Soulpreneur Scaling Stories Podcast: 08. From General Virtual Assistant to Certified Director of Operations

In this episode, I meet Shelly Criswell, a certified Director of Operations offering strategic mapping and D.O. support for small business owners.

Shelly’s story is a testament to the power of scaling, beginning as a Virtual Assistant in 2018. Her journey started as a side hustle, juggling a full-time lab job with her newfound VA work. In just ten months, her dedication allowed her to transition fully into the world of virtual assistance.

Shelly’s path was not without its challenges. She initially ventured into copywriting, only to realize it wasn’t her forte. A pivotal heart-to-heart conversation with a mentor led her to recognize her true strengths in the tech and business operations realm. The path Shelly took is proof of her ability to grow, learn, and adapt. 

Her most valuable scaling tip? Never stop learning and embrace networking and collaboration. In an ever-evolving online space, Shelly emphasizes the importance of expanding your circles and forging new connections. 

Connect with Shelly:
Instagram @shelly__criswell
Download a Mission, Vision, + Values Workbook and be on your way to clarity in your business

Thank you for being a part of the Soulpreneur Scaling Stories community!

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[00:00:00] Andrea Elibero: Andrea here, your host and passionate business coach and scaling strategist for Soulful Service Providers and Coaches. Welcome to another episode of Soulpreneur Scaling Stories. Have you ever wanted to look behind the curtain of your fellow entrepreneur’s business to see what actually went into scaling it?

Well, you are in for a treat because that’s exactly what we are doing here. In each episode, we will be uncovering the truth, the lessons, and the stories behind what it truly takes for sold renewers to scale their businesses intentionally. I’m hoping that their stories will help you to unlock the true potential of your business so you can create your own soulful, abundant, and aligned laptop lifestyle.

Style through intentional scaling. So whether you’re just starting out on your scaling journey, or you’re a seasoned entrepreneur seeking inspiration, this episode has something incredible in store for you. Are you ready to rise, grow, and create a business that fully supports your dream life? Well, let’s dive in.

Before we begin, make sure to hit that subscribe button so you never miss an empowering episode filled with real stories and soulful insights. Hello, hello. So we are here today with Director of Operations, Shelly Criswell. Hi, Shelly. How are you?

[00:01:53] Shelly Criswell: Hey, Andrea. I’m good. Thank you for having me.

[00:01:56] Andrea Elibero: Thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited to talk to you. So let us know who you are and what your business looks like today.

[00:02:05] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. So my name is Shelly Criswell. I’m a certified director of operations through the Ops Authority, and I do strategic mapping and offer director of operations support, um, for small business owners, which is just project management, team management, um, business operations.

[00:02:24] Andrea Elibero: All, all that fun stuff. So we do, uh, some similar things. So I love, this is like my love language. So it’ll be a fun conversation today. Uh, so have you always, did your business start out in this DOO world? Or what did your business look like when you first started?

[00:02:40] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. So I just started as a virtual assistant in 2018. I was working in a toxicology lab and discovered VA work and was like, Ooh, I can do that working from home and just started a side hustle. And in about 10 months, I was able to quit my full time lab job and work as a VA.

[00:03:01] Andrea Elibero: So you were offering, when you were a VA, you were offering general VA services. What were you doing as a VA?

[00:03:07] Shelly Criswell: It’s so funny. Um, when I first started, I didn’t even really know what I was doing. Um, and I’m like, Oh, I like to write. I had my own blog and I liked to write. So I was like, I’ll be a copywriter. Um, and I learned really quickly that no, I’m not a good copywriter. Writing in someone else’s voice is really difficult and it’s a, it’s an awesome talent if you have it.

And I don’t have that talent. Yeah. So I had to slowly evolve and figure out what I was good

[00:03:35] Andrea Elibero: Okay, but you know what’s really cool about that is that you tried it, right? You’re like, okay, let’s try this thing and you realize like, okay, this thing is not for me. What else can I do? That is for me. So how did that go? So you said you started out as a copywriter and how did, how did you get to where you are now?

Tell me about your journey. And

[00:03:59] Shelly Criswell: was a copywriter for her. She had like an agency model and she had a heart to heart with me and was like, you know, you’re not really good at this. And it really did hurt my feelings, but I’m glad she did that. Cause I mean, she’s right. Um, once I took that feedback and listened, um, I realized, yeah, she’s right.

