(512) 887-2407 [email protected]

ActionCOACH WilCo – Andy O’Brien is proud to present his fourth “Business Owners Speak Out” interview series. This is a collection of short interviews and education from business owners with amazing insights into today’s challenges.

Executive Coach Andy O’Brien (AO) virtually sits down with business owners to learn how they are working through COVID-19 and their current challenges and successes. Check out their inspiring stories for tips on how to cope with and successfully recover from this pandemic as well as ideas on how to avoid making common mistakes.

Dion Zamora, New York Life

AO: Tell me about your business.

DZ: I’ve been with New York Life for about two years. I work with everything from life insurance to college planning, retirement planning, long-term care, annuities, investments. I’m very passionate working with families, specifically families with younger children, to help them navigate and plan for those children and themselves to make sure they’re taken care of in the future.

AO: You said you work with families that have younger kids, is that your best customer?

DZ: Anybody, especially these days, that wants to have a conversation is a great customer because not a lot of people want to talk these days. If I can get someone that wants to have a conversation and they’re interested in planning, whether it be for their retirement [or] for their kids and college education or even business owners to help with employee benefits to position themselves and work with retention strategies and risk management.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

DZ: March was our initial hit [and] people were getting very fearful. At the beginning of April, I began receiving a lot of phone calls, people wanting to talk about life insurance. But in May, when all of the businesses were shutting down and people were fearful of losing their jobs, they wanted to protect their family [but] can’t because they’re not sure what their income is going to look like. Going into July, I’m finding that if I stay consistent with what I do every day that allows people to continue to carry trust with me.

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to continue to build trust and how is that working today?

DZ: We’re doing a lot of Zoom meetings. If I can help people grow their businesses, that’s building a lot of trust. So, connecting with business owners and helping them advertise and market their business. I talked to a lot of business owners and there’s not much social media presence, so if I can advertise them on my social media pages and help boost them that way, that’s a great way to start a conversation.

AO: Have you had a pivot session in your business before?

DZ: I sat down with my development managers and discussed what’s going on right now and how we’re going to work through this.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

DZ: I don’t think I ever stopped making mistakes. I’m constantly learning from myself. It’s realizing that I have to keep getting up to the plate and there’s a lot of times that I swing and miss. There’s a lot of times I swing, and I connect, but the more times I get up to swing, I’m going to get better at what I do.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

DZ: When I find people that are positive and are looking beyond everything that’s out there right now. They might not have all the money in the bank, they might not have their business functioning properly, but they have a good hold on life and their family.

How To Reach Us:

Dion Zamora

New York Life


[email protected]

Cheryl O’Hern, Spin Markket + Digital 

AO: Tell me about your business.

CO: We are a digital marketing company. We work with our clients to make sure their information online is correct, that they’re found, that any digital campaigns they’re doing are taken care of, and if they’re a big business we do everything from graphic design to event coordinating. We have an excellent dashboard that is real time for clients to keep track of everything: social media, reviews, email projects, digital campaigns, return on their investment, how they look on over 300 directories. Just a really comprehensive dashboard that they can evaluate and determine how they look online and how they’re doing in marketing their business.

AO: How long have you been in business?

CO: I started this in 2012.

AO: Who is your best customer?

CO: We actually have a nonprofit group that we started in 2017 called Dental Connection, I handle the marketing, and we work with dental clinics all across the state. That’s one big group we do. We also do a variety of smaller businesses as well. Our best clients are the clients that understand that the digital world is where we’re at [and] that it takes a lot of education.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had in your organization?

CO: Businesses are figuring out they should’ve been digital before, now they’re trying to scramble and get going and it’s hard for them to understand it doesn’t happen overnight.

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference in your business?

CO: I’m going in and setting up the dashboards and implementing a better education program with our new clients. I’m seeing that being much more helpful and getting them to better set their expectations.

AO: Have you done any type of pivot session?

CO: I’m on the Goldman Sachs project.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

CO: Thinking that all I had to do was put my sign out and say, “Hey, we do digital marketing,” and everybody will jump on board. I’ve been talking to deans of colleges saying, “You guys got to start teaching this,” and they’re saying, “We’re frustrated, we don’t know how to teach it. We don’t have Professors that know how to teach it and the books can’t keep up.” I said, “I know, you have to be in the trenches. You need to hire teachers that are doing it day by day.”

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

CO: I’m so inspired and impressed with the creativity, the tenacity, the spirit, and the resolve that the small and medium-sized businesses have been able to put forth out there to stay in business. I think it’s put a new perspective on small and medium businesses to the rest of the world, that they understand that these businesses are the backbone of their communities.

