Eman Zabi

Behind The Scenes Of Building Teams with Eman Zabi


TRANSCRIPT AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED Diane: [00:00:00] hey, hey! Today's guest, Eman Zabi, started her first company, at just 22. They specialize in launch and funnel strategy for online educators. She's also now the founder of Terrain, an online learning platform focused on course completion and knowledge retention. And when she's not doing all that CEOing, she's taking impromptu trips around Ireland from her home in Dublin. So with all this on her plate, she has definitely learned the art of outsourcing. So if you have growth goals for your business, this one's for you. Hey Eman, welcome to the show. Eman: Hey, Diane, thanks for having me. Diane: So, let's kick things off with a little intro to you and your business journey or maybe that's journeys in your case. Eman: Yeah, for sure. So I started my first business, The Scribesmith, soon after I graduated from university. I was unemployed. There was really no appeal for a nine to five, and I kind of went online, and I stumbled into copywriting like a lot of copywriters do. And, yeah started from there, built the Scribesmith into an agency, got to a point where, like, itching for something more, and then Terrain, which is an online learning platform, happened, and then we had a number of little side projects along the way, but that's kind of where we're at now. Diane: So, let's start with business number one then. When did you know that you needed to go from solo copywriter to starting to build that agency model? Eman: Honestly, it happened really organically, but the first time I brought someone on was out of necessity, so I found myself in a situation where my, my mom was very ill at the time, and I was sort of looking after her full time in and out of hospital, and I'm like, I started, you know, I'm, I was starting to drop balls here and there and like emails were not getting responded to and things like that. So I brought on a VA and that was the first hire and that was just really and this was very early on in my business. I don't think I wasn't making a profit like everything that I was Paying the VA making from like clients was most of it was going towards the VA at the time. So that was almost like a stop cap measure so that I didn't [00:02:00] have to pull the plug on the business. But once we got through that, and then I had time to kind of dedicate to growing and trying to get more clients. So, you know, I was doing more than just making ends meet. That's when I found myself in a situation where, you know, there was more work than I could handle. And then I had to go out and try and bring a support team on. So yeah. Diane: And so I'm curious what led you to agency model versus copywriter group program. Was it that your clients were only looking for done for you? Was it a preference in your model? Eman: I'd like to say there was like this big strategic decision behind it, but it was really the fact that I started this agency and all of this when I was 22, I did not think I had any business teaching. I had only really been in the industry for about two years and more power to people who feel confident enough to go out and do that after just two years of experience. But I personally felt like I had a lot more to learn before I could be in a position where I should be teaching other people. And that was essentially it. Diane: How big did the agency get? How many freelancers are there or employees as a combination? Eman: At our largest, we were 12. So we were, we were a sizable team. We have obviously over the last six to eight months with all of the changes in the industry, we've, we've scaled back a little bit, but at our largest, we were, we were 12 and primarily we're employees. So yeah, Diane: Okay. So how did hiring go? What are like your wins or maybe, I don't want to say horror stories, your lessons. That you, that you took away Eman: have horror stories if you want them. Diane: I will take the horror stories. I think people like, like to gloss over hiring and how they only talk about like all of your free time and how you're now gonna be able to not work like a five day week because you have all this team and they don't actually talk about the reality of having a team. So go wild. Bring your horror stories. Eman: Okay, let's do it. All right. So let's talk about the hiring process. To begin with, I made one of the biggest mistakes, like I think [00:04:00] fundamental mistake that everybody told me I shouldn't make, but I thought, no, what, you know what, I will be different. And which is hiring a friend. Absolute disaster did not work out. We're not friends anymore. And I deeply, deeply regret that decision. I was not able to be an effective manager and assert boundaries and communicate because recovering people pleaser doesn't work well with kind of working with, it's just, it was a bad idea. But beyond that, I started hiring When I start kind of hiring, it's, it's just, people underestimate how much work goes into that hiring process, especially if you want to find really good writers, because you need, you can't just go off of interviews, because you really need to review writing samples, and You have like there is no internet equivalent of like say turn it in to make sure that they haven't plagiarized their writing sample so it is a lot of giving people writing tests and sitting down and reviewing them and Figuring out whether this aligns with the sort of writing that you do for your clients so it's it's it's labor intensive, but you know when you find the right people it does pay off and Here's the other thing that I discovered The right people, you won't discover whether you've hired the right person until you're a few months in. So it is a really big investment. Like, yes, you will have like all this free time eventually, but for the first couple of months of it, it is a lot of work. And which is why I always tell people like do it well before you think you're actually going to need someone, because like if you realize tomorrow that you need to bring somebody on, like they're not going to be ready to actually take stuff off of your plate for several months. So there's that. And I've had like, People who seemed like the dream employee while they were being on boarded, but then go on to do Ridiculous things like faking a parent's