The Bra That Changed My Career

Ali CudbyAli Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. She’s also a bestselling author and has been featured on TV and in print and online publications.

Most women put shopping for bras and root canal surgery right at the top of their “least fun things to do” list. For a long time, I felt the same way. Then in 2004 I had an experience that changed my mind – and my career.

Before 2004, when I went bra shopping it felt like an act of masochism. The largest bra I could find at our local department store was a DD, and it didn’t come close to fitting. When I did find a bra that sorta, kinda worked, it always somehow resembled a flak jacket. I was sure the saleslady felt sorry for me. As a teenager, all I wanted was lacy lingerie in pretty colors, but there was nothing available in my size.

I felt humiliated by those shopping experiences, as if each bra that didn’t fit was communicating a larger message: that I didn’t fit. I excelled in lots of areas, but failing to feel good about my body compromised my self-esteem and undermined my confidence. As I transitioned through my twenties, I figured out other ways to feel good about myself. I focused on my career and friends and eventually came to embrace my curves.

I began dating a charming Englishman who, before long, insisted it was time to meet his family on the other side of the pond. On a whirlwind weekend in England, we were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in. I veered closer to look at the window, and couldn’t help myself. Without thinking, I went inside, leaving my boyfriend’s family standing on the sidewalk.

The store was filled with bras that were pretty, lacy, feminine—and all in large cup sizes. I received a professional fitting and discovered I was a size I never knew existed. Even better, the lovely fitter brought me a dozen gorgeous bras to try on. With each new garment, I felt more and more whole. All of a sudden, I noticed myself standing straighter. “My girls were lifted for the first time ever, in a bra that actually fit, was nice to touch and pretty!”

That fitting changed my life.

“We were walking through lovely, historic Cambridge with my boyfriend’s family when I spied the marquee of my dreams: Bravissimo—For Big-Boobed Girls. It was like a beacon of light entering my body, drawing me in.”

On that day, I knew I would never wear uncomfortable, ill-fitting bras again. I got home and began talking to my friends, only to realize that whether they had grapes or melons, almost none of them had bras that fit. In fact, most of them said, “I know my bra doesn’t fit!” When I heard them, I was floored. For all those years, I had suffered in silence, thinking I was the lone oddball. How could so many smart, successful women have ill-fitting bras? Then it struck me — as women, we never really learn how a bra should fit.

That stroke of inspiration became the basis of my company, Fab Foundations. I created a methodology Fab Fit Academy Logofor helping women find bras that fit which became a book, Busted! The Fab Foundations Guide to Bras That Fit, Flatter and Feel Fantastic (no longer in print). Busted! was a bestseller and stayed on the bestseller list for a year! Next, I developed a curriculum for training – and certifying – lingerie retailers in the art and science of bra fitting. My methodology has been used by lingerie pros on six continents around the world … just Antarctica to go!

But a funny thing happened as I was working with all those amazing retailers. As much as they got great at providing fittings, their businesses didn’t always grow. I realized that fit excellence was not the ultimate foundation for creating the best possible business.

I went back to the drawing board.

Your Iconic Brand LogoPulling from my corporate background as a Marketing Executive at companies like The New York Times Company and Animal Planet TV Network, I investigated. A pattern emerged – if women didn’t FEEL good about their fitting experience, they wouldn’t become loyal customers. Period.

I shifted gears and started focusing on helping small business owners develop a foundation for customer relationships that transcended bra fittings. All of a sudden, the one-two punch of fitting/customer relationship started getting results. Clients were growing their businesses by 20%…35%…500%! Even my traditional, bricks-and-mortar retail clients were seeing incredible growth. I was so excited!

On top of that, clients were reporting that their employee engagement was improving, turnover was dropping, and (here’s one I didn’t see coming) a number of clients shared that their marriages were better than ever!

Simply focusing on the customer experience was the key to building the businesses they dreamed of owning.

It’s like the theme song for that 80s TV show, Cheers: You want to go where everybody knows your name. When businesses create that, they get customers for life.

Ali CudbyIn today’s disconnected world, having a place where you feel truly appreciated as a customer is rare and special. When businesses form that bond, they become Iconic in the eyes of customers. This fundamental truth goes far beyond lingerie. Today I love having the opportunity to work with clients in a growing mash-up of industries.

I used to think my AHA moment was when I turned around and saw my reflection in the fitting room mirror at Bravissimo. Now I know differently. When I got that amazing bra fitting, my relationship with my body changed. The day I made the pivot to customer experience, my mission in the world shifted forever.

Every day I wake up (of course, I put on amazing lingerie) and feel ready to make the world a better place – one Iconic customer interaction at a time.

Ali Cudby teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for retail companies and other businesses that sell primarily to women. With Ali, businesses lay a strong foundation for building the deep relationships customers crave as the antidote to isolation in the modern economy.

The result? Customers are inspired to buy more often and refer like crazy, while businesses thrive and change customers’ lives.

Ali is a bestselling author and has been featured in TV, print and online for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Essence Magazine, among others. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and spends her spare time in her pottery studio.

