As part of my series about the “How to Navigate and Succeed in the Modern World of Finance,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika De La Cruz.
Erika De La Cruz is a “Passionista” & Founder of Passion to Paycheck: An annual conference in partnership with Bumble Bizz and an online community for entrepreneurs. She is also the Best Selling Author of Passionistas, Tips Tales & Tweetables From Women Pursuing Their Dreams and has helped millions turn their daydreams into their dream jobs and transform their doubts into their dream lives, through positive mindset training and tactical skill-building.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
No problem at all, thank you for having me! I think it’s more important than ever to hear real stories in this confusing time. A little bit about me: I’m a survivor of the 2009 economy crash. At that time, my family lost everything, including our small business of 30 years. After my first year of college, I drove home for summer break and invited friends to visit. Our car pulled up to my family home to find it foreclosed; chains around the windows and doors. In my parent’s panic to save their livelihood, they hadn’t told me what had been lost and that was how I found out. The next day, we had 11 hours to pack up everything we owned and put it safely into storage. Unfortunately, all of those units would soon be sold from an inability to pay, so suddenly and officially I had nothing. The entirety of that summer I would get messages from my hometown neighbors telling me they had seen my photo or my family’s belongings sold at flea markets. It was all jarring, emotional and traumatic, and at 19 I saw my options as fight or flight. I found the fight in myself. I got myself back across the state of California, re-enrolled in college, navigated financial aid and worked a part-time job at Jamba Juice. I made some high-stakes, adult decisions on my own as a teenager and I had to grow-up in a hurry. My biggest lesson from this time was how “figure-outable” obstacles really are.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Ha ha yes… I’ll never forget showing up for my first “business meeting” looking like a totally different person than myself. I put on grey-toned shoes, I wore tan and took the pink case off my laptop to look “more professional.” Immediately afterward, my colleague (who was more of a mentor) said: “do not ever dress or act like anyone other than yourself again, they wanted to meet with YOU, not some professional that you think you should be, to close a deal.” It was true, “being me” was the only rule to abide by, especially when selling a personal brand! ( I did not close that deal. Haha.) We always have these ideas of assuming a role that we think would “land” better than just being ourselves, I know now it is the complete opposite that’s effective. When you’re not fully expressed, nothing is in alignment.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain? YES.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is still the #1 personal development book in the world, and for good reason. In times of loss or uncertainty, we tend to get angry with the world. We don’t always believe that everything happens for a reason or that we’ll be okay while in the middle of adversity. I found a re-centering while reading the story and will never forget how The Alchemist reminded me to trust myself and the timing of my life. This book’s message reassured me that everything was going to be okay and it motivated me to pursue my purpose despite all odds (seriously). Also, its narrative format, versus a straight forward how-to teaching, allows you to really sink your teeth in.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now at Passion to Paycheck? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we recently launched Passion to Paycheck VIP, an online mindset membership. It is similar to a remote gym membership; filled with positive content, mindset training, and business skills that you can practice and repeat from anywhere. This is the kind of content that got me through my intense feelings of doubt when we lost our home. Back then, I kept trying to access affirmations, mentors and mindset training anywhere I could. Although I’ve found really great ones over the years, I never could access them in one place that was especially for me (current, upbeat, modern, relevant to my industry, and feminine in aesthetic) so, I decided to create one! This VIP membership can reach women everywhere to help them get routine about their “mental fitness” and unite in a community of powerful women, just like them! In these weird times of isolation, I can’t believe we have a platform like this, to support and uplift through so much global change.
Thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the central focus of our discussion. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I believe that to my core. I always say “your purpose must be so big that it pulls you out of bed every morning and into action- if your purpose is not big enough, you will be either.” It doesn’t surprise me that research says purpose and success correlate! When I started my journey, I knew I wanted the world to engage in a more vulnerable and open discussion about what we were going through emotionally. I felt that if everyone could access the truth about the people they looked up to (not just what they see on their Instagram feeds), they’d feel more connection, more self-acceptance, and more optimism. This is exactly what happened to me. I felt depressed, alone and honestly terrified about navigating finances, family, and school on my own. Then, I started watching the stories of the people I admired and the adversity that they faced too. From Oprah to Ellen, I was hearing their stories of struggle and witnessing their real-life achievements and it inspired me. These stories further confirmed for me that facing anything in life is all a matter of how you adjust your mindset. So many people put their time into the “to do” list to get out of sadness or anxiety, but I quickly realized that the key to transforming emotion is actually a “to be” list. The question of, “who am I going to be today?” versus, “what am I going to do today?” transformed my entire life. That’s why our Passion to Paycheck VIP web platform is centered around tending to your frame of mind as the key to creating your dreams.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes, as a founder and CEO I often check in with myself and ask: Can what I’m doing, be done by someone else more effectively and with ease? As a self-reliant entrepreneur, it is easy to think “I have to do everything.” Learning to use my team has transformed our productivity and allows me to be in my gift, offering my best, most frequently. There is powerful momentum when I can evaluate what needs to be done, and by who.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
YES, I think the best, most tangible (free) forms of lead gen are Speaking and Social Presence:
- Speaking is a great way to generate *warm leads all at once because when you share your story, you create a bond that an ad usually cannot. Tip: Devise a way to collect their information, through an activation, giveaway or through the organizers and then from one talk, you’ve generated however many attendees are in the audience. This is effective because you can tell your story only once, which protects your time and allows you to be as authentic as possible and the event has also pre-vetted attendees based on interest. If the event is ticketed, you also know that your leads are investing in what is most important to them, which is important for you to know.
