I am super thrilled to get this episode and conversation out to you all ASAP because I think this client does incredible work.
Our work together inside our coaching program, The Side Hustle Club, has also been very transformative. It’s been really cool to see this client’s business change in a span of a few short months. She made back 2x the investment of our program in just 3 months (And we’re still going!).
I’m really excited to dive into the things that really helped this client and lead them to where their business is today.
Jennifer van Alstyne helps professors feel confident when sharing their research and teaching online. She empowers academics to build the online presence you deserve through her company The Academic Designer LLC. In her Online Presence Program, Jennifer works together with professors 1:1 to create a digital presence that works for them even when they’re sleeping. Jennifer van Alstyne is here to help you tell your research story through your bio, social media, and website.
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet. She lives in San Diego, California. Connect with her on social media @HigherEdPR.
Work website: https://theacademicdesigner.com
Jennifer, could you please tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do?
Hi, everyone, my name is Jennifer Van Alstyne. I am a small business owner and coach. I own a company called the Academic Designer LLC, here in San Diego, California.
My company helps professors, and amazing researchers talk about who they are and what they do online. They’re doing amazing work that’s changing the world. And I want more people to know about it. I help professors make personal websites, be on social media, and feel more confident when they’re showing up online.
Very much needed and incredible work that you do.
Why don’t we throw it back to a few months ago, and talk about what your business looked and felt like before we started working together and what eventually led you to reach out to me to work together.
Cheryl and I met while she came on my podcast, The Social Academic, she came on to talk to professors about how to get comfortable talking about yourself, personal branding and what that looks like and how not to have fear on social media and all of these amazing things. I remembered that conversation.
When I started to feel less confident in myself and my business about four and a half years in, I realized that I needed help. I was not going to give up. I was dedicated and just really set that I’m going to keep my business, even if that means working harder, or investing more or figuring it out, I was going to adapt.
But I needed help to do that because I had really lost confidence in myself as not necessarily someone who can help my clients, but as someone who could sign clients. I had had a year of more people ghosting me than ever, who I’d had just amazing conversations with and I really thought we’d be working together.
I felt like I was constantly surprised when some proposals that I crafted, put together and spent time on didn’t go through as I expected. That kept happening. Eventually I became fearful that I wasn’t going to be able to assign the clients that I wanted again. Did I have to drop my prices? Did I have to change my offer? How much did my business need to change so I could keep going? That’s where I was at when I decided that I needed help.
Yeah, and I’m so glad that you you shared what was going through your mind and some of the things that were happening, because I think these are situations that are no stranger to so many listeners of the podcast, whether you are just starting out or you’ve been in this game for a few years now, it is natural for there to be times when we lose confidence, when the results that we were hoping for just aren’t just aren’t coming to light.
And it can feel extremely, it can just be really stressful and discouraging. I think at these points in time, there may be options for you to consider.
I want to now talk a little bit about why specifically, did you reach out to me, in particular? Was there a particular message or piece of content that really resonated with you? Was there something in particular that really prompted you to book a call in the first place?
I think what really prompted me to reach out was how much you were talking about simplifying your approach to business, that it could be easier, that it could be less work and that it could be more manageable. And the idea of soft launching wasn’t something that I’d heard of before. It wasn’t something I was familiar with.
But I knew that kind of idea and spark would be something that could help me. Help me adapt, help me help more people. So I really was excited to reach out.
The more I saw Cheryl talk about that, the more I realized I needed help. It made it a very easy decision to just reach out and have that conversation. I was so delighted by how open I was able to be on that call, and how open I was able to be about my feelings and about where I really was in my business and what I wanted for myself in the future. That is why I joined this coaching program.
I gotta tell you, I’m so glad that I did. This has been life changing for me in a way that now I feel confident, and I am confident and I am helping more people. And I am finding ways to do that. And hold the values that I care strongly about, while also standing for. I feel like I’m in power for my business, as a business owner, as a woman of color. As someone who helps many, especially minority professors have a voice in the online space.
Yeah, and I am really happy that you shared.