Find Ali at www.YourIconicBrand.com

Bonnie Moore: Bringing the Shared Housing Movement to Boomers

Bonnie MooreWhen asked to tell her story, Bonnie Moore laughs. “Well, I’m 70 years old, I have a long story. I’ve been through three husbands. I was divorced before I even went to college. And while the truth is, I’m not cut out to be a wife, I’m definitely built for working life. I’ve run my own businesses before, but I didn’t become a serious entrepreneur until I was 69.”

At a time when most people would be putting their feet up for a long-deserved retirement, Moore was writing business plans and seeking developers to launch her online network supporting communal living among mature adults.

Moore’s drive to launch the Golden Girls Network was created out of necessity, but perhaps it also has its roots in her early years as a college graduate and divorcee living the hippy life in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. “I’ve always loved the camaraderie and convenience of communal living,” she explains.

A hippy perhaps, but for 27 of the 30 years she lived in the “City by the Bay,” Moore was an accountant. That is until she brought a class action suit against the California State Board of Accountancy in a fight over her right to refer to herself officially as an accountant rather than a bookkeeper. The case ended up before the California Supreme Court, and – although she lost by one vote – Moore became something of a celebrity, giving lots of talks on the issue of commercial speech. The experience sparked an interest in law, and so at 44 years of age she enrolled in law school, while working part-time.

“I was 50 when I graduated and the first question I asked myself was, ‘What am I going to do for the rest of my life?’”

But unlike her fellow eager graduates, Moore had to put her legal dreams on hold. “My 29-year-old daughter was diagnosed with AIDS and there was no question that I would drop everything to take care of her. She was one of the first patients in 1995 to get the untested cocktail because she was dying and had nothing to lose. Within one month she started to improve.”

It took almost three years for Moore’s daughter to get back on her feet, but as soon as she was, Moore decided to move on to the next chapter in her life. With a second divorce behind her, she set her sights on Washington DC, and with nothing more than a 15-year-old two-seater sports car packed with a suitcase and a blow-up mattress, she hit the road to finally live east of the Mississippi.

DC was a good move. After several temp jobs as an accountant, Moore secured a consulting gig with a CPA firm and stayed for 15 years until semi-retiring at age 69. She still works part-time for the firm on a project basis.

Bonnie Moore“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,” she laughs.

Moore’s inspiration for her next move came directly from her own experience. Divorced for the third time in 2008, she was saddled with a large mortgage for her newly remodeled 5-bedroom home in Bowie, MD. “Home renovation is a stressful process,” Moore says wryly. The recession had started and the house value was plummeting.

“I had my dream home. But my income was cut in half and I had 100% of the bills (her ex filed for bankruptcy). I knew I wanted to keep the house so I decided to start looking for roommates. Bowie is primarily a family town so it was challenging to get people to move out there.”

She focused on women in the same age-group. After some interesting experiences … the woman who reorganized all her drawers and the Jehovah’s Witness who shunned her Halloween decorations … Moore finally found four roommates that worked. Multiple house agreements have helped maintain order and balance the demands of five different personalities.

Fast forward five years to retirement and Moore realized her next opportunity was right in front of her. There was a market of mature women struggling financially and searching for housing, and the Craigslists and rent.coms of the world were not meeting their needs. She would establish a business to help other women do the same thing that she and her roommates were doing: find like-minded individuals to sharing housing.

Golden Girls Network is a membership-based organization modeled after match.com that provides an easy-to-use platform for mature women (and men) to search for and find shared living arrangements from a national database. Users can be seek housemates to share in their home or rooms in other Golden Girls homes. Bonnie is also working on a foundation which will support a home companion program through which a housemate could receive a reduced rate for rent in exchange for providing assistance in the home of an older adult. “This wouldn’t include medical needs, but rather help such as changing light bulbs, doing the grocery shopping, and shoveling snow,” Moore notes.

“I was suddenly lost, sitting around in my PJs. I’m the kind of person who needs lots of things going on. I was itching for my next challenge,”

And while the idea came easily and the business plan has evolved, setting up Golden Girls Network has not been without pains.

“We were trying to do too much and there were liability hurdles that I didn’t foresee. Then I found someone to build the database, but let’s just say it didn’t go very smoothly. I almost packed it in until NPR contacted me. I wasn’t even in business yet! Three developers later, the database was ready to launch and the very same day, we were on the cover of the style section of The Washington Post.”

Completely self-funded (although looking for an investor), the network currently includes more than 900 people in 47 states. Moore is in licensing talks to expand the network outside of the US. And even though she doesn’t sport a hoodie, she joined a business incubation center at Bowie State University shortly after her launch.

“We’ve tapped into something that people are really interested in, it’s a sleeper thing. Baby boomers are retiring and their situations are not what they expected. There is an epidemic of middle-age divorce. People who lost the value of their homes or their jobs through the recession don’t have the money to retire the way they thought they would. What’s more, women’s salaries are lower than men’s and often they don’t have secure retirement plans. Retirement communities are expensive, especially for people on a fixed income. Living in shared housing helps cut costs dramatically and the bonus is you don’t have a house or yard to take care of. It’s kind of nice.”

