Answering my own Women In Business Interview Questions: Introduction

Before we get into the question I’ve chosen for today, let’s have a chat.

It’s no mystery that for any business the holiday season is busy. During a typical year, October through December are my biggest months for shopping, and my service schedule is packed, so I find myself with little energy for much else. I had to accept the fact that interviews and resource guides may need to be put on pause until January, and that’s okay. In previous years I felt better about the chaos because I’d factored it in and planned plenty of time to myself. I was getting to a point where I could afford time off so I tried my best to take it. My goal was two weeks off last year (✔️), three weeks this year (not happening), and then a month starting in 2021 and moving forward until I change my mind again (it’s happening).

I’m talking about a sabbatical from the chaos to get my mind right, work on myself and my personal life, and see my business through fresh eyes so I can adjust. Recalibrate. Matthew McConaughey would call it a “walk about.” I won’t be getting high and floating down the Amazon River, however, a month without obligations but with set intentions can change your life. Even if you’re staying home. I learned that last year on my digital minimalism journey.

Then 2020 happened and all my “security,” plans, schedule changes and policies I’d been fine-tuning since becoming self employed evaporated. And here we are. I’m still taking two weeks off around Christmas and New Years, less out of a sense of accomplishment and more out of a sense of sheer exhaustion and necessity.

Since July I’ve been working on my online store project. Anyone who knows me is familiar with my insistence that I do things completely, and to the best of my personal ability, the first time. You know, it’s my Dad’s voice in my head: “Don’t half ass it. Do your best and that’s all you can do.” I hear that ringing in my ears every time I’m doubting myself, but it’s the truth. Our best is all we’ve got. My best is in creating things when the old ways just aren’t working out anymore.

I feel like I’m starting a second business. The time, coordination, rebranding, systems changes, and the money spent. It’s more than I bargained for, but it’s almost here. In less than two weeks my biggest work project since opening my business in the first place will be out there for the world to see. And all the familiar doubts usher me in with open arms.

Will it fail? Will I fail? Will no one like it? Was it a stupid idea in the first place? Should I have saved my money until a more predictable and steady time (non-pandemic)? Do I actually know what I’m doing? Will this give me more freedom or less?

I wanted to share these feelings with you because, to be completely honest, I’ve noticed many of you have commented on how well I’ve been navigating this challenge as a business owner. Quickly adapting, not frozen in fear or inactive. Pivoting and succeeding. And while I appreciate all the kind words and support, behind all the action is still a lot of fear. Fear of failure and fear of ending up back where I started.

But any smart business owner will tell you that it’s impossible to end up back where you started. Half of the fun of creating is learning what didn’t work. Even if you didn’t bargain for it, you’re left with the knowledge. Never back where you started. Always carrying more information than you had yesterday. Whether you wanted it or not.

I decided to answer these questions now because I feel like I’m in an unique place in my entrepreneurial journey. Experienced but not very experienced. I’ve thought about doing this in the past but didn’t feel like it was appropriate. Like writing a memoir at 25. I needed more time in the fire. 2020 has doled out the fire and the lessons, in droves. But I know I’m not even in the middle yet. In another five years I’ll answer them again, just to see.

I also thought it would be beneficial for new clients to get to know me better. With my online business becoming real, it’s a nice reminder for anyone who’s interested that it really is just me, a person, on the other side trying to do my best.

Being an entrepreneur and small business owner is scary in the first place, without the challenges 2020 has presented. But for some reason some of us are able to channel that fear into a challenge. It’s like a friendly but difficult and unending scrimmage with the universe.

That’s all you’ve got?

_____

Question 1: Tell us about your business, and your qualifications in the beauty industry.

I warn you in advance. I’m going to talk a lot, because it’s my blog. So why not?

I own Two Beauties Skin + Makeup in old town Eureka. I opened my two-person skincare and makeup studio in November of 2016 where I work with my sister. We’re both licensed estheticians and makeup artists. We offer facials, peels, waxing, makeup lessons, and event artistry. We also carry several skincare, makeup, and body care lines, and are launching our online store on December 1, 2020.

Somehow I always knew I wanted to write, and also be an artist in the beauty industry. I’m not sure how I knew that, and my roles have evolved over the years, but I’ve always chased that balance. A career that allows me to be creative while still being practical. Growing up in a family where we had enough, but money was always a constant source of worry, I knew I didn’t want that for myself. I knew that I needed to create things to feel sane, but rarely do art degrees pay the bills. So I met myself somewhere in the middle.

