“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Julie Gordon White, CEO at The Well for Women Entrepreneurs
"Charge double the amount you’re thinking about charging and find ways to add value until you feel confident about it. New business owners are way too quick to discount their prices to get clients. This is a losing proposition. It’s better to figure out how to include value-added services that don’t cost much to provide […]"
By Yitzi Weiner, Authority Magazine at Thrive Global, Stories that are beautiful to the mind, heart, and eyes.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Gordon White. Julie is an award-winning entrepreneur, business coach, bestselling business author, and TEDx speaker. Julie has advised thousands of business owners as the founder & CEO of BlueKey Mergers & Acquisitions, a boutique multi-million-dollar firm she founded in 2004, through her bestselling book, EXIT! 12 Steps to Sell Your Business for the Price You Deserve, and national speaking engagements. In 2012, Julie began living her true passion as the founder of The WELL for Women Entrepreneurs, teaching thousands of women how to crack the code of growing to a million and someday selling for a million through step-by-step training and coaching programs, media, speaking, and signature events. Julie has been a featured small business expert for Google Small Business and Host of Intuit QuickBooks Momentum to $1 Million Community. Julie has also been quoted in Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, Bloomberg Businessweek.com, New York Times, Enterprising Women, Black Enterprise, and San Francisco Business Times. Julie’s $100K Show podcast and Morning Juice YouTube show are also top favorites among women entrepreneurs worldwide. Julie received a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major from the University of California at Davis, and lives in Northern California with her husband and three children ages 26, 20 and 18. In Julie’s free time, she is a voracious business book reader and runner, has completed countless half marathons and one full 26.2 bucket list item!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
When I was 10, I saw an ad in the back of a comic book to sell seeds door to door. That was my first job, and I loved it. This experience at such a young age started me on my entrepreneurship journey — I became hooked on the autonomy that came with making my own money.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
After I sold my boutique mergers & acquisitions firm, I consistently found myself coaching and consulting, but ultimately unsure about what to do next for my career. So I designed a three-day silent retreat for myself to get quiet and meditate on what I truly wanted. Once I gave myself a chance to be alone with my thoughts, my mission became crystal clear. I thought, “Why don’t I share with other women entrepreneurs all that I’ve learned about growing businesses, and coach them on how to make their ideas sellable and profitable?” And then I founded The WELL for Women Entrepreneurs the next day.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Starting and growing a business is daunting, but it becomes less so when you prioritize your love of your clients over your product or service. I have a business model called the Business Love Triangle: love who you serve, serve what you love and provide service to those who love both.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Start with a project — something that has a beginning and an end so you don’t feel married to it forever. But at the same time, don’t treat the project like a hobby. Be professional and charge what you’re worth. A hobby project will have a hobby result.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
When building your own business, it’s empowering to remember that it is just that — your own. Make every choice intentionally based on the lifestyle you want to have. For example, if you hate morning meetings but schedule all of your meetings at 7 a.m. because you think that’s what your client wants, you’ll be miserable. You have to thoughtfully build a business that you love or you may find yourself very successful at something that makes you very unhappy.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
What I love most is seeing my clients flourish in the work that we do. Watching women build an empire, make more money and have more freedom. And I cherish my own autonomy — the ability to work from wherever I want, and to say no to something if it doesn’t feel right. As far as downsides, sourcing clients will always be the most difficult part for any entrepreneur to overcome. Being the best kept secret is not a good thing as an entrepreneur, so that’s why we utilize and teach a paid-ad driven predictable lead generation system. It’s also important to know the limitations of your personal bandwidth — you cannot grow if it’s only you. If you’re overwhelmed, that probably means it is time to expand, which is a good problem to have!
