my terms? And how do I set that up in such a way that earns their trust, but also gives me that autonomy over my time?’ And it’s interesting that as we’re going through this sort of global pandemic, a lot of my clients, for example, are also working from home at the moment. And in the beginning, it was kind of like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s what I wished for, and now it’s happened, which is great. But it’s still not exactly, I’m still not self-employed’. And I’ll say, ‘Well, listen, what if you looked at this as a transitional period, where you’re using this, (you’re being paid, okay) to almost give yourself an internship of what it feels like to work from home, how to assess yourself to know how you like to work, when you’re not being pushed into a cubicle, or in an open office, or whatever it looks like. How could you actually batch your work or be more productive? Or what’s your style of working, that allows you to get more done in less time so that you can write have that reward of time, freedom, or flexibility or spend more time with your children, whatever that looks like? So there’s actually opportunity here rather than just isn’t exactly self-employment, but where you’ve been given a gift, you know, you’re still getting paid. You know, that’s a really good win already, some people are not in that position, they’ve been laid off and that’s a lot harder circumstance. And secondarily, you could use the circumstance for good as a bit of a training ground. So that when you do work for yourself is not going to feel like such a shock about how to organize your days, and how to organize your time and tools that you can use to really help you be a better remote worker. So count your blessings. And use this as a really big piece of learning time to learn more about yourself.’
Nelson: Yeah, I think that’s a fantastic way to look at it. I think just the recognition that ‘working from home’ doesn’t mean the same to everybody. And it doesn’t need to be right? There’ll be certain people who are okay doing the same job, I’m quite happy to do that. But just want the end of their commute, for example. So my last guest, Rob Jones, he kind of basically wanted to carry on doing the same job; was really, really happy with the job was really, really happy with the company. And then actually COVID gave him an enforced (which is probably what he wouldn’t have chosen) deadline for that for that happening. And instead of him just kind of having the flexibility of work from home so that he could spend more time with his son, so that he could spend less time on the daily commute. And I think that is a position that loads of people would actually like to be in, and they kind of think that there’s no in between, you know, so you’re either working for a company, nine to five, in their office, or you’re working for yourself with your own clients from home or anywhere else in the world. But actually, it’s quite interesting there is this in between, there is the, okay, you’re doing a job that’s very similar, but you’re doing it in a more flexible way that suits you. And I think when people think about ‘working from home’, and they hear about all this, all this growth in terms of ‘working from home’, they naturally jump to that the position on the end of the spectrum, which is you completely working for yourself. You bring in on your own clients, you being responsible for all of your accounts, all of your invoices, all the contracts, everything like that. And actually, I think the middle is where a lot of the growth is going to be. So people doing something very, very similar, but in a slightly different way that more benefits them in terms of their lifestyle.
Lydia: Yeah, and I think, you know, I think people should know that there. There are multiple pathways to get to a more fulfilling work life that actually, not everybody needs to have the same definition of what we call ‘freedom’. I have clients that actually hate traveling, they don’t want to travel like me, it’s not about traveling for them. And for that, some of them it’s actually just about better work. I want to do better work. I want to challenge myself to actually go after positions and do more meaningful things with what I believe I’m capable of. And to others, it is about having that choice of if especially for women, that where, if we decide to have a family, if we decide to, you know, unfortunate, we can’t pass the buck to our male counterparts just yet about being pregnant.
Nelson: No seahorse, ‘take my babies from’.
Lydia: Yeah that’s right, yeah. It’s sometimes going ‘Well, I would like to continue to have that security of the job that I want. But I also in a lot of ways, maybe in the first couple years of when my kid is growing up, I do want to be there are a lot more than just from 6pm onwards, and I don’t want to maybe shove my kid into a daycare, maybe I do want to raise my children in a more personal level. How can I make that choice without sacrificing security?’ And the good news is that the world corporations and organizations and everybody in between, are now being enforced to adapt. I don’t know if this is such a bad thing. I think it’s great for the future of work, it’s providing people more happiness, and happy people are just better producers of work anyway, and then there’s going to be less sick days and mental wellness days to be taken, because of the fact that people have a bit more balance. And that’s sort of what I’m hoping that we come out of this crisis with this silver lining, in that we can adapt to our single you know, well it was hard to go through that, but it helped us to get more creative, and thinking about a new way that we can continue to work and continue to be employed (doesn’t have to be self-employment), but that organizations can say remote work isn’t so bad. After all, people weren’t just laying on the couch, eating potato chips all day. They were working, and they are happier, and maybe they’ll be more loyal to our company, that’s always a good thing too.
