297: Maggie Karshner—Ready To Start And Grow An Amazing Business? Maybe You Need A Coach!

Hear how to launch your own business, successfully

In this podcast you are going to meet Maggie Karshner. She loves to work with people who want to set themselves up in a new business or grow the one they currently have. She and I talk about how to help solo-preneurs take their ideas and become coaches, consultants, therapists, chefs, specialists helping kids get into college, branding experts…you name it and Maggie has done it. During our podcast, we want to help you see what is possible and make it happen. Listen in!

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Maggie K video

The challenge of making it on your own

What Maggie and I both know is that it is difficult leaving a career in a corporate job and launching your own business, successfully. My husband Andy and I have seen that among the students at Washington University during our Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship summits. And at SAMC, we witness it every day as people come to us to help them frame their story, strengthen their brand, conceptualize their business, and get it off the ground, maybe with a Blue Ocean Strategy.

In our conversation, Maggie describes her approach of taking clients through a systematic, step-by-step process that helps them break down tasks into manageable steps. We then talk about the tools you need as an entrepreneur, from a good business plan and a clear understanding of client needs to the marketing and staffing requirements of your particular business. It isn’t easy. But it is happening all over the place as men and women launch new businesses and watch them grow — or not.

Maggie KarshnerAbout Maggie Karshner

Maggie Karshner is a self-employment change coach based in Seattle, WA, serving solo-preneurs throughout the US. Rather than telling clients how it “should” be done, she listens to their goals and helps them achieve what’s important to them. She is widely versed in all things relevant to self-employment, from organizational structure and financials to marketing and promotion. 

Prior to launching her business coaching firm in 2014, Maggie had ten years’ experience managing a small business, supporting non-profits, and being a corporate business consultant. In addition to working closely with entrepreneurs throughout her career, she is an entrepreneur herself twice over. She has a BA in Geography from Syracuse University. You can connect with Maggie on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, her website www.maggiekarshner.com or her blog.

Want some help getting your business off the ground? Here’s a place to start.

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Read the transcript of our podcast here

Are you an entrepreneur with a great idea but you’re just not sure how to get it off the ground? Here’s your opportunity to learn from someone who’s done it, to great success. Hear Maggie Karshner share her wisdom about finding unoccupied market space you can own and then building your business from the ground up.

Andi Simon: Hi, welcome to On the Brink, a fresh lens to take you and your business to new heights. I’m Andi Simon, your host and your guide. As you know, my job is to bring wonderful people onto our podcast, who can help you see, feel and think in new ways. Our job is to help you get off the brink and soar. It’s sometimes hard to do that. And sometimes you need some fresh ideas and new perspectives or a story that can help be a catalytic moment for you. And you’re going to go, “Oh, gosh, what a great idea. I’m ready for it”. So today, I have this wonderful woman, Maggie Karshner, with us today. And Maggie is going to talk to you about how to become a successful entrepreneur. It’s interesting to me because she found me and now I’m delighted to share her because she is an entrepreneur. She also works with people, perhaps like you, who have decided that the corporate world is no longer the right one for them. And now the question is, how do I do this? You know, how do I take an idea and turn it into an innovation?

So I’ll put in one little context plug here. A few years ago, my husband and I created the Simon Initiative for Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis. It was a three year program. And we were honored to be able to work with women and men entrepreneurs to take their ideas and turn them into innovations. And teach them about how do you take an idea, begin to build it into something, launch it, fund it and sustain its scalability so that it’s no longer a solopreneur and becomes an enterprise business. It was exciting. And we both still work with a lot of entrepreneurs-to-be. Maggie, thank you for joining us today.

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Andi Simon: As you can tell, this is something near and dear to us. We love working with entrepreneurs, as you do. But I think the first thing I’d like you to do is to share your own personal journey, your story, so the listeners can understand who Maggie is and what are your credentials for bringing entrepreneurship to new businesses?