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
That at certain stages in your business, primarily startup and growth, you have to work a lot harder for yourself than when you’re working for someone else. Most startups have fewer resources to work with, namely money and time, so you have to get a lot done with less which can be very daunting. When I first started I used to say that I worked around the clock but at least I own the clock!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Sitting in silence for 3 days straight was not only interesting, it was a transformational experience in my entrepreneurial journey. I had the chance to be completely alone with my thoughts. I was totally quiet for the first time in decades. In the silence is when the idea for The Well for Women Entrepreneurs came to me. A place where women can come and replenish, recharge and relax all as they grow the million-dollar businesses of their dreams. Had I not carved out that silence for myself I wouldn’t have made the space for this idea to dawn on me. As women, we are always going 100 miles per hour — every once in a while, we must stop to listen to what’s in our hearts.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One huge mistake I made when I first started out was sending a very sensitive email to the wrong person. I learned that speed is not always the best currency. Mistakes made in haste can cost you your reputation. In general, we all just need to slow down.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
It’s not one person — I draw daily inspiration from many thought leaders with various perspectives in all different industries. I spend an hour or so on YouTube each day, searching for the keywords that are giving me the most pause at the time. It could be ‘how to have a difficult conversation’, ‘Facebook ads’, or even ‘leadership’ in general. By actively searching out content produced by top experts in the area I am seeking guidance on is a great way to wrap up the day. I am in a constant state of learning, which I love.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The impact I make in the world is empowering women to claim their economic power and be unapologetic about it. I believe every woman must know how to make her own money, because money gives you choices and choices give you freedom. Also, the world will be a better place as those same women entrepreneurs raise their girls to be entrepreneurs. This ideal is embedded in everything I do.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Focus on one client and stop trying to be all things for all people. It’s impossible to understand every industry, especially when you have a service company, so it’s a waste of time to have to learn each new client from scratch. It’s much more efficient and profitable to know one client profile/industry deeply so you can become an expert quickly and not need to reinvent the wheel every time.
2. Focus on one service and do it better than anyone else. When you become an expert at one thing, you become the obvious choice to work with. Don’t add new services, keep adding new clients.
3. Charge double the amount you’re thinking about charging and find ways to add value until you feel confident about it. New business owners are way too quick to discount their prices to get clients. This is a losing proposition. It’s better to figure out how to include value-added services that don’t cost much to provide and make it a win-win.
\4. Say no to everyone and everything that will slow down your ability to achieve your goals — kids and spouses withstanding! Time is money! Focus on profit before fame or as I like to say, fortune before followers! If you focus on building a profitable company first, the followers will easily follow. Also, make sure your family understands that not only are you on a mission, but they are also part of the success team. Empower them to make meals, pack their own lunches and generally become more independent because, for a period of time, you will need to be head-down in your business. Be prepared for a few groans in the beginning, but over time, they will become just as proud of their new accomplishments as they are of you and yours.
5. Get support sooner. Achieve your goals faster with a community of like-minded peers, accountability partners, and mentors. Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, especially when you keep taking wrong turns. Getting support is the fastest, most profitable, and most fun way to navigate the exciting but tricky waters of business ownership.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It would be called “Momentum to a Million” because I want women to think big. Only 5% of women-owned businesses grow beyond $150k in revenue. If you’re striving toward $1 million, you’re going to make better and more strategic decisions. Let’s lift each other up toward that goal, and build on the momentum that we can create together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Every Oak tree started as an acorn.” I believe anything is possible. You can grow up to be the biggest, most beautiful, grand oak tree — anyone can.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oprah Winfrey, because she always believed in herself even when everything was working against her. She had to surrender in her journey so many times. The process of becoming CEO of OWN forced her to figure out who she is as a business owner, not just a TV personality. She easily could have convinced herself that her dreams weren’t meant to come true, but she didn’t. Setback after setback, she kept striving for the next big thing and she still does to this day. Thinking about her always gives me fuel to keep dreaming bigger and bigger!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
— Published on August 29, 2019
By Willow Older, Former Editor-in-Chief, Intuit QuickBooks Community
You know that working for yourself means wearing countless hats, juggling endless tasks, making myriad decisions and, in short, doing whatever it takes to move your business forward. Given the non-stop, all-in nature of the job, the idea of one day selling what you’ve worked so hard to build may seem strange, if not downright nuts.
