169 Scaling the Coaching Business: Entrepreneur Lena Elkins on How She Built Her Fast-growing Company and Her “No B.S.” Strategy to Break Barriers
Lena Elkins knows what it’s like to go from broke to breaking new barriers as an entrepreneur: She found the secret to building a scalable global coaching business, and she shares how she stays true to doing what she loves – copywriting and funnel building – while hiring her ‘weaknesses’ and other secrets every business owner needs to know to break through the $1mm barrier.
Melinda Wittstock: Lena, welcome to WINGS.
Lena Elkins: Thanks so much.
Melinda Wittstock: I'm always intrigued by entrepreneurs who have early success in their 20s as you did, did you always know, even when you were a kid, that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Lena Elkins: I wish I did, that would make for a really good story. You know how some people, they say: “Oh, I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur because I was like selling baseball cards or I was doing this.” I don't have one of those stories. I never knew any entrepreneurs in my life. It wasn't something that was ever on my radar. In fact, I think that most of my life I wasn't very creative, I was kind of a follower which is a weird thing to say about myself as a child. But no I don't think I ever had any awareness. In fact, I really became an entrepreneur out of necessity.
It wasn't something, like I said, that was ever on my radar but the reality was, after I graduated from college when I was 22, I decided to move to Tel Aviv Israel. Which at the time, I decided it would be a fun adventurous thing. I saw all my friends competing for these internships and these jobs and I'm like this just sounds not fun. So at the time, my sister was actually living in Israel so I thought, “Okay, so I'll go hang out with her for a while maybe I'll get a job. Hanging out the beach, learning some Hebrew. Awesome.” So I moved to Tel Aviv, Israel and I quickly realized how difficult it was going to be for me to get by. And it's hard enough I think being a 22-year-old trying to get your first job, especially as a millennial it's so competitive today. But now when I put myself in that position in a foreign country where I don't speak the language, I didn't know the culture, I didn't have any family there other than my sister. So I really had to … it was a very, very difficult transition for me, more than I thought.
So when I actually first moved to Israel I couldn't even afford to live in an apartment. I lived in an immigrant absorption center outside of Tel Aviv. It was subsidized by the government and it was, at the time, the way that I was able to pay for that as I worked in a grocery store. Around the corner I thought it would be a good way to just learn some Hebrew because I really couldn't get any other kind of job. Because again, I didn't have any connections, anything like that.
So I think a big realization that I eventually had was I want to stay in Tel Aviv. This is a beautiful city but I want to be able to have a certain kind of lifestyle that if I stick to the path I'm on now I'm not going to be able to. And if I'm going to achieve something that I never had then sometimes you got to do stuff that you never done. And so at that time I was able to get an entry level marketing position in Israel, in English which was really great. And I didn't even stay there for that long because it was so clear to me right from the beginning that I was not meant for this whole nine to five job thing. And everybody told me. My mom's like, “You're so entitled, you should be grateful for this job.” I just knew, there was nothing about it that, except I couldn't go to an office every day, I couldn't commute, I couldn't have this awkward break room small chat. There was nothing about that that spoke to me. And so after a few months there, I actually quit and I start my own marketing agency, which again, speaks to, what I always say about execution over perfection, right?
It didn't matter to me that I didn't know everything about marketing. All I knew was that I had this skill, which was English, and I'm a really good writer. I came from a writing background in college. And so I knew maybe I could start a content marketing agency for Israeli startups. This is a startup nation, it's the biggest startup capital in the world, is Tel Aviv. So maybe I can find a few clients and try to do this on my own. So that's really how it started. I put myself out there, I clearly identified this niche of people who I knew needed my English writing skills. And I said, “Hey, I'm open for business. Who wants to hire me?”
And that's what's so funny is, I didn't really know anything about business. I didn't know anyone who owned a business. I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew is that I would be able to help someone achieve a goal faster than they would be able to figure it out themselves. And that's really all that mattered. So that's how I got started. And then that actually picked up very quickly. And I was suddenly making a lot more than I saw most other expats in Tel Aviv making, and it just grew and grew and grew from there, until I finally decided to transition away from the service-based agency model and move more toward coaching and consulting. So that's how it happened. It happened by accident and happened out of necessity. But it was the best thing that has every happened to me. And I've never been a happier version of myself than I am since I went on this path. So it definitely all worked out.
Melinda Wittstock: I love this, that you just took the leap without knowing everything about it. I mean, I think that's absolutely essential for entrepreneurs who want to succeed, to be able to do, it's that skill. Because if you wait around for the perfect time, there is no perfect time.
