GET REAL

Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Celebrating 24 years in business….Here’s my story.

24 years ago today, I started my business, and I’ve decided to celebrate the anniversary by reminiscing about the start-up and evolution of the business, and sharing it with you. So I hope you’ll forgive the lengthy post and my self-indulgence today, but it’s a special day for me, and I couldn’t have done it without many of you.

I made the decision in May of 1989—while attending a workshop about setting and attaining goals—to leave my job (Sales Training Manager for a subsidiary of Rochester Tel) and start my own business. I’d been dreaming about going out on my own for some time so it was an exciting decision to make. I spent the next 5 months working at night and on weekends—while working full time—to fine-tune my offerings, create a marketing and sales plan, set up my home office, and apply for every credit card I could get my hands on (not recommended, but it worked for me). I also bombarded myself with positive affirmations and some serious daily visualization as I set out to reach my goals. My family may remember just how obnoxious my positive attitude was at the time, but it definitely helped to drive away those nasty doubts I was having about the leap of faith I was about to take. In September of that year, I gave 6 week’s notice to my employer, which I figured would work well for their transition and for the integrity of mine as I began networking locally. I didn’t have a strong community network outside of my own inside professional circle so I had a lot of work to do get myself out there. Fortunately, I was comfortable and experienced in sales and I love people so that helped a lot.

I started out with a niche and focused purpose—selling and providing management skills to non-management staff. And over the first 4 or 5 years, I worked with hundreds of administrative assistants, customer service representatives and back-office professionals who provided support systems within companies. I remember hitting the pavement on day one (Nov 1st!), selling one half-day workshop: “Time Management for Administrative Assistants” that soon evolved into a “Support Staff Series” that provided goal setting, communication skills and time management skills, customized for non-management employees. Fortunately, I was selling to a market that few training vendors were paying attention to at that time. So although I ran across many companies that weren’t willing to invest in training for this population, for those companies that did, I was one of very few local resources to provide customized programs. I spent 7 years as an administrative and executive assistant myself before getting into management, so I had a clear understanding of what it took to be a good support person. And, I was fortunate to have an innate understanding of how crucial professional assertiveness was to the success of this role. I was psyched to be able to offer support staff professionals help that could build their confidence and make a difference. I learned a great deal about business and workplace behavior when I was in support roles and I can’t tell you how much I learned from spending those years with support staff professionals who shared their successes and challenges. I still sometimes miss working with them because of their genuine hunger to learn, willingness to share their challenges, and their openness to explore new ways of doing business.

My management consulting services evolved quickly as I began to offer feedback and recommendations to the managers of the support staff teams I worked with, over time, in the classroom. Although I maintained the confidentiality I promised my classroom participants, I was able to offer management a general perspective of how they might contribute to the success and effectiveness of their teams.

In addition to classroom training and management consulting centered on effective leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills, I served as a training consultant to organizations who were developing their internal training resources. I also found myself being recruited to provide help relating to improved communications and/or team efficiencies between admins and their managers/executives. I began providing coaching to individual manager/admin teams. And after being invited in the mid 1990s (by an admin client) to work with her and the executive she supported, I was invited to stay on and work with my first individual executive client as his coach relating to a few of his leadership initiatives. I immediately fell in love with this work and by 2001 I was serving primarily as an executive coach, providing customized leadership development for mid-level to executive-level leaders.

In 2002, I hired a consultant—Jim Norman out of Texas—to help me assess my business, reach out to my clients for feedback, and help me shift my presence as a training professional to an executive coach in the marketplace. An interesting tidbit about my work with Jim is that it cost me $10,000 and we never met face-to-face. Working with him was worth every penny, a rich experience for me personally and a beneficial one for my business.

Over the past decade, although I continue to serve and love my work as an executive coach, I am still amazed at how my work with an individual will sometimes lead me to a consulting or facilitation role that’s a strong match for my skills, in support of an organization’s bigger-picture goals. And I can’t believe how much time has passed and that I’m still at it!

Writing this was a great way to celebrate the day, thanks for reading. I’m grateful to my family, colleagues, clients and friends for their support and trust over the years. You know who you are and if you’re reading this, a heartfelt thank you!

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