A True Story of Personal and Professional Transformation


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This is an edited transcript of the January 22, 2014 SmallBusinessTalent.com podcast interview titled A True Story of Personal and Professional Transformation: Meet Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell.

Announcer:

Are you a hard-working, self-employed professional striving for small business success? There is help. Welcome to the SmallBusinessTalent.com podcast featuring candid conversations about successful self-employment.

Stephen Lahey:

Welcome to the SmallBusinessTalent.com podcast. I’m Stephen Lahey, and I’ll be your host. Let's kick this off with a question. Are there things that you want for your business and your life, but going after them seems almost impossible? Well, if you're uncertain about how you'll take that next step forward, then I think you're going to find today's interview inspiring.

I'm joined on the podcast today by Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell. Stephanie began her corporate career in marketing 13 years ago. She worked for a variety of interesting companies, including McClatchey Broadcasting, Connexion Technologies, and Fast Lane to name just a few. In 2010, she made the leap to full-time selfemployment founding Blue Elephant Creative, a marketing strategy and web development firm focused on helping small businesses and solo entrepreneurs to grow their revenue.

By the way, at the same time Steph is also pursuing her personal passion as the writer behind TradingPounds.com, the 2000-readerstrong site dedicated to helping people lose the weight and gain the life they want.

Over the past several years, Steph has made a lot of dramatic changes in her life; she lost over 200 pounds, left her corporate career behind, launched two new businesses, published her first book, and was married this past June. Today, she is going to share that inspiring journey of transformation with us on the podcast.

Thanks for joining us, Steph.

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: Thanks for having me, Steve.

Stephen Lahey:

First, tell us a bit about your life before you became self-employed.

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Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: I had jobs that people in my field of marketing would have loved to have been a part of. It wasn't really that I wasn't enjoying the work; I just wasn't enjoying the environment that I was doing the work in. I always thought that I wanted to do something other than marketing. I wanted to reach out and challenge myself a little bit more. It turns out what I really wanted was just to be able to do marketing with people and projects that I truly believed in.

So I spent several years working part-time in my own business. I would get up in the morning, go to work, work a full day, come home and work on side projects. I always wanted to venture out on my own and start my own business and make my part-time work my full-time work, but I was scared. I was single. I had a mortgage. All of my bills, getting them paid it depended on me. There was a lot risk involved with taking that leap into selfemployment, and I put it off for several years.

Stephen Lahey:

It's interesting. You and I have a similar path in that way. I thought about self-employment for a number of years before I became self-employed. What was the tipping point for you, though? What finally prompted you to take the leap and launch?

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: As you said in the introduction, I battled my weight for several years; and in January of 2010, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to make this change towards a healthier lifestyle. I didn't go on a diet. I wasn't looking for a quick fix. I was just committed to taking better care of myself and really exploring what that meant for me. Being successful at that and making such a dramatic change from the way that my life was, it was empowering to me because it was affirmation that I really could do the things that I longed to do. And if I took it slow and I was methodical about it and just paid attention to how I was feeling and what I wanted to come next, what that right next step was going to be for me, I realized that I could accomplish bigger and better things.

I was toying with the idea of turning in my resignation for the company that I was working for and wrote the letter, decided what day I was going to give it to my boss, and that day came and went without me giving her the letter. So I just held onto it and had it in my desk drawer. And by the luck of fate, I actually ended up getting laid off the day before what would have been my last day if I had turned in that letter of resignation.

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I saw it as an opportunity. I knew that I could do the things that I wanted to do. I had been proving it for months by taking care of myself and losing a significant amount of weight in that time.

I decided that if I was going to be given this opportunity, I was going to take advantage of it. That was really the launching point for me where it wasn't of my own making, but I decided I wasn't going to waste the chance to see if this could turn into something for me in the way that I had always imagined it could.

Stephen Lahey:

You inspired yourself through the progress you were making with your weight loss and that give you more confidence to know that you could make progress in other areas. But when you say you lost 200 pounds, for a lot of us, we're trying to lose weight and it seems like almost it's just an unconquerable goal. How were you able to lose the weight? How were you able to actually do that?

