How An Artistic Twist On Babysitting Became A Hit

Like many singers and actors hoping to make it in New York City, Kristina Wilson juggled temporary jobs to pay the rent.

She finally landed a full-time job, working as an executive assistant at Morgan Stanley. Lucky to have a boss that let her attend auditions and rehearsals during the work day, she tried to achieve a balance. But the stress of leading a double life was getting to her. “Sometimes, I was rehearsing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but always checking in with the office,” Wilson recalled.
During a rehearsal break, her light-bulb moment struck. “I decided to start the company that I wished I worked for,” she said. “I wanted people to have completely flexible schedules and create a community of artists to support each other.”

That company is Sitters Studio. Today, Sitters Studio has offices in Union Square and Chicago. Wilson’s “artisitters” are all college-educated artists, musicians and actors with extensive childcare experience. Sitters Studio provides 24-hour service to families, hotels, corporate meeting planners and can even accompany families on vacation. Sitters submit their schedules online and Wilson’s team of four full-timers match them up with babysitting jobs.

“This is a great pairing,” she said. “I know parents need good sitters. All the executives I worked for were always complaining about how hard it was to find a good babysitter.”
Determined to succeed despite her lack of business experience, Wilson asked her former boss to review her business plan. She also brainstormed with marketing executives at the brokerage. “Key players at the company would ask me really tough questions.”

In April 2006, Wilson built a website and started looking for sitters. “I went to all my friends who were babysitting and said ‘I have this hairbrained idea. If it works can I call you?”
Soon after Wilson launched the website, UrbanBaby.com posted a story about Sitters Studio. “One morning, I logged on and we had 800 visitors,” Wilson recalled. “By the end of the day, there were thousands of visitors.”

Business increased enough for her to quit her day job in April 2007. Today, about 100 artists and actors work for Sitters Studio, which she said will post revenues of about $1 million this year.

The company streamlines the process by booking jobs online or over the phone. Clients pay via credit card. “The majority of our residential customers are repeat users who use us about twice a month,” said Wilson. Luxury hotels including the Ritz Carlton and the Mandarin Oriental also call on Sitter Studio sitters for guests traveling with kids.
Rates vary depending on the job, but most sitters earn about $18 an hour in Chicago and $22 an hour in NYC. They also rely on tips. If they pass various tests on learning and development, they can make more per hour, Wilson said.

If clients balk at the price, she explains that Sitter Studio is “very different than finding a local high school kid” to babysit. “We are an agency,” she said. “We are insured. We do background checks and require sitters to have a college degree.” Sitters Studio sitters are also trained in CPR.

Voice teacher Siobhan Kolker is an actor and singer who teaches voice at the college level. During the school year, she works on Saturday nights, but during the summer, she is more available to babysit. “They (Sitters Studio) give us a lot of benefits, including a discounted membership at a gym,” said Kolker.

“I love to work with children and it’s a fun way for me to earn some extra money,” said Kolker who had five assignments the week we spoke.

“It’s so flexible. If I want to, I can go on vacation with a family,” said Kolker, who sings to her charges and helps them write songs, usually about themselves. She said she loves Wilson’s vision for the business. “I’m impressed by how they’ve been growing this small business,” she said. “There is a real mission to encourage (creative) play time. Kids are doing something creative.”

By Jane Applegate President & CEO
The Applegate Group Inc., The Great Ideas Network

July 25th, 2011

5 simple tips toward maintaining productivity

Kristina Wilson needed an employee to help her cover the phones 24/7 every weekend at her busy child care staffing agency, Sitters Studio, in Manhattan. But the weekend shift exhausted her, and whichever member of her four-person administrative staff handled the task would be drained of productivity for the rest of the week.

Her solution? Offer those who filled the shift an extra vacation day as a bonus, preferably the following week. Able to schedule more three-day weekends to recover from a marathon session answering the phones, employees—and Ms. Wilson, who also takes the bonus day—are more energetic. “Having one day off in the middle of the week feels like a special holiday,” said Ms. Wilson, founder of the five-year-old company, which, with a network of more than 100 sitters, is profitable and could hit $1 million in sales this year.

Leaders of many companies spent the recession asking employees to ramp up productivity—and found that workers, perhaps fearful of downsizing, rose to the challenge. Later, many bosses and employees never put on the brakes. Productivity among nonfarm workers rose at a 1.8% annual rate in the first quarter of 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. It may not be easy for executives to ask already overloaded staff members to shoehorn in more projects.

Fortunately, some of the best strategies for improving your team’s productivity involve changes you can make in the way that both you and your managers run your company. Here are some strategies recommended by experts and entrepreneurs.

Send less email

About 53% of workers waste one hour a day because of distractions such as email, according to a recent survey by online market research firm uSamp, commissioned by harmon.ie, a provider of “social email” software that is designed to help workers use collaboration programs like Google Docs and SharePoint more effectively. That might not seem like a lot, until you consider that this easily amounts to about 250 hours of wasted time a year. “When companies and bosses are in the habit of overusing email, it devastates productivity across the board,” said Garrett Miller, president of CoTria, a consultancy that advises companies in New York and elsewhere on how to make the most of their employees’ time. If you, as the boss, use email as your main avenue for communication, it will be hard for employees to cut down on checking email, even if you urge them to do so, says Mr. Miller. To lessen the anxiety they may feel towards peeking at their inbox less frequently, reduce the number of messages that you send, particularly by avoiding the “reply all,” function whenever possible, he suggests.

Empower employees to skip meetings

Many workers complain that meetings are sucking up much of their time, leaving few opportunities to sit at their desk and, for instance, write a report, notes Mr. Miller. However, they feel they have little control over how they spend their days because their company culture makes it hard to say “no” to meeting invitations, even when their role is minimal. His suggestion: Tell your team: “If you want to say no to a meeting, I’m going to give you permission to do that, and I’ll have your back.” Then, don’t hold it against them if they occasionally want to opt out of a meeting you’ve planned, so they can get a project done. “We need to allow people to protect their time,” Mr. Miller said.

Let employees hunker down

NoNotes.com, a transcription service with offices in New York and Ottawa, Canada, with nearly $1 million in sales, found that the productivity of some employees almost doubled when it started to allow a team of, say, two Web developers or two marketers work in tandem on a project at the same desk and same computer for two days a week with no interruptions, about six months ago. “It forces everyone to stay on task,” says Matt Whitteker, a founder and director of the company. The workers take scheduled breaks to check email and phone messages, so they aren’t incommunicado.

If you must hold a meeting, stick to the allotted time

To avoid late starts, some of Mr. Miller’s New York clients avoid scheduling meetings close to the morning rush hour, when transportation delays are often beyond employees’ control. He also advocates insisting on “hard starts” and “hard stops” for meetings, so they don’t expand to fill half of your employees’ day.

Improve your document management

The uSamp survey found that workers spend an average of 2.5 hours a week trying to find documents they need in their inboxes, file servers, cloud storage and other places. One way to minimize the time that team members spend searching for digital files is to store them in a centralized location, such as Microsoft SharePoint or Dropbox, says Mr. Miller. “Use a universal filing system, so everyone is filing in a similar manner,” he advised. The more you minimize petty distractions, the greater are the odds that you’ll find enthusiastic volunteers for a new project you want to get rolling.

– Eliaine Pofeldt

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