…It was an amazing journey of self-discovery. And maybe some of your readers can relate too, we tend to go on automatic pilot and maybe it’s because we’re fulfilling the examples that were set for us in childhood. But you go to college, you graduate, you get a job, at some point you get married, maybe you have a kid or not and then 25 years later, life kind of catches up with you and you say, wait a minute, what’s going on? And that’s what happened with me.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deb Boulanger.
Deb Boulanger is a business launch expert who helps women leaders make the leap from corporate leader to successful entrepreneur. She’s the CEO of The Great Do-Over, founder of the Launch Lab for Women Entrepreneurs, and Host of the Life After Corporate Podcast. Deb is a leading speaker and contributor to many women’s leadership organizations, Including Ellevate Network and Luminary NYC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Do you remember a TV show growing up called Romper Room? I was born in Providence, Rhode Island and my kindergarten teacher must have selected me to be on the show because I was cute and dimpled and blonde. Which terrified me to no end because I was always painfully shy.
Later in life, my relatives would say I was always tripping up or down stairs and was completely self-conscious and shy. So here I am in the Romper Room and we’re pretending to be airplanes. The boys are behind me going vroom, vroom, vroom and turning the corner, I trip and fall flat on my face.
I’m mortified. I’m embarrassed. I knew this kind of exposure couldn’t be good. I didn’t want to be on the show to begin with. And subconsciously register as a child of that age, “it’s not safe to perform in public.” I’d rather be playing with dolls or coloring within the lines of my picture books than be exposed that way.
Fast forward 45 years as a senior executive running a 32 million dollars business, during a company town hall meeting, my voice is shaking. I was running the fastest growing division in the company at the time, but my voice is shaking. I can hardly remember what I want to say. The anxiety I would experience was painful to me. My heart is beating through my chest, and I couldn’t shake that feeling of watching myself screw it up on stage. That self-consciousness was palpable, and I had to get over that.
It took me leaving the corporate world to get over my fear of speaking in public.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think it was back in the nineties, there was this great TV show called Inside the Actor’s Studio with James Lipton and I think he was interviewing Harvey Keitel, and he said something to the tune of, and I know this isn’t a direct quote, “Fear is a luxury you can’t afford.” And since fear is an emotion that doesn’t go away, I’ve learned to be very good at dancing with it.
After I decided to leave my corporate job and a large paycheck — I decided fear was a luxury. The most important thing to me at that time was that I was no longer willing to sacrifice my life either in a marriage that wasn’t working or a job where I was absolutely burnt out.
What I learned is fear isn’t real. We make it up. We give things meaning that they don’t have. The things that you’re afraid of, aren’t even true. So why bother wasting your time? Surrender to the possibility, surrender to the potentiality of something that could be amazingly rewarding.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
The first thing people typically notice about how I show up in my company is discipline. I have a relentless focus on the most important things that I can do to move the ball forward. Part of this requires that I put on blinders to distractions. There’s so much FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in my space — conferences I could attend, courses to take — at any given point in time there are at least four places I could be. But what’s most important is that I carve out time to work on the strategy of my business — not just the tactics of the day to day.
The second is resourcefulness. If I don’t know how to do something, I’ve learned to not be stuck in the “I don’t know” of it all. I reach out and find someone who does know, and I hire them. Delegation and automation are the entrepreneur’s best friends and the key to scaling revenues.
The third, and likely most important, is my ability to listen to my market. Marketing is a content play for the most part. The more relevant I can be to the women in my market who are leaving corporate to launch coaching and consulting practices, the more useful advice and tools I can offer them. That was the impetus for launching the Life After Corporate Podcast.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I had worked for Gartner for a total of 20 years in marketing and product development, generating hundreds of millions in revenue for the company, and ultimately running an internal startup and growing it to 32 Million dollars in 30 months. I had achieved what I came to do, and I suddenly felt I had nowhere else I wanted to go. At the same time, my marriage of 26 years was coming to an end, and I knew I couldn’t keep up the same pace and be as present as I wanted to be for my 13-year-old son.
After interviewing for other positions both externally and internally, I desperately craved a new challenge. I spent a transformative 10 days at a silent meditation retreat where this seedling of a dream started to materialize. I knew I’d be uniquely capable to help women reinvent their careers in midlife. That’s how my company, The Great Do-Over was born. Initially I started by helping women reinvent their lives in midlife while I was reinventing mine.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
It was an amazing journey of self-discovery. And maybe some of your readers can relate too, we tend to go on automatic pilot and maybe it’s because we’re fulfilling the examples that were set for us in childhood. But you go to college, you graduate, you get a job, at some point you get married, maybe you have a kid or not and then 25 years later, life kind of catches up with you and you say, wait a minute, what’s going on? And that’s what happened with me.
I had achieved my wildest dreams. I was successful beyond anything I had ever imagined when I graduated from college with an education degree and started teaching special ed. I ended up being a group vice president for a billion-dollar company, running a 32 million dollars business that I had launched.
I was married. I had a 13-year-old son. I was living in the Hamptons and I woke up one day to say, “is this all there is? What am I doing? Who am I?” And that kicked off the journey to self-discovery at 53 to reinvention and here we are.
