317 Sigrun: Scaling Strategic Coaching
Ever have a nagging feeling that you are sitting on a goldmine with your passion, your wealth of knowledge, your ideas for programs and courses … you’re just missing the strategic execution plan that will make it all work? And you’re getting frustrated as you watch others launch online programs and make it look easy?
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who has built a successful business as a strategic coach around the lifestyle of her dreams.
Sigrun has doubled revenue in her business every year, and reached her $1m milestone in 2017 as well as producing 100 episodes of her podcast The Sigrun Show in 100 days. Now she’s busy scaling her business and taking it to the next level as she takes leisure time with her family, plays golf and travels the world.
Originally from Reykjavik, Iceland, Sigrun has always been drawn to leadership roles – and early on in her career, with no formal business training, she became CEO of a software company called SOMBA. She became a turnaround expert, landing in companies and bringing them to profitability – all while also earning three masters degrees.
Then came the burnout. She fell in love, got sick, moved to Switzerland, and found herself to be unemployable.
It was the impetus that pushed her to take the leap into entrepreneurship – creating a lifestyle business for herself helping other women to do the same.
I can’t wait to share this conversation with Sigrun and first…
Now back to the inspiring Sigrun – lifestyle entrepreneur, strategic coach and international speaker.
When Sigrun isn’t working, she’s busy with her second passion, photography, and spending time with her husband and two stepsons.
Her motto is: Be Inspired. Think Big. Take Action.
Her genius is being able to help women in business take action when they are stuck on the startup sticky floor.
Women who know it is time for a change, women who know they have something important to share with the world in business, women who need help to get there.
She says taking fast action even if you don’t yet know where you’re going … is better than no action. And this is where so many women, with our tendency to perfectionism, fall down in business.
It starts with having a vision of what you want. Of course you need a plan, you need a team to help you execute on that plan, and, of course, a foundation upon which to build. Perhaps it is no coincidence Sigrun is also a licensed architect, as well as a software engineer, executive MBA and more – she applies these skills to launching businesses.
So are you ready for Sigrun? I am. Let’s fly!
Melinda Wittstock: Sigrun, it's so great to have you on Wings.
Sigrun: It's so great to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: So I'm intrigued by you because like so many female entrepreneurs, you've come into this entrepreneurship thing having had so much business experience being a CEO, working with big companies, going in and turning companies around and then suddenly you have a baby and it's a new business. It's a startup. What kind of mind shift was required there for you? Was it different than what you thought it would be making that leap?
Sigrun: It was kind of hard to be all on my own, I must admit, not having support, not being able to afford support in the beginning, but looking back I did kind of enjoy doing everything and getting to know everything in my business.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. So you start and often it's a tricky transition to go from corporate where you have a pre-made team, like a prefabricated team, you can see some of the things that are going along with the team but you've got all that infrastructure already basically built. Then with a startup you're starting from scratch. Was that liberating, terrifying, both? What were some of the emotions that you were going through?
Sigrun: Well first of all, I had no other choice. I had been sick for seven months and then I had lost my job twice in two years and this was literally I had no other choice. Now, it was a good choice and it was one of … It was my dream to have my own business, but I was pushed into it because there was really, well, there was nothing else for me to do. Nobody wanted to hire me. I was living in Switzerland even with an impressive CV of four master's degrees and 10 year CEO I wasn't even invited to interviews for roles where I thought I was a perfect fit.
So I said, “Well, you don't want to have me, I'm going to create something of my own.” In the beginning I wasted a lot of time. I was overthinking. I wasn't sure what I was going to put out there, what my business was going to be about. I think I lost about 12 to 18 months overthinking everything. I wish looking back if there's anything I want to change it's I should have hired a coach back then to get me out of that overthinking mode, but somehow I finally figured it out and I started to offer business coaching and once I sold that first hour I knew I was on the right track. But before I actually put up a website had a button to sell one hour, that took me a long time.
Melinda Wittstock: So as you have really grown this, and you've grown pretty fast, you've hit seven figures, you're surpassing that, and congratulations because only 3% of female entrepreneurs hit seven figures. Along the way what have been some of the challenges in building your team and scaling? What do you think are the biggest ones?
