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Unicorns Don't Exist with Tina Forsyth

If you’re a business owner ready to make a hire for your business, I have one big piece of advice: stop trying to hire a unicorn.

Today I’m talking with Tina Forsyth, a leadership expert and founder of the International Association of Online Business Managers, about why unicorn service pros who can do it all don’t exist, what you should look for in a team member instead, and what you need to establish a great working relationship from the start.

Ready? Let’s get started.

In this episode:

  • Why you should not hire one person to do all the things in your business
  • Why hiring a specialized team for your business will save you money
  • How to establish trust with your team members from the start

Listen to the podcast here:

Unicorns Don’t Exist with Tina Forsyth

I have wanted to have this conversation about unicorns for a long time and I know that my guest has a lot of experience in the online business space. But before we jump into unicorns, and whether or not they exist, tell us who you are and what you do on the internet. 

I’m the founder of the Online Business Manager Training and Certification Program as well as the International Association of Online Business Managers. And since 2008-2009, I have been really focused on training, mentoring, and supporting people in our certified OBM community, as well as supporting the people who are hiring OBMs. 

I do a fair amount of hiring and leadership coaching for online business owners in the six to seven figures. These are the owners thinking, I need to start getting help and I have to build out my team, but who do I need? How do I work with them? I do a lot of work on that side of the coin, as well. 

The certification program is how I met you, all the way back in 2018. I’ve learned a lot from you watching you talk. And then from working with clients. The funny thing is, I used to pride myself early on in my online business career on being a unicorn. I had a client once who told me I was her unicorn because I could figure out anything. And I thought, of course I am, I’m the best. I wore the unicorn title like a badge of honor. 

I think the more experience you get and the longer you work with clients, the more you define who you want to work with and what you want to be doing. You realize unicorns aren’t real and we should stop talking about them. We need to stop letting coaches and business owners think that they’re real. 

What is the one thing that you notice from people when they’re hiring that is a misconception?

I’ve heard from business owners for years now that they just want to find their one person. They want to find a person who is going to do everything for them in their business. 

I get it. I run a training company and I have my own team that I’ve built over the years. In theory, I would love one person that can do everything. Right? Wouldn’t that be a nice world like when I was an eight year old girl and I really, really wanted unicorns to be real.

I still own a lot of things with unicorns on them.

I get that. In theory, we would all love for this to be true. But the fact of the matter is, it’s just not reality. I love what you just said about us as service providers, we take a lot of pride in this idea that we can do anything. I can figure it out, I can do all of the things. 

I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I worked as an online business manager for many years before I started training and certifying people, so I’ve been that person as well, too. And it’s exhausting to put that on ourselves at a certain point. 

There might be a bit of a rite of passage sometimes, especially the people pleasers of the world, like me. It’s like it’s nice to be needed. You like to be the person who’s solving all the problems, but I think what trying to be a unicorn ultimately does to the service provider is it burns them out

Especially if you’re working with a business for a long time. The needs of the business grow and increase as the business grows so it becomes almost impossible for you to be their one stop shop. They need so many different things that either you don’t like to do or you’re not good at or you just don’t want to do. 

Eventually, you don’t want to do any of it anymore but you’ve been doing everything for this person for so long, you feel you should probably just keep figuring it out for them. And then you run into issues with the relationship, too.

What trying to be a unicorn ultimately does to the service provider is it burns them out. Click To Tweet

Yeah, it all comes down to expectations. As a service provider, there’s expectations we put on ourselves. And as a business owner, we put expectations on the service providers, too. We need expectations, but we also need to have clarity of what we’re looking for in the relationship.  What does success look like to work together? 

You bring up a good point, too. In the beginning, we can almost get away with this sometimes, Up to the early six figures or quarter-million dollar speed bump, you might get away with having a main person on the team who kind of does everything you need. If I’m a service provider, I might get away with being the only person doing everything. 

But at a certain point, it actually becomes a math problem. The more a business is growing, the more work there is to be done. A person cannot be good at everything. Every single one of us is great at certain things, okay at other things, and suck at a lot of things.

