Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Our current business culture wastes a huge amount of human potential. We underutilize older workers who have valuable experience and perspective. We still fail to promote and incentivize talented women and people of color who could make essential contributions due to unconscious bias in hiring, evaluation and promotion systems. And we cling to outdated, short-term thinking and to business structures that burn out employees and demand they sacrifice work-life balance while providing no loyalty in return. Is it any surprise that our best and brightest flee the corporate life to strike out on their own, accepting risk in exchange for the reward of meaningful work as well as challenging opportunities and income without a glass ceiling?

When you’re crafting your own Fresh Start Success, design your reinvention to include balance for yourself and your employees. Resolve not to make the same human resource mistakes made by the big corporations, which overlook proven talent because of old stereotypes. Make sure your work provides both a livelihood and meaning. Use your reinvention to create a life, not just a living.

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The Spirit Survives

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Poonam Gupta-Krishnan went to school to be a chemist. She earned degrees in chemistry and education, and later taught math, physics, and chemistry. She moved into research and was very successful, working for two multinational chemical manufacturing corporations. She liked her work and the corporations gave her experience in both chemistry and manufacturing. Poonam also understood the technology challenges facing manufacturers.

As a research scientist, she handled all aspects from lab research to the production process, which meant that she also knew where the processes faced problems or had room for improvement. She did well in the corporate environment and liked her work, but realized after a while that there were no growth opportunities for women of color. When Poonam moved into Information Technology, she gained a different understanding of problems from the user’s perspective. So Poonam developed software for manufacturing focused on fixing the end-users’ problems.

Poonam was in a well-paying job heading a research group when her daughter was born, but the position required long hours and did not have flexibility. That was difficult now that she had a small child. It also bothered her that she did not see promotion opportunities for herself. “I did not want to kill my spirit by completely leaving the workplace or feel humiliated by staying in a ninety-nine percent male dominated company that did not understand the need for flexibility,” she recalls, thinking about why she left. Getting a Ph.D. might have led to some additional internal opportunities, but Poonam wanted more independence without the pressure to perform to other people’s standards. “I looked for options and considered my skills, talents and experience,” she said. “I thought about what kind of fulfillment I wanted, and what kind of flexibility that I was looking for. I wanted to fix IT processes and help businesses that hadn’t been helped by large IT vendors. I’m very analytical, a good problem solver, and I knew the technology and process challenges of manufacturers. I wanted to help manufacturing companies thrive.”

Poonam became an entrepreneur. She started a company that provided software services to small and medium-sized manufacturers. Over the years, it grew into providing a range of data and information management products and services. Today her company has evolved to become one of the most sophisticated technology services companies in Big Data Analytics. Her firm provides IT consulting and Data Analytics services to the private and public sectors in manufacturing, education, healthcare, and finance.

Poonam built her company facing limited resources, as well as social, financial, and health challenges. She is a first-generation immigrant who came to the U.S. as a student. When she resigned from her last corporate job, she had a two-week pay cushion and started her IT services company with no money. “I didn’t worry about money, even when I didn’t have much, because I knew that if you have quality offerings, the money will come,” Poonam says.

It took two years to build her company and Poonam put everything into the business with no financial support or equity. “Having no money and making no money even after long hours of work was not fun,” she recalls. But she kept at it, honing her skills, getting out to network, and learning to be ‘a little bit shameless’ about promotion and asking for what she needed. She went back to her last employer and talked to the head of the MIS department, since she had parted ways on good terms. “I found that the fear is less when you focus on the job,” Poonam says of venturing beyond her comfort zone. “Frustrations are often deep and long, but if you do something enough times and you appreciate what you bring to the table, you will succeed.” Poonam found that her self-confidence and her belief in the value of what she had to offer grew as she got out and talked to people. “Stay with it, have faith, keep expenses low, and be humble,” she advises.

