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Erika Madden has had quite the journey. From dabbling in coding in high school, through social media management and personal hardships along the way, Erika has come out the other end with her shining new business, Olyvia. Olyvia.co is an online hub for predominantly female entrepreneurs to find and share marketing resources and tips, and learn about and be inspired by other entrepreneurs.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Erika Madden and I run Olyvia, a digital reputation and marketing consulting company for classy entrepreneurial women. My mission is to help female business owners and bloggers be delightful online so they can be more confident and successful.

Tell us about your journey and how you got started. Why did you want to start your own business?

My story begins as far back as high school, which is when I started teaching myself how to code websites in my spare time. By the time I was 16 I had developed and designed three websites from scratch. This was where my love for the internet first sprouted; I loved the thrill that came with creating a space that people could discover and enjoy no matter where they were in the world!

As I grew older I studied Journalism in college, interned for a U.S. Senator (performing PR duties), and then spent 11 years on and off doing freelance graphic and web design (while I worked other jobs, then became a stay-at-home mom). On the side of all that, I developed and grew my own blogs, launched, and managed social pages for community organizations, and helped people I knew understand how to effectively use the internet for marketing.

(Whew!)

I started my current business, Olyvia, because I was witnessing the fact that while a lot of businesses and entrepreneurs were finally getting serious about having an engaged online presence (a great thing!), once they got on there, so many of them were struggling to interact with fans and customers in a positive, attractive way.

In particular, I found a lot of business owners were publicly fighting with unhappy customers and thinking they needed to overtly promote themselves 100% of the time. I didn’t see them being served particularly well in this area, so I stepped in. I want to see women thrive in their endeavors, and with the right knowledge about online customer service/PR and savvy marketing, I know they can be unstoppable.

Where does your inspiration for blog content come from? Any particular favorite places online that you can share with us?

Ah, there are so many excellent places! Fizzle.co, Problogger, and Scott Stratten’s Unmarketing are all big favorites. But I have a special affection for the blogs byregina.com and NikkiElledgeBrown.com. They are run by two smart, irresistible women doing amazing work; they make me push past my comfort zones.

How have you built up your fan base and online presence? What tools do you use?

My focus is always, always, always on my blog content first. I’m of the belief that the more useful and generous you are, the more people will congregate. I use WordPress and a simple wall calendar to keep me organized, then I make sure I’m supplementing with unique, on-brand graphics. I design everything myself in Adobe Illustrator.

I’m a passionate proponent of building an email list to keep interested visitors involved, so I have worked hard to grow that every step of the way as well. For that, I simply use MailChimp and have several areas on my site where people can sign up. I’ve just started using the Selz widget in my sidebar to give away my opt-in gift; I love it! Occasionally I also run Facebook Ads and Promoted Pins to grow my list.

The vast majority of my fans initially find me through Twitter and Pinterest. I make it a point to be active on each network (almost) every day. Twitter chats are powerful in creating connections as long as you attend the right one; if you want more eyes on your blog, that’s the way to do it.

Are there any particular challenges that you’ve faced along the way that you could share with us?

Oh my gosh, yes. I began hatching my plans for Olyvia in October 2013, just a few weeks after I left my abusive marriage of nine years. While staying at my parent’s house with my three young children I decided had to figure out a way to stand on my own two feet financially. It was important to me that I could still raise my children without putting them into daycare, so my solution was to start a business.

I took some money out of my savings, took a Continuing Ed class, and began designing my own website + marketing myself (all while I was going through tense and emotionally exhausting divorce proceedings). I’m not sure how I found the energy to do it, but I know this: women are strong. We find the gumption for anything when it’s sink or swim!

The divorce is behind me now, although the truth is that every day is a challenge to be overcome. Raising my children while trying to form and grow the Olyvia brand feels more than a little masochistic! (And our clean clothes may not leave the laundry room for a lonnnng time.)

But that said, I feel blessed to be able to do what I genuinely love and still have my babies to cuddle with at the end of each day. It makes all the wrinkled clothes worth it.

Have you had any stand out moments?

I increased my website viewership by 6850% over the first five months after launch. That was really validating (and exciting)!

What does a typical day look like for you?

My morning begins by getting up between 5:30 to 6 a.m. and doing a quick check of the emails that came in overnight, plus making the all-important cup of coffee (with extra cream, please).

Then the real fun begins. I’m the primary parent to my three kids, so once I get them up it’s a wild circus of eating, dressing, and searching for backpacks that somehow got lost since overnight. If you want to know what stress looks like, visit my home at about 8:03 a.m.

After we (somehow) find our way into the car and make the commute to school, I come back to the house with my toddler and start work around 9 a.m.

On any given day I’m doing client work, working on blog posts, recording videos, answering questions from my community, developing products, pitching reporters, and tending to the less glamorous aspects of a business (ie: invoicing and taxes).

I shut everything off at 2:30 p.m. so we can go pick up the big kids from school and, if necessary, make a grocery run. Then it’s dinner, helping everybody with their homework, laundry, and the whole pjs/bath/brush teeth routine.

I can usually sneak in a Twitter chat or some extra work time before 8:30 hits and we all head off to bed. From time to time I stay up late if I have a big deadline to meet, but getting adequate rest is important to me (and my family’s!) sanity. I’m one of those people who need about 9 hours of sleep to really feel good and be a whiz in my work, so I make it a priority.

What would you say to others who are thinking about taking a similar path?

Just START. Yes, it’s intimidating. Yes, you probably don’t feel qualified. But those are only mental blocks. Acknowledge them, but then choose to set them aside and do something to create your dream anyway!

Think of it this way: a cathedral looks impossible to build if you’re just sitting and thinking of the project in its entirety, but when you do a small step each day, a few years down the road you will end up with a beautiful structure. The same is true for any business. Get a free blog one day. Buy a domain another day. Start a Facebook page the day after that. You WILL get there.

What’s next for you?

Currently, I’m in the process of creating a regular video program called Olyvia TV. In the next year, my goals are to release an e-course for women on PR and managing their reputation, as well as write an e-book.

Where can we find you?

Aside from my blog, my favorite hangouts are Twitter , Pinterest , and Facebook . I recently opened an Instagram account and am having a lot of fun just posting interesting behind-the-scenes of the entrepreneurship life. I also have a brand new YouTube channel!

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About the author

Melissa Whidjaya

Melissa is the co-founder of Bloombox Co. Bloombox Co works to connect flower growers and flower buyers, creating a distribution system that reduces waste, improves profitability for growers, and removes barriers to consumption, providing flower lovers with a fresher, more sustainable product than ever before.