Kathy Caprino on success: “The first thing is I wasn’t going to take no for an answer”

October 29, 2014 Business Coaching, Career coaching

One of the statements you can often hear from a life coach is that it’s good to have role models. And it is – somebody somewhere has already achieved the results you are striving for, or better, so why not learn from them. I of course have my own list of role models too, and with names like Tony Robins and J.K.Rolling on it, I have never thought I will be able to actually talk  to one of them. So imagine how happy I was when I did!

I first noticed the name Kathy Caprino while I was going through Forbes and realized the last three amazing articles I’ve read there were hers. She is a career coach for women, who has had a successful corporate career in publishing herself – until one day a lay off changed her life. Today me and Kathy talk about young entrepreneurs, who want to reach the same success she has had, and she shares with us what’s the key to making a business work and what are the main reasons some people fail at it.


Kathy, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I obviously know who you are, but for the rest of our readers, could you tell us a bit more about yourself?

Sure. I had an 18 years corporate career in publishing, marketing and membership services and on the outside it looked very successful – I rose to vice-president, made  a lot of money, big initiatives, global projects… But on the inside it was not successful, it was bumpy, bumpy, bumpy. When I turned 40, those bumps turned into true full-blown crisis – I faced discrimination, I faced sexual harassment, I faced zero work-life balance and I was chronically ill for 4 years. But worst than all that was waking up every day thinking “Is this really what I’m going to dedicate my life to?!” It felt so meaningless, but I couldn’t figure out what else to do. I saw a therapist, I got a career coach, I took assessment tests – nothing moved me forward. One of the reasons for that was the way I saw myself. My husband is a jazz percussionist and he makes a good living, but I thought of him as the creative one, and me as the moneymaker of the family. So instead of making the right move and leaving that career, I didn’t. Then, one month after moving to a bigger home and more financial responsibilities it was 9/11 and I was laid off in this very brutal way, which just knocked me to my knees. So I snapped and I said I will never allow myself to feel this way again. After that, through a series of events I became a therapist – I got a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and started a therapy practice. One day I was giving a talk to women in Connecticut around how do we thrive through change. I talked about the challenges in my work life and women would line up after the talk in tears saying “No one is talking about this, I feel like you are speaking to my soul.” That was about 7 years ago and it really became a calling for me to figure out what is going on for women; how women are different from men in the work place; what are our crisis and how do we overcome them. So I did a research study, wrote my book “Breakdown, Breakthrough” and now that’s what I’m dedicated to – resources, programs, webinars – anything that can help women reach their highest potential, cause that’s what we want to do.

That was a pretty big change going from corporate career to what you are today – therapist, coach and writer. What do you wish you knew when you were starting your business?

I made a lot of mistakes and one of them was “build it and they will come” mentality. When I started as a therapist I though “I am a great therapist, I’ll just hang my shingle and I’ll have clients.” Didn’t happen. Then when I became a coach, same thing “I’m great at what I do, it’s going to be easy.” Well, positive thinking is not a business plan. For every potential coach: there are steps you have to take and if you don’t take them, you will not succeed. I really wish I didn’t take so long to figure those out and as I was reinventing, I wish that I had kept my toe in marketing or other kind of full employment, so that there wasn’t so much pressure to hit the ground running and make a good living right that first second. Cause you don’t, in the beginning you don’t. That’s what I wish I knew.

Sounds about right to me. So then what do you think is the main reason so many businesses fail? 

I think there’s a number of factors. You absolutely have to have a very solid business plan and a marketing plan. I interviewed Susan Sobbott , the head of American Express Open, which is for entrepreneurs, and I asked her what’s the difference between men and women. She said there’s a few really critical differences. Number one, men have a very big vision from the get go and they’re not afraid to scale it. When you ask women how big do you see this growing, they often say “I don’t know, I don’t know if I’m capable of that.” They keep themselves smaller. And I see it every day with clients I work with – they’re scared to delegate, they’re scared to invest, they’re scared to grow. So that’s going to hold you back, that’s going to keep you a small organization that may not reach it’s potential. The other thing that I see women doing constantly is saying “I’m not good with numbers.” Lots of women think they’re terrible with numbers. You gotta get good with numbers, you have to know your numbers. You can’t just think it’s going to work out. And you have to build a team, if that’s the kind of business that you have, of fabulous people with complimentary skills. Not people just like you, but people that have the skills that you don’t have. I see a lot of entrepreneurs failing at that. Another thing is they don’t understand the competition. For instance, I’m a coach and you’re a coach, and we are competing with everyone on the planet, because most of coaching is done on the phone. So you can’t just think “Let me tell a few people in my town and I’ll be set.” You have to understand what the competition is offering and you have to understand what you bring to the table that’s different. And if you don’t know that, you will struggle, you’re not going to make it. You gotta know how you’re different and you gotta leverage that.

But it’s so difficult for a lot of people to understand how they’re unique. 

