VENTEUR spoke with Katya Bychkova, a beauty and style expert based in NYC, about her entrepreneurial journey. Face mask enthusiast and frequent traveler, Bychkova is a contributor to various lifestyle publications. She's also been the founder and editor of the Style Sprinter blog, a luxury guide to skincare and makeup, since 2014.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
Throughout my career, I realized that it's okay to move from the "perfect" path you imagined if that's what you must do to achieve your bigger-picture goal.
I learned this lesson during the recession when the newspaper where I worked as an editor collapsed, and I had to look for a new career path. The media industry was going through a significant shift, and I had bills to pay, so I took a personal assistant job at a law firm to improve my English and hopefully get a fresh start.
I launched my blog, StyleSprinter.com, as a passion project. I worked on it during my lunch breaks and while commuting to work. Looking back at my old posts, I feel proud of my persistence and passion for writing. It was brave to put myself out there and compete with writers who had no language barrier to overcome. However, I also understand that those added obstacles forced me to work harder.
My main lesson is that when things get complicated, you must push your hardest to achieve your big-reward goal. My goal was to quit my day job to start working on my dream job—blogging—full-time. I'm happy to announce that I've been a full-time writer and content creator for a few years.
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur?
At the beginning of my blogging career, I did experience loneliness because it was a developing industry with not many people even understanding what it was about. However, what helped me during those pre-Instagram times was interacting with fellow blogging buddies.
With the emergence of social media, I quickly realized that it was a perfect tool for connecting with people. When I started my 365 Masks Challenge, where I tested a new facial mask every day for the entire year, I connected with skincare enthusiasts from across the globe. What began as a daily act of self-care, where I'd spend a moment for myself applying and reviewing a facial mask, turned into a self-care movement.
My work encouraged others to carve out time for themselves, try new facial masks, and share their stories. This project helped me realize I was a part of a community and expanded my professional network.
Ever since the 365 Masks Challenge project, I haven't felt lonely as a creator. Even though my facial mask project is over, I always test new products and have a group of supportive people we can discuss anything with!
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
Everyone is dealing somewhat with self-esteem issues as an entrepreneur, and I'm no exception. For years, I've been struggling with perfectionism and feeling that I'm not doing enough, that I could work even longer, even harder, and with no days off.
My breakthrough happened during the pandemic when I realized it's more productive to take breaks, delegate tasks to other people, and encourage imperfections. Since 2020, I've been learning to stop worrying about doing everything perfectly; instead, I'm just doing it with all my heart.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
Working with social media, it's easy to start judging your success based on vanity metrics: how many followers you have, how many likes your post gets, or how many people see your video. When brands began paying attention to the numbers, I started thinking I needed to be more successful as I have yet to hit the 100K followers mark.
But what I realized as I went on is that people's engagement is what truly matters. You could have millions of followers, but if you are not an expert in the industry you are representing, what helpful information could people gain from following your account?
These days, I'm concentrating more on writing for various publications and sharing my years of beauty experience with the world.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
1. I Fear That Video Will Overtake the Written Word
My biggest fear as a beauty and style creator on the internet is that people will eventually completely stop reading and move towards watching videos and listening to audio content. This fear has nothing to do with the industry itself because when it comes to marketing, people go where the attention is (in that case, toward video content), and that's normal. However, I love writing (and have a degree in Journalism from New York University) so much, and I'm afraid there will be no audience left who prefers the written word. So, I'm managing my fears by writing more now while people are still reading.
2. People Might Quit Instagram and Move to TikTok
With constant algorithm changes on Instagram, many creators get disappointed and move to TikTok—and their audience follows. I'm afraid that Instagram, which I consider my main platform, will become irrelevant. I'm dealing with these fears by dipping my toes into TikTok and diversifying content on other platforms, including Pinterest and Linkedin.
3. People Might Be Allergic to the Products I Recommended
As a beauty blogger with sensitive skin, I'm aware of the possibility of having an allergic reaction to certain skincare ingredients. While there is absolutely no way of preventing this scenario—everyone's skin is different and reacts differently to certain elements—I'm making sure to give disclosures on potential skin irritants and create dedicated content for people with sensitive skin types.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
1. I Took a Break During the Pandemic
It was an emotional time for me on many different levels, and I decided to take a social media break during those challenging times. I wish I had been there for my followers when they needed my emotional support. But, like with an oxygen mask on the plane, I needed to take care of myself first to survive and be able to help others.
2. I Avoided Fashion Weeks
I don't feel comfortable in crowds, which makes me want to avoid going to fashion shows. But when I do, I have so much fun, meet many new interesting people, and fill my creative reservoirs for months to come. So, after the pandemic, I started challenging myself to go more, especially when invited by the brands I love and support. The trick here is to go with a friend you always have fun with. When I'm engaged in a conversation with a close friend, crowds don't bother me as much.
3. I Didn’t Talk in My Videos
From a personal growth standpoint, talking in my videos was the biggest challenge to overcome. And avoiding doing so was also one of the biggest mistakes I've made. While worried about my accent, I realized that my followers and friends find it charming. When I overcame this complex and started chatting with people on social media, I noticed how our connection became much stronger and how much more confident I felt by opening up to my audience.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. Being Open to Different Educational Paths
Many entrepreneurs despise the idea of formal education and prefer to concentrate on learning exclusively about their industry. Such an approach limits people's creative potential. Blending knowledge from different areas of life is how great innovations happen! That's why I'm a proponent of education and expanding your knowledge above and beyond the industry within which you operate.