And she, she saw that, you know, she said, you’re really good at the tech part, the, the business operations, the admin, um, type task. And so I moved on from there and was like, yeah, she’s right. Um, and started just doing general VA like admin type work. Um, and then slowly realized that. I was really good at the tech and processes.

Um, you know, you don’t realize what you’re good at because it comes so easily to you assume it comes that way to everyone. And once you realize, Oh, a lot of these entrepreneurs, the tech is the hard part for them. And so I kind of dove into that, um, as the years went on.

[00:05:00] Andrea Elibero: So, when you were doing this, and like you were saying, it is so true that you’re just like, what, this is the thing, and you don’t actually realize that this is your zone of genius, that this is your wizardry, the thing that you’re amazing at. Right? So, did you, how did you get to actually notice this? Was it when you were seeing your clients do it, or were they giving you feedback, or, or, because I think it’s important to kind of point that out, because a lot of people feel the same.

Right? Right. Right. Right. Like. Like, Oh, I can just do this. I didn’t realize that it was special, that it was like a special talent and not everybody can do this.

[00:05:29] Shelly Criswell: Yeah, yeah. Just working with clients and realizing they were struggling in an area that I didn’t understand why they were struggling. Um, and then I’m like, Hey, I can, I can do that if you want me to. And they’re like, sure. So it just kind of evolved from there realizing there was a gap in their business and that I could feel it.

And it was something they needed.

[00:05:50] Andrea Elibero: And how did you actually learn it? Because similar to you, like you came from the toxicology lab. I was a nurse and psychologist and all of these things I learned as I was doing them. So were you similar in that? Because you didn’t have this corporate background where you did these things and this was related to it.

This was totally different. So when you were actually first getting into some of these tech things and all of that, how did you learn about it? How did you actually figure out what to do? Mm hmm.

[00:06:15] Shelly Criswell: YouTube and Google were like my best friend. Um, I love to learn. So anytime I see like a new piece of software, like we were just Talking just a minute ago, you squad cast, and I had already pulled it up and Googled it while I was waiting on you. Um, just, I’m just so curious about tech and I just kind of dive in and learn it cause I like to, I enjoy it.

And, um, and then it can serve my clients.

[00:06:40] Andrea Elibero: That’s so cool. Yes. And I can confirm that. Also, we had chatted one time previously and you had told me about some different like podcasting platforms and things like that for me that I investigated. So you definitely have a passion for all of these things, which is, which is really cool and, and, um, serves your clients.

I’m sure super well. Um, so, okay. So you, uh, started offering these tech services, working one on one with your clients and what happens after that?

[00:07:06] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. So I had a lot of clients and there’s only so much time in the day. Um, and so I wanted to uplevel and, um, had been eyeing the director of operations certification. Wasn’t sure if it was right for me. So I kind of binged, um, Natalie’s podcast. And, you know, dove into her Facebook group and then realized, yeah, I think it would be good for me.

So I took her certification. It’s a six month, um, certification and just finally felt like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.

[00:07:42] Andrea Elibero: I love that, okay, so what does that feel like in terms of how did you know, is this in your mind, in your body, like where are you, how do you know that this is what your sister should be doing?

[00:07:53] Shelly Criswell: Um, it was.

[00:07:55] Andrea Elibero: Yeah.

[00:07:56] Shelly Criswell: It was enough of a challenge to me. I like to be challenged. Um, it was enough of a challenge and there were things that I realized that I still needed to learn and I love learning, but it also like all made sense to me and, um, support was there and the certification also, which is really important.

Um, and. Yeah, when I get into someone’s business and realize I can fix this, it’s such a good feeling and, um, just can easily see the gaps and things that they need in the back end of somebody’s business.

[00:08:33] Andrea Elibero: And I can feel your energy when you’re talking about it, how it just like, like I can feel that it, that it excites you and that you love doing this. So I think it’s an energy thing too. And you’re like, ah, like, you know, like there’s the fact that you want to share these different platforms. The fact that you went and looked up squad cash, like, Oh, what’s this, you know, what’s this tech thing and things like that.

