You’ve got to get, and stay, visible — I know getting super visible and sharing what you do with the world can be intimidating, but your results will be so much better if you put fears aside and go for it.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Walsh. Allison Walsh, JD is a seasoned executive, philanthropist, speaker, professional consultant, and Miss Florida 2006. A two-time CEO for national coaching firms, Allison has over 20 years of organizational leadership, mentorship, and career coaching experience. She serves as Vice President of Business Development and Branding for Advanced Recovery Systems, a national provider and industry leader in behavioral healthcare. Host of the She Believed She Could podcast and creator of the Savvy Girl online coaching community, Allison’s platform strengthens the professional development and executive career advancement for women.
Named in the Orlando Business Journal’s 2021 Top 40 Under 40 and Women Who Mean Business, Allison also serves as a contributing editor for the Dove Digital Channel and is a proud member of Forbes Business Development Council, Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, The Revenue Collective, and Orlando Business Journal’s Leadership Trust. Allison has raised more than $2 million for eating disorder education and treatment through her 501(c)(3) nonprofit Helping Other People Eat (H.O.P.E.). Her philanthropic efforts have been featured in national news and Diane Keaton’s best-selling memoir, Then Again. She serves as a Board Member for the National Eating Disorders Association, Forevers Foundation, and Project Opioid.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
From an early age, I’ve been able to go after what I want and find success in many things that I do. One of the best experiences of my earlier years was winning Miss Florida in 2006. After gaining that achievement for myself, I became obsessed with helping people get amazing results pursuing their goals and I am a huge fan of personal and professional development. My mom always told me that “no experience is ever lost on me” and as I’ve learned new skills or accomplished certain milestones, I’ve figured out how to package and monetize the lessons learned to help others accomplish it as well. To be completely honest, back in the day, I was looking for a way to make an income while making an impact.
I was not happy with just working on my own ideas and business dealings, I wanted to help others grow while I was growing. I had a few clients that I was working with but it wasn’t until 2009 that I jumped in and started treating the company as a priority. My first business was truly born during the recession because I needed to figure out how to help us dig ourselves out of the hole that we were in as a result of my husband losing his job. I knew I had experiences that I could share and that there were clients who wanted to learn what I had to offer, so I figured out a pricing structure and started hustling. They were getting great results and word of mouth referrals were coming in. I knew it had even greater potential and so I decided to partner with a dear friend to expand the business, which was such an incredible experience. In 2015, I returned to solo practice and evolved what I offered to reach a new clientele. Fast forward to 2021, and my niche has continued to evolve as I have. In addition to running my own business, I’ve built other very successful businesses along the way. Coaching and consulting has always provided so much joy and I am eternally grateful to the amazing clients I’ve had the chance to work with.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I have to admit, in the beginning, I was not fully aware of how much potential coaching and consulting companies had. Back in 2008/2009, there definitely were not as many, and those that were in existence certainly were not as visible as they are today. I had great clients and loved the work I was doing, but I knew there was more potential if I went all in. I teamed up with another coach in our industry and we created an unbelievable business. It grew exponentially and was incredibly successful. We scaled to multiple six figures quickly and our clients were achieving great results. I learned a lot during that time that I’ve taken with me as I’ve evolved. First, niche down. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Instead, be amazing for a specific clientele. When your results are incredible, the rest will follow. Second, get visible. Our pre-launch built up a lot of anticipation and we had paying customers before we were officially open for business. We were always sharing their success and that in-and-of-itself created a lot of hype and interest. We were also incredibly proactive about showing up where our potential clients were — whether that was at events, on social media or even reaching out to them directly. Lastly, be prepared for success. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that we don’t have to, and shouldn’t, do everything. It’s the fastest way to burn out. In hindsight, we should have outsourced a few things earlier or even brought on additional team members to help us. Instead, we took on a lot and at times it was very overwhelming. I’ve taken that lesson to heart and as my coaching and consulting career has evolved and since then, I’ve brought in additional talented team members to help sooner rather than later.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my consulting career I was working with an amazing partner. We thought it would be a good idea to go deeper in our representation and fully meet the needs of our clientele. This led us to launch our own apparel line, which we decided to do at a tradeshow in Vegas. Visually, we planned to display everything beautifully when we got there. Instead of shipping display racks, we found some on craigslist and coordinated a pick up for when our flight landed, thinking we had made a great business decision to cut on extra costs for the displays. We talked ourselves into renting a limo (first, because there was no way these would fit in a regular taxi; second, we were in Vegas! Why not rent a limo?!?) and off we went. We had NO idea that we would be driven out into the desert to pick them up from a random junk yard. Thankfully our limo driver informed us that he was packing heat. Needless to say, we still call it the ride of our life and are very grateful our limo driver was there. Lesson learned: Amazon is always a safer (and easier) alternative.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My former business partner was definitely the yin to my yang. We complimented each other perfectly in all areas and loved pushing ourselves and the business to the next level. That being said, when we initially started our first business together, she was definitely the bold one, whereas I felt like I needed to fully research and overthink everything. Over the course of our years working together, she really helped me get outside of my comfort zone and go for it. Now, I have a wonderful mix of strong preparation and research mixed with trusting my gut and going with my intuition, which thus far has been spot on in business!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I believe that many women get in our own way far more often than anything else will. In general, women feel like they have to be more prepared than men before they do anything. This applies to starting business as well as going after jobs or positions that they might not feel fully qualified for. It’s also been reported that women are less likely to seek funding because they aren’t as familiar with venture capital or private equity. That can change if we continue to propel women forward, have candid conversations around funding (and money for that matter), mentor them and expose them to all possibilities. It’s common knowledge that men are much more likely to start and “figure it out” than women are, and it’s time for that to change. While it’s disappointing that only 2% of female founders hit 7 figures in revenue, I firmly believe that statistic is changing and look forward to celebrating countless female founders who are crushing the 7-and 8-figure benchmark in the future.