The point about soft launch as a pro tip here for the audience is remember that the reason why you’re offering the services or coaching services that you’re offering, is to help your clients do things in a more manageable way, do things in a lighter, easier, simpler way. And in our content and marketing, we should be able to reflect and articulate that.
So that’s a pro tip for anyone out here is whatever you’re selling, remember that the offer you’re selling, is a solution to make things more manageable, keep things light and help your clients really simplify whatever they’ve been trying to do and it’s just not working out for them. So that’s the first pro tip.
The second thing Jennifer mentioned was soft launching. This applies to whether you’re a coach or another service provider. Think about what is your unique process or angle or approach to the solution you offer? Because let’s be honest, there’s no shortage of business coaches, who are doing the same things I do. I help my clients find clients. There’s no shortage of people doing the same thing I do.
But what is your specific approach to doing so? For me, it’s definitely self launching.
Another approach I teach is thought leadership. For anyone here who wants to take a pro tip away, is to think about what’s the skill, a specific skill or approach that you bring to your industry? Yeah, so just a side tangent there.
And I’m also really grateful that the sales call that we had, Jennifer, provided a safe space for you to share what was going on and ultimately help you make a decision about working together.
I was just gonna say that it really was impactful for me, as someone who needs people to be emotional and open in our work together, with the professors that I work with. I was glad to find myself in that space when I spoke with you.
Thank you, I’m really happy that it was able to come across on the sales call.
Okay, so now it’s been about three and a half months since we started working together. There’ve been some pretty cool things and shifts that have happened in your business since then.
So in the past few months, what has changed in your business? What are some cool wins or results that you could share with us?
Yeah, so I have definitely signed more clients than ever. For my business, in just a short few months, I have more than doubled my investment in this coaching program.
But beyond that, I have helped more people in deeper ways, and found clear ways to talk about my business that goes far beyond how much money I’m making. It goes far beyond the monetary value of this. And I think that’s really important for me. I want more people to feel inspired not only by what I do, but the things that I’m teaching professors how to do.
Talking about yourself is hard, especially in online places where you’re not sure what the reaction is going to be. And it’s really normal to feel like that. But I’m sure you, as a coach, have felt like that too. And I just know that the things that I share are just so helpful for people. I needed to feel more confident in being able to share those things while making offers at the same time.
And what I didn’t realize because I was so scared of making offers when I first started was that people are excited to hear my offers. They’re excited to hear how I can help them. And because I’ve built such an amazing bank of content that is so helpful, educational and shareable, I’m able to help more people, even the people who can’t work with me.
That has made me so happy in my business and myself in my life, like that has made me more fulfilled as a human being, to be really creating value in the world, from my office here where I’m most comfortable.
So having the life that I want, and also making the money that I want to be making, these are amazing things to achieve. Just halfway through the program.
I think that the bank of content, the bank of value that Jennifer was talking about. One thing that we’ve been talking a lot about on this podcast recently, I’ve been using the phrase “body of work”. And I think that’s exactly what you, Jennifer, have been doing even before we started working together.
And I think that’s one of the contributors to when we started working together. Because if I were to reverse engineer what we worked on together, you already had that body of work in place, which was immensely helpful to the success that you’ve been seeing in our program.
So that’s the first thing I wanted to highlight to the audience is to really focus on building your body of work first and foremost. Because number one, that will help you help people for free, but also build a body of work that you’re proud of that really reflects what you want to be known for. Because when you help people, even for free, you’re gonna get paid eventually.
So when Jennifer first started working together with me inside our coaching program, we worked on specifically what I like to call soft launching, which is really zoning in on, how are you talking about your offer? How often and frequently are you talking about your offer, and really just answering questions, hesitations, and addressing the objections that people might have about working with you. So that’s kind of my soft launch process inside my container.
But without Jennifer’s body of work, we may not have seen results as quickly as we did. I wanted to be transparent there and encourage everyone here to think about your body of work.
If anyone here is listening to this, and you’re thinking about working with me, eventually, later on, it will be very helpful to already have that body of work in place, irrespective of whether we work together or not.
