304: Laurie Hirsch Schulz—How Can Small Businesses Build Great Big Companies With The Right Support?

Hear how to navigate change so you can grow and thrive

Laurie Hirsch Schulz did something quite awesome: she left corporate life to pursue her calling as a coach and a champion for small businesses, particularly for women solopreneurs. She had a great job, only to discover that she had had enough. Sounds like a recurring theme among many of our podcast guests. They are talented women ready to steer their power and their energy in new directions. Laurie’s creative genius is in seeing unmet needs in her markets and finding innovative ways to solve them—rather Blue Ocean style. So much to learn from her! Enjoy.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Laurie H video

We talk about the many different types of leaders Laurie works with:

  • Career Explorers: Professionals who are ready to purposefully define what personal and career success means to them and build the path forward to get there.
  • Small Business Founders: Mission-focused entrepreneurs who are committed to building their businesses by harnessing opportunities in an ever-changing world.
  • Not-for-Profit Leaders: Non-profit CEOs committed to building mission-driven, strategically sound, high impact organizations that are change resilient, even with limited resources.

Laurie HirschAbout Laurie Hirsch Schulz

Partnering with individuals and organization leaders to navigate change and disruption when the path forward is unclear, Laurie specializies in building effective action plans that reflect mission and values while identifying and working through roadblocks that may get in the way. Through her firm, LHS Coaching, Laurie takes a collaborative approach to empowering individuals through 1:1 services, Mastermind groups and interactive workshops.  

Laurie is the founder of Broad River, a networking organization that provides women with a relaxed space to connect and build community together. She also serves on the board of Westchester Youth Alliance. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or her website LHS Coaching, or email her at laurie@lhscoaching.com.

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Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink, a fresh lens to take you and your business to new heights. Hi, I’m Andi Simon and I love my podcast because I can bring to you all kinds of interesting and wonderful people. We share our conversations and more stories to help you see, feel, and think in new ways so you can get off the brink. I cannot tell you how many folks come to us because they are literally on the brink. They are sure they don’t want to do what they’ve been doing, but are totally unclear what they might like to do. And in the lack of certainty, humans become immobilized. We become a deer in the headlights. And so our job, as coaches, anthropologists, and as consultants is to help you see what’s possible, and then help you actually try it. And it’s not as hard as it might seem because there are so many of us who are doing this.

Now, today I have with us Laurie Hirsch Schultz, whom I met through the Business Council of Westchester. What a great organization. It is a great organization. And I welcome her here. Let me tell you about her. Let me read you her bio. It’s very exciting. Laurie Hirsch Schulz partners with individuals and organizational leaders to navigate change and disruption where the path forward is unclear.

Now I say that to you because humans hate the lack of clarity. We want certainty. Think about the pandemic. The thing that disrupted us most of all was that we didn’t know what was happening. We’re futurists. If we don’t know where we’re going, it’s hard to live today. Big problem.

Laurie coaches, focusing on building effective action plans that reflect mission and values while identifying and working through roadblocks that might get in the way. Through her practice, LHS Coaching, she takes a collaborative approach to empowering individuals through one-on-one services, mastermind groups and interactive workshops. This is going to be a fun conversation, in part because it’s just because I like Laurie a lot, but I also love the things that she’s done. And I’m going to let her tell you her story. And then we’ll talk some more about how do you, whoever you are, man or woman, begin to think about your life through a fresh lens. Because the times they are a’changing, as Bob Dylan sang in 1964 and it’s still happening. And you don’t want to be the last out. Laurie, thanks for joining me.

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: Oh, Andi, I really appreciate you having me. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation as well. So I’ve been a coach since I started my business in the fall of 2018. Before that, I had a 20-plus year corporate career. I worked for Kraft Foods for 15 years. I worked for Visa, the credit card company, for another seven and a half. I was a marketing strategist. So I never aspired or expected to be an entrepreneur or a solopreneur, which is what I am today. I took a really traditional path. I graduated traditional, I graduated from undergrad, I worked for four years in PR, I got my MBA, and then I went straight into Kraft Foods. And I worked there for 15 years doing marketing strategy leading a variety of teams. Then I moved to Visa where I led an internal marketing consulting practice. And, again, pretty traditional until 2017 when it just wasn’t working for me anymore.