For Poonam, the social part of growing a business was more difficult than the technical aspects. She was very aware that she was different, as a woman and an immigrant and a person of color, that sometimes presented a hurdle. “People subconsciously like people who are like themselves,” she says. “That can be difficult when you’re an intelligent woman trying to get into a male-dominated industry, and I was often the only woman present in Chemistry and IT circles. Men were used to a boy’s club. I looked different and was a woman, and I had family responsibilities, where men were free to just hang out in the bar and talk,” she recalls.

Poonam networked with professional women in a variety of organizations and found them to be kind and supportive. She learned to accept their help, mentorship, and guidance. That led to an important discovery. “If you have something of value, the differences don’t matter,” Poonam realized. To get the word out, she gave free speeches on technology, innovation, and best practices, which also helped people get to know her and helped her become more comfortable with networking. As she demonstrated her experience and showed what she knew, people asked to learn more.

In Poonam’s journey, she found opportunities to improve IT innovation in the government sector. “There’s a disconnect,” she explains, “because they lack a collaborative platform that brings private sector, public sector, entrepreneurs, small businesses, universities, and special interest groups together.” Poonam founded a not-for-profit organization, Government Technology Foundation, Inc. (GTF) to address that need. “The reason entrepreneurs take the route of ‘path least travelled’ is so they can fulfill their heart’s desire,” Poonam says.

Along the way, Poonam faced health challenges with no extended family nearby. A serious infection caused problems that meant she couldn’t drive for over a year, and she was faced with large medical bills. During that time she had to delegate, and her employees at that point were not as skilled as she was. They made some bad financial decisions, which undid more than three years of what had been built. When Poonam returned to work, she knew she needed to turn things around, so she decided to lower prices and pick up small jobs to build cash. That got the business back on its feet and she kept improving processes. As her children got older, she could put more time into the company, and she is still constantly gaining new skills.

“Persistence is the key!” Poonam says. Despite a later health problem and surgery, which led to more setbacks, Poonam’s persistence kept her and Big Data Services on track. She credits meditation for helping her overcome obstacles and improve her physical and emotional health.

Poonam’s reinvention in starting Big Data was successful, and the company is still growing. But despite her success, Poonam believes that she and other female entrepreneurs still struggle more than their male counterparts. Regardless, she is determined to succeed. “Success is a journey for me, and I have been on that journey now for fifteen years,” Poonam says of the ups and downs along the way.

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More Than a Paycheck

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

From the time children are small, we give them the pretend tools of various jobs to play professions. Toy power tools, doctor sets, and chef’s pans abound, along with costumes for pretending to be police officers, fire fighters, pilots, soldiers, and many other jobs. We nudge children toward jobs we think they might be good at doing that pay well, and discourage them from career paths that might not be lucrative. But we say very little to our children about the pervasive climate in certain professions that makes talented people who don’t quite fit the mold feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

As you make your own Fresh Start Success, look beyond your title and salary to decide what’s missing in your current job from a personal satisfaction and balance standpoint. Does your employer appreciate your contributions and effort? Are your ideas heard with respect? Do you feel like you make a difference, not just to the bottom line, but in a meaningful way in the wider world? Does success at work mean compromising your health or family life, or having no time left to recharge? As you build your reinvention, take care not to perpetuate the same elements that made you unhappy in your prior work. Seize the chance to do this your way at every level, including creating meaning, satisfaction, and balance.

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From Birth to Renewal

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Dr. Susan Sklar, MD wanted to be a doctor since she was fifteen years old. She knew she wanted a career where she could be of service, and considered being a teacher. Her mother, a survivor of the Great Depression, told her doctors never went hungry. Convinced that she had found a calling that was both secure and enabled her to be of service, Susan earned her medical degree and practiced Obstetrics and Gynecology for over 30 years.

Her relationship with patients was deeply satisfying. Susan liked helping people feel better, enabling them to become healthier, and making an emotional connections. It was satisfying for her to reassure people and reduce their worry. But while the medical side of her work was satisfying, the business side was stressful. Forms, billing, insurance, and regulations meant more time focusing on paperwork and less time for patients. The overhead necessary to handle all the paperwork meant she had to see more patients to break even, reducing the time spent per patient and squeezing the relationship-building Susan valued. The frustration built up over ten years, but eventually, Susan felt like a rat on a wheel.