Having a body of work in place that makes you proud. And it’s proudly helping you help more people.
That’s what I wanted to highlight there. Any thoughts, Jennifer, about your body of work? I’m just curious to hear.
Just to be transparent for everyone who’s listening, I am going into year five of my business in May.
So I have had years to create a body of work. I’m also a writer, I have an MFA in poetry, and went on to get a second Master’s in Literature. So I have written critical things. I’ve written creative things. And because of that writing, that’s totally my thing, right?
Like I work with people who are creating all types of content, maybe it’s podcasts, maybe it’s blogs, maybe it’s presentations at an academic conference, but whatever body of work is in your wheelhouse. And whatever you are most interested in creating, create it now. Like do it now while you have the inspiration while you have that spark.
Because the things that I created four years ago, almost five years ago, in my business now, they’re still helping me today. In fact, I think my most popular blog posts every single year, since it’s been published, has been, gosh, it’s like four years old now. And that is why it makes a difference.
The things that you create now are going to help people now, right, it’s going to help you potentially sign clients now. But it can also continue to help you far into the future. And if it’s somewhere online, somewhere that’s findable, like on a website, that can make an even more lasting impact and help more people find you who aren’t connected to you on social media, or already are aware of what you’re doing.
Help new people find you! That’s how new professors find me all the time. Hundreds of thousands of professors around the world find my blogs and the content that I created four years ago, three years ago, and it’s still reaching people today.
Yeah, I love that. So to anyone who is listening to this right now, remember, your body of work is going to compound and compound and compound over time. So honestly, you’re just getting started, like literally, if it’s gonna compound day after day, week after week, month after month. Yeah, we’re just getting started, when it comes to our body of work, which is very, very fun.
Now I want to shift gears a little bit and I’m curious to hear more about what has been the biggest mindset shifts for you, Jennifer, since we started working together that really helped you see results in the past few months.
One of the biggest mindset shifts that I really needed to have was that it was okay to make an offer.
That it was okay to literally say, “I have an online presence coaching program and you can sign up for this, if you want to chat with me, let’s hop on Zoom.” Literally voicing, “Let’s have a sales call on social media.” was something I was so uncomfortable with. And I really had to put myself in a place of experimentation in order to make it happen.
And I saw results almost immediately. People were excited to hear about what I was working on. People were excited to hear about the related content that I had to share about it, that was free and accessible and shareable. There are so many ways that people engaged with my offer, beyond just hopping on a sales call with me, which did happen.
I booked more sales calls in the past couple of months than I have in the last quarter, like two quarters, the last half of the year in 2022. I think that offering to have a sales call with people is something I never would have done. That was like the mindset issue that I really needed to fix for myself. And I’m so glad that we work together on that because it’s been amazing.
Now I want to unpack a little bit further about this idea of shifting our relationship with making offers and selling. I’m curious to hear more about what happens on the sales calls. Because now that you’ve been booking more sales calls than ever, is there also a similar shift that you’ve noticed on the sales calls as well.
There is a big shift. I was always great at sales calls. I really enjoyed talking with people. I love asking questions that’s gonna help me better understand what their problem is. Like I want to solve their problem. That’s where my brain really finds joy. Because of that, I’ve always been great at the call itself.
Last year, the problem was about making the offer. I’ve always gotten off the sales call, done some nice thinking about it, written up a beautiful PDF proposal, and sent it over to my potential client to review. And my first three years of business that worked amazing. All of my potential clients that I expected to say yes, said yes, they referred me to their friends, they referred me to their colleagues, I really felt like my business was on a roll.
And then in 2022, I just didn’t have that same result. I couldn’t figure out where the breakdown was. Is it my proposal? Do I need to give more options? Do I need to change what I’m offering? Do I need to change who I’m offering it to? All I could think of was questions.
But the difference that has been in my sales calls since working with Cheryl is making the offer on the call, at the end of the call, is something that’s really way more relaxed for me. It’s way less work for me too.
