If you’re an “idea person” like Dr. Ava Chase, you probably have a few great business concepts in your head. You might have ideas for a new business venture or new programs to implement at your current company, but so far those ideas have stayed on paper or in the back of your mind. What makes Ava different is that she turned her idea into a reality with hard work and a smart business strategy. By keeping organized and using tools and team members that complimented her own skill set, Ava turned years of nursing and teaching experience into a successful continuing education program for healthcare professionals.
Ava still has a million new ideas, but now she gets to apply them to her own business, Advanced Practice Prep. After brainstorming and reaching out to customers for feedback, Ava comes up with new services to offer as well as ways to keep her marketing fun and interesting. She is always looks for ways to improve her organizational setup and make sure her team is happy and thriving.
Meet our small business owner:
- Name: Ava Chase
- Title: Founder
- Company: Advanced Practice Prep
- Industry: Continuing education
4 things Ava has to say
1. Believe in yourself. If you’re starting a business, you’re good at what you do! When Ava started her business, there wasn’t much else out there like it. She had to figure out how to reach her target market and stay organized on her own. Ava trusted in her journey because she knew she was qualified and had a good idea, but she would have to put hard work into making it happen.
2. Don’t be afraid to take risks, but be financially prudent. Risks don’t always mean money — it’s enough of a risk to to start a new business! Ava started her business with very little money, funding each class with the advance capital from sign ups. Her “risks” come in the form of new programming and a new conference she’s been developing based on customer feedback. Both follow the same payment structure: they are funded by interested customers in advance. It’s important to think of ways to be creative and try new things with your business outside of dropping tons of capital.
3. Do what works best for you. Ava runs her company and structures her CRM in a way that works for her and helps keep her on top of everything. It’s important to customize and tailor your setup and organizational tools to what you actually need and want. At the end of the day, it’s your business and your life, so if something isn’t working for you and you prefer another method, go with what works for you.
4. Build your business to grow. When Ava started out, she didn’t know what a CRM was. When her son (and our developer, Mitch!) explained how helpful a CRM could be for organizing her new business, she jumped on the idea. Ava knew early on that if she wanted to ease her growing pains, she would need a system in place to handle incoming students and keep her staff connected. Ava invested in affordable organizational and email marketing tools that fit her business now, not expensive enterprise software that might be the right size for her company in ten years, and definitely not a spreadsheet that would become insufficient after her first 100 students.
A few years ago, Ava started to notice that with the growth of online nursing and medical degree programs, a lot of people were coming out of school without proper procedural knowledge. Even brick and mortar schools had professors without a lot of procedural experience, and the doctor’s office might be the first time a recent grad performed a certain medical procedure and started to gain real experience. Ava was particularly concerned about new healthcare professionals in rural areas without access to specialty care, where they might be required to know specific procedures not covered in their previous education.
A nurse practitioner for twenty years, a former instructor in a graduate nursing program for fourteen years, and a current teacher in a family medicine residency program, Ava knows her way around quite a few medical procedures. Given the dearth of real-world procedural experience that Ava noticed, she designed a class with a lab component for the university she was teaching at, and it was a hit with students. After the class’ budget was cut, Ava decided to take her idea on the road, and she’s been slammed with business ever since.
Advanced Practice Prep has courses that cover everything: suturing, draining, joint injections, incisions, and more. Ava aims to teach her students what they will need to do at their jobs, but might not have experience with yet. Students can learn everything in a several-day workshop, or cover a specific topic in a one-day class. There is even a new class about how to start your own practice!
When Ava started Advanced Practice Prep, there wasn’t really anything else like it. She had to figure out how to build a continuing medical education program from scratch and learned a lot along the way. Read on to see how Ava used business tools and a great staff to turn her ideas into a successful and growing company.
Hire engaging staff
“Instructors are meant to be approachable and honest. There is no excuse for arrogance. If you’re not fun and exciting, you’re not going to last with us.”- Ava
When we asked Ava about her biggest problem, she repeated what a lot of other small business owners have told us: finding and keeping good quality staff. “People that sit through continuing education courses don’t want to just sit there and be bored to death; they want to have fun and enjoy their day,” Ava explains. “They are taking time out of their job for this class, so having good quality instructors is really important.”
Ava’s team is completely remote and totally web-based, but they are all folks that she knows and has met in person. Ava handpicks her staff because she knows how important it is to find knowledgeable, experienced, and funny people. She expects instructors to engage with students and feel approachable; she doesn’t want arrogance or separation, so instructors are given a happy hour stipend as well. “Instructors are meant to be approachable and honest. There is no excuse for arrogance. If you’re not fun and exciting, you’re not going to last with us.”