Lena Elkins: Exactly. And that's actually exactly what I thought, where I was thinking, Lena, you're 22 years old. This is the time in your life that you can screw up, that you can embarrass yourself, that you're not responsible yet for a husband, or children, or a mortgage. This is the time. There's never a perfect time, and why not, potentially screw up and embarrass yourself now versus when you're 35 or 55, or whatever it is. So I just went for it.
Melinda Wittstock: That's just truly awesome. And so when you're putting yourself out there, talk to me a little bit about that. How exactly did you put yourself out there? You announced this agency, you have not huge amount of experience, but you say, “Hey, I'm open for business.” So go back in time a little bit, what was that like? And how did you get past any kind of fears? Honestly, it doesn't sound like you had any fears, but just take us through the mechanics of that because I know a lot of people listening to the podcast are people who really want to take the leap and really like, “Oh god, how did she do that?”
Lena Elkins: Yeah, for sure, for sure. So I'll tell you that it was not always easy, and I was not always confident. And you know what's so funny is, my now husband, we had just started dating when I had quit my job and when I had started this agency. And it was about two months in, I had been getting traction, getting traction, but not enough traction. You know, I was throwing all the money I was making, back into my business to keep it growing. And suddenly I looked at my bank account and there was nothing. And I had no money to pay my rent that month. My rent was a couple of hundred dollars, it was not something so crazy, so I had to have my roommate cover my rent that month, and I just … He'll tell you, we were just sitting in this pancake restaurant, and I was sitting in there in my pajamas and I was just sobbing into a plate of pancakes. You know, what have I done? I made this massive mistake.
But I think that what I learned from that, is that there's nothing wrong with feeling down or upset or disappointed in yourself sometimes in business. It just goes up and down. It goes in waves. Instead of fighting that, just learn to roll with it, and then trust that things are going to be on the up again before you know it. It's just kind of the cycle of things. So, that really helps me deal with the anxiety I think, of it all. It's just knowing that it's just business. There are up moments, there are down moments, and that's okay.
But, going back in time, how I first got my clients, like I said, I really knew nothing about marketing or business. But I knew I have Facebook. There are a lot of Facebook groups that are specifically for startups, here in Tel Aviv. I joined the groups and I posted in the groups, “Hey guys, my name is Lena. I'm offering content marketing services and copywriting services for Israeli startups. If you're interested in working together, call me.” And I think that that day, I got five or six calls. So it really was that simple.
And sometimes, again, it's like going for that perfectionism, of thinking, oh, there must be some big complicated marketing strategy I have to build out, and funnels, in order to get this traction. Sometimes the answer, or the solution is right in front of you, and it's so simple. So don't over complicate things, and don't let that hold you back from taking action. Because often times, it's so much easier than you think.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, so this is great. I mean, the fact that you just took massive action rather than spending a lot of time like a lot of people do on planning, you know? Making all these plans, rather than just asking for the sale. What do you think holds people back from doing that, that planning as procrastination?
Lena Elkins: I think it ultimately comes down to fear, and what the fears are. Our fear of embarrassing yourself, that fear of disappointing yourself, the fear of disappointing others. And then I think what's often common though, is our brains, because our brains have one great goal, right? And that goal is to simply protect us, and so when we think of potentially doing something risky, our brains tend to jump to the worse possible scenario, “Are they right, oh my gosh. If I put myself out there and then no one responds, and I'm going to be humiliated. And then I'm going to lose my job. And then my boyfriend's going to break up with me, and I'm not going to be able to live. And I'm going to be homeless, and that's going to be my life.”
I have so many clients who come to me, where they just created this spiral of fear in their mind of what's going to happen to them if they take that small movement. When the truth is that it's very rare that any of those situations actually come to fruition. Like I said, people are so much more forgiving and kind and thoughtful than you think. And ultimately, I think what's important to remember is when you put yourself out there, and you're fearful that people are going to judge you or people are going to reject you, or whatever it is, the truth is, most of the time, they're envious. They're jealous that you have that courage to put yourself out there, and it's actually going to inspire a lot more people than turn them away.
So I ultimately think it just comes down to fear. But ask yourself, if you had none of those fears, if none of those fears existed, if none of them were real, then what would you do? And then try to push yourself to just do even a fraction of that.
Melinda Wittstock: It really is just getting out of your own way. And so many of us have these limiting beliefs that are unconscious. They're founded often when we're kids or we take them on from other people. And the fastest, surest way to heal yourself from all of those things, is just jumping into entrepreneurship. I guess it's going to test you every step of the way.