The reason that you’re hiring is because you suck at those things or you just don’t want to do those things. That’s why you’re asking someone else to do it. So if you don’t want to do it, why are you expecting this one person to be able to do it all? 

When a business is growing, there’s more and more and more stuff to be done. It doesn’t make sense to say I want to find a unicorn who’s going to come in and take care of all this stuff for me because then it’s putting horrible expectations on that person to be all of that. 

To your point about being a people pleaser. I’m very much wired to be a people pleaser and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There’s some real benefits to coming from that mindset. The dark side of that is that we overextend ourselves. We over promise. We do too many things, we take too much on, etc. And then it does lead to burnout

If we’re asking too much of people, and even if they are kind of showing up and saying, I do want to be your unicorn, at a certain point, it’s going to fall apart. The mismatched expectations lead to so many of the problems that I see out there when people are hiring.

Mismatched expectations are huge. This comes up in a lot of service provider communities, where the service provider thinks they’re coming in and they’re offering one thing, and the business owners thought they were going to be doing all these other things, too. There are assumptions with no clear expectations. 

Then everybody’s confused and disappointed. Things don’t really roll the way that you think they’re going to because expectations aren’t set. I’m curious, do you feel like business owners at different levels have different expectations or assumptions of unicorns? 

When we’re on this journey of growing our business, one of the things that comes up quite often is we expect everybody to be like us. For me, I like to move fast. I think a certain way, I do things a certain way. In the earlier stages of starting to grow out a team, one of those initial areas to wrap our arms around is realizing not everybody is going to think like I do.

Not everybody’s going to be me and they certainly don’t know my business. And they don’t know the things that I know yet. There’s an element of that too. But in the early days, most of us start in the early days with doing a lot of things on our own. Because you have to do it all. Maybe you don’t have the budget but then we might get the help of a VA at a certain point.

Then at that early six  through seven figure range, that’s where we’re really kicking into a legit business. And I always talk about the idea of that moment where your business is becoming bigger than you. Where even if you wanted to, you couldn’t do everything that needs to be done. 

But then we can look into this idea of, I can’t do everything that needs to be done anymore. I don’t want to do everything that needs to be done anymore. Then we trickle that down through to the expectations on our team to find that one magical person who can then do everything that I can do or know how to do. 

There’s honestly a piece of this idea of just not really understanding who they really need as a business owner for support at varying stages of growth. 

This is where we get into the hole, where they want somebody who’s both an OBM and virtual assistant. Because I don’t think they realize that those are supposed to be two different people, first of all, and second of all, because there’s this expectation of, I’ve been managing my business for so long. And now I need help managing things. 

So they think that that person automatically is an OBM. With a lot of business owners, they think they need help managing their business but they need to pump the brakes, because I don’t think we’re quite ready for that yet.

A big part of what you do is supporting people through this hiring journey. When we don’t know who we need, we’re going to default to thinking we need a unicorn, I want this magical person to show up who’s just going to do everything. 

There’s certain people and certain types of needs that come in as we continue to grow and expand a business. It’s knowing and understanding who we actually need at every step along the way. So the other thing that I find so frustrating with the the idea of hiring one person to do everything is that it’s putting on the pressure that we are supposed to all be good at everything. 

The other thing that I find so frustrating with the the idea of hiring one person to do everything is that it's putting on the pressure that we are supposed to all be good at everything. Click To Tweet

Go listen to the Zone of Genius episode. You don’t have to be everything.

For service providers in the early stages, there can be a season of trying a bunch of things. I’m going to offer a bunch of things and see what is my lane. But one of the things I talk about and teach a lot on both sides of the coin is that you have to own your zone of genius or even your zone of excellence.

The thing that I’m really great at that I’m here to do. I want to own that thing. And also get really clear on what is not my zone of genius so that I can plug in and work with clients from that perspective. 

If I’m hiring somebody and expecting them to be a unicorn, what I’m actually doing is setting them up for failure. Because they’re going to be good at certain things. They’re going to be great at certain things. And there’s going to be a lot of stuff that they’re either not good at. 

