During this interview with Bella Vasta from The Experience Maker Show, we get real about how important customer experience is no matter what the service you are providing, and the important lessons about safety and innovation we learned over the course of 2020. We also talk about why Bella is such a fan of Facebook Groups, the one Zoom feature that has dog owners frustrated and what I enjoy more than working for the man.
Dan Gingiss Hi Bella! For those that don’t know you or your work, why don’t you tell us a little bit about you.
Bella Vasta So, I started a pet sitting company back in 2002 as a way to get out of my parent’s home and off of their curfew. Little did I know I would grow that to a six-figure nationally and locally award-winning business that I later sold after I had my micro preemie daughter born at 12 ounces. In the middle of all of that, I also started consulting and coaching, helping businesses scale from six to seven figures and realized that’s my true passion. I never worked a day in my life, as they say. I’m also a speaker on leadership sales and Facebook groups.
Dan Gingiss That is awesome. Wow. A lot to unpack there in that very short answer. Your Twitter profile is still @Bellas_Pets, so it’s definitely still part of your brand. Are you completely out of it now or are you running groups with other competitors?
Bella Vasta Yeah. So, here’s the funny thing about that. And if you or your listeners have any pull with Twitter, I’d love it. I tried so long ago to switch it over to @BellaVasta so all my socials could be the same. But somehow or another something’s locked and I can’t do it. And @Bellas_Pets was something I made, I don’t know, probably 20 years ago now. And so, I’m just stuck with that. But to answer your question directly, yes, I hosted a mastermind for pet sitters. I’ve got two free groups for pets. That is that’s how I’ve really been building my community since about 2010 on Facebook and how I was able to really stay connected and survive with them while I went through my own personal catastrophe, which was fighting for my daughter’s life in NICU for six months day in and day out for eight to 10 hours a day. Those groups really allowed me to be able to kind of congregate my people all in one place and still be able to reach them and have that personal connection. And so, yes, that’s where my love affair for groups comes. I lovingly say that without groups, I would not be where I am today.
Dan Gingiss Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s great. And I’m glad that it helped you through a tough situation. And now you’re helping other people, which is fantastic. You also have a ton of fans. So, let’s talk briefly before you get into the broader business consulting that you do. Let’s talk about the cross section of the pet sitting business and customer experience. I’ve been doing some writing recently about Telehealth and in particular in the Veterinary industry, which is so fascinating because obviously Vets can’t talk to the pets over a Skype or Zoom. So, they’re only talking to the pet owners. But, it’s an interesting industry in that there are two sets of customers, the pet itself and then the pet owner. So, tell me a little bit about how you approach it.
Bella Vasta One thing that 2020 has really shown us is that there’s a lot that can be done without actually seeing people. And that does definitely translate to the pet industry. The companies that are really thriving through this crisis, through this pandemic, are the ones that are pivoting and doing things like that, not Telehealth, but just instead of coming for consultation face-to-face, they’re actually doing it over camera. One of our good friends, Marcus Sheridan, he came into my group and kind of gave the whole lowdown and laid out a blueprint of how you do a consultation. It’s so weird because we have so many self-limiting beliefs that we can’t really actually go forward with business and make it happen through this pandemic, or we all have to stay away from each other, which we do. But there’s ways around it and there’s technology. And it’s been really fascinating to see how people have gone from “I can’t be on a camera,” to now everyone from a three-year-old to your 94 year old grandmother and everyone in between are just so comfortable on camera. In fact, I was joking last week with my friends. They said eventually we’re going to be laughing about Zoom, like we did about MySpace. Remember when we had those black squares? Because it’s going to improve and grow, and I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.
Dan Gingiss Actually, speaking of pets. I keep waiting for Zoom to make one very small feature change. Can you guess what it is?
Bella Vasta To turn off the dog barking?
Dan Gingiss Well, how about to turn off the doorbell when somebody enters, which causes the dog barking.
Bella Vasta Oh, OK. Yes. That too.
Dan Gingiss Any other sound other than the doorbell, please.
Bella Vasta Right. Oh, my God. I didn’t even think of that. That’s hilarious. Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing ride.
Dan Gingiss I definitely agree. And you may or may not know, I actually just finished the manuscript for my second book and at the very end had a whole chapter on COVID because I felt like I couldn’t ignore it. But I mentioned in there just what you said, which is that both my 12-year-old daughter and my 76-year-old mother have learned Zoom this year and are both comfortable with it and very good at it. Yeah, both learned it obviously for different reasons, but there’s really no more excuses for not being able to get onto video in some way, shape or form. And I do think we’re finding out more and more that people are more comfortable doing things remotely than they were before. And I think that’s going to translate to companies being more comfortable having their employees work remotely than they were before. I worked for several companies that I know would never have considered having people work from home and now their entire workforce is working from home. And so, I do think a lot of this stuff is going to stick around, and the more that we can do for people remotely, even post pandemic, it’s still easier. It’s the faster it can be real time. And I think that’s a lot of what people are demanding.
