Erin Nesci is an Entrepreneur Coach who helps creative women leave their 9-5 and launch a lucrative business that honors their creativity. As a professional musician, she is creative at heart. The foundation of her career was built on and off the stage, and as her career evolved, her profession expanded to include large-scale event production and business management, ultimately resulting in a successful 20-year career leading corporate communications and public relations. After making a conscious choice to leave the corporate world behind, she developed a coaching practice focused on serving women who put their creativity on the back burner to embrace what they believe is a safer corporate job.
She helps her clients go from idea infancy to business launch through her Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs, a 4-Pillar approach to building a business from the ground up for creative thinkers. Having lived it herself, she deeply understands the creative process. But I also have business knowledge and experience invaluable to other creative entrepreneurs. My creative thinking and business expertise are integral to who I am as an entrepreneur coach.
Professional qualifications & certifications:
- MBA from Cornell University
- MBA from Queen’s University
- Associate Certified Coach (ACC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF)
- Certified Professional Coach (CPC) from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)
- Birkman Certified Professional (BCP)
- Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELI-MP)
- COR.E Leadership Dynamics Specialist (CLDS)
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Erin Nesci: When I was a kid and thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, all I knew was I wanted to make a difference and leave my mark somehow on the world. And I learned at a very early age that I loved making people laugh and smile because when they felt good, I felt amazing. I wasn’t an extraordinary child but like all kids, I had areas where my talents shined brighter than others. I was (and still am) a real people person—a true extrovert who loves to be surrounded by others—and I’m highly musical. In fact, for the first 20 years of my life, everything I did revolve around music, first as a performer and later as a concert promoter and event producer. Fast forward twenty years to the boardroom of a financial institution where I served on the Senior Leadership Team as Corporate Secretary & Head of Corporate Affairs. I will never forget the day I looked around and wondered “how the hell did I get here?” Not in a pinch-me kind of way, but more like the quick slap across the face you see in movies when someone is trying to break through another’s hysteria. The irony here is that I had worked my butt off to get there, thinking that when I finally had a seat at the senior leadership table, everything I had sacrificed while I climbed the corporate ladder would be worth it. It wasn’t. I didn’t feel successful. I felt tired, overworked, frustrated, and completely out of alignment with what made me, ME.
For a while, I settled and went through the motions just to get the job done, but eventually, I recognized that in the process, the sacrifices were getting too big and too frequent. My wellbeing was in the tank, my confidence was shot, my self-respect was questionable, and my happy disposition was long gone. So, I left. I don’t say that casually or callously because it wasn’t an easy decision. I was making good money and I had worked so hard for so long to get to where I was. From the outside looking in, my focus and determination had paid off. But to me, it felt like it had bitten me in the ass because in all my effort and enthusiasm to climb higher…and higher…and higher, I realized I had left my true self on the bottom rung of the ladder, looking up at someone she didn’t recognize anymore. I know I’m not alone in this. Creative women are taught that they can be one of two things: Artistic OR Successful. Because the ones that are successful AND artistic are freaking unicorns. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. You don’t have to stifle your creativity to have a thriving career. You can have both.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Erin Nesci: I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but it was heavily tempered by a very real fear of failure. For years, I focused on climbing the corporate ladder because I believed that once I got to a certain point, I would have a level of autonomy and authority to satisfy my entrepreneurial drive. And yes, as my seniority grew, I did gain certain liberties with decision-making and how to structure my departments and projects. But it wasn’t what I was looking for and it didn’t satisfy my drive to do something on my own.
The catalyst for me finally deciding to leave the perceived safety of the corporate world was an introduction to coaching and the importance it offers for personal and professional opportunities. Finally, I had found something that could leverage my unique skill sets and provide me with an outlet that allowed my creative side to come through while simultaneously applying my business acumen in a way that worked for me. Helping others has consistently been a key motivating element for me in my career, so finding something that combined all three passions…creativity, business, and people…was super exciting. It hasn’t always been an easy transition of course, and there have been very real growing pains along the way, but I can honestly say that since I left my corporate role to become an entrepreneur doing something that truly matters to me, I haven’t looked back.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Erin Nesci: Honestly, there have been so many I can’t narrow it down to just one. My parents have both been very supportive of me with all my endeavors, and I don’t think I would be a shadow of who I am without their support. Both of them are hard workers and excelled in their respective fields, so I had really strong role models growing up. I think I inherited their values of focus and determination, but also the importance of being true to who you are the power of relationships. I have also had the good fortune to work with several different leaders, some of whose styles I respected and hoped to emulate, and some who showed me the type of leader I did not want to become.