So I think these are also really cool cues of knowing that like, Oh, this is my thing. When you’re like, Oh, like, I want to talk about this all the time. Oh, I like to do this. And Oh, this is still challenging and exciting for me. So it’s like really cool. Um, so is this what you do now? Are you working one on one with your clients?

Like, what is your structure?

[00:09:10] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. So, uh, one on one, um, retainer model, but as. You know, I’ve up leveled so then I can charge more and have less clients and not have to work around the clock. Um, but yeah, one on one retainer. And I can also, um, I also offer strategic mapping. So I come in your business and give you a strategy of projects to do for a year.

Um, and it’s just a one time thing.

[00:09:35] Andrea Elibero: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. So this is your additional sort of like, uh, project based offer to, to both increase your income, serve more, and do these more higher level, higher level things. Very cool. Very cool. And in this journey, so this whole journey going from copywriter to… General VA, Tech VA, Director of Operations.

What has been a big hurdle for you?

[00:09:58] Shelly Criswell: I am a people pleaser. Um, and so I, at first I think I wanted to be the unicorn. I know we talked about that earlier, um, and how there’s really no such thing as a unicorn, but

[00:10:12] Andrea Elibero: could we, like, could we go back into this? Because, because people need to know.

[00:10:16] Shelly Criswell: Yes.

[00:10:17] Andrea Elibero: Unicorns do not exist. This is like a thing that’s a whole thing. Uh, they do not exist, right? Because one person cannot be amazing at everything. And why would you want to? What one have all that pride, like, it just deludes you so much, right?

Like, especially even as a service provider, it sounds cool, like, Oh, I can do all these different things, but it’s a lot. Like, I don’t know, like when I did general VA stuff, I was like, Okay, this is a lot. Like, it’s kind of like you’re the, you know, a little bit about everything. Right? And you’re not like an expert in a thing.

So, so talk about that also, about the whole unicorn

[00:10:51] Shelly Criswell: yeah. So yeah, you get a client and they want you to be great at everything and you feel so responsible to, yeah, to be great at everything and you’re not, and you’re being pulled in all these different directions. And like, I would feel bad because, um, you know, I wasn’t very good at the copywriting or I couldn’t write social media captions very well.

And I would beat myself up and finally realized, you know what, I don’t have to do that.

[00:11:19] Andrea Elibero: My life is so much better when I’m not doing these things that are not in my zone of genius. These things that, that don’t come so easily to me, right? Like you can serve your clients better when you’re the one, like when you’re in your zone where like you’re doing the things that light you up when you love it, right?

Like, and then also you’re happier and it just really affects everything. So yeah, so this is a warning to people. Don’t hire somebody and ask somebody to be a unicorn and don’t offer to be a unicorn We are anti unicorn.

[00:11:49] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. And you don’t have to people please. You can have your boundaries and they appreciate it when you tell them up front, you know, this is what I’m good at. This is what I do. And this is what I don’t do.

[00:12:00] Andrea Elibero: And how hard was that? Because this is the first time implementing boundaries or telling somebody no, this, this is a challenge, right? So talk about, talk about how that came about and boundaries and people pleasing and how, how you had to put in place in your business in order to overcome that, because I think that’s also really important.

[00:12:17] Shelly Criswell: Yeah, yeah, that is very important. Definitely in the any of the copy that I have on, you know, my website or on social media. I don’t say I do things that I don’t and in the discovery call, it’s really important to learn what that person’s looking for and to let them know what you do and don’t do. Just set those expectations up right away.

[00:12:39] Andrea Elibero: Yeah, and what about sticking to them? Because a lot of times, uh, clients can be like, Oh, but can you do this? Or later on, right? When you’re working with them. Have you had that come up?

[00:12:50] Shelly Criswell: Oh, yeah, for sure. And I do sometimes slip and go, I’ll try. Um, and then it never works out. So, yeah, if you, um, just stick to those boundaries and say, no, I can’t do that. But, and then you can refer someone having that network of people that you can refer. It’s really helpful and for you and for the client.

[00:13:11] Andrea Elibero: And the other good thing about that is that you’re sticking to your boundaries, but you’re also not feeling bad that you’re letting somebody down. Right, because, because what I say to somebody is that well, okay, theoretically, but you don’t want me to, right, you want somebody who’s really good at this to, to do that for you.

