Susan RoAne, Connection and Communication Expert

You speak and write about savvy socializing and networking. Why is this skill so critical to success, both personally and professionally?
Networking is a mutually beneficial process whereby we SHARE ideas, support, leads, information and, if we are lucky, laughter. Whether we call it networking or “Living our lives,” this “sharing” is the fabric of life. It’s what we learned in 5th grade science class: Interdependence; a fact of life. Being able to connect with people, connect and introduce people to each other, follow up in a timely fashion is critical to our success and the reputations we have.

HOW we comport ourselves through this life process is what draws people to us—or repels them. Do we show interest, offer support, acknowledge, praise, listen, compliment, stay in touch? The problem is that some people use the term “networking” as a cover for behaviors that are none of the above.

Savvy socializers make people comfortable with them, have a good grasp on manners, would never embarrass someone and never make fun of people under the “just joking” excuse. They are mingling magnets who people want to meet, be around and refer to others. The people who live healthy, happy lives are those who have social circles, friends, associates, relatives and they are involved.

When it comes to women in midlife, what do you see as their greatest challenges? Greatest opportunities?
One of the big challenges is the amount of pulls and tugs at our time and energy that distract us from what we deem most important.  And this “achieving balance” goal is basic hogwash. When a child or parent is sick, there’s no balance. When a pipe breaks and we are surrounded by a flood in the kitchen or bathroom, there’s no balance. That’s a silly/unrealistic expectation.

Let’s focus on FOCUS; on what’s important AT THAT MOMENT.

There are so many opportunities to be involved in the community, the neighborhood. I saw Michael Moore’s one man show and happened to attend the last performance. The woman who started and organized the group that spoke up about Flint’s water was in the audience. He invited her to stand up and we applauded her. He said, “One person makes a difference.” She was the one…we can be too.


What are some of your top tips for women seeking to make a positive impression when meeting people?
Always prepare a self-introduction that is 7-9 seconds and linked to the event. Dress appropriately for the event and lean into conversations as that reflects a welcoming attitude and interest. Attend every event, meeting, gathering with the attitude: “I wonder who I GET to meet” instead of the Debbie Downer… “Geez I wonder who I HAVE to meet”.

Flash a warm, full winsome smile as it’s inviting and makes us approachable. Offer a firm handshake as a greeting. Bring cards to follow up a conversation, not precede it.

Do not arrive late. Do not single out the MUST-MEETS; be nice to everyone!

What are some of your favorite resources on improving communication?
Diana Booher’s books are a treasure trove:
Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done
Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader
What More Can I Say?: Why Communication Fails and What to Do About It

Other favorites include Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake and Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive by Dorie Clark

To be able to hold our own in conversation, we should be watching and listening to the news, know what’s going on in our cities (READ the local paper). Pick and choose from the thousands of podcasts that are of interest and some that talk about validated news (not fakes). Online, I read the NY Times and Washington Post; in print, I read the San Francisco Chronicle, Wall Street Journal, Marin Independent Journal, Axios, Politico, The Week, and more.

If someone mentions an event, movie, game, person, book, restaurant I don’t know, I have a timesaving technique I’ve used for decades: “Oh, I’m unfamiliar. Please fill me in.” That way I get to learn, listen, engage.

My own What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Successis the best book on how we converse and communicate. It’s clear, direct, and adds the what NOT to do or say.


Connect with Susan RoAne

How to Work a Room, 25th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections–In Person and Online
Face to Face: How to Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World
What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success
The Secrets of Savvy Networking: How to Make the Best Connections for Business and Personal Success
How to Create Your Own Luck: The “You Never Know” Approach to Networking, Taking Chances, and Opening Yourself to Opportunity
RoAne’s Rules: How to Make the Right Impression: What to Say and How to Say It


Named as one of top 25 Networking Experts to Follow, Susan RoAne is the perfect kickoff speaker to set the tone for any meeting or conference where making contacts, having conversations and creating connections count.

Susan, known as “The Mingling Maven®,” leads a double life as a bestselling author and a sought-after keynote speaker. She gives multi-generational audiences the required tools, techniques and strategies they need to connect and communicate in today’s global business world. Her practical, informative, and very interactive presentations are known for what The San Francisco Chronicle calls her “dynamite sense of humor.”

Identified as thought leader on face to face communication by the Economist Intelligence Group, her ideas, tips and suggestions are featured in the media around the world – online, on air and in print.  Including: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian UK, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, Chicago Tribune, , Fast Company, Entrepreneur,, The BBC, US News and World Report, The San Francisco Chronicle and Huffington Post.

Susan has appeared on CNN, NBC11, BBC, CBC, NPR, The Today Show of Australia and radio, podcasts and TV stations throughout the country and the world.

A former public school teacher in both her hometown of Chicago and her current home in San Francisco, Susan also guest lectures at major universities including:  University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, University of Maryland, San Francisco State University, University of Chicago-Booth School, University of Texas Law School, University of Illinois MBA Program and Stanford University and Yale School of Public Health.

She has spoken for clients that include Coca Cola Women’s Leadership, Kraft Foods, Office Depot, United Health Group, The US Air Force, Latham and Watkins, LLC, Ernst and Young, Boeing, Bank of America, PA Consulting (UK), Oracle Users Groups, Hershey Foods, Technology and Manufacturing Association of Illinois, Kaiser Health and Association of Healthcare Philanthropy.

 She received her Master’s Degree from San Francisco State University and her Bachelors from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. She is a FIGHTING ILLINI.

Susan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a fan of San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Giants (and her hometown Cubs) and the Golden State Warriors.


Let’s Hear from an Expert: Robin Fisher Roffer, Author of Your No Fear Career

What was your motivation for writing your newest book, Your No Fear Career?
I wrote this book when my marriage to my business partner was falling apart. I was facing a totally new reality of being a single parent to our teenage daughter and running the company on my own. It felt like everything was changing at once and fear started to take hold of me. In response, I culled together all of the tools I’d honed over the years to navigate this overwhelming and utterly terrifying transition. In the end, I created Your No Fear Career as a guide for myself.

Which lessons from your book do you feel are particularly relevant to women in midlife?
The book has become my talisman—giving me the strength to increase my business, create a serene and stable home, raise my daughter to be original and confident, and deepen my relationships with family and friends. I know that by using the tools in this updated version, the same thing will happen for other women, particularly those in midlife. That’s because it’s all about moving from intuition to action. Intuition is a woman’s superpower and by midlife, she’s tuned into it, but may over-ride it. Your No Fear Career teaches you how to fearlessly use your natural instincts to fulfill your true purpose.


What advice do you have for women seeking to make a career change or re-enter the workforce after an absence?
Work in your passion. Think about what you loved to do as a child, what you dreamed about as a teenager, and work in that field. If you received a degree in accounting, but adore animals, become a bookkeeper for vet clinics and hospitals. If you love fashion and you’re always complimented on your sense of style, offer to edit closets of executive women and put together outfits for them. Go back to school if you need to amp-up your skill set. It’s never too late!

I believe that you have to do things that are totally different. You can’t just put your head down at work and shift from fear to faith. To turn up the volume on my courageous inner voice and confidently move through my work, I get away from the office. I travel to far-flung places with my teenage daughter Roxy. Every morning before she wakes up, I pull out my journal and write about our adventures and record my intuitive feelings. Getting away gives me perspective and I can once again find my true nature. In the mornings in Santa Fe, where I live, I hike with my dog Rufus before work. A lot comes to me on the trail. I want to invite everyone to find a way to quiet their mind and become available to that intuitive voice to guides you towards courageous decisions.

What resources do you recommend for women who seek to navigate their careers fearlessly?
In terms of books, I think every woman should read The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know. And, regardless of your gender, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom is a must for anyone who wants to be fearless in life and business. My favorite organization for businesswomen is The Girl’s Lounge.


Connect with Robin Fisher Roffer
Facebook Page
Twitter: @RobinRoffer


Brand strategist and storyteller, Robin Fisher Roffer has provided the rocket fuel that has launched and evolved dozens of media brands all over the world such as A&E, Animal Planet, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, FX, Hallmark Channel, History, Lifetime, MTV, and TNT.

As Founder and CEO of Big Fish Marketing, Inc., she leads an award-winning creative team adept at unearthing a brand’s essence and filter, its look, feel and tagline, market positioning, value proposition and key messaging to both consumers and the trade.

With a mission to inspire professionals to fearlessly reach their potential, Robin has authored four books, including Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success (now available on audible) and Your No Fear Career.


Let’s Hear from an Expert: Johanna Wise, Founder of the “Return to Work You Love” Conference

You’ll be hosting your 11th conference this October. Tell us more about your program. 

This Return to Work You Love Conference is targeted at professionals interested in changing careers or returning to the workforce after a career break. We offer hands-on, small-group workshops on topics ranging from “Unleash Your Hidden Brilliance” to “Go from Bored, Burned-out, or Unfulfilled to Doing Work You Love” to “20 Networking Tips from 20 Years of Networking.” Our goal is to help attendees accomplish as much as possible during the conference in order to develop a plan of action with next steps, beginning the following day.

We have many success stories. Previous conference attendees, for example, found an engineering position at Tesla after a 6-year career gap, created a marketing position at a mid-size company after a 14-year career gap, transitioned from a mid-level position to become VP of Sales, and started their own companies.

For those unable to attend, we offer the online resource ConnectU, where we post workshop and keynote videos of prior conferences.


You also work with clients one-on-one. Who do you work with and how?

My typical client feels the need to complete “unfinished business.” Some clients have worked in a field for many years and want to apply their skills elsewhere. Others stepped out of the workforce and are seeking to re-enter, but not necessarily into the same field they left. Most have found that applying for positions online or via HR departments is a dead-end.

I provide a network of senior level executives who will speak or meet with my clients to help them find their next opportunity, either at the company where they work or via referrals.

Successes of which I’m particularly proud? I coached a finance professional who had been out of work for almost four years and, after meeting with 40 senior-level professionals over a 3-month period, found a very lucrative position as CEO of an Alibaba-funded company. I’ve also helped stay-at-home moms start successful companies, incorporating flexible work schedules into their lives.