I think it is important to recognize leaders who leave you with things you want to build into your professional persona, as well as things you don’t. I am by no means perfect in my leadership journey and am learning every day, but I acknowledge where I excel and where I need practice…and for that, I am thankful to the many leaders I worked with throughout my career. And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, my husband. I know it sounds like an Oscar speech, but he has supported me through many changes in my career until I landed where I am now. And he continues to support me as I shape and grow my coaching practice. Even though he is not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of my business, he is a very real contributor to its success.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Erin Nesci: Being a creative person is difficult from a career perspective because you’re bombarded with messages telling you that unless you come up with the next greatest thing or have a very unique talent, your chances of making a living aren’t great. Based on my experience, I believe many creative people are drawn to jobs that allow some creativity in their role, like marketing and advertising for example, but their creativity must fit within the confines of the company brand guidelines and vision. It works for some, but not for all.
For me specifically, I think all of my past roles throughout my entire career led me to be an entrepreneur because I never felt 100% settled in any role I had before owning my own business. I was always looking for something extra and would seek out opportunities to learn more and elevate my experience. Early in my career, I pursued event and concert production, which was great at the time, especially for a new music grad looking to start her career. It was fun and exciting and introduced me to a ton of really cool people, but after a few years of that, I wanted more.
I transitioned into more corporate roles working for organizations developing marketing and PR campaigns. And I did enjoy what I was doing for a while, but over time, it started to feel stagnant and didn’t excite me anymore. So I’d move on to either a new company or a new role. Eventually, I found myself in a position that was entirely misaligned with who I was and what I wanted to be doing, simply because I was looking for more stimulating. Looking back, in my pursuit to find something that more and focusing on climbing the corporate ladder to reach what I thought would finally satisfy me, I completely lost sight of who I was and what made me tick. I realize now those experiences led me to help others discover what they want to do professionally, and ultimately, launch businesses of their own.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Erin Nesci: I am an Entrepreneur Coach who helps creative women leave their 9-5 job and launch a lucrative business that honors their creativity through my signature program, the Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs. I am a solopreneur, so my responsibilities as CEO cover everything needed to run my business including coaching my clients, business development and planning, and paying to keep the lights on. The Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs is designed to help my clients leave their 9-5 to launch their creative business.
The program is built on a four-pillar approach designed to take their business idea from initial planning and development stages through to scaling with the people and resources necessary to build their creative entrepreneurial success. Clients enrolled in the Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs receive weekly private or group coaching based on their enrollment, as well as lessons and training specific to building a business and growing a creative business.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Erin Nesci: Being CEO of your own business means being the one with the vision, idea, and energy behind what you want to create for yourself and others. It means being willing to do whatever it takes to get your business off the ground, and then whatever it takes to sustain and grow what you started. It means taking risks and picking yourself back up however many times it takes to finally get it right. And it means knowing when to lean on others for help, whether you are a solopreneur or a team-based business. To me, being CEO isn’t the corner office in the ivory tower anymore.
It’s the person with their feet on the ground, ready to pivot in a different direction when opportunities or obstacles arise and building relationships with those around them that can help make it happen.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Erin Nesci: I think what surprised me the most was all the little things that needed to be taken care of. I knew becoming an entrepreneur, particularly a solopreneur, would mean that I was responsible for every detail related to running the business. But I wasn’t prepared for how many things that entailed! I wanted to work with clients and build relationships to grow the business, but before I could do that, systems that I knew little to nothing about needed to be put in place. Thankfully, I have people around me with knowledge and skills who were able to point me in the right direction so I was able to avoid much of the frustration that comes with needing to be able to do it all. I was very fortunate in that respect.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Erin Nesci: Based on my experience as an entrepreneur and an entrepreneur coach, I would say the main thing to focus on is providing something of great substance or significance to your target clients and staying true to the values that had you starting a business in the first place. About the first point of providing something of significance to your target clients or customers, launching a new business is a major undertaking and the number of tasks that need to be taken care of is neverending. I believe that to be successful, entrepreneurs need to have a clear vision of who they are serving and what specific problem their product or service will solve for their target customer.
