Belma Mccaffrey created Work Bigger to helps young professionals find meaning in their work lives and their careers. In this interview, we talk about the iterations that Work Bigger has gone through, how she balances working full time at the Associated Press, being a new mother and buildingWork Bigger all at the same time, how she stays present, and how she focuses to get it all done.
A big part of our discussion covered Belma’s love of negotiation. Belma has a free guide to negotiations that you can get from her website.
Belma McCaffrey moved to New York City from Albania when she was 8 years old.
“When you come from a poor country, when you leave a situation that was difficult, you’re determined to make the most of your life now as it is. I went back to Albania for the first time about 3 years ago. It was amazing to see what it was like – we went back to the apartment I used to live in when I was a kid. It was super emotional – going back there and seeing how everything had changed.
“I also felt very lucky – I didn’t know what made me so special that I got to leave and live here. I think about that all the time – it is a big driver to pursue the work that I truly want to do in the world.
Belma went to Syracuse’s Newhouse school of communications to study media:
“I ended up there very randomly. I did not go visit before I chose to go there. I don’t know why I did that. I think I was drawn to the spontaneous feeling of it. “Let me make this big decision and see what happens. I’ve always been a super planner. So, for the first time I said “I’m just gonna make this decision – i’m gonna pick Syracuse.” I have a older sister and a younger brother. My sister went to Boston University, so I wanted to try something different. When I got there, Newhouse, the school of communications, was – and still is – one of the top schools in the country. So I decided to get in to Newhouse. It seemed like that is where I would get the best education. I didn’t know what my passion was – didn’t know what the work I would do was.
She worked in Media in New York City at advertising agencies for a few years before deciding to go to business school at Baruch college.
“Two of my friends and I started talking about our careers and our 20s – things that we struggled with in our 20s. “Finding my passion” was one of them – I hate to say “Finding my passion” now because it seems so cliche. I’m past the point of saying that you should follow your passion – I don’t necessarily think that is the case.
From that idea came BOULD.
“We had some issues in our 20s finding a career that was really fulfilling – what can we do about that, how can we solve that problem? We specifically focused on women, because we saw that women were having problems negotiating, problems speaking up in meetings. So, we started hosting events and workshops – teaching women how to negotiate a raise, how to lead with confidence, how to build a personal brand that could help take their personal brand to the next level.”
After business school, a lot was up in the air for Belma and her co-founders.
“And also I found out that i was pregnant. That changes things- I continued hosting events and workshops because this was my first experience with entrepreneurship, and something about it felt really right to me.” I said “I don’t have the business that I envisioned, but what can I do with what I do have? How can I make the most of this?”
The birth of her son in March of 2015 was perfectly timed. Then her co-founders signed on with her again.
“Once they came on board, I was so releived. The three of us started talking about what we would do next. We realized that career coaching was really missing from the support that young professional women needed. That support that helps you get clarity on your road blocks and helps give you strategy on how to go from point A to point B. So we said ‘lets launch a career coaching network and help women with the support that will help them accelerate more quickly.’
They launched the coaching network in August, when her son was 5 months old. About 3 months later, they decided to split and go their separate ways. This sparked the creation of BelmaMcCaffrey.com & WORK BIGGER
“The mission of Bould was still really important to me – helping young professionals find meaning in their work lives and their careers. I truly believe that a career should be a vehicle for creativity. It should be a vehicle, when we can afford it to, to self-actualize – to fulfill something bigger than ourselves.”
“So I started to build a website under my personal name – Belma McCafrey.com – and started writing. I found that I really love writing. And, now I put out content once per week – something career related, but it can expand beyond that.
“I also created a program, which was also a transition from Bould. In Bould we had a Job search program. Here, I created a program called Work Bigger.”
This has all be done while working at the AP Full Time and being a new mom. It requires balance, a vision, and being present.
Negotiation is also crucial to Belma’s success:
“[Negotiation} is about relationships and trying to understand the other person and coming to a “win-win”, and it is about creative problem solving. It pushes you to think differently.
I was working at GroupM (A media agency). Working in print (buying print media), I had to call so many different magazine partners and negotiate rates for clients. Then one year, it was my second year at GroupM and my director went on Maternity leave, and I had to handle client negotiations by myself, with the media planner. It was a lot. I was working on Novartis. They have so many brands. We had to do all of the negotiations. It was around 2008-09. Magazines were folding left and right.
It was such a good challenge for me because I found that I was saving our client a lot of money, but I was also building a lot of great relationships on the client side, and I found my way of negotiating which was using my niceness to my advantage. I was able to build these authentic relationships because I wasn’t approaching it with aggression. It worked, and the clients were happy. It was a big learning experience for me.
When I went to business school and I took a negotiation class, I had so much fun with that. The professor would walk you through the lesson, give you a case study, and you would have to negotiate with a student. I killed the first negotiation. I was so excited.
At that point, I realized this was something I was supposed to be doing. I started to see that a lot of my friends weren’t negotiating for salaries or raises or promotions. And I thought “whats going on – this is not OK”.
Thus began the creation of WORK BIGGER, and her guide to negotiations.
“People approach negotiations with an “I want to win” or an “I’m afraid to ask” or “something really bad is gonna happen when I ask” attitude. So, I think we often don’t appreciated the fact that the other person has likely been in our shoes before – they’ve likely gone through this. So, they understand what you’re going through to an extent. And, they expect you to ask! You have to make the ask. It is that fear that can be such a roadblock. You’ll never know unless you ask.”