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: I think the secret for me was I never focused on losing weight. I know that a lot of people are going to say, oh, but I have 20 pounds to lose, oh, but I have 50 pounds to lose. The thing is that that's not really what you need to lose. What you need to lose is the burden, the thing that's sort of causing you stress or pain in your life keeping your body running at higher energy so that you're eating more or turning to comforting junky sweet foods that don't really serve your overall health.

I mean, I love a cookie as much as the next girl, but that cookie is not going to make my job less stressful. I think recognizing that there is underlying causes to our behaviors and our desires and addictions that motivate us to do things that in our mind we can tell ourselves, oh, well, if I want to be healthy and I want to lose weight I shouldn't eat this cookie, but in that moment you're stressed out, you're overcharged, you're tired, exhausted, whatever, you think this cookie is going to make me feel better. I think allowing myself the room and the space that I needed to be able to get in touch with what was actually motivating my behaviors combined with applying the practical health knowledge that we all possess—I mean, we all know that broccoli is better than a cookie. We all know that we should eat more broccoli than cookies.

We don't need any understanding or game plan or meal plan or diet plan that's going to replace the basic understanding we all have. We just need to give ourselves the space to actually start putting

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these changes into action in our lives and not punishing ourselves when we have a bad day and we eat a cookie or a cupcake or whatever. It's not going to erase all the good you've already built up.

Stephen Lahey:

Yes. And when you think in terms of, quote, unquote, weight loss, you're automatically up against the enemy, which is weight. Right? And when you think in terms of healthy living, that's something you can embrace.

That's really what you're talking about. Developing a lifestyle that's going to support you and help you to be the kind of person that you want to be versus having this battle, this tug of war.

Then again, I guess a battle that might actually motivate some people. I've found that some people just aren’t happy unless they've got some enemy to wrestle with. I don't know if that's necessarily the most healthy perspective on life, but if you're say a trial attorney—my wife is on jury duty today, by the way—if you're a trial attorney, you may want to fight every day, and that's what get's you going and that's what makes your life good. Well, maybe that's how they approach weight less too. But I'm guessing you probably don't approach life that way.

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: I don't, although I am what you would classify as a high achiever, a go-getter. I like to have something to focus on, a goal to work towards. So instead of focusing on the goal of getting that number to go down, my goal was I want to be healthy in my life. And not just in the way I eat, but in the way that I live, in the work that I do, all of these combined to really shift my life in a new direction.

I had spent that nine months focusing on getting healthy in my body and making sure that I was eating well and things like that; and then when this layoff came along, it was like – hey, I want to get healthy in my work too. I've already proven that I can see significant results in a short amount of time if I focus on doing the things that I know are right, that feel good to me, and that really show me a better way to go about life each and every day.

That was sort of the same philosophy that I applied to starting my business. I wanted to do the things that were important to me, that mattered. I wanted to work with people that I respected, that I

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thought were really doing something great and making a positive contribution to the world; and as long as I find those clients, I'm very healthy and happy in my work.

I still have stressful days like everybody else. We're all under deadlines and pressure and things in our modern society. But at the end of the day, I'm still proud of everything that I'm putting out into the world. I can't say that about all the work that I did during my corporate career. But my goal is that ten years from now if you ask me the same question, I'll still say to you, "Steve, I'm very proud of the work that I've put into the world over the last ten years." So that's kind of where I keep my focus at.

Stephen Lahey:

Unlike working for a larger company, as individual entrepreneurs, we don't have to deal with the results of committees making decisions. Maybe decisions about how we're going to approach marketing that we disagree with. I think that it’s really important to use that freedom to our advantage. I don't think everybody does, though. I think a lot of small business owners are looking for the “right way” to do things, quote, unquote. But what about creating the right way for us. Just like you did with weight loss. It wasn't a diet. Just like you're doing with your company. I get the feeling you're tailoring your business to yourself more and more. Is that a pretty accurate way of looking at it?