Without a clear vision, entrepreneurs risk trying to be everything to everyone which results in underserving the market that needs them, and ultimately, not attracting any customers at all. I have found that most of the entrepreneurs I work with who struggle to attract customers are approaching the market with a diluted offering because they haven’t been able to hone in on a great problem-solving product or service. The result is a business trying to be everything to everyone because they aren’t truly able to articulate who they help with what. To address the second point of staying true to the values that had you starting a business in the first place, I believe when people see a need or when their values are not being reflected in where they spend their money they do one of two things: look elsewhere for an existing business that provides what they are seeking or create it themselves. The big ‘a-ha moment here is if you feel there is a gap, others feel it too.
Creating it themselves is not for the faint of heart, so ultimately, most people look elsewhere to find a better fit for their needs. However, for the entrepreneurial people who decide to create it themselves, my advice is to stay glued and laser-focused on who you help with what but also to remain true to the values that motivated you to you go out on your own. Authenticity is attractive and your clients will be drawn to what you offer, not only because it fills their need, but also because of the way you present it to them. Many people dislike the sales process because it can feel like an unwelcome advance to convince someone to make a purchase. Great salespeople believe in what they are doing, know what they are selling is needed, and are genuine with their approach to provide a true solution for their customers. The sleaziness of the process isn’t there because what they are offering is aligned to their values and they know in their heart of hearts it fills a need. In my opinion and experience, compromising values damages revenue in the long run as your reasons for starting the business in the first place dissipate and the draw your business holds for others declines.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Erin Nesci: One of the most difficult decisions I had to make for my company was niching down on who I served. It was difficult because I felt I was leaving money on the table by focusing so intently on attracting one very specific market rather than offering my services to a larger community of people. In the first couple of years in my business, I worked with several different types of clients. Whether you were looking for an accelerated career trajectory, relationship support, or help to identify your life purpose, I was your coach! I was so afraid of not having clients that I initially built my business with a splatter paint approach instead of a fine-lined illustration. I didn’t have a clear idea of who I helped with what, or why they should choose me over another coach.
After a couple of years of wading my way through that confusion, I decided to hone in on my niche market and dig into my specific offering. I determined what my overall vision was for my business and performed some market research to see what was already available for my target audience and what my ideal customer was looking for. Taking into consideration the existing market, competitors, and customer demand, I identified a gap in the market that I could fill and built my signature program for the Business Academy for Creative Entrepreneurs. Now, I have a robust program designed to help creative women who, more often than not feel stifled or frustrated with their corporate 9-5, leave their job in favor of building a business based on their creativity. The positive impact of the decision to narrow my target market to creative women working in a corporate 9-5 helped me reshape my business and build something of great value to a smaller market. The result is more focused outreach, a stronger market position, and ultimately, the ability to serve my clients at a higher level resulting in a greater gain for them as well.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Erin Nesci: I love this question. This is quite literally a question I asked myself when deciding whether or not to leave my corporate job to launch my own business. Leading up to that moment, success had always meant more money, more influence, and more recognition via the corporate ladder. Now my definition is vastly different. Success for me lies in the resilience and courage I’ve exhibited in business, but also in myself and my reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur exciting.
You can’t help but be motivated when you wake up in the morning and get to tackle a job that is going to help you build your business and leave a mark on the world that is uniquely yours. It is meaningful work, regardless of your business model or product or service you sell, because it means something to you. But being an entrepreneur is also very hard. It’s not all wins and excitement. It’s long days doing the job you know, and long days learning the jobs you don’t because you can’t afford to hire or contract the help you need. And it’s a lot of sleepless nights filled with worry and stress wondering when the next payday will be and if your investment will prove to be worth it in the end.