Nelson: You know, definitely, I think COVID has just been an accelerant for so many things that were already happening, and has probably just brought them forward by a couple of years. One of the things that we can get into it now or another time, but is this kind of assumption, though, that like, working from home is the right thing, or has been easy for everybody across the board during COVID. It’s just not the case, in my eyes. Although I don’t really like drawing this distinction that I’m about to make it, but it is quite a useful shorthand. You have kind of the difference between white-collar jobs, and blue-collar jobs. COVID has impacted them in massively, massively different ways. You know, there’s a ton of white-collar jobs that people are actually discovering (and I think a lot of people knew, but maybe bosses and companies were reluctant to hand that freedom over, or that loss of control, but white-collar jobs, a lot of them can be done from home. Not all of them and not all of them well, or perfectly, I think a lot of the technology and the software that is missing at the moment, there’s a lot that needs to be built out in the next 5-10 years to get to a good position, there’s so many interactions that are missed, that don’t, aren’t big enough to kind of merit an email or Slack channel or anything like that. It’s the interactions that you would have in an office normally with colleagues, you know, those are missing at the moment. But then, I don’t want to gloss over and say COVID has been just a good benefactor with this specific ‘working from home’ accelerating remote work because actually a ton of people that I suspect would love to work from home, but in blue-collar jobs, can’t. So it’s just very interesting, that kind of dichotomy there.
Nelson: So I want to, I want to bring it back for a minute and kind of talk about ‘Screw The Cubicle’ again. How you kind of went from that first coaching client, you were talking about, ‘Like, hang on, what even is a coach? Can I do this? Do I need to go back to school?’ How you kind of grew that how you thought about, okay, maybe there’s some legs in this, maybe I can kind of make this my full-time role and that kind of journey?
Lydia: Yeah, I think it was, if it wasn’t for that woman, I owe her a lot in the sense of being the planting seed for me. But it also, again, kind of part of the same thread of thought we had about these boundaries, that I allowed myself to come to Bali for that six month period of time, it was kind of the same mindset in a way when I thought about what can I do with ‘Screw The Cubicle’. I lived at a time as well, because my full-time energy was actually growing the International Education Agency, right that I had already started. And so that ‘Screw The Cubicle’ was a side hustle in a lot of ways. It wasn’t even a side hustle; it’s just a side blog. And then I sort of was like, ‘Could it be a side hustle?’ and to be honest, Nelson, at the time, I never thought about it replacing the agency I started, you know, it was purely, again, an indulgent project to go, ‘I wonder what can happen here, you know?’ But in hindsight, I think that was, that was the best thing that I could have done. Because the minute I think if I had said, ‘This had to replace my full-time business, or this had to work, and I had to make it work and had to produce me this kind of revenue,’ is when I would have talked myself out of pursuing that. Because all of that was super unknown to me. So I had to kind of make it into a game, I had to make it into a thing that wasn’t with the solid concrete outcomes of dollar figures at the end of it, or whether or not this had to become beyond a blog. And so what I thought about was, ‘What don’t I know about this idea that can allow me to make the next step happen for myself?’. And the next step was not to launch a business. The next question to ask was, ‘Would I like coaching?’