So along your journey Lena, did you have any other real challenges, particularly, I'm always interested in businesses. When you get to the point where you need to hire people, and because you're doing it all yourself, going faster and faster, and faster, trying to do more and more and more to keep up with the demand of the business. And this is where a lot of businesses fail, and this is where a lot of women struggle, because they don't ask for help early enough, or they don't hire fast enough. How did all of that work for you? When did you hire? How did you know you were going to hire? What were the challenges in that?
Lena Elkins: Yeah. You're reading my brain, that's such a good question, and something that's for sure has been big for us, I'll say over the past year and a half. It's been a really, really big challenge. I know for me that if you looked maybe two years ago, yeah, like two years ago, I had maybe 20 clients just for myself at the time. And I was making money and on this paper, I was achieving all the boxes, I was seeing success, but at the end of the day I was miserable because I had these 20 clients who were very needy. Most of them, early stages in their business. I was basically just on coaching calls all day, every day, responding to emails. And it was just such a burnout for me. I felt so down on myself. And especially because I felt like I had so many clients, I couldn't really give them the best service that I could be giving them. I wasn't helping them as much as I truly could because I was focused on so many different people. So then I felt badly. It started hurting my own self-esteem.
And that's when I started thinking, okay, who can I bring into my business, my baby, right? It has to be someone who I really, really trust, who I know is going to care and put as much love into their work as I would in this business. Because that was I think, my biggest fear, is that I would bring people in, and they wouldn't have as much passion for the business. They wouldn't give it their all like I was. And they wouldn't ultimately produce a high enough quality of work that I would for myself. And I think a lot of women entrepreneurs struggle with that, putting down their walls and allowing other people, trusting people into help them.
So I think it was very natural for me at the time, that my husband just started working on some very, very small projects. He, himself is a lawyer and knows nothing about business or marketing, but slowly but surely, he started learning online. So he was the first, I guess, official, unofficial person, right? Because we were still living together, and that whole thing.
The next person that we decided to bring on was a sales person. And this was massive for me, massive, massive, because it took so much energy. And I think that coaches and consultants don't speak about this enough, how much energy it consumes, to get on sales calls with people. And just kind of ride the roller coaster of one hour of so many emotions of, is this person going to close? What are they really thinking? What do you they really need here? Do they really see the value? There's so many insecurities that can come up in that time, and it's just exhausting.
And so, I think it was really important for me to finally realize, I can't be taking these calls anymore because it's making me feel like wacky, every single day, not knowing what's going to come of it. It's just not helping my anxiety. And ultimately, I need to be focusing on coaching, and being as supportive as I can for my clients, and not focusing on onboarding new people. So that was the second person that I brought on, was actually a sales person, to take over that entire process, so that I could just be focused on the mentorship. So that was massive for me.
And then next thing though, and this is again, because I still had these 20 clients, it continued to grow. I was like, no, no, no, this is way too much. I still want to be able to serve the same number of people, but I cannot be serving all of them myself. I'm going to be serving like three to five or six clients at a time, max. So that's when I decided to bring on and train coaches, LEC coaches.
So what that looked like … Everybody's like, “Where did you find these people?” But, because I'm in the online business and marketing coaching space, I know a lot of the other coaches, a lot of them are good friends of mine, whatever. So it was pretty easy for me to identify a few people, “Hey, would you be willing to come on? I know you're already an expert, but get trained under the LEC brand. And then actually take on some of our clients for us, as junior coaches.” And they said “Yes.”
So that's what it looks like today. We have three other coaches, aside from myself. The three of them are life-savers, all amazing, have great reputations in their own right, but are such a great fit in LEC. So that's just been amazing. And now I have my dream of only taking on about five clients right now at a time. And aside from that, wow. And from now, it's just like on an outsourcing role. You know, I was like, “Let's keep this whole team thing growing.” So then at that point, I mean today, we have a whole Facebook [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:25:28"] team, a whole Google AdWords team, a podcasting team. We're also building out our own podcast right now. So from here, I want to say there're probably 15 of us. And it is awesome. And it is also a challenge, that's what I'll say.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, no, it really is. It's impossible to get to scale without hiring. And thank you for first of all, providing such a detailed roadmap for how you did it, because it's very practical advice. And there're a couple pieces that I want to pick up on about this. What was fascinating to me is hearing you talk about the sales role, those ups and downs. In it, I really heard you be very clear about what you loved to do and what you didn't so much. We say often on this podcast, “Double down on your strengths. Hire your weaknesses.” You had to be pretty clear about what it was that you loved doing and that only you could do, and what was it that you didn't like so much that many other people could do. Some people love to sell like that.
