Mike Barugel took a new job with the Small Business Technology and Development Center in Charlotte, NC right before the pandemic led to an emergency declaration. As a previous guest on the show, we catch up with Mike about this new work and how he is reconnecting with his passion by launching a podcast called Live Your Values. Mike was previously in episode 27.
Mentioned in this episode:
- SBTDC Charlotte
- Free Your Time Virtual Assistants
- Live Your Values Podcast
- Bright Side Bookshop
- Skill Pop
- Books and Tea Podcast
- Do Good, Be Good’s Facebook Page
- Do Good, Be Good Merch
- Want to start your own podcast or blog? Check out Fizzle
Full Transcript below:
00:00 Mike Barugel: To get on the phone with a small business owner right now and them ask you, “What can I do?” and you say, “Here’s the best I got,” knowing full well that that money might run out. As of today, a lot of the money has run out until the next legislation gets passed, it’s just really, it’s tough, it’s hard and it’s almost depressing to be like, “there’s not much help right now, hopefully there’s more coming, but here are some strategies we can help you with in the meantime, and here’s the best… Here’s the best plan of action.” So it’s just… It’s been tough.
00:40 Speaker 2: This is Do Good, Be Good, the show about helpful people and the challenges they face in trying to do good. Your host is Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom, a career do-gooder, who also loves craft beer and a good hard tackle in rugby. Sharon speaks to everyday people about why they do good and what it means to be good.
01:00 Sharon Tewksbury-bloom: Hello, I’m your host, Sharon Tewksbury-bloom, and the other voice that you heard at the top of the episode is our guest for today, Mike Barugel. Mike was on our show in Episode 27, which I re-released last week, and I’ve known Mike for a few years now. He is actually my online business manager and the owner of Free Your Time Virtual Assistants. I love working with him because in addition to being great at what he does, he is also someone who cares about meaningful work and living by his values. Recently he launched his own podcast called strangely enough, Live Your Values, which we will link to in the show notes. I actually recorded this with Mike over the summer, so at times we will reference businesses being closed, which have since reopened. However, of course, this being 2020, it’s possible that they have closed again by the time you’re listening to this. Who knows? In today’s conversation, we talk about his new job and how he was able to get back to his passion for helping people find purpose in work. Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good. Here is my conversation with Mike Barugel. Since we talked last, you have really changed your working life, what are you doing now?
02:15 MB: I definitely have, so I still do have my business, For Your Time Virtual Assistant, we still have a few core clients that we’re working with, but I have managed to delegate a lot of the day-to-day to my teammate Becca. In the meantime, just over a year ago, I actually started a full-time job with our local SBTDC here in North Carolina, which stands for… It’s very long acronym even, and the name is even longer, but it stands for the Small Business and Technology Development Center. We are essentially a tax payer funded organization, we get funding from the SBA in part, and then the state of North Carolina, and we essentially are a resource for small businesses.
02:56 MB: It was a really fun first year, I actually started in the role of a launch specialist, which was a new role they created, and I got to help maybe 70 or 75 people start their businesses last year, mainly doing that through a four-week cohort program that we our organization design called Taking The Leap. And so that was a lot of fun. I ran, I think a total of five of those programs throughout the first year that I was in the job, and learned a lot just from my own journey of becoming an entrepreneur in learning how to launch my own business, combined with my background in career counseling, which I know, I talked a little bit about the last time I was on, it just felt like a really nice fit to take the job, and then I just feel like it propelled a bit more, and I really learned a whole lot about helping other people launch, so it was a really great experience.
03:44 MB: And then I just transitioned into a new role within the same organization as a general business counselor. And so instead of helping people launch businesses, I’m more focused on helping existing businesses in our community work through challenges, scaling, growing, whatever particular needs they might have, and as you might imagine, in the last month or so, it’s been heavy on helping our businesses navigate the loans and programs that are available.
04:13 ST: Was that transition from the launch position to the business counselor position, I might have gotten those titles wrong. [chuckle] But was that transition already planned before this crisis or is that partly in results of the crisis?
04:30 MB: It happened just before actually, I officially started the role, I think it was like the beginning of March… Might have been end of February, beginning of March, is when I officially transitioned. And then, of course, very shortly after that is when the pandemic really hit here as in the US. So we’re learning how to react and just provide the best support we can when lots of people are very confused and scared and kind of don’t know what to do right now.
04:58 ST: Yeah, what’s the volume you’ve seen in terms of the amount of business owners who are reaching out to you all for assistance?