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: I think that is extremely accurate. I feel like everybody is looking for the answers outside of themselves. How should I market my product? How should I find my customer? How should I talk to them? I've worked with a lot of different companies over the years, and I've worked with a lot of different entrepreneurs since starting my own business. The thing that I can tell you is that the most successful campaigns that we've ever run, the most successful product launches that we've ever had are when the entrepreneur or the company aligns their values with what they're putting out into the world in that campaign.

A lot of people are looking for the right copy, or the right phrasing, or the right words to say, and my advice is always to start with who you want to help. You've created this product. You're putting it out into the world in order to serve other people and a need that they have. Who are they? What do they do every day? What do they think about? What are the challenges that they face? What are the ideas and values that they hold strongly themselves? And

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sort of crafting a message that speaks to them but is also true to you. Because if you're selling something and you're just sort saying what everybody else says, or mimicking someone who has found success in their market, you're not really showing your customer who you truly are and they're not really getting a true sense of the product you've created or what you're claiming will help them. They're not connecting with you; and that creates an environment where trust cannot be built. And if you can't build trust, then why should I buy from you?

Stephen Lahey:

So along those lines, who are you're clients these days and how do you work with them? What's the approach that you take with them?

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: I am definitely one who puts a lot of herself in her work. I work with people that I can believe in because when I work on a project I engage myself fully and completely in it.

The clients that I look for are typically also entrepreneurs. With my background, I probably have a prime opportunity to continue working with corporations and medium- to-large businesses, but I don't really enjoy it as much. There's just something about the entrepreneurial spirit that is completely contagious and exhilarating. I love being able to partner with other people that are sort of paving their own path in the world because we don't really have limits on what we can do, what we can come up with, what we can create together.

So typically, I look for people that are doing good work in the world and that are typically working as a solo entrepreneur or have a small team as well; and we just kind of collaborate together. They come to me with their need. I need a new website. I need to design this campaign. I need a marketing piece for a convention that I'm going to in six weeks. We talk about what the purpose of the piece is going to be. Are we selling services? A product? Things like that.

Then once we've got those needs determined, I talk to them about who they are. Why did they start their business? Why does it matter to them? What's important in their work day? What's the thing they're proudest of when they go to sleep at night? Because I really, truly believe that when we can reflect ourselves in the messages that we put out into the world, we are just much more

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likely to attract the right people back to us. And so I want to get to know them so that the website I create, the marketing that I create is a true reflection of who they are and why they do this work in the world, and ultimately what they're trying to deliver to their own clients.

Stephen Lahey:

Yes, and that's a great set of values to work with. It's also very much in line with solid marketing principles. Just to back up and talk about this just for a moment – even though you left the corporate world, I'm going to say that there were probably some really important principles of marketing that you were able to pluck from the corporate world. Is that on target? Do you find that your background in corporate marketing helps you to bring a different kind of business acumen to some of the customers that you're working with?

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: You kind of hit it spot on there, Steve. It wasn't always the best environment, but I'm actually very thankful that I spent the early part of my career in corporate marketing because it was the best education I could have ever received to help small businesses and entrepreneurs make the most of every dollar they put into their marketing.

The reason that I say that is because I've been educated by some of the smartest minds in marketing, just in who I worked with and the teams I was able to collaborate with in those positions. And I continue to do that in more of an online world now that I'm a solo entrepreneur.

But it’s how I'm able to apply what I learned today that is really the best part that I'm most thankful for. In one of the companies that I worked for, I had a million dollar budget every year that I was in charge of. And I had to figure out what were we going to do with that million dollars to grow revenues and attract new customers. It really challenged me back then in my early career because it was like there's so many things I could possibly do, what's the best thing I need to do in order to achieve these goals?

Stephen Lahey:

When you think about your life and what you've done, you’ve tried to focus on what's essential and what is really in line with your own values. I think that's a really great theme. It's a great theme for entrepreneurs. It's a great theme for people who want to get healthy.