death to get out of work and once you have a larger team, you also have to kind of think about, how will bringing this person in impact the rest of my team? And like, what is that dynamic going to be like? So it's a lot of work. Diane: It's such an interesting one. Like some people just interview really well and then sometimes it's not even like a [00:06:00] malicious thing, just something happens in their life and what they thought they could bring to you, they can no longer bring to you. And in the online world, we love to be like, Oh, my team is my family and they're here for me. And they love the businesses. Like, no, no one loves your business. Like you love your business, right? No one is going to work a 24 hour day for you because they love your business. If it conflicts with something in their own life, you know what I'm saying? And I think people really miss that connection a lot of the times. So, okay, we have this successful agency we've hired, we've onboarded. What did you need to do in that agency to prepare yourself to go? Oh, look, I've had this other great business idea. Let me start a whole new company. Eman: So we were at a point where we had we were profitable and we had enough surplus set aside where I'm like, I could potentially, and this is, you know, several years into running the agency. So I'd been doing this for maybe five or six years at that point. And I'm like, maybe. I could potentially pursue the course kind of thing, but I also find that model. Like it didn't work for me personally. And I know a lot of people it doesn't work for because with our clients as well, we work in the course creator space. So we hear about people not finishing these courses. We hear about people like hoarding courses. And I'd personally bought so many courses, which are just. Like this course could have been a book or this course could have been a podcast episode and that was kind of my feeling about it. And I think the defining moment was when I signed up for this course hybrid group coaching program. It was something like 3, 000 and the most valuable thing I got out of that program was the free t shirt she sent me. And then I'm like, all right, we have the know how, we have the resources, and right now we have like the extra capital. We should try and do something here. And that's kind of how Terrain started. It's taken, you know, several iterations, but at its core what we were trying to do is make online learning more affordable, more accessible, [00:08:00] and honestly more efficient because Who's got the time to sit through 42 modules? Like this is, I, I, I need to learn a very specific skill. I don't need an MBA. Diane: Right. And it's like, who needs the three minute intro to every single module , I know this module is important to me. So capital wise, you're set up. What about from a team perspective? How are you planning to still manage your large team and turn your attention onto the new business? How did you maybe split your time and energy between them? Eman: Yeah, so I was really fortunate because at this point, the agency was essentially on autopilot. I was doing the strategy and the sales calls, but in terms of actual day to day writing, I wasn't really doing anything besides quality control. So we were in a really good position and we had also onboarded a couple of team members who were really eager to learn new skills. Like they, they liked what they were doing, but they wanted to, we had people who were doing ads and social media and things as well at this point. And they were, And I typically like to hire fresh grads who are just young and eager and want to learn new things and kind of diversify skill sets. So there were a couple people on the team who I felt like, all right, these are folks that I could probably train and groom to work on the other side of the business as well. And what we ended up doing was I put about 20 grand in a in a deposit for developers. COVID happened, they got furloughed, so I lost that money. We're in a really sticky situation because I'm now out 20, 000. We've already announced Terrain and I didn't want to kind of go back on that or push back the deadline, like our launch date significantly. So we decided to build it ourselves. So I'm not a developer. My background is in political science but we built it and it was probably one of my more harebrained sort of ideas, but I'm really glad we did it because I think I learned so much. My team learned so much. Like, there's my form. She used to be our Facebook ads person, but she turned into developer, changed her career paths. She's working in a completely different field now, and she loves it. I feel like it's unlocked so many different opportunities for us on the agency side as well, because now we have this [00:10:00] ability to build tech in house rapidly. So yeah that's essentially how that happened. So I've always kind of, when it comes to team, it's more like, it's not just what skills and experience do these people have, it's what can they kind of be molded into, what can we nudge them into with the right kind of training and resources. Diane: Yeah, I think it's like, what could their potential be? You can teach anyone skills, but do they have like, are they curious? Are they like naturally innovative? Are they looking for something different, which I think can be. A challenge to find, right? Society really wants us to be very much like little carbon copies of each other. So you didn't have to actually let go of control of the agency. So you stayed as the CEO, you stayed doing the strategy, you stayed doing the sales calls. And so you kept that role. You just made that role small enough that you could now launch Terrain. So are you a 50 50 between the team on Terrain and the team on a Scribesmith Eman: What do you mean with my own time? Diane: with your own time? Yes. Eman: Back then I would say it was probably 80 20 with my time going on to Terrain. Right now I feel like it's probably more 75 Agency because the focus is on the Agency right now and I think we switch it up every quarter. And the rest is with Terrain and a little bit going towards the book that I Diane: Oh, I love that. So you actually. Allow yourself to go, okay, this quarter is a, is a Scrabsmith quarter. What is the big goal here? What are we pushing for? And then you switch your focus and go, okay, what is the big