Have you ever felt discontent in your job and considered branching out on your own? I think that thought has crossed a lot of our minds but with it comes fear about leaving a place of safety and security for something unknown.
Laura Gmeinder found herself in that place. She was a successful Human Resources director for a popular American brand for over fourteen years. Truthfully, she enjoyed her job, but the thought of quitting and going into business for herself as a consultant would not leave her. After coaching on the side for a few years she decided to take the leap and go full time.
In our interview, I asked Laura about leaving the safety of her corporate job and how she was able to venture into the unknown by starting her own business. She gives powerful insight on how to overcome self doubt, take a leap of faith, and even gain your first client.
Hi Laura! Would you tell our readers a little about you and your consulting business?
Professionally you can find me at the intersection of leadership development and business strategy. I lean on my degree in adult education from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, coach training from CTI, HR background and business savvy to provide leadership coaching and training, business consulting and motivational speaking. I’m always looking to one up my skill set. Currently, I am enrolled in a high level laser coach training program with Master Coach Marion Franklin.
I’m also a writer and filmmaker. My passion is female empowerment; I support emerging leaders and female entrepreneurs. In addition, I am the Vice President of Disrupt Madison and Disrupt Milwaukee. Disrupt’s signature event focuses on empowering thought leaders to change the world of work. I’m also in leadership for the Doyenne Group, a women’s entrepreneurial movement that started in Madison, Wisconsin.
I’m high energy and love variety. I’m a Libra so I am always searching for balance which can leave me feeling conflicted or just going with the flow so I have to reflect on my decision. In my free time I enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling (I love the ocean), hiking with my poodle, baking, attending community events, trying new restaurants and volunteering.
I like vodka (which I refer to as Russian water). Quirky is interesting. I’m very spiritual and regularly focus on what I am grateful for to keep my perspective positive. I’m future focused. “Starting” excites me but I lose enthusiasm with routine. After years of trying to figure *it* out, I’m finally living the interesting life I always craved, in the spirit of “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I’ve given up my search for Prince Charming and look forward to meeting Mr .Right-for-me when the time comes. I wake up every day and for a second I’m pleasantly surprised to find this is the life I am leading. And that, more than anything, makes me feel like a success.
Your website states that you loved your job in human resources, but chose to pursue your own business as a consultant. What led you down that path?
At my company, growth opportunities were only available in Michigan at our parent company and I had no interest in moving to Detroit. That’s over simplifying it, but to make the impact I wanted to make in the corporate world I would have needed to relocate to our parent company. My situation is very typical. Women are leaving the corporate world in their mid 30s due to lack of advancement opportunities or because they are not offered enough flexibility to raise their family.
I looked for years at job postings while building my skill sets on the side (I started coaching about 7 1/2 years ago). After finishing my year as president of a women’s non profit I was challenged with the question, “What are you going to do next? That question combined with the fact that in my corporate role big changes were coming, a new President who had never held the role, I decided it was the perfect time to take my side gig to the main event. I gave notice to my employer and within a week had my first consulting client. And I never looked back.
How did you get your first consulting client? Do you have any advice on getting your “first” client?
A friend mentioned during a happy hour conversation that she had a meeting with someone who had a similar business to the one I was creating and then never heard back from her. I slept on that nugget and by the morning I realized if I can’t offer my services to my friend how am I ever going to be successful? If you can’t sell you don’t have a business.
I put together an email sharing how I could support her and courageously asked for a meeting to discuss it. She said yes. The one rule we had for working together was that our friendship would always come first. Since then, we have worked on several successful projects over the years.
My advice on how to get your first client is to believe in yourself and clearly communicate what value you provide. When you get started it’s so much about your passion and asking people to support you. I scored my first coaching client by sending an email to 100 friends/family/acquaintances sharing about my passion for coaching and who I wanted to help. A friend of my cousin’s immediately thought of his sister who was stuck personally and professionally and connected us.
What have you enjoyed about running your own business?
Everything! (Truth: I loathe the accounting piece). I’ve discovered that my sense of adventure, love of variety, and ability to handle risk make me well suited for the entrepreneur life. My blind spot is, I am so future focused I always think tomorrow, next month, or next year will be better (which typically is) but it leaves me vulnerable and often not pivoting fast enough.
What I love most is seeing my clients lives change. For example, I had lunch with one of my first clients the other day (who is now a dear friend). The lady in front of me was almost unrecognizable from the lady I met almost six years ago. She is confident, down 50+ pounds, and she speaks up for herself which has improved her relationships with her family and friends. She went back to school, wrote a thesis, got her masters degree, and started a business. I’m blown away by her courage, determination, and ambition.
It’s inspiring and it energizes me to know that in a small way I was able to support her during a period of significant growth. It’s beautiful to see what happens when someone believes in themselves and takes action to go from dreaming to doing.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
The hardest thing was the inconsistent income. My self worth felt tied to my income and moving past that mental block is hard. For example, I had one month where I made nothing, NOTHING. It was so frustrating. I was working so hard. When business wasn’t working out the way I thought it would I was so stressed and down on myself.
Because money was a hot topic in my relationship I hid it from my (now ex) boyfriend which made it worse. However I am very future-focused, so I always was optimistic that I was planting seeds even if nothing was growing. Often after a month like that, I would have one of my biggest months. It was just how the money came in. I had to learn to chase opportunity without attachment and separate effort from results. As an entrepreneur, there are so many things out of my control. While I set monthly goals, I really focus on my annual goal and strategies along the way that will help me reach it. That big picture focus has empowered me to double year over year in 2017 and set a goal to do that again in 2018.
What is the best leadership advice that you have ever been given?
Make sure you are running towards something, not away from something (my last and favorite boss challenged me to reflect on that). I appreciate that she gave me that advice as I was transitioning from the corporate environment into my business full time. It challenged me to pause and think about it. Truthfully I was doing a little of both and am grateful I found everything I needed and more in my entrepreneurial journey.
How can we best empower this next generation of women?
By setting an example, you never know who is watching. Encouraging women to discover their potential and then lean into it. When you take action and build on small wins you quickly gain confidence which empowers you to take bigger risks.
This is my calling and why I am proud to share that I am co-producing a short documentary, “If You Don’t, Who Will? Empowered Women Empowering Women” on this subject with Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek. It’s such an important focus! It’s hard to lead and it’s something we need to focus on every day. I always ask myself, “how do I want to show up?”. And it’s one of the reasons I was named one of 2018’s Woman to Watch by BRAVA Magazine.
If a reader feels stuck in her current employment, what advice would you give her?
Get to know yourself. What do you like? What do you dislike? Try something new. Also, reflecting on what is holding you back will give you some insights as to why you feel stuck. My challenge was that I hadn’t processed my emotions, which kept me stuck because it was safe. If you can figure out what you are good at and what you like to do, and find a job or start a business at the intersection you will be fulfilled.