It was a good career. I kept moving forward. I had an opportunity with Kraft to live in Europe for a couple of years. I got to travel to really interesting places with both jobs. But I was really busy. I was a wife. As a mom, I had two kids all through this time and I was working. So I never had the time. And things were working well. I enjoyed my career, I kept progressing. I never had the time or luxury or even thought about thinking about what do I want to do? Where am I going? What do I want? And then in 2017 it just stopped working for a whole variety of reasons. And I was really fortunate enough to be able to negotiate an exit package, which was incredibly empowering.

Then in late 2017 I commenced my reboot year is what I call it. I had just turned 50. I started my reboot year. In fact, my husband threw a reboot party for a surprise party for me. It included rubber boots-shaped glasses and shaped cake. Yeah, it was great. And all our friends were there. So I mean, I really felt supported. And so it was my reboot year. And it really was a luxury. It was a luxury but it gave me the opportunity to pause and be really reflective about it. You don’t need a whole year to do this. And in fact, I didn’t take a whole year. I pretty quickly realized that coaching was probably the direction I wanted to go. But to have that luxury to be able to take a step back and actually be able to be really thoughtful about what you want to do is so important. And I think you can do that throughout your entire career. And we can talk about that a little bit.

But here’s what I learned during that reboot. First of all, the power of the pause, as I mentioned, and then really being able to do that internal work, like, assess who are you? I mean, you mentioned in my bio that I look at values. And that’s the first exercise I do with anyone I coach is, what are your core values? What are the five things that are absolutely critical to you? And I think it’s an exercise that people do fairly easily. You give them a list of values, and they can do it fairly quickly. But people don’t generally always think about that. And so identify what those values are, and have them as guideposts for what’s working for you and what’s not. That’s really important. So that insight works.

Andi Simon: They almost become non-negotiables. Is that how you see them? 

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: Yes, they are non-negotiables. And what I find with everyone, and myself too, if your work or anything in your life is not aligned with your values, if there’s a gap, and we rate them, like on a scale of one to five, one being not so great, I’m not living them today, and five being a yes, I’m living them fully. If you’re at a one or two, or even to a certain degree, a three, you’re going to be really dissatisfied.

So here’s an example. If one of my core values is collaboration, and community, and we’ll talk a little bit about how that comes to life for me, but if you are in a job where you’re an individual contributor, and it’s all just about sitting at your desk and doing that one thing, and your value is having community and connections, you can be dissatisfied with that job. So that’s one example. That’s one thing I learned is to be really insightful and be thoughtful about what’s important to you.

Another is, what’s your personal mission or your purpose? Why are you here? I mean, that’s bigger work. But that’s important, too. What are you here for? So that all is very important, like having that insight work. The other thing that I took from that year and I actually use this in my practice is this idea of design thinking.

But, I want to talk about mindset for a minute. Carol Dweck, are you familiar with her book, Mindset? She talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. And this is also part of the whole idea of design thinking, which is a growth mindset. Be curious, don’t just accept things as they are, be thoughtful, look outside in the world and be really curious about what you’re seeing. Be willing to experiment and fail. Not everything’s gonna turn out.

I can tell you, just entering my third year in business, there’s a lot of stuff I’ve thrown out there that has not been successful. But I’ve learned from it and I’ve built from it and I’ve built success from those things. You need to be willing to reframe your experiences, and be willing to think differently. And actually, this is a little bit about how I became an entrepreneur: I always thought I hate sales. And I actually still hate sales. I hate sales. So if I want to be an entrepreneur, I’ve got to be able to sell my product, my service, myself. And what I realized is, if you reframe it as relationship building, which is really what I do, I love building relationships, so I say connection and community are core values for me. Then I was like, Oh, well, this works okay for me. I can do this, building relationships, and I like building relationships. And so that’s one example of a way to reframe things. 

Andi Simon: You know Laurie, the theme that you’re describing, you become a case study for how do you reinvent yourself. And what I loved about your story is that you are a case study. Remember, as we mentioned, 40% of the businesses in the US are owned by women. And they represent more than 50% of the workforce. But of the 12 million businesses, 10 million of them are solopreneurs and often we get annoyed at the venture capital folks for only putting 2.8% of their money into women businesses. Some of the businesses aren’t suitable for venture capital. They’re not really scalable, but they are successful.

Solopreneurs, of course you know, there are a whole lot that aren’t earning much from their side hustles, which is fine. But the criticism about not getting the venture capital money is missing the point. There are many folks like yourself who have gone on a journey of discovery, and have found those core values, and are beginning to build a viable business ready to scale. I decided early on, I run a bank. That simple. And the last thing I want was 2500 employees, thank you very much. You know, other freelancers, gig economy, all you like, and I had no desire to have to make money to pay people and support them and worry about them. And you can go have multiple jobs.