focus on terrain? The reason I want to draw a line under that and underline it and highlight it and put stars around it for everyone is the choice between priority. Because I think a lot of people who had two businesses would be trying to, you know, Eman: Do both at once. Yeah. Diane: do both at once. Like what's the expression about like, you can't [00:12:00] like wag two tails with one dog or whatever. I'm butchering the expression, but like, it feels like a lot of people would be. I okay. I've either completely shifted to my new business or I've, I've kept my old business and like one of them has to be on autopilot, but I love that conscious decisions be what is my focus for this quarter and that must be really helpful for your team, because. They're not, they're kind of like growth, optimize, growth, optimize. Eman: Yeah. And that's not to say we shut down work on one side of the business while we're working on the other, but it's just it is very much like one goes into maintenance mode while we're working actively on the other. So yeah. Diane: Yeah, I think that's like one of our common like business lies, that growth is this weird straight diagonal line, when actually it is like exactly what you're describing. So, you've hired multiple times. Other than… the writing thing that's very niche to the copy side of things. What is the key thing that you look for in a new hire in terms of like value, culture, team fit? Eman: Okay, so for us as you've probably guessed, we're a team that really just kind of dives in and tries things ourselves. So we really need people who are able to figure things out on their own without needing hand holding. So that kind of, that initiative, that curiosity, and honestly also just They, they have to be good with tech. We have, we, our tech stack is always changing, always evolving. I love tech. My team loves tech. So they have to have that level of savviness to go in and pick up new technology. And we've kind of now gotten to the point where we test for these things in really small ways in our hiring process. Like we add, we deliberately will add friction. To see if they'll figure things out on their own. So, for example we do this, I think it's adorable. Some people might think it's silly, but we have like a metaverse office where we all have our little desks and everything. And it just helps with the community feel and everything. So we have our interviews on [00:14:00] there. We don't give them any instructions on like, we just give them a link to the interview. We don't give them any instructions on like, what the platform is, what they need to do, all of that. And we just see how many of them actually figure out, or find their way to like… The lobby and find who they're supposed to be interviewed by and everything so that's just like a little thing that we add in and it's interesting to see how many people kind of blow up our email with questions about that versus how many people just figure it out and show up and are like, yeah, this is cool. I got this. And those are the people we're looking for. We also will ask them. There's this one question. I think it's a Red Bull. I think it's from a Red Bull interview process, but it's interesting. And we get the most interesting answers to this question. It is you're a cattle farmer and you have you have a hundred cows. You wake up tomorrow and they're all dead. What is the first thing you will do? And it's really, really interesting because we get such a range of answers and usually the people who are like, I will break down and cry and like, I will, I will, I will go in with my parents are probably not the best fit for us. But then we get these like really interesting things where like, Oh, I'm going to. Change my business model and manufacture leather Diane: that's so interesting. Cause I was like, Oh, I'd have to go like full CSI, like who killed my cows? Like, well, like I would need to know all the reasons that it happened so that I could prevent it for my new cows, but I would never have thought of, Oh, let me change my business model and make leather. Like it's so genius. Like how people can pull things out of thin air, especially in a, in a pressure environment like that, You're trying to make a good impression. You're trying to think of the right answer. So. We've talked a lot about your team and how you set them up and how you look for them. What are the things that you pay attention to for your own kind of mental health, physical health energy? Because like you have two businesses and two teams and you're like, Oh, let me just go randomly traveling and like all the things, how do you know when you're reaching your personal capacity? Eman: I think that's a great question because it's something [00:16:00] that I've struggled with a lot like I think especially when we were building terrain I was working 16 hour days It got to the point where I'd like had nerve damage in my hands from like using the keyboard and mouse so much so Right after that, I started working with a health coach because I'm like, I, I was what, 25, 26, and I'm like, I feel like an old woman. I, I, I don't think, I'm not gonna make it to 35 at this rate. So what was really helpful for me is getting, like, I mean, it's really simple things. Like, I wasn't in the habit of getting three square meals in a day. I would just be like, I'm working, I'm gonna keep working, because I feel like my brain works best when I'm on an empty stomach, so I would just not eat. Or I would just work into the night. So it's just… Really, really, like, I feel like self care is often, like, the most unsexy thing. Like, it is really just eating porridge for breakfast instead of pancakes. It is going to bed on time, or making sure I work out. And I feel like those have been really important for me. But I think in the last year especially, because I moved to Ireland, and, you know, left my family and everything, came to a country I'd never been to before. It's also been And that was a deliberate decision, I think, because it was really easy for me to rely on them for like social interactions. But I think moving to Ireland forced me to kind of recognize that I'd really isolated myself because of my business because everything revolved around my business. So it's been making connections outside of that circle and actually having friends who I didn't have to talk shop