Sigrun: So I went from zero to seven figures in less than four years with a pretty small team. It was basically me doing everything and I found a wonderful assistant in my second year of business. I had been in business less than 1.5 years and I found this wonderful person. She went from working like five hours a week for me up to 30 hours a week and she's still with me today.
It was pretty much the two of us. I would have some other people on the team. They would come and go but yeah, it was solidly the two of us, and then my husband joined me two years ago when he lost his job and I told him, “You don't need to go back to work. You just now help me.” So I have been blessed having a small team that is really, has bought into my vision and is helping me succeed.
Sigrun: But as I achieved the seven figure mark two years ago I realized that we cannot go on like ever like this so it's been on the radar to hire but we have pretty much procrastinated it with always saying well, we can go on another year without growing the team. We've hired a few contractors that do community management and Facebook Ads and things like that, but we haven't really had full-time employees.
Sigrun: Basically the only current two full-time employees is me and my husband and he's not really working full-time because he's also taking care of the kids. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is hiring, team building and realizing that I have to let go. So I have actually, I'm just sharing this probably for the first time, in the last six months it's been quite hard for me. I realized I had too many products, and I think this can happen to a lot of people that grow a business, that they suddenly realize they have too many products.
I had to let go and it was hard because I loved them. They were successful. That was not the problem but I realized I had too many and I'm even, there is one more program that I should have probably let go last year but I'm doing it one last time this year, and it's funny because I'm selling it right now and instead of doing a big marketing campaign I'm just sending emails to the people that I want in the program kind of behind the scenes because it's not really a part of who I am or my brand anymore and I know it.
I've really just reduced to three programs because I know if I want to scale to eight figures, which is my goal, I'm not going to do it with five or 10 programs. You're going to do it with maybe one or three because it's all about figuring out how this one program helps your clients and then how you market it and then just scaling it up and having the eyes on the ball on that particular. Because they're just selling different programs, it needs different marketing campaign. It's just too much of an effort: So less programs and then full-time employees. Too long, too many people who want to scale, are relying on contractors and getting people that are really aligned with my mission. My mission is accelerate gender equality, so female entrepreneurship. I am putting on a conference in Iceland in 2020 and that's kind of almost like a separate business so I'm looking for people who can do event management, I'm looking for an effective assistant right now and project manager.
I'm just building a team almost from scratch because the team that brought me to this place, there's a saying you know, what got me here won't get you there. That's pretty much what we know on the team, that we might not have the right team in place to scale to the next level.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I think you said two really important things here and I want to break them down. Let's start with this whole concept of having too many products because as entrepreneurs, we're really good at generating ideas. So if we go, it's almost like with each new product it's a totally different business.
Melinda Wittstock: Then it's difficult to advance any of them so it's really like the discipline and the focus of just picking one for now and knowing which one because I think that's part of the problem is we don't really know. We're still in that kind of market testing phase in an early stage of the business. I've got all these ideas, they're all going to be in my kind of Walt Disney business map, right? But I can't do all of them at once, so I see so many not just women entrepreneurs, male entrepreneurs too struggle with this at that stage so how did you narrow it down?
Sigrun: Well, I really realized which one were truly scalable. One of my programs that I'm actually running the last time this year is a retreat in Iceland. As you can image, a retreat is not scalable. I can take max 12 women on the retreat with me. I love doing it. Typically I sell 10 spots, you know. I don't want to actually sell 12, and I've been running it, this is going to be the fourth year, but I realized it's not a scalable product.
That's why it's already getting minuses in my book of scalability. I cannot increase the price so much. It's 2.5 times the price from my first retreat, so when you see a program where you can't scale it up, you can't have more people, the price cannot really go up more, I think I'm kind of on the top right now of what I can price it at, and then it's a retreat, you can imagine it's a house and a car and all that stuff, it's not as profitable as digital products for instance.