But it’s an interesting mindset today, particularly with the great resignation. 4 million people left their jobs this past year, that’s 3% of the workforce. And a lot of them aren’t quite sure where they’re going next. I want you to talk though, I like where you went next. After less than a year of your reboot year, you had enough of a discovery to begin to move forward. And the things that you put together are multipliers. They make sense, not simply because they’re one offs, you know, a good workshop here or a good talk there. They build a business. And I think there’s a lesson to share here that makes a lot of sense. Share it, if you don’t mind.

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: So interesting, I really like what you said, and I completely agree with you, this idea of an entrepreneur. I needed to scale and I needed to grow. And I’ll come back to that because I think that’s really interesting. And I completely agree with you.

So, one of the things I learned about myself through that year, I mean I pretty quickly realized that what I really loved about what I did through my career was that I managed lots of people. I love the mentoring and the coaching that came with that. I also realized that I really loved partnership development. I led a lot of partnership work. So again, coming back to this collaboration, community connections, that was really important to me. And I love the marketing strategy. I really appreciate that marketing strategy.

So that led me, particularly the first year, the mentoring and the partnership led me to a coaching certification program. And out of that, knowing that those were my core values, and another core value of mine is working with others, collaborating with others to help them to find their personal powers. I think I like to say that I want to be a spark that helps ignite others’ powers for transformation.

So where that ended up leading me is to my coaching practice. I work with what I call career explorers, people who are really trying to say, this isn’t the right fit for me anymore. Where do I want to go next, building on my own experience? But I’ve also been building my practice around small business owners, and particularly solopreneurs, mostly women, but not all. And I’m really looking at how do you build your business? In a way, this is where I use my marketing strategy work: how do you build your business in a way that’s really meaningful for you? I like to say that my clients are mission-focused. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re out there to change the world, but they’re really clear on what their why is. Why are they doing this? And how does it work within their own lives.

It’s not just about building this business and getting bigger and bigger and bigger for them. It’s, and I’m not suggesting that bigger firms are not necessarily mission-focused, but for these solopreneurs, they’re really looking at, they’re really aware of why they’re doing what they’re doing. And this goes back to what you were talking about, is that you can have a really successful solopreneur business. I mean, I have people who are in my community who have been in business for 10,15, or 20 years. They are the primary wage earners in their business. They’re putting kids through college, and they’re still solopreneurs. They may use virtual assistants, or they may have contractors that work with them, but they’re more interested in creating a business that can enable them to live the way that they want to live their lives, the way they need to or maybe monetarily the way that they need to. But also that enables them to do the other things that are really important to them.

A big business is not necessarily a reflection of success. Success is really about how it is working for you. Does it align with your values to enable you to live life the way you want it to be? So, that’s a lot of what I learned during that reboot year. And and I think the other piece is that I started my coaching practice but I also started a women’s networking group called The Broad River. And what the Broad River is, is a hyper-local networking organization for women who live in the Westchester, New York river towns. And it’s not specifically for small business owners or women in specific industries.

I had this hypothesis that there’s all these really incredibly smart women living in this area by the river towns, and they don’t have a way to come together. And that hypothesis was right. It was started in January 2019. And we’re going to be going into our third year now. And we have over 400 people on our mailing list. And lots of these women have met each other and actually partnered together to start new things, whether it’s in new businesses. I know you really believe in the power of collaboration, and new business opportunities or even new not for profit opportunity opportunities, but just bringing those powers together. So I’ll pause there, that’s a little bit of my story. 

Andi Simon: Well, let’s talk about the journey you’ve been on. It is indicative of the kind of journeys that many of my clients are on who don’t necessarily get out of the starting gate on that new venture. I’m always curious though because you have been able to turn an idea, an executive coach, into actually doing coaching, and you hate to sell. But you like relationships, and your core value is to find ways to inspire people to become the best thing they can be, whatever that means. When we look back, though, when people say to me, how do you do this? I’m in business for 20 years now and I say to them, I talk to people. Talk to people, talk to people. And I find that at the end of the day, people don’t really know what I do. And they may not know how you do what you do. They really don’t know what an anthropologist can offer either themselves or their business, or an executive coach. I’m an executive coach. What does that mean? I’m sure they aren’t sure either.

