Uphold Your Values — Similar to having purpose, it is imperative to maintain your core values in a way that builds upon your mission and adds to your team’s daily actions.
Be Goal Oriented — Set goals and accomplish them, no matter what. If you temporarily lose sight and/or are faced with an unexpected roadblock, it’s ok. The art of pivoting can still fall in line with your goals.
Be Open to Feedback — It’s through feedback that we can truly learn and grow. See criticism as opportunities and praise as extra encouragement.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Yates, an entrepreneur and philanthropist dedicated to leading by example as she inspires her team and like-minded leaders to create a culture rooted in value. After dropping out of college to prematurely launch into the world of business, she’s experienced failure on many levels. From those failures she learned how to use grit and purpose-driven motives to ultimately succeed.
Yates is the CEO and founder of Abigail-Elise Brands, a collection companies with the mission of reinventing what is possible for communities, spaces and experiences.
Some of her brands include award winning and 2020 Inc. 5000 listed, Abigail-Elise Design Studio, And Well Fit Human Retreats, and her Foundation, AE Cares. Together she and her team to elevate the overall quality of people’s lives by being a force for good.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in Oahu, Hawaii. My mom did secretarial and administrative work, while my dad was a varied-ranking member of the U.S. Air Force. Because of my dad’s military work, we bounced around a lot when I was a kid, from Hawaii to Turkey and back, then on to Arkansas and a small town in southeastern Colorado.
I was in a hurry to grow up — in part because my dad was an alcoholic and my parents’ fighting made my home scene less than ideal. It was difficult to create and maintain friendships, which made me feel both lonely to some degree, but it also helped me become more independent and self-reliant. I never really had a sense of home, nor a community so in a roundabout way I believe those aspects moved me toward my specific career path.
I was going through a divorce in my young adulthood, didn’t have a place to live, and had a two-year old when I decided to start Abigail-Elise Interiors. My timing wasn’t ideal as it was during a recession, but that motivated me even more. My shift into entrepreneurship was very natural and it enabled me to build more long term working relationships in an area I now call home, Summit County Colorado.
A couple years ago I was craving more human connection and felt compelled to make adaptations to my own life that inspired more joy and self-fulfillment. It was from this idea that I created Well Fit Human Retreats, a wellness-travel-impact company that promotes giving back on a global level. Through local and international events we are activating purpose in people, while also creating experiences that improve an individual’s mental, emotional and physical sense of well-being.
All in all, I’ve always had a drive to constantly grow in ways that made me incrementally better so that each day I can live with purpose and joy. It took me failing several times to learn how to successfully utilize my natural creativity and leadership skills so that I can create and collaborate with high-reaching design teams, and create both spaces and experiences that change what others believe is possible for themselves.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Hmmm… Can you define interesting? If by interesting you mean valuable then I have a story.
Beginning my career may be one of the most interesting/valuable stories I have because it forced me to grow up and live with intention. I was divorced with a baby, my car was broken down, I didn’t have a job or friends, and …I was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Add in the fact it was during a recession and there wasn’t a single person to help me at that time. I did what was necessary, I started a company.
As a side note, I fully believe that if you are paying attention life forces you to be intentional with your time and resources. My experience showed me that once I was able to recognize this reality, I was able to accomplish what I put my mind to. In the long run, I want to help guide others to know and embody this life lesson so that they too can create their lives in a positive and productive way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Looking back this may be seen as funny, but probably not. It’s more painful. Once upon a time I blindly invested in a real estate project that was brought to be by a builder and an architect. They showed up, flashed a few drawings, and I ignorantly was in. I didn’t do my due diligence in researching and lost a substantially large amount, besides 10%, which almost left us bankrupt.
My greatest takeaway that I’ll share, do your homework! Know what it is you’re getting into and minimize the risk by educating yourself on as many details as possible.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Abigail-Elise Brands stand out because they are more than a series of companies. They represent the ability to transform mindful business practices and partnerships into community resources and places of human connection. Through our interiors we create experiences through intentional designs. Our wellness-travel-impact company connects experiences to people and projects that work to improve the quality of life for global communities. And within our non-profit we are giving back to society in ways that make us all a little stronger, happier, and healthier. Together we are a force for good encouraging everyone we meet along the way to join in our efforts of changing the world for the better.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To avoid burnout, I challenge myself everyday to evolve into a better leader, thinker and overall person. My craving to learn from others’ success is so overpowering that there is no room for excuses. By surrounding myself with people I admire and by consistently moving into action, I am able to face challenges and keep my mental health on track. I would suggest to my colleagues to take an inventory of who is most present in their lives and to surround themselves with people they admire and set goals that challenge them to evolve into the person they have always wanted to be. After they are able to find their purpose there is only constant space to thrive.
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?
