What’s it like to transition from solopreneur to CEO of an online business? Digital marketer Vannesia Darby has done it, and has some solid advice.
Vannesia is the CEO of MOXIE Nashville, a business strategy and social media agency.
I saw her for the first time a few years back at an event called Craft Content Nashville, where I was the keynote speaker. I thought she was awesome, and wanted to meet her. We discovered that we lived in the same area of Nashville!
She is so smart and so savvy about so many things. She’s a perfect guest for the Online Business Expert Series.
From solopreneur to CEO — from music to digital marketing
Vannesia got her start in the gospel music industry, and then moved into working with record labels.
These days she also works with influencers, clients in higher education, SaaS companies, and businesses in faith-based genres.
Vannesia draws from all her experiences when she serves her clients.
What’s changed in content creation?
Before she made the change from solopreneur to CEO, Vannesia was doing everything — but things were simpler than they are in 2022.
Since Vannesia specializes in the digital marketing space, she’s seen a lot of changes. People are using content as a way to communicate more now than ever.
“… with the pandemic and TikTok just booming, everybody was creating content and adding closed captions and adding music beds and doing jump cuts. And so the style of content and storytelling that we’re seeing now is different from Myspace. It’s different from early YouTube days or even early Instagram days or Vine.”
It’s easier now for content creators to tell their stories — to build relationships and revenue at the same time.
The barriers are lower, but it’s important to think about what you create, and make sure you publish quality content.
Some things remain constant. If you want to monetize your content, you still need a strong call to action.
And you still need to publish consistently.
You can’t afford to ignore video
When Vannesia talks about content creation, video is a big part of the picture.
Not everyone is comfortable in front of the camera — but you don’t have to be. You can do voice overs, or create a video showing a product and add music.
Or you could record a Zoom interview with a digital marketing professional and edit it to create valuable content for your audience.
Has the boundary between business and personal content disappeared?
Our discussion about content creation and video led to an important question. Many of us used to have a strong barrier between work and our personal lives on social media.
That feels like it could be gone forever, especially because so many of us are having to work from home — a lot of people are working from home for the first time.
The idea of a strict boundary between like your work and your home life? Vannesia doesn’t believe it’s completely gone.
She recently interviewed her sister, who’s a psychologist, for her podcast. They talked about the impacts of social media.
Vannesia considers social media to be a tool. You can use it to your advantage, and maintain healthy boundaries.
“Having boundaries between what your personality is and what your persona is online and who you are at home is critical. It may not be that the boundary is completely gone, but it’s definitely a little bit more see-through than it was before.
So I definitely advocate for having some sort of split between what you consider content and what’s actually your everyday life because when people have access to you all the time or perceived access to you, then it can get a little — it can get a little much.”
You can set boundaries between your personal life and work — and you should.
From solopreneur to CEO — the tipping point
Vannesia started her online business like many online business owners — doing it all herself. She was building digital marketing strategies for her clients as well as creating content.
She realized her To Do list was way too long. She needed a team.
It was time to make an important decision.
Vannesia began the process to shift from solopreneur to CEO.
An internship program for MOXIE Nashville was already in the works. She moved the date up by about six months.
Vannesia is a former professor of Entrepreneurship at Tennessee State University. She values internships — she got into her industry as an intern. She’s served as president of organizations and has leadership experience, but MOXIE required a different approach.
As she changed her thinking from solopreneur to CEO, she created a full-fledged internship program.
She was determined to make the program work for both her business and her new team.
“I was bringing in virtual guest speakers and all of that. So it definitely allowed me to test the waters and see: How are people tracking their time? How do I bring on people, even if they’re contractors or part-time? What does that look like? How are people getting paid? Do we need a team meeting all the time? What project management tools — like Basecamp, Asana, Monday — what do we want to use? What fits Moxie?”
How to be a great CEO — hire the right people and empower them
The right tools don’t matter if you don’t have the right team.
Vannesia’s not just a born leader, she’s an entrepreneur, through and through. As she shifted from solpreneur to CEO, she already had the resourcefulness to to learn as she grew — which is a necessity, especially in the fast-moving world of online business.
She has amazing perspective on how to build a great team.
As she developed her internship program and looked for the best people to bring into MOXIE, she realized not everyone has her easy ability to cross industries.
She used her educational background to help her team build their skills as she grew her business. She has a Master’s degree in organizational leadership, and she loves understanding how people work.
Let your people do their job
Vannesia is committed to giving her team the freedom to do their jobs. She quickly realized a personality that aligns with her business culture makes a big difference when hiring people or bringing on interns.