How To Reach Us:

Cheryl O’Hern

Spin Markket + Digital


[email protected]

Michelle Bailey, Poppy Quilt ‘n Sew

AO: Tell me about your business and how long you’ve been in business.

MB: The business itself has been here 15 plus years, in Georgetown at different locations, and I have owned it for about two and a half years. We cater to the community of sewists and cultures, project makers, embroiderers, because we do some embroidery as far as selling machines and things that they can use in their embroidery making, threads and that kind of stuff.  We quilt for the general public and we have thousands of bolts of fabric for them to choose from, and thread and notions that they need to complete their projects. We are also an affiliate of Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, so we take the non-quilters and their boxes of t-shirts and turn them into quilts for them.

AO: Who is your best customer?

MB: My best customer would be the nearly retired or retired, because they’ve got more time. But of course, we’re always trying to get the younger crowd in here and COVID has thrown everything off of it. We try to do small summer programs for kids to get them involved in sewing. We’re doing some classes now, but they’re very small numbers.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had in your business?

MB: It’s been hard and the hours that I’m having to work to keep everything going is ridiculous, but the community support and the outpouring of love, we were able to do curbside even when we were shut down so that they could get the fabric to make the masks. The amount of volunteerism that we saw with our customers and making the effort to make the masks touches your heart. There has been some positive come out of it and what I keep trying to focus on is that what my store provides is not necessarily a necessity to stay alive, but it is a necessity in the fact that we’ve all got to wear those masks and we’ve got the fabrics and template to make the masks and the elastic and all of that.

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference in your business?

MB: We definitely had to change the way we do business. We offer curbside. My online has greatly increased because we’ve cleaned up our website and made it more user-friendly, more searchable. We still ship and we do a low flat rate on that and ship here locally. We’ve done a couple of door drops when they’re close, but I don’t have a staff to be able to do that, it’s easier to ship and they get it the next day.

AO: Have you had any type of pivot session or an updated three-year strategic planning session?

MB: I’m working with a consultant that is helping me with all aspects, from inventory to where to spend dollars and where to save dollars.

AO: What mistakes have you made along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

MB: The biggest mistake I have made is buying too much fabric for the selves. But I feel like if I had not done that, I would not have increased the customer base as I have. So now we’re looking at fine tuning that and that’s why I’m working with a consultant and trying to order the right stuff at the right time in the right place.

AO: Today, what is most inspiring to you?

MB: To see the finished products that our customers do. When they bring in what they’re working on or what they’ve finished and that just inspires me to keep going and keep finding more things for them to do.

OFFER: Bring a copy of this Newsletter into our store and receive a FREE gift.  

How To Reach Us:

Michelle Bailey

Poppy Quilt ‘n Sew

(512) 863-6108

[email protected]

Connie Kurtz, Hair O’ The Dog Pet Salon

AO: Tell me about your business.

CK: We’re a dog grooming business. We’re a mother-daughter owned salon and we’ve been in business about four years, going on four and a half. My daughter is a dog groomer and she was working for [a different] company before, they sold the company and [she] bought the client list and created her own business name and entity. I’m not a dog groomer, I’m a business person, so we go into business together and it’s been really great.

AO: Who is your best customer?

CK: We have a maintenance program where people come through regularly and so our best, target customers would be those folks that are loyal and come in every week or every month for maintenance. They’re loyal no matter what season or economic environment.

AO: What has been the greatest impact of COVID-19 on your business?

CK: We had to close for two months. After that we started back at not full capacity. Some of the practices we put in place we’re going to keep after COVID settles down and one of them is that we just have one customer at a time within our lobby. That has really worked out well because it helps with the chaos that happens sometimes when there’s multiple dogs and people waiting to be checked in or checked out. It allows a lot of individual time with each client, which has been beneficial and expressed from the customers that they really like that better. So that’s something we’re going to continue to do.

AO: Is there anything else that you’ve implemented that has really helped your business move forward?

CK: Just real basic stuff like everybody has to wear a mask, of course. We used to have customers that would bring their dogs back to the grooming and we stopped that practice to keep everybody safe.

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session or a strategic plan update?

CK: I do have a business consultant that I have met with to kind of reset and look at numbers and that type of stuff.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

CK: If I could go back and tell myself something it would be to be more flexible in expectations as your business is starting because one of the main goals is to be very smooth within your sales cycles and have them even out and the nature of the earning business is that it is very up and down, especially when you’re starting because it’s seasonal. There’re times when people don’t put their dog a priority, like back-to-school is one of our worst times [when] everybody’s thinking about the children. You’re going to have times where your employees leave for various reasons, so you’re not going to have the capacity. So, it’s just to be flexible within those times.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

CK: People that can come in and have a good attitude and be friendly and gracious with everything that’s going on.