What challenges and opportunities do you see that are unique to women in midlife as they seek to return to work after an absence?

Everyone has skills to offer and there is someone, somewhere searching for those skills. What I do is bring those two together. It’s important to have a clear sense of what you seek and what you offer; the more specific you are, the easier it is to find someone who needs your help. Too often job seekers cast a wide net: “I’m looking for a job” vs. “I’m seeking a marketing position where I can incorporate my branding and writing skills to grow a company’s influence.”

Those returning to work often focus on areas where they feel “lesser than:” career gaps, not keeping up-to-date on skills, etc. Instead, focus on what you demonstrably have to offer and sell the benefits of that. Employers are interested in attitude and aptitude: Will you make sure to get the job done and do you have the ability to do it or find a way to do so? Everyone, no matter their career path and how long they have been in the workforce, experiences on-the-job training.

Every life experience offers life skills. Those returning to work after an absence have grown in ways that those who remained in the same job or career could not have. It’s important to highlight that learning and translate it into demonstrable, valuable skills. Here’s a blog I wrote, demonstrating how to translate skills learned as a stay-at-home mom into skills on a resume.


What resources do you recommend besides your own?
ReacHire does an incredible job of training women returning to the workforce after a career break.

I regularly listen to the Nancy Gaines Show: Gain the Advantage! podcast. Nancy kickstarts our entrepreneurial flame by providing tools and resources to get us going.

I love the work of Natalia Oberti Noguera, CEO of Pipeline Angels. Her company trains women to be angel investors in startups.

I have highlighted the work of hundreds of fabulous coaches at my conferences. Feel free to contact me if you’re seeking a particular specialty. One unique and needed offering is by Karen Bigman, Founder of The Divorcierge. She helps people through the tough process of divorce, which often includes career transition.

There’s a wonderful community out there to help you. Connect with someone who is collaborative in the return-to-work community and interested in helping you find the resources which best suit your needs.


Connect with Johanna Wise



Video from 2016 NYC conference:


Facebook Page

Twitter: @ConnectWorkThrv 


Johanna holds an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, a BS in Applied Mathematics from Yale University, and a Certificate in Small Business Management from New York University’s Stern School of Business. Johanna was born and raised in New York City and is also a proud graduate of Hunter College High School.

Johanna’s career includes:

  • Management Consulting at Bain & Company in Boston, MA and Strategic Decisions Group in Menlo Park, CA
  • Mergers and Acquisitions and Financial Analysis at Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers in New York City
  • Brand Management at Frito-Lay in Dallas, TX.

She has served on numerous Boards including M&G Piel Securities, Illumai, Western Ballet, The Junior League of Palo Alto Mid Peninsula, and Lyceum of Santa Clara County.

Johanna is a founding Council member of Yale Women, a Global Network of Yale Alumnae and the immediate past President of the Yale Club of Silicon Valley. She also serves as a contributing writer at the Huffington Post.

Johanna curates and hosts highly successful conferences including Return-to-Work Career Transformation Conferences and Summits, The Workforce Diversity Summit™ at Microsoft, and local and national celebrations of 40 Years of Women at Yale.

After a career sabbatical to raise two children, Johanna founded two companies in addition to Connect•Work•Thrive™ LLCKeep Me Tax Free™ LLC, which secures tax-exempt status for non-profit organizations and Wise Consulting, a boutique firm which provides strategic planning, operations, marketing, and financial expertise to growing businesses.

Launching an Online Retail Business in Midlife: Starla’s Story

After working long hours for many years to support herself and her son, a health crisis would force Starla to slow down and find another way to make ends meet. She opened Southern Rich’s, honoring all things southern.

Tell us a little about your background.
I was born along the Gulf Coast in Mobile, Alabama to a typical southern family. I was a Daddy’s girl: My father was a hard-working man, a skilled machinist with a keen eye for detail and precision. He was a strong provider and protector of my mother, younger brother, and me.

Our family was traditional. My mother was a southern June Cleaver, who kept our house spotless, our meals well-prepared, and never sat as long as there was something in the home that required attention. All the women in my family were strong southern women, who perfectly balanced feminine charm, Southern belle etiquette, and quiet strength. Daddy tended to everything outside the house – the car, the yard, repairs, the garden etc.

I suppose you could say my childhood was extremely sheltered and structured. Children were raised to respect their elders. I learned southern belle etiquette before I was old enough to even know what the word meant. While I was a “girly girl,” I also had much of Dad’s personality in me—a strong will and a stubborn streak.

Age 3

When I was twelve, my mother went to work as a bookkeeper, which caused one change in our household. I had learned to cook from some of the best southern cooks around (both my grandmothers and my mother) and since Dad got home from work before Mom did, he and I would get in the kitchen together and start “supper” for the family. I still love cooking and entertaining to this day.

My family was a very religious family, and faith was at the center of everything we did. Both my parents were leaders in our church and my brother and I “cut our teeth on the pews,” as they used to say down South. Their leadership in our church and in our community instilled in me both a strong work ethic and a generous heart. Children flocked to our house as Mom was always the perfect hostess with snacks, and Daddy’s unassuming ways and dry sense of humor always made them feel safe and protected. It was those childhood experiences and examples that developed my people skills and my gift of encouragement early on.

Early family portrait

Our extended family were all very musical and involved in church music in one way or another. I began piano lessons at the age of nine and practiced for hours each day. Everything growing up pretty much revolved around church, music, family, neighbors, community, and school. We were always singing! Because I had a natural talent and a love of music, it was a given that I would be either a church musician, a performer, or perhaps a music teacher. There was never really another path made clear to me even though I had other skills that I had not tapped into.

I have lived in other areas of the South, but have been back in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama since 1999. My parents, my 25-year-old son, most of my extended family live either in town or within a day’s drive from me.

During my formative years, I was an excellent student. I entered Lee University, a religious liberal arts college in a small town outside of Chattanooga, TN, on a piano scholarship. I eventually realized that the last thing I desired was to perform on a professional level and that I had little patience for teaching children. After getting a work-study job in the Public Relations Department of the University, and tapping into my writing and interviewing skills, I changed my major to communications, with an emphasis in public relations.

My college senior portrait

After graduation, I returned home, secured office administrative work, married, had a son, and (ironically) became involved in faith-based singing, public speaking, and performing. My passion for writing fell by the wayside though my love of public speaking continued to be a part of my career choices. After ten years, I ended my marriage. Now a single parent, I made many career choices based on what served me best in caring and providing for him. There was a great deal of “living” from that time until my “after 40” life change. My last two jobs, prior to the beginning of the change of course in my life were in Executive support roles in the telecommunications industry. I served as a Facilities Coordinator and then as an Assistant to the Regional Retail Sales Manager before life began to take an unexpected turn.

During the worst days of my illness, with my sweet son Josh

When did you start to think about making a change?
Sometimes life changes because of a strong desire for change or an “aha” moment, and then sometimes it changes out of sheer necessity. In my case, it was the latter. After relationship transitions and a personal health crisis, I was forced to make a change from the fast-paced corporate world that had completely eroded my health. I was working as much as 90 hours a week to progress financially for both my nine-year-old son and myself.

I ended up flat on my back, unable to get out of bed for no more than an hour at a time. All my independence came to a screeching halt. During the many months that it took to get a proper diagnosis (fibromyalgia and peripheral neuropathy) and find a path towards managing my health, I was forced to take a long look at another way to live and provide for my son.

What is your next act?
I am the co-owner of Southern Rich’s, which promotes the southern lifestyle, history, and tradition, through a variety of products. I launched this business in April 2016, at the age of 55. Southern Rich’s is a family business co-owned with my son Joshua. My father contributes through the creation of his one-of-a-kind wood handcrafted designs of tables, bowls, lamps, plant benches, coat racks, picnic tables, rocker/gliders, etc. We also have a private line of all-natural jams and butters that have no preservatives and are gluten free. Within that line, is a selection of naturally-sweetened jams for diabetics and those who do not want sugar in their diet. Those jams are sweetened with white grape juice instead of organic sugar. This product was a huge success over the Christmas holidays. We place great value in natural products and promote a healthy lifestyle. The jams are a private label for our company, manufactured by a wholesale distributor that grows the fruits and manufactures the jams and butters on their family farm in Georgia.

My dad’s handcrafted wagon wheel rocker-glider

Southern Rich’s does not have a retail storefront; all the work done on our handcrafted creations and subsequent inventory is kept in a shop on our private property. We sell online, but our customers primarily consist of contacts in our local community through churches, beauty salons, neighbors, friends, family etc. We are in the process of working with a local retail shop owner who is interested in displaying and promoting our products in her collectibles store. We are seeking to expand the jams to a regional grocery chain that showcases local businesses and their food products. In the last couple of weeks, we have also signed on for a new exclusive label product—all-natural soy candles that are infused with essential oils. The candles offer a variety of aromas that are reminiscent of life in the South such as Magnolia Blossom, Southern Sunshine, High Cotton, Ocean Breeze, Sweet Tea & Currant, Peach Nectar, Sage & Sweetgrass, Oakmoss & Amber, etc. These candles come in both feminine, masculine, and gender-neutral designs of mason jars, tumblers, and tins. We hope to have this latest product available within a month.

A major goal of ours is to “pay forward” our success by taking a portion of our proceeds and building a foundation that we call “Blessings For Belles.” Our mission is to help women and children in shelters and safe houses, or those who are living on their own after suffering abuse and abandonment. We have helped a limited number of women who were out of work and struggling with paying rent, groceries etc. but hope to fully establish the foundation and expand its scope as our business grows.