No big long PDF proposal that looks as nice as their report, they don’t need that. Most people just need to hear if I’m going to solve their problem, if it’s going to be a solution that makes sense for them. And if they can afford it.
The great thing is everyone’s like, Oh, will you send me a proposal and I’m like, we could just talk about it right now. Like, I will calculate it for you. Because many of my programs or services are customized, I will calculate it for them on the call. And it makes a really big difference, showing them that I’m confident in my prices, that I’m confident in how I’m helping them and also being able to answer questions about that number or about what it looks like to work with me. I need to answer those on the call.
And oftentimes those questions result, after they’ve seen what it costs. I want to make sure that I can answer any questions, hesitations or concerns they have on the call and now I am confident enough to literally say that at the end of the call. And I say that in my emails to them too. When I follow up with a short proposal.
It makes a really big difference in how I feel about my offer because I was always confident in my offers. But I wasn’t always confident in making my offers, like actually sharing them. I couldn’t see their reaction because they were reading a PDF at home. I wasn’t even sure when they were reading it.
Oftentimes I’d get emails from professors two months later being like, oh, can you resend that proposal? I printed it out but I didn’t read it because I was on my way to a conference or something like that. I didn’t want to feel like I was waiting for people to read or potentially not read something I put a lot of work into. And this change in how I’m up coaching my sales calls and how I’m feeling at the end of my sales calls has been life changing for me.
And I think it’s really great for my clients too. Like they have all the information, they get a recording of the call, they can go back and really decide if it works for them, if they’re not already, like excited and ready to move forward by the end of the call, which some of them are.
But for a lot of my professors, their universities are paying, and so they need to see if it works for their research budgets and all sorts of things that they need to consider. Then they have all that info.
And I feel confident and know that the only reason that they can’t work with me is because maybe their university couldn’t get approval or something. There’s all sorts of reasons, but it’s not about my offer. It’s not about my money, it’s not about their trust in me, or their confidence. And that is powerful. That is life changing for me.
Speaking of life changing, we’re gonna take a little pivot here, because I think throughout the whole conversation thus far, we can really hear your enthusiasm and just genuine passion and conviction and commitment to the work that you do.
So speaking of life changing, I know that you do some pretty life changing work for your clients as well.
So I want to take a little pivot here.I want to know more about why your work matters to you? What’s the story behind why you do what you do today?
That’s a great question. I think if you’d asked me this question a couple of years ago, my answer would be different.
But I started this business right out of grad school, I did not want to go on to a PhD in medieval literature.
I studied old, dead white men, for most of my academic career, and I loved it. I love reading poetry, writing about poetry, publishing about poetry. I get a kick out of it. But it didn’t feel like I was making the kind of impact on the world that I wanted to.
So when I got the idea to start my business, I realized that being findable can be world changing. Being findable online can be world changing, especially when you’re already doing great things. And if you’re a coach, you’re helping people, you’re doing great things, you want to be findable.
And many of the professors that I work with. Their publications are findable, but they personally are not. And that means that the cool research that they do, the awesome teaching that they do, it’s not really findable in any one connected place.
I mean, you could go to their faculty profile on the University website. But those are rarely updated. They’re really out of date, they may or may not show up in Google search results, it just is kind of hit or miss whether that’s going to be effective enough for their online presence.
But a website, having a strong social media presence, these things can bring them more money to fund their awesome research. It can bring them new collaborators to work together across countries across oceans.
This can make a really lasting difference across time as well, if you can’t work all the time, but your work can help people all the time, having an online presence can make a really big difference.
I love what I do, because when I help awesome people, it just radiates impact in the world. Every time I finish working with a client, I’m like, Oh my gosh, my client is so awesome. They’re doing awesome things. Now more people are going to know about it. And this is just going to help them, this is just going to be better.
This is just going to improve the great work that they’re doing. I mean, they’re doing the hard work, right? Like our time together is short. And I actually like that I want to help as many people as I can. So they can go out and create more impact in the world. And so they can inspire new generations of academics to also share more about who they are.
That’s why I created a website myself. One of my professors had a blog. One of my professors talked about her research and the things that she was doing online.