So what’s next for the septuagenarian after she finds that investor and takes Golden Girls Network to the next level?

“Oh, I’m going to be the ‘Where’s the Beef?’ lady – the face of the company – and let someone else run it! One of these days I’m really going to retire and live the life of a Golden Girl.”

You Never Know: 10 Lessons from an Unexpected Career Journey

Joan Michelson - 702-806-3690 - blue - cropped - 31RBJoan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Media™, a media and consulting firm focused on innovation and leadership, especially in the energy-green space. She shares 10 lessons she has gleaned from interviews with innovators and her own career journey’s ups and downs.

Before I could even get through the second set of doors into the hotel lobby, this cute guy approached me and said, “You must be Joan.” This was a pleasant surprise. After a delightful evening, that included discovering that he lives in North Dakota (a place that had never been on my radar), he invited me out for the balance of his evenings in D.C., including dinners with his N.D. business colleagues.  

Figuring I needed to brush up on North Dakota, I researched it online and must have left cyber-tracks, because I started receiving emails from North Dakota companies asking if I’d be interested in moving there. Ha! This New York City girl? Not bloody likely….

Fast-forward a few months and I was recruited by the electric vehicle division of a top automaker in – you guessed it – Fargo, North Dakota, to lead their communications efforts and co-lead their marketing and sales team, even though I’d never worked in the auto industry (and didn’t even own a car at the time). I had great fun working with smart, interesting people who were making a difference – and it changed my life forever.

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Jack Canfield at Biz Book Festival

When the company president introduced me to the staff in their cavernous plant and said, “North Dakota nice wasn’t working so we brought out a New Yorker,” I knew he had my back and I could do creative stuff.  We generated hockey-stick growth, including bringing to life some of my quintessentially “out-of-the-box” ideas.

The sub-plot running in the back of my mind, though, was the lack of women in the industry, and even fewer women at these conferences or in related media. So, I seized the moment and spotlighted women dealers, women managers, and women buyers, especially because women make the majority of car buying decisions in the US.

Falling in Love, But….

A few years later, a victim of the auto industry collapse, I returned to my natural environment: big city life in Washington, D.C.  But I was not the same person.

I’d fallen in love – with an industry and a cause, with a dynamism and economic potential, with the creative spirit of a burgeoning industry being birthed by brilliant, creative, inspired and determined social innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders across sectors. I also had a deeper level of confidence in my skills, talents, ideas, judgment, intuition and network, and strong convictions about the need for more women in this industry. The next question was….

Joan Michelson
Joan Michelson & Asst. Sec of the Army Katherine Hammack

How do I give my new passion, confidence, and convictions a voice and get paid for it?  The answer came from an unexpected but (in retrospect) natural place.

At a conference one day, a female media entrepreneur asked me to do a radio show on her network. The process that followed gave birth to my podcast series/radio show Green Connections™ and a new level of my media persona (I’d been in TV news and written articles for national media before).

The Green Connections Media™ mission is to grow a clean, green economy in which women have economic parity. We cover energy, sustainability, and clean tech, and how it intersects with every industry – from policy to The Pope, business to Broadway, and activism to the arts.  And, we feature mostly women experts (the opposite of the traditional media).

From my interviews with top leaders and innovators at Fortune 500 companies like Dell, Facebook, MGM Resorts, Campbell Soup, and government agencies like the Department of Energy, as well as non-profit leaders, and my own journey’s ups and downs, I’ve learned great lessons that translate to any career, any time.

10 career tips:

  1. Follow your intuition: Collect the information you need to make a decision, then step back. Take a walk, sleep on it, whatever suits you. Then check in: what does your inner voice say?
  2. Be open to crazy ideas and choices: These could lead you to a path of cool people and opportunities and fuller expressions of yourself – and all this could make you smile.
  3. Reframe a perceived “set-back”: Rejection is just life moving in a new direction, so make lemonade. Find the opportunity, then move in that direction.
  4. Be kind to everyone: Everyone. Period. From waiters to coworkers, to hecklers to people you meet on the subway. You may run into them again someday. Plus, it’s good karma.
  5. Listen for people’s values and agendas: You can learn a lot just by listening. Understanding what makes people around you tick can lead you to some very interesting places.
  6. Stretch out of your comfort zone: Read and listen to people who disagree with you – and hear them, even if you don’t like them. Push yourself to have a more creative idea – flip it sideways, ask someone with a different experience what they would do or how they would think about it.
  7. Increase your self-awareness: The more self-aware you are, the more successful and happy you’ll be, with better relationships.
  8. Make time for self-care: Numerous studies show that taking time for sleep, exercise and healthy eating improves performance and relationships, dramatically slows the aging process, and improves mental clarity.
  9. Trust yourself: The universe does not give you things you can’t handle.