Then I look at all of that, plus I'm going through rebranding and I'm going to brand myself a little bit differently than from what I've done in the past. I realized that a retreat in nature in Eco Village does not fit my brand of running a conference with 1,800 people. Those two things go branding-wise not together, so it's kind of an easy no to the program even though I feel very sad to stop it.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Each one of these products, when you think of it needs to be sold in a different way so that presupposes different team members, it distracts from your full-on attention. So picking that, because I think even what you were saying about like a retreat for instance, so I'm doing my first kind of retreats and events and I think okay yeah, so maybe that's not scalable, but on the other hand it's amazing lead gen. So what does that do for your other products for instance?
Sigrun: Yes. Yes. But in my case for instance, my retreat where people who had already bought from me and yes, they might upgrade to another program afterwards, I can totally see that, but a retreat with 10 people, maybe a workshop with 30 or 40 would be equally valuable if you're thinking of an upgrade. But I had to look at all the other programs I have. I do a live event. I do masterminds. I have a 12 month online program for women who are building their six figure business.
Sigrun: Then I look at what each program can deliver and what does it lead to in the customer journey. The retreat was just on the angle. Like when you imagine a pyramid of a customer journey and people start at the bottom and then they go up, and the retreat was just on the side. It didn't have the same meaning as it had maybe when I started it four years ago. So that was easier. I also had two levels of masterminds and I realized last year they were so similar so why did I have two levels? Why not just bring it together.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Right, right.
Sigrun: Yeah. So I could have a higher price, maybe a little bit bigger group, but not two different groups because it was just pulling my attention and it was complicated to market when you have two similar products and you're trying to explain to people why this one versus that one. It's going to be hard. As I said, when you're marketing also many products, I had for instance this one I already quit, decided last year I had a mastermind day.
I could have eight women for one day and we would mastermind. It was great, something I started in 2016. I did it 2017, 2018 and I realized I can only have eight women, yes, I can increase the price a little bit, but it was conflicting with the marketing of my mastermind groups that run a whole year at a totally different price point. So when you realize that you are coming in to conflict with the marketing, then I was like no, it's not worth it.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it's so true. So one of the things that's interesting about scaling I think is just this concept that you have to be able to let go of something to be able to get to the next thing, and that's so hard because you spend all this time mastering something, so you get into your kind of zone of confidence, zone of excellence, into your zone of genius with this particular thing that you're doing. You get used to doing all of it and then all of a sudden you've got to hand it off to somebody else who's not going to do it as well as you.
Or maybe they are. Maybe they're going to do it better than you, but whatever the fact is there's a mindset issue around that, right? You've got to let go. Eighty percent good has to be good enough, all of that. So that mindset shift, how are you coping with that?
Sigrun: That's very hard. I feel I've been holding on actually for too long. I should have probably done all the things I'm doing now in the scaling phase, probably done them two years ago but you know, we still grew last year to 1.5 million so it's moving forward with a small team. But yeah, letting go is hard but I think I had to go through shifting my products first and now I can really bring people onboard and there is no new products there.
Sigrun: The products are solid. What we're doing marketing-wise is solid and now we're just bringing people onboard that are just going to run the machine. But it's hard. It's hard. I was even thinking I've never had an effective assistant before even though I've been a CEO. It's amazing. I was like, “What do I tell her to do?” Yeah, luckily my husband had prepared me a bit. He took over my calendar and my email two years ago so I know what it is like to have an assistant where I can travel around the world and I don't even know what plane I'm going on or what hotel and it's just all taken care of. That's fantastic.
I think for me the most important thing is to have to take less decisions; I have to hire people that can make decisions on their own, that are self-managed. So I'm really in my process of hiring people looking for those people who are, I know, I've worked for other people in the past myself and I was that type of a person. You could just give me a goal or a project and you didn't have to check on me. I would just get it done, then I would get it out on time. I'm looking for those people.
So yeah, less decisions. When you think of Mark Zuckerberg, how he wears the same clothes every day, I'm kind of looking for that in my business too. Like the less decisions I have to make, the better.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, that's really true. I think it's transformational. It's amazing how much time it takes out of your day. Where I figure if you can get into your zone of genius, like the thing that only you can do and you're just allowed to double down on that, like be more of you, that's the best way to leverage yourself.
