Some companies are built in a garage, but Alana Rivera cooked hers up in her Haight Ashbury kitchen.  Taking inspiration from a passion for food made from organic ingredients, Alana transformed her favorite organic recipes into delicious smelling soaps, body oils, and scrubs.  Etta+Billie’s (https://www.ettaandbillie.com/) products call up the aromas from your grandmother’s kitchen or garden:  cardamom, coffee, mint, and lavender.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alana named the business after her grandmothers.

We spoke to Alana about how she got started, her plans for the future, and how she uses virtual assistants to keep her business moving forward.

How did you start your business?

My journey to founding and running Etta + Billie all started with a gift. In 2006, my mom got me a book on soapmaking after hearing me complain about my job and needing a creative outlet. I made my first batch of soap shortly afterward and fell in love with the process. After a few years of creating concoctions in my kitchen, I decided to launch E+B in 2009. I sold my first few products on Etsy, then did craft markets in the Bay Area, then started wholesaling our products to other stores and then was featured in a pop-up shop inside Banana Republic in four major cities. While all this was happening, I was also working full-time job but I knew my real passion was skincare so in 2014 I took the plunge, I left my very stable job and started doing Etta + Billie full time.

What have been some of the most important factors in your growth?

Partnerships have been a huge part of our growth, both in terms of pairing with local businesses to come up with new products and placement in stores, both nationally and throughout the Bay Area.

What are some of those partnerships?

They’ve included partnering with bakers Craftsman and Wolves and Ritual Coffee Roasters to create products that echo the flavors in their products.  We did the same with our Payback Porter Soap, which we created in collaboration with Speakeasy.

More generally, I’ve learned a lot from other artisans and business owners.  Sometimes it’s a connection that I’ve made that’s matured into business or sometimes its just good advice about running your business.

As your business requires onsite staff, why do you use virtual assistants?

It’s important to distinguish between what needs to be done by hand and what can be done online.  My staff needs to be focused on creating the products that make us unique, but we also need help with critical operational tasks.  I’ve been working with my first VA, Tasha, for a couple of years now and she has been great with things like scheduling appointments, reviewing and updating our newsletter list, and helping manage our relationships with vendors.

We’ve also been using virtual assistants for marketing.

Why was marketing something you decided to delegate to virtual assistants?

When you focus on creating quality products, a lot of your people resources are naturally caught up in creating and delivering that product.  But marketing requires both expertise and consistency.  My virtual assistants are extremely knowledgeable about marketing and they give our marketing efforts the attention they need to see tangible results.  Since I’ve been using Equivity, I’ve seen an increase in our website visitors, both from social media and SEO. I’ve also noticed that our audience is engaging and connecting with our brand on Facebook more than ever before. Offering engaging content to our users has increased our overall audience engagement and traffic as well.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to grow their business by working with virtual assistants?

Communication is key, especially at the beginning.  Make sure your VAs know your expectations and be there to clarify ambiguities in the process.  Beyond that, don’t be afraid to delegate.  There’s often more risk in convincing yourself that you’ll handle something in-house and then not getting that done, then to delegate the project to a virtual assistant who can make sure that work gets done on a consistent basis.