Networking with a local startup that supports women returning to the workforce encouraged Lisa Goldstein to launch her startup Your College Process. Lisa chatted with Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about her experience becoming a women-owned business in Greater Hartford.
NAN PRICE: Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.
LISA GOLDSTEIN: I didn’t always have an entrepreneurial streak. I started off in the public relations industry in New York after college and after a few years, decided I would rather be in a helping field. I decided to go into education and got a Master’s degree to become a school guidance counselor. I did that for about 10 years in New York and Connecticut. I truly enjoyed the connections I had with my students and their families, and knowing that I was helping them was very satisfying.
After having my daughter, I didn’t go back to my former job in the school system, but I found myself helping friends and family with the college application process—that was a large part of what I did as a school counselor. I had also done some freelance work for other private college counselors. It started with people approaching me and asking for help.
I knew I had a knack for it and I used to love doing it when I worked in the schools. I enjoyed working with the students and helping them through the process. And it was a good way to make a little money on the side while I was home with my daughter.
Last year I decided to go out on my own and make it an official business. I started networking and building a clientele. So that’s how I became an entrepreneur.
NAN: How was the process of developing a business plan? Did you engage with any local organizations?
LISA: Yes. I worked with someone through Untapped Potential. It’s a local startup that caters to women returning to the workforce. I worked with professional coach Kelley Biskupiak, who gave me a lot of assistance, motivation, and encouragement.
I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the schools, but I have this counseling background and knowledge base, and I’d been helping students with the college application process—I just hadn’t been doing it officially as my own business. Kelly encouraged me to just do it. She helped me figure out how to market and network. That’s how my business started.
NAN: What makes your startup innovative?
LISA: A lot of private college counselors cater to people who want to go to Ivy League schools. There’s a lot of pressure on the students. My main focus is to minimize the stress level as students and parents navigate the college application process. That’s my big thing and I think that’s what makes me different.
I do not add more pressure, I try to minimize it. Having a counseling background, it is very important to me that people feel comfortable, so establishing a rapport with my students is vital to the process.
The process of applying to college is stressful on the kids and the parents. It’s overwhelming and it can be daunting. I try to make the entire process less overwhelming and more doable for everyone involved.
When I work with students I approach the process in a relaxed manner. Most kids are already overwhelmed and overscheduled, applying to colleges is one more thing on their already full plate. I break down the process into smaller, manageable steps.
Another focus for me is to help families realize that there is not just one perfect school for a student. Rather, there are many schools where students can flourish and succeed.
My services include:
- Transcript analysis and course selection advising
- Providing a college application timeline
- Researching and selecting appropriate schools
- Coordinating and preparing for college visits
- Assisting with planning of extracurricular activities
- Helping students build an activity resume
- Brainstorming and editing college application essays
- Reviewing and editing applications
- Preparing for interviews and standardized tests
- Developing a test taking timeline
- Helping students to create relationships with college admissions staff
- Discussing ways students can stand out from their peers
Often, families just need help staying organized throughout the process and it helps them to know they have someone in their corner walking them through this from start to finish.
NAN: How are you marketing and finding clientele?
LISA: That’s been a learning process for me. Although I used to work in public relations, I never marketed myself before. I’ve gone to networking events, such as Untapped Potential, and I met a lot of great contacts there.
I’ve reached out to local tutors because they are already working with high school students, so it was a natural fit. I’ve also gotten referrals from them. I’ve also reached out to local guidance counselors, speech therapists, and general therapists—people who work with adolescents and know people who could use help with the collage application process.
I’ve been looking to do some more marketing, especially on social media.
NAN: Is most of your clientele in Greater Hartford?
LISA: Yes. I’m noticing there is a definite need for my services in the Hartford area. Many school guidance counselors are inundated with caseloads and have many more responsibilities than just college counseling, so there are certainly students who need more help than they can get at school. So far, I’m working with students in West Hartford, Avon, Canton, and Simsbury. I also work remotely with students long distance, but I prefer working with students in person. I find this really helps me connect with them and establishes rapport more quickly.
