Interview by Sarah Ford
Jean Marie DiGiovanna started her consultancy business over 20 years ago with just herself and a vision of sharing her passion for leadership with others. Today, she runs a coaching and consultancy business called Workshop University, where she leads workshops and trainings for businesses looking to better utilize the whole of their employees’ talents, which she calls “Renaissance leaders.”
DiGiovanna’s business grew from humble beginnings and now reaches over 100 annual clients in a year across the country.
We spoke to DiGiovanna about how she grew her one-woman business so quickly and the talents, natural and learned, that helped her become a successful entrepreneur.
Denver VOICE: You started your first consultancy firm in 1998 — what inspired you to create your own business, and what was your entrepreneurial background?
Jean Marie DiGiovanna: Working 60-70 hours on average a week inside a consultancy company and traveling quite a bit took a toll on my work life and I always wanted to see if I could do it on my own. I wanted to work half the time and make the same amount of money. Not because I was lazy, but because there were so many other passions of mine I wanted to explore. I reached that goal within two years of being in business. All the experience I got from corporate taught me how to be an entrepreneur. Having been with a startup firm that started out as 90 people and grew to over 4,000 worldwide in nine years afforded me the experience to learn all parts of the business from sales, marketing, and operations.
DV: It is incredible how much you do and how many services you offer through Workshop University. How did Workshop University grow and develop over the years to encompass entrepreneurial coaching to workshops to e-learning?
JMD: I started out delivering corporate training and professional facilitation because that’s what my expertise was in. I had been coaching inside corporate but didn’t realize I could get paid to coach. So, in 2000 I got trained and certified as a coach and added that service. As my clients became more virtual, I started running webinars in my business and working with virtual teams and the E-Learning came about from a request of one of my corporate clients who wanted to provide the benefit of on-line learning to their global employees.
DV: Although you had an entrepreneurial background, were there any challenges you faced starting and growing your business that you didn’t expect, and how did you tackle those?
JMD: Yes! The biggest being how solo you work as an entrepreneur. Given that, I had to make an effort to join groups, create masterminds with colleagues, and make sure I get outside my home to work whether it is at a café or at a colleague’s office.
DV: Many people have an idea for a small business but fear a lack of background experience will keep them from succeeding. How much does experience matter, and how can someone learn the skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur?
JMD: It’s truly a combination of both. Having had nine years of corporate experience was a huge advantage because I didn’t have to learn from scratch. If I didn’t have that experience and network going in I don’t believe I would have excelled so quickly.
DV: What do you think are the most important best practices for anyone running their own business, whether it’s a mom and pop store or their own consultancy?
JMD: Set annual goals and intentions and break those down into quarterly goals and intentions and then each month, determine a plan of how you will achieve those goals. Leave room for other opportunities and a change in direction because if you are too rigid in your goals you can miss out on what is possible. I’m not the best at systems but having good systems in place for contact management, bookkeeping, and accounting is key.
DV: What particular traits do you think successful entrepreneurs should have or develop?
JMD: Resilience because you have to be able to be with the lows just as you can with the highs. Flexibility to move and shift as needed. Being willing to ask for help and surround yourself with people who support you. ■
You can find more info at www.workshopuniversity.com and www.jeanmariespeaks.com.