Personal Development Through Entrepreneurship With Jessica Rhodes
A small business will only grow if you also work on growing yourself. By actively pursuing personal development and pushing yourself beyond your limits, it is much easier to scale your business. Tony Martignetti sits down with Jessica Rhodes to discuss how she grew from being a virtual assistant to starting her own podcast booking company, Interview Connections. She emphasizes why you should apply previous job experiences to build a career you truly enjoy and establish a revenue you really want. Jessica also talks about the importance of networking, making reasonable life decisions, and why uncomfortable things cannot be separated from entrepreneurship.
Listen to the podcast here:
Personal Development Through Entrepreneurship With Jessica Rhodes
It is my honor to introduce my guest, Jessica Rhodes. She is a leading expert on how to leverage podcast guesting for increased brand awareness, more leads, and higher profits. She created the Podcast Booking Industry in 2013 when she founded Interview Connections, the first and leading agency of its kind. She is married and has two kids, and she has reignited her passion for rescuing cats. She lives in Rhode Island and she is my guest on The Virtual Campfire. Thank you for coming along on the journey. How are you doing?
I am doing well. Thanks for having me. I remember when you told me about the idea for this show, so it's an honor to be a guest.
I'm excited that you're here. We're going to know the story of how you came to be who you are today, so it's going to be fun. To give you a little context as to how we roll, we talk about flashpoints. Flashpoints are the moments in your life that have ignited your gifts to the world. We're going to give you the space to share what you're called to share. We'll pause along the way and see what's coming up for us, so we can have a chat. I'm going to turn it over to you and let you get started wherever you like.
I'll start with the flashpoint of when I decided to become an entrepreneur, and then we can go forward or backward from there. To give everyone a little bit of background, before I became an entrepreneur, I worked for a nonprofit organization called Clean Water Action. I was in there canvassing departments, so door-to-door, fundraising, organizing, hardcore door-to-door sales. If anyone in the audience has done door-to-door sales, give me a, “Whoop.” That is my background. I got married at the age of 24, and then got pregnant and decided that I wanted to be home. I don't know if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I certainly did not want to be going door-to-door pregnant and then with the babies.
I decided to leave my job and become an entrepreneur. It's not that I wanted to leave my job and become an entrepreneur. I was exploring any and all options that would allow me to have the lifestyle that I wanted as a mom. I had a conversation with my parents. My dad is a business coach and has had an online business for over fifteen years. When I had a conversation with my parents about, “I'm excited. I want to be a home-based mom. I'm going to leave my job,” my dad said, “That's great. I totally support you being home with my grandbaby.” He said that I should start a virtual assistant business.
I remember that was the fall of 2012 and I didn't know what being a virtual assistant was all about. I didn't even know much about online business or anything. Remember, I was going door-to-door. I was not on a computer all day. I trusted him and I said, “Sounds great.” When you become a parent, there is that flashpoint of, “It's no longer just about you anymore.” I was growing in my career in the nonprofit sector. I started as an entry-level canvasser and moved my way up in the rankings as a canvas director. I was always a career woman, but then when I became a mom, even before my baby was born, it wasn't about my career. It was about being there for my baby and doing what was best for my family and my soon-to-be child.
That was the moment that shifted my focus from growing and moving up the ranks in my job to then starting a business. We've grown the company to multiple seven figures now. When I started, and I always like to share the story, one of the first tasks that I did as a virtual assistant was checking links on my dad's website. Talk about humbling. I started that when I was still working at my job, so I was working on Saturday mornings. I have this vivid memory of being in my old home office, on my old Dell computer, that was probably $250 and logging into his membership site. He had a newsletter marketing company and still does, No Hassle Newsletters.
If you want to grow your business, sometimes you have to go below your pay grade to get to the next level.
When his customers log on, they download their template for the month. There are hundreds of links because every month, there's a new newsletter template for them. My job as the virtual assistant was to go through and check the links. It's the most mindless work. It had to be done because if a link is broken, then the customer's like, “The link is broken.” That was the first flashpoint of that moment of saying, “It’s not about me anymore.” This is $15 an hour and it was humbling. That was the beginning and that's so important. When you become an entrepreneur, if you want to grow your business, you do have to do things that aren't flashy or exciting. You feel like, “I'm above this,” but sometimes, you have to go below your pay grade to get to the next level.