Yet seasoned entrepreneur, business coach and rockstar QB Community member Julie Gordon White (@JulieatTheWELL) wants you to carefully and deliberately plan for a future sale, starting right now (or, better yet, yesterday). Julie, who founded a coaching and training organization for female entrepreneurs called The WELL, firmly believes every business owner – particularly women – should embrace a solid business strategy at the outset with a specific end-goal in mind: to one day sell your company for $1 million or more.
Why think big from day one?
While you digest that lofty goal, let’s break things down a bit. First, it’s worth noting that Julie more than walks her talk. She launched her own highly successful mergers and acquisitions firm, helping to sell businesses across practically every industry, from “flower shops to consulting firms.” Next, Julie wrote a best-selling book called Exit! 12 Steps to Sell Your Business for the Price You Deserve. Today she uses her “super power” to help women entrepreneurs think strategically from the very beginning about building and growing their business.
Julie says female entrepreneurs are particularly likely to benefit from embracing a strategic mindset early on. Since women often start their business to pursue a passion project or have flexibility while raising a family – both fantastic reasons – few consider growing their company for a future high-stakes sale. In fact, research shows the majority of women-owned companies top out at $202,000 in value.
Julie uses a simple analogy to put her “think ahead” strategy into perspective. “If you’ve ever sold a house, you know it always looks best right before you sell. You paint, put in new plants, maybe even remodel the kitchen. Then it looks so good you think, ‘Why didn’t I do this years ago? Now I don’t want to sell!’ If you make your business as great as it can be from the very beginning, you’ll enjoy running it so much more. And when it comes time to sell, it will be worth more, too.”
“I want to impart the idea you can work hard, love your business and get the pot of gold at the entrepreneurial rainbow,” Julie adds. “If your company is systematized and well run, life will be good. If it’s not, your business is going to run you.”
One more reason to start building for the future today? “You’re going to be more creative and have a lot more fun along the way if you’re not doing everything by the seat of your yoga pants!”
Julie’s three steps to business success
Let’s dive in to Julie’s strategy for building a business you love right now – and a future buyer will love, too.
1. Seek alignment. It’s worth stating this fairly obvious truth: If you build a company based on a product or service you don’t truly, madly, deeply love, chances are, you won’t be super motivated to give it the attention it needs (and deserves). Same goes for a business that isn’t totally aligned with your inherent skills and expertise. Julie says a surefire way avoid this problem is to make a list of what you’re great at.
Consider these “alignment” guidelines (and channel your own Mrs. Fields):
2. Identify your ideal client. “The core of what I teach is the importance of being crystal clear about who is your ideal client,” says Julie. Of course, knowing who they are is one thing. Knowing where you can find them is even more critical. Why? Because that information will drive all your lead generation to come. Since a predictable flow of leads creates a predictable flow of revenue, never underestimate the value of precisely defining the “who” and “where” of your customer base.
Julie recommends defining your ideal client in terms of a “Business Love Triangle.” The three “sides” of the triangle are 1) love who you serve 2) serve what you love and 3) serve it with those who love both.
Here are four things to keep in mind when figuring out who you want to work with.
3. Create proprietary processes. If you’re going to grow company, your systems and processes must be organized, scalable and repeatable. “Trying to customize every engagement or transaction is a losing proposition,” Julie explains. Instead, you can save precious time, money and resources by creating 1-3 profitability “tiers” of service or product packages for clients to choose from.
Julie shares an example from her own business. “I teach my ‘Scale to a Million Playbook’ program to both individuals and groups. The content is the same, but I offer the program in an online group format, privately one-to-one, and, occasionally, as a workshop – with three different price points based on the number of participants."
