Fleur Emery is a startup expert and the founder of online co-working space REALWORK.
The first time I ever got high was via the age-old tradition of sharing a spliff with a kid in the year above. As I sat leaned up against the tiles of a public convenience and inhaled, I had no idea that I was walking through a door into what seemed like a parallel universe.
It’s nearly 20 years since I bottomed out and cleaned up, but I can still spot a dealer and tell just from the sound of their footsteps when an addict is behind me. In lockdown, to my great surprise, I found myself passing through another door into a simultaneous reality even more beguiling and enticing – a place where women are levelling up their visibility and income exponentially with the help of elite business coaches.
I’m not talking about the kind that walk you through various funding options for your startup or help you plan your supply chain. I’m talking about the kind that get right in your head, walk around in there and help you ‘get out of your own way’. Because, according to the stories that hang in the air around these people, the thing stopping me earning six figures isn’t the system or the market or my business model; rather, it’s myself. It’s me and my own unique set of limiting beliefs, which are being constantly refreshed by my inner critic, even as I type.
‘The whispers about these mythical business coaches were enticing, but no-one could answer my questions about what they actually did for people.’
I began to really get interested in this phenomenon at the start of lockdown when all my live work was cancelled (or ‘postponed’ indefinitely by the client to avoid cancellation fees…) and I was staring down the barrel of career disintegration. The whispers about these mythical coaches were enticing, but no-one could answer my questions about what they actually did for people. All I got were foggy answers about developing ‘audacity’ or ‘magnetism’.
With my back against the wall and a healthy dose of FOMO, I wanted a piece of the action so went deep, fast and connected with one who had an enviable track record (I’m lucky that I got to work with her: you pitch to them, not the other way round). A few months in and I’m now on the other side, experiencing the benefits of the work while struggling to explain what the work is. The nearest I can get is to suggest that she is slowly dismantling my personality in order to put it back together again.
The starting point for me was a question I’d been carrying around for a while: ‘If I’m such a genius, why aren’t I rich yet?’ My coach is helping me answer it with the enigmatic silence of a tai chi master. Our weekly sessions are simply meandering conversations but always seem to lead to profound personal revelation, like my rebellion against the idea of myself as a leader. ‘Huh?’
When I try to talk about the process to other founders, they are reticent to tell me who coaches them or how much they pay (this stuff seems to start at £3,000 a month with no upper limit), maybe because there is so much at stake. The results can be radical and have been for me. I am starting to understand my potential differently and the change in how I show up in my business is dramatic. People are really noticing – not like when you get a facial and an early night; more like when you lose 50kg and have a facelift. ‘What happened?’ they ask. And, sometimes, straight out of the gates, ‘Who is your coach?’
What did happen was that, in the first month of lockdown, at home with no work and a four-year-old, I billed less than £1,000 and was anxiously trying to work out how much the government’s self-employment support scheme would pay me. By the time the government payment was due to land in my account, I had been working with my coach for a few weeks and decided to knock back the bailout and make a plan to transform myself and earn £100,000 instead.
So, the following month, I rebranded and changed how I was showing up on social media and talking about my work. I let go of all the business goals I had been working towards and gave my attention to a spontaneous idea that I had to create an online co-working space for women called REALWORK. Something had changed and the new project launched effortlessly a few days later, selling out overnight and making £15,000.
It felt like an enormous breakthrough but time will tell whether it was luck or the beginning of something big. I’m working now among women selling digital products like this through social media campaigns that are personality led, and I’m starting to understand that this marketplace seems to be divided into the super-earners and everyone else. Some successes can be put down to branding, marketing and luck, but I wonder if the magic ingredient is coaching. Finding out if it could work for me was a leap of faith as well as an investment and I’m excited to see if, after years of failed startups, I finally make a fortune simply from changing the way I think.
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This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.