I love the way you say that because there's that, and then there's also the element of, when you do get uncomfortable with not loving what you do, it gets you to dream about, “What else could I be doing? What's the next level for me?” That striving is what makes you think about the next thing that could unlock more potential into that next level. I also want to appreciate the fact that for someone who can start a company from being a door-to-door salesperson, you have to do an inventory and say, “Do I have what it takes to do this?” I know that you're not thinking just for you. You have the little one to worry about at the time, but I'm sure there's an element of checking in with yourself and saying, “Can I really do this? Can I go off and work at home?”
It was interesting because when I first started, I didn't think of it like I was starting a business. I wasn't doing podcast booking at that point. Remember, I was checking links. It was just being paid. At that point, I still felt like I had a job. Sure, I had a virtual assistant business. My dad was my first client and he told me what to do. It wasn't like I was this big-time entrepreneur or going off on my own. It was like, “I could either go get a job, or I could be a 1099 contractor and take on clients.” I didn't cast a future vision of what my career would look like because when you have a baby, you go into survival mode.
Each day is a new day and every month brings on new challenges. Their sleep schedule, your energy, and what you want in life changes. The first six months or so were a lot of shifting, changing, and figuring out what I like. There was a lot of learning. I remember I read a bunch of my dad's business books and I went through his marketing courses. I remember reading Napoleon Hill's book, Think and Grow Rich. I’m reading books like that and opening my mind to entrepreneurship, which is the biggest thing. I was like, “The possibilities that are here are amazing.”
You're starting to get this taste of things, but you're not leaping in and saying, “I have this pressure. I have to make something big happen.” You're getting them building the muscle of entrepreneurship, which is awesome. Tell me what happened next.
A few months into doing the basic grunt work of a virtual assistant, my dad started giving me some more work to do and one of those things was booking podcast interviews. I went and learned a lot. One of the things that I did was I took a course on Pinterest marketing. One thing that my dad taught me was, “You have to become an expert in something. If you're going to provide a service doing something, you need to know a lot about what you're doing.” At that time, this was back in early 2013, people were looking at Pinterest as using it for business. He says, “Why don't you take this course that I learned about?” I went through a course on Pinterest and learned a bunch about it, then I started offering Pinterest marketing services.
I was doing that for my dad, and then I took on a couple of other clients doing their Pinterest marketing. My first interview as a podcast guest was about Pinterest, which is so funny. I don't do Pinterest at all anymore. That's what I started doing. That was one of my first lessons and what I talk about is, “If you're going to be an expert in something, you need to know more than the average person like, ‘Was I a Pinterest marketing expert?’” You could say yes or you could say no. I don't think I am now but at the time, I took a course and I knew a lot more about it than my clients did or most people did. You have to start somewhere.
I was in my first six months of business, I was brand new, and I barely knew anything, but if you are going to go out there and present yourself as an expert and somebody that is worthy of being paid money to do something, you do need to demonstrate some level of expertise. You need to start somewhere, learn something, and start going. I was doing Pinterest marketing and I was also doing podcast booking. I was booking my dad on podcasts and I had brought on a couple of other clients. You never forget your first clients. Jason Silverman was my first client after my dad, and then Charlie McDermott. Of course, they were friends of my dad. That helped me out in the beginning.
It all starts somewhere.
If you're going to be an expert in something, you need to know more than the average person.
Jason and Charlie became my clients and they each pay me $300 or $500 a month to do twelve hours of work a month on their Pinterest, booking them on interviews, and things like that. I remember it was in May of 2013 that my son was starting to sleep a little bit less. The bills were starting to add up and the savings account was gone. I was like, “I need to make more money.” My husband works in nonprofits, so we definitely needed to increase our income as a family. My dad said, “You're doing a bunch of different stuff as a virtual assistant. Out of the services you're providing, what's in highest demand, what do your clients need the most, what do you enjoy doing, and what's the most profitable?”
I looked at all of those things that I was doing. I was doing sales work for my dad and I was doing all the sales calls for his newsletter company, the admin stuff, Pinterest, and podcast. I'm like, “Honestly, I love the podcast booking.” Anytime I introduce my client to a host for an interview or my client with a guest for their show. Everyone was so excited because nobody was booking interviews in 2013. This was not a service people were providing. It wasn't like now, you're flooded with people wanting to be on your show.
It's a whole industry now. Back then, that's not what it was. I would send a pitch and people were open arms like, “This is awesome. Is this what you do? Yes, I want to interview your client. Tell me about you.” It was a whole new landscape and I liked that. My background being in door-to-door sales, knocking on someone's door whether it was out their house during dinner time or virtually through email, that's what I do. That is who I am. I’m making those connections, approaching people, and making a pitch. I was like, “I love that.”