05:08 MB: State-wide, I think the last month we’ve seen the most number of clients we’ve ever seen. I can’t remember the numbers off the top of my head, but it’s like shattering records essentially. And so all of our staff has been working over time, to say the least, and just… It’s a funny balance. It’s like, we’re kind of having the same conversation over and over again, at least that’s what it feels like. But it’s… Everyone’s circumstances are a little bit different, so it’s kind of this balance of trying to understand the unique situation the client feels like they’re in which they may be depending on their industry and their size and the funding they have available, but the end result or the end suggestion is really the same, and that’s essentially, for most of these businesses, it’s like, understand what your options are, what cash do you have access to right now, and if that is not enough, then we can talk about what loans and grants and whatever is available and apply for those just to see what you have available.
06:10 ST: Wow, have you had any contact with any of those 70-ish businesses that you worked through that program with as launching as new businesses?
06:20 MB: There’s a select few, usually the ones that were more engaged in the class would be the ones that I have continued relationships with, and few have reached out asking for advice about what loans to apply for, what they might qualify for, some sound more panicked than others, others seem okay, and maybe because they have an online business or primarily online business, they’re just kind of figuring out how to pivot on their own and they don’t really need much help and they’re just sort of checking in. So it’s just been a mix.
06:48 ST: Yeah, I really see it split among new business owners, either you’re new enough that you don’t have a lot of staff and you don’t have a lot of things that you’ve already invested in. So maybe you have a smaller overhead and a little bit more nimbleness to be able to pivot or be able to take a break or whatever, you haven’t really made it so that you’re completely dependent on it and have all these people depending on it, so that’s… Some people’s situation that I know of, but then you’ve got the other where… Especially if you’re more of a capital intensive business like you just… Like I know of some local businesses here in Flagstaff that maybe just opened a restaurant or just opened a retailed location that’s got a lot of inventory. And in those cases, yeah, there are even more at risk than other businesses who are more established and have all those customer relationships.
07:42 MB: For sure, it’s both depressing in some ways and also in other ways, inspiring to see what some of the businesses are doing to pivot, just a couple of really quick examples that have been noticeable: There was a brewery, my girlfriend, Anne, was really good about staying on top of what’s going on in Charlotte and all that. And she just mentioned to me that there was a brewery that literally just opened their doors within the last month in a local suburb peer of Charlotte, and your first reaction is like, “Oh man, that sounds terrible. I feel bad.” Apparently, they’re sold out of their beer because they just have… They’re pouring themselves out and being formidable on social media saying, “We’re so excited, but here’s what happened, obviously, this is the only way we’re able to reach our customers, and while we were so excited to be there and have you in person, like, here’s what we can do for you right now,” and I think they maybe even delivering some beer or whatever, and apparently they’re sold out of their first stock in the first week. There’s also…
08:41 MB: There’s basically like a skill sharing service that started here in Charlotte called Skill Pop, and as soon as this happened, it was all in-person workshops where anyone with a skill or some knowledge could offer to teach a class and charged a certain price per head, usually 20-$30 per head is the range, and there’s all these stories now about how they pivoted in 14 days to move everything online, and just like that, they dug into it and they asked people to test it out both on the customer side and those teaching the classes, and they’re thriving, and now they’re able to offer their classes globally because it’s online. And so there’s definitely a lot of really tough stories and there’s so many businesses going through such tough challenges, but you see these little glimmers of hope and you’re sort of as a business counselor, I’m trying to point people to those examples and say, “Look how these businesses are adapting and pivoting, and you may not be able to do that exact formula, but what can you do, what does this make possible for you right now as opposed to what are you limited to?”
09:44 ST: It’ll be fascinating, once we’re back to some normalcy to see who did make it out the other side and what they look like on the other side, you were talking about business moving online, our local bookshop has moved everything to online ordering in just a week, I mean, just a week of trying to move from being an in-person classic style independent bookshop to now allowing people to order everything online.
10:11 MB: Yeah, that’s amazing.
10:13 ST: Yeah, and then I called them because they’re still working out, ’cause they have a great local rewards program for people who buy locally that you get a little bit back and you earn basically cash that you can buy more books with. When they shifted to the online ordering the system wasn’t recognizing those rewards program, so they had to let people know, “Okay, if you wanna make sure you get the rewards, you can still just call us and put in your order directly while we’re working out the kinks.” I went ahead and did a phone call order, and it was funny ’cause I was working with a local bookseller, Cory, who has a podcast called Books and Tea, who is my favorite local bookseller, who always gives me great recommendations. It was awesome that I could get her on the phone, and she was able to pull some books from the shelves and talk me through what books were available and recommend a book for me, and during this time, I’ve been trying to reach out more and send more greeting cards to family and friends. So I was like, “Hey, my stock’s kinda getting low, I know that pretty much all your cards are great, so could you please pick out some greeting cards for me?”
