Stephanie Scheller is The Impact Authority. After studying human psychology for more than a decade and building her business from scratch to walk away from her job in less than five months, she has worked with more than 5000+ companies and is dedicated to helping small business owners understand how to create their greatest impact.
Using the violin to tap into the human subconscious, Stephanie breaks down the psychology behind sales, marketing, and people management to simplify implementation and accelerate growth. She is a TEDx speaker, a two-time best-selling author, an award-winning entrepreneur, and the founder of Grow Disrupt, a company that designs and produces internationally-lauded, application-focused educational and inspirational events for small business owners. In her downtime, you’ll find Stephanie playing on the violin, out in the Texas Hill Country with her horse, or in the garage painting endlessly.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Stephanie Scheller: Hi! I’m Stephanie! Violinist, equine enthusiast, and obsessed with understanding how the brain works, and how to use that to make the principles of marketing & people management accessible to small business owners! As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that I have the potential to make a massive impact on the lives of those around me. Clients. Colleagues, Vendors, Contractors. Employees. Families. We make an impact through how we design & deliver our marketing. We make an impact through how we manage and lead our teams. We make an impact that extends far beyond anything we will ever know and we extend that capability when we understand how it happens, and consciously leverage impact positively!
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!
Stephanie Scheller: My parents raised me and my siblings on the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books so I always wanted to be a business owner. I hated the idea of having a regular office job and trading hours for money. Originally, I wanted to build & manage a horse barn! I went to school and got a degree in Equine Business & Facility Management, and quickly found out that making a reasonable living, while providing the quality of care I wanted for the horses, wasn’t feasible in Central Texas so I found my plan B. I got a job in San Antonio Texas as a guide & consultant to small businesses on their marketing. I loved it. Until I realized I wasn’t a marketing consultant. I was a sales rep and the company I was working for cared more about closing deals than doing right by their customers. I was crushed. For the next three years, I balanced my desire to provide results for my clients with the company’s desire to turn a profit & collect revenues (often on services that hadn’t been properly executed!). I juggled the two opposing needs well and was promoted twice over a two-and-a-half-year period. But when the company began to struggle and cut off commission checks for my department, I wasn’t okay with that and started my own sales training business.
Within four months, I was making more money providing sales training & coaching on vacation days, holidays, evenings, lunch breaks & weekends than I was working full time so I turned in my two weeks notice & walked away. The next few years were full of the classic ups and downs of entrepreneur life as I realized that, although I’d built the largest & most active sales training practice at the time in Central Texas, I wasn’t happy doing sales training. It took a few false starts, but I found I could use the skills I developed to put on sales training events to coordinate & execute entire events for small business owners and fell in love with the fact that I could impact hundreds of businesses at once and bring in experts in whatever those business owners needed without me having to be the expert and Grow Disrupt was born!
“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?
Stephanie Scheller: There have been so many people who have seen the best in me and reached out to help. Calls with other entrepreneurs at just the right time. Business owners who believed in my vision of our events even when the marketing wasn’t quite up-to-par. My Mom was hugely instrumental in helping me get the sales training business off the ground, and then in the shift to putting on events before she had to step away to run her own small business.
If I had to narrow it down to just ONE individual who has been the most important professional inspiration for me, I would have to say Mike Michalowicz. He’s an incredibly famous author, speaker & entrepreneur who we’ve had out to speak at a few of our events and he’s always seen the best in me. Inspired me with what he’s accomplished. Encouraged me. Worked with me. Helped me. He’s been an advocate for our events and what I have accomplished. He even partnered with me on the kick-off to one event that has become a staple of our business offerings. Plus his Profit First concept completely changed how I price & bid anything in the business and has given me room to not just pay myself a solid paycheck, but be able to pay taxes, pay my team, AND have profit distributions!
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?
Stephanie Scheller: I think I covered the journey of my business pretty well in the previous question, but becoming a CEO was a different process! From my perspective, the CEO has two roles: to lead the people of the organization, and to lead the organizational structure & goals! In regards to people, when I first started my business, I had a leadership coach tell me that “You’re more of a leader than you realize” and I originally brushed him off because I didn’t even have any contractors at the time. It was just The Stephanie Show. But it sparked a thought in my mind that didn’t go away. The more I thought about it, the more I noticed that I was a leader for my clients, and in the networking groups, I participated in. It took some time as I started slowly reading more leadership style books for me to realize that I was failing miserably at my most important leadership role: myself. I was a terrible boss. All-in, I’ve had some pretty bad bosses (Like the boss that took credit for my ideas on how to revamp the entire department for the company leadership at my first job), but I realized that I was the worst boss I’d ever had. I pushed myself too hard. I forced myself to work weekends and evenings. I cut myself NO slack for missing deadlines, sales, or company goals. Even when those goals were set based on an absolute lack of clarity.