Lydia: ‘What does a coach do? What people have value in if I was to coach them?’ Those were the questions, it wasn’t about, ‘Can I launch a business?’ And so in order to find the answers for those questions, I really thought about my days, when I graduated from, college and higher education, like when I went into the work field, when I too, was fuzzy about where I belonged in the work world. And internships were such a big thing, we didn’t balk at the idea of internships. We didn’t say, ‘I get paid so much less to do an internship’, if anything, you were grateful for the opportunity to try something, get your foot in the door, and see where you might take it and shadow different people and go ‘Oh, is that niche of my industry that I want to go in and not this one?’, after seeing what happens in a day to day basis of that person’s life. And so I thought about that, I went, ‘I really wish I could do an internship on coaching and see if I can try on that coat for size and see if I like it before I start to spend time and energy and effort into this thing’. Because I knew by that time how much effort it takes to launch a business, I wasn’t going to do another one except, unless I did it in a more sustainable, healthy way. So then I, I basically pitched to this woman that I never really considered coaching, I was very honest about it. And I said, ‘But what I do know is that I have gone through a lot of what you’re about to go through, so I may not have an official certification to coach people at this point. But if you’re looking for someone that can help guide you to kind of see the forest from the trees and maybe share some of the deep questions that I had to ask myself as well. I’ve already spent thousands of dollars on therapy and a business coach. So you know, maybe I could bring some of that juice into helping you figure some stuff out, and so I sort of was like I have armed myself with some information, knowledge and experience. And I sure as hell know what it feels like to go through a career transition. And so what I knew was that I did not want to coach about business at the time, because I didn’t feel ethical to do so. Because I had not (in my eyes) had a successful business yet that I felt, gave me the right to teach, ‘Here’s how you launch a business and be a successful entrepreneur’. But so what was a much more moral thing to coach on with was what I have gone through and had achieved in my personal life’. And so I said, ‘Could we do an eight week coaching experience, I’m not quite sure yet what exactly we’re going to do but after talking to you about what you’re going through, these are some of the ideas in my head. And what I would love to do is actually just offer that to you complimentary, because you can help me in an exchange for my advice and my experience to help me build something that will be very valuable to people’. So She said, ‘Sure, I would love to do that. But I didn’t think that wasn’t what you would offer, anyway, you know so bonus round for both of us in that sense’. And then I decided to take that intention and get more guinea pigs to come on this ride with me. And again, being very honest that this was my self-made internship to kind of dabble into this. And here’s what I’m willing to do. Here’s the kind of people I’m looking for. There’s no guarantee what happens at the end of this all, but I know that you’re alone anyway so you might as well work with someone that has gone through what you’re about to go through. And if we don’t like each other halfway through, we can break up and it’s fine, no hard feelings. And, you know, we’ll learn from each other, and you’ll be a case study for me, and you’ll be supporting me in creating an offer, if I choose to do that, and making sure that’s validated by some real humans, and people were really, really excited to do that. So I gathered eight case studies to work with for eight weeks. And that was a huge learning process for me. I learned who I did not want to work with. And I learned who were the right fit. I learned what problems I could solve that were valuable. And I also learned about problems that I never want to solve, again, like people’s marriage problems that they would have brought to me sometimes through the sessions.
Nelson: Yeah so setting boundaries.
Lydia: And you know, knowing where I stood and how do I navigate that, but I wouldn’t have found that out, if I didn’t work with people at all. It would have been these fantasies in my head, whether I can do it or not do it or this and that, and talk myself out of it eventually. So that was a really necessary stage for me. And it was so powerful for me to start this new career that is really embedded into how I coach my clients today as well. Till now, every client that’s ever worked with me have done a beta testing, they’ve done an internship and they created that themselves. And then it’s made a world of difference in how they launch, how confident they are when they start telling the public about what they do, and getting that credibility and experience that they really need before they even get out there in the real world.
Nelson: Very interesting. And you said a lot of really, really great stuff there. So I’m just want to recap and kind of summarize it for some of the listeners. So the first thing that stood out to me there was, you didn’t use this word, but was authenticity. So you felt uncomfortable talking about the business aspect of that, in terms of ‘Well, actually, I don’t have a super successful business right now’. So you didn’t feel kind of ethically and morally that you could talk about that. ‘But I do have this experience, I do feel qualified to talk about this. Even if it’s not from kind of an academic theory kind of level, it’s literally personal experience and analogy. And how that might look like for you’. And I think that works really well in terms of gelling with people. I think people feed off that authenticity, when you can tell stories about stuff that happened to you like, ‘Okay, being sued, how do we approach that?’ Obviously, not the ideal one hope that nobody else has to go through it. You do have kind of ‘in the trench experience’ of what to do. And that’s absolutely fantastic. So there was the authenticity part that you mentioned, there was focusing on certain areas that you feel qualified to look at. But also you talked about that the stuff that you didn’t want to do, right. So the problems and the barriers that you had to set up in terms of ‘I don’t want to be somebody’s marriage counselor. I am here very much to talk about that career transition moment, what that looks like, how you can kind of set yourself up for success’. And then also the kind of beta, beta tester aspect of it. Like I think in the US, you guys probably call it beta, don’t you?