And…

  1. ASK – ASK –ASK! Don’t be shy, just polite and tell them what’s in it for them, how your request dovetails with their world. Be persistent – pleasant – but persistent.

So, go out there and expand your reach.

You can do it. Yes, you can.

I’m expanding Green Connections and its reach, talking to more talented innovators every week, so there will be more lessons to share. Stay tuned and go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com to listen.

 

To listen to Joan’s insightful and engaging interviews with innovators and leaders, go to www.greenconnectionsradio.com. Follow Joan on Twitter at @joanmichelson or @greenconnectsdc and like Green Connections on Facebook. Read her blog in the Huffington Post. Joan also does communications consulting.

Pam Holland: Moxie and Tech, a Recipe for Success

Pam HollandIf she’d had a magic wand, Pam Holland would have been a photo journalist or done something in the arts, but instead the New Jersey girl, with a dash of New York, ended up in law school.

“Part of me loved the problem-solving aspect, but after law school I worked at a law firm doing commercial real estate transactions and I really hated it. It was like being a wedding planner for lawyers, too much detail, too many boxes to check.”

To her delight, she got laid off and was recruited to Fannie Mae where she did mortgage policy work. She loved it and stayed over two decades thanks to the interesting work, great benefits, and a near-perfect family/work-life balance.

But the itch to start a business was constant.

“I’d drive my husband crazy with my ideas. There was Kippah Girl, producing colorful kippahs, the beach buggy rental business (secretly it was just because I loved the name Buggies at the Beach) … I recall standing in front of a soda machine many moons ago saying ‘I wish I could get bottled water from this.’ I’ve always been identifying opportunities.”

Toward the end of her time at Fannie Mae, Holland went to a career counselor and discussed her Pam Hollandentrepreneurial dreams. “Even as a kid, I’d been trying to figure out how to make money. I’d have garage sales and made candles, selling them door-to-door. I remember the coach said if that little voice has been talking to you since you were eight, then maybe it’s time to listen to it. I never thought starting something new was an option for me, but after that I began playing with the idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

About a year or so later and one year before she turned 50, Holland decided to resign. The mortgage crisis had hit, Fannie Mae was in conservatorship, and the economy was blowing up.

“There were no longer opportunities. I had totally outgrown my seat, there was nothing left that I really wanted to accomplish. I felt like I had one more career in me and knew that never starting that business would be my number one regret.”

Despite all the ideas bouncing around in her head, Holland didn’t jump right away into entrepreneurial life. She took a consulting position with Bank of America, but after two years hit a wall and decided to leave – but not without a plan.

“I remember the coach said if that little voice has been talking to you since you were eight, then maybe it’s time to listen to it. I never thought starting something new was an option for me, but after that I began playing with the idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

For some time, she had been thinking about a business that would teach technology to “late adopters,” both the tech adverse and older generations. A lover of gadgets, Holland was always playing with the latest technology, testing out apps, and troubleshooting devices. It all began with a class she called “Getting to Know your iPad” which she offered at a local community center. “Bingo! That was it. The class was full with a waiting list. I went to other community centers and started picking up one-on-one clients. It’s mostly coaching, filling in the gaps, and getting the client comfortable with the technology.”

Pam Holland
A Tech Moxie client showing off the new iWatch

That was two years ago and Tech Moxie continues to evolve. While Holland still does classes and works occasionally one-on-one with clients, she hires contractors to provide most of the services while she concentrates on growing the business. That has proven the biggest challenge thus far: “It’s a very scalable business, I want to go national, but I need to step back and see the bigger picture.”

Tech Moxie is all self-funded. To her husband’s dismay, Holland said she was “willing to live in a cave” to make this happen. Marketing has been her biggest expense, the website and branding and so on, but the loss of her corporate income has easily been the biggest startup cost. But this tech moxie is in it for the long haul.

“Sometimes I wish I had started sooner, but I’m not sure the market was ready. Tech needed to catch up. Mobile phones have really changed the game because, as people age, the accessibility features open up doors that were previously closed. I love when I show a client with Parkinson’s how to use Siri for example. Helping people understand the tech puzzle gives me such a sense of accomplishment and the best part is finally my time is my own.”

Tips from Pam Holland
  • Fake it! You don’t need to be an expert, just be confident … look for breadcrumbs.
  • The only way to learn how to run a business is to go through it.
  • Work on the most important issues first, not the easiest, otherwise you’ll never get to the big stuff!
  • Having an idea does not mean you can execute it. You need to think about the means to manufacture or produce something, but tech has definitely leveled out the playing field.

How I Turned Panic into Promise

Lauren Laitin

Lauren Laitin is owner of Parachute Coaching which provides clients with the structure, tools, and support, empowering them to clarify their goals and devise the strategies to achieve them.

I was standing at my trendy new desk, staring at the exposed brick walls of my hip, downtown office and trying not to panic. I had recently left the fast track at a leading corporate law firm to be a partner at a boutique legal group and, as early as day one, I knew that something was not right.  On paper, everything was going according to plan – I was in a leadership position, had hopes of interesting work, and, for the first time in years, control over my schedule. But, for a variety of reasons, this new professional endeavor just wasn’t working.