When you find great people, you need to train them well. You need processes in place so people can do their jobs without you hovering.
As she put processes in place, she saw that her business had grown a culture that was bigger than just her, even though she’s the founder.
How to communicate your business culture
Transitioning from solopreneur to CEO also means communicating your business culture to your team. That goes beyond having regular meetings.
The culture of a business is bigger than any individual. You need brand guidelines. The voice of the company needs to be consistent, and to have the right tone.
If you work in social media, you need to adopt the voice of your clients, too.
Since her team members are specialists in social media, she can often give them just a few words that describe the vibe of the client. Then she can stand back and lets them work.
Once again, it comes back to having the best people on your team.
A big part of the culture Vannesia has created is that her interns learn skills that add to their personal and creative lives.
She understands the long-term value of helping people reach their potential.
“The biggest compliment anybody can give me is that because they came through MOXIE, they were sharper when they left. That’s the goal.
I never want people to be limited. And so it’s kind of a bootcamp in that sense where I’m okay with people passing through because I passed through a couple different companies before I got to my own.
And so that approach and being transparent in that has been working to my advantage whereas traditional companies it’s, you know, ‘What you do here is what you do here.’ No, I want you to take what I’m doing here, and you go do something else with it. I want you to do that because you’re going to bounce back to me anyway!
But I never want to take credit for anybody’s creative work. ‘I hired you because you’re creative. The analytical stuff we can talk through, but I hired you because you’re creative.’”
How music helped the transition from solopreneur to CEO
Vannesia began playing piano when she was young. She picked it up again recently, and realized it helped her as an online entrepreneur as she stepped into the next level of her business.
Her teacher showed her how piano lessons are life lessons.
You can’t get good at music by practicing in one big sprint. You have to show up regularly and do it a step at a time.
It’s the same when you’re in business.
Vannesia reached a point where she thought she had to quit her piano lessons. She felt like she’d lost her mojo.
Her teacher was sympathetic — adult students often have time constraints that make lessons nearly impossible to keep up with.
“She said, ‘If you’re quitting piano because you don’t think that this is your gift, then that’s a different thing. And I don’t want you to walk away thinking that you’re not gifted at piano just because you don’t have the time to put in because the only thing you need is time and to practice.’”
Then came the unforgettable insight:
“She’s like, ‘You don’t practice, and that’s why you’re not getting the results that you want.’”
Vannesia was questioning her musical talent — and her abilities in her business at the same time. She has degrees in management, organizational leadership, business management, and administration, but she taught herself marketing and social media.
She realized she has a gift, but talent alone isn’t enough to be successful — especially when you want to make the move from solopreneur to CEO.
“Now, with that gift, you have to have a discipline. So it’s not enough to be gifted. You have to have a discipline. And so piano has reintroduced that idea to me that you can be gifted in a lot of things, but what you want to see progress in you have to be diligent, and you have to be consistent.
And that’s the only way that you’re going to see growth… because you can be the most talented, but if you never put out consistent content, no one’s going to know.”
Navigating the ups and downs of online business
From solopreneur to CEO, every business owner experiences ups and downs. Having someone — for Vannesia, it was her piano teacher — who can affirm your gifts is important.
From there, you need to respond as a smart business person. You can ask yourself what processes aren’t working, instead of questioning if you should be in business in the first place.
Vannesia admits she has days when she feels like she’d like to quit. But playing piano has changed her perspective.
“Piano has allowed me to welcome that questioning, to affirm that I am gifted in different areas and to challenge myself to say if I want to see progress in the areas that I’m gifted in, then I have to put in the work consistently over time. Not just put in the work today, but I have to put it in consistently. And those small steps can be big moves later on, but you gotta start.”
One of the big lessons she learned in the shift from solopreneur to CEO is accepting everything will not be perfect.
Removing the expectation of perfection allows her to remember she likes problem solving. It’s the reason she’s in business. That perspective changes everything.
“And so then it becomes, ‘What problem are we going to solve today?’ versus, ‘What’s going wrong now?’ with two different approaches to the same problem.”
You can find Vannesia all over social media:
I’d like to thank Vannesia Darby for joining me on the Online Business Expert Series.
Watch the video above to get all the amazing wisdom she shared with me as she made the transition from solopreneur to CEO, and for her insights into content creation.
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If you’d like to work with me to grow your online business, take a look my Offer Accelerator program. It’s for online business owners in midlife and mid-career who are ready to generate consistent revenue with a high-value online offer.