Bella Vasta One hundred percent agree with you. Actually, what I tell my pet sitters is that you’re a threat. You are now a threat to our clients. When you say and insist that you need to do a face-to-face consultation and come to the house and walk around to get their key and do all this stuff. If I could do a Telehealth appointment with my doctor and she can examine me or assess me that way, or we can do that with our dog with the vet, surely to do pet sitting and dog walking, you can do that as well.
And so, I find it really interesting to see everyone’s self-limiting beliefs coming off and how that’s like prohibiting even better customer service. And to your point about all of these places that they’re going to stay home. It’s something I’ve been told my pet sitters, too, because our old problem we were solving, Dan, was that people were away for eight to 10 hours a day and they need their dog walked in the middle day. Well, guess what? Now we need a dog walked in the morning before our call starts, so they’re tired, or when we’re meeting with the boss, just to get the dog out of the house, you know what I mean? Problems are changing that we are solving as from a customer service standpoint. And we need to wake up and realize that you’re gonna get lost in the thing.
And the last thing I’ll say is that I love your point about staying home. But, you know, there’s also a ripple effect from that as well. The commercial real estate industry is going to start feeling it. You’re going to start seeing a lot more places just being empty and vacated. And we could sit there on only that part of the story and say, oh, no. But, what about this other part of the story where there’s innovators coming in and saying, OK, now we’ve got all these empty office spaces or these empty big spaces, what are we going to do with them? How are we going to do it? What if the movie theaters start crumbling down? What are we gonna do in that space? There’s two ways to look at this, you guys. Oh, no, boo hoo. Or, hell, yeah! Let’s make it happen. And that’s really the only two options you have.
Dan Gingiss I couldn’t agree more. And, you know, I’ve already seen stories about some of these empty commercial real estate locations being turned into affordable housing or other uses that may not have existed in the past. Somebody asked me the other day, what are sort of some of the words that we’re going to remember about this time? And, you know, I think from a customer experience perspective, it’s really two things. I do believe that safety is going to now always be something that we have to think about. People are not going to walk into our stores or invite a pet sitter into our home if we don’t feel safe with them. And I think it’s going to be a permanent, fundamental change in the experience. But the other thing is innovation. And we always used to throw out this term of innovation. But when people were forced to innovate, when companies were forced to innovate and do it very, very quickly, it is amazing some of this stuff that has evolved from it. That, again, I think will still be here far after the pandemic is over. I keep using the example that I’m a guy that actually likes to grocery shop. But once I realized that I could save an hour and a half every weekend by doing curbside pickup, I’m not sure I want to give that hour and a half back. Right? And that’s just one example of how our lives have changed in the last few months, probably for the better. So, tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to personally and business wise during COVID and how have you had to adapt your business?
Bella Vasta That’s a great question. So, first, my content plan for Q2 and Q3 was like out the window. And what we decided to do in terms of consulting was to buckle down and show up for people. So, I understood that everyone, including myself, went through this grieving stage at first, like, woah, what’s happening? And we are angry and shocked and and trying to bargain and negotiate like this isn’t really happening. Yes, it is. And what do we do? And the shock and horror after that wore off.
But while that was happening with all my clients, I was on the phone with my members and crying with them on the phone because you can’t fake being a coach and a consultant. Right. And so, I opened up a two-week Facebook group. Huh? Big, big surprise. And I packed it full of leaders that were financials, CPAs, HR, you know, how to furlough and lay off like all this stuff that people never had to really deal with before. Financial advisors, marketing people, all kinds. And we just went for two whole weeks and we recorded all of it and put it into a package that they could watch because I understood that everyone couldn’t show up that day. But it also was kind of a good distraction.
Along with that, I have a marketing agency aspect of jump consulting. And so, we stepped up and over delivered and it was like, OK, we could either say, A: you don’t have to pay your bill, or we’ll discount it like some of the software companies in our industry were doing. Or B: I’m going to flood you with value and I’m a valued girl and I will make that touchdown with you. I am so passionate about that, if you can’t tell. And so, what we did is we started creating graphics for these people like a dog on its belly, belly up says flatten the curve on the top of it or a dog looking out the window. Or, my dog barks every time something comes by now, or what are we barking at? They were just funny things, but they were relevant.
So, what we did was we adapted to the times and we showed up where people needed it. We also understood where they were, but there’s one thing, and it’s kind of interesting, because I get a lot of flak for it, which I’m personally still working through, is that I want to cast this vision of hope. I’m not going down and fighting. And so, the people that want to fight with me are like, yeah, the ones that don’t want to fight with me are like, how dare you? You should be in your house. You should have your mask on. You shouldn’t leave your house and all this stuff. And I think right now, the biggest lesson that our entire world can learn right now is acceptance and not judgment, but acceptance. So, Dan, if that’s what you want to do and you want to stay in your house, it’s cool. And if I don’t want to do that, that’s cool, too. But, we need to be responsible.