Lena Elkins: Totally.
Melinda Wittstock: So, what's interesting with your team of 15 people, it changes your role as a founder and a CEO. How much of your time are you spending now on cultivating your team, mentoring your team, hiring, looking for people? Is that a much bigger part of your role now than it was before?
Lena Elkins: Yeah, so I would say yes and I'm going to be honest with you. I don't love it. I don't think that anyone when they start their own business they're like, “I can't wait til the day where I can manage people and mentor team members and interview people and deal with HR stuff,” and whatever.
It's not something that I love but I'm very fortunate that at this time we have a very solid team that's just working amazingly together that I don't think we will need to be hiring anyone else any time soon. So, that's great.
With that said, it was very important to me from the beginning that we didn't hire anyone who was kind of operating as an intern or anyone who didn't have a lot of experience. I wanted people to step in who already were pros, pros, pros at what they were doing so that there would have to be very minimal mentorship and guidance. I would say that every week maybe I give two hours, two to three hours to team members just for questions they have or any support that they need and that's it.
So, it's really important to me that I can have a team that I can really trust, that I don't have to micro-manage. I don't have to worry about what's going on. It's really dialed in at this point.
But, yeah. Like you were saying, it was very important to me that I became clear what were my strengths and what were not and now I can even tell you that the vast majority of things that go on in Lena Elkins' Coaching today I have nothing to do with and I don't want anything to do with them, you know?
Like all the accounting stuff and like Facebook ads and these are all things that at one point I did, right? I was a one woman show. But as things grow and grow and grow it's just not sustainable or smart as a business owner to allow yourself to continue being a woman of so many hats.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. Well, it's impossible to grow a business. Only three percent of women in business get to a million dollars or more in revenue.
Lena Elkins: Wow.
Melinda Wittstock: Only three percent, and that's got to change. A lot of it is because women continue to try and do it all, right? I'm starting to say that having it all doesn't mean doing it all.
Lena Elkins: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: If you wanna have it all …
Lena Elkins: It's so true.
Melinda Wittstock: …You have to end the perfectionism and really get the right people in the right seats so you can double down on your strengths. Every woman that comes on this podcast that has succeeded, has gotten over a million dollars, is having a really sustainable business knows this and has figured out a way to execute on it.
I have a specific question, though. So, in that time when you were doing all of it, did you kind of create systems for yourself and then be able to just kind of hand that once you'd perfected a system? Just be able to hand it off to the person that you hired bit by bit as you had the revenue to do so.
Lena Elkins: So, some of it yes. For sure when I decided I needed to start onboarding other people into the team I started thinking much more clearly and deliberately about, “Okay, how can I not only understand this myself but now communicate it in a clear, articulate way to someone else?” In the beginning for sure. As I began to onboard people, people would be like, “Well, this doesn't really make sense,” or “How do I really execute this?” Then I was like, “Well, Lena you have to figure this out for them.”
So it's for sure something that I got better at over time, but again I'm really happy that I kind of on boarded people and then figured it out instead of trying to perfect all these systems, perfect all these systems who knows then when I would have finally allowed myself to bring someone on, you know?
But at this point, yeah. Everything is really systematized, very organized. Everybody knows kind of exactly what their role is and what needs to be happening every day.
Melinda Wittstock: So, one of your secret super powers is copywriting. You mentioned you had a writing background. Women also struggle with being able to get their story out into the world, or sometimes maybe confuse personal branding with personal bragging. They kind of hang back from this. So, what's your advice to a woman who really needs to establish her thought leadership, really has to differentiate her story in order to really get her business rolling?
Lena Elkins: Yeah. Ultimately what it boils down to is you cannot be afraid of what you believe in, of what you stand for, of what your brand values are and you can't be afraid of putting that out to the world unapologetically. It doesn't matter. In fact, I think one of the reasons that a lot of women hold back from truly communicating their message or what they believe in through copy whether it's in their blogs or websites or for outside applications, whatever it is, they ultimately are afraid to offend people. They're afraid to make people feel uncomfortable.
What I've found though, is that when people stick to that idea of “I'm just going to play it safe”. I want people to read my stuff or watch my videos and feel like, “Okay, well that's agreeable. That makes sense,” you're never going to stand out. You're never, ever, ever going to stand out. The people who truly stand out are the people who aren't afraid to approach and hold on to polarity, right? So, somebody who isn't afraid to say, “Hey. I know this might be controversial but this is really what I believe in,” or “This is something that I really wanna put out there.”
