My family is run by a brigade of smart-as-a-whip women with strong opinions and a knack for knowing how to handle any situation. Because of this, I have always been drawn to strong women who speak up, tell it like it is, and don’t stand for any funny business. I bet that’s why I get along so well with Creative Business Strategist and Coach, Cyndie Spiegel. When we spoke on the phone recently, she was kind, well-spoken and humble, but I also could tell that Cyndie means business. She’s a straight shooter in a field that needs just that; a field that’s all about helping creative women get their businesses up and running by being bold, getting out there and making it happen.
Today, the new Cyndie is living her dream, but this wasn’t always the case. Three years ago, the old Cyndie — thriving as a luxury brand consultant — was miserable at work. She had “made it,” but still didn’t feel fulfilled. Unimpressed by the hustle and bustle of couture and glitz, she made the decision to leave it all behind and start fresh. She was tired of basing her professional decisions on others’ expectations, as opposed to what she expected (and wanted) for herself. After this epiphany, Cyndie went on the interpersonal and positive journey that led her to being the inspiring creative coach she is today. Click through to read all about the insightful journey that she took to find her calling. Enjoy! —Garrett
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
I worked for corporate fashion brands for 15 years before I started my own business. I never actually intended to become my own boss, but I’d always been very independent – even while working for others. I transitioned into my own business by leaving a full-time fashion brand and consulting shorter-term for smaller luxury designers. After doing this for about two years, I still felt stuck.
I’ll never forget the moment that everything changed for me…
It was Monday night of Spring Fashion Week in New York, and I was working for a well-loved, luxury designer. It was 2 am and everyone was still in the office. I recall looking around at faces flushed with exhilaration for the Tuesday evening show. I, on the other hand, was miserable. I felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t belong there and certainly not at 2 am. I didn’t love fashion the way these folks did, even though it was all I knew for my entire career. I wasn’t excited to know whose show was awesome or awful.
I knew that I had been seeking something different for a long time, but didn’t know what. While working a full-time job, I went back to school for a Master’s Degree, traveled the world and took two yoga teacher trainings. I even went so far as to train (and run) the Paris Marathon having never run a day in my life. In hindsight, it’s really easy for me to see that while I was finding someone’s version of success in my career, it wasn’t my own version at all. My calling was very different than everything I’d ever studied in a classroom.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?
I’d heard about coaching and had taken many leadership development classes over the course of my own career in business, but I never felt any pull towards becoming a coach. Coaching seemed like something that only highly-paid executives did, and in my experience, the companies were the ones to pay for it because of the high financial commitment.
Coaching has been completely organic for me. It wasn’t until after I quit a 15-year career that I knew that I was put on this planet [not only to] to inspire others to live more boldly, but also to teach them how to do that; specifically how to build thriving businesses and lives in whichever way feels most authentic to them, rather than everyone else around them. So many brilliant, inspired women get caught in the hamster wheel of life and truly forget that they have the power to be anyone they want at any point in their lives.
Having done the work myself in so many ways over the past 18 years and now [having] worked with hundreds of women through coaching and public speaking, I’ve learned the power of believing in oneself and of having someone take the time to just listen for what comes through. That perspective is critical, which is why it’s become my mission to make coaching more accessible to creative women who traditionally lack the business experience and/or confidence to create thriving businesses. The women that I work with are talented badasses who just need to know that, with the right support and tools, they can make [anything] happen, even without traditional careers.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I’m an adjunct professor and when I started teaching a few years ago, I was so scared that my students would know that I was a fraud. Aside from looking close in age to my students, I also didn’t think I was qualified to teach, even though I’d spent well over a decade doing the work I was teaching.
In one of my early freak-outs, a tenured professor said this to me: “Cyndie, you are here because you were invited to be here. You know at least a little more than they do. Teach that.” As simple as the advice was, it was a huge moment for me because I realized that I actually knew a lot of things that a lot of people didn’t know. If I focused on teaching what I knew – and not on what I didn’t – then this could be an amazing exchange of learning and teaching. This exact same advice was valid when I started coaching women entrepreneurs. I would coach and teach what I knew and that’s it. I wouldn’t pretend to be anything other than that.
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The act of starting was the most difficult part. Literally, I had no idea what I was doing or how to describe it. I had never worked for myself, and though I was beginning to understand that my role was to teach, motivate and mentor, I couldn’t understand why anyone would pay for that. I certainly didn’t know the people who would.
