Kelly Campbell | [Top Agency Series] From Agency Leader to Coaching Conscious Leaders

Kelly Campbell 12:35

So I think that also came down to positioning. When we about seven years, and after we figured out that, like the majority of our clients were actually nonprofits, foundations, CSR initiatives, corporate social responsibility, maybe some education organizations as well, there’s, there’s a, there’s sort of like an ancillary mix of the types of organizations and the types of people that work at those organizations. And I think when you have really strong positioning to say, these are the specific verticals that we operate in, and that we best serve, it naturally attracts the people who also kind of resonate with those things, right. So if you’ve got employees who are sort of either specialist or jack of all trades, in terms of digital marketing expertise, and they happen to also really want to work on things that are personally fulfilling or rewarding, they’re probably going to have more of a social impact lie to them. And so just being authentic about who we were halfway through owning the company, I think that certainly helps to attract the right people.

John Corcoran 13:39

Right, right. And then, as you kind of niche down in this field, what are the sorts of decisions you had to make along the way in order to continue to deepen that way? In other words, did you have to fire other clients that weren’t in that area? Or did you just kind of like, deepening your involvement with different organizations? How did you continue to go down that path and make it so that you were known to be the expert in that area? Yeah,

Kelly Campbell 14:06

That’s a good question. So I think this is a misnomer. When we talk about positioning, I think a lot of people hear Oh, I have to niche down to like one or two or maybe three verticals. That means that I have to get rid of all of my other clients, I can never take on anything outside of those particular verticals. And that’s a misnomer. When you say that you’re well positioned in a particular area, or you know, an ancillary set of areas, it doesn’t mean that you can never take another client that’s outside of that, right, there has to be a business case for it. So we certainly based on our relationships, because relationships are always the most important thing to me personally, as well as to the agency. I mean, when I ended up selling the company, I had a couple of clients who had been with us since like the first two years of owning the company. Wow. That doesn’t happen. Right? And so the relationships were really important. And that also meant that that relationship changed, right? Sometimes clients would need a little bit more, or they need something different, like we evolved with them. And so I guess you know, it really comes down to, to that positioning. And I forgot what your what your initial question

John Corcoran 15:22

was just about writing, you know, as you figured out what your niche was, how you continue to define for the rest of the world that this is what you focused on.

Kelly Campbell 15:32

Right, right. Right. So no, we did the quick answers. We didn’t fire any of the other clients. What we did is, as some of them would naturally have attrition for lots of different reasons, right? Maybe they go into a different area. Whatever the situations may be, yeah, we would replace them with ones that were in those verticals. Those verticals. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s not firing them. It’s a replacement, you know, right. Right. Right. But no, and again, if there is a client that you want to work with, that doesn’t necessarily fit into those specializations. That doesn’t mean No, you can’t do that. It just means you’ve got to come up with a really good business case for it.

John Corcoran 16:13

Right, right. You sold the business after 14 years. What was the motivation for that? Why did you decide it was time to sell,

Kelly Campbell 16:24

I was absolutely miserable. My marriage was suffering. I was the first one into the office, the last one to leave working on weekends. I didn’t have a great work-life balance. I call it life work integration. But I didn’t have that. I was just really, really unhappy. And so even though I loved our clients, I was really excited about the impact that we were helping them make in the world, loved my team members, we we’ve really had a very strong agency from a culture standpoint, and all of these other things that anyone else would define as success metrics, everything looks great on the outside, but on the inside, I was really, really unhappy. And I felt like, if I didn’t make a change, I just felt like it was really my only option. To be honest, it was that heavy for me. It was that emotional, and that was necessary for me if I was going to live, like, in a way, where I felt fully expressed, and where I felt fully, like fulfilled and, and deeply happy, then I couldn’t continue to own this agency. And I knew that and I kept pushing it away and pushing it away. I probably knew that I wanted to sell or exit the agency for probably two years leading up to the acquisition, but I kept pushing it away and pushing away and forcing it. And you know, it just never works.

John Corcoran 18:05

Right? Right. You can’t suppress it.

Kelly Campbell 18:07

You can’t.

