Inspirational Women - Michelle Ward

As many of you will know I host a networking group for women who are (or want to be!) self employed. The group is called 'Wonderful Women - Minding Our Own Business' and you can read a blog post about one of our meetings here

I love to meet, speak to, read about or interview inspiration women. We all have things to share, things we can teach people and things we can learn from others. Recently I had the absolute pleasure of picking the brains of Michelle Ward. Michelle is a life coach for creative people, she helps people figure out how they can live the life they didn't believe possible. You really can be what you always wanted to be!


ReeRee Rockette:What led to you quitting your job? How long did the decision take?

Michelle Ward: Not long - I made the decision before I even started my job! Ha! See, I came to the realization that I didn't want to pursue musical theater anymore (a 20+ year old dream that lead me to getting my BFA at NYU amongst other things), and that was really tough and scary and painful for me. But once I faced it, I couldn't think of embarking on a new career that I wasn't passionate about. I wasn't overly optimistic that I could find something I'd love as much as performing, but I also knew I couldn't possibly stay in the job I had then - an Account Manager for a start-up-like company with a verbally abusive boss who made my days a living hell (to put it mildly).

So, while I was there, I enrolled in a career change workshop and starting exploring what could be a new, passionate, "stable" (aka someone else pays my bills) career. I don't remember when or how I heard of life coaching, but even though I was afraid everyone would think I was hippy-dippy and I really wanted to have a paycheck I could count on, I couldn't deny myself that life coaching totally lit me up, and the entrepreneurial lifestyle appealed to me for many reasons. I was so mad at myself for not finding the "stable" job I wanted (I put it in quotes because I honestly don't believe that any job is actually stable!), but I was thrilled to find something new that I was obviously passionate about. I had to ask myself: How can I make this work? I knew I wanted to be certified, so I found a school that I could take classes at nights and on weekends. I found a job that was strictly 9-6, no traveling, no overtime, and no verbally abusive boss. I started my certificate program and that new job in Aug of 2007, and by March of 2010 I gave my notice. It was Dec of 2009 that I realized I had almost all that I needed to feel comfortable leaving: a certain amount of money in the bank, more clients than time to coach 'em, and a steady stream of consultation calls. It was time to take the leap.

ReeRee Rockette:Why life coaching? Have you been life coached?

Michelle Ward: Funnily (dumbly?) enough, I wasn't life coached before I enrolled to get my certificate! Thankfully, one of the first requirements is to get coached by a Peer Coach, aka someone else that's going through the coaching. I worked with Joanne and just loved her, coaching in general, and the whole process. I've been coached on and off fairly consistently since then, most notably by Thekla Richter and Cassandra Rae.

And why life coaching? So many reasons! The biggest is that I'm a relationship-builder more than anything - that's my M.O., that's what drives me, that's my passion. So I loved the thought of working with clients, helping them overcome their challenges, having them clarify what they wanted in their life, supporting them in getting there - all that good stuff. I love that life coaches withhold both judgment and advice, allowing the clients to figure out what's best for them. It's so empowering! And when I saw that I could be the person I needed when I realized that acting was no longer my career goal but I wanted to figure out, essentially, what I wanted to be when I grew up (when the answer for so long was "Broadway Baby!") - that just sealed it for me.

ReeRee Rockette:What do you think holds people/women back from following a dream? What advice can you offer?

Michelle Ward: I think the scope of it prevents people from doing something - anything! - to get started. And as a woman it's elevated because, let's face it, we have so many people to take care of, right? I mean, you're sitting at your job at a bank, for example, and have an 8 year old and a 12 year old at home, have a mortgage to pay and dinners to cook, and you want to work full-time from your Etsy shop?! I mean, insanity - right? WRONG! Listen, it's not going to happen overnight unless you decide to rub every bottle you find hoping for a genie to pop out, but if you make the time every day (you're right, nobody has the time - it must be made!) to do one freakin' thing to bring that Etsy shop closer to your full-time job, you're gonna get there. Even 15 minutes counts! In that time you can post a new picture of a product, or tweet some of the peeps you admire, or write a short blog post, or set-up a spreadsheet to track your inventory. And 15 minutes each day leads to almost 2 full hours a week. That's not chump change.