You think of yourself as an asset, what's going to get the most kind of like 10X value out of you is you being in your unique genius. So what are all the other things that like where you're say there are certain things that we don't love doing, right? We're not even necessarily great at them, but we're smart entrepreneurs so we can become great or not great, but we can become good at it, but it's not really where we should be spending our time because somebody else can do that and maybe love that. Maybe their heart sings when they're fixing links on a website or doing the spreadsheets or whatever it is, you know, that's not your own zone of genius.
Then we have things that we're competent at. We have things that we're excellent at, but somebody may be genius at the things that we're excellent at. So it requires some pretty honest I don't know, assessment I guess, self-assessment to figure those things out. What are the things that you think that you're just, your unique genius that only you can do, Sigrun?
Sigrun: Well, since I am a business coach or a business mentor, it is the coaching of my clients. I absolutely actually love those rapid fire coaching sessions which I offer them also in my signature program, in my most scalable program. Once a month people can apply for hot seat in a mastermind call, so it's not a mastermind but just once a month I show them how it would be to be in a mastermind. I put the timer on seven minutes and I'll tell them the longer you need to explain something, the less time we'll have to talk about it.
I love those fast, they're fast breakthroughs. It's amazing. It's life changing for the person who's on the hot seat and I get joy. I feel I'm really in my zone of genius there. I admire other coaches when I see them doing it so I both enjoy watching it and doing it myself. Then on the other one where I think I'm really good at is storytelling. That's why it's quite good for me to have a podcast like you do. I can just tell stories all day long.
I'm constantly seeing something; I'm reading about something. I read about a book and I can recite the book but it becomes like my own story somehow. That's what I love to do too, yeah. So I think everything else should be done by someone else.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It's true and if you've ever read Rocket Fuel, which is a great book about the founding team, like the visionary and the integrator, the visionary being the evangelist, the ideas person, the person who sees this kind of future opportunity, can map it all out, that person vital on a founding team. The integrator being the operational detailed person. The person that the trains run on time, looking at the numbers, all the analytics, you know? Making sure that everything is working. Very rarely is there a person that has both of those skills in one person. In fact, most entrepreneurs tend to be visionaries and this book Rocket Fuel talks about the chances of succeeding are wildly higher if the visionary has their integrator.
Sigrun: Yeah, and I know how it is to work with an integrator in that capacity. Of course today I would say that my husband has kind of taken on the role, but he's not going to do it forever so we're going to get someone else, but about 10 years ago I was running a software company and I became the CEO and my sister the COO, and it was a match made in Heaven.
You can just imagine someone who has the exactly same values as you because obviously we grew up together so we appreciated the same thing, we were both found it important gender equality, so it was a software company. We tried very hard to hire women. We managed to get 30% women, 70% men, but I could go away knowing that the company would run. It even happened that I became the CEO of a second company and for a year or 15 months I was away from the smaller software company and it just ran.
Sigrun: But I came in for visionary meetings, financial budget, where are we going, big accounts and things like that, but otherwise the visionary doesn't really have to be in the day-to-day business.
Melinda Wittstock: Right. Yeah. No, that's so, so true. So what's next for you? You're going for eight figures. What does that mean in a coaching business? How do you scale a coaching business?
Sigrun: So I'm going for eight figures in terms of building out this massive program. I've created something called SOMBA, Sigrun's Online MBA. I did an MBA at London Business School myself and I saw that it was not made for entrepreneurs. It was also not made for online entrepreneurs and also not for women. It's a 12 month program but I can see this growing to eight figures, just this program alone, easily.
It's already made a couple of million and it's not difficult just this program alone to be eight figure annual income, but I'm already starting a second thing which is the conference that I mentioned earlier. It's a conference for women entrepreneurship. I'm trying to use the name Women Entrepreneurship Forum. We're checking if it's trademarked but we might have to use another one. I'm thinking of something like The World Economic Forum but for women entrepreneurs.
Melinda Wittstock: That is really cool. I love that. I think you found a really interesting niche too because MBA programs do not teach entrepreneurship.
Melinda Wittstock: At all.