Maggie Karshner: So my story is that I was going through a process of self-discovery, I wanted to find work that was meaningful, and that helped me express my purpose. And this sort of culminated in securing a role as a management consultant. And so I got the dream job, I was in it, it was great. And then about three months in, I had this realization that I hated it, I absolutely hated it. So you know, I was getting to do some stuff that I love, like being able to share my perspective and influence change and make the world a better place or make work a better place. And I was working in midsize companies.

But it was a bit like steering an ocean liner. You know, I’d make a suggestion, I’d be like, Ok, we’ll run that up the chain of command there. And I heard, “We’ll get to it in six months. I got better stuff to do that I’m on.” So it really wasn’t my speed. And I realized that while I had met a lot of my desires and needs and ways that I can live my purpose, I was at the wrong scale. And so I realized I needed to go smaller. I wanted to work directly with the business owner of a relatively small, if not the smallest organization, and be able to be in dialogue with them, collaborate with them on what would make their business better, and make that happen. And then that actually happened in like, something approximating real time. And I had actually already been doing this on the side.

I feel like there’s something funny about entrepreneurship, where a lot of times when we go toward living our purpose, it’s something that we’ve already been doing that we’ve devalued. You know, so I had been meeting with two different friends, actually, each of them were running businesses, and we just met for coffee. Their payment was that they buy me coffee, and we just sit for an hour and talk about their business. And I had a blast. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, have you tried doing this without this thing? Let’s do that. Oh, that’s the problem. Cool. Let’s do this.” And I was like, Man, if I got paid to do that, like not in coffee, but like real money, that’d be awesome. And so that’s what I did. I saw out the rest of my contract with a management consulting role. And then I launched my business. And yeah, and I have loved it every day for seven years. I think now and wow. Amazing.

Andi Simon: The first question I have is, it sounds like there’s a trend in this pandemic for a huge surge in people starting up their own business, and it’s women doing it, African American women doing it, Latina women doing it, men doing it. Lots of people are trying to figure out what to do in response to the disruption of the pandemic. What are you finding? What do you see happening?

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, yeah, I’m seeing this in droves. Like, my business, I definitely had a little bit of a panic moment, early pandemic. And I was like, Oh, does my business go away now? Because that question seems to never actually leave a business owner’s mind. But then very quickly, I think, sort of mental health therapists were the first people who sort of started knocking down my door being like, hold on, I’m working even more hours. I’m doing it all from home now. I now have realized that not commuting that my bosses are taking this huge percentage of everything that I earned, why am I doing this? I want control over this. And I was like, Yes, this is what I do. And so helping them transition in sort of small group practices into being their own business, and having, you know, clients and all the like, sort of nitty gritty that goes along with that. I think they were sort of the first wave. But yeah, and I’m continuing to see it, like people have been filling their time in some way during the pandemic, whether employed or not. There’s things they’ve appreciated about that time. And I think we’re all looking for a little bit more control. When the world has laid the circumstance and has robbed us of so much control.

Andi Simon: Are there particular businesses that they’re trying to go into?

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, like I said, a lot of mental health. It runs the gamut. I’ve worked with folks who are personal professional organizers, I work with editors, I’ve worked with consultants of various flavors. My unifying feature of all my clients is that they’re passionate about what they do. Like, if you’ve got a passion for what you do, I can help you turn that into a business.

Andi Simon: My hunch is that their passion comes and they want to turn them into innovative ideas, into businesses and they don’t have much idea how to get organized. They didn’t know how to get it funded, didn’t really know how to scale it. What do you find? And how can you help them?

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, I find people are often very skilled at what they do. Like they got that part. Usually that part of the journey they’ve been on. And so yeah, then it’s a question of like, Ok, well, how do I run a business? I guess I need a license. And I can jump in with answers like, Yeah, I usually get this approved by some certain agencies. And then yeah, how do I know that I’m going to be successful. That’s another piece. And some of that is just basic math. But, you know, math is kind of scary for a lot of folks. So I have tools that help give them structure and understanding and like, do a lot of the heavy lifting of the math for them. And then there’s like the ultimate question, which is, can I get clients? Because you can’t really have a business if you’re not making sales. So that’s usually where a lot of our time is taken up. So you know, coming up with what goes on a website, how are you going to market this? Who are you going to sell it to? All those sorts of questions, so that you actually can be successful?