OFFER: $5 off to new clients when you mention our coupon from Tomlinson’s Feed. 

How To Reach Us:

Connie Kurtz

Hair O’ The Dog Pet Salon

(512) 258-9195

[email protected]

Alan Stewart, Cuppa Austin

AO: Tell us about your business.

AS: It’s seven and a half years old, 1,300 sq. ft. coffee shop with drive-thru, with COVID we’re strictly going through drive-thru, high-quality drinks, very good service.

AO: Who is your best customer?

AS: We’re in a fairly high-income area, a lot of tech people around, probably 30 major ones. We’re two miles from where the new Apple campus is going, which will potentially have 15,000 people.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

AS: The major problem was trying to figure it out. We’ve always been allowed to stay open for drive-thru, but when [the city] shut down, we closed for two weeks. When we came back, it’s strictly drive-thru even when we could’ve had some people inside, we decided it was best if we just stay drive-thru. Then one of our baristas tested positive for COVID and we closed for another week. When we came back, we got very hardcore about masks.

AO: Of those one or two actions that you took, what made the biggest difference in your business and how is it working?

AS: We’re actually close to 80% of last year’s sales. So comparatively speaking, we’re not doing bad at all. Majority of people appreciated the steps that we are taking, the precautions.

AO: Have you had a pivot session or pivot strategy session?

AS: I talked with my managers a lot, taken a lot of their suggestions. Most of the procedures we set up at the drive-thru window, I did that very early on.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

AS: I don’t know that there’s mistakes made as much as it was just a learning thing and the guidance we got was really poor. We decided that we’re not going to open the dining area anytime soon. We’re allowed 50% occupancy and we’re not going to do it. We’re going to wait until everything calms down.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

AS: If you talked to me a year or two ago, my disappointment with the current generation is they just don’t pay attention, they don’t care. With Black Lives Matter and the [LGBTQ] thing, they’re getting involved, they’re getting interested and I think that’s a really good thing.

OFFER: Buy ten drinks and get one free. 

How To Reach Us:

Alan Stewart

Cuppa Austin

(512) 382-6729

[email protected]

Alan Miller, Vortex Tools LLC

AO: Tell me about your business.

AM: Our company is an oil and gas service and support company based in Georgetown, TX. We help oil and gas companies improve efficiency, which is kind of an oxymoron of the oil and gas industry, but we actually help operators improve the recovery of their existing wells rather than them drilling new ones. [Our] name is a play on the flow that we developed which is a spiral vortex.

AO: How long have you been in business?

AM: Since 2001. We relocated to Texas in December of last year. We still maintain an office in the Colorado market, in the Denver suburbs. In large part, we moved to Texas because most of our customers are here and regulations for oil and gas companies in Colorado become quite oppressive and scarce.

AO: Who is your best customer?

AM: The small and medium-sized oil and gas companies. That would be companies like Pioneer Natural Resources, Occidental, not the majors but the smaller or medium-sized companies, many of which are under stress right now.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

AM: The customer decisions to reverse prior budget approvals. Companies that previously said, “Yeah, we’re going to buy that, deploy your equipment,” then coming back and say, “No budgets will be withdrawn.” So reversal of budgets, it’s particularly hard on companies of our size and scope because it takes many months to process a relationship with a customer and when that engineer or operator says, “well, we’re not going to do that,” what it does is pushes us back probably years before we can actually approach that customer again.

AO: What one or two actions have you taken to make a difference?

AM: Believe it or not, right now the best thing to do is not bug them, because if you call them too often all you’re doing is bugging them. So stay in touch, be supportive, encouraging, and try to show your company has an advantage, like an identifier for our company, our solutions. We’re trying to add additional technology capability to what we have so that we can offer a broader set of solutions to our customers.

AO: Have you had a pivot strategy session in your business during COVID-19?

AM: Yes, but it was more of a question that I asked myself. I posted on LinkedIn, “Do we still have a business to operate?” In that question I posted, I posited that the only way we can survive is to pivot. We as a company have some advantage, we got other markets that we could and should be pursuing.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

AM: Most people who form a business do so using family capital, friends, and people that they know. Then there may come a point in their business when the company is not going to make it, and one of the mistakes I did was trying to find a way to allow my investors to exit in a way to give them something back. I realized that investors are risk takers. Business owners are risk takers. You have to marry the two together, but understand that they have different forces that dictate their decisions.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

AM: I can just retire, it wouldn’t be good, but I would be okay. But I still have the fire in my belly and I still feel that the world needs what we have to offer. So for those reasons, I’m going to continue to push and promote my business and our solution.