Susan was afraid she would have to leave medicine in order to get away from the aspects of her practice that were driving her crazy. That was a frightening prospect, because after investing so much time in her education and building her practice, she wasn’t really equipped to do something outside of medicine. She wanted to be engaged with people in a helping field, and still have financial success. Then her son introduced Susan to another doctor who specialized in anti-aging medicine. This field of restoring poor health and promoting healthy longevity through prevention fit Susan’s professional interests as well as her own stage of life.

Susan was intrigued. This was an emerging medical specialty that was relatively new on the market. Most people didn’t know what it was. Susan liked the emphasis on helping patients in ways they didn’t dream they could be helped. Because anti-aging medicine tends to be direct-pay, that reduced Susan’s frustration with paperwork and insurance.

Susan was sixty years old, with a lot invested in her long-time career. She weighed her options carefully. She needed to finance her education in anti-aging medication and set up her new practice. One way would be to borrow from her retirement accounts and get bank loans. Borrowing from her retirement accounts and taking on debt was scary. The other option was to work part-time for the Veterans Administration. That would keep her from needing to tap into her savings, but it would slow down her progress. Susan felt a strong desire to begin learning and growing. That need for fulfillment won out over the risks, and Susan let go of the part-time opportunity to embrace her new calling wholeheartedly.

Going into anti-aging medicine meant Susan had to do new medical training. It took her a year to learn the medicine. But what was really new was the need to market her specialty and educate prospective clients that the types of services and the benefits they produced even existed. Everyone knew what an OB/GYN doctor did and what type of medicine and services obstetrics/gynecology included. But anti-aging medicine was so new, the people who needed it most didn’t know that help was even available.

Susan didn’t know anything about marketing, branding, or social media because her former specialty had not required her to focus on promotion. “It took me one year to learn the medicine and five to seven years to learn marketing,” Susan says. “It was faster to learn the medicine than the marketing!” Her new practice started out slowly, but Susan was motivated by the results she saw. She was helping people feel better and turning lives around. Gradually, word of mouth spread. Susan found experts to help her with marketing, and also found a mentor who directed her training and helped her develop a workable salary.

Susan was fortunate to be able to tap into savings and apply for loans to finance her switch. Her husband’s income was an additional safety net. “The first three or four years were really hard,” she says. All told, it took eight years to get what Susan considered to be very good cash flow, but she began to take a salary comparable to her old income at five years. Now she is practicing a type of medicine that she loves, helping patients and continuing to learn and grow as a person while meeting her financial goals.

Susan loved the core aspects of what she did—helping people, seeing results, making people better. The industry infrastructure, such as insurance paperwork and regulatory demands took her away from the core aspects she found fulfilling and produced enough stress that she thought about walking away altogether. What is noteworthy is that she found a way to make a strategic pivot that enabled her to keep the core aspects she loved—medicine and helping people—and do it in a setting that had far fewer of the pieces she found frustrating.

Did you notice that Susan was sixty years old when she decided to go back for additional medical training, strike out in a new medical field, and start a whole new practice? It’s never too late to follow your heart and find your Fresh Start Success!

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Jump or Pivot?

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

My upcoming book, Fresh Start Success: Reinvent Your Work, Reimagine Your Life and Re-Ignite Your Passion, interviews 41 amazing people who have made big, successful career changes in midlife, and shares insights into their success and marketing tips that made their success possible.

Making a Fresh Start Success doesn’t always mean completely leaving the old behind to make room for the new. Sometimes it’s a lateral shift, staying within a profession but changing the focus. When we come to a career/life crossroads, the idea that we have to jump instead of pivot can make us afraid to move forward. While some people embrace the idea for a complete reboot and the chance to do something completely different, pivoting allows you to keep one foot in the familiar while gaining a completely new perspective.

If the fear of making a huge change is holding you back from Fresh Start Success, stop feeling like you need to make a big jump and look for an opportunity to make a strategic pivot!