with. So that's been really big for me as well. Diane: Yeah, I think having that friend group who kind of know what you do but also have No real interest in discussing the latest change to the Instagram algorithm in detail, you know, that forces you to be like, okay, wait, I'm going to have to have an actual conversation, right? How do I talk to people again? I think that is very good for both, both our mental health and just the soul. So if you could tell business owners only one [00:18:00] thing about outsourcing work to other people, whether that's employees or freelancers, What would that one thing be? Eman: I mean, they've heard this before, but hire well before you're ready, because like, it takes time. And hire people who hire good people like hire good people. And I feel like higher for attitude skills can be taught. Diane: Some of the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you should overhire, So yes, hiring is such a long process. And what if people don't work out? Like maybe you should hire like a couple of people for this role and hope that one of them works out. Eman: I would not personally be okay with doing that. If somebody has to, especially if it's a full time position, like it's an employee, this is someone who's probably had to quit their previous job, give notice for the chance at working at yours, and then you give them a shot and you just, no, there's no return policy on a human being. I would hate to be in that position. I would never put somebody in that position. That being said, if you hire somebody. And you realize early on that it's not working out, let them go. But like, you know, give them notice, treat them with respect, and let them go. Like, there's no shame in firing fast. It's just, don't hire multiple people knowing that you're gonna have to let two or three of them go. Diane: I'm of a similar stance, almost also just from a financial time and investment perspective, right? It's going to cost you a lot to do that and then hiring and then having to fire someone or let someone go is. Nobody likes to do it, no matter what the circumstances, I think it's really important that, you know, in the online world, that probation period, when you bring somebody on for a probation period, that's not like a guarantee period. It's not like, well, if we don't work out in three months, I can return you to the store that I bought you from. Like you say, that person has potentially given up a lot of things, and when you've made that decision to hire, it's a give and a take, not just a take mentality, but [00:20:00] I do think we have a bit of a overhiring epidemic in the online space, so I just wanted to. to get your, your, your view on it, given that you have a large team, which a lot of people haven't experienced. So let's talk about how people can get a little bit more you. You mentioned in passing that you've got a book coming out. Where can people find out more about that? Eman: The book is called The Launch Lab. It is everything that the agency and I have learned over the past six or seven years. With launches and because launches have changed so much. A lot of people are still using strategies from 2012. And they just don't work anymore. Especially with the oversaturated industry with GPT and AI. So this is essentially designed to help you create your own strategies Diane: No three video sequence. to a webinar. So to finish up, I always ask my guests the same two questions. First up, what is your number one lifestyle boundary for your business? Eman: slack on weekends. Diane: Oh, how good are you at keeping that? Eman: I'll tell you what. For the first couple of months of me trying to do that, I had to delete the app off of my phone and redownload it every Monday morning. Now, I'm better. I'm better about it. I also will religiously use the settings on your iPhone to kick you out of apps on certain days. So… Diane: Got it built in. I think also then once people get used to you not responding on weekends. You get fewer notifications, but also you feel like less obliged to, I must respond immediately. There's this immediacy in the online world. Gosh, if I was in banking and someone emailed me on a Saturday, I wouldn't even see it. Not paid to do that. Okay. Finally, what is the worst piece of cookie cutter advice you have been given as an entrepreneur. Eman: Oh. Okay, well, I think this is, this might ruffle a few feathers, but I genuinely think it's bad advice. It's the idea that if you show up and you put in the work, that things will always work out for you. And I feel like. It just sets you up for disappointment because you can do, you can do your absolute [00:22:00] best and things can still not work out and you have to be okay with that. And that's a really, it's a, it's a shitty feeling and, but I think once you kind of realize that there are so many factors at play that are outside of your control it's important, it just, it helps with like realistic expectations and you should absolutely do your best, but sometimes failure isn't personal. Diane: And realistic isn't sexy, right? Nobody's selling you on something going, this is going to be hard. It's going to suck. You're going to do all of this and it might not work out. Please pay me eight grand for my group program. Eman: Honestly. It's the, oh, I did it so you can too. I'm like, good god. Diane: We really need to get discerning about looking at that advice and going, okay, how similar am I to this person? How much do I actually know about their support system? Like when did they get successful? Are they a pre pandemic millionaire? Because things have changed and they're just riding on reputation. And it's the same thing for testimonials. You know, often a testimonial is somebody who already had a whole bunch of stuff in place. But it's like, they did it so you can do it. Like, really? Not so sure. Oh, this has been a fab conversation. Where can people find you to carry on channing to you? They can find out more about working with you. Tell them everything. Eman: Yeah, if you want to see more of what we do on the agency side, it's Instagram's probably best. It's just at scribesmith. inc with a C. And also on Instagram, it's iman. zabi. Diane: I'll make sure to link all of that and the book in the show notes. Thank you so much for today. Eman: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