When people have too many things on their plate that they’re not aligned with, those things are either going to fall to the bottom of the list or they’re going to do a poor job.It’s not because there’s anything wrong with them. It’s just not their thing. 

I’m a huge fan of hiring a VA as soon as you can. There’s almost no such thing as hiring a VA too soon in your business. It’s good practice to start to get things off your plate. A tech VA and an admin VA are two different types of people. 

Oh my god, they’re two different people. I’ll say it again for the people in the back. A tech VA and an admin VA are two different people. They have different skill sets, they have different things they’re better at focusing on. I found this out the hard way because I hired a tech person to be an admin person. They’re focus and skill sets are totally different so knowing the distinction between those two things is very important.

In the early days, you might hire a person to be your VA and help with a bunch of things. But you really need to identify what is most important in your business that you need help with. If I run a business where I have a lot of tech and we’re building funnels, I need to hire a tech person who knows those tools. A tech person is not going to be great at the admin and customer service stuff. They’ll do it because they have to or they just might suck at it. Either way, they’ll be burnt out. 

At one point, we were looking at the structure of our team and we knew this one person wasn’t a people person. They were amazing at tech and backend organization, but if I asked them to welcome someone into the program, they wouldn’t do it.

But then I thought about it and why would I want them to do that? That’s not who they are and it’s not gonna reflect well to the customer. 

We live in this world where you can have a variety of contractors who support you in different ways. I graduated with my business degree in 1994 and I remember talking with one of my classmates at that time. I remember talking with this friend of mine at the time about how it would be great if there was a world where each of us got to do the thing that we loved doing and were best at. And I believe we actually live in that world right now. 

I’m the leader of my company. You’re the leader of your company. You can build this beautiful team of people that are each coming in and bringing that thing that they do best. It’s the reason why I’ve never had employees in my company because I like having people show up and participate and do the thing that they do best.

I think you get to a certain level of growth as a business owner where you really value expertise. You would much rather hire three different people who are really good at the three things that you need doing and potentially pay a little bit more money. You’re actually probably paying for the same number of hours, if not fewer hours, because they’re better at what they do. They’re more efficient. 

When everyone is doing the tasks that they specialize in, they drive your business forward. I’ve noticed with clients, as you grow, you don’t want to bootstrap anymore by hiring a unicorn or trying to be a unicorn yourself. Because it takes longer. There’s a point where a business owner wants to pay more and get things done as quickly as possible. That’s when you start to see the shift away from unicorns into hiring more specialized people who know what they’re doing, really taking care of those things on a very micro level because they know what they’re doing.

I’ll say this with all the love in my heart, but when we want to hire a unicorn, it’s an immature wish. Sometimes when people say they want to hire a unicorn, it comes with this expectation that they want somebody who’s going to be at their beck and call. An expectation that this person will be available anytime they’re needed.

Working in the online world, especially for anybody who does launches, there’s going to be seasons where the team needs to be all hands on deck with extra hours and that’s understandable. But sometimes this flavor of expecting the other person to work the same way you do and that they need to be ok with the way you work. So if you message them on Saturday night, you’re expecting an answer Sunday morning. There’s something about the expectations people have about turnaround time when they’re looking for a unicorn.  

As business owners, as we continue to grow and expand, there are times we need to be looking in the mirror and asking if we need to shift our expectations, as well. If I’m looking for somebody to just be at my beck and call and jump when I say jump, that doesn’t even apply to employees, much less a contractor. That’s not how the relationship works together.  

If I'm looking for somebody to just be at my beck and call and jump when I say jump, that doesn’t even apply to employees, much less a contractor. That’s not how the relationship works together. Click To Tweet

I wonder if some of that stems from the anxiety that typically comes up for business owners when they need to let go of their control a bit, especially people who are hiring for the first time around. I just recently asked on Facebook what was holding people back from making a hire and a lot of the answers focused on the trust piece. 