I found myself on a meditation cushion. When I signed up for that 10-day silent meditation retreat, I had never meditated before, but my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had gone on these retreats and they survived so I thought if they can do it, I can too. On that meditation cushion where I got a vision that I was really supposed to be coaching other women in how to reinvent themselves. And that was the beginning of the next phase. I went on that meditation retreat for five more years. The first year I let go of my marriage, the second year I let go of my job. The rest is history.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
There was not just one trigger, it was a series of unfortunate events. Finding myself in a hotel room in Las Vegas on a business trip, I realized that my marriage was falling apart and at the same time I was besieged by hot flashes (hello menopause) and I was heading for professional burnout. I had made 16 business trips that year, had outsourced motherhood to nannies and babysitters, and I suddenly realized I was not enjoying my life, my job, or how I felt in my body. It was time for a do-over.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skill set inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing?
It actually took a while to find the path that I’m on now. They say there’s no straight line to entrepreneurship and it’s true. Originally, after I received my coaching certification, I started coaching women in leadership, health, and relationships, and pretty much abandoned my corporate career.
When my son left for college, I looked around my empty house and said, “What’s next?” The answer came in an instant. Instead of abandoning my 25-year career in marketing and product development, I could use those same skills to help other women launch their businesses. That’s when the Launch Lab for women entrepreneurs was born.
I took the very same frameworks that I had proven in the corporate world and applied them to the business ideas my clients were presenting and got them through the process of market validation, packaging and pricing so that they could replace their corporate salaries, enjoy the same freedom I was enjoying, and make an impact through their work.
How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I think anything is possible as long as you’re willing to make a courageous step forward, even though you’re feeling the fear. So, it’s like, feel the fear and do it anyway as they say, it’s true. And then the courage comes from the confidence of stepping outside your comfort zone and stepping into something that feels uncomfortable and being okay with it.
What I love about entrepreneurship and what I learned throughout the whole pandemic is that I am in control. I am in control of my income. I am in control of my impact. Nothing changed for me in 2020 except that I didn’t travel. I was still able to work, I was still able to make a difference in people’s lives. I doubled down on what was working and doubled my revenue.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
With time comes clarity. The more I work with women leaders — now coaches or consultants — the more I realized how much women undervalue their impact. When women undervalue themselves financially, they tend to undervalue their capability, what their time is worth, what their impact is on the world, and so they end up undercharging for their services.
When I read the American Express Report on the State of Women Owned Businesses in 2019 and realized that if we thought the pay gap was bad for women in corporate at 79 cents to the dollar, it’s 260% wider when it comes to women entrepreneurs.
“The revenue disparity between women-owned and all privately held businesses. For every dollar that a privately held company generated, women-owned businesses generated 30 cents in 2019.”
That’s become my number one mission — to close the revenue gap with women entrepreneurs by giving them the tools and strategies and confidence to price their services based on the unique value they deliver. It’s almost a guarantee that if you work with me, you will double your prices and realize it was easy and that you’ve been undervaluing yourself all along. I have dozens of stories I can tell that have proven this to be true.
And that’s the value of a coach. Sometimes you need to see yourself through someone else’s eyes in order to really understand your value and your impact. We’re so much bigger than we allow ourselves to think. And that, I guess if I were to sum up this journey for me so far, is that I am so much more powerful. I have so much more impact. I have so much more to give the world and to relationships than I have ever given myself credit for.
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?
I have so many other women entrepreneurs that I am grateful for in supporting me along this journey. I have always worked with a coach since day one. It’s important for me to be inspired and learn from women who have been where I am going next.
Currently I’m working with Natasha Joan Allrich, she’s someone who has been a constant in my life since my earliest years. She’s my spiritual guide, my sales mentor, helps me think bigger than I am already and shows me new paths that I haven’t already considered.
There are too many cookie-cutter coaches in the market — take this course, do it like I did, and you’ll make a million bucks. In the real world, success doesn’t work that way. You have to do you. Someone else’s business formula might not work for you, yet still we are wooed by the “make money fast” promises that are all over the internet.
Natasha has my back. She’s my coach on call. We are on a path of seven-figure growth and I get to do me. I get to be authentic. I get to fall in love with my clients. I get to deliver exceptional advice and content. And I get to make millions while impacting millions. That’s how I like it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
When I was part of Ingrid Vanderveldt’s Empowering A Billion Women (EBW) initiative, she introduced me to Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, (Ambassador Sujay as she’s known). We both happen to live in the same small waterfront town, and we met for coffee one hot July day. I admit, I was starstruck. I had never met an Ambassador before, and she had been an advisor to the Clintons and served as Ambassador for International Religious Freedom under President Obama. She was a celebrity in my book!
