I discovered Ann Strong one day about ten years ago when I was trawling the Internet looking for some support and inspiration. I needed help to keep me going on my journey getting out of the rat race and also to keep moving in the direction of my dreams.
I signed up for her Sacred Space Notebook, which is a free, weekly, Wednesday ezine offering inspiration, tools and practices to help you get off the hamster wheel and back to your naturally radiant self. I’ve been reading it ever since and when Ann wrote her first book; I couldn’t wait to get a copy.
She’s a business owner, coach, and mentor, whose own journey has not only been real but very inspirational.
1. I know that you have always owned your own business. When did you start your first one?
Well, honestly, one of my favourite stories is one about selling the seeds out of our flowers when I was young. We have these flowers here called four-o’clocks which open in the afternoon, and they have big seeds in them. As a little five year old, I would pick those big black seeds out of the flowers and then put them in little packages and then sell them to my neighbours.
2. What made you decide to become a coach and mentor?
The time I first learnt about coaching was in the mid-nineties; I was a graphic designer, and I loved my business. I helped Psychotherapists, Massage Therapists to market their businesses. It was primarily writing the brochures, designing their logos. I’m both a writer and a designer by background. I was not looking for a new career.
This woman called me, I think she was the partner of one of my clients at the time, and she said, ‘Hey, I met you once and I’m a coach now, oh and do you want to hire me?’ I wasn’t sure, so she said, ‘Why don’t I give you a session and you can experience it for yourself?’ and she did. I really loved the idea of having somebody work with me and focus on what I was up to, and so I hired her. I paid her $200 per month and I worked with her for quite a while, maybe a year or more.
I learnt many years later that I was her first paying client. She was training at Coach U at the time and she would have her class early in the week and then try out whatever they had taught her in our sessions later in the week.
I didn’t really love the Coach U format; they were huge on tons and tons of assessments; your ideal life, your tolerations, your pie of life. One day I just said to her, ‘Do not give me any more of those!’
It was almost like, instead of coaching from the client, from the heart, intuitively, these structures were supposed to provide the material for coaching.
Since working with her, I’ve hired probably fifteen to eighteen coaches; I sometimes have two coaches at the same time, and I work with some for several years. I’ve had a lot of coaching experiences and I would say that the first one was not even one of the best. But it helped me to come to understand the power of coaching.
So, I was working with these Psychotherapists and Massage Therapists and I recognised that I wanted to do something like what she was doing for me. I already had my own graphic design clients, so I just started asking my clients if they wanted coaching from me around what to do with the business cards and brochures I was designing for them. Some of them said no, but some of them said yes. So, I started essentially what would have been marketing coaching at the time. So, with the people who said yes, we started doing some work around how they could get out there and how they could use their business cards and brochures to create a steady stream of clients.
I considered at this point going to school at the Coach University, which was the only coaching school around at the time, but I decided against it because I was already learning what it was to be a coach by being coached by Coach University coaches.
I tend to be a pretty experiential learner and I just sort of created how I wanted to coach my clients. As I worked with my clients, I realised that coaching one little aspect was fine, but you could get so much more from coaching, so eventually we started coaching more around the whole business. This then led to coaching around who they are, and how they are, and gradually it morphed into how I coach people today.
Three years into doing both graphic design and coaching, I made a decision to stop my graphic designing. That was really hard, because I really loved it. The reason it was really easy to know that I wanted to put my focus full time on coaching was because of the effect the coaching had on people and their world, and that to me was so much more significant than what I could do with graphic design.
If I could only make one impact; I wanted to make the biggest impact.
Helping people see their life and their work through a new lens and helping them to do their life differently, that seemed to me to be the greatest gift, the greatest honour.
3. How did you survive financially in the early days?
For me there were several things that helped me. The first is that I was always able to live on very little. The other is that at certain times during my business, I would waitress a couple of evenings during the week. I did find that waitressing was a small enough time commitment, and gave me enough money to bridge the gap.