You have to trust someone with your business, you have to trust that they’re going to get it done. I think some business owners lean into that anxiety and think that in order to prove that I can trust them, they kind of have to be available whenever I need them to be. And if they’re not available whenever I need them to be, then it just means that I can’t trust them. So I think a lot of that comes from learning how to lead a team, which is a huge part of hiring.

The trust thing is huge. What does it really look like to build trust with a team? Does it have to be that they are available every time I need them to be there? Or could trust be built differently, which is that leadership piece that you’re talking about.

It also has to do with a little bit of a recognition that just because I’m wired a certain way, doesn’t mean I can expect my team to be on my same groove. I am a very visionary person. I fit in that category of having too many ideas in my mind. For any service providers listening right now, you’d be saying there’s no way to implement another thing right now. It’s just me because I am who I am. I’m pretty aware of that in the way I connect and lead my team. But as a default, I’m very much that visionary type person. 

I might have an idea late at night on a Saturday and I might message my team and be like, Oh, my gosh, I just thought of x. But the expectation with my team is not that they jump on it and have it figured it out for me by our team meeting on Monday. But because I’m visionary, I just have to get it out. 

You don’t want a team of visionaries. If you had 30 visionaries, nothing would get done because we’d be changing our minds all the time. You want to have that visionary piece, but you also want to have the people that are the reality check. 

I always explain it as the visionary is like a balloon. And your team, whoever your team is, they’re the people on the ground holding on to the string to make sure you don’t float away.

I love that analogy. Because where does the balloon go? We don’t know where the balloon went because we can’t even see it anymore. It’s gone. 

I love that trust piece that you brought up because trust is a big deal. Even as a service provider you need to be aware of this. What does it look like for me to build trust with my clients? When am I not going to be available? There’s certain agreements and boundaries about the way we work together. Within those boundaries, how can I still make sure that I’m building trust with my clients?

So much of what I see in groups is either a VA or a coach discussing issues that they’re having with their client or service providers and so much of it could be fixed if each person tried to understand where the other person was coming from. I know that’s something that I learned a lot from you. 

Before, if a client would push back on a boundary I would think, what’s wrong with this person? Why are they doing that? I learned from you that there’s always a reason that they’re doing that thing. There’s anxiety, there’s mistrust, there’s apprehension, there’s money worries, etc. Probably 80 to 90% of the time, it has nothing to do with you as the service provider, it’s something else. So being able to train myself as a service provider to not immediately jump to the conclusion that they just don’t respect me. That has really transformed my ability to work with my clients. 

This viewpoint has really kind of changed the client dynamics I have, which was really fascinating. The client has to know how to be a good leader, but so do you as the service provider. Everybody gets caught up in their own shit and they need somebody who can help work it out. Not that you need to be their coach but there are those instances where they’ll bring you something that needs to be done right now and you don’t know why. But it turns out it’s their anxiety because their last launch didn’t go as they thought it would have. 

The best leadership is when we lead based on who the other person is versus based on who we are. Click To Tweet

The best leadership is when we lead based on who the other person is versus based on who we are.


That goes both ways. Let’s say, I’ve engaged your services for something and I’m leading based on the fact that I’ve hired you and brought you on board for something and you’re leading, based on the fact that you’ve been hired for a certain role. We might look around and think this person doesn’t get it. Why don’t they think like me? Why do they keep doing this? And I guarantee whenever you are thinking that way as either the client or the service provider, the other person is probably thinking the exact same thing about you.

If I’m leading based on who I am and only looking at the world through my lens, then we’ll end up butting heads. That’s where leadership comes in. Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood. The beauty of that type of leadership is the person who brings that approach to the table can shift the entire relationship.

Absolutely. Bringing it back to the unicorn, I think that’s what you get when you don’t have a unicorn in place. When you don’t have one person who’s responsible for doing everything, you get to a place where the person is not so overwhelmed. If you force one person to carry all the weight in your business, they can’t process and will burn out.  

