In this week’s episode, I chat with Kelsey Kerslake, a multi-passionate CEO of two companies: Pinegate Road, and the Aligned Business. Kelsey has been helping entrepreneurs and businesses build their brands and market their online presence for over a decade. She is a business strategist, coach, and mentor for service providers, coaches, and educators looking to scale their online businesses in complete alignment with the lives they want to live and the values they hold. Before she had her first child, she was already planning how she would create a business that could essentially run without her.
Kelsey has always been aware of what one of her big life goals was, to be a mom. Even with infertility and other struggles, she always knew that it was a big goal for her and that knowledge helped drive her decisions in her business from day one. She knew from the beginning she needed to create a business that could run without her during the day if need be, keep her clients happy, and still make a living wage. It took her a lot of work and years to set it up, but by keeping it top of mind, she was able to set the right systems in place from day 1 to get to where she is now.
Kelsey recommends the first step to creating a business that runs without you, is to first ask yourself, “Is that what you actually want?”. Not everyone’s aligned business looks the same so what does your dream business system look like?
Is your goal a team of people? or is your goal to have a self-sustaining business where you save up 6-12 months of income as a buffer?
For Kelsey, she wanted a self-sustaining business. She knew that to have her business get there, the first thing she had to do was get rid of all of the custom proposals she was doing for clients. She still offers custom brands and designs but opted to productize her services.
To find and fine-tune her product offerings, she niched down who her clients were and focused on what her dream client would look like. From there, her clients started fitting into certain product offerings and then that became her lineup of productized services.
Even though it was just her in her business at the time, she mapped out all of the systems right away and the operating procedures. That way she knew when she did bring someone on she could hand it off easily.
Kelsey has found when she tells people how she set up her business, that they are afraid that if they set up systems for a team they will 1. have to manage people 2. lose money. But as Kelsey notes, when you have systems in place, then you will be managing people less because you’ve given them all of the tools they need.
One of her first key hires was a project manager. After about a year of training, this person is the one who manages the in-between of the client and the designers all without Kelsey needing to be involved. She then found contractors for design, web, etc. to work with based on her client’s needs and their projects. Each contractor then has a project-based fee. This helped her know what it would always cost for their services and would then know how to price her packages for clients. Thus streamlining the experience for her project manager and ensuring that her business was always profitable.
Kelsey has found that designers can be fearful about not offering custom proposals and of making everything to systemized in their business. But she’s found that most clients that request things out of what you might typically offer are new to the process. It’s your job, as the expert, to guide them. Ask questions and make sure you are showing up as the expert to see if that’s what they want. Find out your client’s business goals first and then when you start seeing commonalities between your clients, build those into each productized offering. If you are only offering custom proposals every time, you may be offering and delivering too much to each client. You are not required to be everything to every client. If you love offering custom proposals then continue to do so, but if you are only offering services because you want to get the sale it will never align with your client or with your business goals.
Before her first son in 2019, instead of scrambling to get everything ready for her maternity leave, Kelsey began fine-tuning the systems she already had in place. She did test runs where she took 1-2 weeks off, and then a month off to see if anything came up and nothing did. Because she had planned for years to systemize her business, productize her offerings, and continually update and correct these procedures along the way, it made any problems that came up easy to handle. When you figure out what tools you need before you need them, everything will run smoother.
From this it became obvious to her she had gotten her design business to a stable place, she began to look into the coaching side of the design business. When she took up coaching in the last 3 years she found a huge passion for it. So Kelsey chooses to not actively grow the agency side of her business. The agency was still running and operating without her and with not a ton of effort from her. Kelsey says that because of all of her systems and process in place, she has only worked about an hour a month in her design agency. for the last 3 years. But she prioritized her goals and her ideal setup and let the growth part of the agency fall to the waist-side for the time being while her coaching business grew.
With her agency side of her design business not needing her in the day-to-day operations, Kelsey then started to have a weird feeling; Everything in her business was working and running great, but she didn’t have anything to do and got bored in her business. The feeling of wanting to “burn it all down” and start over when you finally have that free time you strived for started to creep in.