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There is one thing, though, I'm thinking about. Obviously, you're running two businesses. And by the way, your two businesses are very different, but there's some continuity there. One business is more of your passion, TradingPounds.com; and the other Blue Elephant Creative, obviously, you're passionate about it, but it's a business, it's not quite so personal. How do you straddle those two worlds? How do you actually make that work?
Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: Some days I make it work a little bit better than others. I can be honest with you in that. It's hard. I don't want to sugarcoat it. It's hard because, like you said, they are two very different businesses.
I'm passionate about both of them, but Blue Elephant Creative is my career, it's what I do, it's how I express my creativity in the world. TradingPounds.com is as much my story as it is this untapped creative expression for me. And it's creative, but in a very different way from what I do for my clients through Blue Elephant Creative because it's raw and honest to me personally. Sometimes it's really hard to put that out into the world because it's just so open and you never know how it's going to land with your readers and things like that.
I think that what has been the biggest benefit of coexisting in these two worlds is that one really does help me be stronger in the other. I know what it is for my clients to have this idea, have this thing that's important to them that means something to them and then to put it out there in the world and say, hey, world, look at this. Look at what I've created. I did this for you and I want to give it to you, but I'm not sure how you're going to respond and this is a big risk for me and I'm scared.
So it really has given me so much insight into what it means to put something of yourself into the world. I never really had that experience until I launched Trading Pounds because all of my corporate work and my early design and web development work, I was always working for someone else on their project. Trading Pounds has showed me what it means to put your project into the world, to put your product out there and say, okay, I've created this and it's not perfect, but it's for you and it's meant to help you. I think that dynamic has made me better at my work with Blue Elephant Creative.

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Only one gets to win, though. It's almost impossible to focus on both of them at the same time. So if Blue Elephant is carrying a full client load, Trading Pounds really doesn't get as much attention from me because I'm just one person and these are two very different businesses. One is always going to win out over the other. The question is which one wins this week.

Stephen Lahey:

I love what you're saying. The catharsis, the ability to be really empathetic with your clients, especially if a client is going to put themselves out there in a really honest way. Of course, that’s the kind of client you'd want to work with versus someone who is saying how can I create a marketing message that is buttoned up and corporate. No, probably not.

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: Right. I don't take that guy.

Stephen Lahey:

The authenticity needs to be there.

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: It really does.

Stephen Lahey:

Yes, and some vulnerability goes with that. But I think that combination is something that people respond to at a gut level. It's really interesting to think about that.

Well, I realize we’re almost out of time, and I am sure that a lot of listeners would like to connect with you online, so how can they do that, Steph?

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: The best way is just to reach out and send me an email. You can get my contact information off either of my websites. Visit BlueElephantCreative.com or TradingPounds.com.

I love connecting with new people. If any of your listeners out there are thinking about launching something, or have an idea, or they're in the midst of working with a web developer and they don't know what they're doing, or they just need somebody to help give them a little bit of direction, I'm always happy to do that.

One of the things that I have learned as an entrepreneur myself is we all need a little help sometimes. Steve, you've been there for me. You've been my coach, you've been my mentor, and I've enjoyed working with you and learning from you and just want to

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encourage everyone to reach out and ask for a little help when they feel like they need it.

Stephen Lahey:

I really appreciate that. I totally agree with you, we all need help at times. And I very much appreciate your expertise and the dedication you have to your clients. You just have a tremendous commitment.

Thank you again for joining me on the podcast, Steph. It's been great.

Stephanie Wetzel-Cottrell: It has been, Steve. Thank you so much for having me. I hope that your listeners enjoy the insights I've provided today and hopefully these will help them in their own adventures because working for yourself is probably one of the greatest things you can do. Even though it's risky and scary sometimes, I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Stephen Lahey:

I totally agree, Steph.

And to our listeners, thank you so much for spending some time with us today. If you like what you heard, I encourage you to visit SmallBusinessTalent.com now and subscribe to the podcast by email. When you do, you’ll be alerted whenever we post fresh content, of course, but you’ll also receive special resources for email subscribers only, including our new LinkedIn guide to acquiring ideal clients, and much more. Thanks again for listening today and best wishes for your success.

Announcer:

The SmallBusinessTalent.com podcast is a production of Lahey Consulting, LLC. Thanks for listening.

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A True Story of Personal and Professional Transformation