This is the reality check and confidence boost all entrepreneurs need before they start hiring or hiring again

Eman Zabi walks you through what it’s really like to build a team from scratch, grow the team and then do it all again while still leading the first team and business.

Key Takeaway

Hiring is not the free time that is marketed to you. That is the long term benefit of the time, energy and money you need to spend first to earn it.

We talk about

  • The secret reality of building a team that doesn’t feature in the marketing posts
  • How to test for what you need by building it into your recruitment process
  • Growing your team members with your business
  • Overhiring and fast firing
  • The unsexy self care that CEOs need to do their job
  • Eman’s lifestyle boundary for her business
  • The worst cookie-cutter advice Eman’s been given on her lifestyle business

About Eman

Eman Zabi started her first company, the Scribesmith, at 22. Since then, the Scribesmith has gone on to work with clients like Stanford University, Netflix, and MeetUp. Now they specialize in launch and funnel strategy for online educators helping them leverage their expertise to build scalable online businesses. Eman is also the founder of Terrain, an online learning platform that prioritizes learner experience to increase course completion and knowledge retention. Her passion for technology and entrepreneurship led her to teach MVP development at Stanford University’s Peace Innovation Lab to over 100 students from Stanford, Yale, and Drexel. Eman’s experience as both a startup owner and marketer gives her a unique multidisciplinary approach to business development, marketing, and strategy, which allows her to see opportunities and threats that others might overlook. She currently lives in Dublin, Ireland. When she’s not working she takes impromptu trips to explore the Irish countryside.


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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this podcast episode and article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article or episode. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Diane Mayor disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.