Entrepreneurial business coach Gina Johnson didn’t set out to launch a business almost four years ago. She tells Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price how she followed her intuition and created Gina Johnson.Co, a business based on a need for her services.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. When and why did you decide to branch out on your own?
GINA JOHNSON: I was working with Solstice Strategy Partners, LLC, which was a mind-body-spirit center doing marketing, consulting, coaching, and holistic healing. I became close with the owners Delanea Davis and Rita MacRae. I loved working with them, and I was comfortable staying in my safety zone—but I was still working for someone else. I had never really thought about going out on my own.
Over time, Solstice re-organized and changed their business model, which kind of pushed me out of the nest and encouraged me to do my own thing. I took a little time and thought about what direction to go. I never thought I would become a business coach working on my own. But I just stumbled upon it.
NAN: Tell us more about that.
GINA: I used to be a professional chef. When I turned 40, I realized I needed a career change. I was in this awkward space trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I’ve always had a marketing bug and an entrepreneurial bug. I was that person people cornered at cocktail parties to say: You have great ideas, can I ask you a question?
While I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I did some marking on the side for a friend’s company. I followed my joy. Every time someone asked me to do something I would think: Do I love doing this? Do I want to do this? That led me down one path in front of the next, which is how I stumbled upon Solstice.
While I was working at Solstice, I encountered so many people who wanted to go for coffee and pick my brain. Delanea told me: This is crazy! You can’t keep giving it away for free. You have to do something organized and bring people in.
I started with a little mastermind group called The Coffee Connection, because I wanted to share the collective wisdom from others, not just provide my advice. Within a few months’ time, it snowballed. I was hosting the group at Solstice once a month and it sold out. People were asking me to do them in other towns.
Delanea encouraged me to create this side gig separate from Solstice. So, I started a Facebook page and, within a few months, I was in five towns doing these mastermind groups and I also ran an online version.
I was coaching people and I didn’t even realize it. Someone told me they had gotten more from me than from working with their business coach for two years, then asked if they could work with me—that’s when I called Delanea and asked what to do. She said: Let’s write a business proposal. The rest is history. That’s how I accidentally became a coach.
NAN: How has your business evolved over time?
GINA: I kind of gravitated toward women and toward entrepreneurs. Then I wrote a workbook and infused my nonprofit beliefs. I want to help people grow, launch, and design a business. I find out what they’re passionate about and somehow, we incorporate that into a giveback. If you’re designing your business, why not design in that element?
NAN: Let’s talk about startup challenges. What’s the most challenging thing about your work?
GINA: Being alone. I’m fortunate enough to have my former bosses as close friends and mentors, but they are not always available. Sometimes I have to make hard decisions on my own—figuring out when to grow, when to scale, when to make a purchase, when to raise my rates, or how to come up with a new package. I just go with my intuition.
Another challenge was not really having professional coaching training. I was kind of street smart. I taught myself how to be a business coach every step of the way. I love learning and personal growth.
If someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, I do some research and get back to them. I’ll learn about it, create a program, add it to my workbook, and then speak about it. Because if one person needs that information, everyone needs it.
NAN: You developed a huge network of people. How are you building clientele?
GINA: Back when I was trying to find my path, I trained on seven or eight different holistic modalities thinking I was going to become a healer. But the universe kicked in and I realized I did all that training so I could coach healers.
My business is 95% referral. My clients are yoga studios, massage therapists, life coaches. I follow the principal of only working with people you love. I fall in love with my clients, not my business model, because my business model or my services could change.
The current business model I have is to never stop giving. I’m constantly adding value for my clients. I have a business library with close to 50 different documents and I’m constantly upgrading. I also host a quarterly free networking event for my clients at a different client’s location. I bring all of them together so they become family and they become ambassadors for each other’s businesses.
Also, because I love to give back, I added a piece to my business where I’ll organize a team building activity, which is a community service project. The idea is: Why not do something that does social good and brings people together? And everyone feels good when you give back.