Entrepreneurs are used to working in their business non-stop for the first handful of years. We all strive to get to a place where our business is running smoothly without the all-consuming hustle. But when it finally does, it is a huge mindset shift to undergo. No matter what stage you are at in your business, your mindset and your goals have to continually shift to stay in alignment with what you want for your life. You have to change your perspective to get to the goals you are striving for and then again shift your thinking when you finally do achieve it.
How did she get to that point where she could let go of the day-to-day in her business?
If you want to both grow your business and stop working all-consuming hours, you’re going to have to inevitably hand off some tasks to someone else. Kelsey’s first mindset shift was learning to trust someone else with her business while also trusting that they would do as good a job as her or even better. She suggests doing as she did and starting with contractors as a great baby step to learning to trust other people with her business.
After her agency business got to a self-sustaining place, she had yet another mindset shift with her growing coaching business. As it is growing and scaling with employees her new mindset shift is how to grow and support her employees and best help serve them to also help with the business.
In business, Kelsey naturally put her life before her work. From the very beginning, she was always working in a way that was aligned with her goals. And a few years into it realized that was not the norm for a lot of designers. That’s when she decided to “make it a thing” and created her coaching program, The Aligned Business. But one thing Kelsey wants people to understand about creating an aligned life and business is not just about what doesn’t feel good to you right now.
People think alignment means, for example, you don’t feel like showing up on Instagram today because that doesn’t align with how you are feeling. Or you are only in alignment in your life if you feel happy. And while those things can mean something is not in alignment, it’s important to note that sometimes alignment looks like working really hard now and grinding through your work so you can have that aligned future and future goals. Take hard action now to get to the future you.
Some tasks in your business may not be aligned just at this moment. But would future you be happy you did the hard thing today? When Kelsey was trying for her first child, she knew one of her goals was to have a business that supported her and her family and so she set forth to create a business that supported that goal. It took a lot of hard work and many hard moments to finally get to that alignment.
Kelsey can visualize her future. She meditates and journals to help get her a lot of clarity around the bigger decisions in her life. She has always been able to visualize her future. Kelsey believes that you don’t make decisions in your life based on what someone else said. But instead, you have to take the time and visualize your actual future. Do some visualization practices now.
The first step is to get very very clear on where you are at now. Write it all down and then visualize your future.
Once you get all of that out of your head and onto paper then you can start to incorporate daily practices to get there. Get clarity of where you want to head in your life and then begin doing more of those tasks that get you to be that person.
In Kelsey’s business, she has removed herself from the day-to-day tasks and now focuses on being the face of the business. She does podcasts, shows up on Instagram, writes books, comes up with goals, etc. because those all are tasks that align with what she visualizes for her life.
For the coaching side, she had to start over with what her vision was, and set goals for this new part of her business. She started by envisioning her coaching business with employees that were taking amazing care of her clients. Kelsey had to again “get in the weeds” of the day-to-day work to then get to that aligned future she saw for her coaching employees.
And visualizing your future is going to shift and change. Kelsey originally thought she wanted her business to grow to be worth millions of dollars but realized that monetary goals did not align with her overall goals. She instead realized her student’s and employees’ successes were more of where she wanted to focus her efforts.
Kelsey realized that the more money her business made, it did not make her happier. Instead, when she shifted her focus to her student’s goals and her employee’s successes she found more alignment through them.
Most of the time designers and entrepreneurs get into their business not only for the passion of it but because of the dreamy life they see themselves living. Days off whenever they want, working a few hours a week, etc. What most everyone finds out quickly is a lot of time is spent in your business and that free time you envision, takes a lot of work to get to.
If you feel like your business is still running your life and not aligning with it, take some of Kelsey’s steps and visualize your future self. What is a big goal for your life? Get to the deeper reason of why you started your business. What would your dream workday look like? What tasks do you want to be a part of in for your business in 5 years and what pieces can you remove yourself from? How can you take the steps to get there? Keep that future in mind with every step you take from here forward. Future you will thank you for it.