We talked about that and decided to create a business around it, Interview Connections, and that's the company I co-own today. I brought on a business partner several years later. I decided to go all-in on podcast booking. I phased out my VA work and then focused on the service of booking podcast interviews. Instead of billing people by the hour, I created packages with a flat rate for a certain number of bookings per month, which would allow me to be more profitable because if I could get four bookings done in one email, it adds in a lot more profitability.
That scale is beautiful. There’s something in the story that you revealed that’s so cool. First of all, I think of IT Guy when you were talking about how you looked at the things that you could get paid for and the things that you love to do. That framework is the perfect map for how you look at things. It's cool how that came together. I also think about how the industry has come a long way. In 2013, there was nothing happening. It's interesting, you think today, how far we've come, especially given the situation we're in where the pandemic has created a lot more demand for people to be booked on shows, I'm sure. The other thing that came up for me, which I want to mention, is that there's this thing about where you are today. It was a theme that showed up, how your past and the things you've done in the past continue to show up. Door-to-door now becomes an asset that you're able to use and that’s so cool. You don't throw away your past. It becomes a powerful tool for your future.
I've done a lot of personal development work over the last several years. Entrepreneurship is a personal development journey in and of itself. I've done personal development work through Landmark and a lot of what I've learned there is getting complete with your past and knowing how your past has shaped who you are. It's a balance because you don't want to let your past shape your future, but it's important to know what's happened in your past to understand what choices or decisions you've made about the world, you, and your life that got you to where you are today and decided, does that serve me? Do I still want to have that belief about myself to go forward? Often, we let our past dictate our future, and then we have no control but to say, “This is what I've done in the past, but this is who I am going forward.”
It's taking the gems and the pieces that you want to own that are important. I love the way you describe that. That was cool. Tell me more. Now you've got this business and you're cofounded, so you've got another person on board. What would the early days like?
The early days were good. They were low stakes. I feel like the sky was the limit. It was a small business. At first, it still felt like I was freelancing. I remember I incorporated the business. At first, it was a sole proprietor or freelancer with a website, and then I incorporated it. In April 2014, it became an S corp. That's when it’s like, “We're going to separate the bank accounts and make this a real thing.” I remember in my first full year in business, I set a goal to do six figures in revenue. I remember the phone call with my dad talking about that and thinking because I was listening to so many podcasts hearing six-figure businesses and that felt so high. I didn't know that I knew anyone who even made six figures. I didn't grow up in a super-wealthy family. It felt so astronomically high to make six figures.
I was like, “That's my goal.” I had a hard time saying that number out loud, to say, “My goal is six figures.” I was afraid to say it because it felt so big. My dad encouraged me and I joined his mastermind program. I remember on that virtual group mastermind call, I said that was my goal and he's like, “I'm going to help you get there, but you have to do what I say.” When you work with a coach, do what your coach says. I'm a good student, so I did what my coach said. One of the first things that he advised me to do was to go to the main conference in my industry. At that time, New Media Expo was taking place in Las Vegas. I got myself a ticket, got on the plane, and flew to Las Vegas. I didn't know anyone.
I remember there was a podcast host, Jamie of Eventual Millionaire. I had booked some people for her show, so I knew her virtually. She was speaking. One of my first clients, Jason, had a friend that was going to be there, but I didn't know him. Jason was like, “My VA, Jessica, is going to be there. Find her and help introduce her to people,” whatnot. I go and probably nervous as heck and my dad tells me to print out a bunch of info sheets about my business, so if I met someone, I could tell them what I do. There were a couple of amazing things that happened at that event.
Number one, Mike found me. He goes, “I'm friends with Jason. He told me to find you.” I’m 25 and I'm a freaking baby at this point. I don't know anyone. Mike is so nice, introduces me to people. I remember we're in the conference hall. He walks up and introduces me to this guy. I don't know him and I'm like, “I book podcast interviews.” We're talking and he's all nice, and then I looked down at his name tag and it says, “Michael Stelzner, Social Media Examiner.” If you don't know, it’s the largest social media blog on the planet. I was like, “You're Michael Stelzner.”
At the time, I didn't know his face. I didn't look at his name tag at first, so I'm talking but it was perfect because if I had gone into that conversation knowing who he was, I would have been a total nervous train wreck. I was full bubbly and confident, which worked out well. He's like, “I'm interested in the services you offer.” We then ended up sitting down and having a conversation. He became a client and hired me to book guests on a new show that he was producing. I was like, “How about that? Michael Stelzner is now my client and I was brand new.” I know conferences aren't a big thing right now, but going to where your target market is and putting yourself out there even when you're super nervous. Taking advantage of the generosity of friends and friends of friends who are willing to introduce you to people was a big moment.
