MDE 17: Michelle Evans, from Microsoft to nurturing aspiring entrepreneurs
Business coach and marketing strategist Michelle Evans helps entrepreneurs gain clarity, confidence and a solid client-attraction profit plan.
She spent 16 years working in very senior global marketing positions at companies including leading banks, dotcoms and Microsoft. But she left behind a six-figure salary to start up on her own. Her aim is to help you do the same.
Michelle started her professional life in marketing. At the age of 26 she was hired to lead marketing and investor relations for a “fairly good-sized” bank and by 28 she was VP on a senior leadership team.
At 30 Michelle decided to take a sabbatical from work to go travelling around Europe. “I hated what I was doing,” she says, simply, “I made really good money but all of my peers were 25 years older than me and I did not want their lives.” She couldn’t see the return in doing an MBA because she was already making big money so she quit, moved and joined an “already imploding” dotcom.
She joined Microsoft in 2007 and quickly grew a global role with the company. She says that she had always wanted to own her own business but couldn’t see how. “I wanted it since I graduated from college,” she admits, “but simply couldn’t see how I could make a business from my skills. For some reason I had a huge block.”
The hours were hard at Microsoft: “I would be having calls at 4am and again at 11pm and then all the hours in between,” she says, “Trying to fit in being a wife and mom and look after myself just couldn’t work.” She then joined the High Potential Career Programme and got her own career coach but, she laughs, “I was much more interested in how she became a coach. That started me down the path I am on now.”
Her lightbulb moment came, she says, when she was on maternity leave in 2011.
“I worked until 1.30 the afternoon I went into labour,” she says, “I was up for an award [which she later won] and I was trying to do the last push.” That summer she found out she had won the award and went in for her review while on maternity leave. Her boss told her the most he could give her was a middle-of-the-road review as she was clearly unable to have the same impact the following year: “I was SO furious that someone would have that power over me and my earning potential,” she says, “I had all these reasons not to leave; a steady job, mortgage, kids at private school but the biggest and dumbest reason was that I didn’t have a name for the business.”
She went home that evening, opened her business, MLE Business Solutions, and was ready to go by 9pm. For the next seven months she worked in a focused way. She left her job in the middle of January and by the end of January had fully replaced her income with consulting contracts.
To bridge the transition between leaving and setting up, Michelle had a huge network of contacts to draw from, from Microsoft, Amazon and LinkedIn: “As soon as I said I was available I had a flood of people who wanted to hire me,” she says.
Much of Michelle’s success during the transition period was to do with staying connected: “When I was very active in my career progression, it was a rare week that I didn’t have a lunch or connection with someone I didn’t work with on a daily basis,” she says. “I made it my priority to build a strong network, At Microsoft that is a must because there are always reorganisations and changes. And it served me well because people knew what I was capable of and liked me.”
This is a crucial strategy, says Michelle: “In the tech sector people are good at networking. But I still network with people I worked with a long time ago in banking and I would drop them a note now and again and ask what they were up to. It doesn’t take a lot of effort but it’s a strategy and it’s worth sticking with. In banking, tech and dot.com there is always this unwritten rule that things could happen at any moment. I always had to be proactive to make sure I had lots of options.”
Now Michelle works with people like her who have their own business with a service element and they want to work out how they can create a profit plan and grow: “Once in a while I get sucked into a really exciting corporate project,” she laughs, “but they have to be really well paid or with people I really like.” She’s also running a programme currently just for women because she feels they network differently.
Finding the right people:
Michelle says that she has always found the right mentor by serving first. “I found a fairly high-profile one,” she says, “by signing up for her course. I began to add a lot of value, then signed up to be a video testimonial and through that she asked me back to be a future mentor [unpaid]. So in serving first and taking second it’s much easier to find a mentor. Do the work, follow through and don’t expect things to be handed to you. For every five times I give I might ask once.”
She also runs her own Mastermind group and says when organising a group, “The first thing you need to ask is ‘What is the skill/knowledge/experience resource gap you are trying to fill?’ Are you trying to expand your network, go to six figures? Ask yourself that first.”
She says her first Mastermind group was very diverse but she has also been in some with leaders (for which she has paid a lot of money) and in ones where all the participants are very successful but from different backgrounds: “I was part of one which cost $16,000 but part of what I got was coaching and resources as well as access to a broader network.” She advises finding an expert you trust and following them to see if they have a Mastermind group: “But be clear about what you need.” She’s running a new 12-week one for women which starts at the end of January.
The three things Michelle wishes she had known before breaking away:
- You don’t need to create the ideal customer avatar. “There are online courses I have taken that have 15 pages on what magazines the ideal customer reads and what restaurants they go to. I’m a marketing person and love all of that stuff but I didn’t have a whole team to do this for me so I literally just made this person up. Of course they wanted to buy it all.” The reality is, she says, “that real people have real problems and a real way they talk about it all that is different from me because I am educated and focused on this area.” Michelle says the simplest thing you can do is go and find five or ten people like the people you think you want to work with and ask them, “What are you struggling with right now?” She adds, “Get some real intel and ask yourself am I interested in working with this person. Go talk to them.”
- You don’t need to model the experts. “I have a huge background in strategy,” says Michelle, “But I wasn’t ready for to model the whole idea of passive income everyone talks about. I tried to create a digital product but I didn’t have infrastructure. I have seen thousands of people make the same mistake, investing tons of time and energy into something nobody buys. Get really clear about what your business is and what the monetisation model is. What’s right today doesn’t have to be the right one in three years.”
- You don’t need to worry about email list size. “I thought I had to have 1000 people on my list before I started anything. It was dumb. Just adding people to add people. It’s total BS.” More important is to “Be clear on the value you can provide and how you can create those relationships from day one.”
“Wherever you’ve been, and whatever you’ve done so far, your entire life was building up to this moment. Now is the time to burst forth into your greatness, a greatness you could never have achieved without going through exactly the things you’ve gone through.”
Marianne Williamson, A Year of Miracles: Daily Devotions and Reflections
Favourite Business Book:
“I read about a book a week. I really like...
He was CEO of a publishing company. He started building his business working full-time as a CEO. It’s full of really great tactical steps.”
"A pen and paper! Having a very focused To Do list in front of me taped to my computer gives me a clear priority about what is going to move me forward instead of the fire drill of the moment. I also have three screens. If you are still working on one, try two. It’s amazing. I can hardly work on just my laptop any more.”
“Be really clear on why you’re getting an MBA. If you are doing it to get more money, question it. At Microsoft an advanced degree is something that will get you in the door. But what will get you further is your work ethic, emotional intelligence and your ability to handle tough situations.”
I really hope you enjoyed Michelle’s story, whether you just read it here or listened to the podcast. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them on Twitter or Facebook – I’d love to hear from you!
And finally, if you did listen to the show I would be hugely grateful if you could leave an honest review for The Mission Driven Entrepreneurs Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated! They do matter in the rankings of the show and I read every one.
Thanks again to Michelle for sharing her story with us.
I'm talking to Liam Black. I'm incredibly excited about this interview. Liam is the 'real deal' when it comes to Social Enterprise. Formerly the chief executive of Fifteen (the foundation established with Jamie Oliver) he is - among many other things - the author of "There's no Business like Social Business" and "The Social Entrepreneur's A-Z". At the moment he's being kept busy advising an Impact Investment Fund on where the should be putting £40m of their money.
So much knowledge, so much experience, so much humour. It's going to be a great interview!