That’s not the best way for me to serve your business. It’s not the best for your

[00:13:35] Shelly Criswell: feel like, like you said, you’re like, you’re serving them by providing them with someone.

[00:13:38] Andrea Elibero: hmm. Yeah, having a solution like being there with a solution, instead of just big No, sorry. I’m not

[00:13:46] Shelly Criswell: yes, I have definitely learned if you come to a client with a problem to always have a

[00:13:51] Andrea Elibero: Yes.

[00:13:51] Shelly Criswell: and that makes things so much

[00:13:52] Andrea Elibero: Yes, and everybody, right, for everybody. Um, cool, so, so, you, so the boundaries of people pleasing, this has been really big in your learning that has really been a big hurdle for you and something that you’ve had to overcome in your scaling journey.

Did you have, um, difficulty, or did you have, you know, when people talk about scaling and things like this, it sounds like it was a pretty smooth transition into DOO. So it sounds like you’re like, oh, oh, okay. There’s a no, she’s shaking her head. So that’s, yeah, because I think the, like, people talk about these things and you see kind of like the, the, the best sides, like, on Instagram and on social media and I like to go, like, below and let everybody know that, like, we’re all, like, in the trenches and going through things and that’s normal and the growth and all this is part of, you know, part of the journey.

So tell me about the journey into DOO and how that was going or how

[00:14:50] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. So there’s a couple of different areas. So first is mindset for, for me to see myself as, uh, You know, as up leveled, I think that’s a, uh, a gradual thing and you have to definitely work on the mindset. Um, a lot. It helps to have a coach or a mentor to talk to about that. Um, and which I did, I’d stayed in the ops authority has, um, uh, ops inner circle that you can join once you graduate.

And I chose to stay in that. And that really helps, um, with my mindset and also current clients. Um, so as a DOO, you’re doing less implementation, more strategy, uh, vision management and any clients that you currently have and you’re implementing, it’s hard for them to see you as anything else.

So, yeah, it’s really hard to, to get them to see you in a different light sometimes. Um, and so that’s been a bit of a struggle

[00:15:48] Andrea Elibero: Mm hmm. Did you keep those clients or did you eventually

[00:15:52] Shelly Criswell: I do, um, but I’m still implementing, um, and so I’m trying to, yeah, also find clients that, that see me as a DOO and, um,

[00:16:03] Andrea Elibero: I think also that’s one thing because, well, as you know, so I’m also a certified business coach, strategist, certified online business manager, so we’re like dueling, dueling titles. Um, but when I was transitioning from VA to OBM, it was a similar thing where it actually, and I think this happens, right? So like the DOO, the OBM, this is for six, seven figure businesses.

It’s an investment much more so than a VA is an investment. So it is natural that it takes longer. To get clients. So it is a and this is something for people listening who are like, Oh, I’m interested in going down that road. No, that no, that it’s not. I don’t say quote unquote as easy, but it is a more of a road, especially when you’re transitioning.

It took me like nine months to like transition fully from one to the other. Um, and you have fewer clients if you want to stay in that one on one retainer model. It’s a handful of clients. You know, it’s just like, Three or something like that, depending on, on, on what you do. So it, it is a longer journey to transition fully than I think what I was aware of or what I was expecting when I did that.

[00:17:12] Shelly Criswell: yeah, I agree. And, and like you said, the clients that you, you have, they may not even need, um, an OBM or a DOO. So, um, but you can’t just. Just, uh, drop them all and start over because it does take, takes a little longer. So, um, yeah, I have, I have some clients that I love and don’t do DOO work for. Um, and I also have some, some clients that do DOO work for, and they, those smaller clients may not need, ever need a DOO and that, and that’s

[00:17:41] Andrea Elibero: Right. And at some point you’re going to, you know, be somewhere like, okay, these clients are not aligned anymore and I’m going to move on from them. And I think you kind of, you get that feeling and like, you know when it’s time, right? Like, you know when it’s time to kind of move on from these and, and, and then you will.

