When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sara Sheehan leveraged her experience working in global consulting firms to launch her own leadership consultancy. While she mentors others she, too, has benefited from business coaching. Here, Sheehan shares the lessons she has learned from doing it differently, including turning challenges into strategic learning opportunities.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
Over the past 27 years, I have worked for large, global consulting firms and with Fortune 100 clients. I came to a crossroads in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. While I was actively looking for my next opportunity, it was clear to me that I needed to create my own path forward in earnest that would allow me to be my authentic self and do my genius work, so I launched Sara Sheehan Consulting.
Starting a business takes courage. What obstacles did you have to overcome?
I don’t think of them as obstacles or challenges. I had to be patient with my branding, message, and my presence to attract the right people, across vendors, clients, and referral partners. With lots of practice getting out there, I am more at ease, congenial, and authentic every day. Being in a good spot with the right energy helps realise great clients and testimonials.
What challenges have you faced running your business, and how did you resolve them?
A challenge is an opportunity for me. Opportunities allow me to ask others for help or for referrals to experts who can solve a problem. As a strategic thinker, I innately wanted to shift to being more strategic. After doing many things myself, I started making subtle shifts from planning a month in advance on marketing to getting professional support. Getting referrals and finding the right people have unlocked powerful partnerships for me and my business.
What achievements are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of my marriage to my husband, Jeff. The growth we have experienced together during our marriage and the support we have provided each other is truly remarkable. We have expanded each other’s world by sharing interests and being willing to try new things. We definitely do not take ourselves too seriously and don’t forget to have fun.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you address it?
Everyone has experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives! I push through situations where I feel uncertainty and ambiguity with a planful approach in all that I do. Creating agendas and approaches and running them by a client in advance to set expectations always make a difference.
Who has been the biggest champion on your journey, and how did they help you?
Karen Cappello is a fantastic mentor. Her quick start intensive program for business and executive coaches provided a structure for business development that made sense to me. It helped me operationalise key marketing activities and outreach to people in my network. Her approach helped me create the foundation for my brand, positioning, and offerings as an expert thought leader, independent of the large firms I used to work for. I would not be where I am today without Karen Cappello.
What skills do you believe women must have to succeed as a leader?
I believe skills are like strengths. You can use them to your advantage if you know what assets you bring to the table. There are no skills that preclude the others. It depends on your role and the results you need to deliver. When I think about my top five strengths (Achiever, Strategic, Futuristic, Arranger, Relator), I know they help me drive results with clients and develop deeper relationships with them.
Work/life balance can be difficult. How do you manage it, and can you share your ‘tricks of the trade’?
Use your calendar to schedule your time for every work day. Include personal and professional items while making sure your time is blocked accordingly. Be relentless in setting five to seven priorities for each day, working the list until it’s done.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have liked to onboard a virtual assistant that could also set up meetings with ideal clients early on, but I needed to refine my messaging and offerings first. So no, I do not think there is anything I would have done differently.
Sara Sheehan’s top 3 Leadership Lessons Learned:
1. Consistency in reaching out to ideal clients for market research conversations to test your programs, and consistency and focus in marketing messages across all platforms.
2. Devote time to working on your mindset and being in your best energy.
3. Make sure you set yourself apart from your competitors by creating expert thought leadership.
© Laini Bennett, MBA