Ava also picks people based on communication and working style. She needs team members who handle task assignments well and don’t mistake assertiveness for a personal attack — she just wants people to get things done, and to do them well. Because Ava works with everyone on her team before hiring them full time, she knows that her team will maintain a healthy working relationship with each new addition.
Communication is key with Ava’s team. They send a lot of emails, have weekly meetings, and use the CRM as their central hub of information so that everyone can stay up to date. They also see each other at venues and at two annual meetings per year. In addition, Ava has a phone meeting every Thursday with her assistant. Ava keeps her staff happy by laying out the venues six months in advance and letting them decide where they want to go. Students from all over ask for Advanced Practice Prep classes, so instructors get to go to fun places like Hawaii and Las Vegas.
Because her company is so new and growing, her team can sometimes get tripped up on what they need to get done. Having a team handpicked by Ava for compatibility and communication style means that they work well together no matter what, and can try new methods of staying organized and efficient without throwing someone else off their groove.
Complement your skillset with a CRM
“Our company has grown by leaps and bounds...it has enabled us to live a very nice life. I don’t think it could have grown to this extent if we didn’t have some kind of way to organize it.”- Ava
When Ava started her business, she knew that she would never run out of great ideas. Ava also realized that to be successful, she would need tools to keep her organized so that she actually had a way to implement everything she wanted to do. Ava explains, “You need to be organized. A lot of business owners are like me— idea people. Idea people make businesses successful because they are willing to take the initial risk. However, organization is so important or you’re going to lose control of your business.”
At first, Ava didn’t know what a CRM was: “I’d never heard of a CRM. I didn’t know that I needed it.” After hearing about CRMs and what they could do from her son, a Less Annoying CRM developer, Ava started to use the CRM as a complement to her personality and a way to keep herself organized. “ I was amazed with the CRM because it kept someone like me — who is an ideas person but not so much a details person — much more organized. Otherwise, I would have been all over the place.” Without the CRM, Ava would have probably been “a mess of spreadsheets,” she says. “Our company has grown by leaps and bounds...it has enabled us to live a very nice life. I don’t think it could have grown to this extent if we didn’t have some kind of way to organize it.”
In Less Annoying CRM, Ava and her team share data so that everyone can be kept in the loop, and new leads or inquiries don’t slip through the cracks. Ava currently has sixteen administrators and instructors on her team, and they are on the road at least four to five days a week. They get 10-40 requests a day of people wanting to be added to mailing lists and teach 3-4 courses per week to about 20-25 people at a time. Students will often sign up for an entire week’s worth of classes up front! Plus, Ava runs an annual conference with over 100 attendees. With so much going on, Ava needs to keep her team organized and connected.
Communicating with a remote team via the CRM? Use tasks and events to collaborate and keep everyone in the loop.
As soon as someone reaches out to Advanced Practice Prep, they go into the CRM database. Ava’s team has a new contact protocol to make sure that people get added to the correct mailing groups and pipelines. Her pipeline setup is unique, but it works for Ava; all inquiries get added to a Skills and Procedure pipeline (she currently has 8,000 active attachments!), and if they sign up for a class (or multiple classes), they are added to a pipeline dedicated to just that class’ roster. Class pipelines are organized by date, and once a class is over, Ava deletes the pipeline and adds the contacts to a post-course pipeline and a former student group for future follow ups.
Creating and deleting pipelines isn’t a setup that CRM coaches recommend, but Ava likes having lots of pipelines, and it works for her business. “When I visited the Less Annoying office and showed everyone my account, they said ‘Oh my gosh, you have so many pipelines!’ But it works for me,” Ava explains. She keeps her pipelines organized by segmenting everyone: inquiries, current students, class rosters, and former students.
New contacts are also added to geographical groups synced to MailChimp for her mailing lists. When a course is in a particular location, Ava can send a targeted email blast out to all of her contacts in the surrounding areas. If she checks a course pipeline and there are still empty spots, she might send out a follow up email blast or post on social media to generate more interest.
Everyone on Ava’s team has a job in the CRM. Her administrative assistant takes call ins and adds new contacts to the system, as well as orders supplies based on class rosters in the course pipelines. The event coordinator checks on class sizes in the CRM before finding a venue and ordering lunches for everyone, and the director of clinical education uses the CRM to schedule out their instructors.
Ava onboards every new team member with the CRM: “We started using LACRM right in the beginning, when we started the business. We grew with Less Annoying. Whenever a new hire starts, they are trained in the CRM first.” In the beginning, Ava learned how to use LACRM with the help of our customer support, and we helped her train her users. Now that Ava is more comfortable with the system, she prefers to train users herself and act as the LACRM point person at her company. Once a new hire’s onboarding is complete, she shows new hires how to contact LACRM customer service if they have questions that weren’t covered in training, or if another employee isn’t on hand to answer.
