Michelle Schafer is Owner and Career Coach of Michelle Schafer Coaching
What's your industry?
I don't have just one - I work with clients in the public sector, not-for-profit, financial services, hospitality, retail.
For people who don't know you, can you tell us how you ended up sitting where you are today?
I’m a career coach specializing in career transition and leadership, a mom, a lover of the outdoors, a small business owner, and a proud resident of Ottawa, Canada.
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 (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 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.
When I work with clients, I focus on work that gives them energy. I am deeply fulfilled and genuinely inspired by the progress of others ‒ it's rewarding to work with someone who may be stuck when they come to me and end up developing new strategies and using new tools to help them take steps toward their career goal. I believe everyone deserves to find a career that allows them to do work that gives them energy, for a company that believes in what they believe in. That’s my “why.”
What does your daily routine look like?
I suffered a femur fracture 5 weeks ago, so this has drastically changed my daily routine as I invest energy in recovering and healing. Pre-fracture, I religiously started my day with activity (either a run, or online strength class), and a short meditation to ground me for the work I do with clients. The balance of the day is spent online with clients (I continue to provide coaching virtually), facilitating workshops, provide thought leadership for LinkedIn (my fracture has given me lots to write about right now and relate to career transition and leadership topics), designing coaching programs (all my programs are unique to the individual and their specific needs) and reaching out to others to network. I'm a single parent, so I am firm with my work boundaries, turning off to prep dinner and spend time with my teenage boys catching up on their day, then I turn on for work again when they hit the gym in the evening.
What excites you most about what you do?
I am deeply fulfilled and truly inspired by the progress of others ‒ it's rewarding to work with someone who may be stuck when they come to me and end up developing new strategies and using new tools to help them take steps forward toward their career goal, or develop leadership skills to help them have challenging conversations or empower others. 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.”
I’ve seen leadership coaching clients make progress through increased confidence as a leader, increased comfort level having challenging conversations (especially delivering feedback, performance chats), increased comfort level sitting with strong emotions and working through conflict, and an increased ability to carve out time for themselves to achieve more work-life harmony (so important in these times defined by burnout). I’ve also had clients strengthen their ability to set healthy boundaries with others, carve out more time for coaching conversations with staff, and empower others instead of jumping in with solutions. All of this is key as there is a crisis of leadership almost at every turn. People leave leaders (not jobs) – this has been the foundation of trends like the Great Resignation, or "rage applying". So leadership development is becoming even more important right now.
I’m able to restore clients’ confidence in themselves, empowering them to carve out their own path and recognize the value they bring to their next opportunity. They can find and negotiate their next opportunity from a position of strength. It's so fulfilling to see career transition clients find careers that are fulfilling for them, where they feel energized to do their work. I’ve seen clients increase their ability to talk about their achievements, especially in interviews and networking, and have a clearer idea of career direction and how to find a new job. There can be some grieving that accompanies a job loss, so I help clients reframe this loss and develop a leave story they feel comfortable sharing.
I’ve worked with clients who wanted to work towards their dream job – and got it! One client wanted to be a 911 operator, and she found interviewing challenging. We worked together over several sessions to prepare her for her next interview – and she’s now doing exactly what she wants to do! Another client had a dream of working for Apple – we worked together to refine his approach with search firms and developed new messaging to help him market himself. He moved from Ottawa to California about 3 years ago and has been promoted twice within Apple!
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
That's a great question. A few entrepreneur friends told me "be patient" and "never give up". Especially in the early days of my business, I leaned in to this guidance on multiple occasions. When progress and growth seemed slow, I kept telling myself that things take time - and when I ever considered throwing in the towel, I remembered to keep going and not to give up on my dream. This guidance became useful again in the pandemic - for a short while, my work ground to a halt and I was worried (I even paused my mortgage payments and property tax as revenue was not coming in the way I was used to). By being patient, and not giving up, I was able to get through those early pandemic months, and took the extra time on my hands to do more writing, provide support to leaders during this challenging time, and edit my website to reflect pandemic language that would speak to others as a way of increasing my client base. And it worked.
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
The hardest part of getting established as a career coach in a competitive market was gaining clients as a relatively "green" coach. When I started my business, I had zero clients and had just completed my coaching certification. So I had to do a lot of networking to promote myself and gain the trust of clients who needed coaching support. And I had a lot working against me - the coaching community in Ottawa is huge, and I was surrounded by coaches who had far more experience than me, and who were very well established in their business. But I had one thing working for me - my extensive and very supportive network. So I started reaching out to everyone I knew and worked with - I drank lots of coffee in those early days over networking chats to explore their needs and how I could help. And I kept telling myself "I believe in you". Slowly, I was able to build my business, one client at a time. That was nearly 8 years ago, and now I have a thriving business with 3 income streams (and two productive partnerships) that support me.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
John Schuster's book "Answering Your Call" provided a lot of thought and inspiration at a key time in my career when I was looking to make a career "pivot" - I've referred this book countless times to clients experiencing career transition. Other books that have supported me in my work include "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes" (by the late William Bridges), Brene Brown's "Dare To Lead" and the "Psychological Safety Playbook: Leading More Powerfully By Being More Human" (this is a very new read, authored by Minette Norman and Karolin Helbig.
