How a Solopreneur Automates Her Work to Focus on Her Students

Joey Blanco
Joey Blanco / June 18, 2018

Rulebooks don't exist for solopreneurs. They wear every hat all the time, regardless of their strengths. They play marketer, salesperson, CEO, customer support, and engineer. That's why finding the right tools early on can set up a solopreneur (or any business or person, for that matter) for long-term success. Like learning a new language, the earlier you adopt a tool, the easier it is get the most out of it.

Vanessa Prothe, solopreneur and founder of Speak English with Vanessa, an online English as a second language program, knows all about implementing tools early—and how hard it can be to learn and change at a later stage.

Like a lot of small business owners, Vanessa's goal when she started Speak English with Vanessa wasn't to become a developer or marketer. She had a good idea, lots of passion, and enough gumption to create a company from nothing. Her time was better spent developing courses and connecting with clients than learning how to code and build tools.

So as Vanessa created the content and courses for her program in late 2015, she also sought out the tools to build her business upon. One thing she learned early? Automation makes all the difference, especially when your expertise and focus is on your clients, not the backend of a website. That's why she turned to automated workflows to manage enrolling students, adding them to mailing lists and processing payments.

About Speak English with Vanessa

Vanessa taught English in South Korea for three years, enabling her to develop and test a teaching philosophy—and see its results in person. Combined her personal experience with learning to speak French, Vanessa had the key to unlocking language for any client: conversations.

Conversations are where language breakthroughs and understanding happens. To foster conversation, Vanessa's made a private Facebook group for her paying clients, where they can all practice with each other, ask questions, and learn the intricacies of the language. That's in addition to her free ebook and lessons, her paid courses, and her YouTube channel, boasting over 260,000 subscribers.

It's no easy task making English accessible for ESL (English as a Second Language) speakers, but Vanessa does exactly that. And to make her tools and apps more accessible for her, Vanessa uses app automator Zapier.

Automatically Manage Your ActiveCampaign Contacts

Manually adding new clients to your customer relationship manager (CRM) and email lists might not be much of a time sink at first. But once you have a consistent stream of new clients, you need a smarter approach. Vanessa found her solution early: automating the work.

"Thankfully, I found Zapier when I first started my business. If I had to do all those tasks manually, it would take me several hours per week," Vanessa says. "And honestly, I probably wouldn't do them because I don't have time."

With Zapier, Vanessa connects her apps to each other in different Zaps, our word for automated workflows. These Zaps do more than just send information from app A to app B—they add tags to new clients, send them into specific email lists so they receive tailored messages, and even watch for failed payments. Basically, these Zaps do the work of several employees that Vanessa doesn't have to hire.

Speak English with Vanessa's Tools

Icon: App: Used For:
Teachable Teachable Online course management
ActiveCampaign ActiveCampaign Email & customer relationship manager
Stripe Stripe Payment processor

The Workflows

For Speak English with Vanessa, all her clients flow into ActiveCampaign. That's where she manages everything from email lists to failed payments. As clients purchase new courses or unsubscribe, she has Zapier automatically add tags to the client—a process she used to do manually.

When a new client purchases a course in Teachable, Zapier sends their information to ActiveCampaign, creating a new contact. Or, if this is a previous client, the Zap will update their record instead. Each Teachable course has a specific tag and email list associated with it, so when this Zap runs, Zapier automatically ensures the right emails are sent every time within ActiveCampaign.

"If you sell courses and have an email list, it's a no-brainer: Let Zapier do the behind-the-scenes work so you don't have to."Vanessa Prothe, founder, Speak English with Vanessa

A similar Zap triggers if there's a failed payment in Stripe; as before, the Zap adds a tag to the contact, which in turn notifies ActiveCampaign to send the client an email about the payment.

Try these out yourself and see how many hours you can save by automating these tasks:

If you also use ActiveCampaign for your emails and CRM needs, check out a few of their best Zaps:


Like learning a language, running a business as a solopreneur doesn't have to be an intimidating challenge. If you, like Vanessa or her students, surround yourself with the best tools and information, you can run a business by yourself without needing to wear that developer or accounting hat.

Think you could save a few hours each week like Speak English with Vanessa? Give Zapier a try for free.

All images courtesy of Speak English with Vanessa.

Photo of Lawrence Watkins

“Zapier helps me build processes and automation into my business like a programmer without having to learn to code.”

Lawrence Watkins, co-founder of Great Black Speakers

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