This month is a very special one for me; I am celebrating my 19th year in business as The Watershed Group, a big anniversary for my “baby” and a good moment to reflect on the adventures I’ve had so far as a startup founder and proprietor.
I was Executive Director of Hospice of North Central Florida when I realized that it was time for me to make a change. I was frankly terrified to leave a job I loved – but I knew I was not meant to stay there until retirement. I didn’t want to leave hospice work and I didn’t want to move from my hometown, so I thought I would try my hand at consulting. I knew it would be a big leap – I had heard that most consulting businesses fail within the first 18 months – so I kept my nursing license active just in case this gig didn’t work out (I still do!).
Before I quit my job, my husband and I met with 3 different consultants and trainers with their own businesses. They all gave me the same warning: “It’s tough out there. Be careful, have a backup plan, because most people don’t succeed.” When I shared my startup plans with my CPA, he told me, “This is a very risky thing to do. I’d like to be a ski instructor but you don’t see me quitting my job to do that. Stay with what you know.” Not surprisingly, I had months of sleepless nights and angst, wondering if I’d made the right choice. But my heart would not be held back. My brother Michael had been an entrepreneur and made a beautiful life out of serving others around the world. After he died I felt compelled to try it myself, because I wanted to see if I could bring my brand of compassionate, competent leadership to other hospices around the country. This was my calling, and somehow I was going to make it work.
Those first months, the scariest part was having no steady income. I didn’t know how much I should be charging, and suddenly I was doing everything myself, which entailed a steep learning curve. My only “team member” was my husband, with whom I could talk through decisions, concerns or opportunities. He was a tireless one-man cheering section, but I sorely missed the great team of mission-driven folks I’d had in my previous position.
The first person to hire me was Susan Bruno, a director with Hospice of Hillsborough at the time who brought me in to help train their volunteer staff. I still have that first dollar I made as a consultant framed on my wall.
To my delight, the business just kept growing – and my skill set grew along with it. I am called in on many occasions by CEOs and Boards of Directors who want an outside expert to give them an objective view of the performance of their organization and what needs to be changed to compete in a new world. It is my joy to help organizations become more competitive, to put the right people in the right seats, so they can thrive.
The first time a board member contacted me to ask if I did executive searches I was not sure I was up to the job. But thinking it over, I realized, “I have hired lots of great people, I know what the job entails firsthand and I am a good judge of people”, so I jumped in. That first search was for Family Hospice in Pittsburgh, where they hired Rafael Scuillo as CEO. Guiding people out of sticky situations like horrid surveys or staffing issues is still hugely satisfying. I love working with hospice leaders who are passionate about making their communities better by keeping their community hospices strong. Helping leadership teams come together and function as a unit is wonderful, fulfilling work. When I provide executive coaching and see people’s lives change for the better because of my involvement, my heart sings!
The joys of having your own business are many; independence, freedom, variety. There are downsides, too; when it’s your enterprise, you’re never really off duty. I have several wonderful associates but I’m still the chief cook and bottle washer, and I have more frequent flier miles than I ever dreamed – but I love what I do and love the people I get the privilege to work with.
And I never forget that my ultimate client is that dying person and their loved ones being served by amazing hospice workers whose mission is the same as mine; relieving suffering and empowering people to live their best lives. I deeply appreciate of each and every one of the people who have engaged me to help them. It has been my honor and blessing and I am looking forward to continuing that journey of service.
I would love to hear from you! Click Here and let’s catch up on how I can best support you and your organization!
I love conducting Strategic Planning Retreats with Boards of Directors like this one last month.