I personally witnessed so many businesses get started since the pandemic began because many women were presented with new challenges in which they had to look inward and figure out how to make it work. Others finally invested in their dreams and decided to go for it because tomorrow is only a promised hope and the pandemic shook their perspective. For some, they realized that there is no time like the present and that we can truly be in the driver’s seat rather than being at the mercy of anything or anyone else. Necessity is often the mother of invention and with all of the incredible tools at our disposal right now to create successful businesses from home, I am confident that more female founders will emerge in the near future with incredible success stories of how they did it. The challenge will then be how to scale and maximize their impact and my hope is that they seek out support and guidance to help them cross the next threshold faster than what they would do on their own. An idea without execution is just an idea and momentum isn’t enough to reach success. Action has to be a part of the equation to max out results.
Additionally, I hear all of the time that women have goals and dreams of making millions, but approach their businesses as side hustles which can oftentimes lead to “hobby results.” My approach has always been to build the side hustle, which should also always be treated like the business it is, to be enough to be a sole source of income and then make the decision if you want it to be. I’ve built successful businesses simultaneously and appreciate multiple sources of income at all times. At the end of the day, imperfect action will by far yield greater results than analysis paralysis. Get started, ladies. Your future self is thanking you already.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Individually we have to take ownership of our futures. We all have ideas, skill sets, passions, and talents that can be monetized if we’re willing to give it a try. Once you lay out a plan for what you want to do, the most important and critical step is HOW. I see way too many people with brilliant ideas fail at execution — not because they weren’t capable — but because they allowed their excuses to be way louder than their WHY. The majority of my clients work with me because they want and need accountability and guidance from someone who was once in their shoes. Many have tried to do it alone before and their results weren’t what they had hoped. When I dig in further, the only thing standing in their way is themselves. That can show up as reasons like “not enough time,” “not enough money,” or “not enough support” but in reality we are in control much more than we give ourselves credit for. Is building a business easy? No. Is it worth it? 1000% yes. You grow stronger, more resilient and more capable each and every day as an entrepreneur, and I promise you will be so impressed with your results if you commit to your “why” and stay crystal clear on your vision.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Nothing is more incredible than having the ability to create something from scratch and build it into something you’re proud of. For me, I jumped head first into entrepreneurship when we financially needed it. As it evolved, I realized that the true purpose was to serve and create the best possible experience for my clients. When they thrive, the business thrives and more opportunities flow my way. Over the years and as businesses evolved, I could dial up or dial down the intensity based on what my goals were at the time. I also had so much more peace of mind when I knew that I had control over my financial future. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also had INCREDIBLE experiences in other businesses and corporate America, but I have loved being able to start mine from scratch and build businesses I loved from the ground up. Many women find satisfaction and passion in multiple areas of their lives. It’s time for more women to feel that satisfaction when it comes to building a business, creating a revenue stream and providing for themselves while building a lasting empire!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The first myth is that entrepreneurship requires financial backing. For some businesses this may be true, but the reality is many businesses start from humble beginnings. The beautiful thing about the coaching, consulting and self-education industry is that you are monetizing your skill sets. Will you spend time pulling your content and training together? Absolutely, but it is possible to create a healthy book of clients with very little financial investment up front.
The second myth is that it’s too hard to launch/maintain while simultaneously having a separate career. If your goal is for your business to be your only source of income, you need to get crystal clear on your financial targets and identify when you can step away from your 9–5. As you build to that revenue target, you’ll have to be fiercely committed to early mornings, late night nights and probably weekends as well. Your approach can be much different though if your goal is for this to be a secondary source of income. You should still have monthly financial targets to keep you on track, but you can use support systems around you where needed, and go as fast or as slow as you need.
The third myth is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be a great founder. There are many amazing ideas that can be built upon or perfected. Further, there are many needs for people to work with millions of the great ideas already out there! Don’t think that just because you aren’t the inventor of a never-seen-before product or service that you can’t be a highly successful and impactful entrepreneur.
No matter what, don’t let myths or other people’s opinions stop you from being a founder. If you know in your soul that you were meant for more and you’ve got an idea that you keep thinking about, go for it. It’s way better to try and learn from the experience than to have regrets. Plus, that idea very well might be exceptional once executed upon and the rest will be history!