Another tip? Don’t forget to streamline your internal systems, too. For example, if you’re hiring employees, put a solid onboarding process in place. “Having someone shadow you is a terrible way to train a new hire,” says Julie. “Use your proprietary process as the framework for your training program, and you’ll be on your way to scaling your business to a million.”
One more (really important) thing …
Here’s one more straightforward tip for women entrepreneurs. Whatever you think you should charge for your services, double it. “I guarantee,” says Julie, “you’re undercharging.”
By Willow Older, Former Editor-in-Chief, Intuit QuickBooks Community
Julie Gordon White is an author and entrepreneur dedicated to helping small business owners reach new levels of success. Specifically, the acquisitions expert and founder of The WELL, a consulting and mentoring business for female entrepreneurs, aims to help business owners build companies that are simply irresistible to potential buyers.
Here, Julie shares her insights about what it takes to make a business sellable and how to “think big, grow big and sell big” (the topic of her popular QuickBooks Connect 2017 presentation in San Jose).
Tell us how your entrepreneurial journey began.
I started my first company in 2004 after spending five years in the hotel industry. Once I started having kids, it was a hard to travel the world with little ones in tow. I worked on a lot of things that didn’t pan out until I found a business that I wanted to buy. I was outbid, but I really loved doing the deal. I decided to work for a mergers and acquisitions firm. Eventually, I got back into entrepreneurship and started my own boutique acquisitions firm, BlueKey Business Mergers & Acquisitions. Then I wrote a book on selling your business called Exit! 12 Steps to Sell Your Business for the Price You Deserve.
What inspired you to share your business secrets in a book?
It’s funny that you ask because people in the industry would probably say, “Shhh, don’t tell!”
I wrote Exit! 12 Steps to Sell Your Business for the Price You Deserve because I wanted small business owners — especially women — to understand the journey to selling a company begins the day you start that business. Many entrepreneurs may not think about selling their business right away, or ever. I still want them to realize they’re building something that just might be worth a lot of money to someone else someday.
If you structure your business as something you might sell in the future, you can enjoy it that much more. After all, we all want the pot of gold at the end of the entrepreneurial rainbow!
You also founded The WELL, a resource for female entrepreneurs.
After I wrote my book, I thought “What do I want to be when I grow up … again?” I spent some time in silence really thinking about what I wanted. I realized my acquisitions company had taken off only after I joined a group of women who all ran these awesome million-dollar companies. I felt constantly supported and inspired, and I wanted to integrate my own experiences with a similarly loving, helpful group of women. That’s when I found the inspiration for The WELL. I knew women often get stuck at $156,000 in revenue, and I want to help them reach ten million dollars in revenue.
The WELL is a source of learning for female entrepreneurs looking to grow their business. We host workshops, online training and one-on-one coaching sessions to help mentor women who want to grow their business to that million-dollar mark — and then, eventually, sell.
Do you envision selling The WELL at some point in the future?
The WELL is absolutely built with the intention that it could be sold one day — hopefully to another woman entrepreneur who wants to take it even further. It won’t happen any time soon, though. I’m loving it too much right now.
For those who aren’t quite ready to sell their business, what do you recommend to small business owners who are looking to increase their cash flow?
Always ask for money before you need it. First of all, you’re always going to need it, so it's best to start asking early.
I also recommend heading to your local bank if you need a business loan. I believe local connections are key to building trust. If your bank knows you and sees your business in action, they’ll feel more comfortable about your ability to pay off that loan. And make sure you’re taking credit cards! I’ve also learned you need a bookkeeper using QuickBooks on your team. If you want your business to enjoy positive cash flow, you need a really great financial platform.
Julie, any tips for women business owners in particular?
When I work with women one-on-one, I teach them the importance of trusting your intuition and feeling the weight of your success. If you don’t, you’ll wind up hopping from thing to thing. You’ll never say no, and your time management will get out of whack.
There are so many strategies and experts out there trying to tell you how to become successful. The #1 thing is being comfortable doing what feels right to you.