I felt like I was there with you. That's powerful. It is so true that there's an element of intimidation that people feel when they're in the room with people. When you realize and you take yourself out of that and you say, “Just relax and be you.” When you can be you, it's so much more powerful and you create so much from that space of being you.
Taking uncomfortable risks is what grows a business.
There's another story from that conference that I have to share because this conference was huge. It was the jumping-off point for Interview Connections. I went to Jaime Masters’ session. She was speaking with Abel James, who has a fitness podcast. They were speaking and I went to their session. This is the lesson I always tell people that are new or trying to get exposure when you go to conferences. I hate that I have all these tips that people can't use because nobody's going to conferences, but it's okay. You'll be able to use them again one day. I always say, “You want to take advantage of any spotlight that is available to you because often, people sit back and they wait for someone to come to them. They wait for the spotlight to be put on them. They wait for someone to ask them to be on the show. You need to grab the spotlight.”
For me, I didn't get booked to speak at conferences for a little while, but I could buy a ticket and I could attend and ask a question in the breakout session. That's what I did. At the end of a breakout session when they're like, “Who else has questions?” I will go up to that microphone and I would ask questions. Even if I didn't have one, I would think of one. I would say, “I'm Jessica Rhodes. I'm the founder of Interview Connections and we book podcast interviews,” and then I would say my question. When you have that simple elevator pitch and you can say who you are and what you do, people that need what you do are going to come to find you. That's exactly what happened.
I don't even know what the question was. I just made something up because I wanted to get in front of the microphone. I asked the question and I said what I did, and then Jamie, who knew me because I booked people on her show, goes, “Jessica's awesome. You guys should talk to her if you need to get on podcasts.” A ton of people in that room came up and talked to me. I was handing out my info sheets that I had probably printed out at Staples. I was getting clients from that event for months. People would trickle in over the month like, “I met you at New Media Expo.” That conference, putting myself out there, going in and with full confidence talking to Michael Stelzner not knowing who he was, grabbing the spotlight like, “Who was I? What rate did I have to go up and ask a question and be a speaker?” I took the opportunity and that's what helped me. I reached my six-figure goal halfway through that year.
You embody what it takes to make it because an entrepreneur needs to put themselves out. They have to get uncomfortable. It's not about advertising yourself, overly putting yourself out there, and saying, “Here are my services.” If you don't speak up, no one's going to come to your door if they don't know you're there. You embodied the best way to bring that out.
It applies to what I do now. Our company books people on podcasts and this is why I love working with people like you and so many of our clients. I did a post on Facebook, a general conversation starter, “Who here wants to be a guest on more podcasts?” There are dozens and dozens of comments, “Yes, me, me, me.” Most of those people are just sitting back, “Later.” They're not getting themselves out there. That's why I love my clients because you all are the people that are saying, “I'm going to go grab the spotlight. I am taking action, making the investment to get the interviews that are going to get me that exposure.” What sets apart people that are going to succeed from those who are going to keep kicking the tires down the road is that people that are like, “I'll do it later or next quarter or next month.” It's the action taking and then getting uncomfortable taking risks that grows a business.
These stories are so powerful and each one of them got so many lessons packed into them, so I'm loving it. I want to switch into the gears of, what are the things that you want to share with the audience around the things that they need to hear, the messages that are powerful for them? If they're sitting on their fence and are like, “I don't want to take the risk. I don't want to do that thing,” what are the lessons that you've codified through your journey?
The biggest lesson that I have for entrepreneurs or people that are wanting to take that risk is that this is a personal development journey and you can't put your business and entrepreneurship in one box, your relationships are in another box, your life is in another box, and your health is in another box. Your whole life is just one thing that you're working on. Who you are being in one aspect of your life is mirrored in every other aspect of your life. If you are sitting on the fence afraid to take a risk in starting your business or growing your business, chances are, that's exactly how you're being in your marriage, hobbies, or health. You're afraid to take the risk.
If you think about that, how you are being in this area of wanting to take your business to the next level or start it is how you're being everywhere else. That's something that you need to be confronted with. Who do you need to be to get your business going? Do you need to be brave? Do you need to take a risk? Do you need to be outspoken? Look at every other area of your life. You probably need to be that way in your marriage, parenting, and health. What I would want people to learn is, life is a mirror. Yeah, I can give you a million marketing tips, but if you're someone whose way of being is holding you back, that's what you need to figure out first before you can take the actions and be effective.