11:20 ST: And it was totally random. I was like, “Can you just get three birthday cards and two general, like thinking-of-you cards,” and she was like, “Oh, I can text you pictures of the friends,” and I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t have time for that.” [chuckle] It’s like, “I trust you just pick out five cards and we’ll give it a try, and if it’s a total loss and I don’t like them, then maybe I won’t do it again, but for now, we’ll just try it,” and they’re great. She just picked out five cards for me and they were in the bag when I went to do my no-contact pick-up, and it was kind of fun, it was like a treat ’cause I got basically a secret shopper almost, and I just get surprised by five fun cards.
12:07 MB: Yeah, that’s so cool and it’s just like a, like you said, an opportunity for business to do something different and for there to be almost like another way to add value. It’s like, that probably never happened before. Maybe rarely they had to do that, but maybe that becomes a thing now where… And I bet the person who did it for you, was probably excited to be like, “Oh, I better pick out the right ones so that the customer is happy,” especially since you were like, “Yeah, no hands-off like you do it,” that’s kind of a fun thing for them to do and a pretty cool service that they’d be willing to do that to keep a loyal customer. I think that’s smart, and I think we need to hear examples like that of how businesses are trying as much as they can right now.
12:49 ST: And I think they may have actually even given up on greeting cards, I didn’t see them promoting greeting cards at all before that for the last four weeks, they just been focusing on books ’cause it’s like people kinda know what they wanna read or they can get that figured out, greeting cards. Everyone loves to touch the greeting cards, but after that, I noticed the very next day on Instagram they had strong ribbons across their front window at their shop and had hung greeting cards, and that was their new promotion was, “Do a walk by our shop. Look at the greeting cards and call in your order for what reading card do you want.”
13:25 MB: Yeah, you maybe did them a favor, it sounds like.
13:32 ST: I’m pausing for just a moment to remind you that a transcript of today’s episode is available in the show notes at dogoodbegoodshow.com, as well as links to anything we mention. If you’re interested in podcasting, blogging or starting an online business, check out Fizzle, that’s where I get the support that I need to produce this show. In fact, Mike and I are both Fizzle members. You can find my referral link in the show notes with that link, you will get a month of courses coaching and community for just $1. Using the link will also support this show. Now, back to my conversation with Mike. So on a personal level, how do you feel about still not just still working during this time, but even being more busy, having your job be more in the forefront and more critical at this time?
14:25 MB: To be really transparent, it’s been kind of strange just because I just started this new role and have this new client list that I haven’t really fully been able to reach out to yet in the way that I was planning on, just because we’re fielding so many requests for help on the loans, and that’s become a priority, but at the same time, I think the SBDCs across the country are sort of listed as a first responder for disasters for small businesses, so when there’s a disaster declared, which has happened for all 50 states and all territories right now, because of the pandemic, obviously, that usually is what triggers the funding to start to come down and all that kind of stuff. And then the SBDCs are basically a first responder to help our small businesses navigate through that disaster, whether it’s applying for the loans or what resources are available or what do you need to do to communicate with your team and your employees and all that kinda stuff. So we’ve started to build a website specifically for the coronavirus, and we’re sharing all these resources and trying to keep as up-to-date as possible with all of the programs that are available, even though most of them are running out of money in a heartbeat.
15:42 MB: So to answer your question. I mean, I think… One of my top strengths, I’ve taken the StrengthsFinder and my number five, I think is responsibility, so I think there’s this sense of responsibility that we need to help, that’s what we’re here for, these small businesses are depending on us, and I sort of feel like it’s my duty in this role to make sure that we’re helping these businesses. And I do feel like, at least I can speak for our staff in Charlotte, we’re all doing it, and we’re all putting in the time, and we’re working as hard as we can to help on the other side of that coin, personally, I feel like I don’t have all the answers, and that’s really hard. I probably haven’t even had as high volume as some others, like maybe my director has, but to get on the phone with a small business owner right now and them ask you, “What can I do?” And you say, “Here’s the best I got.”
16:38 MB: Knowing full well that that money might run out, as of today, a lot of the money has run out until the next legislation gets passed, it’s just really… It’s tough, it’s hard and it’s almost depressing to be like, “There’s not much help right now, hopefully there’s more coming, but here are some strategies we can help you with in the meantime, and here’s the best… Here’s the best plan of action.” So it’s just… It’s been tough. I’m a high empathy person, so I’m constantly putting myself in these clients’ shoes and yes, I have my own business too, but luckily, that’s not my sole source of income right now, and I keep being thankful for that, because who knows what would be happening if I were solely dependent on that right now, I may be in the same situation as everyone else that I’m trying to help, so definitely thankful for having a job, just first and foremost, and trying to do the best we can to help people.