And seeing that inspired me. So I created a website. Now I create websites for other professors. Yeah, it’s the whole circle.
Right? I love websites. I’m someone who’s very biased towards websites.
I love looking at websites and the reason is because I only recently uncovered why I always love looking at websites, from whatever industry someone is in. I always love looking at websites, even when I was in academia, I love looking at people both research lab websites and professors I’m curious about. I love looking at their websites if they have won in the first place.
But I realized it was because it’s a proud representation of the individual of the work they do. It’s a proud compilation of everything that they’ve worked so hard for their entire career or life. And that’s why I’m very biased towards websites.
And I know among the business coaches in this space, a lot of them will say, like, Oh, you don’t need a website, just like clients, for example. That’s like a common sentiment that business coaches will say. But for me, the way I look at it is if it makes you proud, why not have a website?
I mean, sure, you don’t need a website, to sign clients, for example. But if it helps you be proud of what you do, why not have a website that stands for what you believe in?
I’m also curious now, and this is something that we’ve talked about, in our own conversations, Jennifer. Is there something about academia in particular, that you really want to see change or make a change in?
I think that what you were alluding to being proud about your website, professors have a hard time being proud of their own work. And they do so many amazing things.
I mean, the curriculum vitae is like the resumes of the professors that I work with are sometimes like 30 or 40 pages long. These are accomplished people. But when you do so many cool things, it’s like, do you tell anyone? Do you ever celebrate? Do you share it with your university? Do you share the good news?
Because most people who come to me when I ask them that question, they’re like, Oh, I emailed my lab. So they told like five people in their life. But if they talked about it on social media, if they put the abstract of their paper on their personal website, they could help so many more people.
And it’s not like they have to actively be like, Oh, look at my paper, look at my awesome report. But like if it’s there, it can inspire other people, it can lead other people to engage more deeply with their research. It can also help more people find them so they can collaborate on other things.
There are so many things that could bring people into you, as a person, as an individual, help them connect with you. But it’s harder, if you don’t share very much about yourself. If you don’t celebrate yourself, if you’re not proud of yourself, it makes it difficult for other people to be proud of you and to celebrate with you. And they want to!
On social media, celebration posts are really popular and really engaging because people like them, and they engage with them. So you should be proud of yourself.
When there’s something that you do that you’re proud of, you should feel more confident to actually share that, to say I’m proud of myself, to say this is great, because and share your why. Share why something mattered to you, because that’s what’s going to help people connect.
I want academics to feel more proud of themselves and to feel more confident in sharing what they do, because they can only help more people by sharing.
And I think the same sentiment can apply to even non academics as well. Maybe for those of you listening, you’re building a coaching business or another type of service based business. Being proud of your work and sharing it proudly on the internet, that’s what clients want.
Clients want to work with coaches or service, service based business owners who are proud of their work who are so excited to help people through what they do. And if we’re kind of just tiptoeing around and not really showcasing or sharing, like, hey, I can help you. Here’s how I want to help. Here’s the mission I’m on. I want to help more people through blah, blah, blah.
If clients cannot sense how proud you are of your work, they’re gonna go look for someone else who does seem like they’re proud of what they do and are courageous enough to share that.
What you just shared holds true for so many industries and even entrepreneurs as well.
As we start to round out this conversation, one more question I want to finish off with is, for anyone who might be considering working with Cheryl, as a business coach, what would you say to them?
I’d say if you’re considering it, take the call. See how you feel. There’s no pressure on the call. There’s no selling in any way that’s gonna make you feel uncomfortable.
It’s a conversation where you’re probably going to share more about what you’re going through. And she’s going to ask you some questions.
I just answered questions like, I was not always proud and confident in my business and my ability to help people. That’s something that I had to build over time. But if I didn’t trust that I could get there, it would have been really hard.
And I think on this call, you can trust that it is a safe place for you to explore the idea of working together. You don’t have to work together. You know, it’s just, I think you should consider it, I think you should really consider booking it, not just consider the potentiality. But actually filling out that form.