When I launched my business, I felt relieved, worried, excited, scared, empowered, and restrained. Every emotion had a counter-emotion and everything was overwhelming. I’m still growing into my entrepreneurship, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think that will ever stop. But the feelings of worry, fear, and restraint have lessened. They’re still there, they’re just not as powerful as they used to be. I know I have the knowledge, skills, and experience to build my business into what I want it to be. But most importantly, I know I am courageous enough to give it my all and resilient enough to make it happen. To me, that’s a great success.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Erin Nesci: I would say my innate leadership skill is empowering others to be their best self. Throughout my entire career as both a corporate employee and entrepreneur, I have made it a priority to discuss others’ aspirations and where they saw themselves growing over time. Regardless of the position they were in at the time, I felt it was important to learn more about what they wanted for themselves so I could help them get closer to that goal. I enjoy being surrounded by motivated and engaged people, and these conversations were mutually beneficial as I was energized as I learned more about my team members and clients, and they were provided additional support and understanding as they sought new growth opportunities. My other innate superpower is my ability to actively listen beyond what someone is saying and pick up on the energy behind their words and their corresponding body language. More often than not, people say what they think you want to hear, and as a leader, I believe it is important to be able to cut through that noise and get to the truth of what matters so you can truly empower them to get after their goals.
When it comes to leadership skills that have been cultivated over time, allowing myself to be vulnerable would be a big one for me. For much of my life I’ve been focused on appearing strong and capable so shifting to a place where I am more exposed makes me a little nervous. However, I am getting better at pushing back on shame and embarrassment for not having it all together and have become more comfortable with vulnerability and asking for help when I need it. I am learning to let my authentic self be seen and am becoming a better leader in the process. To tie this together, let me share a little tidbit of my entrepreneurial journey. Before I was an Entrepreneur Coach I dubbed myself a Courage Coach. Courage, clarity, and communication were the key components of my coaching practice. I marketed myself as the coach that could help you find the courage to show up authentically, get clear on what you want, and be able to effectively communicate with yourself and others to achieve it. In my view, I was well-suited to be a Courage Coach because I could do all of those things for my clients, and do them well. But I realized over time, my inability to let myself get vulnerable was getting in the way of my success. It took time for me to realize this, but in a sense, my time as a Courage Coach helped empower me to evolve my business and focus on creative entrepreneurial women like myself. It permitted me to be vulnerable and authentic to myself and my business. I’m still learning, but I’m making great strides.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Erin Nesci: As an Entrepreneur Coach (and at the time a Courage Coach), my main role was to support my clients as they navigated through new territory. At the time, my clients were either business owners or employees, and their day-to-day activities changed drastically with social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions. The experiences of my clients varied considerably as some found themselves out of a job or with drastically reduced hours, while others were able to work from home but were forced to do so with the kids completing at-home learning since schools were closed as well. My clients needed to pivot to keep their finances in check and also protect their family unit in a time of constant change. During that time, I worked with clients to launch new businesses, adjust existing businesses to accommodate the changing landscape, and practice taking care of their mental health as they struggled with what was happening around them. As an entrepreneur, I was not immune to the shifts and experienced challenges with my own business as the world around me adjusted. However, I would have to say my greatest challenge at the time was remaining separated and detached from the emotions my clients were experiencing. Of course, I had great empathy for what they were going through but to protect my mental health, I needed to stay out of their story and not take their concerns on as my own.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting on their journey?
Erin Nesci: Be clear about what you are doing and why. Craft a powerful statement that speaks to your target market outlining who you serve and what problem you solve or market gap you fill. Then build a plan that articulates your business vision and idea before you get into the weeds of business tools, sales models, and marketing strategies. Knowing first what problem you want to solve and what gap you can fill in the market is paramount.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Erin Nesci: I’ve always wished I was a good dancer or an artist. My rhythm is strong since I’m a classically trained musician, but my dancing skills are pretty basic, to say the least! And my artistic ability has a hard stop at sticking figures and smiley faces, so painting or sculpting was never an option for me.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Erin Nesci: I think the title of my book would be something along the lines of “But What If I Can?”. Creative people are often challenged with choosing between trying to make a living based on their creativity and the “safer” job route. As a university graduate with a music degree, I have heard hundreds if not thousands of times, you can’t make money with a music degree—I’m sure every creative person has heard something similar. After a successful 25+ year career leading communications and public relations, climbing the ladder to the highest level in a corporate setting, and still not feeling settled, I often wonder what would have happened if I had just asked ‘but what if I can’?
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Erin Nesci for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Erin Nesci or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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