We as business owners, we need to take calculated risks. So, this COVID cover is what we’ve been calling it, a COVID cover has been giving you the biggest gift that you will ever get in your entire life, and that’s the gift of time. Because I know your to do list had to do lists and you were buried and, oh my gosh, if I just had more time. Well, guess what? You were given that time. What did you do with it? What did you do with it? Or did you realize, like, hey, we’re going to restructure this or we’re going to build this up better or we’re going to examine this?
I was just on a coaching call with a gal today who cut back some of her services, and we were talking about the analogy like, you know, she’s like a tree where you trim it back so that you come back stronger. And that’s exactly what it was, because things just start, you know, as we were in the tunnel and we’re building businesses and things just happen and things overgrow. Right? And we don’t realize it until we’re suffocated by it. And we’re like, oh, shoot, that’s not working, but COVID was allowed to give us this breather, this moment so that we could see what wasn’t working, fix it hopefully, and come back stronger, because at least in the pet industry, not everyone’s coming back from this. There’s going to be a lot of businesses that don’t come back. I could speculate things, but they’re not going to come back. We’ll just stand the positive that the ones that get through it are going to have even more of a market share. And that excites me for them. That excites me. And I’m so proud of just being able to be there next to them. And “hey, guys, did you try this”? “Hey, did we do this”? I came up with14 different ways to talk about COVID and your business to people. And it was, you know, just new. So, remember, your humanity is what will continue to remain stable.
Dan Gingiss You’re totally right. And I do love your point about, you know, looking at this as either sort of let’s hole up and feel sorry for ourselves or let’s grab the bull by the horns and do something about it.
Bella Vasta I think you’ve got two choices, that’s it.
Dan Gingiss And you’re right. There’s a lot of businesses that kind of have decided we’re going to fold up the tent. We don’t think this is gonna work. And then there’s so much innovation out there and so many people doing different things. I’m doing a lot now that I never expected to do, and actually the fastest growing part of my business right now is content creation. That is not what I set out to do. That is not what I thought my business was going to be about. But you know what? All my speaking gigs went dark like yours did in March. I got off the stage on March 10th and by about March 17th, they were all gone. Had to do something. And now I feel like number one, I feel proud of myself that I’ve survived this. And I sort of feel like, OK, if I can survive this, then bring it on, we can survive anything. But also, these things that you and I are doing at this time are parts of our business that are going to keep going, are not just COVID parts of our business, they’re ‘COVID proof’ parts of our business. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about it. I mean, we’re all looking forward to this being over, but I think the sky’s the limit when we get past this.
Bella Vasta Oh, my gosh. It’s going to be like gangbusters. It really is, because people are getting stronger and leaner right now. The smarter ones. And the innovation part also excites me. I wrote probably the longest blog I’ve ever written in my life. It was 4000 words. It was so long that I also read it in a podcast, too, because I knew not everyone was going to read it. But one of the sections in there was about innovation and it was about what happened in 2008 when the stock market crashed. And it was about all of the different businesses that came from that. And it was also about, you know, Sony having the software to actually do an iPod, but they didn’t know how, or they limited themselves not knowing how to get over the licensing part of it. So here comes Apple. OK, we’ll do it then. If you don’t do it, we’ll do it. And that’s what I see happening. And it’s going to happen. And I’m just excited to see what does flourish and create and grow. I mean, we already knew that video was the way in the future. Now, it’s undoubtedly, you can’t argue with that anymore. Like, it just went on, like, fast track this year.
Dan Gingiss I also want to mention to folks that are watching or listening to this or saying, well, you know, I’m not Amazon. I’m not Apple, I can’t do this. The thing is, is that you can’t be Amazon and Apple. We already have an Amazon and an Apple, and they are amazing at what they do. But that doesn’t mean that our job is to copy them. Our job is actually to do what we do really, really well. So, great example, we just recorded an episode with our mutual friend Joey about The Experience This show, our podcast. And we talked about a new bookstore that opened up in Taiwan that allows customers to view books completely in the dark. The whole bookstore is dark, except for these very dim lights right over the books on the shelves. And they actually look like something out of Harry Potter. They look like they’re floating on the shelves. And the whole idea is, you know, you rob someone of one sense, the other ones become more, you know, hypersensitized. And it’s this amazing experience. Well, one of the things we talked about was this is a great example of something Amazon can’t do. Right? They can’t turn the lights off on you. Right? And yet, it’s a bookstore. A bookstore. You know, that is an industry, a physical bookstore as an industry that I think we’ve all written off for dead in the last couple of years. And this one is innovating, doing something totally different and drawing crowds to it because they’re giving people an experience. And I believe personally that any business can do that. Any business can compete against the big guys by creating an experience where one doesn’t already exist.