I am also a writer. I am re-launching my first book Journey Within My Heart and am working on the launch of my second and third books. My books are all related to Southern Rich’s in that they are an extension of the life I treasure as a true “southern belle.” Journey Within My Heart is a look back into my own life and struggles, both with my health issues and a time of domestic abuse. It’s also a journey to reconcile those experiences with my childhood memories, in an effort to discuss self-esteem and worth. My second book, Southern Whispers is a lighthearted look at life in the South as told by a true “southern belle.” It is filled with humorous anecdotes and family stories and experiences. The third book in the queue is titled Halo & High Heels and explores the role of women and their struggle to be true to womanhood, motherhood and more, while being unique and authentic. It makes the claim that it is possible to be a lady and all-woman too; and that while it is true that “little girls are made of sugar and spice,” sometimes we find we are much more spice than sugar! It is written from the expectations I personally experienced being raised in the South by southern women.

Aside from writing as a book author, I am a blogger for Fibromyalgia Living Today and a health contributor for the New Life Outlook online health network—both owned by Perk Media out of Canada. I maintain my own blog and discussion forum through my website and on my Facebook page.

Writing about what I treasure and sharing products that evoke memories of those treasures, makes what I do anything but work. It is simply sharing what I love. Walking this next act journey with those I love in a family business just makes it doubly rewarding. And did I mention I LOVE being my own boss! The creative and artistic side of me despises routines and schedules and having someone to answer to or hover over my shoulder. I suppose I lead much better than I follow. Also, due to some of the health challenges I have dealt with, flexibility is paramount.

How supportive were your family and friends?
The one thing I know without a doubt is that I would not have made it had it not been for the encouragement, support, and care of my family and close friends. My parents literally nursed me back to health and helped with day-to-day tasks. They, and other family and friends, patiently listened to me and encouraged me with each new idea I developed along the way.

The family business came through my sweet Daddy turning his wood crafting hobby into beautiful pieces that I could couple with my marketing skills to promote and sell. He was giving of his talent and what he loved to do, using it to help me financially and to help me find a way forward. As my son Josh grew up, he jumped in with a desire to learn skills from his “Paw Paw” as well as a desire to simply spend time with him in his wood shop. His ideas on how to reach a young market and trendy tricks of the trade have been immeasurable. He is a computer geek so he helped me with technical things that would bog me down when I had computer woes. He is also the one who encouraged me with the writing of my first book telling me to “think big” in my audience outreach. He believed I had a message for everyone, and challenged me not to think too small or to write to a narrow group of readers.

Finally, I had a couple of close friends who supported me beyond expectations. Laura challenged me to find my voice and my confidence in what I had to offer. She gave me constructive criticism and “tough love” when I needed it. She pushed me to enter an international “transformation contest” hosted by the Early To Rise organization. During that contest, my journaling was a part of our daily exercises towards transformation—the words in my little “journal” were being read by 47,000 people! At one point in the contest, the President of Early To Rise, Craig Ballantyne, asked me to be one of their featured contestants on their Friday “stories.”. This is where I found my courage to begin writing my first book!

The other friend instrumental in my life during my “next act” was my friend Clint. He was my encourager and esteem-builder. I had gone through so much that I had kind of lost “me,” and he helped me to see beauty again in myself, my gifts, my heart, and my spirit. I had really dwindled in self-esteem with the setbacks I had encountered. He was my kindred spirit and my resident fan club.

What challenges did you encounter?
As I stated, I think the biggest challenge was finally getting a proper diagnosis in my health issues so that I could find my new “normal” in life to balance my energy in such a way I could begin to reach my goals. Many people with health challenges tend to live in a state of denial for a while, wanting to get their “old” life back, and it takes time to realize that some detours take you on a path completely different—never to return to where you were before.

The other challenge for me was financial. Because of setbacks and of my responsibilities as a single parent, I didn’t have a huge financial foundation, especially when it came to launching the business Southern Rich’s. Writing was easier, in that you simply put yourself out there and research writing opportunities until you find the right niche and following. But launching a new “products-based” retail business was another thing altogether. As the adage goes “you have to have money to make money” so finding a way to develop a product line and even have minimal money to market it was challenging.

Handcrafted Deluxe Captain’s Table

Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I suppose I felt like giving up in my weakest moments, but when you really have no other option, it isn’t a thought you dwell on for very long. Each person who takes that step towards their next act should really look at it as a point of “no return.” If we are too comfortable in mediocrity, then we often do not find the courage to keep going and pursuing our dreams and goals. There are no shortcuts—and “easy outs” are very self-defeating.

What/who kept you going?
That is the easiest answer for me: my son, Josh. He and I had been through “hell and back” from the time he was born three months premature. I was in an abusive marriage to his father and then faced with a preemie baby towards the end of that marriage. I didn’t know if Josh would live or die, so my life had already been motivated and conditioned by that big brown-eyed little boy, my miracle baby. I developed the motto “Never give up!” When life had finally settled in and had become good again—only to be turned upside down with health issues—it was that sweet little boy who had grown from a fragile preemie baby to an energetic nine-year-old, who kept me motivated! It was also my faith in God and my family’s faith in me that kept me going.

With Josh, my right-hand man

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
That I didn’t have to be perfect and that messing up sometimes is a part of the process! I also learned that I didn’t have to have everything all figured out to take a step forward. I just had to have courage for that one leap of faith. I realized that I didn’t fully know who I was inside until I was squeezed a bit and what was in there oozed out! I learned that the very things I had spent a lifetime being afraid of were the things that pushed me forward and that they were mere shadows holding me back with no substance. Finally, I learned what really mattered to me and how to let go of those things that didn’t matter so much.

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I would’ve listened to the “whispers of my heart” sooner! I spent way too many years trying to please others with life choices and also second guessing my own desires and choices opting for what was “expected” or “safe.”

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
It isn’t always easy but it is liberating! If you find something that you love, then no matter how hard it is to obtain, it will never seem like a chore. Also, you must fully believe in what you do or in what you have to offer before you can expect others to. You must sell yourself first! Passion combined with need, desire, determination, and joy in the process will give you much of what you need to change course.

One thing that I share with people along their journey is to be kind to yourself. Sometimes we are our own worst critic and if we feel nothing is ever just right, then we lose heart. On good days, be your own cheerleader. On bad days, your own nurse, refuge, or encouragement coach. It is so important to take care of yourself in the process of “reinventing” life. Women tend to be all things for everyone else in their lives and spend no time on themselves. But what I have learned is that if we don’t treat ourselves well, and if we give all we have to others without giving to ourselves, then we aren’t at our best and everyone suffers! It takes times of rest, solitude, reflection, and honest soul-searching sometimes. It is the “being that energizes the doing.”

I wasn’t able to move forward into the areas I desired until I was brutally honest with myself. Transparency is necessary so that we can discover our true beauty and worth. Also, if we aren’t up to par physically then we struggle to reach our goals as well. Our worth isn’t tied up in our health, but our energy level is.

Historic Southern charm: Bienville Square in downtown Mobile, AL

What advice do you have for those interested in starting a product-based business?
If you are interested in a career path that takes you into the collectible retail market, find products that have meaning. Don’t just look for things you think others will like or that might be big sellers. People shop for everyday items out of necessity, but collectible or novelty items out of emotion and sentiment. Whatever products you choose, let it be something that you would love or want or that evokes special memories for you. Don’t cut corners. Make sure that what you offer is quality above quantity always!

Also, do your homework. There are fewer excuses with the Internet, Google, and YouTube. Educate yourself as much as possible. See what others have done and how they have done it. Then tailor that to your lifestyle.

Finally, realize that “no man (or woman) is an island.” Solicit help when needed and involve those around you. No one is successful trying to do everything themselves. You’d be surprised how many around you are waiting to be asked for help!

What selling products out of your home looks like

Any advice on starting a business with family?
Going into business with family does have its own challenges as well as rewards. Sometimes the family roles do not coincide with the business roles and the lines become a bit blurred at times. For instance, my father is the creative genius of our handcrafted creations. His love of the hobby and desire to bless others with his designs have produced a greater challenge for me in sales to our network of acquaintances. He had given away so many pieces as “gifts” prior to the launch of our business, that it has made it more difficult to sell to those who have not received a gift from him. Everyone wants something for free!

Also, because his expertise is in the design while mine is in the marketing, sometimes I have to take a more dominant role to ensure that he adheres to what we have established in the way of pricing, offers, etc. We can’t relate typically as father/daughter but as designer and business owner. So far, he has not caved in by reducing the pricing that I have set! Because of limited knowledge of retail pricing versus collectible designer pricing, he tends to want to sell the collection pieces for much less than their true value.

My advice is to make certain everyone understands and respects their roles in the business. My son, as a millennial, has many creative ideas and perspectives that I value and respect. We cannot allow his youth and my experience to deter us from finding the most innovative and productive ways to market our products. As with my relationship with my father, so it goes with my son as well. We are not mother/son but co-owners.

Lastly, it is inevitable that as a family business develops, there are outsiders—extended family members—who are not a part of the business, who see the growth and suddenly want to become a part of it. It is important to hold your ground as owner. Just as you would not allow outsiders in your public business just because they want to “get in on the action,” nor should you allow relatives. A family business has its many rewards; just remember though, it is a business and should be treated with the same professionalism as any other business.

The team: with my dad and son

What about advice for those interested in writing?
My advice is what I told one of my writer friends and penned in my book Journey Within My Heart. Here is the quote: “One thing I have come to understand as a writer, is that the words that come forth must be expressed regardless of who reads them, or even if I am the only one who reads them because a writer writes.”

I shared this thought with my friend Anita, who is a fellow writer, not too long ago. Here is what I told her “…if my words fall on one ear that is ready and in need of what I have to say or a thousand, I have given birth to a thought that is meant for someone, somewhere, or maybe even just meant for me to realize from the deepest part of me.”

If your words touch you, they will touch others who are meant to hear them. It is kind of like “if you build it they will come!”

My “writing den”

What resources do you recommend?
The best way to develop your skills and techniques is to write, write, write! Also, you need to find your “niche” by researching companies, media groups, publications, etc. that are interested in contracts with freelance writers. After my time of illness, I felt that some of what I had learned could be of benefit to others in their own health struggles. I came across a few networks that were looking for health contributors, one of which was New Life Outlook based in Canada. They have sections for most of the major illnesses and health conditions and welcome application from freelance writers.