John Corcoran 18:08

And you have developed. You mentioned earlier the holistic startup in this period of time, while you’re running your agency, tell us a little about what that was like. And also, you know, I have to believe that it’s incredibly hard when you have this one agency that’s all time consuming to begin with. And then another startup on the side that must have been really hard as well.

Kelly Campbell 18:31

Yeah, yeah. Um, so that was only about three and a half years into the cause marketing agency, when I started the holistic health startup. And, you know, again, it was one of these things where you have a great idea, you put together the whole business plan, you really commit to it. And then you start getting seed money from friends and family and pitch it to angel investors and VCs and all this other stuff. And the reality was I, in many ways, from a financial standpoint, it was a failure, because it didn’t generate anything I wasn’t able to sell it for, you know, more than what I was able to bring in some from those very, very stringent metrics. You know, when you look at it that way, yeah, it was a failure. I think the lessons that came out of that experience were probably some of the most valuable lessons in my entire life, even to date. And I jokingly jokingly refer to that whole time period and that whole experience of sort of like the equivalent of my MBA because that’s pretty much what it costs me personally. I might as well have like, you know, an MBA from Harvard based on what was expended there. But honestly, some of the relationships that I still have, or some of the relationships that I have are from those days, and I wouldn’t trade the Because as a coach and a consultant now, had I not gone through that I wouldn’t be able to talk my clients out of doing things like that. Right? Yeah. And also if they have experiences that they’re unfamiliar with, like pitching, or fundraising, or all of these other things, I can speak to that from firsthand experience. So I don’t see it as a failure. It was an incredibly difficult period in my life. But, you know, I, I’d like to think that I learned something from it. I certainly learned a lot from it from the standpoint of not sinking a ton of money into a startup, which, you know, just recently with Consciousness Leaders, which we’ll talk about, I kept that extremely lean in terms of the startup expenditure. So, yeah, that saved me a lot later in life.

John Corcoran 20:49

You know, what, that’s one of the challenges of being an agency owner is seeing opportunities all the time, or coming up with different ideas for different things and wanting to, you know, go after the new development. So what do you say to your clients now who are running a profitable agency that’s taking a lot of their time, but they come to you? And they say, I’ve got this great idea for this other thing I want to do at the same time, oh, no, no, I can balance both at the same time, I’ll be fine. What do you say to them?

Kelly Campbell 21:16

Well, I say pause. I say pause. There’s, there’s nothing, nothing’s going to happen if you, you know, wait on this, right. And also, I think, looking at all of the things again, based on this personal experience, what I didn’t look at with a holistic option was market demand. Right? So the demand for those natural products and those services that were out of the conventional health realm, right, like those were, for me, that was normal. That’s how I lived my life. But that wasn’t there was no mass adoption of that. Right? Now, there’s a yoga studio, next to Starbucks on every corner. But that was not the case in 2006. People were not, you know, choosing to buy gluten free products, just because it was healthier, versus if they had some kind of diagnosis of celiac, right? So grocery stores didn’t have a natural foods aisle in 2006. It was not there was not this mass adoption. So I think if I had done more market research, that would have helped me to say, okay, we’re not there yet. Maybe I could put this idea for this platform off for another three, four years, and I still probably would have been first to market, it just would have been more acceptable, easier to raise money, all those things. So I use those anecdotes to help my clients just pause and think a little bit more clearly about like, I get the excitement. But let’s let’s do this the right way, there’s no rush, you seem like

John Corcoran 22:51

a very determined person who’s going to see something through until I don’t know what you’re talking about persistent versus kind of gonna make sure that so so how, how did you know when to give up

Kelly Campbell 23:04

to stop selling the agency?

John Corcoran 23:07

No, I’m talking about the holistic startup now. How did you know that this wasn’t succeeding?

Kelly Campbell 23:13

I mean, I ran on money. Plain and simple. I mean, when there’s

John Corcoran 23:17

so you literally did persist to the very bitter end of the very bitter end?

Kelly Campbell 23:21

Yes, yes. Also some lessons in that. I mean, I saw the writing on the wall, and I pushed forward anyway, I had that, that, you know, power through mentality was like, no matter what, I’m going to go down with the ship, and I’m going to force us to work, force it to work, and nothing works when you force it to work. Mm hmm.