How To Reach Us:

Alan Miller

Vortex Tools LLC

(303) 761-7570

[email protected]


Carl Joiner Jr, Quality Tree and Lawn

AO: Tell me about your business.

CJ: I do full tree service, doing the rope and saddle harness work, taking trees down over buildings. One of my biggest projects was 2016/2017, a four-mile hazardous fuel reduction removal for Williamson County Regional Park which was 50 feet by four miles long, all the cedars around the perimeter. Had quite a few guys then, down to myself now.

AO: How long have you been in business?

CJ: My dad did it when I was a kid, but actually officially started a company in ‘98. It was a different company name, but it progressed to Quality Tree and Lawn.

AO: Who is your best customer?

CJ: That’s kind of hard because years back my advertising in the phone book wasn’t working very well, but I would just go door to door and talk to people and that’s the only thing that would pay my bills. Some customers I’ve had for 10-15 years. The county jobs sometimes are nice because they pay a little better, but the smaller people kept me going when times are tough. Two of my kids tested positive for COVID, so I let the homeowners know and they’re like, “Carl, [we’ll] keep our distance, you can still come work.” They allow me to keep going.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

CJ: Money and some stress. There’s some people that do want to work for me, but since everything is going on, I don’t want to hire anybody right now.

AO: What one or two actions have you done through this transition and how it’s working?

CJ: Wear my mask at the right time, wash my hands at the right time, to where I just do my job well and be kind and respectful to people and their property.

AO: What mistakes have you made in business, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

CJ: The hands-on experience, because you can sit there and read a book, study trees in college, but actually, physically, do it and had things happen and know, don’t do this again because you made a couple of errors, and just learn from it.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

CJ: People’s care and compassion for even allowing me to work knowing, in my HOA even, that my kids are positive and they still come by. Even the neighbors are allowing me to work at the places that I’ve been working since my kids tested positive. The compassion, it’s nice seeing that. Sometimes you feel some of that’s gone, but lately my neighbors and customers have proven different.

How To Reach Us:

Carl Joiner Jr.

Quality Tree and Lawn

(512) 260-9915

[email protected]

Bryan Tarla, Triple T Machining LLC

AO: Tell me about your business.

BT: I’m the founder. We’ve been in business a little over 15 years. We manufacture for several different industries: semiconductor, aerospace, military, oil and gas, medical, those are our major industries that we supply to.

AO: If you look at your target market, is your business equally loaded amongst all of those industries or is there one that comes out as the number one customer?

BT: No, it’s the industries. As the industries go up and down, what I find, when one goes down the other one picks up.

AO: What has been the greatest impact COVID-19 has had on your business?

BT: It hasn’t. This has been nothing more than a bunch of other people trying to get in here and sell safety equipment we don’t need.

AO: Have you taken any actions in your business?

BT: Everybody wears masks. We’re small enough to where we can separate. We went above and beyond on disinfectants. We have taken precautions.

AO: On the business side, other than precautions, has there been any effects from COVID-19?

BT: As far as industry, the oil and gas has taken the biggest hit. Medical is way up and aerospace is up. Semiconductors down, but that’s about the time of the year where that happens.

AO: Have you had a pivot session or updated your three year strategic plan?

BT: No.

AO: What mistakes did you make along the way, and how can other entrepreneurs learn from your experience?

BT: I deal with Fortune 500 companies and you would think that all the people you supply to want to set you up for success, but really they’re setting you up for failure because they’re lying to their customers. One thing we don’t do is lie to our customers, no matter what. I tell my buyers, “I’m not gonna lie to you, I’m not going to give you all the answers you want to hear, but if you’re purchasing stuff from somebody who’s giving you all the answers, they’re gonna lie to you.” I want them to be successful because their success is my success.

AO: What is most inspiring to you today?

BT: Just watching my business that I started from nothing grow. My employees too. I’ve created a business where they’re not a number, they feel like they’re actually a part of something. I involve them in all the decisions, and for that, I don’t have a whole lot of turnover.

How To Reach Us:

Bryan Tarla

Triple T Machining LLC 


[email protected]

Executive Coach Andy O’Brien wants to interview you! If you would like your business to be featured in one of our upcoming “Business Owners Speak Out” newsletter series, please contact Kari at [email protected] to schedule an interview.