4. From starting your own business to now, what have been your greatest challenges, and how did you overcome them?
I think my biggest challenge is there’s so many things that I could do in my business; both in the way I work and in the way I market. I’m one of those people who have so many new ideas for a product, a way to coach, a new group. Follow through is challenging for me and there’s not enough time in the day to do all of the things that I think of.
However, instead of being so concerned about that, I look at where my excitement is, where my energy is, where my strength is, and where my passion is, and I keep my compass straight that way.
5. What do you love about what you do?
I love that I get to work intimately with a pretty small group of people. I used to work with as many as eighteen coaching clients at a time, now I don’t work with more than ten at a time. So, I have a deep relationship with eight to ten clients at a time. Through our work they impact their world, their families and their clients, and I get to see that ripple.
I’ve got two really palpable examples right now. One of my current clients is a career coach, and tomorrow she’s going to speak to a group of people on social media. She has a gift for how to help people discern what to do on social media. She’s got something like 652 people who have signed up for this talk; so it’s a huge deal. She created an e-book to hand out to them in two weeks and really stepped up to that challenge. She told me that she wouldn’t have put this together if we weren’t working together.
The other one is more poignant and personal; this client is not a coach but owns a cupcake shop here in Denver. She’s had a rough year. We started working together last August and in October, her boyfriend at the time committed suicide. To be able to support her through that, and help her keep her business going has been amazing. It’s been hard, but she’s said to me more than once that her shop wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for what we were doing.
I love supporting people in their passion and I love people being helped from being in their passion.
To see people change their perception of what’s possible, how to view their own lives and how to proceed with their own lives, there’s nothing better in the world.
6. What does it mean to create a sacred space in your coaching?
I’d been coaching for three years and hadn’t used any particular way to open or close a coaching session. I don’t even remember what made me decide to use one, but one week I decided to use a formal opening for all of my clients, and to see if it made a difference.
It was a really powerful experience and at the end of the week, my overriding thought was that I had been cheating them before, by not opening a session formally. All of them went so much deeper and got so much more from each of the sessions. I just quadrupled the value by doing this very simple thing.
It’s developed over the years. Now I have a script which I memorise but I will change it spontaneously if I feel the need.
A couple of years ago, at the beginning of each session, I started to ask people what quality or couple of qualities they would like to create a greater awareness of, to get the most out of our session. They had already told me specifically what they wanted to focus on for that day, but the qualities then helped them do that. So, they said things like they want more confidence and they want more awareness, or they want to be more peaceful and I would write it down and then let it go. At the end of the session, I’d glance at what I’d written down and see that we created something more, from just taking a moment to be clear about what they wanted. So, to me creating a sacred space is being very intentional and it creates a much higher level conversation in the sessions.
7. Tell me a bit more about your book, ‘Thriving Work – 90 days of daily practice for transforming you and your coaching, consulting or healing business’
I was working with my coach Jeff at the time, and we were talking about how I got more clients (I keep very close track of that because marketing is one of my things) and I’d noticed that every single client who comes through to me, had heard me speak or read something that I wrote. We coached around that and it became really clear that by writing a book, it would be part of my marketing. The initial impetus for this book specifically at this time was to give people more to read, so they would hire me. It sounds very mercenary and honestly that was the reason.
So, I had a plan, I was going to have this great book that people would read and want to hire me, and bless their hearts, that has definitely happened. However, the book was a lot more spiritual than I planned. That scared me. The idea of putting prayers in a business book just seemed a little odd. And then I realised that whether it’s odd or not, it’s the best of me.
How the book actually came into form is quite different to how I envisioned it and I’m glad for it.
8. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own business?
Do it! When you feel like quitting, don’t! I love that idea that if you never give up you can’t fail. Just keep moving forward. If there’s something that’s calling somebody, it’s not going to go away. They can ignore it, but then they’re not going to be true to themselves and that’s too higher price to pay.
If you would like to know more about Ann, check out her website: http://www.annstrong.com/