Another great example that I’ve shared once or twice before, I think even on this show, is there’s a store in Chicago that is a game and toy store. And my family are big board game players. And I walked into this store and the first thing that happened is the woman behind the counter said, oh, so you like Settlers of Catan? Well, you’re going to love this game and this game and this game. Like she’s like a walking Amazon. But the best part was at the back of the store, they had a library where you could check out games, sit at a table and actually play them before you buy them. Here’s something else Amazon can’t do, right? Yeah. Maybe they will someday. But again, it’s a great example of here’s a retailer showing some innovation and creating an experience for people. And then it’s OK that their games are a couple dollars more than Amazon because people are going to pay for it.
Bella Vasta Exactly. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s just like I love those examples. What was your podcast name again, for those who didn’t catch it?
Dan Gingiss Experience This!
Bella Vasta Awesome. You mentioned the Instacart thing and I loved that example because for the longest time, you know, I was like I’m not doing Instacart, it’s so much more expensive. First of all, there’s the monthly fee or the yearly fee and then they jack up the rates on what I’m going to buy. I could just go there and buy easier and then actually, it’s not so bad because when I do go there to go get chips and, I don’t know, dip, right.? I come out 80 dollars later because I saw all these other things or I was hungry when I went in there, you know? And one of my girlfriends did this, too. She’s said no, I dare you. Go to the store and for whatever’s on your list and write down the amount. And then do it from home with whatever’s on your list. And it’s funny because our mind sometimes limits us. And yes, we’re paying for that convenience, we’re paying for that experience and we need to do it. And it just shows up miraculously. Now I’m all A-L-E-X-A and add whatever to my shopping list, you know, and now I don’t even have to write it down. Things are changing.
Dan Gingiss It’s so funny that you spelled that because I do that, too. Otherwise, we would have both had ours talking back to us, right?
Bella Vasta Yeah.
Dan Gingiss Fantastic. And you just described, by the way, every Costco trip I’ve ever made. I can’t possibly go in there even with a list and not walk out with 10 items that didn’t come in there for.
Bella Vasta Just give them 100 bucks when you walk in, it’s like the new club, but it’s daytime for moms and dads.
Dan Gingiss Well, pro tip, I force myself to only go once a month. If I went more often, I’ll just buy more often. So anyway, we’re about to finish up here. But I wanted to ask you, what do you see coming up next in the business world, obviously in the US, we have a big election next week, which may not change everything. We’re still hoping that this COVID thing is behind us sometime in 2021. But what are you most looking forward to as you look ahead in your own business for the next, let’s say, six months or so?
Bella Vasta I’m excited because I just brought on the most amazing number two, or OBM for me, and it was like love at first sight. I’ve never fallen in love with anyone that I’ve worked with like this and this platonic. And she’s amazing. And the things that we’re doing, we just re-did all my S.O.P’s (Standard Operating Procedures) it’s like one hundred seventy four pages and like 200 support videos that go with it and all this stuff that we’ve been able to do right now. I mean we actually have been busy, but we’ve also done it this year. I’m really excited to see how that’s going to help reshape my company going forward because I’ve reached my own plateau as to how far I can get with me being the manager and like the point person. So now that I can get out of that, I’m really excited and I’m excited to get all these massive ideas and visions and things I want to do out of my head because I’m an implementer. I dream things and I make it happen. And sometimes it doesn’t work out, but that’s all being an entrepreneur, it’s fun for me. So, I’m really excited about that. And I can’t wait to see what happens in the next six months. Now that I’ve got the right people around me.
Dan Gingiss You know, it’s so funny you say that because I just hired my second virtual assistant, the first one didn’t work out well. This one is going to work out very well, I’m confident. But, you know, I was the one thing I just never planned on working for myself. I mean, I make the joke, you probably heard me say I like working for The Dan better than I like working The Man. I’m not going back. But the worst thing is that when it’s just me, myself and I all the time. No, you can’t bounce ideas off yourself. Right? Sometimes you need somebody to talk to you and run some ideas by or just help with some things. And I’m really excited about that, too, because I do think it’s kind of an important next step in the journey. So, Bella, I wish you the best. I love following your career and all of your awesome cuts that you put out there. I think you’re doing great stuff. You’ve got these amazing Facebook groups. People are turning to you as an expert. I’ve seen you on stage at Social Media Marketing World. You’re a great speaker and I’m proud to call you my friend. So thank you so much for being here today. Really appreciate it.
Bella Vasta Thank you. It takes one to know one, my friend.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full video interview on YouTube.