Lydia: Yeah beta, but we are Canadian…very different.
Nelson: I think a lot of the listeners are American. So I have to occasionally change these moments.
Lydia: We’re always the disregarded cousin. Now that little cousin in the back that no one cares about.
Nelson: Oh, I think the UK is that as well. Right? We’re a lot smaller.
Lydia: That’s right.
Nelson: Um, so actually not coming up with a service or product in isolation, listening to people getting real feedback on what they want. And giving them that’s something finding that kind of, if you think of like that, that little Venn diagram: the stuff that you want to offer and the stuff that they want to receive and finding that sweet spot in the middle, which is really, really nice.
Lydia: Yeah, yeah.
Nelson: I’ve worked with a lot of startups and small businesses to try and kind of coach them both on the ecommerce side, but also on the lead generation side as well. And too many of them jump straight to the product that they want to offer, rather than the product that the customers want.
Lydia: That Lean Startup method, right? Like not to really produce and spend money and design, but really just test the market for need. And I think services, you know, when we think about Lean Startup, we think about startups, we think about apps we think about, like AI stuff, right? But in services, actually, it’s much easier to do it in services. Oh, you know, because you, it’s like, sometimes you could think about I remember thinking about ‘Well, how far do I go? When do I stop?’ That was also a question I had in my brain was okay, I knew that I started in the crossroad. ‘Should I quit? Should I leave? Or should I go? If I went, what would I need to do to figure out what’s next for me?’ I knew how to do that, but at the end of the day, it was also about, well, where would I feel complete? What would be sort of a goal we’re trying to meet here? Is it the clarity of their skill sets that could be redeployed in a different direction? Once I found that, then I’ve done my job. Or does it end that, that we come together even after knowing that, (and I’m not again, not in control of when they quit, that’s not my job) there’s so many other factors that I can’t be responsible for, that was something I had to learn as well. Because I used to be very involved in people’s outcomes. It was something I’ve had to learn as a coach to not be so emotionally attached to people’s outcomes, because they have their accountability and responsibility to reach those outcomes as well on their own, I’m just a guide. But even knowing where to stop and how to wrap it up, and how to really set them up for success, so that what I’m teaching them in the habits and the mindset, and the problem solving skills that they’ve developed through that experience can be taken beyond the time we spent together. And that’s when I think that impact is really made, rather than here’s a report on your career skills, and here’s what top 10 things you can do with your life, you know, like, that’s not helpful, in my opinion, you need the muscles, the tools to navigate change and transition beyond this experience, you know? Yeah.
Nelson: So these days, what is your kind of service offering actually look like?
Lydia: Well, you know, to work with me, directly these days, my core offer is my 90 day launch program. So this is primarily focused on professionals that are usually, I mean there’s two batches of people, but 80% of them will be career-transitioners that are professional mid-career, people that have already decided in some way or another that they want to leave their corporate job. They’ve done a bit of work and understanding the types of skills and tools they want to be using going forward. But it’s kind of a fuzzy idea like, ‘Okay, I think I want to be a copywriter. I know I want to write but I’m not sure who it’s for and what I’m writing and, you know, how does this all work? And how do you get clients and all these things?’
Nelson: You’re basically just describing me that?
Lydia: Right…Ok, you’re an ideal client profile. Great.