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Find Your Life Theme

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

When you look at your career, can you see a central theme that has transcended your individual jobs? In the previous blog post, Lauren was a teacher, and then a gymnastics coach, and then part of the management team at a performing arts school, and finally a life coach—roles that all centered around educating and mentoring. As different periods in her life unfolded, her central theme was reimagined, but it always remained a part of what gave her purpose and satisfaction.

As you’re planning your own Fresh Start Success, realize that the answer to the question of what to do next might be closer than you think. Look for the central themes in your work history, and then look for other jobs that emphasize those same aspects. Don’t get hung up on titles—pay attention to what the meat of the actual job entails. You might find that a new career that seems radically different from your past on the surface shares essential common threads at its heart.

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Coaching for Results

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Lauren Brett Randolph wanted to be a teacher. She went to university to study teaching and discovered that she hated being in the classroom. “That was a huge eye-opener,” Lauren says. “I really gained respect for the teachers in university.” From the time she was seven years old until she was nineteen, Lauren was a competitive rhythmic gymnast, competing for Canada internationally in events that included World Championships. She was a member of the Canadian National Team for rhythmic gymnastics and eventually became National Team Coach.

Falling back on her experience as an athlete, Lauren refocused her teaching background and trained to be a coach. After university, she joined a dance company, but it didn’t satisfy her love of gymnastics, so at age twenty-three, she began coaching full-time, then became one of Canada’s national coaches. “It hasn’t been about the job; it’s been about the higher purpose,” Lauren says.

As much as Lauren loved coaching and rhythmic gymnastics, she became disillusioned with the sport in 1991. Behind-the-scenes changes she saw at the World Championships were not aligned with her core values, and Lauren quit the sport again in 1997. Her first Fresh Start Success began when she went to work for her husband, a former New York City professional dancer, who ran a post-secondary college for musical theater students. For sixteen years, Lauren was the managing director of Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts. She taught herself how to use a computer and poured her passion into the business, which grew from $300,000 in revenue to $1.5 million in ten years with new programs that she created. She was a catalyst for infrastructure changes that supported such rapid growth and honed her skills on the job even without a formal degree in business.

Lauren realized she needed to reinvent herself again because it became clear that although she was doing amazing work and putting in a lot of hours, she was supporting her husband’s dream, not her own dream. She had tried to make the school her dream, but it wasn’t where her true passion lay. Lauren realized that she needed to make a change for herself.

“I was caught up in the cult of being the ‘ideal worker,’ working insanely hard to prove that I was smart and accomplished, and the ‘ideal mother’—trying to prove that I was a supermom,” Lauren recalls. “So I ‘demoted’ myself to a smaller role. But I was still super goal-oriented and a perfectionist, and pretty soon, I realized I was building myself another new, huge role with the school even though it wasn’t my passion.” Lauren did some soul searching and looked inward to listen to herself. She paid attention to her conversations with people, looking for direction.

As Lauren listened to what themes kept coming up in conversation, she heard people asking for a life coach. Coaching was in Lauren’s blood, and she had a track record working with gymnasts, students, and the faculty at the school. Still, it took her four years to decide to go back into coaching—this time, as a life and leadership coach. Lauren did her research, hired a coach for herself, and went back to school. As an athlete and now as an adult, Lauren recognized that her inner dialogue was holding her back. “I had to silence the negative mind chatter and my doubts about being too old to start over, since I was already forty-nine,” she says.

“I realized that the gremlins in my head are full of shit,” Lauren adds. “Getting to the point where I could acknowledge that was a profound way to step into awareness. I was in my own way with disempowering thoughts, doubts about my ability, and crippling perfectionism. It was holding me back.” She also learned to give herself permission to reinvent her career. “It was my turn,” Lauren recalls. “For sixteen years, I had supported my husband’s dream, and now he was supportive of me.” Her family was very supportive of Lauren’s reinvention, even though it meant a shift away from the family business. Some people were judgmental and made her second guess herself. Prevailing against the naysayers helped Lauren become more determined and grounded.