As a woman who had always been confident in my choices, who moved forward with purpose and ambition, I was surprised that I was not happy in my new job. It was agonizing to think that I had made the wrong decision. Even scarier was the question I pondered every day while trying to dampen the anxiety:

“How soon can I leave without being a failure?  Can I have a ‘gap’ on my resume?” 

Without fully arriving at those answers, I told myself I would give it a little bit more time, but if my gut said go, I would.  In short, I gave myself permission to accept that this move wasn’t right for me. I told myself it was okay to throw away the current plan, to accept that it wasn’t working and try something new. Indeed, things didn’t change and, almost exactly six months after that first day, I parted ways with the small firm and embraced the uncertainty of my next steps.

Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.  I turned to my laptop and typed “Parachute Coaching” on the screen.

When I was ready to leave big law, joining the boutique firm as partner seemed like it would be the perfect next step – or at least a great next step on my resume. By thinking in terms of a “solid” career trajectory first, I had tabled the idea that I had been contemplating for over five years – one that I had promised myself I would someday pursue … starting a professional coaching practice.

I was first introduced to coaching about five years prior when, shortly after returning to work from Lauren Laitinmaternity leave with my first daughter, I attended a firm-sponsored presentation about work/life balance led by a professional coach. I was eager to get some advice on how to manage all my competing responsibilities. I had always been efficient, productive, and motivated, but – with an infant in my life – returning to my demanding job made tasks that had previously been quite doable, daunting and overwhelming. My to-do list had never been so long. I was riveted as I listened to the coach talk about defining goals, following internal rather than external expectations, and focusing on personal values. There was something about the soft intensity coupled with the clear opportunity to help people that made me sure that some day I would be presenting to a group of professionals about work/life balance.

The only question was when.

For years I continued to daydream about who my clients would be, what we would talk about, and what changes they would make. Within days of leaving the small firm, I knew the time was now.

The name Parachute Coaching had come to me immediately. When asked to choose one word to describe myself many years earlier, I had chosen “parachute,” because it is open, colorful, and adventurous. Within weeks, I had launched a website, enrolled in a coach certification program, and signed my first client. Four months later, I had more than 15 clients and had rented professional office space downtown.

“Ironically, taking the leap that had been so daunting and agonizing felt so freeing, energizing and RIGHT. For the first time in months, I did not feel panic. I felt calm, in control, and even excited.”

Once I committed to a career change, I realized this had been the right path for me all along. I am passionate about supporting my clients as they achieve their goals, and in so doing, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment from having achieved one of my own.

I made a conscious choice to focus on professional women because their advancement in the workforce has been top of mind for me for some time. Confidence is such an albatross for women in the workplace. By focusing on professional women, I can both make a difference in how individuals view themselves but also hopefully make a dent in the confidence epidemic overall.

Lauren LaitinI appreciate all the flexibility of having my own business. I work hard, but I finally have some time for myself.  I can go to the gym, which is something I haven’t done consistently since my first daughter was born. I don’t HAVE to plug in at night anymore, although I love what I’m doing so I often do, and growing a business can be a-round-the-clock activity. My husband will remind me on occasion that sometimes it’s ok to wait until tomorrow.

When my clients talk to me about the “fear of failure,” I remember my own feelings of insecurity and anxiety over making the “wrong choice” when leaving the small firm. Now I know that was the best thing that could have happened to me. Admitting to myself that I was not happy, realizing I had to do something about it, and moving on, was an empowering experience. And most importantly, it makes me much more empathetic and aware of my clients’ concerns about similar transitions … been there, done that.

Tips from Lauren Laitin
  • Focus on what YOU want to do, not what others think you should do.
  • Embrace fear – it can really be a gift; let it motivate you to put pen to paper on what the new opportunity or new business plan could actually deliver.
  • Ask for help. There are lots of resources out there; getting objective advice can be eye-opening, empowering, and fun!

Denise Roden: Loss So Often Leads to Gain

Denise RodenThe first line of Denise Roden’s scrapbook reads, “This is a book about me, for me.” You wouldn’t know it until you glance through those pages, but at one point in her life Roden weighed 265 lbs. It’s possible she weighed more but she can’t say for sure because she never stood on a scale until the morning of her life-changing bariatric surgery. Something else you wouldn’t know by looking at the confident blonde is that starting her own business at the age of 48 has been transformative – even more so than the surgery.

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following theDenise Roden money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

Roden grew up in Alabama, north of Birmingham, in a typical Southern family. Raised on fried food and Hamburger Helper, weight was always an issue as she and her siblings rarely exercised and were not encouraged to spend a great deal of time outdoors. By high school, Roden weighed 200 lbs. She tried aerobics and played some sports, but the slow slide into obesity had begun, interrupted by spurts of yo-yo dieting.

Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Roden enrolled in college to become an elementary school teacher, but her heart wasn’t in it so she dropped out after two years. Ideally she would have done something with computers, but it was 1983 in Alabama and there weren’t many options for that type of career, especially for a young woman.  She continued working odd jobs, toying with the idea of going back to school. She never did, though; instead marrying a soldier at the age of 23. The pair moved first to Virginia and then to Korea where he was stationed.

Weight gain continued to be a problem. “I tried everything. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, that crazy grapefruit diet. You name it, I did it. But nothing worked because I was looking for a quick fix rather than being mindful about what I was putting into my mouth and actually changing my lifestyle,” she recalls.

After Korea, the couple moved to Massachusetts, but the marriage was on the rocks. Roden took a secretarial position and taught herself how to use the Wang computer (remember those?). “I did a lot of payroll and accounting, and generally picked up the skills of whatever needed to be done. I was like a skills sponge,” she laughs.

Following his tour in Massachusetts, Roden’s husband was accepted into nursing school with the Army’s support and they moved to North Alabama where the marriage continued to flounder. “My parents had been married for over 40 years.  I didn’t think divorce was an actual option and deep inside me, I really thought I could make it work. However, I just gained more weight.”

“I feel like I’m somebody now. I worked so many years in an unfulfilling job because I was following the money. Looking back I see how lost I was all of those years. Sometimes when you are overweight you lose your voice. Starting this business has given me my voice and self-esteem back. I did this. I left a well-paying job, but I finally took control. This is for me and no one else.”

After returning to school to get an associate degree in general studies, Roden held various office managerial positions and built her finance expertise. After several moves, the couple settled in suburban Washington DC, where Roden worked as Director of Finance and Administration at the non-profit Jewish Women International. She stayed for 14 years.

Denise RodenFour years after the move to DC and several counseling sessions later, the couple finally separated. When her husband got orders to go back to Korea, Roden declined to follow, choosing instead to do a BA in business administration while working full time. Around the same time, she began looking into bariatric surgery as a solution to her weight problem. She was suffering from a barrage of related health problems such as high blood pressure, sleep apnea and hypertension, and the surgery – a stomach or intestinal operation that helps obese patients lose weight – felt like the last option.

After a year of reflection, Roden decided to go for it. As she was still covered by spousal military benefits, the surgery, and accompanying tummy tuck and breast implants to adjust for excess skin were all covered. “I just had to buy the bra,” Roden laughs. “It was such a gift.”

Roden dropped 100 lbs relatively quickly and was transformed. She attended bariatric support group meetings and after getting certified by the Bariatric Support Center International (BSCI), became a support group leader, a task she enjoyed but found frustrating when noticing who was attending the sessions.

“It was the patients required by their insurance firms to be there as part of pre-op or the success stories. The people who really needed to be there, the ones experiencing what I call ‘the creep’ – the slow but steady weight regain – were not coming. I had always felt there was a number on the scale that, if crossed, would be a slow descent from which I’d never recover. So I vigorously fought off the weight regain by focusing on my own wellness and happiness.”

This proved to be challenging considering what she was experiencing at the office.

“I learned a lot in the 14 years at JWI but I also grew up during that time. I was 34 when I started working there. For many years, the salary and work motivated me, but when I hit my mid-40s, I was no longer happy. I didn’t feel valued and wanted something more fulfilling. I’d start crying on Sunday nights when thinking about work the next day.”

A way out finally presented itself when, about two years ago, Roden received an email from BSCI offering her the opportunity to purchase a license for their bariatric support curriculum. At this point, Roden was on meds for high blood pressure and anxiety so she felt she didn’t have much to lose. Her new “permanent fiancé” was encouraging Roden to make a change and was unequivocal in his recollection of those days, “He reminded me just last week, ‘Do you realize the first word out of your mouth every morning was shit! Do you know what it’s like to start your day next to someone who says that every morning?’ I guess it was tough on him too,” she says a little guiltily.

She considered the cost of the license, and determined that she could swing it with the income from her condo rental and some Army spouse benefits. She gave six months’ notice and filed for an LLC.

Today Roden operates the Bariatric Center for Success. She earned a health coaching certificate from Georgetown last year and offers several services targeted at weight-loss surgery patients. Her educational curriculums include “Success Habits™ of Weight Loss Surgery Patients” and “Back on Track™.”

“For me and the 200,000 Americans who undergo this surgery every year, it’s not the end of worrying about food. You think it is the solution – albeit a drastic one – to your problems, but unfortunately it’s not. You need to change your mindset too, otherwise it won’t work.”

Getting the business going hasn’t been easy. Although most insurance plans cover bariatric surgery they surprisingly do not cover educational support services prior to or after the fact, despite that about 50% of patients experience considerable weight regain between 3 and 5 years following surgery. They even pay for revisional surgery when patients relapse but don’t invest in the more cost-effective and less invasive approach of peer support on an ongoing basis. Roden is working to build up connections and partnering with local hospitals to get the support services covered by insurance.