Lydia: And the caveat, this is the other part of it, it’s not just anybody that wants to launch a service based business, my approach is about ensuring that that business is designed from your strengths, your values and your personality. So it’s specifically for people that care about their work, they want to do meaningful work. And they value really building the foundations of how they operate in that business, how they market, how they spread the word how they share that vision, not because someone said funnels are the only way to go, right, but that you are really intentionally making choices in your business, from how you want to work with clients to the design of your services, that’s in line with your type of personality type. And also, how you want to field clients and bring them in, doesn’t have to be a big marketing strategy that I think sometimes people don’t really have the stomach for, nor they want to be this big empire. What I find is my ‘soulmate clients’, you know, the clients that I just like, this is the perfect person and we have a great time getting a business up and running are not specifically just about what business they are doing. You know, I do specialize in service-based businesses, but what is the sort of alignment between the both of us is that we want to enjoy our lives. So work is not the end all, but it is the vehicle that’s going to allow us to impact and, and create a difference in the world, which I think is important to both myself and my clients. But they also don’t want to be a slave to the business. So they don’t have this ego to say, ‘I need a million dollar business for me to feel successful’. They’re redefining of success is more about time, flexibility and autonomy and knowing what’s enough, what’s an ‘enough number’ that we need to make in order to afford us the life that we want, and the security of pension or whatever it is that you’re saving up for. But we’re not going after big numbers, just because we think that’s going to make us feel good and look good. You know, we’re very intentional about the revenue you make while you’re making every dollar with a purpose. And how do we set up the system that you’re not working 40, 50, 60 hours a week to get to those numbers, you know, but I think most importantly, at the launch stage, it’s very easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of what we think a launch is, right? We need the email list, we need the five-step funnel, we need the Facebook ad. And I mean, I’m not saying that those things aren’t important to certain businesses in certain stages, but in the beginning of a business, I don’t think it’s the only way to get clients, especially if you’re not a techie person. And especially if maybe your jam is relationships, good old fashion relationships that are offline and online and you don’t care for you know, a big email list and you produce high touch services that you don’t need that many clients. So your way of recruitment and marketing might be very different. You know, so my job is to challenge that status quo and go, ‘Who told you that you had to have an Instagram channel at all? What is your way of communication and influence? And how do we pick the right mediums that give you that?’ You know, that approach so that you’re not grunting and groaning when you have to market because it’s not in line with what you want to do. 80% of my clients are introverts, which is an interesting statistic. I’m not quite sure how I attract introverts. I don’t find I’m an introvert, I have introverted qualities, but I think I have more extroverted qualities. But I think what attracts them to me is probably the message of that you can build a business that feels like you. And if we can do that, intentionally, you might actually build a business you want to keep, and not fold and fail because you either get bored or you’re doing stuff you don’t like and it’s hindering your success, because you’re not naturally drawn to do these things. This feels forced.
Nelson: No, that makes a ton of ton of sense and success. I mean, my…I run well…how many businesses at the moment? A few businesses, should we say at the moment and some in similar fields in some in like diverse fields. So my digital marketing business is based mainly around Facebook and Instagram ads. And then my copywriting business is kind of completely separate to that. And that is more of a direct of marketing approach that I take I take for it. So actually, yeah, the Facebook and Instagram stuff has like a completely different way of bringing in leads than the copywriting stuff just because it works better. Copywriting is more a relationship built for the lead generation tactics that I’m doing in the moment anyway. It involves a lot of talking to people, a lot of reaching out to them on LinkedIn. And yeah, you don’t necessarily need that big channel just to kind of get up and running, which is quite interesting.
Nelson: So for anybody that’s kind of in this space, in terms of, I guess that they’re still there mid-career, they’re working a job that probably isn’t going to be there forever job, (if there is such a thing these days), and they are kind of thinking of alternatives? Are there any kind of like transition tips that you’ve got, or resources that you can point them to in terms of, you know, getting them into that mindset of like, ‘Okay, what do I need to think about? What do I need to prepare?’