2. Content Creation Strategy and Planning
Not enough strategic planning is always experienced in the content creation industry. Often, people need more time and resources to dedicate to planning, so they create their content on the go. While there is beauty in spontaneity, the results are typically better if you plan every aspect of content creation ahead. With digital tools available out there, mood boarding is easier than ever. Use it! Moodboard and prepare everything to see the results!
3. Always Remaining Original With Content Creation
Copying vs. creating is an issue in the content creation industry. Newer social media platforms encourage people to develop repetitive types of short-form content. While people gain millions of followers by following the trends, I firmly believe that trend recreation should be just a part of a strategy, not its entirety. Ask yourself a question, what do you bring to the table? You may need to revise your plan and create something original if it's just copying other people's ideas.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you've faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
1. Temporary Language and Communication Barriers
The language barrier was difficult to overcome, mainly because I've chosen to work in an industry that typically works exclusively with native speakers. It took me years of hard work to learn the language: I went from watching TV shows and movies with subtitles to re-reading the classics in English. At the beginning of my writing journey, I also hired an editor who corrected my grammar and punctuation mistakes so I could learn from them. Also, studying at New York University helped me improve my writing and vocabulary.
2. Overexposure on Social Media Platforms
Social media is an overcrowded industry, and I learned how to stand out. At the beginning of my influencer career, I shared everything about my lifestyle: from what I cooked for dinner to how I decorated my living room. Later on, the understanding that it's essential to focus on my content helped me narrow down and only focus on beauty and fashion stories. Since I made that change, my engagement went up as I started delivering to people precisely what they wanted: skincare, makeup, and style tips. The lesson here is to focus on what's important to your audience versus the type of content that is easier and more comfortable for you to create.
3. Keeping Up With Social Media Platforms and Relevant Trends
Staying relevant is an obstacle that every content creator has to overcome. Social media platforms keep changing, and it's hard to stay in tune with where the industry is heading. So, not only do you have to keep on producing content, but you also need to be aware of what's trending in your niche. Networking and connecting with your content creator friends can regularly help you understand the industry better and stay on top of what's up in your niche.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
1. Organize Your Day Around Your Creativity
Decide which hours of the day are the most productive for you from a creativity standpoint, and organize your schedule around them. For instance, I'm most efficient at writing when I'm sipping my coffee first thing in the morning. Later in the day, I get distracted by emails, meetings, blogger events, and Zoom calls. Since content creation is my priority, I do my writing before my workday, and all other tasks from my to-do list wait until I finish my morning writing routine.
2. Plan Ahead
I use a content scheduling tool called Planoly to schedule Instagram posts and Reels for weeks beforehand. You can also add posts and hashtags to have everything ready to go live. Keeping things consistent helps grow your following and build a bond with your existing followers. Having your content pre-scheduled gives you peace of mind that you don't need to create non-stop. Content-batching with Planoly is the number one strategy that saves me from burnout as a content creator.
3. Mood Board Everything
I didn't realize it before, but everyone is running by their mood boards in the creative industry. International glossy magazines, photographers, and TV directors all invest lots of time and effort into strategizing and planning their content ahead of time. When I started doing the same, I noticed how much my content improved. Moreover, mood boards are great when dealing with a creative block. Sometimes just looking at your plans and inspiration could put you back in a creative mode.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems impossible?
1. Having Categories for To-Do Lists
Have two sets of to-do lists: one is a "must-do," and another one is "would be great to do," and set your daily priorities around it. This strategy will help you stop busy work and focus on tasks that bring you closer to the results you want.
2. Schedule “Nothing To Do” Vacations
I recently returned from one myself; it was the most refreshing experience ever. When you work in a creative field, taking a "blank slate" type of rest is essential when you are not engaged in consuming or creating content. You'd be surprised how much more inspired you would feel after such visually limited vacations.
3. Set Cut-Off Times When You Close Your Computer and Stop Working
As an entrepreneur, getting burned out is easy, especially when you give yourself zero time to rest and reset. One strategy that works for me is not to touch my phone on Sundays. I could still watch TV when I'm organizing my home for a week ahead or binge-watch something fun, but I'm not on Instagram and email. Try incorporating this strategy too, and you'll be surprised how much more productive you feel on Monday.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey more manageable, and why?
1. Prioritizing Is Everything
Between all the events, new product launches, and emails, it's important to remember that your main goals are creating content and interacting with your audience. Put these two priorities first and schedule your day around them.
2. Stay on Top of the Industry News
Now, even more than ever, it's essential to know about all the trends and events in your industry. So, make it your habit to start and end a day with news and updates from the top influencers in your niche.
3. Ask for Help
Whether you have a team or working on your own, there are ways you can reduce your load by delegating. It could be a freelance designer who will help you with a logo or a friend with experience taking photos. The more help you can get, the faster you'll achieve the goal you set for yourself.