Sure, it's going to turn away some people but it's also going to make a lot of people gravitate toward you and feel like, “Wow, this woman gets me,” right? It's going to make them feel so much more connected to you and your brand and not just so that you'll see yourself one time but that they'll continue to be brand advocates and share yourself, comment, be engaged, turn into a fan. Don't be afraid to be unapologetic about what you stand for and put it out there with power. That's what gets people's attention. That's what's going to make you stand out. That's what's going to make you seem really unique.
Melinda Wittstock: Very, very true. I love this unapologetic. Women spend a lot of time apologizing.
Lena Elkins: Yes.
Melinda Wittstock: I mean.
Lena Elkins: It's crazy.
Melinda Wittstock: Sorry all the time and for nothing.
Lena Elkins: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: That's really great advice to really be unapologetic. I think really getting past fear of repelling. They say that mass marketing repels as much as it does attract because you really don't wanna waste your time on folks who will never buy from you anyway. So, the more clear you can be, it's just so much better so just get past the fear of that.
When you're coaching and in let's say the Tel Aviv start up scene and you do a lot of stuff online as well, what are the biggest challenges that you see among your clients? Where do you help them the most?
Lena Elkins: Yeah, the biggest challenge is absolutely mindset work. It's interesting. A lot of people enter the program thinking that they entered 'cause they wanna learn about marketing systems and funnels and automation and paid media and PR and all this stuff. But really all that stuff is easy once they can really set the foundation of their mindset.
So, a lot of people, again primarily women walk into the program saying, “I don't feel like I deserve of what I have,” or “I don't deserve to chase a business idea like this,” or “I don't deserve to take people's money.” It's this idea of just not being good enough. If you don't feel good enough at where you stand and what you're trying to build in your business, then that's going to be communicated through everything that you create on top of that.
So, that's definitely the number one thing I think, is mindset, learning to ditch ‘comparativitis’. Stay in your own lane and really figure out what truly makes you unique and trusting again the right people are out there waiting for you right now. They need you, specifically you. And really overcoming those mindset blocks around being worthy and good enough to be an entrepreneur and take care of yourself in a lot of ways is probably the number one thing that just comes up over and over and over again.
Melinda Wittstock: This is so true. I mean I did an online summit not too long ago and I mean we … The subtitle of … it was Wings of Success. The subtitle was Mindset, Mojo, Money because the three of them are so intertwined. The longer I go in my … What am I? Am I a 4X entrepreneur, four times, so the more deeper I go into my own journey and just with other entrepreneurs it all comes back to mindset.
Lena Elkins: Yes. It's essential. It's interesting because people love to say like, “No, my mindset's great. Everything's fine. I just wanna learn the actual hands on systems.” We always have to bring it back to that. We open every single coaching call with the first 20 minutes are just mindset stuff. Going on what were the maybe mindset blocks that were coming up for you this week limiting beliefs? Clearing all of that out and only then can you really get into the higher level business stuff.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- This is so true. So, Lena what's next for you? You've got this great growing business and you're there in Tel Aviv. Wait, I'm just going to ask that question again, sorry.
So, Lena you've had so much success. You're doing so much for so many people. What's next for you? What's the big vision? What's the big moon shot? Where are you taking your business next?
Lena Elkins: Yeah, so we like to try to just focus on three to six months at a time, otherwise we get way too excited and overwhelmed and don't even know what to do with ourselves. So-
Melinda Wittstock: I know that one.
Lena Elkins: Right? Right? So, in the next three to six months we have some awesome stuff coming up. We actually have three speaking events. When I say we, I'm the one speaking and I'm driving the husband along. The first one is actually in Costa Rica for a power couples retreat which will be awesome. Then we're heading out to Bali to speak at an unconventional life event which is … I'm a member of the Forbes Coaches Council and this is a Forbes Under Thirty podcast. They run these events all around the world, so we'll be in that in Bali for that and then we will be speaking on a cruise in Mexico on New Year's. So, over the next three to five months we will be mostly on airplanes and that's very exciting for us.
But aside from that, I think the next year I really want to write a book and get a book deal and kind of continue on the full leadership path more than just the coaching.
Melinda Wittstock: That is wonderful. So, how can people find you and work with you, Lena?
Lena Elkins: Yeah. You guys can always head over to my website, lenaelkins.com and send me a message there. You can also follow me on Instagram lenaelkins18 and of course you're all welcome to join my free Facebook group Millennial Go-Getters.
Melinda Wittstock: That's wonderful. Well, thank you so much for putting on your wings, giving us such practical advice and flying high.
Lena Elkins: Yeah, thank you so much. This was so fun. Thanks, Melinda.