Laura Spawn is the CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations, a family-owned, 100% virtual company that’s been connecting job seekers with legitimate remote job openings from expert-vetted employers since it was first founded back in 2007. Laura has nearly two decades of experience working from home and currently spends her days overseeing Virtual Vocations’ team of more than 50 remote employees and contractors, who together have helped more than four million job seekers over the last 14 years in their quests for real remote work. Laura lives in Oregon with her husband, three children, and two dogs, Ivy and Jilly.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Laura Spawn: For me, remote work was the solution when flexibility was the priority. I started Virtual Vocations with my brother back in 2007, and at the time, I had a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 2-month-old, and my husband was in medical school, an endeavor that sent us from coast to coast and even involved living outside of the U.S. for a period of time.
Even with everything we had going on, I knew I wanted to contribute to my family financially, so I started looking for a new career that would give me the chance to do just that while also providing the flexibility that I and my family needed to thrive amid the chaos. But after spending hours upon hours looking for remote job openings and researching the companies behind them, trying to figure out which ones were legitimate, I knew there had to be a better way.
Fourteen years later, remote work is more popular than ever, and Virtual Vocations is still connecting job seekers with current remote job openings and providing resources to help both those who are entirely new to working from home and those who have been doing it for years, or who maybe got to try it for the first time at the start of the pandemic, find new roles that fit their lifestyle and that also align with their career goals and aspirations.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Laura Spawn: When I first started Virtual Vocations, I was also still attending university full-time finishing up my degree, and had just given birth to my third child. It was a really tough time physically and mentally—I was exhausted, but my desire to use my skills in a way that would allow me to be at home with my children gave me the stamina and drive I needed to push through the late nights and work during nap time to build a business that I knew others needed just as much as I did. I never considered giving up, as I wanted to work from home exclusively when my children were little, and it was evident from the beginning of the business, due to the pretty immediate response, that others wanted the same thing.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Laura Spawn: Business owners can sometimes become so far removed from the day-to-day aspects of their business and how it operates that they end up making significant, far-reaching decisions without seeing the full impact of how those decisions—whether they’re sweeping internal policy changes or even seemingly minor adjustments in processes and procedures—would affect those working at the most technical level. Making company-wide decisions that affect employee workflows without gathering sufficient input beforehand can make team members feel blindsided, not to mention the risk of a significant drop in productivity, at least for a short period, and harm overall morale.
Before making any wide-ranging decisions, take a close look at your methods and communication channels to ensure you’re gathering feedback from managers and key employees across all rungs of the corporate ladder.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Laura Spawn: Resilience when it comes to business ownership means being open to and embracing change. As a CEO and leader in any industry, you need to be able to change what you’re offering when your customer needs change. You can’t be afraid of trying new services or products, and you have to keep trying, even in the face of potential failure. Especially in times of crisis, business owners who are resilient can lead the way for employees by keeping a positive attitude and focusing on the steps that will lead the business to success.
What is most important to your organization—mission, vision, or values?
Laura Spawn: It’s difficult to separate our company values from its mission and vision, but when it comes down to it, values take priority and guide all of the decisions we make as we strive to achieve the overall mission of our company: helping job seekers find remote work that’s fulfilling and that benefits them in their daily lives. Our values provide the vision for our services and help inspire new products and features that help us reach more job seekers and succeed in our goals as a company.
Delegating is part of being a great leader, but what have you found helpful to get your managers to become valiant leaders as well?
Laura Spawn: Above all else, it’s essential for leaders—particularly those who manage remote teams—to be adaptable. Especially in the era of COVID-19, managers who may have once seen their team members face-to-face every day have found themselves thrust into new situations with new processes, new communication methods, and new technologies that everyone is trying to get accustomed to all at once. Being able to adapt on the fly is crucial whether you’re in charge of a small or large remote team, so try to encourage leaders within your business to embrace change as an opportunity for learning and growth.
Setting up clear processes and establishing measurable goals both for individuals and for the company as a whole is another great way to support both employees and managers as they continue to adjust to changes in the digital workplace.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Laura Spawn: My personal brand reflects the values of my company because my company was founded in order to serve my personal brand: I’m a people person with a passion for helping others and a strong desire to be accessible to those who are also looking to work remotely. From the start, I always wanted to be seen as personable CEO and business owner, and 14 years later, I hope my small, family-owned business continues to reflect that.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Laura Spawn: I’ve always felt that leading by example is one of the best ways to connect personally and professionally with your team. Being involved in the regular “in the trenches” work alongside my team members keeps me aware of the real issues they face on a daily basis, and helps me really understand those issues, rather than just directing from the top where I don’t always have a clear view of all the moving parts. Carve out time to get on the ground floor and work with your team for a couple of days each month to truly understand the best way to lead them.
I’ve also learned that providing regular feedback to my team members by setting goals, being aware of and recognizing their accomplishments, and just being grateful to have them on my team has been hugely effective. Keeping the lines of communication open through more human forms of connection also builds trust and can make team members more receptive to their leaders.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Laura Spawn: Being an entrepreneur is a mindset and, some say, a personality trait. If you truly want to start your own business, you’ll gravitate toward an entrepreneurial, innovative mindset naturally, with business ideas and the drive and courage to test them out.
Along the way, don’t be afraid to fail—not every business idea will succeed right off the bat, or at all. One of the key traits of a successful entrepreneur is being willing to keep trying new ideas, whether in an established business or in new businesses altogether, regardless of what happens.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Laura Spawn: In business and in life, I strive to keep this motto in mind: “What other people think about you is none of your business.”
As a business owner, it’s easy to get wrapped up in other people’s opinions about what you’re doing and what direction you’re going, but it’s important not to let these voices sink your confidence or damage your own relationship with yourself. Rather than beating myself up about what I could have done differently or worrying about what other people might be saying, I’d rather be confident in myself and my work ethic, knowing that I took actions that aligned with my values and made the choices that I felt were best for me and my business as a whole.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Laura Spawn for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Laura Spawn or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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