ReeRee Rockette: What/Who inspires/inspired you?

Michelle Ward: So many bloggers kept me sane, inspired and motivated while I worked in that cube and kept plugging away at getting my business of the ground. Jessica Swift (who's now a dear friend and collaborator!), Danielle LaPorte, Kelly Rae Roberts, Naomi of IttyBiz, Keri Smith, the Kind Over Matter girls...they've all contributed in a major way. And as cliche as it sounds, my husband and my mother are just huge in the amount of love and support they give me. I'm a ridiculously blessed lady, and I mean that in a totally non-religious way.

ReeRee Rockette: How has your life changed in the last year

Michelle Ward: Ha! Where do I start! Since Nov 2009, I left my day job, worked from home,  hosted a scholarship, started about 9 group coaching sessions, raised my rates 150% (wow! I had to double check the math, but that's right) from where I started, incorporated my business as an LLC, was featured in a Newsweek video, contributed lots of guest posts/interviews around the Interwebs, appeared on the real radio & Internet radio, co-created and launched an e-course, co-founded and co-hosted Spring, built a consistent 4-6 week wait for new clients, wrote a workbook to include as a free download for all my newsletter sign-ups, was asked to be on the panel for Blog Out Loud 6, wrote an article for the Etsy Storque, gave a talk at the first Women Entrepreneurs for Women Entrepreneurs webinar, built my client roster to 90 people, and landed a literary agent. And that's off the top of my head. It feels really good to write all that. Thanks for making me reflect on it, ReeRee.

ReeRee Rockette: Often I find that it can be hard to focus on one dream/talent, do you have any practical ideas on how to not get overwhelmed by what is possible?

Michelle Ward: I don't believe that you have to focus on just one thing - so how do you like them apples?! It's 2010 - people are making really good livings being lego artists and turning firetrucks into traveling pizza joints and renting their torso - who says you can't combine your dreams/talents and capitalize on them all? My former client Alexandra Franzen is doing a bang-up job as a copywriter, a resume revamper, a personal branding expert, an NPR producer....seriously, I can go on. If anyone ever told her she had to pick one, she'd so give 'em the evil eye. In a cute way. But seriously, read The Renaissance Soul and think outside the box. It doesn't have to be either/or!

ReeRee Rockette: If you could pass on some advice to our 'Wonderful Women: Minding Our Own Business' group - what would it be?

Michelle Ward: Find your uniquity. Don't be afraid of being "weird" - in fact, embrace it. Figure out what makes you different, what makes you you, what makes your friends and family want to be around you. Then, own it. Embrace it. Shout if from the rooftops. Let everyone see that you're scared, that you're growing, that you're winning, that you're stumbling, that you're funny, that you make up your own words, that you burp on cue, that you sing showtunes in the shower. That's what's gonna draw people - the right people! the people you wanna work with! the people that make work feel like play! - to you, and that's what's gonna have them pick up what you're putting down. I learned that lesson the hard way as an actress, and have been working from it since I put up the very first version of my website back in 2007. I honestly believe that's why I am where I am right now, and I believe everyone can get here by being true to themselves. Hippy-dippy, but true.

When I first looked at Michelle's website I was struck by how different it felt compared to many other life coaches/therapists etc. It was exactly up my street, and was one of the main reasons I tracked her down! Michelle seems to have many marketing strategies in play - she offers a free workbook, free trial sessions, she has fabulous testimonials and has used the press to her advantage. She takes part in events, runs an e-course and sends regular newsletters. What I find most interesting is her strongly defined brand. Her website is unique, and stands out from the rest. It is clear who she is speaking to, and who her clients her. Very smart. I only wish Michelle wasn't American, as I would love to meet her person!