Because I am so glad I did. I am so glad that I got on that call. I was feeling really unsure, not unsure of Cheryl, but unsure of myself, unsure of my abilities, even though I had helped awesome people. And I have great testimonials. And I knew I could help people in the future.
I still felt hesitant and unsure with my business. I needed help. So I’m really glad I booked that call. And I think that you will be too.
I’m really glad we had that call and hey to anyone who is listening to this, the call, it’s a safe space. I can promise anyone who’s considering it. I can promise you that this will be a safe call. There is no pressure.
If it’s really not the right fit to work together, I will tell you and I will do my best to redirect you to another resource or individual who might be better equipped to serve you and help you with your goals.
But hey, this is a safe space and it’s a safe call.
So thank you, Jennifer, for sharing that.
All right. What I like to do when I have guests on the show is I like to finish off with some fun questions.
So one question number one, if anyone’s watching the video right now, you might see that there’s a cat bed. Behind Jennifer, there’s two cat beds, but I don’t know if you can see there’s a cat in the cat bed.
Well, Jennifer, you may know that I’m a cat lover. Could you tell us some fun facts about your cats, please?
Yes, I have. I have two cats. Their names are Bartlet, who you see sleeping behind me, and Ash who’s a white and orange cat.
And they are honestly the cutest. They’re both rescue cats. Bartlet was found under a shed of someone who I went to grad school with. And as a kitten, we brought him home.
Unfortunately, our other cat passed away. And so we needed a friend for Bartlet who is just a kitten and felt really alone. So we rescued Ash.
Rescuing Ash was kind of scary for us. We weren’t sure how the two cats would be introduced. But they took to each other right away and became literally instant friends in like five minutes and never went back. They were so happy to have each other and I’m so happy to have them.
Ash just became a lap cat. He’s five, he’s almost six. Yeah, he just became a lap cat and is like cuddling now. And it’s just like the cutest thing ever. I love it. So yeah, that’s my cat news.
Oh, I’m so happy. I just kind of assumed that they were brothers, like literal biological brothers because I’ve seen your Instagram content of them being very close. I just kind of assumed they were literal brothers.
But it’s so good to hear that they bonded very quickly.
Okay, fun question number two. What are your hobbies and interests outside of business at work?
Yeah, so I think I mentioned it earlier, but I’m a poet. I am a writer. I have a dream right now to write a romance novel. I think that would be really fun.
I am also a singer, classically trained and I mostly sing here in my office to my nice microphone. But I love it. I think that having music in my life and keeping that as a part of me, it gives me inspiration in my business and it makes my whole space feel so comfortable and inspiring to be in. So music has always been a really big part of my life.
How fun. I did not know that particular fact about you. I knew that you’re a writer. I knew that you came from a writing background and that you have a whole bookcase of books over there, which I see on our Zoom calls. Yes, I knew that about you.
But I did not know you sing! Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. What the heck!
I do sing. I’m a classically trained opera singer. And so I actually thought about doing it for a while but the truth is I’m a homebody and I really like not traveling. The opera world is very travel based and a lot of moving around. I wanted to be somewhere steady and now I have my dream life and like a home office and get to work with people remotely around the world. I just love it.
Amazing. Well, how can people find you after this conversation? Where can people find you? And how can they work with you?
You can find me on social media at @HigherEdPR I’m on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. So I am on all the platforms. Or you can find me on The Social Academic blog, which is on my website at theacademicdesigner.com. Those are my social media and online spaces.
But if you ever want to chat and learn a little bit more about me, don’t hesitate to reach out. I have a busy calendar, but I really like helping people. And so if I can do something to help you, please don’t hesitate to say hi on one of the social media platforms or to send me an email.
Amazing. Alrighty, be sure to follow Jennifer and reach out.
And if you feel that Jennifer can help you and your goals, definitely don’t hesitate to reach out and book a call with her and chat more about her services as well.
Thank you, Jennifer, for being here. I appreciate it so much.
And to everyone else. Thank you so much for being here.
And I’ll see you in the next one. Bye, everyone.
Bye. Thank you.
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