By the time I realized I needed to become a better boss to myself first, I had already picked up a couple of contractors and although I knew a lot of what not to do, my bad-boss habits spilled over. I pushed them too hard, held them to impossible standards, and expected them to bend around me constantly. It took a few years of exposing myself to leadership concepts, training on communication styles (and how to implement that training!), journaling, and self-reflection to grow. But it’s been cool to consistently see my team come onboard in part-time capacities, or as contractors, or even clients, and move to full-time because they love the passion, the mission, the company objectives, and my leadership style. I believe that growing in terms of leading the company towards our objectives & goals has consistently come down to experience. When I started, I had no idea what we were capable of achieving and set massive goals that just didn’t make sense for the resources available. Even now, I have to evaluate how the team handled the goals we just completed to determine how to set the next course of action. I have to be able to take time away from working inside the business to look at what’s going on around us. To tap into my inner creativity and find different paths forward. As crazy as it sounds, the more time I take away from the business, the more I’m able to guide & direct the growth we achieve! And that’s a lesson I’m still learning as a recovering work-aholic! Honestly though, being a leader and CEO is an honor I don’t take lightly and constantly commit myself to continued growth and education so I can be worthy of the company as it grows, and the team I’m cultivating.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Stephanie Scheller: Grow Disrupt designs & produces application-focused educational events to support small business growth. We design our events with the psychology of the entrepreneurial brain in mind so that our events are built around how the small business owner’s mind functions at its peak. This truncates the amount of processing required post-event and enables our attendees to jump straight into implementation! It’s a blast because we design everything, from what goes in the swag bags, to how the tables are laid out around the room, how many chairs are at each table, what table toppers are used, etc piece by piece to build the ideal event.
My responsibilities are two-fold:
- The information I shared earlier about leading the employees & vision of the business and driving goal growth
- Production Director.
I bring the idea of the event including what I want it to look like, the vibe I want it to have, etc to my team. I interview speakers & design the agenda I want, then plan the marketing to bring the event to reality. My team is responsible for taking that and finding venues, catering, vendors, etc and executing the marketing strategies to fill the event,
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Stephanie Scheller: CEO typically stands for Chief Executive Officer and although it’s often jokingly called the Chief Everything Officer, I think that’s a dangerous joke. The CEO’s job is NOT to step in and get involved in every aspect of the business. The CEO needs headspace and clarity to tap into their primary initiative which, to me, is seeing where the company should be heading to survive & thrive and adjusting the entire course of the ship for long-term viability. Their job is to evaluate what is going on in the marketplace, and then call out for those plans to be implemented to adjust the company’s course to still achieve the long-term goals.
Consider a ship’s captain who was so busy tying knots on the deck that he/she never had time to evaluate whether they were on-course or off. The ship could end up wrecked on the shores of Africa when it was heading for Britain. CEOs who take their eye off this prize end up…well…creating a Kodiak moment. Not in a good way.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Stephanie Scheller: I think, as I built the business, I was a little surprised at how much time was required to plan, strategize & stay aware of what was going on in my industry to adjust courses. I originally thought it was something I could do in just a couple of hours per week while running other duties in the company. I’ve learned that when I split my attention and do not give myself enough space to be the CEO, the growth of the company begins to slow and stall.
I think the other surprise that hit me was how much time is spent doing the things I would have once considered a frivolous waste of time: reading (magazines, books, articles), talking to other leaders, and attending events. It’s intriguing to me to see how all these things that don’t always feel productive at the moment enable me to quickly and concisely see where we need to go, and what we need to do to get there when I sit down to organize planning sessions for the business.
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.
Stephanie Scheller: I think I’ve been answering these a little more at length than y’all are looking for because I think I’ve touched on these in the other answers. I believe the CEO’s role/responsibilities are to understand where the company is and where it needs to go to be long-term viable and grow. I do believe that if a business is not growing, it’s dying. If you aren’t staying on the cutting edge & working to maintain and grow market share, you’re letting someone else take the market share and I’ve learned that momentum in business is everything. It takes a lot of work to get it going, and once it’s going, it’s the CEO’s job to keep it going by making minor course corrections that allow you to keep the wheel spinning.
For example, we are an event business. The pandemic striking in 2020 was devastating for most of my industry. But we posted 48% growth over 2019. Why? Because I kept an eye on where the industry was slowly shifting towards and we’d already been practicing offering live-stream versions of our events and more intimate-style events. We’d already figured out how to adjust our back-end offerings to fill more of the gaps that we were already seeing (small business owners often love the concepts presented and want to give them to their team members to implement, but then struggle with holding the team member accountable to complete the work or answer questions as needed. So we built out those offerings for post-event implementation support in a way that empowers the small business owner!). It created space for massive growth that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been taking time to step back and keep a lay of the land.