Andi Simon: Yep. It’s interesting. Is there a case study or an illustrative one that could show someone what you do and how you help them?

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, sure. So one client who comes to mind. She was a civil engineer, if I remember correctly, and she wasn’t sure that she could do anything else. Most of civil engineering, you’re employed in order to do it. But we worked on it and realized that she could do this freelance, that she could use her skills using CAD and other sort of design programs in a freelance capacity, and that would meet her needs. We could get the pricing all worked out, that it would give her the flexibility that she needed. It would give her a lot more autonomy and save her from a commute and so I helped her put that all together. She’s actually one of my huge success stories because she came to me with a list at the start of our coaching and then about three months in, she pulled the list out again. And she’s like, who’s done everything on my list? And I’m like we got more to do though. We got to get you more clients, we gotta get this thing off the ground. And she’s like, can I? Can I have a minute? Can we just hold on? And I’m like, Yeah, sure, take a break. That’s great. Awesome. Because she thought that list was gonna take her a whole year to do, we did it in like three months. And I’ve seen her since because I’ve got long lasting relationships with my clients to help, you know, get stuff back oriented towards whatever new life change has happened. I love that story. Because it was just like, I didn’t know what was supposed to take a year.

Andi Simon: Well, I mean, it’s interesting. Now, the fact that they are open and receptive to it is very encouraging. Some of the folks who we’ve mentored, one gentleman in particular, had developed a wonderful software to help opioid practitioners better match their patients up with the right clinics. And it was really a brilliant idea, the only problem was he didn’t know how to market it. And, unless he was going to market it, nobody was really knowing how they would use it. So ideas by themselves aren’t particularly useful. And then there were two women who had left McKinsey and had a wonderful idea that they were going to make sustainable clothes and sell them on the internet. And that was really when they were beginning to take off. And it was fun to work with them and to watch. So it comes in all flavors, the service ones are particularly interesting. Are there marketing methodologies that you’re finding work particularly well now?

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, yeah, I think the most important part of marketing is to not overlook personal connections. So particularly since I’ve worked small scale, self-employment, you need, you know, maybe a dozen clients to be making a living. So you have a dozen friends, they have a dozen friends, like this is within a degree or two, a separation from where you are right now. There’s so much in marketing. Like, I know that all online and social media marketing is super shiny. And it is, it’s great. It’s a whole thing. You got to learn it. And so much of that is like, how do we build trust? And trust comes so naturally to people you already know. So you can’t overlook that you’ve got to go working with the people you already know making sure they understand what you’re doing. That if they hear someone who is your ideal client, that they’re going to be like, I know the person for you, that you stay top of mind. And then the sort of longer timeline is social media and online marketing.

Andi Simon: Well, I think that’s absolutely correct. There was a book many years ago, Never Eat Alone. And while we’re not eating lunch the way we used to, we often advise our clients to start with your list, you know, put a list together every week to know you’re not asking them for a job. You’re asking them to hear about what you’re working on. And who might they know, that could be, you know, you could be helpful too. And you’ll find that the conversation leads to all kinds of things you never expected. And the unexpected is what’s so exciting. So it becomes really quite interesting.

In my new book, Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business, I have several women entrepreneurs in there. And they all saw things that were unmet needs — they were Blue Ocean Strategists®. And so it was very interesting to watch them see something. One of the women saw that women had a hard time paying their nannies’ taxes. She herself was using a nanny and wanted to be legal, and she found that there was nobody who could serve her. So she created a business to do nanny tax business. And in the payroll for these caregivers, she grew it to $9 million and then sold it to Care.com for $57 million. She talks about how so many people said to her, “Don’t be an entrepreneur, women can’t be entrepreneurs.”

