Krista Robinson, an Illinois-based entrepreneur, was in the early stages of building her virtual dance studio assistant business, Ezra Virtual Assistance, when the pandemic hit. A professional dancer and teacher, Krista was looking for a new way to continue working in the industry after relocating from Texas to Illinois: “I can do other things and I have done other things, but it always comes back to dance.”
After working at a large dance studio in Texas, Krista understood each of the roles a studio needed and the cycle of logistical tasks that come with each season: enrollment, end of season recitals, summer camps, and fundraising events. She also realized studios faced a support gap and she knew she could help: “You’re wearing all of those hats yourself in a studio. I wanted to create this [business] to offer owners, teachers, choreographers an ‘a la carte’ option. Use me on a day-to-day basis, on a week-to-week basis. Whatever you need, we can fine-tune these services to meet your business needs.”
Krista joined MicroMentor in June 2020, seeking legal, marketing, and lead generation guidance. Not only did she want help growing her business, Krista wanted to build a business mentor relationship—someone she could call or text anytime with questions: “We all have relationships with parents, family, friends, people that we see success in and that you can always come back to. I’ve got those people in my life already, but I wanted someone in my life specific to my business.”
- Taking the leap and launching her business
- Designing her service offering and testing on clients
- Building a fair pricing model
After a few conversations with potential mentors, Krista got an email from MicroMentor with suggested mentors. At the top of the list, she found Amanda Mailey, a Portland, Oregon based marketing and business growth expert. She is the owner and founder of ALIST, a consultancy providing strategic and creative services to help womxn and BIPOC leaders reach their goals.
Amanda joined MicroMentor back in 2016, and had answered some questions and talked to a few entrepreneurs but hadn’t built a long-term mentoring relationship until she met Krista. The pair instantly clicked over having childhoods spent in dance studios and their similar a la carte business models: “When she described what she was trying to do, I got it immediately. Our business models are the same. We both recognize the strain owners deal with and we want to help ease the burden with flexible resource power. We can be a temporary extension of someone’s team or work horizontally in an organization.”
Amanda also recognized the additional benefit of Krista’s virtual service offerings in supporting small dance studios through virtual assistance during the pandemic: “Virtual assistance is huge right now, especially with what is going on with COVID. This [business] was crafted for the times and she can help people all over the country.”
With Amanda’s guidance and encouragement, Krista tackled her early challenges, including fine-tuning her messaging, getting the word out about her business, finding the right clients, and contracting with new clients. Amanda also helped Krista design tiered packages to make negotiation easier by setting parameters to which you can attach a fair pricing model: “It’s easy to put down a list of things I want to help people with, but categorizing it in a way that I can bill and that will appeal to clients made it complicated,” Krista explained.
Amanda’s Advice for Building a Fair Pricing Model for Services:
- List the 5–10 most common ways you can help a client. Listen to what is selling and adjust accordingly.
- Create some initial packages and set the pricing—this way, when you are building client proposals you have a place to start.
- Always leave room in your contracts to expand the proposal via change order.
- Set your price—even if you offer a discount to a client, make sure the contract lists what the discount percentage is and for how long it lasts.
- Collect testimonials from successful clients—these help prove your value to future clients as you start out. “A lot of people need proving, especially as you are starting your business. You want to get testimonials. Build up your story and offerings.”
Since June, Krista has launched EzraVA’s website, started a few small projects, and engaged with potential clients. The women have forged a friendship and plan to continue working together to realize Krista’s vision for EzraVA. About their relationship, Krista said, “I needed someone else who understood what my goals were and where I wanted to go...I feel like Amanda has always been as excited about this as I was. I can’t put a value to that—that’s everything.”
What challenges did you face in launching your business? Let us know in our Q&A.
Krista Robinson began student teaching before she was old enough for a worker's permit. She graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BA in English but could never quite let go of the dance dream. After moving to Austin, Texas, Krista began teaching, choreographing, and performing professionally as well as working behind the scenes as an office manager and program coordinator. After starting a family and moving back to Illinois, Krista recognized the need to make some changes and founded Ezra Virtual Assistance in the spring of 2020. Her goal is to support dance studios with her experience and assistance wherever they may be.
Amanda Mailey is a mentor with more than 4 years of experience as a small business owner and 15 years of agency experience, working with top brands including Nike, Visa, Microsoft, Adobe, and Intel as a partner to further define core business objectives and recommend the appropriate experiences, initiatives and vehicles on a global scale.
Launching ALIST in September 2016, Amanda taps into the lessons learned from working with some of the most recognizable brands in the world and applies these strategies to her clients who have similar needs, but smaller budgets. She also promotes and celebrates womxn and BIPOC-owned business on her @alist_pdx instagram channel.
In 2020, Amanda debuted as an indie author with the August release of ‘sidetracked.’ About to turn 40 years old, she intimately journals risking it all in search of a more meaningful connection with herself, her family, and the world.