Sigrun: No. They teach you how to be a corporate person, a good corporate manager.
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. I know so many entrepreneurs whose investors have sent them to even to Harvard Business School. Those entrepreneurs' feeling is it's an absolute waste of time. Like when can I get back to the business? This is ridiculous. Yet it's interesting though because I think a lot of women feel they need some sort of credentialing to be able to go into business and that doesn't seem to hold men back as much as it does women. We're all waiting to be anointed or something like Queen Elizabeth.
Sigrun: Oh right. I get this a lot in my coaching calls that they feel they have to be certified and blah, blah, blah. I tell them I have worked with thousands of women, not a single person has asked me if I was a certified coach.
Melinda Wittstock: No one ever does.
Sigrun: No. It's your success. It's the success of your clients that speak for themselves. A certification, what is that really? Somebody else deciding that you're good? For instance, think about a photographer. The photographer that I work with mostly in Iceland when I'm in Iceland, he sells [inaudible [spp-timestamp time="00:38:55"]. He read books and watched videos and he is one of the best photographers in Iceland. Now, if he would just go to school it wouldn't make him any better.
Melinda Wittstock: So when you're working with women there's all kinds of mindset issues I know that kind of come up, right, around our own value or our own perceived value. I see that often manifest in women underpricing their services or over-delivering or trying to be all things to all people or please people. Is that consistent with what you see in your practice when you're helping women to really step up as entrepreneurs?
Sigrun: Yes. There are all these issues. It's over-thinking, wasting a lot of time, losing time and money, waiting for things to be perfect.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh God, perfectionism.
Sigrun: Perfectionism is a big one. Yeah, underpricing. The funny thing is I've gone through most of these mindset struggles myself. I guess I could go through them a little bit faster based on my background. I also would say that I have to give my husband credit. He is my biggest supporter, my biggest fan, also my biggest critic how I can improve things and I remember when I put up the price of my first coaching hour, yes, I just did one hour, the thing you should not do when you're coaching. You should actually sell a package but not one hour, but I did one hour and I priced it at $180.
He said, “Seriously? You have an MBA from a top business school. Do you know what your colleagues, the people in your class are charging per hour?” I'm like, “Eight hundred?” “Yeah. Why are you charging 180?” I'm like, “Yeah, but I'm targeting to women who maybe don't have a business yet.” I had all these excuses why my price should be different. It took me several years until I achieved and I started to price at 800 too.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When we price a little bit higher people value it more as well.
Sigrun: Yes. They actually do take action on it and it was interesting, my second client who bought that one hour coaching session, I followed up with all the clients who booked with me first because I wanted to know if they had implemented what we talked about in this one hour, and the second person who had booked that call, she said, “Sigrun, I was testing you. I actually booked one hour with four business coaches. Yours was the lowest price. One was charging 250, another one 300 and another one 400, but I got the most value from you. You should raise your prices.”
It took a client to tell me that. It was interesting, so yeah, I see this happen with my clients. It happened to me and it's about just getting through it fairly fast. I think I haven't met a person that doesn't have these doubts, but it's about overcome them. I think you overcome them faster if you're surrounded with people at your level and they are going through that change. So there's one thing for me to tell them that they need to raise their prices, but they have someone at the similar level and they do it and they share that. That's why a mastermind is so great or some kind of a community and they see it happening and they're like, “Oh, I need to do that too.”
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think that's so true. So eight figures, so what does eight figures mean for you? Does it change your life? Is there a specific number you're going for? Do you have a good sense of what that number means and the actual lifestyle you're going to live and whatnot? Because I think a lot of people go for a number. They say, “I'm building a 10 million business,” or, “I'm building 100 million dollar business,” but sometimes, I'm not saying this is you, but I think sometimes we go for those top line revenue numbers and don't necessarily know what that actually means.
Sigrun: Good question. The million dollar mark meant a lot to me. There was so much attached to the meaning. I wrote an email about it, I probably did a podcast episode on it as well. It was that this business is serious, you know? I'm making serious money. This is not just a hobby business.
Melinda Wittstock: It's a real business.