If you aren’t certain which genre you want to pursue, you could use a network such as the Freedom With Writing Resource Network. When you subscribe, they send out weekly writing opportunities to explore.

There are a few bestselling authors who offer valuable insight into the world of writing. I highly recommend Brendon Burchard’s books and seminars.

If you are interested in exploring the world of an indie author (self-publishing/independent publishing,) Amazon’s self-publishing division CreateSpace is a viable and inexpensive option to get your early writings into print or ebook form. They offer many services and tips along the way as you learn about the process and the world of writing… Through CreateSpace, you will be listed as an author on Amazon and can format your book in electronic form for Kindle Publishing also.

My books of inspiration

Retail Business:
Concerning launching your own retail business, it is of utmost importance to research the laws and regulations of your state. Go to your state’s Department of Revenue website and research business licenses and information. You can also learn a great deal from the Small Business Administration.

If you are not creating your own product solely but looking for products to sell, research viable distributors who accept wholesale customers. Some wholesale companies also offer “private labels” or exclusivity options, where the product is manufactured by their company but distributed under your company name. Make sure you do your homework on reviews and history of the companies you are considering. Those who will provide a sample of the product before requiring an order are usually the ones with a stronger business ethic and easier to work with.

If you are offering a product for consumption such as food, drink, or something like a perfume or body lotion, it is important to research liability insurance for your company should someone become ill or have a reaction to something you sell. Liability insurance isn’t all that expensive, but necessary. Contact your insurance agent or any local agent that offers business liability insurance.

What’s next for you?
I hope to turn my story into one seen on the big screen. I am talking with an independent writer/producer to see if it would make a good video or not. I want to branch out to doing more personal videos as well as blogging and life coaching.

I also have a strong desire to pay it forward. In addition to “Blessings for Belles,” I want to help people who are dealing with chronic illness and loss of income. My idea is to tap into the talents and skills of those who have faced lifestyle changes, not so much out of a desire for a “next act” but out of necessity for a “next act.” I want to build a network for them to showcase their talent and skills so that they can find hope and a hand up from their situation.

Connect with Starla Rich
Starla Rich website
Starla Rich Facebook Page
Starla Rich Twitter
Starla Rich Instagram
Starla Rich LinkedIn
Southern Rich’s website
Southern Rich’s Facebook Page
Southern Rich’s Twitter 
Southern Rich’s Instagram

Le’ts Hear From an Expert: Alan Alda, The Women in Business Project

You are the Founder of The Women in Business Project, part of Alda Communication Training. What need did you see that you were looking to address with this project?

I find it amazing and stupefying that women still get interrupted in meetings (way more than men, and even on the Supreme Court), they still get things explained to them that they already know, they still see their ideas appropriated by someone else, right under their noses, and — that old standby — they still get harassed. This is stupefying because studies show that the more that women rise in a company, the better the company does with its bottom line. Even if people never heard of these studies, don’t they notice that ignoring and even blocking the strengths of women is not all that profitable?

How do you work with women to address these issues?
In our Women in Business workshops, participants get to go through a set of exercises based on improvisation (which sounds scary but is completely comfortable and fun). Then they go through role playing exercises, where they relive and succeed at those difficult moments they tend to experience in the workplace. Each step in the day’s work leads to the next.

The end result is that participants leave with more confidence in their own strength. They often tell us they feel transformed. Partly this is because they haven’t been lectured to, or given some tips and a pep talk, but, instead, they’ve had experiences that change them. And it doesn’t end there. They leave the workshop with techniques to practice on that reinforce the experience they’ve gone through, and they’re encouraged to keep up contact with at least one person in the group so they can mentor each other, providing support and encouragement.

What advice do you have for women in the workplace who feel their voice is marginalized?
If it’s not possible to get into one of our workshops, I‘d say write down the obstacles that are being put in your way, then get a friend to play out those moments with you over and over until you know you can handle them easily. And keep encouraging each other, especially before a crucial event, like asking for a raise.


What resources do you recommend on this topic?
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead is terrific, as is Deborah Tannen’s Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work. And it might be helpful to read my book on communicating and relating, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?.


Connect with Alan Alda:

The Women in Business Project



If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned



Alan Alda has earned international recognition as an actor, writer, and director. He has won seven Emmy Awards, received three Tony nominations, is an inductee of the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. Alda played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic television series M*A*S*H, and his films include Crimes and Misdemeanors, Everyone Says I Love You, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Bridge of Spies, and many more. Alda is an active member of the science community, having hosted the award-winning series Scientific American Frontiers for eleven years and founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alda is the author of two bestselling books, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learnedand Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.

Flipping Houses in Midlife: Lisa’s Story

Between Lisa’s small business and her alimony, she was able to support herself. But with only one year of alimony payments remaining, she had to find a way to supplement her income. She used her realtor and design experience to buy and renovate her first house and got the bug.


Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Overland Park, Kansas (a suburb of Kansas City), with my four siblings (I’m in the middle) and my parents, all of who still live in Kansas City. My dad is from Poland and my mom is from Mexico. I am the first generation American on both sides of my family.

As a child (the blonde)

As the proud mom of two sons in college (my oldest is graduating in a few weeks), I live in Dallas, TX. My boyfriend and I live in different cities but spend one week at his home in Kansas City and the following week in Dallas. Southwest Airlines loves us!

After graduating from college, I sold radio time for a talk radio station, was a special events coordinator for Macy’s in the Midwest, and then was the Licensing Director for Universal Licensing (a division of Universal Press Syndicate). I worked with Gary Larson (The Far Side), Cathy Guisewite (Cathy) and other cartoonists to secure licensing deals.

After I quit Universal, I became a professional organizer and started my company Everything’s Organized. It eventually evolved into another business called Home Office Life. I’ve written five books about working from home. They were published by major publishers, by smaller houses, and self-published.

When did you start to think about making a change?

In my business,  I was working with clients to help them design home offices and was giving seminars around the country. I was also a spokesperson for various campaigns for Office Depot, Avery, Day Runner and Fuji. I had been a work-from-home mom for years and while my business was profitable, my (then) husband and I didn’t rely on my income to pay bills.

After my divorce and a year before my alimony was set to run out, I knew I had to focus on creating a business that would allow me to support myself. One option was to find a full-time job but, after being an entrepreneur for so many years, I knew I couldn’t work for someone else.

What is your next act?

I buy houses to either flip or rent. I started my company, Imagine Property Group, in 2013, at the age of 52. Currently, I own seven single-family homes in and around Dallas, TX. Prior to my divorce, I earned a degree in Interior Design that has helped me with my house rehab projects. I also invest in multi-family properties. My success as a real estate investor allows me the freedom to write, another one of my passions.

As the project manager for each of the homes I buy, I schedule the subcontractors and track every aspect of the project. I buy homes with the purpose of setting them up as rentals, but on a few occasions, after seeing the results, I’ll put the house on the market. Tenants are hard on rentals.

I love taking a neglected property (the worse shape it’s in, the better) and turn it into a beautiful home I am proud to rent or sell to others. When we’re working on a home, the neighbors often come by to see what changes we are making and are happy to see the results. An updated or completely renovated home increases their property values and adds to the look of the neighborhood. Seeing a dramatic transformation encourages me to find more houses to rehab.

Kitchen — Before

Kitchen — After

Why did you choose this next act?  

I fell into this next act by accident. While compiling paperwork for my divorce, I called a guy with whom my family had invested; he told me about a real estate investment group he was in and I attended a meeting. After learning more about buying and rehabbing houses, I was hooked. I felt this was the perfect way to merge my design skills with a growing industry. As a former special events coordinator, I enjoy planning projects and seeing them through to completion.

Another option I considered was being a translator. I am fluent in Spanish and thought that may be a career path for me. I decided against it because my sons were still in school and I would have needed to take classes and train to be an interpreter. After juggling design school and my family, I wasn’t ready to enroll in classes again.


How hard was it to take the plunge?

Without the real estate investment group and the various members I met, I don’t think I would have had as much confidence to invest money right away. Mentally, my first house was the toughest to buy. It needed a lot of work: flooring, countertops, foundation, painting, new bathrooms, fixtures, etc. After I bought and rehabbed that house, I was ready to buy more.

Here’s the first house I flipped:

How supportive were your family and friends?

My boyfriend, Perry, and my sons have been the most supportive of my business. Perry encouraged me to buy my first house. Actually, his exact words were, “If you don’t buy it, I will.” I knew he wouldn’t, but it was what I needed to hear to move forward.

My family probably thought I was insane when I showed them the “before” photos, but when they saw the “after” photos, they understood what I was doing. My sons occasionally help me in the summer with various projects. I want to teach them to invest in real estate. I wish I had known how to do that when I was their age!

With my sons

What challenges did you encounter?

Finding the right subcontractors was challenging and staying on budget wasn’t easy. By the third house, I had a good system for purchasing materials (the materials aren’t expensive…it’s the labor) and had compiled a good crew to help me update or completely rehab houses on time and within my budget. With the exception of two subcontractors, I still work with the same subcontractors.


Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

I’ve never thought about giving up because I love what I do. The construction and housing industry has changed so finding houses at a reasonable price is challenging. I haven’t flipped a house in over a year, but plan to do so again when I can purchase properties at a better price.

In the meantime, I manage my properties on my own. My tenants treat the houses well and when I put a house on the market to rent, I find qualified tenants within a week. Whenever someone asks me what I do, they often reply, “I’d love to do that!” Knowing that I am building a business I enjoy that allows me to support myself encourages me to continue following my career path. Also, not having a boss is a strong motivator!

My home office is my screened-in porch. I also work from my car and Starbucks.

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I learned that it’s possible to do something you enjoy and make a very good living. I’ve also learned you’re never too old to learn new skills. I used to call my handyman to make simple repairs, but I’m able to fix a few things by myself. I manage an all-male crew and they respect me. I pay quickly and when I have a repair request, I can get someone to take care of it within a day or two.


Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I would have bought more houses when prices were low! It’s too bad I didn’t have a crystal ball to be able to predict the crazy housing market. But my focus moving forward is on purchasing foreclosures. By renovating foreclosed and neglected homes, I can add something positive to a neighborhood and grow my business.