And each of the stories like that are most interesting because the entrepreneur is there, all they have to do is see something that’s unmet, and how to begin to capitalize on it. They see themselves as having something of value and not having to sell it within a corporate environment. It’s interesting listening to you because I spent 10 years as an academic and 20 years in corporate, always as an anthropologist helping organizations change. When I launched my business, it was to help companies change. They didn’t need an anthropologist, they needed to change.

And I share that because as you’re thinking about going into your own business, it’s not what you do. It’s what do they need? And it’s something to add to the thought process because what people need is what they’ll buy. And it’s not exactly how you do it that matters. I didn’t know what an anthropologist did anyhow, but they really needed to change and they were stuck. And so I picked up Markel Paper, Centenary College and it was all because they had a gap between what they were doing and where they wanted to go. So I have a hunch many of you entrepreneurs are looking for the same kinds of things.

Maggie Karshner: Cool. Definitely. It’s super cool.

Andi Simon: Are there any bad practices that you can share? Things you shouldn’t do?

Maggie Karshner: Bad practices? I mean, I like to think my clients don’t have those because they work with me. I think sometimes folks get stymied by moving forward. And one of the things that I try to encourage folks is to take baby steps. Any kind of progress is progress, right? And, yeah, maybe today is not the day that you’re going to like, have a ton of great working time, but if you can get one thing done, if you can move one thing forward, if you can work a little bit on that project, then you’re making progress. Motion is happening. And you’ve set yourself up for the next day for that perfect storm of productivity to happen. And so I always look more toward if progress is happening, rather than how much progress is happening.

Andi Simon: I think that’s a brilliant idea. At SAMC we talk about small wins. Yep, exactly and also the mind remembers what you celebrate. The mind wants to know this matters. And if you don’t pay attention to it, if you don’t celebrate it, it won’t think it’s important. So your mind knows what matters a lot. You know, it’s a great and exciting time for entrepreneurs. How do you help with funding?

Maggie Karshner: Well, funding in my world, we tend to do a lot of bootstrapping because what we’re talking about is earning your own income. A lot of times there is not the margin that an investor would want to see and that also means that the numbers are pretty small. You know, it’s can you cover your own expenses until this business gets off the ground, which, you know, can be six months. If you’ve already had a six month cushion that you’ve built up in case you get laid off, well, then you have a six month nest egg to launch a business by the same logic. That gets extended with each client because then you’re eating into it less. Yeah, I’ve seen dozens of businesses launched purely off of people’s own savings.

Andi Simon: Good. Well, that’s not a bad recommendation. You know, we talked about family and friends. But often people don’t have family or friends. And I’ve heard that as well and it’s a little early for angel funding because often the ideas are in small businesses, and they’re big entrepreneurial initiatives. But capital is important. But to your point, the most important thing is to manage your money carefully. Yes, be very aware of what you should spend and what you shouldn’t. And try to be very prudent, this is not a time to be casual because the next paycheck is uncertain.

Maggie Karshner: Yes. Totally. And I think about it in terms of a runway. So if you have, like those six months of savings that you’re working off of, that is a certain amount of runway, and then are there things we can do to extend your runway. So actually, when I myself first launched this business, I was moving and shaking for the first month, and I went to every single networking event that was ever scheduled in my area. And then I got bored because there weren’t enough networking events. And I was like, I don’t have enough clients. I don’t have enough networking to do, what am I going to do? And so I took up a part time job, I was like, I can go and file for somebody for a couple days a week, that’s fine. And that was a fantastic decision because it extended my runway. My rent, my food was covered. It wasn’t a great paying job, but it gave me more runway and actually a bunch of structure. So yeah, being smart about managing your money is definitely something that comes into play. And I think it’s sort of a leveling up for a lot of folks when they’re starting their business. Managing your personal finances can be kind of slapdash, but with a business, suddenly you have to be a little bit more accountable. We got to learn some skills along the way.