I know that. And we’re scared to put this steak on the ground. I remember when I started my business, which is called Ellia Communications and it’s named after my children Elliot and Julia. So I started it and the branding fella was on the phone with me and I said I was scared to call myself a women’s career coach. And he said “Why? Didn’t you just tell me you spent a year researching women? Yes. Didn’t you just write a book for women? Yes. Didn’t you just tell me you adore working for and with, and supporting women? Yes. Why wouldn’t you want to call yourself a women’s career coach?” And I was afraid, I was afraid I would cut off half the population. But that’s not how branding works, you have to have a niche. You know, life coaching can sometimes be a dirty word here in the US, because it’s a lot of people who’ve left a corporate career and are just hanging a shingle and they have no training, no model for change. You need a model for change, or a process that you take people through, it’s not enough just to ask good questions. You develop that over time, you don’t know what that is with the first client you ever have, but you need to know your niche. When people say “I love to coach anything. Anything having to do with life.” I know you’re not a good coach. You have to have a specialization, you have to have a deep intimate knowledge of what you’re coaching. A lot of people say you don’t have to know anything about what you’re coaching, I don’t really agree with that. When people come to me, they’re coming about ways to reinvent themselves, to build amazing careers, to evaluate their new ventures, to market themselves. These are all things I’ve done and know. And I happen to know how to coach people around that.

Thank you for speaking up about that. I have actually heard people say that it’s more difficult to coach someone on something you know, because you tend to give advice. I see where they’re coming from, but I guess the total opposite, not knowing anything, is also not a great idea. 

I love your point and I have to say I’m a consultant as well. Sometimes on the same call and I’ll say “Listen, I’m going to put on my consulting hat right now. I’m going to be a little more directive and tell you what I think.” And people usually love that. And my God, I’ve written a book, I’m writing a book, I’ve done webinars, why wouldn’t I help people take some steps and consult when I can. But I’m clear about the difference and I think you have to be clear – coaching isn’t giving advice, but you can do both as long as you’re making it clear to the client.

I won this award years ago “Make mine a million dollar business” and my award was Micro to Millions. So I was making a micro amount, but the potential was there for millions.  Through that program, you got coaching and you could choose a coach. And I told this coach I really don’t know how to scale, I don’t know how to make a lot of money, what do I do. She had no advice for me, nothing. Well, when she doesn’t know how to make a million and I don’t know how to make a million, you can’t coach through that. It was totally a failure, absolutely not helpful. So I’m a little bit fierce about people saying they can coach through anything, I don’t really agree with that.

And what do you think helped you become as successful as you are now?

If we are talking about the last 7 years, and I’ve been through bumps – not making enough money, not being successful – the very first thing is that it was a calling. Everybody doesn’t have to have a calling to be successful, but what I mean is I would not take no for an answer. I’ve had so many unhappy years in my professional life, that nothing was going to deter me from getting where I wanted to go. And my goal is a million women, help a million women to create more happiness, success and reward in their career. And also to be a part of a national conversation. I wanted that way before I was ready to be that, I dreamed of that. Things would bother me. I’d read things in the news, like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella saying “Women don’t really need to ask for a raise, just trust the system.” I would read that kind of thing and be so angry! I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn’t know how, I didn’t have a platform. But the first thing is I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I saw this big vision and I was going to prepare myself and do the work to get there.

The second thing is I really believe that a great success is an inner job. What so many people are doing are outer tactics: “I’m on LinkedIn, I did a beautiful webiste.” If your inner mindset and the way you operate in the world is not powerful, is not authoritative, is not confident, is not aware; if you are your own worst enemy, you’re not going to have success. I did a lot of inner work understanding what’s holding me back, what am I scared of, what are my mindsets around money, around worthiness.

The third thing is I used to be more of a maverick. Years ago someone said to me “Who’s your role model?” and I didn’t have any role models at all. That’s a mistake. You can’t build fantastic success when you’re alone or on an island, you need people. I sometimes hear from 300 people a day, not kidding. Sometimes not, but when something’s gone viral I’m getting bombarded and you’d be surprised of how people reach out. Sadly,
many do it in a way that is entitled, insensitive, and demanding – not respectfully asking for help but expecting it, sometimes urgently, without offering anything in return. It’s off-putting, it’s not mutually beneficial, they don’t know how to connect. You have to build fantastic relationships that are mutually beneficial. It’s not all about you and your success, the very first thing you should be reaching out saying is “How can I help you?”

So I would say those three things: perseverance, a lot of inner work to clear the pathway to success and then building a really powerful support community. Those three are really important to me.

Thank you so much for sharing all this. I am currently working on building a community of young entrepreneurial minded people, who are often so negative. “I have this idea, but it will never work, it’s too difficult.” And especially people who do not come from families of entrepreneurs. Because your parents would tell you “Get a job and stay there.” So it means a lot to me that you agreed to this interview and said what you said to inspire those people. 

Thank you, I’m honored. And I see it around me too – there’s lots of negativity. I think it’s a spiritual concept, but the reality is in order to create something of meaning, of value, we have to connect with positivism, happiness and joy. It can’t come from a negative frame, it won’t succeed. It may succeed for a short term, but the world needs positive messages and positive behavior – we’re desperate for it. I see a lot of people starting things from very negative place, for instance “I’m better than the competition and I’m gonna crush it!” I understand where that’s coming from, but you don’t wanna crush. You want to collaborate, you want to build, you want to grow.  I see a lot of people, who don’t want to help other people, because they have a scarcity mentality, they think there’s only so much success and money to go around.If we ever feel that, we have to shift it. I interviewed a guy, who really changed a lot for me, Shawn Acor on Forbes. I did his happiness challenge and I am very focused on accessing more joy and happiness, no matter what’s going on around me. This changes you, energetically, and I think it’s really important.

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What do you think the key to success is? What are you afraid will fail you? Share with me your thoughts bellow.

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