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?
Stephanie Scheller: Oof! This is hard to share publicly still… Earlier this year, I had to have a very hard conversation with one of my team members. Not only had this team member been MCing our events for years, but she was also the first person to jump on board, see the vision, believe in the vision, and commit herself to support me with our events. She has been an AMAZING member of the team and constantly pulled me outside of my comfort zone, and her excitement about opportunities has been the reason we’ve taken some of the steps we have, steps that I was more hesitant about at first. Worse…she’s my mother!
But I had the realization at the end of the Grow Retreat that her position as MC for our events was no longer the fit it used to be. She was juggling working as our MC and part-time team member while building her own business and her business had taken off. Although she didn’t want to let go of her position as MC and kept claiming she loved it and wanted to keep the position, she was no longer able to put the kind of time necessary into increasing her skill set to match the quality of the events.
Although we parted ways well and are still quite close, both as colleagues and family, it was an extremely difficult decision to make to cut her role. Positively though, it opened the doors for us to bring in award-winning MCs, and for some of my team members to step up into the roles she was filling behind the scenes, which has streamlined implementation and execution, and I think it makes my team happier to realize that we all have to pull out weight…no nepotism. The business comes first because this business is doing too much good in the world to be held back by personal feelings and keeping team members in positions that aren’t a fit.
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?
Stephanie Scheller: I believe in Earl Nightingale’s definition of success: “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal. It is doing what you want to do because you want to do it. It’s the schoolteacher who is teaching because that is what she wants to do.” It’s taken me years to truly come to terms with realizing that, as long as we’re making forward progress towards our goal to establish a new norm for small business owners, then we’re succeeding. As long as I’m happy with what I’m doing. I’m succeeding!
I used to think that unless I had so many followers, money in the back, or hit the milestones for business growth I laid out, I wasn’t succeeding. But I’ve realized that as long as I’m moving forward, I’m miles ahead of the competition! And sure, I’ve got financial goals, business goals, etc. But whether I achieve them or not is not nearly as important as what I’ll achieve by holding myself to constantly move towards my goals. I’m happy with my life. I love my life. My business. My husband. The fact that I can run multiple companies, and have hobbies and do the things I love. That’s everything to me. That is a 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?
Stephanie Scheller: I believe passion & inspiration are two elements of leading that are hard to learn. If I want to inspire my team to passion, I have to be passionate first! We’ve all seen some leaders speak and they just… are cardboard. They don’t get their team excited. But we’ve all also seen and met those leaders that bring a breath of fresh air & inspiration just by entering the room. They live in a place of energy, thrill & passion and it spreads. I don’t think you can “learn passion”… I think you can tap into your passion and become more attuned to it and learn about what’s going on in the world & find a new passion, but it’s not necessarily something you can learn.
And it shines when it’s there and is noticeably lacking when it’s not. But all that is useless unless I can communicate it and communication skills are substantially less innate! This is a skill set I’ve dedicated hundreds of hours to developing. I’ve pursued certifications in things like DISC, Driving Forces, Axiology, Emotional Quotient. I select & read leadership books specifically about how to improve communication because I believe this is one of the most important tools in the CEOs toolbelt.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Stephanie Scheller: I believe this was also answered previously when I discussed how keeping an eye on what was going on with the industry (noting more and more virtual options being offered, tentative conversations around offering virtual events, even some larger-scale events that are simul-cast style) and starting to move the company that direction before the pandemic hit. I also noticed how more intimate events were becoming more and more popular, and the need for support with execution was rising as small business owners are juggling more and more in their day-to-day. These are the keys that resulted in 48% growth over 2019 and if I hadn’t taken time to be the CEO and guide for the company, that wouldn’t have happened and we’d be in a rut!
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?
Stephanie Scheller: First of all, you’re already leading more than you realize! Own that you are already a leader! Even if on a “small” scale! Secondly, dedicate yourself to learning & understanding the art of communication. It cannot be emphasized enough. It will transform everything in your business if you will truly own this!
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?
Stephanie Scheller: Ha! I would LOVE to learn how to throw pottery! It looks hypnotic…but I have a hard time pulling myself away from finessing my violin skills to go learn pottery! But one-day! I will! Other than that…honestly, when I identify a skill I truly need as a CEO, I go for it and get it into my learning schedule because I know it will only help me & the business grow.
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?
Stephanie Scheller: “From Employee To Free” ( already in the works 😉 )
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Stephanie Scheller 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 Stephanie Scheller or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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