NAN: As far as being a startup, what types of challenges have you encountered?
LISA: Being a startup, having a budget is an obvious challenge. I’ve been trying to figure out how much I should budget for marketing and whether I should do it myself or hire somebody to help me.
Also, mastering how to budget my time is a learning process. I’m trying to figure out the balance splitting the time working with clients, getting the work done for them, and then doing marketing on the side.
NAN: Balance is always a challenge. As an entrepreneur, is there anything you’re experiencing that you hadn’t really expected?
LISA: Going into an office or a school to work every day, you are social, you’re with other colleagues, you’re around people all day. Being an entrepreneur, I have to be more structured. I have to be more disciplined because I don’t have to be at work at a certain time, but I certainly have a lot to get done and I have to build that into my day. Also, finding the time to balance work and family life is always a challenge.
I’ve definitely felt the highs and lows most entrepreneurs experience. Some days I meet with a student, it’s exciting, and I can tell I’m helping them and that’s a very rewarding feeling. And then the next day I have to go back to figuring how to market myself more—which is just me sitting with my laptop for three hours, and that is less fun.
I like interacting with people. I find a lot of the legwork, having to do things on my own is not as much fun as the actual in-person interactions.
NAN: What’s your biggest accomplishment since you launched the startup?
LISA: I’m proud of realizing that I could launch a startup on my own, that I have the knowledge base and the skillset to have my own business. I don’t think I realized that before.
I always pictured myself working in the schools or for someone else. So, I’m proud that I took the initiative to start on my own, I have clients, and I can see that I’m helping them. That makes me proud. That’s what I always missed when I left the workforce—working with students, connecting with people, and helping them. I can see that it’s happening, that makes me feel very proud. And obviously making money along with that is a big accomplishment, too!
NAN: You were talking about marketing and thinking about hiring somebody from outside. Do you plan to expand in the future?
LISA: I could see expanding in the future if the business really picks up. I have to figure out how that would work, and I if my personality would let that happen or if I’m too much of a control freak!
When you’re working with students, you know your personality, you know how you counsel, how you edit, you know how to help them. It’s hard to know how someone else would do that. I would really have to find the right fit. I’m definitely open to it in the future, but right now it’s just me.
NAN: Any other future goals?
LISA: I’m thinking of doing more speaking engagements and workshops. Right now, I work with students one-on-one and sometimes in small groups. But I think hosting a bigger workshop outlining the overall college process could be helpful. I’ve been looking into those opportunities.
NAN: Any advice for other women business owners?
LISA: Don’t doubt yourself. Even if you’ve been out of the workforce or you’re not sure if you can do it, just try. If you fail, it’s okay. You won’t know if you don’t try.
It sounds silly. We learn that as kids. And it’s harder as an adult to take that leap. I’m still going into this with that mindset: Let’s see how it goes. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll tweak things to make it work. It’s a learning process.
But have faith in yourself. Look at your accomplishments. List all the things you used to do and align yourself with that. Those skills haven’t gone away. You might have to dust them off, but you still have the skills. Realize what those skills are and what you want to do and just go for it.
NAN: You mentioned tweaking things if they’re not working. Have you had to make any major adjustments?
LISA: I know how to work with the students. The tweaking for me has been finding who to network with and how to get the word out there. I’m not a big social media person; I never have been. But I know that’s how the world works and how people communicate, so that’s something I’ve had to get on board with.
You have to put yourself out there and be willing to network and meet people. Even if you don’t think you’re meeting someone related to your business, you never know who or what they know. I’m finding connections in interesting places and meeting fascinating people.
When you’re home with a child and you’re not in the workforce it can be a little isolating. You’re with kids and other moms and even though that can be great, you kind of forget who you were. Getting out there and talking to people, hearing what they’re doing, and sharing what I’m doing has breathed new life into me. I feel like a grown-up again. I’ve really embraced my entrepreneurial persona.
Find out more about Your College Process
Interested in learning more about Untapped Potential? Read our interview with Founder Candace Freedenberg:
Startup Provides Mentoring, Contributes to Job Placement in Connecticut