“It’s taking some time but it’s so worth it. On Sunday nights now, I start thinking about the week ahead, what I am going to be doing. I get excited and that means more to me than anything. Especially because I am helping people defeat those sabotaging thoughts and behaviors that cause weight regain and be successful long-term.”

Tips from Denise Roden
  • It’s really difficult to do everything on your own. Working from home, I found it hard not to let personal demands eat into professional time. I joined a women’s co-working space (Hera Hub) to address both of these issues. I’ve met a lot of women who’ve given valuable support to my business, I’ve learned from others, and I’ve been more disciplined about my working hours.
  • Keep lines of communication open with those around you. They might not know how challenging what you’re trying to do is.
  • Also, be sure you have enough for start-up cost. For example: website, CMS, accounting package, etc. There are so many little things.
  • As the President of BSCI, Colleen Cook said, “Reach Further, Dream Bigger, Aspire Higher” That’s exactly what I aim to do!

Pam Shields: Fighting Alzheimer’s One Sit-Up at a Time

Pam ShieldsBy the time her two daughters were in their preteens, Pam Shields realized that the frequent travel her job in the IT industry demanded no longer worked for her and her family. She wanted to be home more, more available to her kids. So in 1999 she left a high-paying, fast-track job in the corporate world to pursue something that had always interested her: personal fitness.

She also knew she had good managerial and leadership skills, and so by January 2000 she had already started her new physical fitness business. But it wasn’t without trade-offs. “My income,” she says bluntly, “decreased by about 95%. I went from a six-figure salary to almost nothing.” (more…)

Julia Westfall: Building a Community of Women

Julia_westfallJulia Westfall could easily have coasted to retirement. She was 59 years old and had a good job as director of finance and human resources for a marketing and communications company in Bethesda, Maryland. Her twin daughters had started college. She absolutely could have coasted.

But then Westfall read an article about something called Hera Hub and was intrigued. It sounded like the sort of thing she wanted to be involved in. “I wasn’t really interested in retiring; it wasn’t something my husband and I ever talked about, other than planning for it financially. I always saw retirement as something far off in the future, regardless of my age.”

So Westfall began doing some research early last year on Hera Hub – a work and meeting space where women could connect and collaborate – and then reached out to its owner, Felena Hanson, who is based in San Diego County. Many Hera Hub members are professionals who had previously worked from home but found it isolating, or wanted to continue working at home part-time but also needed a space to hold meetings or meet with clients one-on-one. Westfall learned Hera Hub has three established locations in California, but more importantly, Hanson was offering franchise opportunities.

Westfall continued to do her due diligence. She scrutinized her own finances, had a franchise attorney look at the contract, and even went to San Diego to meet Hanson and tour the Hera Hub locations. Impressed with what she found, she signed the franchise agreement after three short months.

“This struck me as an amazing opportunity to do something to help women in small business. I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses over the years and gotten a great education along the way. At this point in my career, Hera Hub seemed like a really exciting way to use that experience.”

Westfall admits there have been some who questioned her decision to buy a franchise rather than starting her own IMG_2811business. She responds, “I didn’t want to do all that branding work; reinventing the wheel. I found an existing opportunity that really suits me and my vision. I’m all about taking advantage of what someone else has done and using what they’ve learned. The franchise option was very attractive to me.”

But Westfall is still a trailblazer, as the Washington DC space is the first franchise for Hera Hub. “That intrigued me, too. I kind of like being first at things. It’s a challenge and I feel like I can make a difference for the people coming up behind me.”

Signing the franchise agreement was only the first step, after which the real work began. Westfall needed to find a location for the business and also to build brand awareness and educate people on the concept of shared workspace. When it became obvious that finding the right space wasn’t going to be easy, Westfall decided to open a temporary location so she could get started as soon as possible.

Westfall recently signed a lease for her permanent location in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. Hera Hub refers to its décor as “spa-inspired,” but don’t show up expecting a pedicure. The space is serene, quiet, and conducive to working, and private offices and meeting rooms can be reserved as needed.

IMG_2858Hera Hub also hosts evening workshops, programs, and events, where members come together as a community to learn from and support each other to the extent that they choose to.

“It’s a great group of women,” Westfall says of her founding members. “One is an artist. Another woman has a proofreading and editing company. There’s a website designer, an art curator, a business coach, a woman starting her own private equity firm. That’s what’s so great about Hera Hub – it’s real mix. This gives us the opportunity to make connections, support each other, and pass along some individual perspective.”

Eventually, Westfall would like to have about 120-150 members of different membership levels. At that point, she

Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet
Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet

would consider opening other Hera Hub offices in the DC metro area.

Westfall reflects on her age and why she isn’t ready to retire. “The advantage of me being 60 is that I’ve already done so many things, and your experiences make you who you are. I don’t think I would be as successful if I had done this at 40. I would have missed 20 years of experience. This is the right time for me. Also, being older, my husband and I have had the chance to establish ourselves financially.