I started my career in the beauty industry in 2007 as a beauty sales person at an Estée Lauder counter in the mall. I, to this day, do not think there’s a better way to become a great makeup artist than to have a job which requires you to put makeup on anyone who asks you to, in the mall, for almost free. I worked on all skin types, tones, conditions, ages, and concerns. It’s an excellent way to get your feet wet without needing a professional license or any beauty qualifications whatsoever. I had some sales experience, and that was all that was necessary. My love for makeup was just a plus. I learned enough in that short year to propel me to my first job in a real makeup studio.

I applied to work at the local spa I went to for waxing. My amazing esthetician (who now owns her own shop and is still amazing) suggested I apply because their makeup artist was moving. I got the job and ended up working there for almost six years. I did everything there, including observing the benefits and pitfalls of running a small, local business. I worked as a receptionist, as a makeup artist (which now that I’m licensed I know is illegal to do without a license in a spa or salon…), as a manager, as a retail buyer, and finally after graduating from both Humboldt State with my degree in journalism and beauty school with my esthetics license, as a legitimate beauty professional.

After that, I worked in a spa one of my best friends co-owns for three years. With the amazing support, encouragement, and wisdom of the group of experienced women who work there, I was able to save enough money and gain enough confidence to open my own studio.

During this whole time, to make ends meet and pay for school, I worked at Victoria’s Secret. I started out as an 18 year old sales associate in 2006 and eventually ended up managing the beauty department. I credit the ten years working for that company in their heyday (plus my media degree) for almost all of my sales, management, and marketing knowledge. Working for a gigantic corporate brand and running their beauty department while simultaneously running a small business working with professional-level brands taught me both sides of the beauty world, large and small. Between the spa and Victoria’s Secret I was also able to make the closest friendships that I still have to this day, only nowadays we show support to each other by hiring each other, lifting each other up, and keeping our network strong. Working with (almost) all female staff my entire life has taught me that collaboration, rather than competition, is vital to business success.

My most notable experience during my “VS” days is where the above photo comes from. My beauty department in small-town Eureka sold more perfume (as a percentage of overall sales) than any other store in California. The company flew 19-year-old terrified, baby Liz to Texas (first time I’d ever flown, and by myself) where I got my makeup done by the models’ pro artist and got to have my pictures taken with Candice and Erin. What a day to be alive. Clearly, based on my facial expression, I wasn’t terrified whatsoever (just zoom in). That was the first time I saw how big the beauty industry really is, and it helped me to grow my own dreams.

As problematic as corporate beauty may be, Victoria’s Secret taught me how to merchandise and sell a rotating inventory of hundreds (if not thousands) of products, and I loved it most of the time. I finally quit in spring of 2016, so I could open my own shop.

And here we are. I love what I do. I love the fact that I get to work with my sister and spend my days with women I admire, clients and friends alike. But I am excited (and a bit terrified) to see where things go from here.

I’m Taking A Break

Hi Everyone!

I wanted to drop in to let my readers know that I will be taking a break from blogging until further notice. I hope this means I will only step away for a couple of weeks, maybe a month. But truthfully I’m not sure.

When I write, it comes from a place of excitement, passion, and a need to communicate and share interesting ideas. Right now my mind is too preoccupied, and quite honestly, too stressed to capacity to produce content I would be happy and proud to share with you.

Due to Covid-19, and the shelter in place order in California, my brick and mortar business had to close down one week ago. Currently I am working around the clock to streamline the retail side of my spa and makeup studio in order to keep some revenue coming in. This is a terrifying time for small business owners- myself included. I toggle minute to minute between positivity and depression. Gratefulness and sadness. Hope and pride in our local community’s resilience and fear of losing my life’s work in an instant.

I need to care for myself, and focus my energy in specific areas. I will continue writing when I feel driven to do so, and will hopefully share again with you soon.

Thank you for reading.

-Liz

The Real Life Vegan Wife

“Draining The Shallows” Digital Minimalism Diaries Part 3

What does “Deep Work” Mean to Me?

My whole life I’ve been naturally drawn to produce what Cal Newport describes as “Deep Work.” I picture myself as a ten year old writing stories in one of the many outdoor “forts” my sister and I would build. Sometimes I’d spend what felt like hours alone, riding my bike down our long dirt road to sit on the “big rock” and write down my thoughts and observations – a backpack full of books in tow, and a heavy imagination to compliment the scenery. Nature and quiet time were easy to find, but so were the other kids on my street, who, when I was ready to socialize seemed to always be available.

We grew up in a town where solitude was plentiful – I refer to solitude in the way that Newport does, as being alone with your thoughts, but not necessarily alone physically. Think: In the grocery store check out line without your phone. Not alone, but alone in your head – solitude. My home town is excessively rural, secluded, and a few years behind whatever technology or trends are happening on the outside. Thinking of the hundreds of days I spent riding my mountain bike up over the hills to spend hours with friends makes my heart fill with gratitude. Idle time was seen by many of our parents as time for trouble, but we rarely found any. What we did find was a childhood and adolescence spent “hanging out” with each other before the internet meant much, and long before cell phones were common, let alone in any of our own hands. 

