Reflections of a Woman Entrepreneur

           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.  My next client was Danny Walker, who had just bought a small hospice in Texas and needed an organizational review before the surveyors came in. 

            To my delight, the business just kept growing – and my skill set grew along with it. I was called in on many occasions by CEOs and Boards of Directors who wanted an outside expert to give them an objective view of the performance of their organization and what needed to be changed to compete in a new world.  I can say with joy that I helped many organizations become more competitive, to put the right people in the right seats, and to avoid financial ruin.

            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 genuinely interested in 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!

            There are downsides, when it’s your own enterprise, you’re never really off duty. I do have some wonderful associates I work with, at the end of the day, I’m still the chief cook and bottle washer, and I have more frequent flier miles than I want - but I love what I do and love the people I get the privilege to work with. 

            And the joys of having your own business are many; independence, freedom, variety.  In my spare time, I enjoy visiting Cumberland Island, Georgia, and boating on the Intracoastal waterways. I'm also an avid photographer of both nature and people. Steve and I can often be found driving with the top down, or on their way to go Airstream camping in one of America’s beautiful national or state parks!

            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 each and every one of the people who have engaged me to help them grow their organizations and/or themselves.  It has been my honor and blessing and I am looking forward to continuing that journey of service.

>> Catch me up! Tell me about yourself and how I can best support you?

 I love conducting Strategic Planning Retreats with Boards of Directors like this one last month.



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