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Hustle, hard work and a strong work ethic have to be at your core. First and foremost, you cannot be afraid to do the work. There were so many things I had no idea how to do when I started out, and as the business evolved, I had to evolve with it. Entrepreneurs also have to be nimble. Just because something worked for a while doesn’t mean it will always work that way. That means I had to either teach myself, invest in consultants or coaches, or hire people to help me get over whatever hurdle was in front of me. Delaying progress will delay your results, so you have to be willing to learn and grow each and every day.
Additionally, until your business is up and running, and consistently generating revenue, you’ll probably experience a range of emotions. While imposter syndrome and some self doubt is normal, especially in the beginning, if you let it get in the way of your progress, it will hinder your success.
Lastly, you have to be disciplined to succeed, and you have to understand that your results are the outcome of your efforts. Ultimately, as the founder, you either have to get it done yourself, or have a solid team in place that can execute. Staying committed to those you serve, always putting your clients/customers first, and recognizing areas for improvement need to always be top of mind.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) The riches are in the niches — it’s our natural intuition to want to serve more people but I can completely attest to the fact that incredible success happens when you niche down and truly know your ideal client. There have been multiple times during the course of building my company where I cast the net too large. When you’re trying to speak to everyone, you end up speaking to no one. As soon as I pulled back, got really clear on exactly who my ideal client was, what they needed and wanted, and showed up ready to serve, it all fell into place.
2) Dilute your focus, dilute your results — When you take on too much at one time, you end up not doing anything well. Starting a business is a lot of work, but there are people ready and waiting that can help so that you can focus on building your business instead of getting stuck in the business. Even if your desire is to run a small business or be a solopreneur, hiring a coach or consultant for advice, outsourcing tasks, or utilizing freelancers for projects along the way can help you significantly.
3) Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should — I have to constantly remind myself of this. I love to learn new things and I can easily lose hours from my day if I am drawn into anything creative. I’ve had to be very conscious about prioritizing my time, especially as the business grew, and learned to trust the team I had around me to get the work done that I hired them to do. By staying focused on the priorities that I need to complete, I am able to show up fully for my clients, and give them my attention rather than waste time doing something that someone else can handle. If you’re a solopreneur, I highly recommend you find a virtual assistant or freelancer who can help you with tasks that take you away from building your business. It will make a massive difference.
4) Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish — Invest, invest, and invest more in the growth of your business. It took me way longer than it should have to adopt this mentality. Looking back I could have saved so much time, energy and money had I spent resources wisely rather than operating from a bootstrap mentality. Several companies started with a very lean budget but I could have accelerated my progress significantly if I had spent the money I needed to get ahead. Trust me, I love a good hustle, but if there’s a way to accelerate progress by making an investment in your business, figure out how to make it happen and go for it.
5) You’ve got to get, and stay, visible — I know getting super visible and sharing what you do with the world can be intimidating, but your results will be so much better if you put fears aside and go for it. People do business with people and brands that they know, like and trust. The better you can build your brand and show up authentically where they need to see you, the better your results will be. No one is looking under rocks trying to find you, and I fully understand the worries or concerns you have for showing up in a big way are real. However, I promise, the more you do it, the easier it will get. Then it’s up to you to stay on top of trends and always know where your ideal clients are so you can take advantage of the opportunities to engage with them, whether that’s in person or online.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I share everything I have learned and all of the experiences I have had to help accelerate the growth and development of others. In addition to considering myself a knowledge broker and lifelong student, I find great joy in passing that knowledge along to others to help them get to the next level faster. I also love mentoring younger women, and I give back to organizations that propel women forward. In general, my passion and business lie in working exclusively with women. As mentioned above, sometimes we get in our own way and that, along with other factors, has led to low representation of women in the business and entrepreneur realm. I’m working to help close that gap in numbers, and I’m looking forward to that day when we’re 50/50 and the world is a better place because hidden potential and ideas have found their way to the light!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Give a woman a fish, and you’ll feed her for a day. Teach her to fish, and you’ll feed her for a lifetime. If I could teach everyone I encounter how to monetize a skill set, passion or idea, the multiplier effect would allow me to impact millions. Once I saw the impact I could have by helping others chase after and accomplish their goals, the game changed. Couple that with the fact that the world is constantly changing and new opportunities are ever-present, the possibilities are endless. I truly believe that the whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you’re intended to be, and if I can inspire those I meet to see their potential and share their talents with others sooner rather than later, I will feel as though I’ve left the world a better place. My goal is to not only to continue to work one-on-one with entrepreneurs to help them scale their influence, brand, and customer base, but to also engage with tens of thousands of up-and-comers via digital courses and resources made available through Allison Walsh Consulting.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi have impacted my coaching and consulting career tremendously. I’ve had the honor to be a student of their work and appreciate the fact that they are always looking for what else they can do to help others succeed. Not only are they unbelievable role models, but they are also exceptional examples of entrepreneurs who have pivoted their businesses over the years as well as run multiple successful businesses simultaneously. They inspire millions of people to go after their next level of success and it’s my hope to do the same.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.