Self-Employed Hangouts


Self-Employed Hangouts

Sarai Zyzniewski is the founder and CEO of Our Hangouts, LLC. Our Hangouts provides an online cloud-based system that helps businesses organize, manage registration, accept payments and centralize communication with member families. Unofficially started in 2015 and officially organized in 2016, Our Hangouts started with one product and in 2019 expanded to three. The three products and markets are: Our School Hangout for church preschools, Our Homeschool Hangout for homeschool co-ops, and Our Group Hangout for organized community groups. The online system provides two key high-level benefits: reducing costs and saving time.

Before starting her business, Sarai served as VP of Brand and Global Marketing Services for Promethean, a leading company in interactive learning technologies with offices across the globe. While at Promethean, Sarai was awarded the company’s LEAD award as recognition for outstanding leadership.

When and why did you join the NASE?
I joined in December of 2020 looking for resources and support for my business.

What inspired you to enter the field you are in?
Originally, I had plans to become a pilot and own my own aviation business. To that aim, I earned my private pilot’s license in 1992 and attended an aeronautical university in Florida to earn a degree in Aviation Business. One day, the director of the university’s language institute asked me and a fellow student to create a database to track student information and create reports. The database was finished after six months and was quickly adopted by the staff. The university continued to use it for many years after we graduated due to its time saving benefits. This project taught me the power of data and software, and ultimately changed the course of my career.

When and why did you start your business?
When my twins were in preschool, they were identified as special-needs. After their second year in public school, my husband and I realized this environment was not a good fit for them and I decided to homeschool them. This step was another course change requiring me to leave my lucrative full time job and halt my senior executive career in the corporate world. I was pleasantly surprised by how large and active the homeschooling community was and found it extremely satisfying watching my children grow academically and emotionally. During the first few years of homeschooling, I was able to work some part-time contracts from home, but in the back of my mind I wanted to start a business again. I was constantly looking for that “product or idea” that would solve a problem. Late in 2014, while attending a meeting for parents in my local homeschool group, several parent leaders discussed the challenges of managing the organization. I realized during this meeting that an opportunity existed to create an online product to help homeschool groups run smoother, saving the organizers considerable time. This meeting sparked the idea that launched my business. I decided to cash out my 401K to self fund the business and my first product, Our Homeschool Hangout, was launched in 2016.

In 2017, I expanded my business by adding a second product, Our Group Hangout. A good friend of mine was excited at the chance to use Our Group Hangout to help organize her new business, A Brighter Community, a community center for special-needs adults in Denver. Since subscribing to Our Group Hangout, she told me her community center operations are more efficient and she has been able to offer more programs to serve her community. My third product, launched in 2019, was designed specifically for preschools. After extensive research, I realized there wasn’t a product designed just for church preschools and their unique programs. After working directly with preschool directors and office staff to understand their challenges, I was able to create a product that addressed their specific needs. Two preschools in particular, which beta-tested my initial product idea, were instrumental in making Our School Hangout what it is today.

How do you market your business?
I have a marketing site for each of my three products with messaging focused on their specific needs. Currently, my marketing efforts are heavily focused on the preschool market because it presents the greatest opportunity for my business. As part of my marketing strategy, I have set up a Facebook page to post weekly updates announcing new customers or spotlighting product features. My customer acquisition strategy works in two phases. First, I send a postcard to preschools that I researched to be a good fit for my product. A few weeks later I follow up with an email with the goal to have them sign up for a demo via Zoom and a free trial. Marketing efforts to my existing customer base involve communication around my referral campaign, which provides discounts to the school that refers as well as the school signing up for the trial. This campaign has proven to be successful in helping me grow.

What challenges have you faced in your business?
I am competing against very large, well-funded companies that offer daycare management software that have recently shifted into the preschool space. To overcome this challenge, I have focused on features that better-known products do not offer because they are not made specifically for preschools. I solicit feedback from my customers for new product enhancements and improvements and release them in a timely manner. I have always believed in the importance of building a relationship with each and every customer. I believe this is where small businesses can excel and differentiate themselves. We have the opportunity to go above and beyond and to really listen to our customers so they know how important they are.

Do you have any employees?
I currently use contractors for development, graphic design, copywriting, and marketing material development. I will continue to use contracted staff, which allows me to hire as needed while keeping my costs low.

What’s your schedule like, what’s a typical day for you?
My days mainly consist of brainstorming and documenting new features, testing the software, reviewing bug fixes, researching potential new customers, sending follow up marketing emails and answering questions from my customers.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
I feel that I am in control of my own destiny. I work hard because I want to, not because I have to. I am passionate about my products and how they help my customers. Being self-employed is a self-guided adventure, one that keeps me learning and growing every day. But the best thing about owning my own business is that I have a home-based office, allowing me to be completely available for my kids.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?
One of the best compliments I have received was when an office manager said “Our School Hangout saves me so much time. It covers everything I need and I have so much more free time now.”

I see how hard the preschool directors and office staff work. The goal is to save them time, as well as offer convenience for parents. When I receive 5-star reviews that echo this, I know the hard work is paying off. I love what I do and knowing that my product is making a difference for my users.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting their own business?
Setting short- and long-term goals. Shorter goals help you stay focused and serve as stepping-stones toward long-term goals. They are the small milestones to celebrate along the way. I also like to set stretch goals to help me to keep pushing myself hard. Long-term goals help you keep the short-term goals on track and help guide key business decisions.

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?
I find the NASE Minute videos extremely useful and easy to watch. These videos are short and to the point, which lets me know that NASE understands how busy small business owners are and the importance of keeping the videos brief and informative.

Any other information you would like to share?
Find a bank willing to work with your small business. I feel fortunate that I was able to find a great bank (First Citizens) that is helping me reach my business goals. That relationship is priceless. Also, understand your customer’s buying cycle and identify the key decision maker. This helps ensure your marketing dollars are spent with the greatest probability of gaining a new customer.

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