Cairo Amani is a non-technical tech professional living in NYC. With a career spanning sales, customer success, recruitment, and operations, Cairo has been privileged to work at awesome startup companies with amazing products and missions. She’s obsessed with changing the way “work” works, by helping women hack the system and break down the walls that hold them back.
A strong advocate for company culture, Cairo understands that while bringing your dog to work is fun, true job-happiness comes from feeling empowered and being able to excel.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I have to thank my friends for this one! I’m really lucky to be surrounded by so many inspiring, motivated, and accomplished women with experience working for themselves and building client based businesses.
Although I’ve helped people with their career strategies for years, I wouldn’t have thought to monetize it. I had a couple of close friends point out that I’m good enough at what I do to get paid for it!
In addition, I’m really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I attribute them entirely to my ability to sell my skills. I look forward to helping other women (and gender non-conforming folks) learn to brand themselves effectively to hit their goals.
Tell us about your business.
Apply and Command is a career strategy service and information resource for millennial women looking to get the most out of their careers. I’m a certified coach, but I prefer the term “strategist,” since my offer is based on creating actionable plans to hit your goals.
Most recently, I’ve moved away from taking short term one-to-one clients (for 30-60 minute sessions), because I’ve realized that people get the most value out of working with me for several months. And I enjoy getting to know someone and being a unique support system for them.
In the meantime, Apply and Command’s blog and Instagram are excellent sources for free advice, and I encourage folks to head there in the event that working directly with me is too pricey!
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
I’m releasing a lot of free resources this summer (some have already started). They include my worksheets from last year that my successful clients used, new worksheets, and audio trainings.
Where is your business based?
I’m in NYC but Apply and Command is virtual, so I take clients from all over! Because I work full time, there are some time constraints. I can’t work with anyone out of the country right now, but several of my clients have been from the west coast (I’m in NYC.)
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I hired a business coach and brand strategist, Briaan. She helped me define my brand and guided me through the first steps of getting up and running, which included (but aren’t limited to):
- Researching my competition
- Conceptualizing my brand
- Designing a business plan
- Understanding future goals
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Definitely word of mouth! For my first year, I barely did any social media advertising. My happy clients referred more. Now that I’m not working one on one with folks in the same capacity, I’m beginning to collaborate with other folks (like LadyBossBlogger) and upping my social media game.
Because I specialize in tech/startup environments, the Tech Ladies Facebook group has been a great source for clients and connections as well as Black Tech Women.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Three big things. First, not having enough time in the day! Working one to one with clients at the level of depth I normally aim for is time-consuming. Offering short sessions offered short term success.
Clients would hit one goal and come back. That sounds awesome, but for me it meant they needed more, and I really want to give it to them. This work took away from my opportunity to create free resources.
Second, it’s hard to gauge how motivated someone is to do the work. I have a very intensive program—the client is learning new skills and strategies and they’re very hands on. So my ideal client is someone who is super passionate and motivated and really ready to do the work to make moves.
Third, balancing a full time job and a business is hard. Figuring out the balance is always a challenge, because life is always changing.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I solved the first two problems by restructuring my services. I only take 5-6 clients per year now, application only, for a minimum of 4 months. It means that the people who do one-on-one work with me really get the time that they deserve, and I get to really enjoy someone and form a relationship. This also gives me more time to focus on my blog, newsletter, and social media.
As for work-life balance—I’m not sure it exists.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
I lean on my community! While I pride myself in being emotionally self-sufficient, it’s harmful to keep everything to yourself. I’m learning to appreciate the beauty in talking things out—getting feedback, advice, and inspiration from my friends.
It also helps that I really love what I do. I’m crazy about career stuff, so if I’m ever down I’m quickly reminded of how much I enjoy helping folks figure this out. I usually teach myself something new or read a pep talk I wrote myself in advance.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Apply and Command’s brand is really built around being tough. I’m a small woman and I’m a person of color. Both those things are obstacles in many aspects of my life. I’ve trained myself to be confident, speak up, and take charge.
For my clients, working with me provides a unique opportunity to work with someone who isn’t just going to encourage you with the usual “you can do this.”
I specialize in helping people realize their accomplishments, potential, and skill level by directly drawing upon my knowledge of their work history. It’s funny: someone will come to me feeling completely inadequate, we’ll talk for a bit about their background, and I’ll identify things that should be viewed as assets and accomplishments.
Life is about perspective, and we have to stop choosing negative perspectives on ourselves.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
It’s a bit too long to quote, but my brand designer (who is also my very best friend) essentially told me to be myself.
It’s extremely simple advice that I constantly tell other people, but I need to hear it from someone too. We get obsessed with who we’re supposed to be and who we could have been and how we’re perceived especially in our careers.
The only way to find true happiness in a job (and probably in life) is when you’re honest with yourself and everyone else about who you are, what you want, and what you need.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Practice self-evaluation and self-honesty. Initially, I was going to say “Do your research”—and I mean that, but I think knowing what to research comes from being able to think critically about yourself, your knowledge base, and your skill level.
It’s okay if you don’t know something—just be up front about it and learn it immediately. You’ll save more time than pretending to be an expert, and you’ll gain more respect as well.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
Canva has been a lifesaver. My Brand Designer would agree. I have very few Photoshop skills. Visual art is not my thing, and brand design is an area of expertise I simply don’t have. I wasn’t able to produce her caliber of work.
I also couldn’t afford to hire someone to make my collateral every single day, and I honestly didn’t want to.
Canva gave me myriad design opportunities in a short amount of time. It offers a lot of stuff for free, but I purchased the business account, and it’s been worth it for taking my graphics to the next level.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
Now that I’m not taking as many clients, I’m absorbing as much as I can about influencing, social media, and collaboration.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
I’m broadening my reach by writing articles. Soon I’ll be submitting for speaking gigs (I love public speaking), and I’m looking to collaborate with public spaces and offer workshops for women who want to work or already work in startup and tech environments.
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