Balancing the Grind with Karen Hollenbach, Founding Director of Think Bespoke

Karen Hollenbach is the Founding Director and Principal LinkedIn Trainer at Think Bespoke, an education and training consultancy specialising in LinkedIn.

This conversation is brought to you by Think Bespoke, providing LinkedIn training for individuals and organisations in Melbourne and Sydney.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a corporate escapee, and chose a redundancy in 2008 from a senior strategic marketing role for a global alcoholic beverage company. I’d worked there for 11 years and it had provided many opportunities for professional development and rapid career growth.

In 2009 I enrolled in post graduate studies and re-trained as a secondary teacher. In 2010 I was invited by a friend to facilitate training workshops for her training consultancy, which helped me shed my corporate skin and build my confidence as a trainer.

In 2010 I established my own business, Think Bespoke, offering resume and LinkedIn Profile writing services. We now specialise in LinkedIn training and career management and I’m recognised as one of the Top 10 LinkedIn Experts in Asia Pacific, thanks to the Social Media Marketing Institute.

My decision to start my own business was driven by a desire to engage in meaningful work on my own terms.

For the first 3 years I slowly built Think Bespoke’s client base and service offerings while sub-contracting for my friend, raising my two boys (who were pre-schoolers at the time) and navigating my mother’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimers disease.

After turning 40, and returning from a trip to Paris and the Amalfi coast to celebrate, I chose to focus solely on building my business. In 2015, with my boys at school, Think Bespoke became a company, we expanded our scope and began working with a talented collective of local service providers.

In 2020 we are celebrating our 10th year of business and now deliver LinkedIn training and consulting, career coaching, outplacement services and strategic content marketing consulting for clients across Australia.

What started out as a slow transition into a new industry and role has proven to be an enjoyable journey of self discovery and growth, enabling me to participate in all aspects of my life.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Since COVID-19 a lot more of my days start with an early morning walk with my neighbour. She also runs a business and we discuss our plans for the work day, nut out any tricky decisions or brainstorm ideas together.

I run my business from my home office so the commute is about 1 minute, and I’m at my desk by 9am most days.

After mapping my day with my Brendon Burchard High Performance Planner, my work activities range from responding to new client enquiries, writing LinkedIn Profile updates, 1:1 Zoom training and consulting sessions and LinkedIn training webinars for peak industry bodies and clients across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

When Melbourne’s not in lock down (we’re in stage 3 again as I write), I may also visit a client, who I can access via train, and the station is a 10 minute walk from my home.

My CBD client’s offices are a 20 minute train ride away. I mostly take a break for lunch and I’ll generally chat with a team member across the day, and am tools down by around 4.30pm.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

My current role is 100% remote and designed around flexible working. My aim is to work 4 days per week and my typical workday gives you an idea of what each day looks like. On my non work days my focus is on self care, visiting extended family or participating in voluntary work.

I time client meetings outside of the normal commute, which enables me to be present for my children before they leave for school in the morning. I’m mostly home when they return in the afternoons, enabling us to connect and share stories from our day.

My office is custom built within our family home and provides natural light, has a stand up desk and professional backdrop so I can run online consults and training and write from my desk.

While I like that I can grab my laptop and write at any time of the day or night, I do try to limit my work activities to time at my desk during weekdays.

Working from home enables me to get washing done during the day, taking advantage of the electricity our solar panels generate when Melbourne gives us sunshine. It also means I do not waste time on a commute each day, allowing me to work 9-4.30pm.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

My focus is on having control over when and how I show up in my business. Engaging in meaningful work and achieving great outcomes for my clients is just as important to me as being present for my children.

When I returned to work after having my first child, I soon realised that I could not ‘have it all’ as a parent. If I wanted to do any of it well, something had to give. My decision to re-train as a secondary teacher was driven by my desire to have school holidays off. I could not imagine my boys getting a break from school and not being present to enjoy them.

This means I generally take at least one week off during mid year school holidays and take an extended break over the summer holidays. I work a 10 month year and have structured the business so that team members can keep things running when I am not working.

My husband looked after our elder son when I returned to my corporate job after 12 months of maternity leave. He shares my desire to play an active role in our boy’s lives, which means we work closely to manage all of the responsibilities that come with running businesses, a house and growing children.