I think business owners can burn out from working with a unicorn, too, because they have these expectations that aren’t being met. Burnout comes when I’m so busy doing 50 different things for you and half of those things are not even in my wheelhouse anyway and I don’t even have the mental space or the mental energy to have those leadership conversations with you. Which eventually will further deteriorate the relationship. 

From our OBM lens, there are people who want to hire an OBM who’s going to do everything, as well. You’re going to need a do-er and a manager and at some point, one of them will trump the other and it’s usually the doing that gets in the way of managing when you put all of that onto one OBM.  

If a person is so caught up in the day to day tasks, because that’s usually the urgent stuff, then you’re starting to wonder why this person is not managing. They’re not stepping up and managing like you hired them to do but you’ve set them up for failure because you’re also expecting them to be the doer of everything. 

We all only have so much to give. We only have so much energy. We only have so much time in a day. We only have so many things that we’re good at, along with all the things we’re not good at and the things we don’t want to do. We are finite beings so when we lay that expectation of I want you to be all things to me, that is literally setting people up for failure. Burnout and failure. 

We are finite beings so when we lay that expectation of I want you to be all things to me, that is literally setting people up for failure. Burnout and failure. Click To Tweet

Burnout and failure. When you bring someone in to be a unicorn, imagine you’re looking through the viewfinder of a camera and you zoom in on a particular area of whatever you’re looking at. If you’re only viewing it through that lens, then you’ve lost everything else. Like everything else is now lost to you because you can’t see it anymore. 

That’s what happens when you try to have a unicorn. They’re going to zoom in on a specific piece. Whether it’s the piece that’s most important or the piece that they’re best at, they’re naturally going to zoom in on a specific area. And everything around it is going to be lost in the shuffle. It either won’t get done or it won’t get done well, which is typically what happens. And then you’re left wondering why this thing didn’t get done.

There’s a weird hiring cycle that can happen where business owners will hire a person to do all these things. It doesn’t work out so they try to find somebody else and again, it doesn’t work out. Then the business owner is frustrated and goes back to doing it all themselves and being stuck. I know people who get stuck for years in this space of needing help but not finding the ‘magical’ person so they stop trying. 

Rather than realize that the magical unicorn doesn’t exist, they think they haven’t found the right unicorn.

You can’t have a unicorn but you could have like a unicorn team. Part of what an OBM does with your hiring strategy is to see what roles need to be filled to build your business. Then you hire the people that specialize in each role so that everybody together can be all the things that you need.

It’s like hiring Your Dream Team.

You can have a dream team. You just can’t have a unicorn.

When you have a unicorn team, that is a group of people rather than an individual person. Everybody’s set up for success because they’re all doing something that they’re good at and you’re getting really targeted support in your business.

If you are hiring for the first time and you’re making upper five figures or lower six figures, and you’re ready to hire somebody, that’s the moment when you have to identify what’s the most urgent. You can’t afford a full team just yet. 

I’ve attempted to hire unicorns. If you’re that person hiring unicorns to do a lot of different things in your business, I really encourage you to go to that person and ask them what they really enjoy doing. What are the things that really lights them up? What are the things that they don’t enjoy doing? 

This needs to be a no judgment space. They’re not going to get fired. There’s no wrong answer. We’re not gonna, you know, I’m not gonna, like cancel your contract or anything. Those conversations with your team members, even if you hire specialty team members, are always really great because it keeps you from accidentally falling into some sort of unicorn situation. Take some of that off their plate and bring in someone else if it’s in your budget. 

I guarantee they’re gonna have a list for you of things that they would rather not do. 

I’ve never had someone not have an answer.

Over the 10 years since I hired my first OBM, I’ve had team members stay with me for six or seven. I’ve been blessed by having this great team but it’s also very purposeful. I’ve always done exactly what you just said. When people are on the team and they’ve been doing something for a while, let’s identify what they want to do more of and what they would like to move off their plate. 

I’ve always purposely set my business up in a way that I want people to grow and expand into different things and  to be able to hone in on that zone of genius space over time. That’s the number one reason why people would stay with me.