I kept going because it was very clear that the alternative of going back to my old life was no longer an option. I had already “made it,” and I hated it. I wasn’t willing to keep hating my job and seeking happiness elsewhere.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Yes. Connection is everything. You cannot build a business alone. You have to seek out the support of likeminded people, no matter how uncomfortable it is at first. If you are becoming part of a new industry, immerse yourself in it. I spent the first year of my business at every networking event I could find and must’ve invited 50 different people out for drinks or tea, on me, so that I could learn everything I didn’t know.
Be kind to everyone, and as best you can, especially when starting out, offer to help people for free. I had no idea how powerful my advice would be to others (remember: teach what you know!) and offered that and my time freely. Some of those women have much larger audiences than I do, and they have been an incredible support to the growth of my own brand.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
Yes. I once (sort of) worked with a gal who was a bit less experienced than I was in her business. With the best of intentions, I emailed her letting her know that her behavior in a particular instance was less than professional, assuming she’d be grateful to hear it from someone in her field. She was so personally upset and offended that she emailed me a 3-page response with more legalese than seemed necessary and a long explanation of how she was crying while writing the reply.
I. Was. Stunned. I’m a coach. I assumed everyone would want to improve and would want to become more “self-aware.” Wrong, very wrong. Being “self-aware” to one person may be perceived as judgmental to another. It’s best to tread lightly when you don’t personally know someone.
This taught me, luckily very early on, to shut my damn mouth unless I’m being paid for my advice. The alternate lesson learned was to ask questions first (Coaching 101) rather than assuming a response.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I’d spend a half hour dancing with [my] partner, at least one hour a day meditating, and the rest of the time just [messing] around and not working.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Temporarily, emotional stability and comfort were my biggest sacrifices, hands down. Starting a business stretches you in all kinds of ways, but most memorable to me was the emotional rollercoaster of toggling between fraud and expert, wise and [naïve] and all while being uncertain of my own ability to be successful at this new-found career. The good news is that, eventually, I settled into my own skin.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
I am not really impressed by big names or the PR stuff. I never have been, even in my former career. Though I’ve had a lot of awesome opportunities like being interviewed by the Huffington Post, featured in a campaign for The Limited on the new face of women leadership, and even a feature on Design*Sponge(!), my greatest success is when a woman that I work with emails me (sometimes in tears) because she realizes her own power and badassery and attributes some of that knowledge to having worked with me. That is beyond my own comprehension and that is what inspires me to do the work I do every damn day.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
The Art of War by Steven Pressfield and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho are both must-reads, and right behind that are The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (by Swami Satchidananda), which isn’t business related at all, except for the fact that our daily actions inspire and infuse every part of [our] being. I think that once we all understand that, the world will become a very different place to live in.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
Yes! Taking a huge leap and quitting a successful career led me to being happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I belong in my life now. I’m doing the work that I’m meant to do and living on purpose, every day. I wish that for everyone. I never felt that way in my career.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Here’s one, but it’s a big one. Before starting your biz, know what you are truly willing to give up to make your business succeed (a comfortable apartment, a relationship, money) and what your non-negotiables are. Be as realistic as you can, and that will save you a lot of the disappointment and heartbreak that folks experience later.
For example, I was willing to forgo a personal relationship in the beginning in order to focus and figure out my [life]. Moving into a small apartment in the middle of nowhere wasn’t something I was willing to do. That motivated a lot of my earlier teaching jobs when coaching wasn’t yet paying all the bills. I needed the stability of my current apartment amidst all of the career and life changes.
So, when times were financially difficult (and they definitely were!), I gave up other things, like eating out with my foodie friends who like expensive cocktails and made the very conscious decision to take on debt rather than giving up my apartment in a cool neighborhood. For each of us, our non-negotiables and expectations are very different. I challenge you to be realistic with yourself before starting a business, because most of you will likely have to give up something in the beginning.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Instagram. So much of my business is IG-based. Truly, it’s where most people find me. My feed is fairly personal and motivational, but it’s also very real. It’s the place that I’ve been introduced to many of the work and personal relationships that I’ve built over the past few years. I don’t have a large following, but so many of my connections happen through social media.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Scheduling a life outside of your work, especially in the early stages, is the most difficult challenge to running your own business. It’s a good thing I live with my partner, because sometimes months go by that I haven’t seen a friend outside of business. Lack of time is the unfortunate truth for many entrepreneurs.