- Social Presence is the other free form of lead gen that has served us so well. Whatever social media platform you use most, begin seeing every comment, like or view as your leads. Create and test videos that allow the people you want to reach, to engage with you. DM them immediately after a relevant post if you are selling one to one, or use the data and content to later run effective ads. It’s been a win-win and feels more natural than a cold call, that’s for sure.
If a fellow CEO would ask you for advice about whether to bootstrap or to look for VC capital, how would you help them weigh the pros and cons of that decision?
I’d say, not to fall into the trap that you need it! My advisers say that generally if you have a huge addressable market and your competitors are growing alongside you, you may need some quick, large capital to expand faster. If you aren’t in this category, I’d say figure out if you can expand via collaboration or more creatively first, and then assess and really plan out how you’d use and repay the debt to a firm if you do go that route.
What measure do you use to determine the value of a company? What advice would you give to other leaders about how to get an optimal evaluation of their business?
Well, I happen to be married to one of the best business valuators in the country- he’s amazing. So I’ll share that, in this department, his rule of thumb is this: A company is valued on a multiple of the profit it generates! The best companies that receive the highest evaluations, grow fast and produce large amounts of free cash flow, pick a large, fast-growing industry and have a unique element to your business (point of differentiation) in the market place.
What would you advise to a founder who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Maybe you have reached your market cap, there is a chance that you have reached your “total addressable market,” and that you are maxed, look at innovating product or new ways to sell (re-seller/online/other routes) so that more of your market has the chance to say yes to you.
What are the most common finance mistakes you have seen other businesses make? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Avoid starting with a lot of bells and whistles, before testing the product. I’m a big believer in “pre-selling” and then building to serve the market once they have told you that they need it. One of the mistakes I see is that entrepreneurs spend tons of time with their website/packaging or branding before testing to see if the market place even wants what they are offering. “Test Small” has been a rule that has really served me.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to succeed in the modern finance industry? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Test Small before building big! When I was first thinking about coaching, I did not go build a webinar or fancy platform, I began by making calls to the people who had asked in the past if I could help them. I gaged their interest in a structured program and what it would look like, before actually bringing it to life! Now, that same program that began with only 3 students is available worldwide. There’s a misconception that you have to appear “buttoned-down” and built out to sell, when in fact, at the heart of sales, should be soul. If your soul says “this may work” speak from it, approach those you believe could benefit and be honest. My honesty allowed me to receive the feedback of what my audience wanted, instead of building something that “I thought” they did.
- Choose an industry that you are personally passionate about for lasting results. The passion I had for making positive, vulnerable content available in main-stream media came from my personal experience without it. Because I was driven by passion, I stuck through every iteration of the brand. Without it, the desire to “walk away” instead of adapt could win in times of challenges.
- Money is a Mind-set. Having had nothing, my belief could have been that I was destined for nothing. This mentality is widely adopted (what people see now, is how people determine how they are going to feel.) The opposite mindset is what leads to abundance: How you feel, determines what you are going to see. This deep-set belief allows opportunities to arise that seemed impossible. If your mentality is that if scarcity, your surrounding s will reflect it. Start thinking abundantly!
- Choose Optimism: This is the most simple word, but the best reminder. I personally, have this word written in huge letters on my desk, it’s brief but powerful. I was very pessimistic and depressed for a little bit, after losing everything in the crash. It wasn’t until I found out that one of my dearest family members was going and buying back all of my belongings for me in secret, that I began to actually feel like the luckiest person in the world. This selfless act allowed me to activate a kind of optimism I can’t explain, but it has served me 10-fold. Not only does it lend to my frame of mind, which I believe is the source of our results. But, people also like to be around optimistic people! So it has affected my personal life for the better too! Just choose it.
- Do Not Think You have to do this alone: I did and got nowhere. I was constantly thinking that I had to do everything myself, including learning new skill sets. It wasn’t until I learned the value of teamwork, that I realized: what does not come naturally to me, comes naturally to others. I don’t have to learn all there is to know about “doing the numbers” if I can find help from someone who knows it all! This alone was life-changing. If you’re starting out and can’t pay someone, it’s not an excuse ;). I had 4 interns working with me at the start of my brand, all because I knew what was important to them and what they liked doing, so I provided that value in exchange for the value they brought to my own brand. The world wants to help you! You just have to allow it to☺
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Get on your mental fitness game! It should be #1, not 2 or 3. It is the single source of production and should be just as important as tending to your inboxes ;).
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’M DOING IT! I think making positive, uplifting mindset training, available to all is making the hugest impact on the world. If everyone’s state of mind was equivalent to living their most fulfilled lives, happiness would peak! And after all, that is all we want right, to be happy and make a living in the process to live that happy life. ☺
How can our readers follow you online?
Yeah, definitely come along the journey: @_Erikadelacruz can’t wait to see you there! ☺