Selecting flooring for a project

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

I didn’t believe the adage, “Do what you love and the money will come,” because I enjoyed my home office business, but I wasn’t making enough money to support myself. But, if you dig deep to find a passion, you can be financially successful and fulfilled.

Age should not be a barrier or excuse to avoid pursuing a new career path. When my sons were younger, one asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I think I’m still figuring that out! The possibilities are endless.

Canyoning in Costa Rica

What advice do you have for those interested in flipping houses? What resources do you recommend?

Be willing to take risks. Decide how much money you are willing to invest in a house. Read online what you can about being a landlord, rehabbing properties, and selling houses. I am also a realtor so I can save money when I buy and sell my homes. offers valuable real estate insight.

The investment group I joined is called Lifestyles Unlimited (they are based in Texas). Check for similar groups in your area.

Beware of online courses that promise “the secrets” to flipping and owning real estate. They can be expensive and offer nothing more than what you would learn through a realtor who specializes in working with investors, which is someone you will want to find.

Before I had any interest in real estate investing, I read Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! and then put it aside. Robert T. Kiyosaki’s book is a good introduction to flipping houses, but times and regulations have changed. The experts I follow are my fellow investors. One friend owns 18 single family houses and an 80-unit apartment complex. Another owns five 300-unit multifamily properties and is in the process of flipping two of them. They are always available for advice.

As far as TV shows, I have watched Flip or Flop a few times and it is a fairly true representation of the work that goes into flipping a house. They hire a contractor to do the work vs. other shows that encourage the investor to do the work on his or her own. The goal is to renovate a house quickly to be able to get it on the market, yet the work needs to be high quality. Being able to buy houses at an auction appears much easier on that show than it truly is. There are more investors now, searching and bidding on homes, than before. I buy my homes through wholesalers and banks. During one episode of Flip or Flop, I was on the phone with my sister as the couple toured the home. I could immediately see a few of the repairs they needed to make and told my sister before the contractor mentioned them. I’ve toured so many homes in need of repair that I no longer notice what horrible shape they’re in! All I see is the end result. My sister and her daughter are huge fans of Fixer Upper so I’ve started watching that show and Joanna’s design choices.

Transforming wasted space into useful space in a bathroom:

What’s next for you?

I’m going to look for more properties to flip and rent, and explore other real estate investment options (office/warehouse spaces).

Along with real estate investing, I am focusing on improving my writing skills and compiling a wish list of the publications and websites in which I would like to be published. Being a real estate investor provides me the freedom to pursue writing and other passions I know I’ll continue to discover.


Contact Lisa Kanarek at


Facebook Page

Let’s Hear From an Expert: Claire Diaz-Ortiz, co-author of One-Minute Mentoring

You’re the co-author of One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being One. How would you summarize the benefits of mentoring, for both the mentor and the mentee?

Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” It’s true. We simply can’t reach our biggest goals and greatest dreams without the support of others. Mentoring is a specific, targeted way to give and receive in order to help you get where you’re going.

We believe that behind every successful person, you’ll find a mentor—usually several—who guided their journey. There are many famous mentor/mentee examples out there—Socrates and Plato, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey—the list goes on and on.  With the pace of change today, we believe that mentoring can ground you and guide you in a way that few other activities can. The amazing thing about mentoring is that in many ways it benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.

My life was changed by mentoring when I arrived in Kenya after an around-the-world journey. I was planning to climb Mount Kenya and found an orphanage where I could spend a free night before my trek. There I met a child named Sammy Ikua Gachagua, who had lost his father to illness, his mother to abandonment, and his home to poverty. I never did climb Mount Kenya. My overnight stay turned into a year and led to a mentoring relationship that changed the course of my life forever.

People need to know that mentoring can literally change their lives. Yes, it’s true that mentoring will take some time and intention. It also takes time and intention to learn to drive—but once you know how, you can really go places! The same is true with mentoring.  We all have 168 hours each week. Investing a few of those hours in mentoring will energize you in a way that web surfing and TV watching never will.


For women in midlife, who are looking for a way to contribute, why is this a good time for them to consider becoming mentors?

Mentoring partnerships aren’t just about what you gain — but about what you give as well. The reason they are so effective is a successful mentoring partnership can reenergize any of us. That said, don’t be so sure you won’t be learning from your mentee at the same rate you are teaching him or her!

As for cross-generational mentoring, that’s when a young person is paired with an older person, so they can both learn and grow. Because Ken is a leadership expert in his mid-seventies and I’m a former Twitter executive in my mid-thirties, we are a living example of the lessons we’re teaching.

We’d like to see a lot more cross-generational mentoring happening. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of about 10,000 a day, which is causing a brain drain in our industries. At the same time, older people who are staying in the workforce could really use the skills and insights younger people have to offer. For example, I’ve taught Ken a lot about technology and social media—and he has taught me a thing or two about leadership. It’s a win-win, for sure!


What are the best ways for mentor wannabes to find prospective mentees?

There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. We’ve found in our own lives that mentors are all around you once you start looking for them.  You might find a mentor in a boss, teacher, neighbor, friend, or colleague. Or you might find one through a professional association, volunteer organization, or online mentoring organization.

That old saying works both ways—when you’re ready to become a teacher/mentor, the student/mentee appears. We encourage people to step up and become mentors because you won’t fully discover, appreciate, or leverage what you have until you start giving it away.

As for identifying a potential mentor/mentee, it’s important to think about compatibility. In the book, we show that there are two aspects of working with someone: essence and form. Essence is all about sharing heart-to-heart and finding common values. Form is about structure—how you might work together. For a mentoring relationship to thrive, you need to establish that heart-to-heart connection.

There are many different types of mentors out there, and the type you seek will change the way you seek one. Whether you’re seeking New-Hire Mentoring, Peer-to-Peer Mentoring in a Company Context, Cross-Generational Mentoring, Adult-to-Adolescent Mentoring, or another type of partnership, be confident when approaching a mentor directly, or learn the specifics of the organization if it’s within an organizational context. As one example, if you’re an employee seeking to find a mentor within your organization, start with Human Resources. Many companies these days have programs already thriving within your organization. I also recommend the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.


What are your best tips for a great mentoring relationship?

In One Minute Mentoring, we teach the MENTOR model, a 6-step formula for success in mentoring.

M = Mission: The first step is a clear mission statement, creating a vision and purpose for the mentorship. By creating a Mission, you’ll put the relationship on solid footing.

E = Engagement: When we talk to people about mentoring, one of the biggest barriers they worry about is time. It’s true that a mentoring relationship will take a little time, but a few hours a month is not going to do people in, especially when they realize how energizing and inspiring those few hours will be. The reason we call the book One Minute Mentoring is that we have found that the best advice we ever gave or received was communicated in less than a minute. In other words, the guidance that really makes a difference does not come in the form of long, complex theories—it comes in short, meaningful insights. But first, you have to create that mentoring relationship so the insights can come through. Make a commitment to regular meetings. By deciding how to Engage, you’ll have clarity about how to work together.

N = Networking: Cultivating productive relationships is critical. By Networking, you’ll expand your horizons.

T = Trust: Building trust takes time. By building Trust, you’ll deepen the bond.

O = Opportunity: Mentoring relationships bring with them great opportunities. By creating Opportunities, each of you will grow.

R = Review and Renewal: Regularly reviewing your mission is essential. Keeping a journal as you engage with your mentor/mentee will reveal the ways you’re fulfilling—or not fulfilling—that mission. For example, if your goal in a mentoring relationship is to create a career you love, you can record in your journal each step you take toward accomplishing that mission. And by Reviewing and renewing your partnership, you’ll know if and when your season of mentorship has ended.

While each mentoring relationship is different, all can benefit by aligning with the MENTOR process.


Contact Claire Diaz-Ortiz





Claire Diaz-Ortiz is an author, speaker, and technology innovator who has been named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company. Claire was an early employee at Twitter, where she spent five and a half years leading social innovation.

In Claire’s time at Twitter, she was called everything from “The Woman Who Got the Pope on Twitter” (Wired) and “Twitter’s Pontiff Recruitment Chief” (The Washington Post) to a “Force for Good“ (Forbes) and “One of the Most Generous People in Social Media” (Fast Company).

Claire is the award-winning author of eight books, including One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work With a Mentor–And Why You’ll Benefit from Being OneTwitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time, Design Your Day: Be More Productive, Set Better Goals, and Live Life On Purpose, Greater Expectations, Paperback (Frames Series): Succeed (and Stay Sane) in an On-Demand, All-Access, Always-On Age, and Hope Runs: An American Tourist, a Kenyan Boy, a Journey of Redemption.

She is a frequent international speaker on social media, business, and innovation and has been invited to deliver keynotes and trainings at organizations like the Vatican, the US State Department, Verizon, South by Southwest, TEDX, and many others.

She writes a popular business blog at and serves as a LinkedIn Influencer, one of a select group of several hundred global leaders chosen to provide original content on the LinkedIn platform.

Claire holds an MBA from Oxford University, where she was a Skoll Foundation Scholar for Social Entrepreneurship, and has a B.A. and an M.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University.

She is the co-founder of Hope Runs, a non-profit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya.

She has appeared widely in major television and print news sources such as CNN, BBC, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The Washington Post, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, and many others.

Becoming a Story Coach: Katherine’s Story

After 20 years helping low-income students, Katherine was feeling stuck and called to do something new. She has leveraged her talent and passion for helping others tell their stories to launch her own business as a presentation and story coach. 


Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the youngest of four. My parents met on a blind date in high school in upstate New York and were ambitious to create a different life for themselves and their children. My father ran a small secretarial school business that flourished under his leadership. With success, my parents also drilled the notion that with privilege comes responsibility. I thought I wanted to be the head of the United Way or a teacher growing up. I knew I wanted to make an impact in people’s lives.

In high school, I met a woman through my parents who would change the course of my life. Her name was Linda Mornell and she was starting a nonprofit in San Francisco, Summer Search, to help low-income students break out of their limitations and change their lives.