Immersing herself in learning went well. Lauren felt like she was starting late, and that sense of catching up from behind was a motivator to keep her focused and driven. She was still working full-time while she trained to be a coach but quit her job at the school when her coaching client roster grew to where it was too much to handle both.

Lauren attended The Coaches Training Institute and found their programs to have great synergy with her vision for the future. Then she dreamed up a new life that could provide her with autonomy, allow her to set her own hours, and work at a less compulsive pace. She started providing life and leadership coaching programs of her own in 2013 as The Cartwheel Coach. “Sometimes, I regret that it took me four years to decide what to do,” Lauren says. “But then I realized I needed that time to gain the wisdom to make the shift successfully.”

Championship-level gymnastics—as an athlete and a coach—required visualization, goal-setting, forward-thinking, visioning—all skills that Lauren brings into her work now. “I’m curious about the person in front of me, and I am passionate about supporting them to reach a greater purpose and be their best.”

Two years into coaching, Lauren is still early in her new career. She considers herself successful, since she is making a living from her coaching practice and earning as much money as when she was at the school. “I’m always setting my goals for something bigger and greater,” Lauren says. “But the real success for me was in taking the risk to jump without a net and trusting that I was going to be fine. I’ve learned that success is waking up and feeling fulfilled, having less stress-filled days (and nights), and knowing that I have the resilience to live through change.”

Before the self-discovery work she did as part of her preparation for coaching, Lauren would have said she was a Type A personality. “I was driven and controlling, and hiding a lot, distanced from my emotions. I knew people were depending on me, and I covered up my fear with arrogance. I had also been a huge people-pleaser, and I needed to deal with that.” Lauren had not finished her university degree because she got an offer from a dance company and always felt “not enough” because she hadn’t graduated. Going back to school and getting certified as a coach let her lay that concern to rest. “I know now, though, that I don’t need a degree to define me,” Lauren says. She furthered her education by attending Leadership Development Training, learning how to have an impact in the world at large.

“My goal now is to learn to slow down, center myself, and find a new way of being present in the moment. I used to be stuck in fear and regret. Now, I’m mindful of how I show up,” Lauren adds.

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Creating Champions

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Athletes don’t make it to the national level without good coaches. Coaches advise, develop training plans, assess the competition, refine performance, and encourage athletes to get past performance plateaus, personal challenges, and life’s rough spots. We wouldn’t expect a top athlete to succeed without a coach, so why do entrepreneurs believe we can do it alone?

Coaching can take all kinds of forms for entrepreneurs. Life coaches help us figure out what we want to do for our Fresh Start Success. Success coaches help us get over limiting beliefs and behaviors. Media coaches help us look good in front of the cameras. Financial and systems coaches help us put together accounting and back office practices that work. Human resource and management coaches teach entrepreneurs—who are usually subject-matter experts—how to be a good boss and manage a company. As marketing consultants/coaches, we help entrepreneurs see and seize opportunities to gain visibility and translate that into a stream of new clients. The bottom line is, regardless of our individual competencies, there is always more to learn—we all need coaching of one kind or another.

When you’re making your Fresh Start Success, don’t try to go it alone. If Olympic athletes need coaches, despite the fact that they’re the best in the world at what they do, then maybe you could benefit from experienced counsel, too. Don’t let your ego get in the way of finding the help you need to reach peak performance.

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The Car ChickTM

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

LeeAnn Shattuck went to college and earned degrees in Quantitative Economics and Industrial Engineering at Stanford. She followed in the footsteps of her father, who was a managing partner at Ernst & Whinney, and became an IT consultant for Anderson Consulting (which became Accenture).

“I learned a lot of different businesses and industries,” LeeAnn says. “I learned something new every day. There was always a lot of interesting new information. But the travel got old. I travelled so often that I knew all about the flight crews and their families. When the crew started to comment when I wore a new outfit, I knew it was too much.”