Sigrun: Yeah, it's a real business. Take me seriously. It was symbolic. It was not just for me and as I said, I reinvest everything I earn. I guess I do pay myself a salary, but my lifestyle hasn't completely changed. Yes, I travel a lot and I now since the year actually travel in business class because we need more women in business class, not just for the comfort.
I have a driver pick me up at the airport and things like that, yeah, but my life hasn't really changed that much. I am going for the impact. So it's not about having 10 houses around the world or I don't know, having a private jet. No. I am not. That's not my goal. It's really, I am serious about my mission, accelerate gender equality through female entrepreneurship, so I would just start a second business and I kind of this conference and this idea of doing World Economic Forum but Women Entrepreneurship Forum, this idea will cost money.
I have rented out the biggest conference center in Iceland. It's like imagine the Sydney Opera House, but it's in Iceland and it's modern. Actually the room is fiercely red, which is my favorite color. Everyone who sees the room thinks they just painted it for me. This is a massive investment, so I'm taking this now out of my business to do this dream and of course I'm thinking okay, do I do this conference once a year? It's not just the conference.
Can I do some research around women entrepreneurship? Can we do some more things like books? Can I advocate to governments and companies what they can do to help women? We will not achieve gender equality on our own. I am working on the female entrepreneurship side and I know I'm not alone. You are there too. Many people who are listening to this podcast, there are many out there luckily. This is not a mission I can achieve on my own, I know that, but I talk about it so I hope that some other people are inspired to go after it on their own even if our paths may never cross, but I think this is a bigger thing.
Sigrun: Then I'm thinking well, I need the third business. We talked about different revenue streams and a lot of women will get stuck in their coaching business and they will never make it beyond that, so I'm thinking a Sigrun Fund or I could call it Women Entrepreneurship Fund where I invest in female-led businesses. So yeah, I have many ideas how I can use the money. It's not necessarily going to be for me so much.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think that's really, really important. So where do you see yourself, Sigrun, in 10 years?
Sigrun: I am there to make a big impact, inspire women to go after their dreams and hopefully create a business, start it, grow it and scale it creating real businesses, and increase that number. You said 3%. I've heard someone else say 1.7% of female run businesses are making more than a million dollars. Let's make that number bigger.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, we really do. This is my mission too. I just think that women are uniquely suited for entrepreneurship how entrepreneurship is evolving because entrepreneurship can be used as a canvas to solve so many of the world's biggest problems. I think women come into entrepreneurship in a much more mission-focused way and we have the relationship skills and a lot of the kind innate abilities that for years we were told that was a weakness, it's actually a strength.
So how can we really enable women to know their own value and really step into the light and really lead here, because what the world needs, and I also think how can we all get into a much more abundant mindset insofar as women are really stepping up to help each other, mentoring each other, promoting each other, buying from each other, investing in each other. It's like a personal mission of mine to try and get women who've had [inaudible] or whatever who have some wealth to invest in other women. I know that's so hard for some reason, but I really want to see that happen.
Sigrun: Yeah. Yeah, and I think we really have to advocate for this. I think there's something that has been bothering me a bit about the jealousy and envy that I sometimes see between women and we have to eradicate that too and think of an abundance so I am happy when I see someone has the same mission. Great because then we will achieve it together because alone it's impossible.
Melinda Wittstock: Well, I just think that the more women who are helping other women, the better, and if we're really going to change anything we have to get past all that kind of scarcity thinking and the kind of jealousy that emanates from that and just really play in a win-win-win. So I wholeheartedly support what you're doing and I think if we can catalyze that kind of ecosystem, all doing our particular things in such a way that we're helping but we're also helping each other help others, that's really going to be the key to the change. So I am so happy you spent this time with us on Wings, Sigrun. How can people find you and work with you?
Sigrun: The best way to find me is Sigrun.com and then I also have a podcast, The Sigrun Show, and it's been an honor to spend this time with you, Melinda. It's been a true pleasure to find also this commonality with us and see that we're both on a mission to accelerate gender equality.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, yes. Well, congratulations with all your progress and I'm so excited to see what's next for you and thank you for being on Wings of Inspired Business.