While I attended the University of Pennsylvania, the real learning for me during those years happened on a summer internship to Kenya, where I lived with a Kenyan family and taught math at the local village school. A Summer Search student was on that program. I understood immediately that it didn’t matter where you came from, but who you are on the inside that matters most. I was determined to work with Linda and for Summer Search someday.

I graduated college with a degree in African American Studies then did Teach For America, which at the time was a new program placing recent college grads in inner-city schools for two years. I stayed in touch with Linda and, after visiting her twice, we made a commitment to work together. I moved to San Francisco in 1995.

I met my husband at a party here. He heard me laughing and sought me out. We laughed, danced, and sparks flew. When he didn’t ask for my number, I thought, “Well Katherine, it wasn’t meant to be. You’ve thrown yourself on enough men in your life, it’s time to let them lead the way. Let it go.” That Monday, he called me at work. Our first date was on my 27th birthday. I had to stand on a phone book in front of my apartment building to kiss him—he’s 6’7”.  We never really let each other go after that. It took some the courage to let someone in that much, but I have never looked back. We got engaged a few months later and married that year.

We have three children, Charlie (14), Joey (12), and Kate (10) and a very cute but fearful dog named Augie (3).

When did you start to think about making a change?

As I said, I was the founder’s first hire at Summer Search and was on staff for 20 years. Because I joined so early in the lifespan of the organization, I was part of the formative years of growing a small nonprofit. I loved Summer Search with all my heart and never thought I would work anywhere else.

It was impossible to push students to look at where they let their fears and self-sabotage hold them back, without looking at how I did that to myself too. I felt this enormous debt of gratitude to Linda and the students for all the ways they pushed me to grow. (Read more about how much Linda influenced my life in my post here.)

With Linda

I held several roles within the nonprofit, including Executive Director and managing a $20 Million Growth Campaign. My mantra in the middle years when my kids were essentially still babies was to be helpful and useful, which I was.

Yet over time, I no longer wanted to fundraise, and despite the fact that I was a leader who yielded some influence in the organization, I was feeling deeply stuck and torn by my years of devotion and desire to grow in new ways.

It was very confusing time for me because I had committed so much of my professional and personal life to this organization. I had personally mentored close to 1000 alumni. I felt like I was leaving behind a family. But in my heart, I knew I was no longer growing and I knew it was time to move on.  So yes it was brewing for a while, but it took me a long time to admit to myself, let alone others.

At the same time, I recognized that my kids will be off to college before I know it. Maybe dramatic since my youngest is currently nine years old. But my oldest just started high school and I see the end of an era coming down the pike.

Levar and Jabali, Summer Search alums I worked with

What is your next act?

I am now a Presentation + Story Coach. I launched my company, Katherine Kennedy, with the tagline Speaking to What Matters in January of 2016 at the age of 44.

I work 1:1 to help people craft their message and speeches. I believe everything you need to tell your story and connect with an audience is inside you. So my job is to help you access, organize and deliver.

I am also coaching people of all ages (executives to teenagers) on speaking with authenticity and confidence in business and informal settings.

I love the variety of people and am having so much fun in the most soul-affirming way. My clients have ranged from a 5-hour project for a speech the following week, to preparing for an on-camera interview, to crafting wedding vows, to a 4-month partnership to develop a TEDMED talk.

I recently helped the wife of the doctor who wrote When Breath Becomes Air. She was asked to speak for a Stanford Medicine X as well as the lauded TEDMED. We dug deep to lift her story and her message (not just her late husband’s) about love and loss. Lucy referred to me as having an “emotional divining rod” that can sift out what is essential to the person giving the speech as well as what will land emotionally with the audience.


Lucy’s speech


Why did you choose this next act?  What other options did you consider?  

The one thing that kept me going at Summer Search for so long was the work with the student and alumni speakers for their signature events. I loved this work so completely. It was creative, courageous, and deeply connecting. Each speech would take an overwhelming amount of craft and care, but it was exhilarating to play a part in helping someone tell their story with vulnerability, triumph, and confidence.

And thanks to some soul searching, I was moving in the direction of wanting to start my own consulting business. Could I transfer my ability to get close to people, understand what it is like to be in their shoes, decipher their hopes and dreams, their past and their future, and help them tell their story?

What do I call myself? A speaking coach? A story coach? And was there a market for this?

I wanted to work for myself, and I wanted more flexibility to be with my family. And I wanted to devote my professional time to helping people develop their message, and ultimately their confidence. Like my calling to Summer Search 20 years ago, this presentation and story work was calling me, too.

So that’s what I am doing!

I helped Ana tell her story

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Well as you have heard, the transition to decide to leave was painful and I didn’t even know how much I needed to move on, or how ready I really was.

I took a course called Playing Big with Tara Mohr. I looked at all the ways I was holding myself back and the fears and self-doubt that were keeping me there. I especially saw how the anxiety I was feeling about leaving had a direct relationship to old behaviors of people pleasing and not listening to the sound of my own voice. That voice inside that’s trying to be listened to but gets shut out by the more critical anxious voice of fear.

I drew upon the strength of my prior students and did my own research, too. I read the book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. He kept illustrating how every new beginning must start with an ending.

I also found ways to build energy for my next act. Help and clarity came in the form of a new friend who was also a writer. I whispered to her on a walk that I wanted to help people find more meaning in their lives. That a part of me believed that the gifts I had of helping Summer Search students and alumni tell their stories and craft a compelling speech could be translated to others, but how? She offered, for a price, help with creating content for a website. I bit the bullet and hired her. I still wasn’t convinced I was leaving Summer Search but I knew that I had to take leaps in other ways if I was ever going to feel the confidence and clarity to live a creative life again.

Then I quit. The day after the Summer Search 25th Anniversary. The event and the speeches were a huge hit and yet, I knew it was time to go.

So I enjoyed the holidays and then started putting one foot in front of the other: developed my website, took on a few clients and started learning about social media. That was a year ago. I have learned more in this past year, than the 10 years prior!

Being honored at the 25th gala

How supportive were your family and friends?

My husband had been let go from his safe but unfulfilling sales job with a software company the year before and had been exploring becoming a full-time personal trainer. After college (eons ago!), he was a US National Rower, and the athlete and trainer in him was aching to get out.

My husband also saw my growing discontent with my role and with the office politics that are inevitable with a growing organization. I think when I called him from New York the day after our 25th anniversary to tell him I quit, he wasn’t surprised.

Since we are in similar phases, we keep reminding each other how we are doing the right thing, for ourselves and for our children, and let’s face it, for the people we want to serve through our new businesses!

I thought my parents would be disappointed (must have been some old voice inside) and to the contrary, they were so proud of me. My mother exclaimed,
“Oh Katherine, you can finally take care of yourself!” My father knew I had been struggling and said, “You now know what being in limbo feels like. I am proud of you for making the decision. Cut the cord. It will get easier.” I think they are thrilled to hear me so energized and excited about this next act.

I was worried about how Linda would feel too. While she was no longer officially on staff at Summer Search, we were still close and weathered a lot of the storms there together. Linda understood though and, with my departure, has also been able to move on more as well.

My close friends were thrilled. They knew I loved Summer Search but were tired of seeing me feel undervalued and stifled.

The most interesting part was my children. They were old enough to share some of my thought process about why I was leaving Summer Search and how important it was for me to take the skills and passion I developed there to others. That it was time for me to grow.

I was able to share with them the letter I sent to my former students, where I talked about my care for them, and how I had to confront my fears the same way I had encouraged them all along. My kids are proud of me, and frankly grateful to have some of their mom back. Most of my time is working on moving my consulting business forward but I have more flexibility and less stress, if you can believe it. 

At Carlton’s high school graduation in 1998 (Summer Search student)

What challenges did you encounter?

The greatest challenge I have encountered is patience—patience to find clients— and humility—humility that I still have a lot to learn. Both feel good though, and I know I am on the right track. I want to honor the stage of life I am in with my children and want to build this business over time.

Practically speaking, I am breaking out of my own limitations with technology and social media. I am proud of my website but since launching, I have been hired to help with one TEDMED speech and three TEDx talks, and it hit me recently, I have nothing on my website about that! So I have thrown in some language about it but still have to figure that out.

Another challenge is putting myself out there in my blogging. I have never dreamed of being a writer. And, I panic just like the rest of us when it comes to public speaking. To the outside eye, I am confident and persuasive, but it still makes me nervous. What I love about it is the challenge though and the joy and confidence that comes from just doing it.

And I have had to do everything myself, from the Quickbooks to the networking, which is part of what I have loved.

I am learning how to keep enough time open in my calendar for clients who need me in a pinch and also plan my weeks out to accomplish what I set out to do.

With a former student I coached for a keynote

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

When I am doing this coaching work, I loooove it. My brain hurts in the best way. I am using all faculties. I am using what I learned through opening up people with care and directness. I am using my years of understanding behavior and speaking to what’s not being said. I am using my ability to interact with people to make them feel safe and able to share what’s most deep inside. And of course, I am using my creativity to make each speech, presentation unique to my client’s true wishes and message. What keeps me going is that I love this work and I know it is my deepest offering to the world.

In fact, I just got off the phone with a Temple Board President who gave a speech for Rosh Hashanah. He was thrilled with our work together and said he would never give a speech again without my help. I was on speakerphone with his brother and son and they kept asking how, how did I help? We re-wrote the whole speech and as he said, I gave him the space to learn how to be himself and craft the words like a conversation. I feel overjoyed that I can help people be their best version of themselves in moments that truly matter and that will make an impact.

Every time I listen to Tom Petty’s acoustic version of “Learning to Fly,” my heart swells with gratitude. I never thought I would have a next act. I thought it was me and Summer Search for life. I am learning to fly – and it feels great!

Luke and Laura — I helped Laura craft her wedding vows

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I have learned that I have a lot to give—and a lot more to learn! But that I have a gift for helping people access what is inside of them, organize their message in a compelling way that is true to them, and connect with an audience, big or small. That feels good. I didn’t set out to have this passion or skill 20 years ago, but here I am.