“I’ve also had people ask if I’m buying this business for my daughters. I’m not. Sure, if they get out of college and are interested and have something to offer I would welcome them, but this business is for me. Although I guess I do want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do, at whatever age they happen to be.”

And for Westfall, Hera Hub can open doors at any age. “You always know that these amazing women are out there – especially in an area like Washington DC – but now I get to actually build relationships with them. That’s where I’m getting the most benefit – getting to know these women who are at all stages in their businesses, all different backgrounds, different education levels. I probably never would have crossed paths with most of them without Hera Hub. I’m very grateful for that.”

Tips from Julia Westfall
  • Whatever your business, find a community of people who care about you and support you.
  • Figure out where your strengths are, and be honest about your weaknesses. Then find support in those areas where you’re not as strong.
  • The pressure to achieve work/life balance can be intense. It can be hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of it, but it helps to see work/life balance as something that’s spread over your entire life. Sometimes it’s more about work, and sometimes it’s more about family, and that’s okay.

Ginger Miller: Once Homeless, Now Extending a Hand to Others

23041-banner-ginger-miller-forms-women-veterans-interactiveThere are 52,000 homeless women veterans in the U.S. on any given night. Ginger Miller was once one of these women. Only 18 years old when she joined the Navy and 22 when she received a medical discharge, it wasn’t a smooth transition back to civilian life for Miller or her Marine Corps veteran husband.

Miller met her husband, William, when the pair were stationed at Annapolis, Maryland. They married shortly after being transferred to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and decided that Miller would stay on to serve while William would get a federal job so he could accompany her wherever she was stationed. This decision was made easier by the fact that William, who had served in Liberia and Operation Desert Storm, was suffering from undiagnosed PTSD following the suicide of a friend and fellow soldier. (more…)

How to Counteract your Brain Wiring During a Career Change: Part 2

This is Part 2 of an earlier contribution from Career and Leadership Coach, Rebecca Dallek.

Rebecca DallekMost mid-lifers will remember the commercial put out by Nancy Regan’s “Just say no” campaign.  It showed a “normal” brain and then showed an egg cracked on a hot pan and said “this is your brain on drugs.”

At that time Scientists believed the only way to the change the brain was through surgery, injury, or harm by medications and drugs.

Let’s start by saying I’m no neuroscientist.  I’ve read, attended lectures and talked to experts enough to know that your brain plays a huge role in your career change or lack of change, for that matter.

What qualities do career changers possess?  They are usually risk takers, they are willing to go out on a limb, experience failure and have the grit to keep going, they leave the house in pursuit of something.

Notice that I didn’t say they were smart, outgoing, witty, magnetic, well-educated or rich.

All of the qualities I described for career changers are not necessarily innate. They can easily be developed and honed through experience and repetition.

This is where the brain comes into play.  Scientists used to believe that that brain was static.  Our synapses were in place and set for life by the time we reached our adult years.  Attempting to change behavior or routines were really about overcoming our brain. (more…)

Countdown to the Final Pitch: National Business Challenge Aims to Make a Difference in Women’s Lives

shutterstock_122837833

Update 8th May, 2015: the SBA has announced winners of the InnovateHER competition: 1st place went to Lia Diagnostics, 2nd to The Shower Shirt, and 3rd to Trusst Lingerie.  Congratulations!

Most of us are familiar with The Shark Tank, the ABC business pitch reality show that gave entrepreneurship a shot in the arm, fueling the desire in many to quit that staid job, launch their own business, and of course become millionaires. But let’s face it, only a select few will ever get the chance to face The Sharks, and frankly, it’s not for everyone. But clearly there is an appetite for business challenges as they have burgeoned in number, extending far beyond their traditional space on college campuses, with more serious participants competing for bigger prizes. So numerous are these business plan competitions there is even a website dedicated to tracking them. (more…)

Chanel Turner: Giving the Vodka Industry a Shot in the Arm

Chanal Turner
Courtesy of The Washington Post

To say that Chanel Turner broke the mold in the vodka world would be an understatement. She pretty much smashed it to pieces.

The spirits industry is fairly staid, with few new formulas being created. Most vodka companies get passed down through families for generations. But Turner developed her own formula, started her own company from nothing. She’s a woman in a field where there are very few. She’s African-American; also highly unusual in this business. She was only 25 years old when she started the company. And, oh yeah, she sells her vodka in a lightning-bolt shaped purple bottle.

Turner works as an IT specialist at the Pentagon. She attended Bowie State on a full basketball scholarship, majoring in business administration. After briefly working in the private sector doing web design, Turner began her job at the Pentagon, where she still works today.

The idea for starting a vodka company came to her while sitting around with friends, drinking vodka-based mixed drinks. When they ran out of chaser, no one wanted to go to the store to get more. And there was no way they were going to drink it straight. “When people drink vodka, they want to mask the taste, the harshness, the burn,” she says. “I thought how great it would be if there was a vodka that you could actually enjoy on its own. We all laughed about that, how someone really needed to make that vodka.” By the next morning, most people would have forgotten all about the idea. But not Turner. (more…)