Andi Simon: You know, I’m listening to you and I’m fascinated. I had a call a month ago from a woman who had left or lost her corporate job. And she came to me because someone had referred her to us and she wanted to do something, applying a third party’s software systems to improve sales. The challenge, and I say this for your clients, my clients and then the audience, she couldn’t tell me a story about what it was she was going to do. And we worked a lot about getting clarity of her purpose. Are you selling their software? Are you representing their software? What is it that you’re actually doing? The conversation was unsettling for her. She knew that she needed to go form a business and do it, but needed a little more nourishment and thinking about what exactly was she going to do. And what are the benefits of hiring? And are the benefits more important than what I do?

Remember, people buy benefits for them, not features for you. You’re no different than a product. But I share that with you because I felt badly that she was in search of a story. And asking for it was uncomfortable to the point where she was frustrated at herself. This is gonna take time, it takes a little time, spend a little time thinking about what is it you want to do. And how are you going to do it and don’t jump in it. And to your runway idea; even if you take a little part time job while you’re formulating it, give it some time, play out some ideas, see how they begin to frame itself. And then you can begin to launch. It’s not necessary to go right from the head and find yourself ready to launch with nothing to launch. You don’t want to make too many early mistakes. It’s okay to slow down and go quietly.

So we’re just about ready to wrap. This has been a great conversation. I love talking about entrepreneurs, women and men and all the challenges. Do you have a couple of things you don’t want our audience to forget?

Maggie Karshner: Sure. Yeah. So I think that one of the things I want everybody to understand is that we each are unique beings. I think we can all kind of agree on that. And the way that I see society working is that we all need to be full participants in society. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. If we’re each a piece, we need all the pieces in order for the puzzle to come together. And so if you are living your purpose, then you are being the best jigsaw puzzle piece you can be. And that doesn’t mean you have to do everything. And that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is insignificant at all. And so if the best way for you to be a puzzle piece is to launch your own business, then you got to do it. I need you to do it, not because I need you for a client, but because the whole of society needs you.

This is so important on such a large scale that you do what only you were designed to do. And I just wish everybody understood that and could really live that. Whether that’s self-employed, or employed, because we need all of you. Somebody has to be working in the big companies too. So do that. Do it joyfully.

Andi Simon: You know, there’s so much discussion today about what will work in the future or today, such as a hybrid remote in the office. I remember before the pandemic a third of our workforce were in the gig economy. That’s 50 million people who were already permanently self-employed, solopreneurs. I’ve met people who never want to go back inside. But there was less focus on entrepreneurs, per se, than there was on the gig economy. But it’s all very much to your point.

What is your passion and your purpose? Purpose-driven people do far better than those who just have a tactical practical job. So find your purpose and find your passion. And you’ll find that you sell better, you have inspired others, and they want to buy from you because you provide solutions. And now you can go be your own boss. Absolutely. And you’ll find others wanting to come and collaborate with you. And collaboration is something to pay attention to because you don’t have to do it all. I love what Uber did. It showed how we can collaborate; you have a car, I need a ride and we will connect. Well, you don’t have to buy the car anymore. You don’t have to own the car. You can be that collaborator in this world and do more for your clients than just simply the thing that they asked for. So this has been fun. If they want to reach you, what’s the best way to do that?

Maggie Karshner: I’m at Maggiekarschner.com and all my contact info is there, as well as more information about what I do.

Andi Simon: Remember, it’s on our blog, and it’ll be available for all of our listeners to come and find out more about Maggie. She’s got a great website. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Maggie Karshner: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Andi Simon: Now, for our listeners, as you know, my job is to help you get off the brink and our job is to help you soar. So Maggie has worked on some great ideas; get a hold of her if you’d like to know more about how she can help you take that idea and turn it into an innovation that can soar with you.

These are great times for creativity, never waste a crisis. I used to say if you want to change, have a crisis. I didn’t expect this one. This is not something you should ever reinvent. But for the moment with all of the good and the bad, and it’s been bad, there’s also good. There is an opportunity to rethink who you are, and begin to soar again. And my books, On the Brink and Rethink are here to help you do just that. So come visit us at simonassociates.net and if you’d like to email me at info@andisimon.com, I get all those emails and that’s how I find good people to bring to you. So thanks again. Stay safe, stay well and enjoy. Goodbye now. Thank you Maggie.