17:32 ST: Is there anything that you’ve started doing or continue doing that helps you just disconnect and have a little moment of zen or joy when you’re not working?
17:47 MB: A few things, I’ve started to incorporate some more self-care activities into my daily routine, not just when this happened, probably within the last year, meditation and playing my keyboard or guitar, I was playing racquetball every week, all of that hasn’t been happening. So there’s been stuff like that that I’ve been trying to do… Now that we’ve got a dog, I’ve been taking Leila for walks a couple of times a day, and honestly, something I never really did much before, but has been really nice and helpful is just literally take a 10-minute break and be outside and not be looking at the computer and just having that time to let the brain wander and process or maybe even not think about anything and just be. And that’s been great, but aside from all of that, I’ve been working on a little side project, which is my own podcast, which is gonna be called the Live Your Values Podcast. So in my down time, I’ve actually just been working on building that idea from the ground up, it’s been a nice distraction and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about wanting to do for a while, and I think as soon as the stay-at-home order went into place for us here in North Carolina, I was just like, “This is the time to work on this. It’s just a no-brainer.”
19:01 ST: Nice. So I feel like I was gonna give you a hard time and then I’m like, I’m totally similar in the way that I like the balance of both going back to some of the simple basics like cooking or being in nature, but then also I need that creative project that keeps my brain going on something that feels like something I have the ability to have some control over, or have the ability to get to make progress on at a time when so much else is uncertain, so… Yeah, and we’ll definitely…
19:31 MB: Yeah, it’s okay you can still give me a hard time anyways it’s crazy, I don’t know why I’m spending so much time working on stuff, but…
19:38 ST: I know, you were like, “In my downtime, I’m working. [chuckle] That’s what I’m doing.” Yeah, yeah, no, I’m definitely similar. Are there any things that you had wanted to bring up or thought would make sense for us to talk about that I didn’t yet ask you about.
19:53 MB: Just to cap off with the side projects, I’ve been really excited to work on something that I’m passionate about, and I have lots of passions, I’m still running my business, I’m working a job that I really enjoy, but this truly feels like my true passion projects. I talked all about my career trajectory the last time I was on, and sort of that transition into career counseling after a couple of years in the corporate world and I think I really enjoyed helping people launch their careers and work through some of the practical stuff, but more so I think I just helped… I enjoyed helping people figure out what was important to them, and so I feel like every iteration is leading to the next thing, I feel like… Okay, I did, all of those things I mentioned I started this role as a business counselor, now I feel like this next phase of what I’m working on on the side, this passion project of helping people discover and align and connect with their values is just a combination of everything else I’ve done, and it feels like the logical next step where, okay, I’ve got some experience like how to run a business.
21:03 MB: So this podcast could potentially turn into something more… Not really even going that far down that rabbit hole yet, but I think the idea that I can help people connect with what’s important to them and help them maybe be more authentic with their lives, their career, or whatever it is that they’re navigating through and really help them align their values, which hopefully would be a more fulfilling more meaningful life, I think is really my goal. That’s all, just really excited about it, and I’m really excited to see where it goes, and of course, as I shared last time, my whole organization brain is kicking in and I’m having a lot of fun putting the content calendar together and all that, but I know that there’s this part of me that just needs to do it, within the last week or two, I’ve really kicked myself in a gear and started scheduling these first two recordings. So I’m excited to see what that brings.
21:55 ST: Nice. Just you bringing that up made me also think that… I know, I personally know a lot of people who have lost their jobs during this time, and I’m sure you do too, so I’m sure we’ve got some listeners who are in that situation where they’ve lost their job, they’re now going into a very tough job market, maybe they’re thinking about trying to also make a career pivot while they look for a new job as a former career counselor and as someone working on this living your values show. Is there any advice you would offer or any things maybe people might wanna think about as they go through this?
22:34 MB: I probably won’t be able to help anyone solve their crisis if they just got laid off and they’re trying to figure out that next move in a one-minute piece of advice, but I would say a good place to start is just honestly, take a breather, even if it’s just a couple of days, let your mind clear out a little bit. Journaling is a great practice, even if you’re not a huge fan of it, I think just getting your thoughts out on paper about what an ideal life and an ideal job looks like for you and starting there, and don’t put any restrictions on that, just brain dump what an ideal work situation looks like for you in terms of the work, in terms of the people, in terms of the hours, the commute, all of it, just get that ideal scenario on paper.