I have also learned that letting go and moving on isn’t as hard as one thinks. It is the thinking about it, not the doing, that’s hard.

And that the only person who is accountable for your growth is YOU.

And that it’s never too late. Should I have left Summer Search earlier? Oh, who knows. I choose to feel proud of my 20-year commitment and beyond grateful for a next act!

Baker Beach, where I often walk, for inspiration and rejuvenation

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

This one-liner helped me enormously: Every new beginning must start with an ending.

As well as all of these:

We are all called to something. Yet callings need to be activated.

In order to say YES, you have to say a lot of NOs. Be super duper selective.

And schedule your workouts like a doctor’s appointment!

Watch your tendency to be a martyr.

Keep listening to the sound of your own voice. The coaching folks call it your Inner Mentor. Whatever you call it, trust yourself.

Some of my favorite books

What resources do you recommend?

Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead book and coaching course by Tara Mohr

B-School online marketing course with Marie Forleo

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, a book by William Bridges

Jac McNeil, Business Coach for Women

Katie Monkhouse, Creative Services (website help!)

Kathleen Duich, Writer

The Copy Cure, Online copy course

Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

SpeechSkills in San Francisco and New York has a great one-day class called “Projecting Yourself with Confidence and Credibility”

The office I share with my husband

What’s next for you?

Change and establishing yourself take time. I am coming to the end of my first year as a Presentation and Story Coach. I have realistic goals for my earned income over the next three years.

This past fall, I invested in myself with a business coach. She helped me see my specific strengths, clarify my offerings, work through some tricky client situations, and establish goals for myself. I highly recommend her!

So with that said, this year I have bigger goals in terms of income and impact and have hit the ground running. I feel grateful!


Contact Katherine Kennedy at




Launching a Furniture Business at 56: Lena’s Story

Moving back to the US from Greece in midlife forced Lena to rethink her career plans. She launched LAMOU, a unique online store featuring custom-printed furniture.

Tell us a little about your background…

My background is full of dynamic forces that have given form to my life and shaped who I am. I was born in Providence, R.I., to two Greek physicians who came to the United States for post-graduate studies in the mid-1950s. I am a post-war child, in the full sense of the word, especially considering that my parents witnessed World War II in Greece—the Nazi occupation and the ensuing civil war. I was schooled in New England, attending a Quaker school for girls from kindergarten through high school. It was a rigorous and empowered environment and a true prep school for life and learning.

I grew up in a bi-cultural environment—Greek and American, rather than Greek-American. My parents embraced Greek culture and exposed me and my two siblings to Greece from the time we were very young. Beginning in the early 1960s, we would travel to Greece in the summer and my memories of summers in Greece are strong, poignant, and part of who I am.

With Mom and my siblings in Greece, 1966

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature from Brown University in 1981, and worked at several jobs, before deciding to go back to school and get a Masters in Architecture. I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989 with a mission: architecture and design.

As women, we have to balance our professional goals with family, and that is one of the biggest challenges we all face. I ended up living and working in Greece, and married in Athens soon after graduating from Penn. It was quite an adventure being a woman architect, educator, and designer in Athens, and a constant struggle to balance professional aspirations with marriage.

Magazine feature in Greece

I have a daughter, Artemis, who is just shy of 22 and a senior at Bard College. I divorced her father when she was quite young, but decided to stay in Athens until she finished high school so that she could have two parents influencing her life. I call myself a single parent, however, as the joys and responsibilities of parenting mainly fell on me.

Although I am sometimes nostalgic for the nuclear and close family model I experienced as a child, I nevertheless feel that parenting alone is a huge accomplishment and delivers a message of strength, especially in current times where family models are becoming more and more flexible. I did, however, have the love and support of my own family to see me through the many challenges I faced as a single mother and a professional.

In my professional life, I did many different “jobs”: I designed houses and gardens, entered plenty of competitions, taught at the graduate and undergraduate level, set up a non-profit with funding from the EU with two other women architects, started a furniture design company with production in Istanbul, and continued to pursue my love of visual arts through painting and drawing.

I must admit that I would not have been able to do all of the above without the help of several women whom I employed while in Greece to help with childcare when my daughter was young. I felt these young women were very understanding of my need to create and were excellent co-parents for my daughter’s upbringing. I could not have done everything I did without the advantage of having help with childcare.

With Artemis in Greece

When did you start to think about making a change?

This is an interesting question in my case, as sometimes historical events influence a person’s choices, versus decisions that come about as a result of deep reflection. I knew that I wanted my daughter to go to college in the United States and enrolled her in an IB (International Baccalaureate) program in a private school in Athens. I had cultivated this with her from a very young age, knowing full well that her exposure to schooling in the US would be a determining factor in her life and would broaden her horizons.

When the financial crisis hit Greece in 2010, jobs dried up and I lost my salaried position as professor of architecture in a private university in Athens that was forced to close. In addition, we lost my mother to cancer at the end of 2010, and it seemed to me like the earth was shifting. I was bereaved, far from my siblings and my father, without a steady income, and witnessing the political turmoil that was happening on a daily basis in Athens as a result of the financial crisis.

With Mom and one-week-old Artemis in Greece


With the help of my father, I was able to see out the last two years of Artemis’ IB program in Greece, and help her navigate the college application process. I also had lots of time on my hands, and turned to painting and the visual arts full time.

My daughter’s hard work paid off: She was offered a terrific scholarship at Bard and there was no reason for me to stay in Greece anymore. My father was still alive but heartbroken (my parents had been together since medical school in Athens). With Artemis enrolled at Bard and Greece falling apart at the seams, I moved to the US, into the house where I grew up in Providence, which my father has maintained to this day. It is odd to return to one’s childhood home at 56, but my father is alive and well at 91, and having a home to return to definitely made it easier for me to take the risk of re-invention.

Our family celebrating my father’s 90th

The first few months were excruciatingly hard. What was I to do? How could I possibly translate all those years of working in Greece into something here in the States? How could I enter the workforce in my 50s and compete with all the accomplished young? How could I give up friends, familiarity, my support group, and my routines?

Life sometimes is strange and very serendipitous. Things seem to happen for a reason and the universe conspires just when we despair. The summer before I was leaving Greece, in 2013, an old and dear classmate from Penn, Ann Clark, contacted me to say she was coming to Greece, accompanying her new life partner to a medical convention, and that she was moving to Providence. I too, was about to move, and this was a huge source of comfort for me. Maybe Ann and I could figure something out together.What is your next act?

I am the co-founder of LAMOU, which I launched with Ann Clark in 2015, at age 56. It is a new concept in furniture that offers the opportunity for customers to engage in the process of design through technology. Our initial product offering is wood tables that are custom printed. Our website hosts LAMOU’s proprietary collection of designs as well as guest artist collections. In addition, we have a toolkit builder on the site: Anyone can upload a photograph, print, painting, or design and purchase their own table, flat-packed and delivered to their door.

Classic Line end tables

The name is a combination of our initials “L” for Lena, “A” for Ann and the word “mou” which in Greek means “mine.” We thought it was a fitting name for a company that is involved with personalization!

I love the idea of slowly building a community centered around participation in design. It has been wonderful to see the personalized pieces that customers are ordering and how enthusiastic they are with the process and the product. I also love the process of building LAMOU and turning it into a robust business; every day is a challenge and there are new issues to be solved and problems to address. Building a business is like solving an ever-evolving puzzle, and as such, I see it as one more design project. 

With my partner, Ann

Why did you choose this next act?  

This next act, came about after many, many, brainstorming sessions and explorations, together with Ann and on my own.

When I first returned, I was lucky enough to be offered a stint teaching as an adjunct at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), and that helped keep me balanced through a very challenging transition. I soon realized, however, that trying to enter the academic world at my age, with all the political intrigue and insecurity that accompanies an adjunct position, would not be possible. I reached out to builders and contractors and got a few jobs—an addition here, an interior there—but again was confronted with the reality that building a reputation from scratch in the already-established architecture scene here would be close to impossible.

I joined an artist’s collaborative, which I enjoyed, and I reached out to the community here in Providence, where I did manage to win recognition for my work in juried competitions.

Solo Show, Coastal Gallery, 2016

Ann and I started meeting more and more frequently and spoke often about the trials and tribulations of being uprooted in your 50s. Ann had a successful practice in Chicago and was going back and forth the first year, trying to keep the balance between her old life and a new beginning in Providence, so she was feeling similar frustrations.

We both shared an interest in furniture design: Ann had done several pieces for private clients, and I had a design company in Athens that had received considerable attention. We also both shared a love of art and painting. We were aware of new technologies in the design industry, and we each had myriad experiences with clients wanting to participate in the design process.

All of our talks and iterations of what to do next somehow naturally evolved into the idea for LAMOU: a platform that would introduce a new concept in furniture. By combining printing technology with furniture, we would open the door for people to engage with us in a community setting. We would start with one product and slowly build the company into a new platform for participating in design.

Epic Line Persian table

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It was hard. Becoming an entrepreneur in your 50s is not an easy task, especially as a woman, and in a start-up culture dominated by youth. It takes determination and a lot of hard work. You have to relinquish your role as an “expert” and become a novice all over again. It also involves a lot of patience and flexibility: You have to listen and learn, ride out the frustrations and the insecurity, believe in your idea, and persist.

I think you prepare as best you can, but it is really in doing that you learn. Starting a business is a risk; you can have an MBA and still fail. There really is no way to prepare when you do something for the first time: You just build stone by stone and nurture your wounds along the way!


How supportive were your family and friends?

My daughter, my father, my sister and my brother were extremely supportive and still are.

I really did not share much of what I was doing with many friends. I think you have to be careful when you start something new. People become risk averse as they age, and you can be talked out of ideas or aspirations if you are not careful. Sometimes it is better to discuss things once you are on the way and not before.

There is an advantage to starting something new in your 50s: You are wiser and more self-confident than in your 20s, and you do not need the approval that you sought in your youth. My few dearest friends were and are extremely supportive, but I still do not discuss with them in detail about LAMOU. I sometimes feel that talking replaces action, so I am a little guarded when it comes to sharing.

