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Michelle Schafer on Transformative Decisions in Business and Life

Michelle Schafer is Owner and Career Coach of Michelle Schafer Coaching

Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your journey as a leader in your industry?

I love learning about the career stories of my clients, and how I got into coaching is a story on its own. I've been restructured twice and reinvented myself twice in my career – first from financial services to not-for-profit, then not-for-profit to small business ownership (just over 8 years ago!) as a coach and the owner of Michelle Schafer Coaching. I joke that at age 46, I finally knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. A good coaching friend planted the seed years ago, as I had always coached as part of my job - then, when my position was eliminated a second time, I started networking with coaches to learn more and find out about their coaching specialization and what coaching school they went to. I realized after taking my first level coaching certification that this was something I wanted to do as a career (not just off the side of my desk), so I established my own practice and, because of my own transition experience, chose to focus my coaching in the career space. The book “Answering Your Call” by John Schuster provided a lot of inspiration to me as I was contemplating this huge pivot in my career. I love Simon Sinek’s “The Power of Why”. I believe that everyone deserves to find a career that allows them to do work that gives them energy, for a company that believes what they believe in. That’s my “why”, and it applies whether you are a leader or whether you are exploring a new career path. This purpose is the same today as it was 8 years ago when I started my business. My hard work over the past 8 years to build a brand has paid off. I've been recognized as a Top 20 Career Coach in Ottawa, Canada, have been nominated for a FACES Magazine top coach award, and was recently recognized as a Top Leadership Coach by the Coach Foundation. I'm a Senior Executive Contributor with Brainz Magazine, and enjoy sharing thought leadership on both career transition and leadership topics with Industry Leader readers.

What specific experiences or decisions in your journey do you believe have shaped your approach to business and leadership?

I think my decision to offer a dual specialization was one of the best decisions that has allowed me to market myself to multiple audiences. And sometimes those two specialties intersect for the same client. I can support a client through a career exploration and job search, and can also work with leaders (both new and experienced) to level-up their leadership. There have been times where I've worked with a client to develop their leadership, and then I support them through finding a new job when their company restructures. Although the two service areas are different, they are both greatly needed today.

Can you share a story of a pivotal moment in your career that led to a significant transformation in your business or personal life?

In February, I broke my femur while skating with my boys. I subsequently needed surgery to insert a large titanium plate and a handful of screws above my knee. As a result, I had to turn down business (especially in-person facilitation) during my recovery, and scaled down my day-to-day coaching business significantly for several months after my injury. My revenue went down - way down. And my disability insurance wasn't covering any of the loss. So I found myself in a scary position - I have worked hard to grow my business each of the 8 years I've been coaching (and am very proud of those results) and this is the first time I realized I would likely post a loss. This wasn't good for my confidence, or my finances. During this period when I wasn't as mobile physically, I engaged myself mentally to write - a lot. I became a regular poster on LinkedIn, wrote articles for a variety of publications, participated in interviews like this one and was invited to speak on podcasts. Over time, my name became more known, and more and more people were reaching out to explore working with me. Things picked up and I took on more business in line with my recovery and feeling physically stronger. In fact, October was my best month ever - in all 8 years I've been coaching!

What factors did you consider when making that critical decision, and how did you weigh the potential risks and rewards?

My health was the biggest consideration - I needed to honour where I was at in my recovery, and not push myself. The only risk was potentially doing too much and wanting to proceed faster than my recovery allowed, so as I was rebuilding my business (hard work!) I checked in with myself to ensure I had enough energy to write and talk to new people who were interested in working with me. When you approach business from a place of scarcity, the temptation is to say yes to everything say no to yourself and to rest. Being mindful of the need to recover is key.

What challenges did you face during this transformative period, and how did you overcome them?

When I found out my disability insurance would not pay for lost business, it was a big setback. I appealed the decision three times. It was hard, but I just kept telling myself that things would turn around - that all the writing and promotion I was doing would pay off. And it has. Leaning on others also helped tremendously - my partner is my biggest cheerleader and he's been cheering loudly for me throughout this whole experience.

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self at that time, or to entrepreneurs and business leaders who might find themselves in a similar situation?

Always be prepared for a crisis. Continue to network and promote yourself even when business is brisk. Things change quickly and you don't want to stare down an empty funnel with no leads. Be ready.

How has that pivotal moment influenced the way you make decisions today, and what lasting impact has it had on your business?

I have always driven momentum in my business and for a number of years enjoyed a strong referral pipeline. Because of that, I admittedly have taken my foot off the gas in the past, coasting with a full funnel of new clients and leads. But when my business had to slow down considerably after my injury, I realized I needed to drum up new business to replace the business I lost (and was continuing to lose because of my injury). Even when business is thriving, the need to scope out challenges/needs and explore possible options with people is still there. You always want to be marketing and promoting yourself, as you never know when your situation will change.

In your opinion, how important is it for entrepreneurs and business leaders to have these transformative moments, and how can they best prepare for and learn from them?

As much as these moments can be uncomfortable (and mine was exactly that!) they are essential for learning - both about yourself, and about your business. When we don't experience transformation, we continue the way we always were, doing things the way we always have. And when this happens, we become stale, and can lose our "edge". As a business leader, it's important to be sharp, and integrate learnings to make your business stronger.


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