Lydia: Yeah, you know, there’s a couple I mean, I really love teaching and, and sort of training people on depending on what stage you’re at, you know, that I think there’s not sort of one package of training that like,’ here’s all the things that you know’, you’ll need to know, it all depends on sort of what your goals are and what it is that you’re trying to achieve at this moment in time. So there’s a couple resources that could be helpful. The first place I always sort of get people to go to is my ‘Start Here’ page and ‘Start Here’ page will tell you a little bit about my philosophy and my approach to work. But it also showcases three particular trainings, that depending on which pathway and sort of what stage you’re in, in the transition journey, there will be a training session and a workshop that I hold for free, that allows you to sort of get started with this path. So for example, the first starting point first pathway, you could choose is: ‘I’m ready to reinvent myself, and I’m not quite sure what I’m reinventing into, I just feel a call for change and, you know, some sort of adaptation to my life and work’. So that webinar is called ‘How to how to reinvent your life and work to truly live out your version, or your vision for a meaningful life and career’. So in that one, it talks a lot about sort of the questions you should be asking yourself at the moment, and taking stock, right, giving ourselves a time a bit of a pause, to take stock about what it is that isn’t causing fulfillment for our lives, you know, and really break down the purpose of us to make that change. What’s working? What isn’t working? What has my body of work, potentially, have already laid out some clues for me about what’s next? What are some things that maybe I’ve already been pondering on doing, but may have some fears and obstacles in the way, so you might be clear about what you want to do, but the your job for what’s next is to actually help to create those safe conditions, for you to take that leap without taking too big of a bite that you can’t chew. So maybe some of the things we talked about today could be a seed-planter of smaller steps, less about big goals, more about movements, movements you can control, and that’s really what’s going to lead you to fulfilling that vision. And then there’s some training there about: What business should I start? And that training is all about ‘How do we reimagine work and reimagine that sweet spot of work we could do that’s in the intersection of skills, deep interest and impact. How do we marry that into our experience?’ So that might be a good training for you? If that has been your hungry question: what business should I start? That’s probably the best training. And then the next one is basically how to launch a business you love. And we talk a little bit about one of the components, what the foundational elements of a business that isn’t complicated, that what’s essential to you to get started so that you’re not over complicating the process to start a business and being more holistic and attentional about what you actually really need. You know, and not to fuss around with too much technology or marketing tactics, that isn’t meant for you at the stage you’re in. You know, like I always say, when they look at people in a 10 year business, and you compare yourself to that, as a first year business, you compare yourself to grade 10, and you’re in grade 1. They’re doing different things to go through grade 10, they have a team, they’ve got a budget, they’ve got money, they’ve got a list, it’s not going to be the same tactics you’re going to be using when you’re just building your brand. You know, and also, maybe with a long-term higher-end service, your marketing tactics could be very different. It could be very intimate of an approach rather than mass mail or mass ads that might need to be happening, right. So we want to be more intentional. So that webinar covers that, for example. And then in terms of like navigating remote work, so if people are just actually working from home, they’re not necessarily wanting to be an entrepreneur, but they want to learn better ways to work from home, or how to pivot and adapt to changing times during COVID-19. I believe I sent you an email about the link for a five-part COVID series that I did during the beginning of COVID, which is again, absolutely free. And there’s many topics to pick from there that will allow you to either think about how to make a more productive workspace and manage your time more appropriately as a remote worker, all the way to now that you can’t go to conferences and network in real life, physical spaces, how do we build genuine relationships in the internet, in a way that isn’t spammy and unethical? So whatever the topic is around that you might be able to find a topic there too.
Nelson: That’s perfect. So to just to recap to get hold of those resources, they can find them on screwthecubicle.com, right?
Lydia: Yeah, screwthecubicle.com. The trainings are right in the homepage. But if you go to the ‘Start Here’ page, which is screwthecubicle.com/start-here, there’s also a big yellow button on the top right anyway, that will bring you there, you get to the homepage, and that’s a really good place to start. I think that will just help you to navigate what you need. And there’s even my top articles depending on again, which question you’re asking, Is it about career transitions? Is it about meaningful work? Is it about lifestyle independency? My best articles are featured there as well. And then if you want to come say hello to me, there’s a button to talk to me there. So, it’s a good place to start. And then the separate link for the COVID workshops, hopefully you’ll be able to put that in the show notes or something and people can go there if they need that, too.
Nelson: Fantastic. All right. Well, I think that is a perfect place to leave things for today, Lydia. Thank you so much for joining us. I know our listeners will appreciate that and hearing your story and how you actually first transitioned your own career before you started doing it for other people as well as fantastic story. So thank you again.
Lydia: Thank you for having me. I loved this honest conversation.
Nelson: Quite welcome. And that’s it for today. You’ve been listening to the working from home podcast with me, Nelson Jordan. We’ve been talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of remote work. Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed the time you spent with us today. If you’d like to discuss the podcast, you want to make a new friend or you’re interested in working with me on a copywriting or digital marketing project. Then visit nelson-jordan.com, that’s nelson-jordan.com where you can also sign up to my newsletter to hear about this podcast and other exciting projects. Until next week, goodbye.