John Corcoran 23:43

good lesson. Let’s talk about you know, what you focus on now. So you sell the cause marketing agency in 2016. And you say that you had kind of a spiritual awakening after that as a dark time for you because you’re kind of figuring out where, who you are in the world and why you want to do first of all, as for the sale of the business itself, anything you would do differently?

Kelly Campbell 24:08

Yeah, I would change the speed at which the process occurred, or that I allowed the process to occur. It happened

John Corcoran 24:16

too fast. I’ve been at warp speed. That’s interesting. You rarely hear that usually hear the opposite that it just took forever.

Kelly Campbell 24:23

Yeah. And there’s a reason why it takes forever and that it should take forever. I mean, not

John Corcoran 24:29

literally because there’s a lot of work. There’s

Kelly Campbell 24:31

a lot, there’s a lot to do from a due diligence standpoint. And honestly, I was so unhappy that I was you know, I had blinders on from that standpoint. I was like, Okay, yeah, let’s just get it done. Let’s sign the papers. You know, and yeah, it was at warp speed. I think the entire thing probably took 45 days.

John Corcoran 24:54

Oh, wow. That’s extremely fast. Yeah, extremely fast.

Kelly Campbell 24:57

Yeah, so I would do that differently. And I would have done my due diligence, deeper due diligence with the acquiring company. Okay?

John Corcoran 25:06

And then tell me about what it was like after you sell it, then you wake up, you’re like, I’ve been a CEO since I was 22 years old. I don’t know what I’m doing with myself? Did you have an idea what you would do next? Or did it take a while for you to figure that out?

Kelly Campbell 25:20

It took me a little while. Yeah, I was in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program at the time, had just graduated, sold the company within, like I said, the 45 days. And then I just helped some of my cohort members who were fellow business owners. Some of them were experiential agencies, or printing companies, you know, anyone in that kind of creative or technology realm, and they were like, Hey, if you’re, you’re not doing anything, can you help us with some of these things? And I said, Yeah, sure. So that’s what I did, just to kind of like, fill my time and help them because I wanted to serve. But it took me a little while to kind of find my footing. And so I just started asking myself these questions, you know, like, what am I passionate about? Where are the areas where I feel like I can add value? What is my experience? What is my expertise? Who do I actually want to help? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? Like, almost like, what is my purpose? Or what is part of my purpose, without being grandiose about it? And I kind of settled on these, this idea that, you know, people who own agencies like I did, we don’t have all the answers. And it would be really helpful. If I had a coach or a consultant, like the one that I wanted to become, when I owned my agency, maybe it wouldn’t have turned out the way that I, you know, to the point where I was so unhappy, right? Like, maybe there would have been someone who could have guided me to say, you know, what, you’re not prioritizing your health and your self care. How can we do this, right, like, as the owner of a company you are so you talk out? I talked a lot about how much freedom I had, but the reality was John, I wasn’t even able to take more than a week’s vacation in a year. And, you know, the burnout, and the anxiety and the stress just ultimately just got to me. And, yeah, so it took me a little while to arrive at those answers. And then I started consulting, and then that, I would say, within the first two years of consulting, pretty much led me to realize that coaching was actually the thing that I wanted to do. Hmm.

John Corcoran 27:32

You did all this work after you sold the agency. But in retrospect, you do think that you needed to? Or do you think that you could have done it before? Maybe if you’re guided or assisted?

Kelly Campbell 27:43

If I was guided or assisted? I definitely could have definitely cut out if I may still have the agency today, if that was the case, right? I mean,

John Corcoran 27:51

it kind of layered out a better life work balance. Yeah.

Kelly Campbell 27:55

Life work integration. And or maybe not, right, maybe I would have figured out that I actually had a higher calling. Maybe it was, that was the time period, like I was supposed to do this, I own this agency, employ these people and allow them to kind of have a stepping stone into their careers. And then I was supposed to, you know, go on and, and have impact in other ways, right? I don’t. I don’t distrust that, like, I kind of trust whatever is supposed to be an aspect of the universe, if you will.

John Corcoran 28:34

Mm hmm. Did it take you a while to carve out your little you mean little sorry, but to carve out the type of coach that you want it to be? Because you’re very clear in who you’re you’re you’re clear with the agency. You’re clear now who you’re for who you’re who you’re not for?