Sitting alongside the Kern River watching tourists go by on river rafts, walking circles around the high school football field talking, getting to know my future best friend, cleaning the hotel pool area in the early morning at my high school job. Thinking about being outside in the warm summer air, just me, the smell of chlorine, and the sound of the birds at 7am sometimes leads me to think that maybe we have gotten so far away from analog behaviors, solitude, and personal connection that we are suffering – mentally and physically. But how do we go back to that feeling – the one that we seem to find whenever our minds are left to fend for themselves?

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive abilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate. 

My intention is not to emphasize an unrealistically ideal society pre-modern technology and to suffocate you with nostalgic tales from my childhood. What I do mean to do is evoke that sense of calm in you that I believe comes from the fulfillment and mental rewards we reap from the combination of experiencing a balance and abundance of solitude and personal one-on-one connections with other people.

I find myself researching Digital Minimalism, efficiency and effectiveness in my business and personal life, and my own cognitive potential, realizing that not only are those topics interconnected on many levels, but in my opinion, crucially dependent on one another for their success. As a society we’ve strayed away from meaningful connections and failed to give ourselves and others the permission to spend significant time on work that captures our undivided attention. The result: Our lives are spent toiling away on work that does not fulfill us, and on media platforms that do not produce the amount of value they’ve promised for the time we’re haphazardly giving away. If Instagram was charging you per minute to use their service, how much would it be worth to you? As it turns out, “liking” your friend’s post does cost us something huge: time. The only resource we cannot replenish. When it comes to our time, we should be counting our pennies, but instead we all spend like we have millions in the bank.

Personally, I enjoy and find fulfillment in one-on-one time spend with other people, and time spent alone, producing what I consider to be my “deep work” which usually has something to do with writing. The problem that I’ve encountered, and that has become glaringly obvious to me recently, is that I’ve positioned myself in a career where my personal connections are bountiful and meaningful, I’ve etched out time in my schedule to produce high-quality work, and I’m maintaining a blog and four social media accounts. And it’s too much. I did not replace personal connection with online or shallow connections, I merely added them all in, on top of the heavy client load and the real brick-and-mortar business location I currently run. Shocking fact: I have only had a personal Instagram account for three years. What value is it really producing? Not much.

For those of you unfamiliar with the day-to-day operations of a full time esthetician, my schedule looks like this: From around 8am to 7pm three days a week I book back to back clients during all of these hours for a minimum of thirty minutes and a maximum of three hour long appointments. During this time I will render any combination of skincare and makeup services, typically in a private room behind closed doors, in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere. This means that on any given client work day I will have an average of around ten one-on-one conversations. Many of my clients are friends, almost every single one has been coming to see me for several years. So we know each other and our talks are meaningful and rarely surface level. For roughly 33 hours per week I am in an intense state of concentration and attentiveness. I am producing quality work which requires practice and skill, providing a quality environment that requires thought, intention, and execution, and I am cultivating meaningful personal connections and conversation, which requires my full and undivided attention.

In addition to these client hours, I have event hours which typically include several weddings a month where my ability to concentrate and produce quality work in intensely distracting and high-stress environments is vital. And lastly, office hours which I’ve widdled down to two efficient hours per week doing paperwork and making phone calls – another task that requires my undivided attention to complete, lest I digress to completing these tasks haphazardly throughout my week, distracting me from client work.

I believe that I have cultivated the ability to work deeply and to socialize deeply because my career depends on it. And at this point in our history those skills are becoming increasingly more rare, and therefore, more valuable. The problem: I concentrate deeply for roughly 40-45 hours per week in a very social environment and then go home and try to socialize online, or text/email/call back any clients who are trying to contact myself or my business. My energy is so depleted by that point that I have basically none remaining for myself, my husband, or my personal relationships outside of work and social media. Perhaps I am not becoming more anti social, but rather, more intolerant of allowing my time to be monopolized by anything that produces shallow or ambiguous value.

I built the majority of my client base before I used social media much at all, and many of the most successful business people I know rarely use it. If they do, it is with intention to produce a specific value. The haphazard use of social media networking tools to produce a very abstract value is not serving me, or my business in real life. What does serve me and my clients is a thoughtful, professional environment, quality services and deep connections. In order for me to produce these things, I need solitude, and in order for me to feel content and happy I need to be “immersed in something challenging.” 

As Newport would say, it is time to “drain the shallows” to fill what room is left in my bucket with deep work.

_____

Luxe Headshots by The Studio by Kimberly Ann

http://www.photosbykimberlyann.com/contact.html