Welcome to our founder lessons series. This week Eileen Smith shares her journey from Diplomacy to a Growing Public Speaking Coaching Business.

Working from home? Got extra time on your hands because your events have been cancelled? You might be thinking about a new business you can start from home. Here is the story of my transition from diplomat to public speaking coach, and how I overcame my biggest obstacle. It started with a potential client asking, “Hey, could you do a group public speaking training for us?” My response? “Um, no, I’m a one-on-one coaching specialist.” 

Having just finished my career as a diplomat, I was confident speaking in front of audiences all around the world. I have spoken to advocacy groups and international organizations. I have addressed Members of Congress and the press. When I was Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of State, I coached her for speeches at the State Department, the United Nations, and the White House. She was the one who suggested I could be a professional public speaking coach in the first place. But the idea of doing public speaking about public speaking struck me as having a great deal of chutzpah.  

To go back to the beginning of this venture, I prepared for starting my new business through extensive studies of my new specialty. Wanting to have an academic grounding for my advice, and not rely solely on my natural instincts, I devoured books and trainings on public speaking, executive presence, and body language. Then I took the best points all of them to develop my own approach.  

This process led me to identify what I thought were the most important points a person needed to know to successfully deliver their message to an audience. On the recommendation of Body Language Expert Mark Bowden and Business Coach Michael Bungay Stanier in Presentation Genius, I made my training materials beautiful and precious. They are professionally designed and printed, invitation-sized cards that neatly sum up my main teaching points and give room on the back to write down your most important take-aways. No big binders to stack on the shelf. Just one piece to pin to your bulletin board or keep in your desk drawer for easy reference.

Crowd-sourcing websites Squadhelp and Design Hill helped me develop the name, tagline, and logo for my business. I took on my first client for free while I was still deciding whether to take the plunge. After my first series of one-on-one coaching sessions with them, I left walking on air. They loved me and I loved them, and I decided right then to start my business. Yet even with this client and my new clients as I started to build my base, people kept asking me to provide group trainings. I was confident coaching one-on-one. But my clients wanted more.

That’s when I realized that providing only one-on-one coaching was holding back my business’s growth. After enough requests, I gave it considerable thought. The key, I realized, was to follow my own advice! I prepared and planned. I practiced repeatedly for the video camera on my phone. Each round, I analyzed my videos and made recommendations and did it again. Engage the audience. Project confidence. Smile. Deliver my Message. Repeat. The book, Executive Presence The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, was indispensable.  

To test myself, I offered a free, small group training to my original client. I learned from that, studied my Presentation Genius training again, and went on to give a proud yes to all requests for group training. This additional offering marked a key uptick in business clients and repeat business. My motivation was demand driven. My ability was a direct testament to the results of my own coaching.

Throughout this process of building my business – concept, product development, test marketing, name, tagline, logo, creating my LLC, accounting, registration, website development, taxes, marketing, client development, and delivery led to the best part. My clients have been profoundly enthusiastic. Public speaking is an area where people can feel particularly unsure.

Clients send heartfelt thank you notes sometimes right away and sometimes several months down the road after they have had a particularly successful event. This response makes all my effort incredibly rewarding. If the shifting landscape created by coronavirus is giving you extra impetus to make a change and start or upgrade your business, it could be the best silver lining of all.