The Bautista Project: A Conversation with Co-Founder and CEO Marla Bautista
By: Meredith Flory
Marla Bautista is a successful military spouse. As an author, blogger, speaker, and co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit The Bautista Project Inc., she’s been decorated with awards such as Armed Force Insurance 2018 and 2019 Military Spouse of the Year Base Winner, and her family was named a 2020 General H Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year from the Central Florida USO and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
While extremely accomplished, Bautista is also eager to give encouragement and advice to other military spouses and is honest about her earlier struggles. Throughout our interview, she discussed her journey to be an author, her passion for making an impact on homelessness, and how to make event facilitation a success. Of course, she also had specific advice about writing and other military spouses working to pursue their passions.
Bautista has been telling stories and writing since she was a little girl. She recalled, “I used to sit in my closet, I had a little walk-in closet, and I would read books and write short stories and poetry.” Much of her childhood and young adulthood was challenging and traumatic with facing the death of her parents, abuse, and homelessness. Writing was a way to “imagine words that were safe and fun and inviting,” she says.
There was not a local model of the kind of business she wanted to have—something other entrepreneurs wanting to bring unique services to smaller cities and more rural areas might face—so she researched other businesses online and listened to business podcasts like Massage Business Blueprint.
“I made a promise to myself that if I ever overcame homelessness, that I would spend my life giving back to people in need.”
The Bautista Project came to fruition based on a promise she had made to herself when she was homeless. She shares, “I made a promise to myself that if I ever overcame homelessness, that I would spend my life giving back to people in need.” Bautista believes her personal experiences allow The Bautista Project to fill a more personalized niche, focusing on individual plans for those they serve. “We take one homeless individual and we work with them until they are on their feet,” she says.
She is clear that large-scale organizations do important work and can serve larger numbers, but that sometimes they miss individuals who have specific needs not being met. She points out that most of us “are so far removed” and equate getting a job to ending homelessness, but that there are many other factors at play, including child care, mental and physical health, and the high cost of living in many areas where full-time jobs cannot pay rent.
When asked about finding balance in a multifaceted career and as a military spouse and parent, Bautista was quick to make it clear that “balance” can be an unfair and bad word, especially to women. She wants to change the conversations to how “we’re evolving into harmony and how we make all these things matter.” She encourages taking a record of your day—the amount of time spent working, with kids, in interruptions, and so on—and then creating a system of time blocking where you have realistic, dedicated time to the people and activities that need our attention, something that’s been made more difficult as many of us work from home.
For fellow military spouses who have a passion or dream they want to pursue, Bautista has tips, but also admits, “You actually don’t have to do any of that . . . You supporting your service member is a lot.” However, for those ready to find their own passions, she points to volunteering as a way to start putting things on your resume, exploring your interests, and using your specific skills and talents to serve the communities you are in.
While volunteering can be a great way to sharpen your skills and serve your community, when it comes to building a career, Bautista talked about knowing your worth and setting boundaries. She admits that sometimes women “fold very easily because we want people to be happy” when negotiating. She may volunteer her time for causes important to her but admits, “I did have to learn over time that I cannot eat exposure.” It is important for speakers and writers to set reasonable fees to be able to survive as they share their expertise. Some of the ways she encourages women to do so are to research average fees for the type of work you are doing, understand travel costs, use email as a way to get information in a lower pressure situation, and have your fees and expectations clearly communicated. When you give yourself time to make a decision, she states, “You come to the table with your best self. That’s what’s important.”
For event facilitators, she encourages organizations to respect their speakers by being upfront about their expectations, fees, travel costs, and goals for the event. “Direct communication is the best asset a facilitator can have,” she says. Speakers are there to share their expertise and make an impact on your audience, not worry about fees and logistics, and she makes sure to do that when she is bringing in speakers for her nonprofit by “being honest from the beginning” about budget and event size.
Bautista believes that flexibility helps The Bautista Project be successful as a grassroots organization. Just like here at Powerhouse Planning where our freelance workers can help you build your business, Bautista recognizes that not all employees need to be full-time in the building. There are opportunities for volunteers, contract workers, and other people to contribute their specific skill sets, allowing military spouses who may not be able to have longevity at a company still commit to sharing their talents.
You can find more information about Bautista at marlabautista.com and become involved with The Bautista Project at thebautistaprojectinc.org. The Bautista Project holds a variety of events, both in person and online. While those in the Tampa area can participate in some of her favorite events, like community park clean-ups, there are also opportunities online, including an annual event on World Homeless Day, Oct. 10. The Bautista Project works to create a family environment with opportunities that work best for volunteers, staff, and clients. “Our friends on the streets, we call them our friends because we want to get to know them, we want you to get to know them, and we want to get to know you as well.”