I have a team member who’s been with me since November 2018 and she has been in multiple different roles. Probably every three to six months, I ask her, What do you love doing? What do you hate doing? 

She started with me as an admin VA and now she’s an operations manager. That’s how you build long-term relationships. Hiring the right person with the right values and the right fit and the right skill set, and then also giving them room to grow beyond that.

To wrap up, what advice do you have for business owners who are thinking about hiring and are reconsidering their desire for a unicorn? What are your top three things to take into consideration?

Number one would be considering how hiring that person will allow them to grow your business. What it means is that they're taking things off your plate that prevent you from going out and growing the business. Click To Tweet

Number one would be considering how hiring that person will allow them to grow your business. A lot of times what that means, especially with the earlier hires of like an admin or tech VA, that doesn’t mean that person plugs in and magically grows your business for you. What it means is that they’re taking things off your plate that prevent you from going out and growing the business. They’re freeing you up to grow the business because you’re no longer fiddling around in Active Campaign or figuring out how to set up some new tech platform. 

When you are a coach, you’re removing money from your own pocket every time you’re doing that stuff. Look at hiring through that lens of what are the things on my plate that are not leading to the money and pass those on to a VA. 

Then you need to identify a VA who has the skills you need. If you need help with Infusionsoft or Kartra, but don’t have much customer service in your business, then you don’t need a customer service VA. 

The last piece of advice would be to actively build the trust. This could be a whole other conversation because it’s a biggie. If we can’t get to the place of trusting our team members, then we are going to really struggle in our business growth. Sometimes the team stuff brings up weird things in ourselves, like when you realize you’re really afraid this person is gonna leave because that’s happened so many times before. Then all of the sudden, you’re sabotaging it in some way. 

Building trust can come down to some very simple things like being clear in your requests of what you’re asking them to do. Be very clear in the deadlines that you’re asking them to meet. Get a verbal agreement from them. That’s like putting a little brick on the wall of trust you’re building.

I think that trust piece is so important because there has to be an existing level of trust. You can’t hire someone to work with you and your business and wait for them to prove to you that they’re trustworthy. There has to be a baseline of trust. If you don’t trust them, they’re gonna know it. It’s not hard to figure out when a client doesn’t trust you and that erodes your confidence in getting the work done and the ability to communicate.

If you’ve signed the contract, you have an agreement with this person and you know what the parameters are. If something doesn’t go well, you know what your parameters are and what actions you can take. But if you’re anticipating that they’re going to let you down in some way, they are probably going to let you down in some way because you’re waiting for it to happen.

The people I know who’ve built some of the best teams out there work with people through this stuff. They don’t come from the position that if someone does something wrong that they need to be let go. Instead, they look at it as, let’s work together instead of finding someone new.  

There are times when people aren’t a fit and it’s not fixable but I would much rather see people err on the side of trying to make it work. If you’re willing to work through shit with people and get to the other side, those relationships become a lot stronger.

The moral of today’s story is that unicorns don’t exist. You’ll go farther faster if you hire for specific specialties because the expertise will be more concentrated. Make sure you have an established level of trust and clear expectations. And then you’re off to the races because you’ve hired some really solid support. 

Thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate you. This was a great conversation.

Thanks, Meaghan.

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About Tina Forsyth

Unicorns Don't ExistAfter starting her own coaching business in 2000, Tina Forsyth quickly came to see the need to partner visionaries with high-level support. With her natural ability to bring both strategy and implementation to the table, Tina began working with 6 to 7-figure leaders within the coaching industry to help manage and grow their businesses, and thus, the role of the Online Business Manager (OBM) was born.

As the demand for high-level support continued to rise, she shifted her focus from being the OBM to training OBMS and founded the International Association of Online Business Managers in 2008 — the home of the Certified OBM® Training . In the 12 years since its inception, the OBM industry has become established as a key role on the team of fast-growing online and virtually based businesses.

Tina continues to work with visionaries and business leaders to align their business with their calling, and to create the container of support they need in order to expand into their full potential. Learn more at:


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