But when you talk to people, and listen, and I do find that the listening part has become really a skill to emphasize because I have the tendency to want to jump in and solve the problem. But it’s not my job to do that. My job is to help them see a problem that they want to solve. And it becomes a really interesting listening conversation of showing up and talking to people but really listening to them. And even when I train my executives, I say, how well do you hear what people are saying? Yes, you want to show how smart you are, and you’re in charge. Unless your followers follow you, you can’t get anything done. And you got to flip it all over. And instead of being in charge, being an enabler, a facilitator, you’ll be so much happier if everyone else is doing all the great stuff and you’re just steering. So my question for you to share with our audience is, some of those lessons learned that you have found. How do you build relationships?

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: Certainly as the coach, listening is really, really important. I talked about this idea of being curious, that’s part of listening to asking more questions. And there’s also just being willing to experiment and fail. It’s a journey, it’s the journey. It’s not the end point. Especially solopreneurs. These solopreneurs that I work with, who’ve been in business for 10 years, they’re in very different places than in especially over the last two years with COVID. They’re in a very different place than they anticipated that they would be.

There’s also this idea of collaboration, and working together. But I think a big piece of it is iteration. And what I mean by that is again, going back to this design thinking idea. I definitely iterate my business all the time, and it’s actually a framework since we’re dealing with change. So often, it’s really nice to have a solid framework that you can just keep going back to over and over again. 

Andi Simon: Let’s talk about that. I’m curious. I’m sure listeners are because your affection for it is not uncommon. People really love it when they find it. A little bit about what that framework is because it’s extremely powerful.

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: Yes, it is really powerful. So again, this is what I do in my own business and I teach this to my clients. You start with the insight work, which we talked about for you. If it’s personal, then what are your personal insights? But it can be for business, competitive insights, talking about who are your prospective clients, and what’s your hypothesis? Who do you think that is? Get deep into those insights. Then the next step is actually about really pinpointing what the question is, what are you trying to solve for? So even in my own business I thought I was trying to solve for when I started. I was a 50-year-old person who just left my career and I thought that I wanted to work with every 50-year-old person, late 40s, early 50s, who wants to change their job. And that was kind of the question, how do I help these people? Who were these women who are in this age group? How do I help them to feel empowered to change their job? That was kind of the right question, but not exactly.

What I’ve learned is, it’s not about your age, it’s really about your mindset. Who are those people who are ready to make a change, and some of them are in their early careers there. I have clients who are 22 years old, and career explorers, and some of them are 55. I mean, it’s about your mindset. So I learned that through insight work. So insights really clarify what you’re trying to solve.

And then the third piece of it is, it is starting to ideate, brainstorming. And this is where this idea of radical collaboration comes from. I lead some mastermind groups; you can’t just brainstorm on your own work with other people. I mean, I’m sure the executives that you coach don’t want to lead by just being out there in front. You lead by bringing together all the really intelligent ideas and the creativity from all the other people that you have around you. So that’s the next phase of design thinking.

So iterate, define the question, then brainstorm what the solution may be. And then you do prototyping. And prototyping does not mean that you have to change your whole business. I think that this could be a really interesting workshop. Let me put it out there, let me put it together. Did I know it doesn’t have to be 100%, maybe it’s 50% and see what the interest is. So you get some feedback and start fixing it a little bit and adjusting it. So you put some prototype ideas out there, even for a business and then the last step after prototyping is that you test it. You actually put it out to the world, you make it a reality, you test it, and then that process just starts all over again. So what did you learn from that test?

You start by doing the insight work so you have that framework. Especially with COVID, where we’ve all had to change. So solopreneurs were working one on one, in person with people, their businesses depended on being in front of people, and everybody had to change. They had to be willing to be creative and try new things and really try to figure out what am I really trying to solve for here? And then experimenting into it? It is so iterating. I think you can use that in anything: products, services, your home life. Even your own life.

Andi Simon: Yeah, it’s a way of seeing. The reason I say see, feel and think is that we decide with the eyes and how it feels. With the heart and the eyes in the process is a very feeling process. I mean, there’s nothing data metric driven there until you begin to see beyond what’s possible into something really new. And I do love when you work people through it. The aha moments, the serendipity aha moments, teaching them that their brain has a bunch of stuff going on there. And if only someone says this, and someone says that, next thing you know, a bigger idea. The more ideas you have, the more likely you’ll have big ones. And they come at the intersections.