23:27 MB: And once you do that, start to connect some dots and see, “Okay, what are some of the things here that are really important to me, what are the top things I’m really needing? Out of all these things I wrote down, what are deal breakers versus nice-to-have things?” And I think if you can start to prioritize those work values a bit, you can really get a sense of what it is that you’re looking for of course, like my heart goes out to anybody who’s lost a job or is being furloughed right now, and I know it’s happened in so many people, and it’s really tough. The silver lining to that may be what is again, what does this allow you to do, what not that you wanna get from your job, but if it did happen, start to think about, are there things that you could do next that you’re actually really excited about does this open up some opportunities for you?
24:15 ST: Yeah, I think the other thing I would just add to that is, particularly people who are thinking about making a big transition, or I’ve heard people talking about maybe it’s time to get more education or other steps. So I think that one thing I love about volunteer work is that if there’s something you think you wanna be doing, there’s always often a way that you could start doing it right now in a small way as a volunteer or as a creative side project. I even remember I had a friend who was talking about going to graduate school, I said, “Okay, well, what would you study in graduate school?” And she said, “Well, I’m really interested in why this happens to young men in this situation,” and I was like, “Okay, great. So what’s stopping you right now from learning more about that topic?” [chuckle]
25:17 ST: And she was like, “Well, I really am interested in what this professor at this university is doing, and I’d love to work with them.” I was like, “Okay, great. What’s stopping you from reaching out to that professor and just saying, “Hey, can I just have a 30-minute call with you to talk about your research?” What professor doesn’t want someone being like, “I’m fascinated by your research, and I wanna talk to you for 30 minutes.” So I said, “Before you go and change your entire life and invest thousands of dollars in getting a Master’s degree, just spend two weeks carving out a little bit of time every day to just investigate this topic and just dive into it in a way that you would if you actually had gone and started a Master’s program, and see if you really are interested in it after two weeks.” [chuckle]
26:09 MB: Yeah, I would agree.
26:11 ST: But I think the same could be done in a job too, like, “Oh, I think I wanna pivot to this industry.” Okay, great. Spend… And I know people have kids at home, they have lots of reasons why they can’t just start doing that job, but even just 30 minutes a day spending, learning about that industry or practicing something you would be doing in that industry.
26:31 MB: Yeah, I totally agreed. I would echo all of what you said, I think manageable chunks for sure, like set a realistic goal, if it’s a half hour day or two hours a week or whatever it might be, that you know you can actually dedicate to it, and informational interviewing is your best friend, when you’re thinking about the next thing for you career-wise or anything else. There are so many different ways to learn about a field or a job or an industry. LinkedIn is also a great resource to see if you can find people who are in a role that you’re interested in, and just even just reading their profile, getting understanding of their experience in their career trajectory and seeing how they came along and what they’re working on, and then of course, like you said, like you suggested if you can reach out to some people in that field, and just have a quick 15,30 minute chat with them. Most people, if you phrase it and frame it in a way that it’s like, “Hey, I really wanna learn from your expertise,” right, you wanna make it a little bit about them and less about you.
27:34 MB: A lot of people, I won’t say everybody, but most people I think are willing to help in some way, especially if you have any connection to them whatsoever, and that’s why LinkedIn is so great because if you went to the same university, shouldn’t all matter. If you have a connection in common, maybe you’re in a similar group, any way that you can find a connection with someone is a great way to start a conversation and usually a nice way to get someone to agree to chat with you, and I think the more informational interviewing, and little bits of research you can do for what that next thing is that you’re thinking about the better. So you can be better equipped to figure out, can you get a job in that field when things stabilize, or do you need a graduate degree or a certification to get in that field? So just acquiring that knowledge and as much information as you can.
28:21 ST: Thank you for listening to Do Good, Be Good. Thank you, Mike, for all of your support and for being a guest and sharing your story. For show notes on all of our episodes visit dogoodbegoodshow.com. To subscribe to this podcast for free, so that you get each episode as soon as it is released, just search for Do Good, Be Good in your podcast app of choice, whether that’s Spotify, Stitcher, Google Music, Apple Podcasts, whatever you want to listen through. This podcast was produced, recorded and edited by me. Music in this episode is bathed in fine dust by Andy G. Cohen released under a Creative Commons Attribution International License and discovered in their Free Music Archive. Until next week, this is Sharon Tewksbury-bloom, signing off. [music]