With Artemis in Brooklyn

What challenges did you encounter?

There are so many I do not know where to begin. Learning how to set up an e-commerce company, how to write a business plan, how to market in a digital age, the design of the website, designing the products, sourcing and manufacturing, accounting, presenting and networking constantly, choosing the right co-workers, raising money… The list goes on and on. The most important thing is having the right partner when you start something as challenging as LAMOU. That is where a true sense of teamwork comes into play.


Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

Yes of course, I thought about giving up, on many occasions. There were times when I just wanted my old life back: painting from morning till night like a hermit or lecturing to students, or designing a structure. There were—and are—plenty of sleepless nights where I woke up startled and thinking about failure.

Again, I have to state here that having a strong partnership makes a huge difference when becoming an entrepreneur. Ann picks me up when I am down, and vice versa. There are times when we are both down, and those are hard, but somehow we are both equally persistent, both experienced in life’s struggles, and both stubborn. When times are rough, you have to have a fierce sense of commitment and belief to see you through.

Reviewing custom design with Ann

 What did you learn about yourself through this process?

That life is an adventure and you have to embrace it. That nothing is written in stone, and one can make changes even though change is hard. That I have stamina and have much more to learn. That the past has a way of resurfacing and influencing everything you do and who you are, and that will, perseverance, and belief can help you achieve.


Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I really do not believe in regrets or revisions, so no, there is not anything I would have done differently. Life is a process, and a learning one at that. So, as long as my conscience is clear, I feel I can take on many challenges.


What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Be true to yourself and believe in yourself. Do not be scared of re-inventing yourself and do not let others sabotage you. Life is precious and we have no time to waste. Failure is just a perception: Turn your defeats into victories and let them inform you. There are many amazing women around us; trust them, seek their advice, and depend on them!

Keep an open mind and be a lifelong student. Learn to pivot, to compromise, to give things up for the sake of an idea, a goal or a dream. Rely on your own process which will constantly guide you in evolving.

Etched in Stone table

 What advice do you have for those interested in launching a new product-based business?

You need to define your market and delve into the statistics of that market. It is important to figure out the competition and decide what your advantage is—your value proposition. It’s a good idea to conduct focus groups and get “early adopters” on board who can champion your product from the get go. You also need to figure out your business model: will you sell to consumers, to businesses, or both, and what are your distribution channels? How are you solving a problem in a more competitive way than others? What is your main message and how can you capitalize on it and stick to it?

You really have to take the process step by step and learn as you go along. One thing that is important is to hire experts who can help and guide you. Professionals who care enough about clients to listen and to educate them. We have been very lucky with our team: our web developers, our design team, our attorney, and our production team. However, we did a great deal of research and vetting before deciding on whom to work with, and we cultivate these relationships.

Another piece of advice I can offer is to constantly research and find resources when you do not know how to do something. Ann and I participated in a business plan seminar, in a digital marketing seminar, and we entered the RI business plan competition. We also took—and continue to take—advantage of the budding startup community here and various networking organizations.

We had plenty of hiccups along the way and had to let certain collaborators go, either because they were not pulling their own weight or because it was not the right fit. One thing we were told by a wise businessman: “Be slow to hire and quick to fire.” I think it is important to remember this in any venture: Take the time to really interview your collaborators, and cut the relationship quickly if things are not moving forward or the relationship is creating conflict. 

My desk at LAMOU

 What resources do you recommend?

For those wishing to become entrepreneurs, I suggest reaching out to the Small Business Administration in your city or state to find out what programs they offer. We were very lucky in Rhode Island. The University of RI has a Small Business Development Center and, through their program, Ann and I were assigned an excellent business advisor who meets with us regularly with no fee. He has been very influential in helping us through thick and thin.

I would also suggest finding non-profits that specifically deal with women in business. In Rhode Island, the Center for Women in Enterprise is one resource. (SITES)

Seth Godin is an excellent resource for anyone considering starting a business, and his book The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)is a great read and one that anyone taking on a new challenge can relate and refer to.

Present your ideas at every opportunity to talented and knowledgeable people. We attended a meet and greet that Golden Seeds held in Boston. Golden Seeds is an angel investment company that funds women entrepreneurs. We met the Managing Director, who has continued to follow our progress and act as an unofficial advisor.

Our wonderful, brilliant, web developers and advisors are located in Athens, Greece. They have generously given us their time, their insights and their expertise. The company is called Greymatter and I highly recommend them. The beauty of living in a connected world is that you can source partners from anywhere.

Our web designers are James and Nina Lavine, two very talented RISD graduates, who helped us formulate the “look” and essence of LAMOU from the first meeting. They are incredibly talented, professional, and a joy to work with.

The experience we have had with Ted Howell, our attorney, has been so rewarding. Ted’s expertise is working with start -ups, and he has all the knowledge, patience and flexibility to execute anything an entrepreneur needs. Ted agreed to be on our board of advisors in addition to being our attorney.

Another Ted, but equally as important has been Ted Peffer at IOLabs in Providence. Ted runs an amazing print shop that caters to a demanding clientele. He was with us from day one offering all of his knowledge and guiding us through the development process.

Lamou tables at West Elm Pop Up

What’s next for you and for LAMOU? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

LAMOU is still an early-stage company so the next steps are growing and scaling the company so that we can achieve our vision of a robust online community for those who share our vision in design participation. We are hoping to add new products and are considering the idea of including actual surface treatments for the home, which can be personalized through printing technology. We want to open the design process to customers and give people as many choices as possible in designing their environments.

I definitely have another next act, and I believe it will be in the visual arts and design, as well as in community service or volunteering. I have had an adventurous life, and it is time to give back and really become active in the “political” sense by engaging with underserved communities either as an architect, a teacher, or a volunteer.


Contact Lena Georas at


Lamou Blog

Facebook Page

Instagram: #lamoudesign

Personal Instagram: #lenamoumou

Linked In: Lena Georas

Let’s Hear From an Expert: Tami Forman, Executive Director of Path Forward

You are the Executive Director of the nonprofit, Path Forward. Can you tell us about your organization’s mission?

Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to empower women (and men) to return to the paid workforce after they’ve taken two years or more away from their career to focus on caregiving. We fulfill our mission by working with companies to launch and implement mid-career internships.

What programs do you have in place to support your mission?

Our program has two big components. First, we provide materials and training for HR and recruiting teams at our partner companies so they can launch the program and recruit participants. This component includes training for the managers who will be supervising returnees. In our work we’ve discovered that managers need support to successfully work with returning professionals. Our manager curriculum covers recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, giving feedback and how to handle the end of the program, whether the returnee is offered ongoing employment or not.

Second, we provide training and development for the returnees in the program to help them successfully navigate their career restart. This component includes creating a plan to expand their skills and build relationships during the internship, giving them tools to navigate their work/life logistics, and developing skills around getting feedback and using it to fuel success. We also cover career management topics like resumes, interviews, and negotiating offers. Our sessions with the returnees boost their confidence and give them concrete plans for successfully transitioning back to their careers.

Our program began in Colorado with partner companies Return Path, ReadyTalk, SendGrid, MWH Global and SpotX. We expanded to California, where we’ve worked with PayPal, GoDaddy, Instacart, Zendesk and others; and to New York where we are working with AppNexus and Verisk Analytics. In all we’ve partnered with more than 20 companies to expand opportunities for women restarting their careers.

What unique challenges and opportunities do you find for women in midlife who are seeking to return to work after caregiving?

One of the biggest challenges is confidence. We see women questioning whether or not their skills are still relevant. Another challenge is how the work environment has changed. There is a whole new world of technology, terminology, team dynamics, and office set-up, to name a few of these changes. Last, a transition back to work affects the whole family. Returning parents may need to change how their childcare is managed and how their home is run.

The good news is that opportunities for women to re-enter the workforce are expanding. Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of diversity at all levels of the organization. We also find that when companies stop focusing on the perceived disadvantages of a candidate who’s taken a career break, they begin to see real advantages in hiring someone with a prior professional track record and a wealth of life experience.  For example, returnees often have really strong communication and collaboration skills, both from their prior work experience and from what they’ve learned through parenting, volunteering, and community work. Professional maturity and the ability to manage multiple projects and priorities are some other key benefits.

What is your track record?

To date, 80% of our program’s graduates have been offered ongoing employment at the company where they participated in the program. Another 10% are employed elsewhere, resulting in a 90% employment rate.

We’ve had so many successful women come through our program, but I’ll highlight a few. Lisa Stephens was an electrical engineer who took a 20-year career hiatus to raise her two sons. She taught herself several coding languages but needed someone to give her the chance to prove herself. Return Path gave her that chance and two years later she is still working there as a software engineer and was recently promoted. Marina Groothius had a prior career as a direct marketer and was able to use the Path Forward program to transition into a career as a marketing analyst. Marina was featured in a story in Fortune. PayPal brought nine women into their program and all of them are now employed as engineers—seven at PayPal, one at a small start-up, and one at Google. One of the women who stayed at PayPal is Shashi Dokania, who has an incredible story of being inspired to teach herself to code because of her son.


Do you have plans to expand? How can my readers find out more?

We are meeting with companies in Colorado, California, and New York, and are planning to expand into cities like LA, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and Washington, D.C., among others. Readers should go to our website to sign up to hear about opportunities as they become available.


Contact Tami Forman at



Twitter: @PathFWD


Tami M. Forman is the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization that creates midcareer internship programs to ease the transition back to work for women (and men) after taking a break for raising children or other caregiving responsibilities. Path Forward trains HR teams and hiring managers on how to support these programs successfully and provides support to participants to make the experience successful. Tami is building this organization from the ground up, working with donors, partners and participants to fulfill the organization’s mission. Tami spent a decade as a tech marketing executive with data solutions provider, Return Path. Before that she worked in book publishing at Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin and held senior-level web editorial positions at iVillage and News Corporation. Tami is passionate about helping women achieve work/life integration so they can find career success and personal satisfaction. She lives in New York City with her husband and two kids, aged seven and nine.