So very cool. So, so what is your top scaling tip from your journey from everything you’ve got been doing from your journey that you’ve been on, um, to share with everybody? What is the top tip that you have when you’re growing and scaling your business?

[00:18:14] Shelly Criswell: wow. That’s hard. Let’s see. Um, I think to never stop learning. Um, and always you’re constantly evolving. And, um, yeah, just don’t stop learning collab and network with people. I think that that’s really important. Um, Getting different circles. I feel like sometimes it’s easy in the online space, which is so strange.

Um, we, we get in the same circle and, um, it’s really important to branch out and meet new people online and even. networking. Um, people are starting to do that more, but, um, yeah, just never, never stop learning. Always meet people, collab and network.

[00:19:00] Andrea Elibero: I love that. This is a thing from, it’s been a big focus for me, the collaborations and the networking and whatnot this, well, I guess now like this whole second half of the year, the third and fourth quarter so far, and I’ve been loving it. What have, and you’ve been doing it as well, so what benefits have you found from collaborating, from doing these types of things, um, from the networking?


[00:19:24] Shelly Criswell: Um, we get in front of other people’s audiences. So that is one good way. But I mean, also you just feel good. You feel good when you help somebody else’s business. Um, and you grow this, um, referral network. Like we were just talking about of people that do different offers as you, you can also, um, collab to create an offer together.

Um, I think that that is really cool. I spoke with someone recently and I’m thinking about adding that on as like a, an upsell to my strategic mapping offer, um, of something that they do. And so, yeah, it’s just, it’s when, when you, what does that, what does that saying when, um, the tides rise, there’s a rising ship.

Above all

[00:20:10] Andrea Elibero: Oh, wait, wait, I know a rising tide lifts all somebody’s boats, ships, something.

[00:20:17] Shelly Criswell: That is it. So we just all rise together. Yeah.

[00:20:20] Andrea Elibero: Yeah. And the when people are view others as competition, quote unquote, this is a very scarcity. You know, this is scarcity mindset that that doesn’t serve anybody. Right, like it’s so true that, that this thing that we messed up with the rising tide lifts all boat ships, whatever, like, right?

It’s so true because if I’m like, Oh yeah, I’m full, but Oh, I know Shelly, you know, like she would be great for you. And like, then you would remember that, you know, it’s just like really nice to refer people because they’re going to do the same for you and to meet other humans who are amazing and you never know what can happen from that.

Everything online is really about relationships, so it’s really the more people, the more, like, and what, what bad can come from meeting really cool people who do similar things as you do, as you, and who can relate to you, right? Going in it with an open heart and not necessarily expecting something, but being, like, really wanting to form these connections and relationships, you never know what’s going to happen.

And yeah, I’ve had very similar experiences where it’s like, oh, we could create something together or, you know, you’re very complimentary to me or we have similar client base. So, like, I would love to have you share your knowledge with my people and things like that. So it’s really cool to, to do that and to definitely always continue learning because we know the online space is evolving.

Which keeps everything exciting and keeps us on our toes, so that’s an excellent tip there is to definitely like, don’t be sleeping on things, be like, oh, what’s this? And kind of just be curious, you know, and open to learning. So, awesome, very nice. So finally, let us know, so how can we stay in touch with you?

If there’s anything else you’d like to share, the floor is yours. Let’s do that now.

[00:22:01] Shelly Criswell: Yeah. So I just, I have a website, chriswellsolutions. com, um, you can find out about my offers there. I have a free mission, vision, and values workbook. If you are interested in creating that for your business and I have a podcast also, business ops unleashed, and you can find out anything you want to know on the website.

[00:22:23] Andrea Elibero: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Shelly. This was so much fun and I love talking to other. other operationally type people, um, as well. And I hope that this story has been really inspirational for my peeps. So thank you so much for being here.

[00:22:38] Shelly Criswell: Thank you for having me.

[00:22:43] Andrea Elibero: Thank you so much for joining us today. I really hope you found inspiration and insights from today’s episode. You know, scaling your business intentionally and from the inside out is a transformational process, but I’m here to support you every step of the way. Head on over to dancingleafsolutions. com slash resources for free tools to help you do just that.

And thank you again for being a part of the Soulpreneur Scaling Stories community. Your presence and dedication to growth inspire me. every day.