That first day we met for coffee, we bonded over being single moms to growing men and shared our experience as women entrepreneurs. Sujay then asked me to present to her Selah Retreat with a group of black women in ministry and do a talk about entrepreneurship. I didn’t quite get why I was invited to that retreat, but trusting in her wisdom and divine guidance, I went to present. What I found was a sisterhood I didn’t know I was missing. I worked with several of those women on their entrepreneurial journeys and am proud to call Ambassador Sujay a friend today. We shared her story including her ministry during 9–11 and her ascent into politics in Ep. 39 of the Life After Corporate podcast.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Of course! Growing up in a critical household, it’s second nature to second guess myself. “Who am I to build a million-dollar coaching business?” Over the years I’ve developed a multi-dimensional toolkit to deal with limiting beliefs when they arise. My motto has always been, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Courage comes from doing things that feel hard, that you haven’t done before. Confidence comes from doing them and then knowing you can.
When I was first starting out, I wanted to host a weekend retreat, but I was afraid of investing in the expense of renting a house and not having people sign up and have a huge financial liability on my hands. So, I started with a half-day workshop in my home to test the waters to see if people got value from this form of coaching. The response was so overwhelming, I held The Great Do-Over Retreats for the following five years.
Because I know I am here doing the work I do by divine assignment and that I am simply here fulfilling my mission, there’s no room for my ego to limit my possibilities. Still — there will be times when resistance or procrastination will take over for a period of time. This year I will be hosting my first annual event for new women entrepreneurs. I’m hoping to get 100 women in the room and yes, it feels scary, I haven’t done it before, but my coach has. I can borrow her confidence until I have experienced it on my own. There’s no success in this game without being willing to try new things.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
Finally asking for support was the turning point for me. I created “Team Deb” for my reinvention journey. I had a personal trainer, a health coach, a kick-ass therapist, my meditation teachers and my business coach. At 54 years old, I was leaving no stone unturned.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Revenue is great, but cash is king. I wish I had scaled back my lifestyle and invested money more wisely. You need to plan for future investments in the business in order to scale. “Bright Shiny Object” syndrome is real. I had invested in way too many courses and mastermind programs that didn’t deliver an ROI.
- 10X your vision from day one. If you think you are building a 6-figure business — plan your strategies as if you were building a 7-figure business. You will get to six figures much faster and you will find yourself on your path to a million before you know it. As my colleague, Jane Deuber, said in a Clubhouse room we shared last week — building a six-figure business is no different than building a 7-figure business. You just have built more leverage into your product set and have a few more people helping you out behind the scenes.
- If cash is king, content is queen. To stand out in this increasingly crowded market (coaching is a 16B dollars industry) it’s important that you spend time creating a unique core premise in your communications. It’s those that create a way to be memorable that stand out and have longevity in the market.
- Amplify your exposure. In order for people to discover you, you need to be discoverable. For many of us not born with a cell phone in our hands, going live on social media isn’t a natural skill. Get over worrying about if you’re having a good hair day or if your makeup is just right. If people can’t hear you or see you, they can’t buy from you.
- Reverse engineer your revenue goal. For some reason all the things we learn in corporate fly out the window when you start a business. In corporate, you have a revenue goal. You have a plan to meet that goal. You know how many units you need to sell and how many customers you’ll need to close. The same is true for your coaching, consulting or services business. You need to have a direct path to the cash and be consistent in doing the things that get you in front of people who need you.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Women still struggle in the corporate context to get a seat at the table. I mean, I can’t believe I’m still saying this and it’s 20 years later or 30 years later, but we haven’t made much progress. That’s why I see entrepreneurship as the new feminist movement. It’s your ticket to the C-suite, you’re in charge, you’re suddenly CEO and it’s up to you to make the decisions in your life that enable you to thrive and prosper and make an impact through your work.
I find the women in my circles who make the decision to leave corporate and go for entrepreneurship want certain things. They want freedom. They want freedom with their time. They want freedom to make an impact and really impact people’s lives. And so, there’s a lot of women who are now doing work in social impact enterprises, and they want ultimate control over their financial freedom.
I was interviewing one of my clients on the podcast today and I remember our very first conversation when she was saying, I just want to break through six figures. I’m at 90K dollars. All I want is to get to that extra 10. She asked for 10K dollars at her job and got 6K dollars, so then she was at 96K dollars. Six months later, she finally made the leap and joined The Launch Lab.
After she did her market research, we understood what her value proposition was, and we priced that out with my pricing calculator and there was the model. All you need is 20 clients to pay you 5,000 dollars for this transformation and you’re at six figures. And it was really mind blowing that a financial goal that she had strived to reach for her entire career was now immediately accessible. So that’s what I mean by entrepreneurship is the new feminist movement. You’re in the driver’s seat, you’re in control of your time, you’re in control of your money, you’re in control of your impact.
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Of course, Oprah comes to mind. She’s self-made and has built a career and a reputation around one core premise — the value of authentic conversations. I want to be remembered for one thing — helping women build wealth by authentically stepping into their value. I’d like to know how she overcame any limiting beliefs about her value as she built her empire.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The first step is the Life After Corporate Podcast which is on all major podcast players, including iTunes, Spotify, Luminary, and Goodpods to name a few. And follow the Life After Corporate Club on Clubhouse and my Facebook group where I’m hosting rooms with my colleagues and having some amazing conversations about women and entrepreneurship and closing that revenue gap!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!