Kelly Campbell 28:51

Yeah, it didn’t take me long at all. So I figured out that it was going to be consulting initially, specifically for agency leaders. I did SEO was, you know, part of my background, part of my wheelhouse. So I looked at, you know, what people actually looking for the term was agency growth consultant at the time, I created agency growth consultant, LLC, so that the company name was, you know, had the optimization everywhere. And at that point, I was probably only one of 10 people doing this in the industry 10, five years ago. And now, that has evolved pretty significantly. A there’s many, many more people who are doing coaching and consulting in the agency space. But I still have very, very little competition, because there are not a lot of people who are focusing on the trauma informed, conscious leadership aspect of, you know, what it takes to run a business and to become a more selfish, fully expressed leader and more conscious leader of an entity like this. Yeah, I think there’s one other one guy in Australia who does pretty much exactly What I do, we were just on each other’s podcast recently. So that was fun to find someone else who’s really on the same track. So yeah, I mean, the people who come to me are very self aware, and they’re like ready to do some real deep work. And the people who are not ready, those people find other coaches and consultants that are more in line with what they’re looking for. So I think there’s plenty of work to go around.

John Corcoran 30:24

You mentioned that you had this guy who you found as a competitor on your podcast, and this is a conversation I have with people all the time. I believe that it’s a, there’s a big pie, there’s pie to go around for everyone. And and, you know, but a lot of times other people think I want to run away from that kind of person, I don’t want to deal with them. So why did you decide to go on his podcast? He went on for years when he was a competitor? I’m interested to know what your answer is to that question. Yeah,

Kelly Campbell 30:50

I love this question. So it’s the exact same reason that when I decided to be an agency growth consultant, I looked at the top five people who were doing that in the country, and I invited every one of them onto my podcast, which I have now. Because I wanted to know what made them tick. I wanted to know what their specializations were. When prospects came to me and said, well, what’s the difference between you and David C? Baker? Are you and Carl Sagan? Yes. You and Jeff need to be right, I wanted to be able to answer those questions. Right. And so with some of them, I have very close relationships to the point where I refer to a piece of business to Jeff and to Carl just this week. So you know, to me, there’s, there’s always going to be the right fit. If someone comes in and you know, is looking for just straight up, like I need help with processes and systems and efficiency, I’m not the right coach for you, right? I have lots of people in my sphere, who I can say, Oh, you know, what, who’s going to be the right one for you or this person. So it helps me to actually add value to prospects to deeply understand my competitors.

John Corcoran 32:00

And that’s actually probably a perfect segue into talking about Consciousness Leaders. Because if you look at the list of leaders who are on that website, for the company that you started, a lot of them might be considered maybe a competitor to the work that you do. So talk a little bit about the inspiration behind starting Consciousness Leaders.

Kelly Campbell 32:19

Yeah, thanks. Um, so Consciousness Leaders, that site launched about five months ago, it’s essentially a representation agency for all of the people around the world who do all of this really important work under the precipice of or under the guise of, of conscious leadership? Right. So everything under there’s probably 80 different topics on the site, but things like diversity, equity and inclusion, leadership development, social impact, empathy, vulnerability, you name it, right? So any of these areas where mental health in the workplace, all these areas where we’re talking about valuing people and employees, and the environment as part of profit, right? So all together, we’re not, we’re not highlighting profit or putting profit above people on the planet, they’re kind of all sitting as equal to one another. Even to the point I would say that profit is the lagging indicator that if you focus on your people, and you make sure that you’re doing right, by the environment, you’re doing right by the world, and your community, and you know, everything at large, then profit will follow because you will attract those customers who believe what you believe, right? So long winded way of saying about the representation agency. I represent folks who have expertise in these areas, predominantly women, bipoc LGBTQ and people with disabilities, who have historically been untapped for their expertise in these areas. And they are coaches, consultants, workshop facilitators, authors and speakers. And my role or the ethos of this organization is to match them or pair them with organizations who are in need of those services, or event planners who would like those people to speak at their conferences. Great, great.