LeeAnn left Accenture and went to IBM, doing the same work at the same pay but working from home. After 9/11, IBM wanted her to move to New York City, and she refused. She moved to different IT jobs with smaller and smaller firms. “It was always the same hassles,” LeeAnn says. She got divorced, and her life began to shift.

“The last straw came when I asked my boss if I could work a day at home—same billable hours—to meet a repair man, and he said, ‘why can’t your wife just handle all that for you?’ It didn’t even hit him what he was saying until it was out of his mouth,” LeeAnn says. “He and his male friends all had wives who didn’t work. It was very chauvinistic.”

LeeAnn reevaluated her goals. “I asked myself why I was working eighty hour weeks to build a business for this idiot,” she recalls. “I wasn’t getting treated the same as the men, and they had zero-percent respect for work-life balance.” LeeAnn realized she was burned out and began looking for other options, including franchises.

Then the universe intervened. “I was in the bathroom when I saw a brochure about car shopping—a company that helped women shop for cars,” LeeAnn says. “I called the owner, and fell in love with the concept right then. I have always loved cars, I’ve raced cars all my life. It was fate stepping in.” The company at the time was called Women’s Automotive Solutions.

“I had no idea of what I was getting into,” LeeAnn admits. “Customers don’t magically show up. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about marketing, sales, etc. I hadn’t thought about being an entrepreneur. Working with a business partner was new, since it was just the founder and me. I went from a cushy six-figure salary to nothing for a long time.”

Thus began a journey of learning how to run and market a business. “My first customer was a young, single mother who had been taken advantage of by a con artist and stuck in a bad lease. She was terrified of going to the car lot. I helped her get out of her old lease, found her a car she loved at an affordable price, and got her out of a bad situation,” LeeAnn recalls. “This wasn’t really about cars. It was about empowering women. Cars were something I knew well. People started calling me ‘The Car Chick™’ and it stuck. That’s who I really am, and this is what I was meant to do.”

LeeAnn had to create her own support network. Her ex-husband wasn’t supportive of her venture, but her father believed in her. “Mom was a worrier,” she adds. She found groups of other women entrepreneurs and gradually found her way. “I was empowering other women, but I empowered myself, too,” LeeAnn says. “I just ignored the naysayers.”

It took about five years for the business to become profitable. “There was a big learning curve,” LeeAnn says, “and I had to get over my fears and out from under the limitations of my business partner, who had a small view of what the company could become.”

She hired a good business coach and tripled what she was charging while also increasing the services clients received. “My business is different now,” LeeAnn says. “I provide so much more value than I did originally.”

“I am not even remotely the same person that I was before,” LeeAnn says. “I was very risk-averse, and I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. Now I’m seen as one of the most influential women in the auto industry. I used to be afraid to speak to groups—now I’m on radio and TV.”

She’s learned a lot, but there’s always something new to master. “I still get scared of a lot of things, but my fear of failure is less than my fear of not trying,” LeeAnn adds. “I don’t need a boss or a partner to be a leader. I know that this is my purpose on earth, and if I didn’t do it, I would regret it forever.”

Brands help busy consumers find a mental ‘filing place’ to remember you. Have you ever noticed how you can remember the tag lines of old advertisements decades after the products disappeared? That’s how well we remember brands—and why creating a catchy and memorable brand is an essential element in your Fresh Start Success.

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Essential Branding

by Gail Z. Martin excerpted from Fresh Start Success: Reimagine Your Work, Reinvent Your Life, Re-Ignite Your Passion

Who are you? To the world, you are the brand you create for yourself. That can be scary if you’re new to thinking of yourself as a brand. But to put it another way, you are the product, and products need a brand to stand out. So what’s yours?

One approach to coming up with your brand is to think about who you serve, what you do for them, and what result you achieve, and then distill it down to three or four words. If you try that and struggle, here’s an exercise we use with clients. Describe what you do flippantly. Now look at what you wrote down. Is there truth in what you’ve said? How could you tweak it and make it work for you? That’s exactly what LeeAnn did—and her branding propelled her business far beyond her initial expectations.

As you create your Fresh Start Success, make sure that branding is on your list of essentials!

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