Already an expert with your CRM setup and thinking of onboarding a new employee in the CRM? Here are some things to consider.
Listen to your customers
“Having a way to mass email potential students has been very helpful — much more helpful than I probably ever realized walking into this business.”- Ava
Ava’s outreach techniques have focused on finding inexpensive ways to market her business to her niche audience of healthcare professionals. For her, that means newsletters and social media. Many of Ava’s students are full time workers who are super busy but computer savvy, so they need an easy way to learn about her business and sign up for classes online.
Most inquiries come via email, and people get added to mailing lists. Ava also reaches out to people at conferences and on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Ava is a member of forty different industry groups on social media to make sure she is always capturing leads. Keeping in touch with her target market and staying involved in different social networks also serves as a good word of mouth strategy.
It took Ava some trial and error to realize what marketing strategies worked for her business. At first, she wasn’t using email marketing, and most of her outreach was done on social media. Once she realized how important email marketing would be for her business, she took some time to get her contacts organized into different groups of former students and their locations. After she figured out how to properly group her contacts so that she was using MailChimp efficiently, she started sending regular, colorful, and exciting campaigns to get students hyped for her courses. “After getting my mailing lists organized, having a way to mass email potential students has been very helpful — much more helpful than I probably ever realized walking into this business.”
Want to send targeted campaigns to your prospects? Read our tutorial on maximizing your emails!
Once Ava had a marketing plan in motion, she focused on listening to her current customers’ needs. After each course, students fill out an evaluation form. Ava compiled all of the topics students wanted covered and turned them into an annual conference. The three-day conference kicked off with a big reception, and attendees got to enjoy breakout sessions for each topic, continuing education units, keynote speakers, exhibit booths, and group activities.
Just like the rest of Ava’s business ideas, the conference ended up being a huge hit: “We filled up!” Ava exclaimed. Advanced Practice Prep had to turn forty people away, and most of the attendees were new, rather than former students. The conference caused an upsurge in business and led to more word of mouth marketing. “I think when people came home from the conference, people asked them where they had been and they told them about it — and then those people told their friends. We had a huge interest upsurge after the conference.”
How did Ava make the conference such a success? She applied her tried and true marketing strategy. Ava put all of the conference sign ups into a group, and in the weeks before the conference emailed them about fun activities at the conference, restaurants in the area, tourist attractions, info about the breakout sessions, and more. Ava wanted to keep people engaged and excited about the conference with her colorful, image-packed emails. Now that the conference is over, Ava plans on sending tickler emails to the group about next year’s conference, as well as growing the attendance size, too.
Keep it fun
“People have told me they use my program because they looked at my pictures and everyone looked like they were having a great time.”- Ava
Ava’s goal for Advanced Practice Prep students is to “Have fun while you learn” — needless to say, their classes are not like other continuing education classes. As Ava says, “I’m all about fun, I am a fun person, and I want people to have fun!” Advanced Practice Prep’s website and marketing emails always have pictures of students enjoying themselves: laughing with their cohort, having fun practicing procedures, and indulging in a post-course happy-hour. Being fun sells: “People have told me they use my program because they looked at my pictures and everyone looked like they were having a great time.”
Advanced Practice Prep distinguishes itself from other continuing education courses in many ways. All of the courses offered are very hands on, and not just a lecture. The photographs show prospective students how active the courses are, and promise an engaging session. Plus, as we already know, Ava purposefully hires fun and engaging instructors to keep students coming back year after year.
Trust in the journey ahead
This is Ava’s motto for life and business, so much so that she put it on a necklace for herself and bracelets for her kids. As a business owner, Ava strives to be confident in her decision making — she is running her own business and has decades of experience, after all — but humble in her approach to life. This attitude translates to Ava’s business, where she surrounds herself with competent people she knows she works well with, but also encourages everyone to have fun and enjoy their time. Ava’s motto has served her well: her business is growing so much that it surprises even her.
Ava is trusting in the journey ahead for Advanced Practice Prep while setting her business up for success the best she can. And what a journey it has already been: Ava took an idea — one that she hadn’t seen before — and turned it into a reality. She had to figure out how to get organized, reach potential students, and keep her staff and customers happy and engaged. By continuing to offer a great service and coming up with creative and new ways to keep her students excited to learn, Ava hopes to keep growing Advanced Practice Prep and their new conference. In the meantime, she’s going to keep coming up with new ways to learn and have fun.