Zapier: How a leadership development advisor went from corporate America to successful business owner

Zapier: How a leadership development advisor went from corporate America to successful business owner

by Deb Tennen

L. Michelle Smith is a writer. But she’s also a speaker, a podcast host and executive producer, a consultant, a brand partner, and an executive coach.

It’s a lot to juggle, yes, but it’s also what ended up saving her business. In her journey from corporate America to business owner, she learned an important lesson: you can’t put all your eggs in one basket.

It was a long road to where she is today, so let’s start from the beginning.

From corporate America to serial entrepreneur

L. Michelle Smith

The first time L. Michelle Smith built a product, she didn’t even realize she was doing it.

It was before social media, and back when Ask Jeeves was the most powerful search engine on the internet. Michelle’s father had taught her to code when she was 12 years old, and when HTML came along, she taught herself how to use it. She would go into message boards, look at the HTML source, cut and paste some of the script, and figure out the rest. With those skills, she built a message board for her sorority.

The thing about Michelle’s first product? She didn’t monetize it. She didn’t know it was something you could monetize. “Now that I see how social media networks work, I know it was a missed opportunity,” she tells us. “I could see that if I built something, people would come.”

Michelle built that site in the evenings while in her first position in corporate America.

Fast forward to the year 2001, and Michelle was working at a global public relations agency—she’d become a VP before age 30. “When 9/11 happened, like everyone, I started questioning everything in life. Kind of like what’s happening now,” she says. So she crunched the numbers to see what the agency was making compared to her own salary, and she realized that it might be time to work for herself.

Her first business was as a media training consultant. She continued to work with the agency she’d been at, but as a freelancer. Because of the connections she’d already made, she wasn’t at a loss of clients. And when, around 2007, social media started to blossom, the playing field was leveled between her boutique firm and the big names. “Nobody knew what to do,” she recalls. “So my team had just as much of a chance as anyone.”

By year five, the agency opened satellite offices in two other cities to support her biggest clients. That year, the team celebrated the $1 million revenue milestone.

After nearly a decade at the helm of her agency, she went back to corporate America, working as a senior vice president for a global agency. But by this point, Michelle was married, with a family—and she was tired. She decided to take a break to spend time with her new baby, consulting only on occasion.

But when AT&T called, with some hesitation, she jumped back into the game. She built the diversity and inclusion corporate communications and integrated marketing capability inside their Global Marketing Organization, making waves in the industry. But after a while, she realized that the people who were getting to know her work had no indication of her 20-year career before. “It was important for me, in this environment where your digital footprint really matters, that people knew my whole story.”

After signing on as a contributor for Black Enterprise, and with a few more years under her belt, she realized that she had enough content to create something big.

“I thrive at the intersection of tech, culture, and business,” she says. “Now was the time to support people in those areas too.” She began working on turning her content into books, and in October 2018 started a podcast to expand her reach and tell her story to support that mission.

And that was the beginning of no silos communications llc, which has since expanded to include executive and business coaching, strategic consulting, digital content for leadership eLearning, and more.

Diversifying a business

no silos communication llc list of services

Michelle learned a lot from running her boutique agency. The most important lesson was the one we started with: diversifying business. “I needed to diversify,” she tells us. “I needed to have more than one line of business. This time around, I decided, I’m going to set up at least six lines of business. Then if, or when, things happen, I can just lean into the other lines of business.”

And, in 2020, things happened.

“I was making really good money speaking until March of 2020,” she tells us. “COVID stopped that.” Michelle had all sorts of plans: an in-person retreat on Martha’s Vineyard for women in business, business boot camps all over the country. But because she was doing more than just speaking—she had her coaching practice, her eLearning business, her podcast, her brand partnerships—she didn’t crumble. She didn’t even have to pivot. She just leaned into her other revenue streams.

“If I had put all of my eggs in one basket, I wouldn’t have weathered the storm.”

Because she was able to weather that storm, she started extending her services for free for people who needed it. And now she’s adding six new coaches and nine new services to her NSC Coaching practice.

Automating a growing business

As Michelle was building her business, she knew that she had to put processes in place to be able to scale. She was using dozens of different apps to run her business, spending extra time moving information between them so they’d work well together. But she needed to focus on the tasks that required her expertise and creativity. So she turned to Zapier.

“I use Calendly, 17 Hats, Bonjoro, Mailchimp, Zoom, EverWebinar, social media, the list goes on,” she says. “I needed a way to make all these systems work together. I need them to work for me when I’m not awake and when I’m not focused on them—and I shouldn’t be focused on them all the time.”

Michelle has lots of Zaps—our term for automated workflows—set up. Here’s an example. Whenever someone books with Michelle in Calendly, Zapier automatically adds them as a contact in Mailchimp and then nudges Michelle or a team member in Bonjoro to send them a personalized video message. The speed and personalization combined have led to a sharp increase in conversions.

She has Zaps set up for each of her lines of business, which allows Michelle to focus on the most important aspect of her work: her clients.

Michelle’s daughter will be eight years old in August. “My goal is to be able to spend as much time with my daughter as possible,” she says. “The goal is to work less, so that the work I’m doing is more meaningful.” By focusing on her clients instead of her tools, Michelle is able to do just that.

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