My mother has always been supportive, even when I didn’t fully realize it. I also believe that every person that gave me a job or said something kind to me helped encourage me to keep going or to come up with a new idea. For that I am thankful.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A “good” company is one that moves through the necessary steps to first open their doors and then to keep them open. A “great” company on the other hand, exists like a banana tree. It successfully bares fruit while also leaving its legacy behind in the form of new shoots.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Branding — Consistency, transparency, and reliability are key to building a success brand.
- Purpose Driven — When you have intention and purpose behind what it is you’re doing, you’re motivated to do it far better than anything else.
- Uphold Your Values — Similar to having purpose, it is imperative to maintain your core values in a way that builds upon your mission and adds to your team’s daily actions.
- Be Goal Oriented — Set goals and accomplish them, no matter what. If you temporarily lose sight and/or are faced with an unexpected roadblock, it’s ok. The art of pivoting can still fall in line with your goals.
- Be Open to Feedback — It’s through feedback that we can truly learn and grow. See criticism as opportunities and praise as extra encouragement.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Being a purpose driven business means everything to me. I focus on impact over expansion and believe that this frame of mind automatically moves my company in the direction we’re looking to go. When working on a new project we look at how our participation will positively influence and create more opportunities for others. We lead by example and prioritize helping others to see what’s possible within their lives.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Great question. Standstill happens and I can certainly say I’ve experienced the hamster wheel that spins but doesn’t get me anywhere. The best advice I can give is to find a coach and/or a mention that has done what you want to do. Spend time doing your research and connect with someone that you truly jive with. This really helped me to shift gears, regain progress, think quicker, and move more intentionally towards my goals. A mentor can help you keep your drive on what matters.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Profitability can certainly feel like a rollercoaster, especially when you are a sole proprietor. It requires a careful act of keeping your finger on the pulse of all the moving parts to assure that you’re maintaining traction and continuing to fulfill your target goals. Again, I suggest a coach or mentor. I personally waited too long to do this and never asked for help, which I see was once a detriment to my company’s growth. When you have other champions in your corner you realize you aren’t in this alone. Connect with other entrepreneurs and build each other up so that together you can continue forging full speed ahead.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
It’s a 24/7 grind! I never really stop thinking about a client, a team member, finances, marketing, another growth opportunity, or whether or not I’m doing the right thing to move in the right direction. It can be exhausting, but it can also feel 100% exhilarating! Especially when the intensity level is turned up, your brand expands, and you know there really isn’t a true end in sight. That’s when you keep asking yourself with a smile…What’s next?
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
One of the best strategies and/or mindsets is to acknowledge that you are not for everyone and neither is what you are offering. So as you are your most authentic self you’ll attract a more authentic sale, which in turn will increase your conversion rate. Learn and evolve, but stay true to yourself. It will pay off.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Be authentic. Always do the right thing. Show up. Deal with difficult conversations quickly. Take responsibility for both the good and the bad. And as we have all heard before…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is our gold standard of operation.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
In order to create a WOW experience pay attention to the details. Listen to what the customer or client says and assure that your interactions with them are building clarity, trust, and consistency. Communication won’t always be perfect and there may be issues, that’s ok. Show up, seek clarity, regain trust, and let them know that you are truly listening. In the end people always remember how you made them feel. If they feel heard and acknowledged it speaks measures to their lasting impression of you.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media is a tool that can be used to build your brand, share your mission, and let a larger audience know what you are up to. Yes, there is reputational risk, but that’s true with every interaction and article you write too. I think social media channels are a great way to reflect what you want to attract and it should be handled strategically. I”m not into the “look at me” aspect of Instagram or the “look how great I’m doing” component of LinkedIn. Instead I’m all about the “how can I help YOU” and “how can WE create a better world” so that we are adding value to each other through these highly interactive platforms.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I can only really comment on my own mistakes, so I’ll share a few.
- Pay attention to cash flow. In the beginning I wasn’t as consistent with tracking or planning it out. I thought that if I just kept moving forward it would work itself out as I grew in scale. That wasn’t true.
- Clear, well written processes. I’ve learned over the years that having clear, well written processes for your team gives them a foundation to follow so that they are set up for success.
- Hire people that align with your purpose. It took me awhile to really realize that when I hire people that align with the company’s purpose we save a great amount of time and resources. Seek out employees that you see as people, not just business assets, that have loyal work ethics and you can work alongside with respect. When you do this you’ll be so much more powerful as a collective.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am dedicated to pioneering change by showing others that companies can have a culture rooted in community and helping them overcome limited belief patterns. Founders should view their team as partners by embracing them as intrapreneurs and allowing them to be both authentic and candid. Work and life doesn’t have to be two different things, but part of a harmonious lifestyle. If more leaders could adapt this type of mindset it would be a major game changer for our future generations. A leader is only as strong as their team.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Abigail-Elise Design Studio Website: https://aeinteriorsinc.com/
Abigail-Elise Design Studio Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abigailelisedesignstudio/
Well Fit Human Website: https://www.wellfithuman.com/
Well Fit Human Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wellfithuman/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!