John Corcoran 34:16

I want to ask you about what companies you admire that you feel you know, they walk their talk, so to speak, are they truly authentic companies. I’ll give you an example. Patagonia was just in the news the other day, because they fired as a client one of their biggest clients in Wyoming is a ski resort because they sponsored a fundraiser for a certain politician that they vehemently disagreed with. That’s a company that a lot of people point out as they really walk their talk. They’re they’re very environmentally conscious. What are some other companies that come to mind that you would say you know, are truly authentic?

Kelly Campbell 34:59

Yeah, Patagonia is a great one. I like Gravity Payments. So Dan Price, I think, does a great job in terms of equity, and really, you know, sort of walking that talk. You know, I think it’s rare when people actually stand up for their beliefs and say, This is who we are in the world, we are unapologetic about it. There’s also a really small company called route and river that I, you know, they talk about the work that they do as intrinsic branding, or that every brand is a spiritual experience. Well, if you don’t resonate with that language, you’re not going to be a great client for them, right? But if that language really resonates with you, like it would for me, I would hire them in a heartbeat just based on their tagline. And then you get to know the folks at the company, and then you’d really want to work with them. But I mean, I think I appreciate companies who are really genuine and really unapologetically authentic about who they are and what they believe in.

John Corcoran 36:01

Yeah, I think we all do. I want to ask, you know, given your background and the burnout, the experience from your previous business, what do you do now to ensure that that doesn’t happen? You have two different businesses now, right? I’m sure you’re super busy.

Kelly Campbell 36:17

Yeah. This is really timely for me right now, because I’m starting to feel that a little bit. Now that Consciousness Leaders is really picking up and we’re getting tons of leads for the site and for the collective members. I’m in the process of hiring an executive assistant. And I really have started to prioritize my self care in a way that even though I have been doing that, for the last, you know, five years as a coach and a consultant, I’m really leaning into it pretty deeply. So I have probably for the last few months, I have a work schedule where I only work Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I keep Mondays and Fridays for either personal appointments, or just like I said, self care or working on the book, things like that. But no meetings, no client calls, things like that. A lot of meditation lately. Walking, I know it sounds simple, but like walking and really breathing very, very deeply in a sort of an ongoing or continuous cadence where I’m like breathing in, really, for a long period of time, and then breathing out for an even longer period of time while I’m walking. I got a brand new bike. So I’m doing more bike riding trail,

John Corcoran 37:30

Bike to work every day. It’s great.

Kelly Campbell 37:34

Yeah, so I mean, lots and lots of things along those lines. And you know, I have a really amazing support network. I’ve two coaches myself, who I’ve been working with for several years now. One is a Buddhist psychology coach and contemplative science practitioner. And the other one is a Shadow Work coach. So the combination of these two, for me meeting with them on a weekly basis really helps me to kind of process things that are going on, or things that I’m encountering with a client or something in my personal life, or just things that I’m thinking about, you know, and I didn’t, you know, I kind of I think I go so far in the opposite direction, then what I did when I had the agency, and for me, it works. You know, it really works. But I think the executive assistant is definitely going to be a helpful addition to my team as well.

John Corcoran 38:24

I hope so. Yeah. All right. Final question. I’m a big fan of gratitude. So if you look around, and you mentioned a few names already, but if you look around at your peers and contemporaries, however you want to define that you mentioned Carl, who I interviewed, actually a couple weeks ago, David C. Baker, who I’m working on getting as a guest on the show. But however you want to define peers and theories, who do you respect to admire that’s doing good work out there.

Kelly Campbell 38:50

To be honest, I would give gratitude any day of the week to my clients. Because as much as I am their coach, and mentor and advisor, they are some of my greatest teachers. I’ve had one coaching client in particular for four years, and learned so much from him through his journey over the course of these four years, and every new client that comes in with a different backstory or different programming or different enthusiasm or curiosity. I’m really, really grateful for how they show up and the fact that they’re self aware enough to say, you know what, I can use some help. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s probably, you know, one of the greatest things that they can do for themselves. So I’m grateful for those clients and how they show up and how open minded they are in the sessions.

John Corcoran 39:41

Great, Kelly, where can people go to learn more about you and Consciousness Leaders?

Kelly Campbell 39:46

Well, my website is and Consciousness Leaders is that, so it should be pretty easy.

John Corcoran 39:53

Kelly, thanks so much. 

Outro 39:56

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