Have you ever used a business or executive coach?
It seems like there are a lot of people offering business coaching these days. In your opinion, is that a good thing?
Coaching has a myriad of applications (heck, there are even parenting coaches, or money coaches!) so coaches that support business owners is something that is greatly needed. Business owners need support on many levels - from positioning their niche in the marketplace, to developing a growth (or reduction) strategy, to executing against that strategy. Entrepreneurs can feel lonely in making all the key decisions, and they are also not expected to "do it all" even though it feels like that most days. A business coach can help business owners by providing expertise and guidance to make key decisions that will positively affect the trajectory of their business.
People can sometimes confuse a coach with a mentor. Can you help us clarify the difference?
For me, mentoring is about sharing knowledge, and in some cases, providing specific direction to help people make decisions and take action. Coaching is about creating a safe space to draw out those answers from within - I believe everyone has the answers within them, and having a conversation partner (this is where the coach comes in!) can help an individual access those answers. A coach facilitates conversation, provides guidance and ultimately empowers the individual to take positive steps forward.
For any entrepreneurs or executives looking to work with a coach, where are the best places to find a great one?
The online world is the most common source. ICF (International Coaching Federation) has an online roster of coaches - if you want someone local to you, check out your community's local ICF chapter. LinkedIn is also a good place to consult, as you can easily see who the thought leaders are in this space. We can't forget the most powerful source of information - the network - so asking others who have used a coach, is the best way to get connected to coaches who would be a good fit for you.
What 3 qualities would you say separate a great business coach from a bad one?
Curiosity (asking powerful questions), creativity, and expertise/knowledge in the world of small business ownership.
Curiosity (asking powerful questions): People have the answers inside them - they just need a conversation partner (a coach) to help them access these. The only way to access what's inside is by asking powerful questions to illuminate perspectives, ideas, challenges, and limiting beliefs that may cause us to stand in our own way. The best coaches don't provide direction or are prescriptive in their approach - they ask questions to get underneath what a client's challenge is, in order to help them . Through questioning, my business coach was able to help me see that I wasn't properly valuing all the time I invested in every client engagement, and as a result, I was pricing myself lower than I should be. Some favourite thought-provoking questions I love to ask as a coach are: how does this feel for you? what in this is fact - and what is narrative? describe what this is like for you if you could fast forward to the end of the coaching program, what would success look like? i.e., what outcomes would you like to achieve? if you say yes to this, what do you need to say no to? what evidence do you have to support this? and what else? what's coming up for you right now? what would open up for you...or be closed down...if you did X? What do you know now that you didn't know before?
Creativity: As a business owner, I was just too close to the forest to see the trees - I got so used to doing things a certain way, that I found it hard to think about new approaches or doing things in a more efficient or cost-effective way. My business coach is known for her creativity - she oozes this in her social media posts and how she talks about the work she does with clients - and I needed this. Working with her resulted in a complete overhaul of my service pricing - I now offer packages at various price points to meet a variety of client needs. At the time I was hesitant and didn't think I could charge more - my limiting belief of "you're not worth that! No one will pay that for your services!" reared its ugly head. And the reality was the complete opposite - not only would people pay the higher rates, they would report high satisfaction over the quality of coaching services they received.
Expertise/knowledge in the world of small business: I think this is critical - in order to help me take my business to the next level and solve the challenges I was experiencing, I needed to have a conversation partner that had core experience as a small business owner. Which my coach does - in fact, she regularly shares stories of her own challenges (and how she has worked with clients on similar challenges) on her website and in her social media posts. After doing my own research (and talking to a coach friend who recommended this business coach - as she used her services herself) I felt confident I was investing time, money and energy with someone who could "get me" and my challenges, and more importantly, help me find solutions that would be workable, easy to implement and have a positive impact on my bottom line.
Do you think someone can be a great business coach without having many years of experience?
Given I rate "having knowledge/experience" as criteria #3 above, I would say no. It's important for a business coach to have true impact with a client, they need to know what they are talking about - and the only way is through actual experience.
What do you think the world of business coaching will look like in 20 years' time?
Hmmmm - good question. I'm curious to see if business coaching (or coaching in general) is supported heavily by AI. We're already seeing ChatGPT provide assistance in career counselling/career transition coaching, through preparing interview question responses, writing resumes or providing career direction.
Where should people follow you to find out more about your work?
You can find out more about me on LinkedIn and through the articles I regularly contribute to Brainz Magazine.