And as you were talking, I was thinking about this idea and that idea. And it’s not the 50-somethings. I have a bunch of 29-year-olds who have spent since they graduated college, they’ve spent it in their jobs, thinking it was a growth industry, and they stopped growing. And they don’t even know what they want to do next. But they know they don’t want to do this anymore. And I’ve got this 65-year-old who wants to retire and do something more meaningful. It’s not at a point in time.

The most interesting part is that we seem to get through the college part or the graduate school, with everyone else giving you the next step. And then there’s no next step. It’s up to you to really create the next step. The most interesting group of people, those who retire, and they’re perfectly fine playing golf every day for about six months. And then I’ve had wives who fired them. She said, if you sit here one more day asking me what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I’m going to fire you. They have no place to go and no plan for what to do with it. And that’s a whole other coaching client. So we’re going to wrap up here, because I’m looking at our time and it’s about ready for us to say goodbye. Two or three things you don’t want our audience to forget. If you’re thinking about it, or if you’re in the middle of it, or you never stopped with it, some things you’d like them to remember.

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: So I think the first one is, don’t go it alone. Find your tribe, your advisory council, use a coach, whatever it may be. Don’t go it alone because I think you need people who are going to challenge you and brainstorm with you. So that would be the first one. I think they’ll challenge you to get outside of your comfort zone. They should find people who will do that but will also collaborate with you on trying to find the best solution. So that’s number one, don’t go it alone.

The next one is we’ve talked about mindset. Be open to new ideas. There’s this idea of the concept of failure, immunity. There’s nothing wrong with failure, it’s what you do with it. So watch your mindset and don’t get stuck when things don’t go exactly the way you want them to.

And then the last one is to take time to take a pause. Even if it’s a four-day weekend away, go rent an Airbnb somewhere and spend a couple days just really focusing on yourself. There’s so many books out there, yours included, just take some time, be willing. And then when you take that pause, be willing to be vulnerable, and be willing to be authentic. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. And I think that this pandemic has really proven that it’s like, you don’t have to prove, just take a pause, be authentic, and figure out what’s really true, true with a capital T, what’s true for you. So those would be the three things.

Andi Simon: You’re right. I hope people also hear it’s okay, whatever it is, it’s okay. You’ve got your health. Take a quiet walk, your mind is filled with great possibilities. Trust it and trust others as you’re listening to them, because it’s a time where nobody is really certain what’s coming next, which is either exciting, or for some people terrifying, but you don’t want to be stuck and stalled. And that’s often a mindset. This is the way it was, I wonder if it will come back? Well, it may never come back. And I have a client who is wondering when it’s going to come back. And it’s not whether it’s the supply chain, or the lack of staff, or an entrepreneur who’s trying to be better than a small business and be creative or a small business who wants to be more entrepreneurial. I mean, just think through all the possibilities that await us. And I do think that technology enables us in very interesting ways to test stuff, right? It’s pretty cool stuff. So, to reach you, Laurie, what’s the best way to find you?

Laurie Hirsch Schulz: Well, you can check out my website, which is lhscoaching.com or you can email me Laurie@lhscoaching.com. And, you know, I’d love to talk to people about my mastermind groups for small business owners. I do one-on-one coaching. Like I mentioned, I work with career explorers.

Andi Simon: We will have all of that on the blog that we post this on. I can only tell you the listeners come from across the globe. Listening Notes called us among the top 5% podcasts globally. I know I have people across the globe who send us emails, and I enjoy listening to what you would like to hear more about. So don’t wait, come on, send it along. And we’ll try to find people who can help you see, feel and think in new ways so you can too. But the real trick is to help you begin to reflect on what matters too.

Laurie was talking about her core, the core values, what really matters to you. Until you begin to rethink who you are and what you want to do, nobody can really help guide your way. We can guide but only up to a point. My two books try to help you as well. Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business is designed to help you, women and men. I can’t tell you how many men have reviewed it and said I finally have a book to give to my daughter, my wife, and my friend because it’s all about how you can break through and become the woman that you’d like to be.

And my first book,On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, is all about companies that were stalled or stuck that we helped. And my job is to help you get off the brink. And that’s why today is so much fun. So thank you for coming. Please stay healthy and well and enjoy the journey because we are on a journey. However you’re going, wherever you’re going, let us be of help. And we’re here to help you see, feel and think in new ways. So thanks for coming today. I’m going to say goodbye. Thank you.