Everything is up for grabs, including the jobs that need to get done, and we stay in regular communication about our goals, workloads and plans for regular breaks. This enables us to stay connected and support each other through the potential overwhelm that can come from business ownership and managing client’s priorities.

If my husband was answering this question he’d want me to mention that he’s better at keeping the house clean than me! [He’s a keeper.]

I love what I do, so if I’m in my flow or have a major project that wakes me in the early hours of the morning, I’ll get up and get it done. I set my own hours and have the flexibility to write and work when I want to.

Having said this, setting a daily routine for work and doing the work in my office and at my desk has proven to be the most productive and disciplined way to stay on top of my workload.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Yes. In the last 12 months I have committed to a daily ritual of answering the questions set out in Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Planner.

It’s a helpful ‘check in’ and keeps me focused on what’s important for that day, across my work and personal life. It’s changed my life by prioritising all aspects of it, not just focusing on the client work that needs to get done.

Walking with my neighbour has increased from 1 to 3 days per week and I have begun to do pilates each week. My neighbour is 12 years my senior and a role model for fitness and activity.

She’s inspired me to make physical activity a priority and this has changed my life by giving me more energy and the satisfaction that comes with knowing I am looking after myself.

The other major change in my routine over the last 12 months has been a result of my Mum passing away in December 2019, after a 10 year journey with Alzheimers disease. She lived a 1 hour drive from my home and I visited her each week.

As a multi-tasker, I’d book my client calls on either side of this visit and make calls as I drove to visit her. I loved the opportunity to get in the car and go for a drive. Chatting to clients, enjoying the change of scenery and the precious time with Mum was a great way to break up the week.

I always returned from those visits with a renewed sense of purpose and a new way of looking at how to tackle whatever decision needed to be made that week.

Rather than replace this day with work, I now use this 5th day in my week for self care, visiting extended family or participating in voluntary work.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, changed my life. I’d always thought I was an extrovert and this book helped me realise I had more ambivert tendencies. It explained my need to recharge alone and why I’d become a better version of myself after having children, due to slowing down my pace.

Work Smarter, Not Harder, by Jack Collis was a book I read when I first started managing teams. The chapter on self reflection has been pivotal in helping me set my own rules for how I want to show up in my life. I use this exercise with clients who feel a bit lost and want to reconnect with what’s important to them.

Company of One, by Paul Jarvis. This validated so much of how I have chosen to approach how I show up in my business.

Do Open: How a Simple Email Newsletter Can Transform Your Business, by David Hieatt, was an excellent read, helping me form my email marketing strategy and consider how I wanted to add value to my readers.

Think Bespoke’s newsletter – I have to mention this one! The latest news on LinkedIn Marketing and Career Management. Thought starters to inspire new ideas and challenge your status quo.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I’d love to say I can live without all of them, because disconnecting from technology is becoming more important these days as we consider the dangers of digital distraction. However, I could not run my business without my iPhone and Macbook Pro.

I also highly value the Hubspot CRM to easily track all my client conversations and leads. Trello enables my team and I to track our workflow. And my Thermomix allows me to make the best pumpkin soup with very little effort.

As an avid reader I also love the Good Reads App. And of course, I must mention the LinkedIn App as an essential tool to help me stay connected to my professional community.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I’m not sure I would read an interview about work-life balance, but then that would not be answering your question! Perhaps Jacinda Ardern or Julia Gillard.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Having work-life balance is a myth as it implies you can get the balance right. Rather than seeking balance, I suggest you consider what the ingredients are in your life that bring you the joy and satisfaction you are seeking.

What do you enjoy and what are you good at? Do more of these activities.

What do you hate doing? Stop doing it!

I encourage you to get comfortable with making unpopular choices if it means you can do more of what you enjoy doing.

How can you show up as your best self and participate in all areas of your life so that you are achieving your financial and emotional goals?

Consider what difference you want to make and get out there and do it …. your way!

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. In my experience, the hardest things to get in life are often the most rewarding.

And remember to stay active and eat well so you can be here to enjoy it all for as long as possible.

Before you go…

If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.

Join our community and never miss a conversation about work, life & balance – subscribe to our newsletter.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.