Being useful and providing that value is key in a successful negotiation. Still, people may view that as “selling yourself”. Is key to know the exclusive value you provide:
“If you have something to offer, you’re doing someone else a disservice by not selling yourself.”
Sometimes people aren’t aware of the options out there, and if you don’t ask them about whether or not they might want your services, the answer will always be “no”.
Belma created belmamccaffrey.com & Work Bigger alongside working at the Associated Press and being a new mom. I asked her about balance.
“I struggle with the word balance, because that word sort of brings to mind that there is an order to things. But maybe there isn’t always supposed to be an order to things. I just posted something on Instagram – last weekend I was out with my husband and my Son – we were out in Hoboken. For the first moment that weekend, it was silent. We were outside and it was quiet. I was like ‘Oh my gosh – this little moment of quiet is kind of amazing.’
“I try to be as present as I can when i’m with my family, when i’m with my son. Because i’m working so much I don’t get to see him as much as I want, so when i’m with him, i’m with him. Same thing with my Husband, because my relationship is so important.
“Same thing with my work. When I’m working at the AP, and i’m focusing on Virtual Reality – which is one of our big projects right now. When i’m writing my blog, i’m in my room typing away and focusing on that.
For me, it is trying to be as present as possible, in whatever i’m doing. I find that I save a lot of energy that way, which I think is so important in getting things done.
We talked about how Belma focuses to create progress in her life.
To me, the biggest most important aspect of focusing is creating the space in your mind to think bigger. To think deeply about the projects you’re working on, about your life – how you want to live it, and the thing you want to do. I think about the constraints I have in the day. I wake up, get my son ready, go to work, so I have these constraints. Throughout the day, there are gaps. The commute is one of them. I try to think about “what can I do in this moment to maximize that to make the most of this commute?” That is the time I’ll use to educate myself on something business related, or to think about my next blog post – i’ll be on the train writing down ideas. I also fit in time for meditating. I think that is really important in helping me focus.
This echoes a phrase from my interview with Polly Payne: Margin Time – the time that you have between your constraints.
Yes, thats exactly it. I love that concept. That is where the energy thing comes in. One thing I found – last year when i was working on BOULD, I was really tired all the time. Not just because I was doing a lot, but because my mind was racing all the time. I was constantly thinking about “when i’m at work, this is what I need to do…when I’m at home, this is all the stuff I need to do with my family, the nighttime routine, then I have to get on the computer at 9:30 and I have to finish all of this work on BOULD. So, that alone, thinking about that, at 3:30 PM thinking about what I have to do at 9pm, is completely useless. This year I’ve cut that out as much as possible.
I find that, not only am I happier, but it is allowing me to conserve a lot of energy that I can really use and be more effective with that energy to create my vision on what I want to build.
Belma is a planner of everything. In an article in Fortune – one of the things she talked about is that every night she plans out the day ahead.
“… I also have an A and B list. I know what my most important things are gonna be that I need to focus on the next day. I know what my secondaries activities are. And I know that I’m not even gonna look at that list unless I finish my A list. So, that saves me energy and time. Doing it the night before – at the end of the day, you’re a little bit more tired, because you’ve been doing a bunch of stuff that day. So, you don’t need to think too deeply – its not something that you really need to put too much energy in. But it saves so much time because in the morning, you can just get going instead of thinking about the things you need to do.
When you do it the night before, everything that you’ve done is kind of fresh in your mind. So, you’re saving yourself from that moment of “Ok, what did I work on yesterday? What do I need to do again now?” So saving that is really big for me.
Planning lets her be present when she is focusing, which helps her maintain her energy.
“…Because I’m not thinking about what I need to do later. I’m just in the moment. Yes it can be tiring, depending on what I’m doing, but I find that a lot of the stress we have comes from our mind being in more than one place at once.”
Belma told me about one of her students who used her program to find her “Why” regarding a quest to find a job.
“I found out the way that she was approaching the job search – it was tactical. She didn’t have a strategy, or an overall plan. She didn’t really have a mission. I worked with her, she signed up for the program, and she found her mission.
“She used that mission to inspire the people she was speaking with. Her network, the people she was interviewing with. She connected that so well with brand management. Before, she was focusing on her previous history, versus her mission and the real value that she could really bring to these companies. We worked on her mission, her story, her brand. We changed her social media presence so it reflected her mission and what she wanted to do.
“When you have a mission, it is a lot bigger than “I need a job”. Its a lot more powerful – you’re saying “I want to change the world in this way”. Then, using that to inspire these companies with the work you want to do for them and with them. She changed her whole conversation that she was having with these companies. She emailed me about a month ago – she told me she got a job in brand management! It was one of the best emails i’ve ever received. I could see the transformation in her. She was just leading from a much more exciting, fulfilled place.
Because she had a Why.
“She had a “Why” and – the mission is the WHAT. She understood the why. She understood herself a little bit better, and why she was so drawn to brand management and then she could communicate that. Being able to communicate that was really big for her.”
I asked Belma about who would most benefit from her expertise:
“…Someone who knows that work is much more than just getting a job. And someone who is openminded. Open to change and to thinking differently.”
In Belma, you’ll find a coach that is very solutions-oriented. “If someone says ‘this is a roadblock’, then I ask a different question. I don’t say “I can’t do this”, I say, “how can I overcome this roadblock”.
Belma, BelmaMcCaffrey.com & Work Bigger are just getting started: she is looking forward to building the company to help more people find out how they can “Redefine What We Call Work” – that is the tagline!.
To contact Belma, visit BelmaMcCaffrey.com, or find her on Instagram @belmamccaffrey & Twitter: @BelmaMC