If you don't feel confident about what you're wearing, it does impact how you feel.
One thing about that I love is it's not just about your mirror, but you're transparent, too. If you're not being fully authentic with who you want to be in the world, people see that, too. It’s hard for you to bring your full self out into your business or into your marriage or into your life if you're not feeling it inside.
I'll give you an example. I'm proud of what we've created in our business. My partner and I invest and we're not afraid to make huge investments in the business. We're like, “Let's do it. Let's go hire this coach for $50,000.” We go all out in the business, but I realized that in my personal life, I was not as willing to take those risks and invest in myself. I'll buy stuff on sale and I won't invest. I'm living all abundantly in the business but then in my home life, I'm super cheap. I realized that and I was like, “There's an inauthenticity here.”
I cannot be fully abundant in growing the business if I am leaving my office at 4:30 PM and not being fully abundant, risk-taking, growing, and investing. What I've done is I said, “I need to stop only investing in the business. I need to invest in myself and in other areas of my life.” I've done stuff like hiring a personal stylist, which I never in a million years thought I would do. I know nothing about fashion. I'm wearing a shirt from Old Navy. It is a totally different language to me, but I know that if I am going to show up on camera with leads, to my team, family, and husband looking and feeling confident, I need some help in that area. I invested in my personal life. I share that to encourage the readers to look at your life. If you're showing up in your business all great, confident, and everything, but then you're going home not acting like that and not following through, then there is a breakdown in your authenticity in your life.
Your stylist is going to be my stylist. I need some help in that department, too.
I ignored the problem for a while because I would say, “I don't care about clothes.” If you don't feel confident and feel good about what you're wearing, it does impact how you feel. I was like, “I need help there.”
I want to ask one last question, what's one book that has had an impact on your life or changed what you think?
There's definitely been a few. One is called When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. Do you love it?
I love that book. It’s one of my favorites.
I love it. It's so amazing and so good. For the readers who don't know, Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist monk, which is how you would describe her. I don't even know how to describe it. Pick up a copy and read it. I found it helpful with the pandemic, but especially with the civil unrest when all of the protests started happening. We were all experiencing such sadness and grief over everything that is happening for Black Lives Matter. Reading that book helped me. Some of the key lessons that she shares in that book around when things fall apart because it did feel and it feels like everything's falling apart. Getting some spiritual guidance from that book has helped me, so that's what I would recommend.
It's one of those books I can read in little snippets at a time, and then come back to it. It's great. Did you have another one? I know you said there’s a couple of them.
The other one that I'll share is also a spiritual book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. That one totally changed my life. That was the first book I read that was about mindfulness and meditation. It totally opened my eyes to a whole new way of living.
I don't usually ask people for two books, but you did such a good job. On the first one, I was like, “Let's see what else she's got.” I have to thank you for coming on. Your insights and your story are so beautiful and helpful. Anyone reading this is going to be energized by what they read. I also want to ask, where can people find out more about you and the work you do?
Our website is InterviewConnections.com. Links to our social media and contact information is all there, so check us out.
Thank you for coming on. I am so grateful.
Thank you, Tony.
Thank you. Thank you to all the audience who are coming on and reading this journey. I’m hoping that you enjoyed everything in the show and we'll see you next time.
- Interview Connections
- Clean Water Action
- No Hassle Newsletters
- Think and Grow Rich
- New Media Expo
- Eventual Millionaire
- Social Media Examiner
- The Fat-Burning Man
- When Things Fall Apart
- The Power of Now
About Jessica Rhodes
Jessica Rhodes is the leading expert on how to leverage podcast guesting, increase brand awareness, more leads, and higher profits. She created the podcast booking industry in 2013 when she founded Interview Connections, the first and leading agency of its kind. She is married with two kids and has reignited her passion for rescuing cats.
Jessica Rhodes is the Founder and President of Interview Connections, awarded by Corporate Vision Magazine as the Best Specialty Podcast Booking Agency of 2021. Jessica and her business partner, Margy Feldhuhn lead their company with a vision to transform the lives of entrepreneurs by transforming their businesses with visibility and strategy. When Jessica founded the company in 2013, she innovated the publicity and podcasting industry by creating the first-ever podcast booking agency. Together, Jessica and Margy lead over 25 local full-time employees and provide business mentorship to high-achieving service-based entrepreneurs.